Saturday, July 5, 2014

The 4 seas ride

The problem
There was a desperate need for a proper longer ride that would take me and my friends far away from the familiar roads. The problem was that due to my line of work I'm not able to have a summer vacation. I could skip work for a day, but how to get anywhere and back in just 3 days? 

The solution
Looking at the maps and schedules long enough we came up with a plan. The plan was to load the bikes on a train. The train would then take us 855 kms away from home while we slept and riding would commence on the next day. This seemed sensible as it would save time and cost no extra compared to riding there and having to spend a night in a motel.

Because the schedule was tight and rain was more than likely we opted to spend the nights in a hotel instead of a tent so we could get our wet gear dried for the next day. Bunch of pansies, I know.

The route
After some calculating it looked that we could visit the shores of the Barents Sea, Norwegian sea, Gulf of Bothnia and return to the shores the Baltic sea where we started. The route would take is from Finland to Norway to Finland to Sweden and back to Finland again. The estimated length would be 2035 kms (1265 miles).

The idea came during the long unrideable winter months so we hand plenty of time to make plans and calculate routes and riding times. We questimated the average speeds, added some time for breaks and servicing and filling up the bikes and came up with a plan that hand us riding 550 kms (330 miles) / 9,2 hrs the first day, 750 kms / 12,8 hrs (465 miles)  on the second and 750  / 12,8 hrs (465 miles)  on the last day. According to the plan we would On the road for 35 hrs and actually on the saddle for 25 hrs.

The pack
Our original wolf pack of 3 shrunk to 2 as one backed out due to back problems. Maybe a wise choice in hind sight as the amount of daily miles would surely have created problems. The two guys left were me and a guy we shall call as "Jack". Jack is not keen on internet fame.

The bikes
I was riding a 2014 KTM 690 Enduro R and Jack was on a 2009 Kawasaki Versys.

Time to ride
The original idea was to wait for the optimal weather, book the train and the hotels and spring into action on short notice. That backfired as we found out that the train only has 3 bike spaces per each train and the first one we tried to get on was already booked. We proceeded to book the first available train that had space and hoped for good weather.
We later learned that the "special" bike spaces are just plain car spaces, the railroad company just doesn't want to let more than 3 bikes per train. Nobody on the staff knew the reason why.

We boarded the train on June 27th. After tying down the bikes we proceeded to the sleeping cabin, took a few beers and went to bed.

The train arrived at the destination at 11:20 so we had plenty of time to eat breakfast and get ready. For some reason the train arrives an hour later than it does at winter time when we made our plans so we were already a bit late, but of course we knew that beforehand.
Riding out of the train at Rovaniemi

Day 1
We rode our bikes out of the train and after filling up we were off. The city turned into wilderness pretty fast and we had 9 hours to hit the shores of the Barents sea. The route was made with Tyre and loaded ready on both of our navigators. After few hours of riding my TomTom died and kept dying the rest of the trip. Apparently the 690 doesn't produce enough juice to keep the TomTom alive. After a few hours on the tarmac we hit some pretty epic gravel roads that alone made the trip worth wile. The gravel eventually gave way to tarmac again and we encountered our first reindeer.

The reindeer were recognized beforehand as the biggest individual risk on the trip and it became instantly clear why. These fuckers don't give way or seem to follow any kind of logic. The seem docile and calm but can dart in any direction without warning. We later saw one guy miss one only by inches as he clearly wasn't expecting the reindeer to just erratically bounce in front of him.

The amount of mosquitos was staggering. Bikes were a mess and the visors needed constant cleaning.

Just after crossing over to the Norwegian side

Less than 100 km to Lakselv

Weather however was brilliant. Not very warm, but no threat of rain and minimal wind. After 8 hours of on the road we reached the Norwegian border. No guards or personnel. Just an open gate. We soon realized that the Finns didn't apparently pay attention when they drew the borders. The scenery changed for the better almost instantly after crossing the border. Rivers were wider, fjelds higher and even the mosquitoes were reduced in numbers. To add insult to injury the clouds also cleared and we were soon riding under a clear sky. Norwegians have apparently called dibs on the weather too. After some more riding we started to see snow topped hills and actual mountains in the distance. The town of Lakselv was surprisingly fast in front of us and we found a has station to be conveniently next door. We lugged our stuff to the room and returned to the bikes for a quick ride to shore. The Barents sea had to be seen before hitting the sack.

Returning from the photo session, We met a German fellow on the gas station that was running out of rear tire on his NC700. We gave him directions to Honda dealer in Finland and my phone number. He promptly mounted his bike and speeded away into the "night". The sun didn't set at all so might as well.

By the Barents sea

Day 2
The second day started in perfect weather. No clouds or wind. We were able to leave out some riding gear we were wearing the previous day. As I had packed like an idiot I had little to no room to pack away the now unexpectedly unnecessary gear.  We took the road towards Nordkapp, but turned left towards Alta. This was the northernmost part of the trip. We were roughly 1500 kms away from home. From the looks of the rivers and the cars that sported long fly fishing rods mounted on the hood this was salmon country.

Lakselv before heading out
Shortly after Lakselv
River between Lakselv and Alta
Barents sea
Road between Lakselv and Alta
Some of the stretches were pretty long and straight

We were in Alta well before noon, but didn't stay for more than just to fill up the tanks. My 690 was the weak link and had to be fed every 200 kms. The road from Alta to to the Finnish border was twisty and gorgeous. Clearly the best roads on the trip. Once we reached Finland the scenery started to flatten and the roads became a bit too straight.

By the Norwegian sea
We dropped southbound for several hours and crossed over to Sweden at Ylitornio. We returned to the finish side from Tornio which is the last possible place to do so. From Tornio there was just a half an hour ride to Kemi where we spent the night. We again fed ourselves with pizza and beer.

Beautiful twisty bit after Alta
Perfect riding weather

Looks like rain

We saw rain ahead and took the appropriate action. Didn't rain really allthought the roads were partly wet
The Artic Circle on the Sweden side
 Day 3
After the obligatory photos by the gulf of Bothnia we hopped on the bikes and headed home. As expected the traffic increased from previous near zero to annoying. Car drivers were being idiots again. We tried to stay of the main highways, but the riding was a bit of a chore as the only mission was to get home. AS we had started early and practically skipped breakfast we were home couple of hours early.

Gulf of Bothnia
Collected quite a few bugs on the way
Thoughts on gear & bike
The 690 performed flawlessly and was not "vibey" even after several hours of riding.
The Airhawk felt like money well spent. 
Do NOT buy bags that aren't waterproof. Annoying as hell to fiddle with the rain covers.
Get side racks for the 690. Removing the luggage each time you fill up gets annoying. 
Really wanted a cruise assist at one point
Change knee pads for softer ones (d30 or similat). The only thing that were really sore were my knees.

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