25th June South of Stavanger: Norway on another Sunday

Sunday 25th June: In the evening. Its ten past nine though it doesn’t feel that late. I’m in my tent in a campsite just north of Stavanger. I don’t know where exactly I am. But I do know that this campsite is right next to the E39. Its next to an embankment that goes up to the main road. The road goes over a bridge over a fjord and I can see a little bit further is a ferry that crosses the fjord. Again, today was beautiful riding with a couple of ferries and on one of them two Norwegian guys riding motorcycles and chatting to them which was nice. After the ferry we went our separate ways with some really long tunnels going down towards Stavanger in fact I got a recommendation from Thomas Hansen for some places to buy food on a Sunday near Bergen. He had some good recommendations, but I had already found somewhere which was by a small harbour with lots of children jumping in to the water on a warm sunny Sunday morning. I had to wait there for quite a while for this small shop to open.

No beer to be bought on a Sunday

In the end what I bought there was not bad. Riding: It got to 3.30 or twenty to 4 and I thought I might as well stop somewhere rather than run out of road to enjoy for the rest of these few days. But I know that tomorrow there is rain forecast and in fact one of the bikers told me that torrential rain is forecast with thunder and lightning.  And it makes my heart freeze the thought of it tomorrow. Its forecast to start raining at 9am and rain until 2 in the afternoon. So that has put me in an anxious mood. On the way here I rode into one campsite, very slopy and gravelly which just did not feel right. It was packed full of families in caravans (it felt more like a holiday camp than a campsite for travellers) so I rode on and have ended up in this place. Even before I got off the bike in the parking area here at Austre Bokn Camping, I was looking at my Norcamp app for places that had huts because I could see that this place does not and I could not see any sites nearby that had huts. So here I am. It is one of those in transition places that was quite traditional but the new owners who have owned it since 2021 (I know that because they have written their biography and their ‘vision’ for the site in many languages and posted it up around the site) and are making the place slightly swanky so you have to pay for everything: you have to pay for a shower; you pay to use the kitchen; to use the washing machine and the prices are up on the walls everywhere. It’s a nice place but it has got some disadvantages: its really windy which obviously you can’t blame on the campsite but its unsettling – and being right next to the traffic (the sound of a truck going by on my recording). Tonight will be another night of wearing earplugs. Not only all day but all night! Looking back I remember how odd it felt trying to sleep in broad daylight a few yards a way from a traffic embankment.

The view is beautiful – in that direction at least

But now I am really nervous about tomorrow. I really want to get packed up tomorrow before 9am when its forecast to start raining. I have an alarm set for 7am.

Camping in a windy corner

I have been looking on the map and found what looks like a good campsite. I did start looking for hotels. They were either really expensive or there was a cheap one but I realised it was cheap because you shared – it looked pretty crappy actually. So I am going to head off to this place called Steinsnes NAF camping in Egarsund. I can see from Google maps that they have cabins and I just pray that they have a cabin that I can stay in tonight and possibly tomorrow night and I was also looking on the map for places that I could shelter on the way – get off the bike, park at a shopping centre and hang out inside for an hour or so if its pouring in Stavanger, or a petrol station… somewhere just to shelter from the rain, just stand there under shelter for an hour or even two, I really don’t mind. So I have lots of nervousness about tomorrow because of the rain. The dread is nearly always much worse than doing it – but I do want to get off before it rains. Its windy tonight here. I’ve got a lovely view over the fjord. I’m on a high piece of land here on this very slopy campsite but it is pretty windy. I am sure it will be fine. Worse things have happened at sea. I got very drenched three or four days ago but its just a memory now. In fact there is something about that kind of adversity that makes you really focussed on the moment. When you are riding along and the weather is fine, my mind is going all over the place but when things are tough you are really there. So I am hoping that I sleep well. Apart from the noisy traffic the place is quiet, very quiet. There’s no noise from other people at all – just the birds, the wind and the traffic. The traffic is getting quieter too… So, this anxiety about stuff its so – its not the end of the world. Its easy to get clenched up and hunker down, look inward. Its crazy. It doesn’t help but I have made a few plans which is good. Lets see what the next instalment brings.

Norway 2023 Route Summary

My aim was to visit the Arctic Circle relatively directly and then journey back to the south, where the ferry arrives and leaves from, in a slightly more relaxed way, down the west coast through tunnels and many short ferry trips.

The trip was 2,812 miles in total. I went out through Holland close to the north coast, which I thought might be more scenic (it wasn’t) and came back a more direct (though much busier) way. The main ferries were Stenna’s line from my old favourite Harwich to Hook of Holland and the new HNL, Holland Norway Line from the port of Emden just over the border into Germany to Kristiansand at the southern tip of Norway. Both are overnight journeys. Stenna cost £360 and HNL £714. I’m really supportive of a new venture in this complicated and costly sector. HNL’s offices at Emden were a series of tents.

This is looking down from the boat when everyone had boarded and the customs and other people were packing up and going home. But Stenna have a much more oiled operation and their boat and the cabins are noticeably nicer. HNL kindly changed my cabin when I complained that I was just under the performers on the sundeck.

Riding around Derbyshire

Friday 20th August day 2

I slept as I usually do when camping. Asleep by 9 when it is just getting dark and awake for some hours in the night. The combo of my new inflatable pillow made by Trekology, my folded sheepskin and my Thermarest sleeping pad blown up properly was probably the most comfortable I’ve been. To avoid the many DoE participants I was dressed and showered by 7.30 and enjoyed coffee made with my GSI drip using a filter paper to avoid a tricky washing up challenge. It was a little weak but good. I need to work on getting it better.

I obviously had not built up trust in the bike as when it refused to start this morning i.e. nothing at all happened when I pressed the starter – I imagined, in panic, myself calling for a breakdown service wondering if they would find the way here.  But I had just left it in gear and it spluttered into life though after three goes. It’s clearly not a start on the button machine – even when not in gear. I got a couple of recommendations from men here who ride bikes but I started off without a ride plan and enjoyed the mostly lovely lanes. Even the bigger roads were more enjoyable than what I’m used to. Searching for Snake Pass (one of the recommendations) was a little futile as it was packed with heavy vehicles with great jams. So I turned off. I had lunch of tea and a sausage sandwich in a lay-by watched by a field of cows. I would never do that but I was hungry and life on the bike seems to lead me into down market culinary choices.

The bike is easier to manoeuvre on the stoney ground here at the campsite but not effortless – but then what is? It is good to ride, responsive, but dives on braking to a quick stop. The usual thoughts today: am I enjoying this? It’s a different headspace to the rest of the year so yes. I had another shower and a shave. Feeling slightly less grubby feels good. I fell asleep when I got back from this ride. 

My weather app shows rain tomorrow and all night and most of Sunday so it will be the toughest part of the trip morale wise. I shouldn’t bottle out for a motel… unless something really good appears out of the mist. 

I think I missed the best parts of Snake pass

Long Way Up review

In 2004 Ewan McGreggor and Charley Boorman, along with cameraman Claudio Von Plantar travelled on BMW motorcycles from London through Russia and North America to New York, a journey of 19,000 miles. The TV series, Long Way Round, and subsequent DVD releases are well-known within motorcycle travel circles as popularising ‘adventure’ travel as well as the model of BMW that they used for the trip. In 2019 the same team took – and filmed – another journey, this time northwards from Ushuaia through South and Central America to Los Angeles, where McGreggor lives. In the fifteen years that intervened a lot can happen. As W B Yeats asked, ‘Who could have foretold/ That the heart grows old?’ For me, what is most interesting about watching this series – officially on Apple TV but now leaking out into other places – is to see the effect of passing time.

Easiest to talk about first, is the tech advances in filming since the early 2000s. The vivid quality of the images, compared to the footage from Asia fifteen years earlier, is remarkable. And the editors have super-saturated much of the film (especially the sun-drenched intro). Three colorists are among the credits. So many scenes in this series remind me of the covers of travel guides – a deep turquoise sky and a glowing ochre earth. I remember the grainy helmet cam footage from Long Way Round with its ‘fighter-pilot’ voices. But now we have, of course, 4K quality from the on-board footage and the sense that Ewan and Charlie are speaking into our ears. The other advance is the use of drones. The drone footage, particularly from Peru, is astonishingly beautiful in this series. Drones (I presume) did not exist in 2004 – or at least were not widely used. So visually, this series is stunning.

Publicity pic

Linked to this advance is the growth of YouTube records of so many similar travels by motorcyclists with far less financial backing and professional expertise at hand. Pretty much anyone who sets off for a ride on a motorcycle nowadays fits a 4K capable camera to the side of their helmet, and it seems every other motorcycle traveller has a drone packed away somewhere on their bike. And there is so much impressive drone-filmed work on YouTube. So the producers of LWU have a higher bar in terms of getting our attention and standing out from the democratised, amateur YouTube crowd. I think they do. The overall achievement is impressive and the story is well told with good editing. The directors know about adding tension and suspense particularly at the end of an episode, although this is a little predictable. The professional capability is unmistakable. And of course, the directors also have the celebrity card to play, and presumably its this that sold it to whoever financially backed this enterprise. This will be a must-see series for fans of Ewan and Charlie, who over the last ten years have responded to almost every social media post that the two have made with the question ‘when will you do a third trip?’ Motorcycle travel fans will also probably want to watch it, though may not make it to the end of the ten part series.

The other obvious feature of the passing of time is that all the protagonists now are bespectacled and grey haired and move through the world with slightly less ease, particularly the regularly injured and unhealthy looking Boorman. But what life-events have also added to that ageing? For the celebrity Ewan McGreggor this includes a recent much publicised divorce from the wife that he was keen to bring into their earlier Long Way Down trip through Africa. Charlie had, in the last five years or so suffered two major motorcycle injuries leaving him with a great deal of internal fixation and, I hear, one leg shorter than the other. And Cameraman Claudio left at home a wife slowly dying of Motor Neurone Disease. In an interview for an American adventure motorcycle channel he told, movingly, how when he returned home after filming this trip his wife was no longer able to speak. Knowing all this, one of the surprises of the film is that the effects of these life events are definitely out of bounds, apart from a few passing references to Boorman’s injuries. Perhaps a result of editing for an upbeat mood, we never see the avowed best friends have a conversation with each other about anything other than the practicalities of the journey or the beauty of the landscape – or sentimental comments about locals or about their own friendship. The friendship between these two is often presented as the heart of these series. Assuming that these two best mates actually do have proper conversations with each other about things that matter to them, I think other directors might have not been afraid of including some of that dialogue. Charlie Boorman is very frank publicly about his dyslexia and seeing at least two near misses on his bike in this series as a result of apparent inattention to other road users coming straight towards him(!), I wondered whether there is an element of some other problem that has played a part in his series of motorcycle injuries. During the film of his participation in a Dakar Rally, another rider describes him, in a moment of candour, as ‘a bull in a china shop’.  Charlie did not finish because of injury, along with many others of course. Perhaps, seriously, someone should be suggesting to him that he stops riding before its too late. In the early episodes he looks uncomfortable on his bike and tired. There are one or two lingering shots of him closing his eyes during a conversation or looking deeply exhausted. But a commentary throughout from Ewan seems to be intended to keep things chipper.

One focus of the series is on the practicalities and challenges of riding such a journey on electric powered bikes. In the cold of southern South America it is particularly difficult to charge them. I was impressed by the decision to take up the challenge of using bikes ahead of a future probably without internal combustion engines. I saw this as a genuine commitment rather than being faddish. The riding itself seemed relatively easy, certainly compared with LWR’s Mongolian and far eastern Siberian riding so the drama was mostly staged around whether the two would get to their destination before the bikes ran out of juice. Usually they did but sometimes they did not, bringing out some ingenuity. The investment of Harley-Davidson and Rivian trucks must have gained these two brands some welcome publicity though I doubt that this series will have the huge effect on brand specific sales that the previous BMW centred journeys did.

So overall, this was a visually impressive series with the crew rising to some difficult challenges with huge resourcefulness and confidence. It will please fans. But placed alongside other travel documentaries, editorial decisions make it feel superficial with some lost opportunities to move out of a kind of Boys Own comic style.

Another post-work trip idea

This time about half the distance of Lake Baikal, a kind of Florence Nightingale pilgrimage in a clockwise direction around the Black Sea – though Ukraine to Crimea (I don’t think Ukraine allows border crossings from the areas currently controlled by Russia but Streetview, probably from a few years back, makes it look so peaceful), then the Russian part of the coast, followed by Georgia on the southeast corner and then Turkey along the southern coast of the sea, finally to Istanbul and a visit to the Florence Nightingale museum at the Selimiye Barracks – if this is still open. From HvH the round trip is about 5000 miles, according to MyRouteApp.