13 & 14 May 2015 – Varmints…and the weather takes a turn for the worse

Something wasn’t quite right, my ‘spider sense’ was twitching. I’d woken up a couple of times during the night, I thought because it had got colder, and a bit windier, but no, that wasn’t it. I felt something move under my foot beneath the sleeping bag, a lump slowly making its way from left to right. Then came the sound of rustling from the direction of my panniers; I was pretty sure this wasn’t the wind, and it couldn’t be a ghost; you’re safe if you’re under a duvet/sleeping bag aren’t you? Unless it’s one of those really scary Japanese horrors that don’t play by the rules.

I unzipped my inner tent door to the porch and peered out cautiously, moving my panniers to one side. Two beady eyes peered back at me angrily from a small furry face, a varmint! This particular varmint was a vole, and he wasn’t too pleased at being disturbed. Thankfully I’d closed up my panniers overnight so he/she couldn’t get in to feast on my salami or cheese supplies, however the miscreant had succeeded in gnawing through the tensioning cord under my tent, in two places, and had put two small vole shaped holes in the groundsheet as well. I’ve no idea if the beasty roamed around inside my tent whilst I was asleep; I don’t think so as didn’t find any droppings, but who knows what kind of party occurred. I asked Lobster why he hadn’t been on guard? He just shrugged muttering something about needing his beauty sleep with all this cycling, like he actually does any of the pedalling!

I chased the vole away, although it kept trying t get back under my tent; must be cosy under there.

Varmint! A visit from a vole

Varmint! A visit from a vole

Then I fixed the tensioning cord with a few reef knots and half hitches, which should suffice. I’ll patch the floor when I next use my tent, using some gaffa tape and a bit of the CTC bike bag I still have; knew it would come in handy. Having another look around there was plenty of evidence of vole activity. They make runs under the snow in winter, but are emerging now spring has sprung. The campsite really needs a cat, or an eagle owl, or a few wolves, that’d sort them out.

Vole holes, hadn't paid much attention to them yesterday, lesson learned

Vole holes, hadn’t paid much attention to them yesterday, lesson learned

The run this varmint made under my tent

The run this varmint made under my tent

With the tent packed up and vole scared off, I looked around, no wonder it had been colder overnight; mist had descended and blanketed the lake.

Packing up time in Vitangi, post varmint incursion

Packing up time in Vitangi, post varmint incursion

Maybe ‘The Fog’ had brought out the voles, although it didn’t look like a zombie vole, thankfully.

Misty morning in Vitangi

Misty morning in Vitangi

The voles did explain why Dimitri had been so interested in the area where I’d camped yesterday, it wasn’t just my salami he was sniffing (that doesn’t sound at all dodgy does it?!).

Mist in the trees

Mist in the trees

After warming up with some peppermint tea, I hit the road, bidding goodbye to Fredy, Astrid and Dimitri, who were continuing their way up to Nordkapp by camper van before Fredy and Dimitri start their tour; good luck to them!

I pedalled over the bridge and back through Vitangi, before joining the E45/E10. The road started off flat but got more hilly latterly, climbing up to over 1700 foot at one point, according to my Garmin anyway.

Few hills to contend with, none serious

Few hills to contend with, none serious

Thankfully the ascents were for the most part fairly gentle, with only a few more serious assaults required. The roads were getting busier as I headed further South, with more cars and lorries today.

Pedalling South - the sun comes out

Pedalling South – the sun comes out

Today turned out to be a singing day, the power of music being employed to banish memories of the varmint attack, and speed me on my way. Singing a few songs as you pedal along really does make the journey go quicker, and helps get you up hills, especially if you’re trying to remember the words, or make them up as I’m want to do.

Singing selfie in the sunshine

Singing selfie in the sunshine

I started off with a bit of American Pie, which has a lot of verses so was quite a challenge, then moved on to Queen, working through their greatest hits, and finishing with some Lobster rock just to keep my travelling crustacean companion entertained.

Double thumbs up pirate pose of the day

Double thumbs up pirate pose of the day

It really raises morale, belting along belting out a few tunes for all to hear. When I say ‘all’ I mostly mean reindeer, and birds, as there weren’t many humans around.

Frozen lake number ?!?$!

Frozen lake number ?!?$!

The scenery was fairly standard, more pines and frozen lakes, and I was enjoying the ride, and singing, so I didn’t take many pictures. I arrived in Gallivare about 15.00 I think, after passing signs advertising a burger joint for the last 15km.  The sign post introducing Gallivare proudly announces that this is Europe’s mining capital; lots of iron ore apparently.

I found Gallivare campsite and checked in, opting for a cheap room rather than my tent, as the price was fairly similar, then pedalled back into town to pick up some supplies and find the burger joint.

Burger acquired at Frasses

Burger acquired at Frasses

The burger did not disappoint, and the fries were pretty good too, all good fuel for the next day’s cycling. They have some good alternative seasoning for fries in Europe; some kind of chilli mix.

Gallivare itself is a bit of a depressing place, with quite a bit of poverty in evidence; people begging outside all the shops – looked like ethnic minorities, sad really. It’s very much an industrial looking town, with a few ski runs thrown in for good measure.

I spent the evening closeted in my room as there was no-one else around, drinking chocolate milk and planning the next few days; I’m not sure why I bother as I always seem to end up tweaking my plans, but at least it gives me a starting point.

Planning aided by chocolate milk

Planning aided by chocolate milk

One strange thing; the whole room shook at about 11.30. I checked and don’t think it was an earthquake, so maybe it was something to do with the mining in the area.

I covered 102 km on 13 May, here’s the Garmin record of my ride: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/773176073  (let me know if the link doesn’t work)

———-> 14 May

I’d gone to bed slightly nervous about the weather, the forecast not being particularly encouraging, and when I looked out of the window my fears were realised. Despite the sleet and strong Northerly wind I packed up and got on the road about 09.15, with around 140km to do to get to Overkalix.

14 May - weather not the best

14 May – weather not the best

The thing about photos is they don’t show up the rain or sleet very well; I’ll take video next time. Before I left I noticed the painting in the lodge where I was staying, a bit of a strange image to adorn the wall with.

Strange fresco in lodge in Gallivare

Strange fresco in lodge in Gallivare

Mountains in the background have ski runs

Mountains in the background have ski runs

After dropping off my key I rode back through Gallivare, thankful that I only had a short stretch riding into the wind, then turned on to the E10 which would take me South, with a fine tailwind, hopefully all the way to the Baltic coast, or in the short-term to Overkalix anyway.

Wet day riding

Wet day riding

Maybe it was the weather, or perhaps I’d drunk too much water/chocolate milk the night before, however I had to stop for a frustrating number of loo breaks; tricky when it’s cold and raining and you just want to get on with the ride.

Another pit stop

Another pit stop

The sleet/rain turned into snow at one point, which was ‘nice’, so I was very glad of my ski gloves, even if they got a bit damp, as well as my polartec buff which kept my head very toasty under my helmet.

The tailwind sped me South at an average of 20km an hour, which is pretty good for me with a fully loaded touring bike; I’d stocked up on food yesterday. I reckon my bike + kit must weigh about 45kg, maybe a bit more when loaded up with max food and water. I’ll try to check the exact weight when I can find some scales.

I didn’t stop very much, aside from to answer calls of nature, as the snow turned back to rain and with spray from the traffic it was really quite unpleasant. A shame really as in better weather this would be lovely countryside to pedal through; pine forests crisscrossed by rivers, with the road winding through mountains. It was fairly flat for most of the ride, with the overall gradient tending to be downhill, so easy riding, especially with the tailwind.

Wet thumbs up

Wet thumbs up

I could smell pine sap all day from the piles of logs along the roadside. I also saw 3 Capercaillie, which I was pleased about having not seen one before, as far as I’m aware. On each occasion they startled and flew off as I rode by; the same could not be said for the 4 or 5 reindeer corpses I passed, which must have been hit by lorries or cars.

Break time next to a river

Break time next to a river

Speaking to the landlady of the hotel I’m staying in tonight, the Reindeer are apparently pretty stupid, much like the sheep in Scotland I encountered. Moose are far more intelligent and shy, and don’t tend to wander into he road. If you do hit a Moose it’s far more dangerous, as you take out its legs and then the body falls through the windscreen; not a good result for either party.

Nice spot by the river, aside from the weather

Nice spot by the river, aside from the weather

Lobster not happy with the inclement weather

Lobster not happy with the inclement weather

Again there were a lot more cars and lorries today, which still gave me lots of room, but tended to spray me somewhat. The worst were the trucks with two trailers, or even more so the double oil tankers which kicked up enormous amounts of water; very wet socks and gloves!

I rode through the last few villages accompanied by the sound of barking dogs, who always seem to react badly to passing cycle tourers. I had to pedal over the river a couple of times to reach Overkalix, discovering that the campsite was indeed closed, as suspected, but the Grand Arctic Hotel was open, and right next door. I opted for the hotel rather than to wild camp, figuring I’d saved some money over the last few days, and needed to dry out anyway. The weather was getting worse, but will hopefully improve tomorrow, according to the forecast.

Bit damp, opted for the hotel

Bit damp, opted for the hotel

The hotel is owned by a Russian family, who are in the process of renovating it. I’m happy to report the sauna works just fine, and did a great job of returning warmth and sensation to my hands and feet, a definite bonus. I also enjoyed my first beer of the tour, alongside a fine chicken and rice, plus salad, plus bread dinner.

First beer of the tour - a fine local brew

First beer of the tour – a fine local brew (IPA)

I now have various items of clothing draped around my room drying, hopefully by tomorrow morning, in time for the ride to Lulea. Here is a link to today’s 142km ride: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/774264134

One final thing; I met two more cycle tourers who arrived at the hotel shortly after me, with the same idea of retreating from the weather. Jon has cycled here from Gilbraltar, on his way to Nordkapp, and passed on a few tips on the route. He’s recently been joined by Tim, from Hong Kong, who has been pedalling since Umea. It appears the frequency of cycle tourers is going up, excellent stuff; saying that I’ll not meet another one until Denmark now!

7 thoughts on “13 & 14 May 2015 – Varmints…and the weather takes a turn for the worse

  1. Phil Shaw

    Great progress James & liking the Garmin ride data:-) Entertaining as always… A possible book from the blog this time perhaps? Oh & why a Lobster? I’ve a Puffin from Lundy Island (local to me) that I could take on my next tour!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. SelfPropelled Post author

      Hi Phil, yes I ought to think about a book, maybe combine this tour with a prelude of my Bike around Britain tour. As always it’s a question of time. The Lobster was discovered by Lucy several years ago, looking very dejected at the bottom of a bucket on a film set. She rescued and cleaned him up (needs cleaning again!), and joined her in her car on travels. He now joins me on travels, in memory of Lu, and makes me feel like a part of her is travelling with me; even though he can be a right little varmint in his own right at times!

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  2. Phil Shaw

    That’s touching & real cool re Lobster… As I enjoy your blogs so much, I’m going to send a payment to the charity for you & to Help keep you motivated… Not that you need motivating:-) The book ideas sound great & like you say if time allows… I for one would champion your cause & buy it!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  3. lairdnet

    Loving the varmint update & pics. Seems a tad unfair reading your exploits over a sandwich sat in the office. And very sweet that lobster is travelling with you on your adventures! Keep singing! ☺

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  4. Pingback: Cycling Europe – bike and kit review | Self Propelled

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