Vollen, Norway: “Elon Musk’s Playground”, and The People We Meet, continued

July 2, 2022

Heading north through Sweden and into Norway, we began to notice Tesla cars. We had seen Teslas pretty much everywhere, but not like this. About one hundred kilometers south of Oslo, I was starting to feel sleepy, so Diana suggested I count Teslas.

That was an eye-opener, in more ways than just keeping me awake.

You couldn’t go more than about five seconds without seeing at least one Tesla. In some cases, in a pack of ten cars headed south, there would be three or four Teslas. There were also a lot of electric VWs (Up! and ID3 models especially), Hyundais, Kias, BMWs, Audis, Ford Mustangs, and many more. The sheer volume of electric cars made me wonder about my personal opinions that there was no way the current infrastructure would support a sudden increase in electric vehicles. I still believe that to be true in the US: it will take time to build enough charging stations, and to be able to supply enough electricity to charge that many cars at one time. But Norway is doing it now. Granted, it’s a much smaller country, with only 5.5 million people, but the rapid adoption of EVs is pretty substantial.

Initially we thought the huge volume of Teslas was only near Oslo, the capitol of Norway and its largest city. But since then we’ve traveled deep into the fjord lands, far from any real city, and there are still Teslas and other EVs everywhere, many pulling trailers, or carrying two sea kayaks on the roof.

We stopped in Vollen for two nights, at a small AirBnB. Vollen is a small rural community across the bay from Oslo. Our host, Christian, was the kind of guy you hope to meet while traveling; he didn’t mind taking the time (and in fact offered) to answer our questions, give us some history lessons, and give us some tips on where to go and what to see. His place was so comfortable though that we ended up just hanging out there, getting some laundry done, catching up on paperwork, and enjoying being in one place for a while.

Christian fired up the pizza oven one night and made some incredible pizza with home-made dough. His mother (on the right) stopped by also. I could have talked with her for hours. Great people with backgrounds that beg for more details.

Home-made pizza in a home-built pizza oven. The best!

Christian and his family live on the family farm, which has been in his family for 13 generations. The small house next to his was built in the 1730s, and his home was originally built in the 1850s, though it has been added to and remodeled several times since then. His family grew strawberries and raspberries on the land when it was a farm, and worked other jobs in the off-season, as carpenters and ship builders for example.

I asked Christian about the number of Teslas we were seeing, and he laughed and said “Norway is Elon Musk’s Playground”. Several years ago, when Norway began advocating a switch to electric vehicles, the government passed incentives and subsidies if you purchased an electric car. Also, electricity was provided free of charge to everyone (this has since changed), so it meant no “refueling” charge either. All of this helps to explain why in March alone, electric vehicles accounted for 86% of all new car sales in Norway.

Christian is also a sailor, and has a 42 foot sailboat moored at the marina in Vollen. He invited us to go sailing with him while we were there, but between our laziness, enjoying a couch and a patio for a couple of days, and the weather (it was a bit rainy off and on, with some gusts), we decided to just stay put. The family is headed off this week on the boat, south to Sweden and Denmark.

After relaxing for a couple of days, we set off towards the west coast of Norway, into some incredible beauty.


July 3-4, 2022

The weather here changes quickly. One moment it’s sunny and warm, but quickly it’s raining and chilly, especially on the bike. We rode in and out of rain, at times up above what seemed to be the treeline, past lakes with snow on the hills around them.

Our first introduction to what is coming…

Little of the land here is flat, and the mountains are very steep, which makes building roads a challenge. Hence the reason why there are over 1200 tunnels in Norway. Some of them are quite long, and few of them are straight.

As we rode to our campsite for the night, we rode through tunnels of up to seven or eight miles long. One in particular actually went in a corkscrew direction, circling downward mored than 360 degrees. We entered in rain and exited into sun snd dry roads.

We camped for the night near Eidfjord, on the edge of a beautiful lake.

Our campsite near Eidfjord. Great scenery.

This is 10:30pm. At least at this latitude it does get fairly dark for a few hours a night.

The next morning we rode back through the corkscrew tunnel up to Vøringossen, a large waterfall.

Looking out from above Vøringfossen.

Looking down to where the falls join together.

They recently built this stepped bridge across the falls. Some say it distracts from the view, but it is pretty cool. They’re still building more viewing platforms on the lower side of the bridge.

Trolls are everywhere here.

Walking back towards the bike, we saw a couple looking it over. I told Diana “You go talk to them while I use the restroom. Be there in a minute.”

As Diana approached them, she got what has become our normal greeting: “Are you REALLY from Texas?”

When I returned, it was immediately obvious from her accent that she was American. Sandra was from Shreveport, Louisiana, but had lived in Bergen, Norway for the last 23 years with her husband Thomas, who is Norwegian. They were both riders as well, though they were touring on four connected wheels at the moment.

We talked for a bit, and I gave them one of our stickers. Thomas said “Wait, I’ll be right back”, and returned with stickers for us as well as a very nice Travel Coin.

Thanks Thomas and Sandra!

They invited us to stay with them in Bergen, and we invited them to visit us in Texas.

We left Voringfossen as it began to rain, and headed further west and north to Tourist Central: Flam.


July 4-6, 2022

We’re taking it a bit slower for a few days, for several reasons:

The scenery is too good to pass by quickly.
The weather is a bit iffy: cold and wet, but dry and cool at times.
We have several long days ahead of us and Diana doesn’t “do cold” well, so I’m trying to give her some time off the bike to rest before pushing it.

Heading to Flåm, we again passed through many tunnels, including a couple with colored lighting, and one with a roundabout in the middle of it. You can see these in the video in the next post. I’ve seen intersections in tunnels before, such as in Guanajuato, Mexico, but the colored lights added a whole new dimension. Disco tunnels!

Our campsite for the next few days was “in town”, as “town” is only a couple of blocks long. But we shared the town with a train, several cruise ships, and a ton of tourists.

The town of Flåm is small (population 350), as is the end of the fjord where the cruise ships dock. This makes it look like the cruise ship is parked in a tiny creek. Each night one cruise ship would leave, and in the morning another would arrive, thus increasing the population of tiny Flåm by nearly ten-fold.

The first day in Flåm we took a train ride up to Myrdal and back. Nice scenery and a huge waterfall in the middle of the ride, where they stopped and you could get out and stand on a platform at the base of the falls. The side of the train says “One of the most beautiful train journeys in the world.” Typical Norwegian honesty; In the US, as elsewhere, they would say it was THE most beautiful, regardless.

View from the train.

Kjosfossen waterfall.

When we arrived at the campground, Diana met Terhi from Finland. Terhi and her husband Harri and 9-year-old daughter are touring Norway on two motorcycles. They gave us some great tips about where to go and what to see in Finland, and invited us to stay at their summer cabin when we get there. Two days later, at a gas stop, we met two more guys from Finland, Jonni and Tony, and Tony also offered his summer cabin to us. As Diana said, people often say “If you’re in the area, stop by”, but the Finns don’t just say it, they insist on it!

The next day we rode back to Gudvangen, and boarded the ferry to Kaupanger. This is a slightly cheaper way to tour the Sognefjord. This photo shows the downside of all this beauty: the hordes of tourists from cruise ships, packed onto tour buses, swarm into the Gudvangen (population 100) ferry terminal to board the tour boat. It looks like the entrance to Disneyland at opening time. They blocked the cars, trucks (and motorcycles) from boarding the ferry, while they took selfies. The ferry was more my speed.

View from the ferry of Bakka.

Bakka lies literally at the end of the road, and there is this beautiful campsite (just out of the photo) beside the church. If/when I get back here, I will definitely be camping there.

We got off the ferry in Kaupanger, and rode a short distance before taking another ferry across the Sognefjord to Lærdalsøyri. From here to Aurland is a 24.5 km (15.2 mile) long tunnel. But we were going to have to pass through this tunnel again the next day on our way farther north. So…

Before there was a tunnel, there was a road over the mountain. Definitely a more adventurous route. As we climbed to the top, the temperatures dropped again, down to around 3°C, or 37°F. With the wind it was downright chilly.

The view at the top of the pass.

Coming back down on the Aurland side, we broke out near the edge of the steep mountain, and began the switchback descent.

Stunning views of the fjord as we descended to Aurland.

Note that the GPS says the speed limit here is 50mph, or 80kph. Which may well be true because it is a rural road, but good luck approaching these switchbacks at that speed. See ya at the bottom!

After a couple of full days of sightseeing, we left Flam and continued north to Geiranger, and the scenery just kept getting more jaw-dropping.

Remember that comment about fries, fries, and more fries? I wish I had taken a photo of the package before we threw it away, but this skillet is full of a bag of “Mexican Tacos”. Yep, just add tortillas, to your tiny pieces of unidentifiable cubed meat, corn kernels, and french fries. Nothing says Mexican Food like french fries in a tortilla.

Geiranger and Trollstigen

July 7-8, 2022

We left Flåm in sunshine (nice for a change) and headed north through the longest road tunnel in the world. The Lærdal Tunnel is 24.5 km long, or 15.23 miles. It’s also fairly straight and quite boring, after the corkscrew and disco tunnels we’d ridden through in the past few days.

We took a bit of a meandering path, as tends to be the norm here due to all of the mountains and fjords, but I added to that as well, simply for the scenery. Along the way, we saw some beautiful scenery (more in the video below), and got caught in a goat-jam.

It seems to just keep getting better.

Goat jam. Goats crossing the road…

And some refusing to cross the road.

We eventually ended up in Stryn, then entered the relatively short 4.5km long Oppljos Tunnel. Just after the tunnel, we turned off of 15 and onto 63, and the scenery once again went from green and blue to white and gray.

And cold.

End of the road? This time of year, yes.

These “Soil Sheds” are located along the higher part of the road. Before the introduction of the rotary snow plow in 1947, it took hundreds of men twelve weeks each year to clear the roads by hand and shovel in the spring; the snow would be between 20 and 40 feet deep. Black soil was stored in these sheds, and spread on the snow. The heat from the sun shining on the black soil melted the snow.

As we crossed the far side of the pass and started down, the scenery left me breathless.

You can see the winding road in this photo, as well as several waterfalls. These photos don’t do it justice.

I was thinking to myself, “Okay, I can go home now. Nothing could possibly top this.”

Looking out over Geiranger, with two cruise ships in the harbor. All of those little white dots in the center of the photo at the bottom of the fjord are RVs; that’s where we camped for the night.

It started raining right after we pitched the tent, and didn’t stop until early morning. We were in a soggy, muddy spot, but by 10am the sun was coming out and the tent was beginning to dry. We packed up and headed back up the other side of the fjord to Trollstigen.

Not Diana’s favorite scenery (or maybe it would be okay from the heated seats of a nice car). She is coming to terms with the idea that this is going to be the norm for the next week or two.

The Trollstigen cafe and road stop just off the pass, a favorite motorcycle gathering spot. The plates in the parking lot were from Italy, Lithuania, Sweden, Norway, Poland, and, uh, Texas.

We were approached by a Polish couple:

“Are you really from Texas?”
“Yes, ma’am.” (It’s what they are expecting to hear.) “And you?”
“What part of Poland?”, I asked.
“We’ll be there next month!”
“Too many tourists in August. Better to come in May or September.”
There’s that honesty shining through again.

The cafe was closed for remodeling, but there was a trailer in front selling coffee and ice cream. And people buying both.

After you enjoy the waterfall, look at the road. This is the typical road in the mountains here. Now picture a large tourbus passing the red car in the opposite direction. Yep. All the time. The hairpins get a bit, er, “hairy” with the buses. A couple of days ago, we were behind a car, with several more behind us, going down the switchbacks into Aurland, when a van coming up refused to yield. He wanted the cars to back up to a turnout rather than him back down to the turnout that was only about 100 feet behind him. Of course, I’m not backing uphill on a fully loaded bike, and the car in front would have to back over me to back up. So I decided to let them play chicken and I went around the car ahead of me. Then the van moved over, I suppose to let me by on his right, but there wasn’t really enough room, and there was no shoulder at all. If I had put my foot down, we would have tumbled quite a ways. We eventually got past, but Diana had to put her hand on the side of the van to help gauge when the pannier was going to scrape.

Someone a week or so ago scoffed when I mentioned Trollstigen. “Eh, there are better places.” I tend to agree: yesterday above Geiranger was better for beauty. Maybe not quite as good for pavement, and more tour buses, but it’s the best I’ve seen so far. But hey, it’s still pretty awesome.

So here’s a short video compilation of the last couple of days in Norway:


July 11-13, 2022

We’re about 30 miles out in the Norwegian Sea and I’m questioning my half-hearted effort to strap the bike down to the car deck of this large ferry. We have another two hours to go before they open the deck to passengers and I can see the results of my being lazy. Hopefully I find the bike upright and where I left it. Worst case, in these rolling waves, it’s fallen either to the left, on top of a Harley, or to the right, on top of a BMW K1600.

The past few days we rode north. The trees are getting smaller and fewer. The hills likewise. But the roads still run along rivers and fjords, and the scenery would otherwise be spectacular, comparable to the Rockies in Colorado, Idaho, and Montana, or the river valleys of Oregon and Washington.

It would be, but we had left the Geiranger area a few days earlier, and now that was our reference point. What should have caused us to stop for photos a few days ago now just brought a glance as we continued on. It reminded me of a post I wrote six years ago, about overhearing two travelers talking about the upcoming end of their travels and how they would handle everyday events now that “Amazing had become the norm”. We had been sucked into that mindset, and needed a reset.

Outside of Surnadal we passed this Norwegian church.

The Arctic Circle tourist center is a bit easier to reach than the spot on the Dalton Highway in Alaska, and there’s an actual building here. Then again, there’s a real road, and communities much further north on the road.

This is the second time we’ve crossed the Arctic Circle in less than a year: last August we crossed with our friend Dave in Alaska.

Added the 2RideTheGlobe sticker to a post near the Arctic Circle marker.

The detour to Lofoten brought a combination of more incredible scenery, tempered by a crush of tourists.

When we arrive in Moskenes and I’m finally able to get down to the car deck to check on the bike, I’m relieved to find everything is just fine. We disembark and head the short 200 meters to our campground. We had a reservation on the 6:45pm ferry, which arrives at 10pm (it never gets dark here, so arriving late means we can still ride in daylight and see to set up camp). We got lucky and although the 3pm ferry was sold out, they had room for us and we arrived just in time to ride straight onto the ship.

Phew. All good on the car deck…the bike is still upright.

On the ferry were four guys from Scotland, on a crazy-fast trip to Nordkapp in something like 16 days round trip. They had these “Short Way Up” stickers on the bikes, an obvious play on the Ewan McGregor/Charlie Boorman “Long Way Round/Down/Up” Series. They also had “Nordkapp Nimrods” stickers on the bikes. We passed them again just south of Alta, which is about 150 miles south of Nordkapp. They had already made it to the top and were headed back.

Also on the ferry was this guy, on a custom Harley. He’s from Spain, but living in Norway for quite a while now. Super nice guy.

I originally met the Harley rider two days earlier north of Geiranger at a gas station, where I had another “Vindu” moment: A guy pulls up on a Harley, with a long ponytail and a black “Rock and Roll” t-shirt. We get to talking and I ask him where he’s going.

“Hammerfest” he says.

I just assumed there was a large heavy metal concert festival going on somewhere in Europe. Two days later we bump into each other on the ferry to Lofoten, and he’s still on his way to Hammerfest. It turns out he’s headed home, to Hammerfest, which is the name of the small town just south of Nordkapp.


Arriving to Lofoten a few hours earlier means we can still find a campsite. The Lofoten islands are a heavy tourist destination, and it’s holiday time in Europe. We’re able to find a small patch of grass to pitch our tent. Those arriving on the later ferry have to cram their tents against others, or hike up the hill to find a more private spot.

Just another beautiful camp spot in Norway. Hard to beat.

The main road up through Lofoten is about two hundred miles long, from the southernmost fishing village of Å (pronounced somewhat similar to “oh”) and the northernmost town of Andenes. Several bridges, tunnels, and ferries connect the islands and make it possible to ride from one end to the other in a day. Campgrounds near each end fill up with new arrivals off the ferries as well as those staging to catch the ferry the next morning.

We were advised by many people we met on the road to visit Lofoten. It’s pretty spectacular, with the large green mountains jutting straight up from the sea. It seems like something you’d see in a more tropical area, such as Thailand, or Malaysia. Some of them remind me of Hawaii, with the green valleys between the steep walls. There are even a few sand beaches. Of course we’re above the Arctic Circle, so while it’s not a tropical paradise, we’ve arrived on a day that the weather is 73F and sunny, and there are actually people on the beach and even swimming.

The small fishing village of Å lies at the southern end of Lofoten.

The road through the islands runs mainly along the coastlines, with bridges, ferries, or tunnels connecting them.

A little two-track livens things up, in case the scenery isn’t enough.

Our campsite in Andenes, on the northern end of Lofoten.

It was actually in the low 70s Fahrenheit when we arrived, and people were sitting and playing on the beach, even swimming in the sea. Keep in mind that we are 207 miles above the Arctic Circle at this point.

Later in the evening a storm blew through, the wind shaking the tent for a couple of hours and raining fairly constant. By morning it was 48F as we packed up and headed a few miles up the road to the ferry back to the mainland and on towards Nordkapp.

And to wrap it up, here’s another short video of some of the scenery while riding through Lofoten.


July 15, 2022

Diana and I are not gregarious people. In fact, I only half-jokingly consider myself a bit of a hermit. So when it comes to meeting people, we usually aren’t the ones to just randomly strike up a conversation. That’s where our Texas license plate does all the work for us.

Leaving Lofoten, we pulled to the front of the ferry line with the other motorcycles. We were immediately approached by a number of French bikers on their way to Nordkapp. The conversation always begins with “Are you really from Texas?” and usually leads to “how long have you been traveling?” As always, lots of curiosity about us, but also a chance to learn about them, their travels, their bikes, their lives back home, etc.

And it’s not just motorcyclists. The Texas “number plate”, as they call it here, stands out to everyone. In just the past couple of days, we’ve met a lot of great people, including a woman from Germany traveling with her parents in her camper van, and a newlywed couple on an “extreme honeymoon”.

On the ferry, I’m approached by a gentleman who asks how long we’ve been traveling. He also saw the Texas plate while waiting in line. I realize that we stayed near each other in the campground last night; Gerry, his wife Babs and their dog are traveling in a large MAN 4×4 camper truck. They’re from Switzerland but have traveled all over the world. At the end of our ten minute conversation he hands me his business card and invites us to stay on their farm. I hope to take him up on his offer. He’s another person that in just a few minutes time I can tell I could have a long conversation with, and learn a lot.

That evening we stumble on a roadside parking area next to a lake and with several RVs already camped there. It has a covered area for cooking and nice clean bathrooms. And best of all, it’s free. Not exactly “wild camping”; more like “tame camping”, but I need more of these places to ease Diana into being comfortable with staying “off-grid”. My motto is “Every dollar we save today extends our travels tomorrow.”

As I’m walking up to the cooking area, I hear “Hey Texas!” It’s the woman and her parents in the camper van. Similar to the travelers heading through Patagonia to Ushuaia, there is a stream of people heading for Nordkapp, and we keep crossing paths. We talk for a good twenty minutes or so, and we learn a lot more about each other. Except her name! I can’t believe we didn’t get her name.

We’re now only two days from reaching the top of Europe. It looks like we may have some heavy rain the next night, so we decide to find a cabin, even though it’s out of our budget. We end up with a room instead, which reminds us of the rooms in Alaska on the way to Prudhoe Bay.

A lot like our room in Coldfoot, Alaska, or Deadhorse. But nicer, and $40 instead of $200. And this is the most expensive country in the world!?

Alek and Anna just got married, and called this trip to Nordkapp their “extreme honeymoon”. I like that. They’re originally from Latvia, but have been living in Bergen for some time. Alek gave me some tips on places to visit in Latvia when we pass through.

We’re now only a hundred miles from Nordkapp. The weather in the morning looks great and the road is good. It’s an easy three hour ride to the top of the world.

Getting close…only 88km, or about 55 miles. The trees are gone. It’s just rocky hills and grass; a different scenery than the Alaskan tundra fifty miles from Deadhorse. And still people living here as well.

Most of the tunnels in Norway have these signs when entering. They give the name of the tunnel, its’ length in kilometers, and how high above sea level you are at its peak. This one is different: it’s 212 meters below sea level at the bottom of the tunnel. This one goes under the Barents Sea, crossing to the island where Nordkapp is located.

Just before arriving at Nordkapp, the GPS tells me there’s a 40 minute traffic delay ahead. Really? Odd. Yep. There’s a gate at the entrance. You can park and walk out to the monument for free, but there is a $31 fee if you want to go inside the building, which houses a cafeteria, museum, and gift shop. So, let’s see: you want to charge me $31 just to go into the gift shop so I can spend more money on souvenirs? Somebody has this system all wrong. I have to think they lose more money than they could possibly take in this way.

We parked the bike, walked to the monument, and took some photos. Then I casually strolled (quickly) into the gift shop to buy a sticker. Diana wasn’t so lucky. Security stopped her. Fortunately there isn’t a jail in Nordkapp, or she would probably be there for trying to sneak in and spend money.

End of the road, and the earth, in Europe. Well, technically there are places further north, but this is the “official” marker.

The door to the actual end of the earth.

There are a lot of reindeer wandering around here. The first one we saw was on the side of the road, grazing. He had a bright orange collar and a cow bell. Somebody’s pet, I guess.

This has been the easiest of the four “Most” points I’ve ridden to:

Ushuaia, Argentina, the “fin del mundo” (end of the world) in South America. An easy, mostly paved ride if you’re starting in or coming from Buenos Aires. Less so the way I went, down Ruta 40 for a couple of thousand miles.

Cape Agulhas, South Africa, the southernmost point in Africa. Also a fairly easy ride from Cape Town. But who starts in Cape Town?

Deadhorse, Alaska, generally considered the northernmost road point in North America. 400 miles of dirt and gravel each way (and mud in our case).

And finally:

Number four of the four roads to the ends of the earth. Box checked.

Nordkapp, or the North Cape of Norway. Nice pavement, a real grocery store and gas station (and town) just 50 miles south, and on the day we arrived 73 degrees F and clear skies. We couldn’t have asked for an easier, more scenic ride.

Nordkapp: If You Go

July 18, 2022

We are by no means experts on Nordkapp. We’ve been there, and we were really lucky to have the weather we did when we arrived. Looking back on our ride up through Norway, I thought I would share some observations that might help if someone else happens to find this post and is planning a ride to the top of Europe.

So here’s my list:

  1. Don’t overestimate your daily mileage. The maximum speed limit on most of the roads in Norway is 80kph (90 occasionally), and speeding fines are steep. Every time the road enters a town or village, the speed limit drops to 50-60kph. This is very often. And there is no such thing as a straight road in Norway, at least not on the west side where all the fjords and scenery are. Plan on your overall average speed being around 35mph (60kph), including gas stops and short breaks. Don’t plan to do more than 250 miles a day; that’s 7 hours.
  2. Layers. The weather changes quickly in Norway. It can be 70F in the afternoon and upper 40s within minutes if a front blows through. Even at 60F, the wind and damp air along the coast and especially in the tunnels can be chilly. Plan on several layers of clothing and adjust to fit the temperature.
  3. Use the Norway weather site yr.no and refer to it often.
  4. Build at least one extra day into your trip and keep it for between Alta and Skaidi. If the weather looks bad on your planned arrival in Nordkapp, you can wait here a day before heading the last hundred miles or so north. A lot of people we spoke with said that when they arrived at Nordkapp, the clouds were so low and thick that they couldn’t even see the sea. But as I said, the weather changes quickly, and while no forecast is foolproof, especially at these latitudes, yr.no is about as good as it gets. On our trip up, we had rain most nights and early mornings, and sunny skies in the afternoons.
  5. Twenty four hour daylight. Plan accordingly in order to get some sleep. At 2am north of the Arctic Circle in July it looks like 3 or 4pm most places.
  6. If you have the time and are going all the way to Nordkapp, consider going north through Finland and come down through Norway. This has two advantages: it gets you to Nordkapp quicker, as the road through Finland is straighter and much shorter, and it saves the absolute stunning scenery for last.

Lastly, even if you aren’t a motorcyclist, these tips apply. And if you don’t have the time to make it all the way to Nordkapp, at least go from Bergen through Flåm to Geiranger and Trollstigen. Even on a cruise ship. It’s some of the world’s most stunning scenery.

I’m sure I’ll think of other things later and add to the list.

Finland, and More of The People We Meet

July 21, 2022

Leaving Norway and entering Finland, the differences are very noticeable immediately. The two countries may share a border, but each has its’ own distinguishing beauty. While Norway has the fjords with the majestic mountains and waterfalls, Finland has much less elevation change. It is almost entirely forest, with small gentle rises of very little height. Riding through the middle of Finland, with all of the lakes and trees, reminded me of the area around Hot Springs, Arkansas, and to a somewhat lesser extent, deep East Texas’ Piney Woods: beautiful lakeshores, sometimes with small summer cabins or even small villages, and thick pine forests. The two lane highways through here look nearly identical to the roads in those places in the States. The only real things that tell you that you are here and not there are the road signs: the names and words that I can’t begin to pronounce (lots of double vowels, like aa, ii, uu…it almost looks Hawaiian sometimes), and the ever-present “Moose Crossing” signs. We’re still on the trail of the elusive moose, and the total score is still Zero.

The kitchen area at our campground in Alta, Norway. This is a bit nicer than most of the others, but similar in concept: you may be in a tent, but you are welcome to use an entire kitchen to prepare your meals. I can’t recall seeing anything close to this in our US travels.

Fully stocked with untensils, pots, pans, dishes, glasses, etc. Sadly, this concept probably wouldn’t work in the States; most of this stuff would be pilfered in a matter of days if not less, including the toaster, kettle, etc. And the cleanliness of these places is hospital-grade as well. People use the equipment, wash it, put it in the dishwasher, and return it to its’ place. Remember, this is a CAMPGROUND, not a hotel or B&B.

I stopped at a roadside rest area to use the restroom, and this sign was attached to the underside of the toilet lid, reminding people not to flush things other than toilet paper. Things like hygiene products, syringes, wedding rings…

Really?? Who has to be reminded to not throw their diamond ring in the toilet?

We left our campground outside of Alta, Norway headed south to the Finland border. Within the first twenty miles, it began raining, and didn’t stop for the rest of the day. We rode through LapLand in the rain, stopping only for fuel, and arrived about 300 kilometers later at our destination for the evening: Harriniva Hotel and Safaris near Muonio. This hotel specializes in winter tours to see the Northern Lights, and does it by dog sled. The place has 365 Husky sled dogs that it houses and trains year round. In the summertime, in order to keep the dogs fit and trained, they pull ATVs instead of sleds.

The Harriniva Husky Lodge.

A result of too little planning, something I am rarely accused of: we arrived on a Saturday night, and Sunday is the only day that Harriniva doesn’t do guided tours of their dogs. So even though we had come six thousand miles to see the Huskies, this is as close as we could get.

Except for this one, that insisted on patting Diana on the head.

From Harriniva, we spent another two days riding, mostly in rain, continuing south and east through Finland, camping in Iisalmi and Joensuu, before eventually arriving in Lappeenranta.

We stopped in Rovaniemi at the Arctic Circle point in Finland, since I forgot to buy an Arctic Circle sticker for the bike in Norway. So this is our third different location to cross the Arctic Circle in less than a year.

It turns out Santa Claus doesn’t live at the North Pole. He actually is from Rovaniemi, in Lapland. For real. Google it.

We found his residence, but it was closed. I think he was doing some Quality Assurance visits at some of his other factories at the time.

We’ve found Google Translate to be handy when grocery shopping. We use it to identify which milk is skimmed, low-fat, whole milk, etc, and which meat is which (Google translated one package of ground beef as “Meat Dough from Norwegian Cow”), as well as to translate the cooking instructions on some of the packages. I have no idea what all the other items are on this aisle of the grocery store, but TexMex is universal, and there are plenty of Old El Paso products on the shelves.

Our campground outside of Iisalmi had a couple of old motorcycles parked around the reception area. No idea why, but it was still kinda cool.

In Joensuu, we arrived the day after a huge 3-day rock concert next door to our campground. There were upwards of 70,000 people in attendance the day before. It apparently poured rain on the last day of the concert, as there was standing water and mud everywhere. We found a small patch of less standing water and pitched our tent, and thus began our introduction to the mosquitos. We had been warned about them — Lukasz from Poland referred to them as “Fast and Furious” — but up until now we had managed to miss them for the most part. But there was no avoiding these aerial attackers. Still, the tent did its’ job of keeping them out, and we managed to get a good night’s sleep.

We awoke to sun for the first time in many days, and it was looking like we might have a day without rain. We even got to ride about twenty miles of nice dirt road through the forest as a shortcut between small two-lane backroads we were taking on our way south. However, true to form, within ten or so miles of our destination, the rain started, and we were once again riding in the rain. Along this eastern side of Finland we were within just a few miles of the Russian border at times.

Just south of Lappeenranta the rain let up briefly and we turned off onto a nice, newly paved road and headed into the forest. Eventually the road turned to dirt and several miles later we turned down a mile-long gravel drive, eventually arriving at our friends Tehri and Harri’s summer house.

We had originally met Harri and Tehri at the campground in Flåm, Norway. They insisted that if we were coming through Finland that we should stay with them. Harri had to return home to work before we arrived, but Tehri and their daughter Aina were waiting to welcome us as we rode up.

Terhi, Aina, and Turo the cat greeted us as we pulled up to their summer cabin.

Harri and family built this beautiful summer home by hand over several years. Now they’re finally getting to enjoy it.

Their summer house is built on land that has been in the family for generations. Terhi’s father was born just up the gravel road from here, and her mother’s childhood home is just a couple of miles away. Her parents built a summer home here a little more than 30 years ago, near a small lake. They also built a sauna, which is almost a requirement in Finland. It seems like everyone has one. Theirs is right on the lake, and we were invited to try it out. The girls went first, Terhi, Aina and Diana stripping naked and sitting in the 80 degree C (175F) steam room. After several minutes of working up a sweat, they emerged onto the dock of the lake and jumped into the 20 degree (68F) water to cool off. They repeated this process three times, before dressing and returning to the house. Then it was my turn to join Terhi’s brother Antti for the ritual.

Terhi and Antti’s parents, Asko and Kaija, on the porch of their summer cabin on the lake.

The sauna at the lake.

Once you hit spontaneous combustion temperatures, you run from the sauna and leap off the end of this dock butt-naked. It’s an experience I won’t forget, and actually look forward to again.

Within a few minutes in the sauna, I was sweating intensely. Then came the real heat: Each time Antti tossed water onto the furnace in the sauna, the steam would bounce off the walls. It felt like a blowtorch on the back of my ears and arms, After a couple of times of this, I had to cry Uncle and run for the lake, which of course felt like it was freezing cold at first. We returned to the sauna — and the lake — twice more. Antti told me I should be thankful that their father didn’t join us, as he relished the tradition of beating you with a switch made of Birch leaves and branches. This apparently makes the heat even more intense.

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m not that into heat. But it was a great experience, and one I’m glad I didn’t miss.

While Antti and I were enjoying the sauna, Terhi was preparing a traditional Finnish meal for us. We had Särä (slow roasted lamb), boiled potatoes, and fresh Chanterelle mushrooms in a cream sauce with onions. For dessert we had bread cheese with strawberries and cloud berries. It was a fantastic meal, and I’m not ashamed to say I went back for seconds. And thirds. Diana has already researched the recipes and planned for more.

The next morning Tehri again fed us some traditional Finnish breakfast items, including Karelian pies (karjalanpiirakka) with rice pudding filling, and perunarieska, or Finnish potato flatbread smeared with egg butter.

Karjalanpiirakka and perunarieska. Yum.

Turo the Ragdoll cat. He was so cool I wanted to take him with us on the bike.

We really didn’t want to leave, but we had a house-sitting commitment outside Helsinki, about three hours away, and needed to be there by noon.

Salpalinja: The Salpa Line, or Finland’s Latch

Not long after arriving to Tehri’s, she asked if we’d like to see a bunker on her grandmother’s property.

History? Heck yeah!

We jumped in the car and Tehri drove us just a few miles up the road to where her mother was born. Her aunt now has the property, and sure enough, there is a lot of history on the property. Keep in mind that we are approsimately 20 kilometers, or about 13 miles from the border with Russia.

In November of 1939 the Soviet Union invaded Finland in what became known as the Winter War. It lasted just three and a half months, and the Soviet military suffered substantial losses. In March of 1940 Finland and Moscow signed the Moscow Peace Treaty, with Finland ceding 9% of its’ land to the Soviets. Adolf Hitler was encouraged by the weakness of the Soviet forces and in June of 1941 attacked them, starting what became known between Finland and the Soviet Union as the Continuation War. During the interim peace period in 1940-41, Finland built the Salpalinja, or Salpa Line, a 1200 kilometer long series of concrete installations, trenches, anti-tank obstacles, ditches, infantry shelters, and more on the eastern border with Russia.

Sign pointing to the bunker on Terhi’s aunt’s property: “Accomodation for two machine guns and 40 men.”

Walking down into the bunker.

Entering the bunker. Amazingly, after 80 years, the latches on all the doors still slide like new. Terhi said she and her friends played in this bunker as kids. And why not, when it’s right next to your grandma’s house on her property? Better than any home-made fort!

“Accommodation for 40 men” is relative, obviously. I guess it’s a bit like living in a submarine. You get used to it.

This is the machine gun turret, and that is the family barn (red building) and family home (yellow) in the background. Really brings it home, doesn’t it?

A closer look at the machine gun ports.

More than anything, we learned how much we personally don’t know about the nuances of World War II and the other actions that were going on at the time. Now I want to learn much more.