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Sunday, November 25, 2012

STOCKHOLM to NORDKAPP PT III





"GETTING SPIKED in STROMSUND"


E45, north of Hammerdal, Sweden, Nov 2012.

After my 2 days in an emotional dungeon in Hammerdal and feeling a little bit unnerved, I hit the road on the third morning, determined to push on in a northerly direction.
I'm starting to find that these moments, these states of mind that I'm having that seem to be steering or directing me in a certain direction at times, upon reflection, are necessary in many ways, but they just don't feel like it when I'm right in the middle of them and in a bit of a dark cave in my head. 
But the less I worry and try to control situations or feelings that, at the end of the day I really have no control over, the more I just let these moments happen and let them take their own natural course, the more they always seem to work out just fine. And sometimes even better than fine, with a much better outcome than I could have hoped for even if I tried.


As I rode north away from Hammerdal, the cold frozen lakes over the bridge were a pretty accurate indicator of how I was feeling. Cold and barren.
I get to think a lot on the bike on those long stretches of road, one or two cars passing by maybe, but then my thoughts always get interrupted by nature and, being the photographer and documentarian that I am, I snap out of it and look for a good spot to stop and park the bike and try not to get frostbite as I snap off some shots. I still can't photograph with gloves on. I guess I better learn.
I looked back on the last 2 days in Hammerdal and the feelings that had kept me at the empty campground for an extra day and probably contributed to me arriving in Stromsund at the particular time that I did. Or maybe I was supposed to, as Stromsund and my experiences with the people I have met there were in stark contrast to my experience in Hammerdal. A complete 180.


I had only ridden about 10 kms out of Hammerdal when I knew that I wasn't going to get very much further on the tires I had if conditions got any worse. I mean, I just had absolutely ZERO grip or traction, none.
And since I was riding north to the top of Norway in December, yes, conditions WERE going to get worse, much worse. The -5° temperatures and ice on the roads down here are nothing compared to what lay ahead in wait for me. 
Traction, how to get it, was my main problem, so at the next big town I decided to stop and see about getting my tires spiked. They already had the holes in them for spikes so I figured it wasn't going to be much of a problem. 
Just get the gun and pop 'em in, right?.

Wrong.

Stromsund, Sweden, 1932. 

STROMSUND is a small town with a little over 3,500 inhabitants located in the middle of Sweden. Not somewhere I had thought of stopping other than to see if I can get my tires spiked, but I've been here, as of the writing and publishing of this post, for coming up on 3 weeks now. It's a long story, most of which I hope to convey to you in the next two articles here on Wherethehellismurph.com.

I arrived in Stromsund on Nov 8th, that's when I took the shot of my outfit in front of the Stromsund sign above. The whole way from Hammerdal up here, all 33 kms of it,  I was slipping and sliding all over the place on the icy roads. They say that November is the worst month here, crappy wet weather, rain and icy road conditions. When the snow comes it's much easier to ride and drive on as snow provides better traction than ice. According to most I've spoken with there should already be about a foot and a half of snow on the ground.
So anyway, at this point I was seriously beginning to doubt that I would get a whole lot further on this part of the trip let alone make it to Nordkapp and down over into Russia. My $400 for a Russian visa was going down the drain, that was how I was starting to feel about that. The self doubt was creeping in after the few miserable days in Hammerdal. Doesn't take long sometimes.
I wasn't in a positive state of mind, but I was trying to change that.
I get to Stromsund and stop at this Hydraulic shop and asked is there a tire shop that spikes tires here, so I got directed to Ollanders Tires just up the street.

OK, we're making progress I thought. I started feeling better already. I was already envisioning my self in another hour or so (I mean, how long can it take to spike a few tires?) riding out of town on spiky tires, big grin, destination Nordkapp, listening to the crunch of the new tire spikes as they bit into the ice, crunching it up and keeping me firmly planted on the road and not careening sideways and screaming into the ditch.
So I ride up the street, actually I slide up the street and around the back of Ollanders Tires to where all these big ass tires were stacked up outside against the wall figuring "this is where the magic happens". Obviously I'm in the right place. Golden.
There were a couple of guys inside working, trying to pop the bead on a big 5 ft tall tractor tire and as I walk inside one of them turns around, gives me a nod and a smile and we seem to recognize each other, like a comfortable moment is the best way I can explain it. Niklas was his name. We said our hello's and I started to ask how you pop a bead on such a big tire as I'd never seen it done before. 
So Niklas explained to me just how it's done.
And I never knew just how loud those big tires are when the bead pops on them, that's why the guys are wearing ear protectors in the picture, when it pops it's a loud bang, not a small pop like a regular tire. 


After a little photo fun with the big tire I got down to asking Niklas about getting spikes in my tires. So he told me that you can't spike tires that have already been run on a vehicle as the grit and stones get inside the spike holes and block them up. When you go to put the spikes in it will force the stones or grit  further into the tire and not only will the spike not seat properly but you also run the risk of getting a flat easier. Made sense to me, so I asked him what my alternative was.
"Well, it would cost nearly as much to spike these tires which aren't that good of a tire to begin with, as it would be to get a new set of tires already spiked",  said Niklas.
"The tires you have are a C rated tire, a heavy load range tire. Too hard for the light outfit you're running them on, the sidewall is like a hockey puck, 6 ply and very stiff".
"Ok, so whats a new set going to run me?" I asked.
After checking around he came back to me and said "Well, I can't get you the size you need for the outfit, we don't have them here, but you would've been looking at about 3,500 Swedish Kronor, the equivalent of about $525. 
Ouch, that's going to leave a mark. Not what I had bargained for at this point in the trip. Not what I had bargained for at all actually since the tires I had were practically new with only about 2 or 3000 kilometers on them.
Well anyway, moot point really since they didn't have the tires I needed in stock, but I was going to have to get them at the next big town if I wanted to keep going north and make it at least to Nordkapp, so it's going to hurt somewhere, just not today and just not here, but I kept the Vaseline at arms reach just in case. 

At this point it was a little after 2pm and the sun was already starting to go down. Even though I had only ridden 33 kilometers, that distance was going to end up being all the forward progress I made that day. 
I was feeling a little bit dejected by the tire problem and more so with the knowledge that I'm going to have to shell out over $500 that I don't really have to spare on a set of tires. Well actually, truth be told I was miserable and feeling sorry for myself, so I just shrugged my shoulders, grabbed my bootstraps, pulled hard and tried to move on and make the best of what I had rather than what I didn't have or what was to come. And there's no point in worrying about what was to come because it hadn't happened yet, right?. 
So why bother wasting time on it. 
So I just repeated my unofficial mantra and philosophy of this trip and my life and that is "I'll worry about it when it happens". Everything else really is a waste of energy.

And believe it or not the positive thoughts and energy I started to have began to work almost immediately. Really.


While I was in the Ollanders shop and before I left to head further north, I asked the guys there if they had any type of old truck fender or mudflap I could use to make a front fender for my bike. Since I couldn't get the tires I may as well see if I could fix up a better front fender before I moved on.


Prorotype #1, the $4 black plastic bucket, failed miserably.

They happened to have a busted up truck fender in the bed of one of their delivery and repair trucks so Patrick, one of the owners told me I could use it if would help. Positive vibe #1. Cool.




 Andreas got out the cutting wheel and got it shaped out for me.






So I'm out back, we're past the tire issue and I'm working on the new front fender (Prototype #2, Prototype #1 was the $4 black bucket) and I notice Niklas walk over to me with a box in his hand. He says " I found this box of spikes, I'm not sure if they'll work but we can give them a try on the drive wheel, the back one, if you like. It'll help a little with just that wheel spiked".
"Ok, great thanks ", I said. Positive vibe #2. Cool +.

It's interesting but all the while that I had been inside and discussing the tire issue with Niklas his demeanor was 'different' is the best way to explain it at the time. He just seemed to be very interested in me, and I felt when we spoke we had a connection, that our thoughts and conversation ran just a little below the surface. 
Anyway, I rode the bike inside and we started trying to spike out the rear tire, or rather Niklas and Andreas did. 
I just watched and kept my fingers crossed.



And of course it did, positive energy at work.


The white marks are the holes that had grit or stones in them, so they couldn't put spikes in them, but there were more than enough spikes in the tire at this point that losing a few didn't matter.

Awesome, the back tire was studded out now. I was ecstatic. I couldn't be happier. But it got better. Niklas had left Andreas on his own for a while and about a half hour later came back with another box of studs which were different from the ones we put in the back tire. Niklas wasn't sure if they would work or not, but was going out of his way to help get me sorted out and he was all ready to give it a shot to see if they worked. 
Positive vibe #3, very very cool.


Niklas and Andreas at Ollanders Tire, Stromsund, Sweden.


But with all the good and positive energy going around that afternoon, of course the other box of tire studs worked. It was meant to be.
The will of the Universe at work. So, at the end of the day I managed to have all three tires studded out with winter ice studs. 
Now, had I spent more time than I did worrying about having to get new tires and the money it was going to cost me at the next big town instead of moving on and worrying about it if and when it came to that, all of that energy would have been wasted. 
As life and the Universe would have it for me that day, meeting Niklas at Ollanders was one of those "Time and Place" moments. 

Maybe one of the reasons I got delayed in Hammerdal?. Who knows. 
I do know that Niklas didn't have to do what he did, didn't have to go out of his way like that. But he did. I know I was very lucky to have met Niklas at the time I did. In a bigger town what Nikolas did for me I'm sure probably wouldn't have happened. They would have just sent me on my way without even bothering to try I'm sure. Or maybe not, I'll never know. 
I do know that he just spent a lot of time in helping me. During the course of working on the tires, Niklas and I had some conversations, and over time they went a little below the surface, mainly initiated by the reasons behind my trip and how, through my alcoholism and losing a lot of money and nearly my life, how I ended up where I am today doing what I'm doing. It was getting late, closing time. I asked Niklas who do I pay and how much do I owe. So he looked at me for a few seconds, smiled and said "Nothing, I'm just glad to be able to help someone out when I can".
Positive vibe #4, beyond cool at this point.

What a complete turnaround this day was from the last few days in Hammerdal.
Now I had to figure out where to camp. It was pretty cold that evening in Stromsund, or I was just probably cold at the thought of camping for another night. What I really needed was a very hot shower, a bed would be nice too, but I'll settle for a very hot shower. Patrick from Ollanders had already called some of the local hotels for me in the afternoon and just asked about the price. Needless to say they were out of my price range. "There's a camping place just on the other side of the bridge" he said, "you could try there". "They have camping cabins" he said.


This is the Swedish version of camping, usually a cabin, small with a kitchenette, shower and 4 bunk beds. 


When I rolled into the campsite it was already dark and so I figured it was closed for the winter, just like the Hammerdal one. But Niklas had already told me that no, it's open through the winter so I thought well, maybe he must of been mistaken because the place was dark, not a light on anywhere.
So, looks like I'm camping again tonight I thought, and as I'm riding around looking for the best cabin to pitch my tent behind I notice up at the top that one of the cabins had a porch light on and there was someone standing outside smoking. Ah, signs of life, the camp host perhaps?. Nope, just a couple of guys who were staying there while at school. 
I asked them about how to get a cabin so they invited me in for a coffee while they called the office in town to see if they could help. 






"Johnny Cash".

One of the guys, Mika I think, had a super cute Staffordshire named Johnny Cash, bundle of fun and energy he was. So I hung out with them and Johnny Cash in their cabin until the campsite rep came with the key for one of the cabins.
It wasn't cheap either, 550 Swedish Kronor, a little over $80. Which is actually a good deal if there's 4 of you staying in the cabin, but for just one person it's a bit much. But it was late, cold and I really really needed a hot shower. So this was going to be an $80 shower. Ok, well, I didn't have any other options going for me so I took it. After thanking the guys and giving Johnny Cash a few more scratches and rubs, I unpacked the bike, brought all my stuff in and headed straight for the shower. 
An hour in the shower was just what the doctor ordered. Ok, well maybe not an hour but I probably spent 20 or 30 minutes in there, but it was a little slice of heaven for me. The cold up here in November is a damp cold, it gets right through to your bones so 20 or so minutes in the shower took care of that.



The next morning I left the cabin and went in to the Tourist Info office who own the campground. I went in to pay and get the 550 SKr shower out of the way, less of an ouchy if I do it now I thought.
Hakan was there to greet me and said "Oh, so you're the guy on the motorcycle". "Yep, that's me" I replied.
"You have some really great photography on your website, I've been looking at it this morning" he said. "Many thanks" I replied.
So I hand him the key back to the cabin and got ready to pay and he says "Do you have 100 Kroner on you?". "Yes, I do". "Well, give me 100 SKr (about $15), that will cover my electricity in the cabin and I'm going to sponsor you for the rest of the cost". Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather. Just blown away I was.
Again, the positive energy flow that had started the day before when I came to Stromsund and got some good vibes and energy from Niklas had continued throughout the course of the day and even into the following morning too.
I was a little overwhelmed at this point but at the same time realizing that everything changed the day before when I just stopped worrying about trying to change things that I had no control over. It all usually works out in the end, although it may not seem like it at the time.

And all of this positive energy flowing my way wasn't about to show any signs of slowing down either.




Next week on Wherethehellismurph.com:



My extended stay at the Stromsunds MC and how I got there and just some more of the great people I have met and the even better experiences I've had so far in this little town of 3,500 people. 



Murph.



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