Sunday, November 18, 2012


and the 

Margareta and Ludde.

My first nights camping after leaving TABY, just north of Stockholm, was in LJUSDAL, about a 350 km ride. Not much progress for a days riding but I had a late start from Taby. I tried to leave by 8 am but between one thing and another it was nearly 1pm before I was finally motoring in a northerly direction up the E4 toward GAVLE and BOLLNAS. A very wet ride, resulting in a few blown bulbs since my front fender prototype #1 proved to be a bad design.

While packing up my chilly camp the next morning in Ljusdal, heading my way was Margareta and Ludde, her 15 yr old dog, out for their morning walk and encountering the Irish guy in the sidecar outfit having coffee by a picnic table in -6 degrees who was very welcome of Margareta's offer of breakfast at her farmhouse with her husband Birger.

 Security was tight, checkpoint Ludde at the front door.
Fortunately I had a connection.

Ludde, Birger and Margareta, Ljusdal Sweden, Nov 2012.

Birger and Margareta. 

 Margareta was born in this 400 year old farmhouse that has been in the family for thirteen generations. It used to be occupied by the family who tended the animals back when it was a working farm. Birger and Margareta now live in it after giving away the large house they used to live in to their offspring. As Birger said "It's their problem now".
Over breakfast we spoke of many things, and it became clear to me that we were all on the same page, that I wasn't conversing with people who I had to explain my journey to.

So, Birger has always had this fascination with James Dean, apparently from a very young age. He has quite the collection of pictures of James Dean around the house, and more pictures of Birger himself in his youth looking remarkably like James Dean. He was quite the young man was Mr. Birger.

 Birger, year unknown, on his 1960 Beezer Gold Star.

And then there's the '33 on the right that Birger is casually perched on that he brought home after swapping a moped for it, only to be told by his father that there is NO WAY he's going to park that thing outside the house.

And then there's the Porsche.
Now, Birger said it was Margareta's, but for a man with a lifelong obsession with James Dean, it's remarkably similar in many ways to Deans '55 Spyder, wouldn't you say?. Ahh, what do I know.

Yep, thats Birger too, just a different type of horsepower, the real kind.

Margareta and Birger have, down by the lake that they built at the back of the house, an old blacksmith shed that Birger restored to as near original as possible, doing all of the carpentry work himself. 

I could comfortably live in this space and be more than happy.

The original blacksmiths tools still on the wall.

This is my favorite picture of Birger and Margareta. 
Pay attention people, this is what happiness looks like.
Happy and content people are harder and harder to come by these days.

It wasn't an easy shot to get, Margareta refused to be photographed. Vehemently refused.The more I tried to get a picture of her the more she kept walking out of the shot, she could tell exactly where I was with the camera and just which way the lens was pointing. So I stopped trying. 

At first I took the low shot because of the sky and the cloud formation, those type of clouds always look great if you just drop your camera down on the ground and point the lens up about 60° or so to the sky and click. I used to do it a lot when I shot at the Bonneville International Speedway. The upper sky just turns a really deep shade of blue without any color editing when you angle the camera up like this. This shot is SOC, straight out of the camera, no editing on it other than cropping. And then I looked at it on the laptop and saw the look I had captured on both their faces. Priceless.
Here if I remember correctly Birger was cracking up about the way Margareta kept avoiding my camera, I think he was trying to get her to turn around and help me get one shot, which he did in this one. Such a great couple.

The last of the shots I took at Birger and Margareta's farm, the calm before the storm so to speak. Little did I know at the time, but the pleasant feelings after having breakfast with Birger and Margareta, meeting her daughter and their friend Lars who usually stops by in the mornings, would be short lived and  about to change by the end of my days ride, and not for the better either. 
I hate when that happens.

I must have left Birger and Margareta's about 10:30 I think, I wanted to try to make Dorotea by the end of the day if I could, but this whole getting dark by 3  thing up here just really puts a crimp in the distance you can ride in a day, so I knew I wasn't going to make it to Dorotea today. And it started to get cold too, so by 2 in the afternoon as the sun was starting to go below the top of the tree line it was already below 0°. I hadn't put enough distance between Margareta and Birgers place in Ljusdal so I decided to keep riding until it either got too dark or too cold, or both. Which it did. Rapidly. 
But I kept on riding until I really felt I couldn't ride anymore. On the way up to Dorotea the roads were freezing, glassing over with a nice layer of ice as the morning progressed, and I was starting to feel the back end of my outfit get a little loose on the road. The weather was turning and it started to snow a bit. The snow never came down too hard, but left enough on the road to make traveling a little bit more precarious. 

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Somehow, in going from (A)Ljusdal to Ostersund, which should have been a straight run up 83 to the E14, when I got up to Bracke (B) my GPS told me to go right and take 87 toward Ragunda(C). It was already pretty dark, probably a little after 4, the wind was picking up, snow was swirling and the roads were like a sheet of ice. The sand trucks started to make an appearance and spray the gritty stuff out of the hopper in the back but it didn't seem like it did a whole lot to help, maybe it just took off the glass shine on the ice but thats about it. As far as grip, it did nothing for me, at least thats how it felt.

It was on that ride up from Ljusdal to Bracke when I discovered that I really had ZERO traction with the tires I was running on the outfit, especially on ice.
I noticed this before back in Holland in the wet, I didn't really feel that they were a great tire, but I didn't have a whole lot to choose from, so these were the best of the three I had at the time.

With the slight incline in the road I had to pull over and lock the sidecar wheel into 2 WD.

I kept riding well past dark, longer than I knew I should have. I made a few wrong turns, mainly because I made the decision to override the directions that the GPS was spitting out at me. The roads it was sending me down didn't appear like they had been sanded or that they were E roads, so the fact it was dark and I had no clue which was the better road, I just eyeballed it and took a chance I was making the right decision which of course I didn't. 
I ended up taking Route 83 into Route 344, a smaller untended and unsanded road, instead of the E45 road and had a 100 km dark ride on ice to Hammerdal. 
By the time I got there, I was a bit shaken AND stirred, I had to keep my speed to around 35 km because if I went any faster I would of gone off into the ditch somewhere. What made it even scarier was that the few trucks I encountered on the road were hauling ASS, I mean REALLY hauling ass, especially given the conditions. If they had to stop in a hurry, it wasn't going to happen, not in this lifetime anyway. They would come up fast behind me, lights burning my retinas in my mirrors, and the next second they were whooshing by on my left and throwing up a big white cloud of snow and sand. And BIG clouds of snow and sand too as most of the trucks up here are doubles, that's to say they pull two trailers. Jackknife city.

Hammerdal after dark.

Some would say that's the best way to see Hammerdal.
I'm sure there are some nice spots there, but when I arrived in Hammerdal it was because I felt I had to stop as I couldn't safely ride any further. 
And it was cold.
I was starting to get a little worried about a bunch of stuff, the fact that the tires were not gripping much was a big one and I was fast forwarding as to how the hell they're going to manage up in Nordkapp where conditions would be far worse than this. 
I turned off Route 344 and followed the camping sign and ended up at a campground on the west side of the E45, down in a little valley. Had I got there before it got dark I would probably have seen the lake off to my right on the side of Route 344 and it probably would have been a MUCH nicer place to camp.
The bleak, barren and lifeless campground I ended up at in Hammerdal was closed for the winter, not a soul in sight. No visible signs of life anywhere and all the cabins locked up tight. Tent again. I was hoping to get a cabin to be able to take a very well needed hot shower, really hoping. It was cold out, so rather than setting up tent out behind one of the cabins I thought I could squeeze the tent in between the breezeway of the outhouse and shower building to get a little more protection from the elements and the wind.

A candle took the edge (only slightly) off the temperature inside the tent, but only after about 3 hours.

A Facebook friend in Romania sent me a message a few months ago asking if I ever got lonely on the road and I answered no, and honestly up until now I never did. There were a few times back in the U.S. in Death Valley for example while looking out of my tent up at the stars that I would have liked someone to share the moment with, but on the whole the last 2 1/2 years I've never really felt lonely or alone. I'm ok with my own company since I sobered up.

Tonight though, something felt different. Maybe it was a combination of a whole bunch of things, but with all the little issues going on with the bike, the leaky final drive, the suspension issue, the clutch/ driveshaft issue, I started to feel a little uneasy and vulnerable I guess would be a good way to put it. 
As I was making some hot tea I was questioning my decision of coming this far north at this, the worst and the coldest time of the year, on a motorcycle sidecar. The fact that I had little or no traction on the way up didn't help either, and even though it was still only about -5 at most, I knew it was going to get colder so camping was going to be not out of the question but really really challenging.
And if I couldn't camp, if I have to pay for accommodation every night I was thinking that by the time I got to St. Petersburg, Russia, IF I got to 
St. Petersburg, there wouldn't be much left of my budget, so that started to worry me and mess with my head too.

Right from the very beginning of this trip I never, or at least tried to never let money dictate the direction or the decisions in my life, even though I don't really have much anymore. Basing a decision purely for monetary reasons is IMO, the wrong reason and you'll end up NOT living the life you really want to live and lead because it "Cost too much". I don't know how many people I have met along the way on my travels who have brought up the question of how I can afford to do what I do with little money, so I always ask them the same question and that is "How much money per week would you say you spend on beer, cigs and general entertainment". I never wait for an answer. I ask them to add it up and I'll bet it's more, much more, than I spend in a month on the road. And I don't drink or smoke, so right there that's my monthly road budget for most people.
Then again I live in a tent, no mortgage or big bills, I don't have the comfort and convenience of a hot shower whenever I want or a kitchen to cook whatever meals I want. I eat simply on the road, breakfast of coffee, some toasted bread with PB&J and a piece of chocolate, dinner is soup and a sammich and a midday gas station snack.
But I do feel that I have the World as my home, the World and the little I can carry with me on my sidecar outfit. The rest I don't need, if it doesn't fit in the sidecar, I don't need it. For now anyway. That may change, WILL change, everything changes, but for now I'm happy with what I have with me on the bike.

The next morning I got up and something didn't feel right. I had one of those unsettling feelings that completely enveloped me. I just felt really uneasy.
I don't know why. I just did and I didn't like it. 
The wind had picked up overnight quite a bit making the morning seem colder, and by 9am it was blowing a good 25-30 mph.
Even though I was sleeping in a tent on a concrete floor (which chilled me to the bone through the night) I decided to just stay put for an extra day where I was, fix a few things that needed repairing on the bike and try again tomorrow. I had this very strong feeling that I didn't want to or shouldn't travel today.
I felt kind of caught between a rock and a hard place as I needed to get further north as quickly as possible, but then had this kind of weird depressed and  negative energy feeling overwhelming my thoughts and senses. 

In the end I stayed. I rummaged through my grocery bag and found a can of soup so I was ok on that front. If I didn't have anything to eat I probably would of stayed anyway and just dealt with the hunger, that's how strongly I felt about not getting on the bike and going anywhere.
I think what was making it all the more unsettling for me was I haven't felt this way in a long time, since my drinking days actually, and for it to come along and visit me now at this juncture in my trip threw me off guard. I tried all day to think positive and change my energy but it didn't really work. 

So after coffee and toast I tried to occupy myself as much as possible and went about replacing the busted lightbulbs on my WARN lights. But by 2 as the light started to wane for the day I just gave in to the depression. I put the soup on the stove and after cleaning up crawled into the tent, into the sleeping bag and stayed as warm as I could for the rest of the night.

Actually, the final tally was 2 bulbs and a bottle of Jack Daniels that had broken. The Jack was going to be a gift for my Russian friends whose rally in Yaroslavl in Russia I am invited to. It broke in the bag with my North Face Summit Series down jacket so now when I put on the coat I don't know whether to wear it or drink it.

Coffee, toast, cleaned, packed and ready to go.

The next morning wasn't a whole lot better, I was a little pissed at myself off for allowing my little wallow in the pool of self pity, so however I felt that morning I was determined to ride out of there that morning, but not so pissed off that I don't recognize a nice sunrise when I see one.

THURSDAY, Nov 8th, 2012.
Today I set a course for SORSELE, only 233 kms (145 mls) to JOKKMOKK and the Arctic Circle. I figured a 299 kilometer day was doable since I was getting an early start, even with plenty of stops for photos. Wrong.
The traction, or rather lack thereof over the last 2 days was even worse now with the ever dropping mercury. "There is no way I'm going to make it to Nordkapp on these tires" I thought to myself, not a chance.

Spikes, I'm going to need spikes.

Luckily, the Fulda tires I had were M/S tires with spike holes, however, I didn't realize at the time but you can't spike snow tires that you've already run on the street first, they must be spiked when you get them new. otherwise the road grit gets pushed into the holes that the spikes are supposed to go into. When you try to spike them after running them first, you run the risk of either a puncture when the spike pushes the grit further back into the hole or the spike not being able to fit into the hole to begin with.

Meanwhile it was a really nice day, the sky cleared a little allowing some much needed sun to shine on me and brighten up my mood a bit. Still cold but I felt a bit better heading north on the E45 toward Stromsund and Sorsele.

The lakes had already started to freeze over for the winter, the tracks of the last boats to go through still visible.

And then I got to Stromsund.

Stromsund will have to wait for the next post, there's too much to fit into this one.
stopped off in Stromsund ONLY to see if I could get my tires spiked, thinking it wouldn't be much of a problem and I'd be on my way in no time. After all I am in Sweden, home of Ice Racing, right?. They probably put spikes on their Wheaties in the morning up here.

Stopping off at OLLANDER TIRES I met Niklas who, after a few minutes of explaining my situation to him, informed me that you can't spike tires that you've already driven on.
 He said I would probably have to get a new set of tires, it would work out to be nearly as expensive to spike out my tires as it would be to get a new set that were already studded. Not the answer that I was hoping for, as a new set of winter tires was going to run me about 3,500 Swedish Krona or about $500+. Now I felt even more depressed.

Murphy's Law, I'm living it right now.



Charlie6 said...

Hi Murph

Hope your spirits are a bit higher as you read this. I've had moments like you mention when on a remote spot, having mechanical issues, and wondering what the heck I am doing there in the first place.

As to your traction issues. On my Suzuki rig, I had a M/S tire car tire as well and during the first real snow outing, it performed miserably. No traction on inclines and the rig would slew to the right due to the sidecar. The rig, doesn't have 2WD.

Installing a dedicated snow tire help things a lot, and like yours the snow tire came with spike holes but I also didn't know you can't mount spikes on a tire that's been used already. I explored the chains options and spent time and money fabricating my own to get around clearance problems.

The rig did just as good as the 2WD Ural rigs in the last Elephant Ride but there was one more thing I had to do. Put a deep cycle battery's worth of weight (maybe 50lbs) in the topcase so it sat right over the pusher tire.

Then, and only then, was maximum traction achieved with the suspension on the Suzuki. It appears like you've plenty of weight on the pusher so that's probably covered. I just wanted to mention it.

So, instead of spikes, what about dedicated snow tire on the pusher, leave the rest as they are? It sounds like you're driving on ice so not sure snow tires will cut it anyways.

Are chains an option? You've the clearance? They are a PITA option, but when you've got to get going....trouble is, you can't go over say 25mph with them on.

Perhaps just replace the pusher with a spiked version?

Your still taking great pictures in spite of the issues at hand is appreciated.

Hang in there, I am sure you'll come up with a solution to the traction issues. Have you contacted the fellows in Russia? They live in those conditions, what have they come up with?

You're tough enough Murph...


Anonymous said...

Hi Rob, sending warm thoughts and love your way. N

ed said...

Fucks sake lad hang in there ,I nearly shit a brick when I seen the pic of the JD bottle that would be no answer ,drop the wedge and stay somewhere warm for a night and get some rest the Irish were not designed for those extremes of cold except for yourself and the great Tom Crean,The wife has paypal I will try to get you the price of a nights rest ,,,,

IRISH Murph said...

Hi Dom and thanks for the detailed reply.

The tires, even though they're Fuldas and not as good as a Continental would be, are only tractionless in the ice right now, which ANY M/S tire would be unless they're spiked. I'm hoping, or at least I was told by the tire shop guys that they would be better in snow, we shall see. But the spike option is making progress, I don't want to let the cat out of the bag but next Sundays post will 'splain all.

And I already have a car battery on the rig, it was one of the things that was top of the "Must have on my sidecar" list. It sits in between the sidecar and final drive on a plate attached to the sidecar frame. It powers half of the accessories that I have and I have a charging wire running to it from the alternator. I have a bright LED floodlight thats wired to it so when I get to a camp site at night I turn it on and it draws nothing. It'll stay on all night and only draw down the battery by about 1 volt.
It also doubles as a worklight in case of roadside breakdowns.

Yes, chains are an option, albeit a PITA one, but not on the back tire, not enough clearance.

Haven't heard from Russia yet, honestly I really don't think I'll make it to Yaroslavl, I think I bit off more than I can chew on this one.

Thanks for taking the time to write Dom, appreciate it.


IRISH Murph said...

N, send WARMER thoughts please, it's getting colder here :-)


IRISH Murph said...

Ed, thanks for the reply but keep it clean, it's a family blog, no cussin allowed.

Yea, I'm sure the bottle of JD made a few folks fall off the chair until they read why I had it. I have NO intention of going back to THAT dark place.

I appreciate being mentioned in the same thought as Tom Crean the "Irish Giant", but I'm nowhere near his capacity for endurance and toughness. He was one of Irelands unsung hero's IMO. Another one of my Irish hero's was Dr. Sean Egan, a Clare man and another explorer whom I wrote about here:

Ed, looking forward to meeting you when I get over there, thanks for the continued support,


Get Gold said...

Warm thoughts to you Murph! Sorry to hear about your troubles, but they do make entertaining reading. ;>))

I had quite a chuckle when I saw the candle you used to stay warm in your tent at the Hammerdal campsite....the candle you used has a special purpose in Sweden at this time of the see, during the first week of November, families remember their loved ones by lighting those candles and leaving them at headstones, or memorial areas. The metal top of the candle prevents the wick from blowing out.

Perhaps your temporary depression was a result of the local spirits hanging around...lying in wait for more loved ones to bring forth candles.

Sweden seems to be very populated with ghosts. There is a TV show called "Det Okända" which has mediums that extricate unwanted spirits from homes(one is Brit Terry Evans who lives near Falun in Northern Sweden). Website:

I hope trip mishaps get fewer the farther North you go!

Stay Safe, Stay Warm Be Lucky!


Anonymous said...

You have the touch to the motorcycle travelling,
Wellcome to FINLAND, door to the Russian!

movementpractice said...

man oh man that must be COLD!I'm gonna send warm thoughts, too. Makes me think of Amundson's people: They ate, slept and traveled ONLY. So, I guess powerful and-if possible hot- food is essential. Do you have multivitamins, St John's Wort (brightens up the dark winter night moods..), MEAT, pemmikan, fatty fish,chocolate, nuts, coffee, superhearty survivalfood? Amundsons people, when they came back from the south pole, had gained weight on the trip and I think thats the way to do your kinda thing. (beemer is going to handle that no problem, its bavarian ;-) Good rest and food, and a neat and tidy daily schedule, avoiding marathons if possible.

Jenna Zink said...

Hi, I met you at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 2011 - this sure is a lot different!
Ride Safe! Jim