We slept in a layby north of Alta, and there was a snow storm overnight and the temperature dropped. Some water in a fuel filter froze and the engine couldn't get enough fuel to give any power. We needed to get out of there before we got snowed in but the engine wouldn't rev. Luckily we were able to crawl out and limp back into Alta to fix the problem.
Yesterday was our first bad day.. We camped up and it was cold, and windy, through the night the wind got worse and the snow came down. In the morning everything was frozen inside and when i got outside the snow had drifted everywhere, including over the entrance to our parking spot. Not too bad... so i take a look at the snorkel thinking i better make sure its clear. Pop the top off and find that at least the whole of the down pipe is packed solid with snow! Its ok, i'll just disconnect the snorkel at the filter. But first i need to get the heavy things out of the bonnet box to be able to lift the bonnet safely - the locks are frozen shut. Blow torch the locks and empty the box a bit. The bonnet catch is frozen shut. Remove the front grill and release the bonnet catch, greeted by an engine bay pumped full of snow too! Disconnect the snorkel and the engine starts a little lazily and isn't idling very happy. Turns out it wont rev, struggles and blows white grey smoke. The fuel pump is loud, like its pumping treacle. Oh shit haha. in the mean time we put the webasto heater on... 10 mins later that dies with error lights! I check the heaters fuel line and its got no fuel. Piss.. it can't be waxed diesel? The pump diesel here is -32c... As i'm looking at all this there is a break in the wind and snow, so decide to limp back into Alta. Thought we wouldn't get through the deeper snow at the exit but she soldiered through in low box, with only about 1000-1200 revs and zero boost to play with. Got back to Alta, at about 15mph if we were lucky. The roads were slippy as hell, worse than any time before, skidding everywhere and full broadside slide on a couple of roundabouts. luckily she's a big barge so slides quite nicely at walking pace. Tootled back to the camping place and stripped stuff down, even through the pipes were all insulated/lagged it seems some water got into an inline filter and froze, blocking the fuel line til it must have been like a pin hole. Pulled the filter out and she ran again like a.... I want to say watch, but its a landy. Holed up in the camp site for now. Not going anywhere til we put the chains on.
Oh, and i forgot to mention, to top it all off, just as we were recovering in the truck after a test drive, a building in the estate next to the camp ground burst into a huge fireball before our very eyes. Looked like a gas explosion. I've heard it might have just been a double garage, hope so.
I'm not sure it's been a week? We hardly know what day it is! Except when it's a Sunday, we can tell when it's a Sunday. After the camp at Vasteras we headed up the E18 towards Uppsala. We just settled in to clocking the miles and eating crisps, I've never eaten so many crisps it's ridiculous. I was under some illusion that salting the roads was a British thing, but despite the snow getting deeper the roads were dripping wet and covered with salt, or at least something that ...caked the windows white like in the UK.
We skipped Stockholm. Seems terrible to miss, but we are on a mission to get north. We passed through Gävle and Sundsvall, only stopping for diesel and probably crisps. Sharon had a chocolate bar called a 'Corny Big' and I resisted the 'Plopp' bar. We made a stop in Härnösand, actually strangely pretty with its bridge over the frozen strait. Glamourously we stopped at McDonald's for some free WiFi and to scout out a place to sleep. Shaz found a place near what looked like a small beach so we headed out to find it and encountered our first real snowy road. Down at the car park near the beach sections were unploughed and the snow was a foot deep. I had to have a play and crossed through a small section, we got through with a bit of pitching and rolling. Offroad hero! The spot was great, nice and quiet but with a smart looking house not far from the car park down a short private road. We set up camp and prepared for bed. As we were setting up the bed I heard a voice shout 'hello' and saw torch light approaching. I thought we were about to be moved on for the first time, but it was the owner of the house coming to 'check if we were OK' - he said it was fine to sleep there and wished us a good night and to enjoy our trip!
The next morning (Thurs 10th march) we woke to glorious sun! First time we'd seen the sun for days. We took a short walk to the beach, made a brew and hit the road back into Härnösand. A quick shop in Lidl before breakfast in the car park and on to the days mission.. I had decided that due to the temperature dropping it was about time I changed the coolant and screenwash as it was effectively on a summer mix. We got the fluids from Mekonomen (like serious halfords) and at the OK Q8 garage there was full garage bay with compressed air, waste drums and a scissor lift ramp for hire at 2 SEK a minute!(tenner ish an hour). Shaz and I changed the fluids on the floor as the ramp was max 2000kg frown emoticon but we got it done without too much fuss and got back on the road. We didn't get many miles in, and went off in search of secluded parking spots in the back roads north of Umeå near Botsmark. Our mapping system - osmand - is great for allowing us to show all parking areas, we pick one and head out to scope it out. We had a few fails though, as it seemed on the back roads many laybys and off the road parking areas are either not ploughed, or used to store the huge piles of snow created by the ploughs. It was fun driving the snowy back roads though! We found an off the road spot on a long road through the forest, quiet apart from the odd articulated logging truck racing by. The sky was so clear and unpolluted with light that the stars were just amazing. It was so quiet it was eerie. I decided to try and get a photo of the milky way... only to see on my pictures a green wash behind through the trees! As I looked up I could see green curtains and shards fading in and out. I shouted and Shaz came out to join me.If only we were a bit further north and not so buried in trees! After a while the lights faded and the clouds drew in. It was a nice taster though. Watched some Game of Thrones (been saving it and many other series and films for the road!) before bed.
Friday we entered Finland, the E4 through Sweden just pops across the border.
The temperature dropped and the road went from patches of snow/ice to solid ice. We slowed down, and when the road was clear I did some tests to see how much traction we had. Not much, 2+tons, mud tyres and no anti-lock brakes = skidding a lot. But to be fair it wasn't as bad as I had feared. Tired after a long drive requiring more concentration than usual, Shaz found camping on what appeared to be the top of a 240m tall hill. The drive up there was awesome, the trees just got heavier and heavier with snow until it resembled - as my sister commented - a scene from Narnia! At the top there was a visitor centre, closed, and a nice place to camp. It was cold, for a laugh I decided to try out the shower outside without the awning up. Shaz thought I was mad but it was actually not that bad! Nice when the hot water was on me anyway.
In the morning, the condensation inside had frozen the curtains to the glass and frozen the windows shut! We had been comfortable in our sleeping bags though. On the road it got colder and the trees as far as the eye could see were frozen completely white. We stopped in Enontekiö for a coffee and some Internet. Uploaded the first go pro video. Then headed up the 93 towards the Norwegian border. Parking spots were sparse so we decided to camp in a layby as the road was quiet. We settled in for the night but then trucks started to pass, logging trucks driving at high speed with their train-style double trailers swaying and snaking across the ice. We were in the open just off the road and didn't fancy getting wiped out by a skidding lorry, so decided to move back to a petrol station with camper parking for the night.
Sunday morning we finally crossed the border into Norway. Reindeer were in the snowy fields either side of the road, just their heads and backs visible as they had dug down through the snow to find food. In the distance we could finally see some mountains, solid white. We headed for Alta and the road passed through steep valleys with waterfalls frozen blue cascading down their sides. So many things we couldn't stop and photograph as it would have been too dodgy to stop.
Once in Alta we looked for a phone shop to get some mobile Internet, there was one but it was closed. We headed down to the water to get some views. We found camp in a parking area near the water. The sky was broken cloud so I spent some time outside looking for the Northern lights but there was nothing. A car pulled up behind the truck and two British chaps jumped out and went down to the water with their cameras, I think they were there 2 hours before giving up too.
Monday we got up and headed for the phone shop, bought a sim and credit and chatted to the phone guys. We'd seen 'Blizzard' on the weather reports and they confirmed it might be a bad idea to head up to nordkapp, so we decided to stay around Alta for a bit. We found an indoor jetwash and cleaned the truck. (everything to do with water up here - Finland and Sweden included - is indoor. At petrol stations the water taps and screen washing buckets are in heated cupboards!). We parked up and had a brief walk around the centre of Alta, nearly everyone was British... There was a dog sledding place a few kms out of town so we took a trip out to take a look. The place looked great but upon speaking to the guy running the show we found they were totally booked up for the next few days due to the cruise ship that had just arrived! Hence all the brits... Shaz insisted we take a walk around and see the dogs. Scary looking but very friendly and unfortunately smelly dogs! We fussed a few that wanted fussing whilst the older dogs watched from their kennels. We may go back on Thurs as they have spaces.
Feeling a bit lost without having miles to clock up, we decided to do some jobs on the truck. Shaz fixed a leak and did some admin whilst I set up the cb radio finally! We decided to find somewhere that would let us have a shower and do some washing and found Alta River Camping open all year.
For about £18 we could stay, use the showers, laundry room, Internet, kitchen and separate TV log cabin. Met 3 guys from the UK who were out here snow trekking and pulling sleds, they come to Norway a lot to trek and gave us some advice on where to go. Whilst chatting to them the northern lights made an appearance outside, we stood out in the cold and watched, taking some photos. Typically they show up when you are in a town with loads of light pollution but that's the way it goes!
Tuesday, with the Blizzard and winds still on the way we took it easy, had a lie in and went shopping for food. It was forecast to be high levels of aurora activity so we thought we'd chance a camp out of town, on the edge of the mountains, so we could bail back to Alta if the weather got crazy. It got windy, but not terrible so we stuck it out. I kept popping out into the wind to see what the sky was doing but there was too much cloud. The camera showed me there was green wash behind the clouds but by 2330 I'd had enough waiting and went to bed.
As I write this it's Wednesday, still on the hill near Alta. The sun is out but it is blowing a bit of snow around. The Blizzard hasn't really come so we are considering hitting the road for Nordkapp, but we will see how the weather goes..
So, our first week on the road, its flown by, its been pretty full on, trying to make good progress whilst getting used to living in the truck, using the mapping systems in anger and getting used to driving the truck again whilst negotiating foreign traffic!
A quick breakdown of what we've been up to:
Weds 2nd march - drove to folkestone, via John Craddock to get spares and locking wheel nuts, ended up sleeping in the stop 24, but didn't have to pay.
Thurs 3rd march - Took eurotunnel 9:50 train, £117, drove to Bruges and had coffee in the square, then drove towards Gent and slept at a services on the E40, Pretty sure it was the local cottaging hotspot...
Fri 4th march - Late start, stuck in traffic at Antwerp, Essen and Duisburg, saw our first snow near Ommel, quite heavy but soon turned to driving rain, stayed in Aldi carpark near osnabruck.
Sat 5th march - Drove to Hamburg, to a Calumet photo shop as I’d forgotten the tripod shoe. Got one, and a bag, then stopped at a huge megastore like Ikea on steroids and bought a bratwurst with 2.50 euro's we managed to scrape together. Then headed towards Denmark, but truck had voltage issues, voltmeter was wobbling all over the place, so stopped at maccies for a google and I checked it, couldn't find anything wrong other than problem only occurred at speed with headlights on. Cleaned and checked the Earths, but couldn't recreate the problem. Hit the road again then crossed border into Denmark. Found a nature trail carpark to sleep in, was nice, both had a good sleep.
Sun 6th March - Drove to Skagen, the tip of Denmark where the Baltic Sea meets the North. Arrived just before sunset and walked to the tip, it was going dark, snowing, blowing an icy cold wind and we weren't sure if the tide was coming in - was a bit eerie.. raced to almost the edge of the sand but turned back! Got back to the truck soaked, my waterproofs are clearly shit. Got the heaters on and tried to dry everything out and had a wash in the truck...fun..! Slept in the huge carpark there, with nice heated toilet block.
Mon 7th March - Got up early ish and did the walk again to the tip of the sand, saw the long break of waves where the oceans meet, found a dead dolphin on the beach, only people out there again. Drove back down to Frederikshavn, got fuel, danish pastries and some water and then drove to the port and bought a ticket as we entered. Got days first sailing of 14:20 to Gothenburg. Sea was calmish, went out on deck a bit then came in and had a coffee and used the utterly shite internet. Took over 3 hours. Arrived in Gothenburg, shaz wanted a shower and a launderette. Found sports centre after some stressful navigation of the city, wanted just 80p for a shower, shaz went as no parking and I stayed with the truck. Used our radio's - really handy! Texted Alex, agreed to go over to his. Looked for launderette but there were only dry cleaners, all closed! Went to Alex's in Partille, had a good late night chatting and eating antipasti Linda set out. They invited us to stay in their spare room so followed Neill's( Nelly Byrd)overlanding rule of never turning down hospitality!
Tues 8th March - Up early, hung out with Alex, Linda Charlie and Matilda (cutie) before Linda went to work and Alex dropped the kids off at play school. Alex sorted breakfast and let us use their shower which was awesome. We headed off towards Stockholm to pick up the roads North. Stopped at a services with free water tap and drained and cleaned the water tank before refilling and purifying. Voltage issue not reoccurred touch wood. Got as far as Vasteras and it got dark, so ventured down some back lanes and found a car park to sleep in in the woods, complete with composting toilet block.