In an attempt to ride from the far north of Sweden to Stockholm on dirt, Brake Magazine contributor Laurens Corijn and two adventure riding friends shipped out. The route is vague and based based on a decade-old route through Sweden. Oh and all the concrete info is hidden deep inside dusty forum threads. One thing is for sure; it was always going to be a challenge.
They’d mentioned it jokingly – “Sweden’s Northernmost guestbook”. It’s a spot as far north as one can go in Sweden without crossing borders. Located on permafrost in the arctic tundra landscape, at the end of a challenging trail. It would add a big detour to the plan but I was so mesmerised by the thought of this hidden Adventurer’s Tome. I talked them into and that was that. We’d just added 700km of brutal riding to the plan.
Timmy opened the door to his garage. He laughed a bit sheepishly when we asked if his bike was ready to go. When we walked down to the workshop he was still screwing bits onto it. “You had months to prepare for this!” Christian exclaims. Everybody has their own style of packing and preparing, and Timmy isn’t a bloke too concerned with any of it. After an hour he’s done and the bike is loaded in the van. We laugh about it and snap a group picture before departure looking like a 90’s boyband with our matching black shirts.
“I can follow most of the Swedish and hear a “sandy road from hell” being mentioned”
I catch myself getting nervous sometimes, especially when I see their excitement discussing salient details of gnarly trails. What have I committed too? Christian has the lightest bike and has ridden a lot of proper enduro. Timmy’s 690 is much lighter than mine and he has a crazy, natural aptitude for it, happily power sliding around corners since his very ride on gravel. I on the other hand have the heaviest bike with the whole rally kit and I haven’t ridden on gravel in 10 months.
I don’t know much about Oden; just that we’ve just brought back his van and that he’s a very experienced rider who prefers to live in the tiny town of Jokkmokk. “I used to have one of those, but I got rid of it. No good, those rally kits break a lot. No wonder they didn’t sell many” he says, when pointing at my Rally kitted KTM 690 Enduro. Nothing like a giant confidence booster. While standing around admiring Oden’s 690 Rally Factory Replica he offers us some advice like a wise old sage offering words of wisdom to young adventurers. I can follow most of the Swedish and hear a “sandy road from hell” being mentioned, some stream crossings we should walk across and something about a tough hill to climb. His advice doesn’t stem my anxiety as we’re about to set off.
We are so full of energy and excitement before we hit the first obstacle. A freak storm has blown dozens and dozens of trees over; they’re stacked across each other and over the road. Even if we had brought a saw, we would never make it through. With the reality sinking in of still having to do over 300km past lunch, we decide to take the major roads to make up for the delays.
“With only 100 metres to go, a thigh-deep swamp blocks us.”
It’s 8pm and still light as ever when we finally hit the start of that long awaited road. A huge yellow warning sign greets us. This area lies in the booster-impact area of the Swedish Esrange rocket center. It’s an area so empty and uninhabited that it’s deemed safe enough to have flaming space debris impact over an area stretching nearly 100 km. There are no launches scheduled for the next few weeks though, so we continue to rip across the gravel at high speeds.
The gravel road gives way to sandy and rocky trails, across a true tundra landscape devoid of any trees. The track is just the right kind of challenging; it’s bumpy and requires focus but doesn’t require huge physical effort for the most part. I instantly forget my worries and not before long I’m ahead of the rest, blazing a trail with a nimbleness I wouldn’t have expected myself. It’s amazing what the prospect of a hidden treasure up ahead can do.
We instantly recognise the stream crossing our sage, Oden, warned us of. Wide, yet shallow, the round boulders would make riding across tricky and none of us have done this before. With team effort we walk all three bikes across. I’m surprised by my own bursts of energy while Timmy, arguably the fittest of us all, is puffing and sighing by the time his bike is on the shore. I see a steep, rock-riddled sand slope up ahead, can’t contain myself and blast up full throttle. The sudden corner over the crest catches me off guard but I’m slow enough to just drop the bike. After helping me lift my bike, the other two show me how it’s done by riding up without problems.
With only 100 metres to go, a thigh-deep swamp blocks us. Dismissing the thought of merely walking to our destination, we find a way through bushes and over roots. It takes us a few seconds to find it but this is unmistakably what we’ve been looking for. Atop a boulder sits a sun bleached reindeer skull. At the base of the boulder, hidden from sight lies a copper tome that holds only the few names of the men and women in Swedish off-road riding to make it to this spot in the middle of nowhere. As we chisel our names in with a stubby screwdriver and a rock, a second man swatting mosquitoes away from the first, we now too belong to this elite club. At least that’s what we convince ourselves.
Nearing midnight, we switch off our engines on a windy hill, safe from the clouds of bloodsuckers. My heart almost skips a beat when I notice my opened tail bag and realise I must have forgotten to close it when we left the guestbook. The tools I spent 2 years refining and perfecting, are strewn out across the trail we just took. Christian offers to go look for them, in return for setting up his tent. He returns half an hour later, having found most of them. Despite setting up his tent, I still feel like I owe him.
The ride back the next day seemed much easier, but we still felt deserving of a good lunch. We meet Peter there, who’s been staying in touch with Timmy. We tell him he’s very brave for wanting to attempt what we just did, all by himself. He’s shorter than any of us, and his big XT660 looks top-heavier than any of our bikes. He’s relieved we at least left the chisel tool by the guestbook, since his tools are at the bottom of his bag. As we leave him behind, we all quietly wonder how he will fare…
We are all excited, yet puzzled when we come across the self-service ferry Oden told us about. We stand around trying to make sense of why the steering house is locked; there’s no way to start and use the engine without that key. When all of a sudden a local shows up, we feel a bit stupid as he points out the chest with slotted logs. As we push the boat along our bikes we realise it’s good the ferry was on this side: someone would have had to row to the other side to go get it.
It’s been the kind of day we all hoped wouldn’t come, with non-stop rain for the past 200km. Our spirits are a bit low, realising we’re only back in Jokkmokk, where we started. As the guys talk about pushing on for another 200km to the next town, I interrupt them. I can feel that if I don’t take a break, dry and warm up, I might get sick. I agree with them it’s a bit silly to look for a hotel just after lunch, but after 2 nights camping, drying everything in a hotel room is very welcome.
It was good we didn’t push on the day before. Fallen trees and even a big detour due to a prohibited military area made for a full day. Approaching Arvidsjaur we’d mixed things up a bit by deviating from the main roads and riding the bumpy, beat up snowmobile tracks. When we pulled in for fuel, Christian all of a sudden asked me where my license plate was. Just my luck, it fell off somewhere during the past two hours. Backtracking for 30 minutes turned up nothing, so a cut-up bucket lid and a sharpie marker made for a suitable replacement. No police in the forest anyway, right?
We didn’t know what to expect when we rode up the hill towards Peter’s camp spot waypoint but a ski-slope was definitely not on our minds. Timmy and Christian zip up and down the slopes, always happy to get some challenging riding in. I just stick with film and photo duty, letting myself and my heavier bike rest a bit. Setting up camp afterwards turns out well, with even a fire pit and safe storage for our gear outside of the cramped tents.
Peter’s updates are handy but sometimes it’s hard to make head of his warnings. Standing at the end of what looks like a road under construction, littered with sand and chunky rocks, the forest around us signals that we’ll have to backtrack and find an alternative.
As I pull the chain of the anchor, to get the ferry closer to the muddy shore, it snaps off and I fall back. We all burst out in laughter; just as we thought this sketchy ferry couldn’t get any worse! We thought we knew how to operate one of these hand-powered ferries by now, but unloading above the rusty collapsed remains of the mooring platform is just a little more challenging. It does make for another interesting obstacle on this shortcut.
“Hop On!” the campground owner says “I’ll show you the spot”. I can tell straight away it’s perfect, a little half island in the artificial lake. As we return, me on the back, Christian arrives. It must have looked pretty interesting, me on the back of this hillbilly campground owner’s ragged old ATV. I’m glad I can announce the news of the spot for the night, as we were all getting a bit grumpy after the long search.
“Oh, this is so cool!” Timmy shouts over the intercom. “Get over here, we have to try this” He’s come across a motocross track in the forest. For the next half hour Timmy and Christian enjoy themselves struggling over the sandy track. Christian falls twice in the soft sand. He informs us he wants me to take pictures first, before we pull him out from under his bike.
We hadn’t heard from Peter in 2 days. Strange considering he’d update us at least once a day on the upcoming route. Timmy’s locked to his phone screen all of a sudden. Peter’s crashed. He had focused too much on his GPS, and missed a corner. No reception meant he had to walk 2km with a broken shoulder to call for rescue. We all go silent for a moment, realising it’s good we’re all looking out for each other.
As I gasp for air, struggling to get enough in my lungs, I realise it was a mistake to follow this track. We’d reached the end of what tracks we had properly planned, with only a day or two to go to Stockholm. This track was untested and unverified, and it turned out to be an impassable forest. There were trails here, but judging by the small trees growing on them they haven’t been used for a decade. We’ve done some 300 metres in an hour, my bike standing upright on a large mossy boulder, unsupported by the kickstand. Once we’ve all regained our breath and energy, we’ll lift it off and try to make it out. Then we’ll have to reconsider our route a bit…
We had said goodbye to Timmy, who’s chosen to cut it short by a day, staying with his family in his summer house. Christian said the two of us had just an easy day left. He wasn’t completely right, as we’re dragging my motorcycle out of the soft moss and mud. I’m not all too amused after the hellish effort in the forest from yesterday.
The rest of the ride turned out easy enough, on familiar roads even. As we finish the last bit of gravel road, in between an industrial estate and a major road, Christian exclaims we’ve done it, this is the end. A celebratory fistpump seals it; we’ve just completed 3200km through Sweden, I don’t think there’s any other way to experience a country in such a pure way.