Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Crossings are Scary

The conditions were pretty good as we set off from our camp spot down the coast. We intended to make it to Ballangen, a little town about 10 miles down the coast, and then decide what's next. Arriving into Ballangen the sun came out and while Tom watched the gear the rest of us headed into town to get cash out and buy more supplies. I ended up crashing, low blood sugar I think, and once I'd had some lunch I fell asleep on some telegraph poles. Justin and Melissa meanwhile met a retired teacher, John, who gave them a lift to the gas station and then explained that his village down the coast had a place to moor the boats, to camp and even hot showers. We decided this was an offer too good to refuse and so we climbed back in the boats and headed out. As we rounded the coast the conditions got more choppy and the village always seemed to be around the next headland. All in all it ended up being a further 11 or 12 miles which we did without a break. By the time we rounded the final headland into the bay and spotted Kjeldebotn we were really having to dig deep to make it in. We moored the boats and I immediately went into violent shivers. Tom and Melissa were amazing. They got me out of my wet clothes, put 2 hats on my head and found me somewhere warm to sit. Tom then made me a hot chocolate whilst Justin and Melissa spoke to the local fishermen to explain John had invited us.

John soon arrived and they opened up their fishing hut for us, said we could sleep in it and use their bathrooms and shower. The harbour is community built and ran by the local fishing and boat owners association. I eventually stopped shivering and after dinner John came and picked us up in his car and took us on a tour of the area. We drove up the local mountain, enjoying beautiful views in his cosy car whilst he told us about the local area. We were completely amazed at the level of community spirit in this beautiful little town where local associations took care of the road into the mountains, the harbour and even the local grocery store. People would pay into these associations and volunteer their time to provide better facilities for the local community. It was really inspiring.

It was past 11pm when we went to bed but still light. Due to poor conditions forecast for the following day John had offered to give us a lift in his boat across the fjord to the northern coast. We were all nervous about towing the boats behind John’s fishing boat so we set off tentatively, Justin and Melissa manning the towline, Tom chatting to John and me just transfixed by the bouncing blue boats bobbing in John’s wake. Despite a few moments of concern we made it to the other side and past Ramsund unscathed. John expertly pulled up against some rocks & we unloaded all our gear & pulled in the kayaks. After waving John off we packed the boats and set off paddling. After a couple of hours we spotted a pristine white sandy beach which we knew would make a perfect camp site for the night. We beached the boats, unloaded our gear, set up our tents and gathered wood for a fire as Tom and I were out of camping gas.

John had kindly given us 4 large fish fillets and 8 fish cakes. We fried up the fishcakes as a starter and made a tomato and fish sauce for our pasta. Tom reckoned it was the best meal he’d ever had! We had a relaxed evening around the camp fire and hit the hay as we knew we had our first big crossing the next day to Lodingen. The stretch down the coast to the headland opposite Lodingen was a little rough but as we rounded the headland we felt the wind coming down the fjord and there was nowhere to really pull in the boats to assess the situation. Justin and Tom we're confident we could make the crossing so we set off. In hindsight I think it was mostly luck which got us safely across. Tom and I took on a lot of water, it was really pretty rough and though it was only about 20 minutes of paddling it was hard paddling. I was quite honestly terrified and had to just chant “paddle really hard, paddle really hard, don't think about the water, don't think about the water” to myself. Turns out Melissa felt pretty similar. We made it into Lodingen harbour and once we located the public jetty we headed into town. 
Lodingen is a cute little town with a lovely community run harbour with facilities for camper vans so after restocking we hung out in their little kitchen to get warm and look at forecasts. After a few hours the wind had died down and we felt confident to continue. We made good progress with a tail wind, made it over two other smaller crossings and began the hunt for a camp spot. We pulled into one beach, but there were houses nearby and horses grazing so we weren't too comfortable and so we pushed on to a beach on the other side of Rin√łya that we’d spotted on our maps. We almost missed this secluded little treasure as we rounded the headland into the bay, but as we set our eyes on it we knew we’d made the right choice. Another perfect sandy beach with grassy areas and even a little wooden building we could shelter from the wind beside. We couldn't figure out the purpose of this little structure; it was low, there was seats all round the inside of it and it had a big fire pit in the middle with cooking grate and kettle. But it's decking made an excellent drying spot and kitchen. We went to bed tired and full hoping that the weather would be kind to us in the morning.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Arctic Express

Location: Narvik, Norway
The Swedish trains have a simple luggage policy - you can bring what you can carry. Nevertheless we were close to the limit with our our kayaks and gear. Labouring into the train we found our compartment, bundled all the bags around us and settled in for the overnight ride. The compartments are a lot like the 2nd class carriages on the Indian railways except we had a six person compartment for the four of us and there's no one coming round selling snacks at the stations (which is a shame). We’d met Justin and Melissa in Stockholm station an hour before we departed and conversation as flowing as we caught up on the last couple of years as the train whizzed north.

Despite the light night we managed some sleep before changing trains in Boden and heading northwest to Narvik. The train was fairly empty and we moved around the carriage to get the best views of the mountains. We were all surprised at how much snow there was on the ground and the fact the lakes in the mountains were still frozen. But we were now in the Arctic Circle so maybe this shouldn't have been a surprise! We unloaded at Narvik and while Melissa and I watched the stuff Tom & Justin headed to the gas station to ask about places to camp. With directions to a little spot by the beach with toilets we started to make our slow and painful progress under our heavy burden. Luckily after only about five minutes a guy in a pick up asked if we needed help and offered to drive our gear to our camp spot. Justin jumped in the truck with the stuff and the three of us followed on foot in the drizzle.
We set up our tent by the sea and Justin and Melissa opted to just camp out in the toilet to save getting their tent wet. We ate dinner together in another toilet block and did ‘Happy, Silly, Sad’. The next morning we hit the local supermarket to stock up on groceries before getting on with assembling the boats. To our slight horror a number of the plastic plates that form the connections between the parts of the boat had cracked. Thankfully we had a large roll of gorilla tape which we liberally applied and then continued with putting the boat together whilst hoping our repairs would hold up. A local guy out walking his dog stopped to chat with us, offering us some tips and places to look out for. We packed our gear into the boats and then struggled to carry them down the pier to the water. Lesson one - if moving the boats on land, move them empty and pack them at the water.
But we got them on the water, got into them and paddled out. Thing was, although that morning the water had been calm and glassy by the time we set off the wind had picked up considerably and the water was pretty choppy. We made it round the headland past Narvik’s harbour before deciding to pull in for lunch as the wind was higher than we liked (we’d gone about a mile and a half). We parked up on a beach and after a snack and a quick scout of the area we headed back out as the wind seemed to have dropped. Rounding this second headland the water was tougher still and after battling with it for a few hundred metres, Tom and I taking on considerable water as we had no spray deck, we beat a retreat for the harbour to check the forecast and decide what next. Lesson two - if the conditions have changed you shouldn't head out just because you've packed the boats.
We moored up in the harbour and hid from the wind behind the marina building whilst trying to determine what was happening with the weather and tides that afternoon. After a couple of hours the wind died down and the forecast said it would stay low so we got back in the boats and paddled back out. It was still a little choppy, but much better than earlier and we managed to get about 10 miles down the coast including a crossing where we all felt a bit like we were on a treadmill. Exhausted we pulled into a beach and camped next to a dilapidated barn and an empty house. It wasn't exactly how we’d envisaged our first day of paddling and we’d covered only half the distance we were planning to in a day. We were pretty sure our plans would need revising.