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.


  1. It's about the journey, not the destination. ;)

  2. Looking forward to more tales of meals in toilet blocks!


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