My opinion is that a trip becomes an adventure when there is a certain amount of uncertainty that gradually crescendos into pure panic the day before you leave. This trip had plenty of uncertainty and panic, on five fronts
- camping gear
Whilst there are many economic and political benefits of being isolated on a small island off the coast of mainland Europe, taking your vehicle abroad affordably is not one of them. There was once a time when us Brits could catch a ferry from Scotland to Iceland, or the East of England to Denmark or Norway. These days are long gone. Indeed the only passenger ferry service going north gets you from Harwich, near London, to the Hook of Holland, near Rottterdam. Pretty useless if you want to go to any of the Baltic states without a long drive.
After some route planning, it became clear that meeting the Danes in Jutland meant having to leave the evening of Day 1, sail to Rotterdam overnight, and ride roughly 600 miles to meet them on Day 2. 600 miles in the summer isn’t a problem, but 600 miles in a snow wind and rain would be no fun - doable, but no fun. However, there was an extra dimension - how would I ride that distance with winter tyres?
‘Warhorse’ went in for a full strip down and service, whilst I researched tyres. As the base gasket leak required taking the cylinder off, opening this 640 Adventure’s 53000 miles / 85000km engine for the first time was never going to be fun. Or cheap.
Tyres. There’s no way I’m doing a journey on ice without getting this right. Tyres are a contentious topic at the best of times, and the rumours of studs being a necessity for the rally, and a huge variation in advice, gave me sleepless nights. What studs or spikes are right? How can I get them if they’re illegal in England? Do I buy pre-studded tyres and ride 800 miles on the highway or do I take normal rubber and drill studs on the way? Drilling on the road side? What if it’s not cold at all, am I worse off with studs? Are they lethal on the tarmac?
I called Germany. I called Finland. I called Sweden. I searched online. But in the end, a thread from DustyWobbls convinced me to trust in a set of winter tyres from SataPiikki in Finland. I sent Jari my requirements, and within a few days I got pictures of my tyres and a tracking code! With this essential component resolved, I could book the ferries, plan my route, and worry about the next challenge.
Sleeping bag. I nearly froze to death at the Elephantentreffen in a Comfort 7 degree sleeping bag and that was only around -5. A new sleeping bag was in order if -20 was to be believed. Down bag = 1kg, small, but ~£1000 for -40. Synthetic = 3kg, huge, but ~£200 for -50. And it could get wet and still work. The Snugpak Antarctica RE was mine.
Mattress. The Exped Synmat is probably the most useless piece of equipment I have ever owned. For 7 years it has been an expensive furry swimming-pool lilo that takes so long to hand pump up crouched over it that you’ll need the mattress just to rest your back afterwards. And then it goes flat within an hour. It’s bulky and an utter bastard to pack away hungover… I can safely say I hate my Exped Synmat. And when it went flat on the Elephantentreffen, encased by frozen ice, I vowed to never let it grace my panniers again. However now I needed one to work. I looked at the Thermarests, I looked at the pads, but the Down version of the Expeds were the warmest - and believe me I didn’t want another one of these things in my life - but so another was bought. Surely they must be better now?
Tent. Fat Frog by North Face. Great tent, used it everywhere, never lets me down, fits in the panniers. I pined for a Tipi and stove but my concerns on cost and weight weren’t defeated, especially as the 640 is quite sensitive to being overloaded. Would love a tentipi, but I would love ~£1000 in my bank account more!
Stove. MSR Whisperlite Internationale. After 8 years mine’s becoming quite unreliable, but it packs down small, and hey it’s always fun throwing fireballs trying to start it, and the smell of burning hand and arm hair is addictive.
Chair. I’ve toured with foldable camp chairs before, but they’re heavy at a few kgs and an awkward shape. I took a punt on the ludicrously priced Helinox Chair One, and went with the Table One whilst I was at it. Before anyone chimes in with using panniers a) the metal would freeze to any skin, not a great feature of a chair b) panniers have no back support c) I fit the panniers on with tools to stop the 640 vibes from throwing them off, no joke.
I’ve touring leathers, textiles, winter textiles, waterproofs… What I always come back to is a light Revit jacket and trousers that I bought for a trip across Saudi a few years ago. Mesh fabric. Not great for snow [English understatement]. But great for a protective base layer.
A trip to an Army Surplus store had me buying an ex German army quilted tank suit - the quilting being my interest. This would go nicely under my riding suit.
The same store had this awesome -40 insulated Canadian-made Dew Liner over-suit that was wind and waterproof and would zip over my riding gear. Taken just in case, along with a North Face expedition jacket that would fit underneath the suit.
Boots. These Sorel wool boots talked of being very warm, good in the snow, totally waterproof, and similar in shape to an MX boot so it could still operate the gears and brakes. The downside being that they offered zero impact or ankle protection. So don’t crash.
Gloves. The KTM heated grips are amazing, they get so hot I have had blisters on my throttle hand - but your fingers won’t thank you. This time I ditched the grips and went with some Warm n Safe heated gloves wired directly to the battery. Apparently it’s normal to buy a controller, but I figured that 100% full power would be just fine for where I was going.
Legs: Sport socks -> Seal Skins -> Ski Socks -> Sorel wool inner boots -> quilted tank suit -> revit quilted trousers -> revit waterproof liner -> revit trousers.
Body: Vest -> Shirt -> Fleece -> quilted tank suit -> revit quilted jacket -> revit waterproof liner -> revit mesh jacket -> snowboarding jacket -> North Face down jacket -> Exposure suit -> rain poncho.
Breaking all the rules of preparation…
The bike got new piston rings but only had 100km on them riding back from the shop. No time to test the rebuild.
The camping gear arrived, got unwrapped, and packed. No time to test the sleeping bag, matress, chair, or table.
The clothes were bought, detagged, and packed. No time to try the boots, tank suit, exposure suit, or heated gloves until the day I left.
Then Wednesday came, the day of the tyre delivery. No tyres. Thursday… no tyres. Friday… no tyres. ****. I leave on Monday. No tyres. Equipment untested. Panic.