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  Älg Rally 2005 - The inside story.

By Mark Notschaele, Capellen, Luxembourg

Preparations;

So this is it. Last year I was just a passenger in Maarten´s bike, but the bug bit me. Three
months ago I bought a BMW K100 /EML CT2000 combination, with help from Maarten and Lex. I
hope that the three month practice in Luxembourg will get me through this trip. We go up to
Sweden with a bunch of other bikers, the trip is formally called the Älg Rally (see
http://www.alg-rally.com for more info on this crazy venture).
 


Maarten, Lex and I have made lists of what we have to take with us. The first lists included a lot
of tools, oil, electrical repair stuff, electrical socks, heated visors. The list of food was still
somewhat short. The first rev of the list read: "dry sausages and whiskey". We amended that a
bit lateron, and Lex has done all the groceries. The trip is going to be hopping different cabins,
where we need to cook ourselves.

We set out to do some 3700 kms in a good week, of which over 2000 on icy roads.

Friday Jan 21st

My bike is pretty packed. I decide to even take my guitar along for the trip. (Drunk) bikers in
remote locations make a good audience, since they cannot run away.

In the afternoon we saddle up and the three of us drive up to Remscheid in Germany , where I
reserved a hotel with garage, some weeks ago over the internet. Lex his front tire is leaking
more and more, and as we are near to the hotel, but quite lost, he shouts at me to get a move
on to find the hotel. Of course I have no clue how to speed up my search fort the hotel. After
asking a local guy, we find out we indeed ended up about 200 m from the hotel. Ronald, our
Dutch/Belgian participant has already arrived. Easy to find that hotel, he states….Anyway we
totally luck out, because as we are pushing the bikes in the garage, a big 4 wheel drive pulls up
and the guy explains to us we have to get Lex his wheel out of his bike and give it to him. Of
course we are all totally flabbergasted. By total coincidence (which I of course try to deny
lateron, to boast a bit) the staff in the hotel is related to a person who builds sidecars. That
saves us a lot of problems, so we can now go straight for some beers and a good German
steak. The guy tells us he will bring the tire repaired and all at about 9:30 the next day. We tell
him we decided to stay in the hotel until he brings the tire (smart remark eh ?).

Saturday Jan 22nd

We have some 600 k´s to do today, but we have plenty of time. Once we are on the motorway
we find out that Ronald can do about 90 k´s per hour and 5 more if he slipstreams behinds me.
Plenty speed with the horsepower in a Honda XL 600, with sidecar and packed to the max. Lex
his front wheel is ok, but bumpy, since it is not balanced well. After taking the pressure down a
lot it is less bumpy. The weather is like spring, and with the speed we are doing I have all the
time in the world to count the stripes on the road. After a long day on the road we have
something to eat near Kiel and are able to almost straight away get on the Stena line. On the
boat we meet the French participants and some Germans. A mix of familiar faces from last
year and some new. After some beers and a shower in the cabin we have a decent dinner on
the boat.

Sunday Jan 23rd

We get the wake up message from a male voice and not the regular Swedish female voice,
which is an unpleasant surprise, since we consider that voice the highlight of the trip on the
ferry. We pack up and get off the boat. The welcoming committee awaits in the form of Alcohol
checks by the police. We all pass (to our surprise). Maarten´s bike is starting to make strange
noises from the drive train, so for the eyes of the police we drive up and down the parking lot,
with me lying flat on my stomach sideways over it, with my head near his drive train, to listen
to the noise. I think they thought this is the regular ritual for us arriving, so they say nothing.

We drive the 400 some kms to the campsite near Hagfors (Tingsö). We get checked for alcohol
again during the trip. Biker must have a bad reputation in this country. Not a lot of snow and
the roads a free from ice. Only the last 30 kms or so are my first challenge. Snow on the road
and very very bumpy. My suspension smacks all the way down several times. The reception at
the campsite is cool. All participants have now arrived, which is a nice mix of some 24 bikers
from Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Germany. There is a welcome drink, with
some local brew / hot wine and local beer. Since after breakfast I only ate one cookie the
whole day, I start to feel sick pretty fast. After some time on the porch of the cabin to sober
up, I decide to turn in early. Long drive ahead again tomorrow.

Maarten´s bike is now labeled as a loss. Even though a lot a people jumped on the occasion to
show off that they have parts enough with them to rebuild a complete beamer, we suffer a lack
of proper tools and throw in the towel. Maarten calls the Luxembourg automobile club the next
morning and tries to explain where he is and what the heck he is doing there…we leave the
bike in Tingsö, distribute his gear over some other bikes and continue the journey.

Monday Jan 24th

Today we need to get ourselves to Lillharda, near Sveg. The amount of snow and ice is starting

to build up. Only near Mora there is no snow at all. We feel like we are in the wrong movie.
Temperature is still around minus 5. The campsite is difficult to find. Almost all participants
have driven up to Sveg first, asking around to locals where to go, with mediocre success. I did
manage to see the cardboard sign "Elch Rally", and after about 500m past it, my brains kicked
in and decide to stop and ask Martin, Ronald (who we met along the way again) and Lex,
whether the sign is a freak concidence or is meant for us. We decide to take our chances and
get on the small track. To get there the last few kms are through fresh fallen snow. Off road
feeling with the side bikes, a lot of fun, and I am learning fast…Once I think I am going to
disappear from the road in a cloud of snow dust, but one way or another I manage to stay on
the track.

The camp is great. A Viking camp without electricity. Big fireplace on ice and rocks on a
wooden table, sauna, hottubs and ….a hole cut in the ice to take a plunge after the sauna. The
small huts have only a small stove, a bucket to melt snow (to make water,,,) and an oil lamp.
The toilet is, right, just a little house with a board with a hole in it (which proves to produce
quite and interesting odeur the next morning after 24 bikers used to relieve themselves from
dinner and booze… ). Having no electricity was a problem to get our mobile phones recharged
(hey, adventure only goes sofar eh?) and the battery from the Dnjerpr, who had no working
alternator anymore. Temperatures are now close to minus 10.

We are having a real blast with the ice swimming. I can tell you from personal experience that
that is pretty cold. I am the first one to dive in, followed by the Dutch guys, after which the
Belgian of course need to follow, which motivates the French to go in. The Germans of course
need to follow the French. Most people even went in several times. The owner of the place his
jaw dropped at so much enthusiasm to inflict pain on ourselves. I guess it indeed proves that
this bikers group is indeed a gathering of insane guys. The owner told us that they host
management trainings at the camp site, and that after hours of psyching up with a mental
coach, people at the end are motivated to "do it" and take a dip in the ice hole. We were in it
before the guy had even the time to light the candles near the hole and then even did it a few
times. Anyway, we earned our Viking diplom with flying colours that night. Dinner afterward
was great. Sleeping in the cabins was a blast.

Six participants decide to take a shortcut and not do the next to stages. This due to one person
who is ill and needs a rest and the others who just think the next two days is to much driving.
This is where the men get separated from the boys….

Tuesday 25th

The mission of the day is to get from here to Otsjö, pas Ostersund. Again some 300 kms to kill.

The roads are now more challenging. Since the weather has been hotter and colder the last
weeks, there is lot of ice on the roads, which has tracks in it and is broken up in a lot of places.
All hands on deck thus, to keep the bike on the road. After some 100´s of kms I am getting a
better feel for things. I am driving together with Martin and Lex. Martin decides that today is the
time for a pirouette on ice. He makes a full turn at some 70 kms an hour and lands with his
front in the snow. No damage to machine and driver, so we continue at the same pace. Some
other drivers do a similar move that day. Even an experience of sliding reverse at 90kms an
hour with the following biker friendly waving at the stunned driver of the first bike was
accounted for. No severe damage, no one gets injured. At least nothing that some rolls of
duct-tape cannot fix. A good warning that driving here in winter is not without danger.

I also start to find out that my bike has a good grip on snow and ice. Sort of a freak byproduct
of weight, geometry and snow tires. In locating a place to eat, I close my throttle and tip on my
brakes and before I no what is happening I have Lex flying by, cursing (yes I could hear him
through two helmets ad earplugs), on my left and Martin on my right. We park our bikes as if
nothing happened and the locals outside the restaurant just keep staring at us in awe.

As we get closer to Ostjö it is getting dark (it gets dark at 3 PM in Sweden this time of the
year..) and the temperature is dropping to minus 15. The switch of my fog light breaks off
(pushing hard on plastic at low temperatures is not a good idea), my gasreservoir lid freezes
stiff (tank god for good preparation and a can of lock defroster) and my helmet starts to make
strange squeaking noises when I open it. The last few km´s up the mountain are great. Nice
wide, snowy road…no ice. Up at the cottages there is really a lot of snow. We make ourselves
some dinner, I play the guitar a bit, we ditch a few beers and a bottle of "Schelvispekel" and do
a tour of the other cottages. Most people are already to bed at 9 pm, deadbeat of the journey
of the last days, and knowing that tomorrow the trip is 400 km´s. This is time for the die hards.

Wednesday 26th January

In the daylight we now see the view from the mountain, we see the hills in Norway, the frozen
lake. There is about a meter of snow uphere. Beautiful. Alas we need to get a move on. An
eventfull day lies ahead. It is snowing when we leave. Lex , Martin and I decide to follow some
small roads to see some of the scenery. At the fist try to catch the road to Börtnan, we see
flashing lights and a sign that we somehow depict to say that the road is closed due to heavy
snow. We decide to take a 40 km detour to get on the road to Börtan from the other side. This
works, we get on the road to Ljungsdalen. The drive up the small raod and mountain is about
100km and up to 1750 meters altitude. It is as we are having the road to ourselves. We make
some soup with our gas burner on the way and are having a great time "carting" through the
snow on the everwinding roads. The snow on the shoulder gets higher and higher as we go,
until it reaches a few meters height. We end up in a good snow storm and finally end up in
Ljongsdalen. We decide to fuel up at the one and only gasstation. As we take off our helmets
we are impressed with what we see. Snow is stacked up higher then the roof of the houses.
Martins dry comment; "Wow, these guys are having some winter eh". As we pay for the fuel
Martin warns me that the bloke at the station started to draw a big cross on the map of the
road some 10ks ahead. I get back in and see what this is all about. Indeed seems we managed
to miss two warnings that the pass is closed (of course exactly the same signs as there were
Börtnan…very difficult to miss, but we did it !!). Lex says he saw them, but figured I knew what
I was doing. (big mistake…). The attendend mumbles something about staying up there for
three days, which triggers a flight reaction in us. We are afraid to get snowed in (oh, yes it was
snowing by now….), we get on our bikes and hurdle in one go the mountain off. I see nothing
through the snow and snowdust from the bikes in front of me. Time to crank up the heated
visor. Pretty surreal trip. (since now I am only allowed to drive as last person…trust levels in
my ability to give direction were down a bit …). Any way a the foot of the hill we now have done
200 km extra spent 4 hours..all for nothing. Even more senseless as the normal senseless
mileage we do through the snow. It is now already getting dark and we still need to do another
200 km or so. We decide to not take any risks and ask some locals if other roads are closed.
All seems to be ok though further on. I try to explain to one of them that there was a lot of
snow at Ljongsdalen, and difficult to mount on a motorbike, but from their comments this
seemed to be a very well general accepted fact in this part of Sweden, and I have created no
learning point for the locals. After killing some km´s we decide to call Maarten to let him know
not to worry. Since most people are already in and celebrating the end of their long trip (do
they even have a clue of what long means…) and having a beer. Maarten´s sympathy is limited
to; "Are the bikes running ok ? Do you have fuel ? Ok, then see you in a couple of hours".
Great tour guide !! After about three hours we arrive at Idre and fall right into the end of the
dinner. We have been on the bikes from 9 am to 9 pm and did 600 kms on snow and ice. I
think I am getting the hang of driving my sidebike by now. Good thing we have a rest-day up
tomorrow.

Thursday 27th January

Everyone is starting to look pretty rough by now, unshaven faces and fuzzy hairdo´s are all
around. We drive some 40k´s to start our resting day pensum. In the morning we take a
dog-sledge tour of about 2,5 hours. In a refuge cabin we have a good lunch and then take
snowmobiles for a again a 2.5 hour trip to look for Älg. (Hey the name of the trip stands for
something after all). The morning group spotted some, we are not so lucky. We only see
tracks, trees that the use to scold there head against and some hair. We are having a blast
though going at 90 km an hour over the frozen lake, like in a James Bond movie. Fun was also
the snowball fight we had from our bikes. We felt like 12 again. We do a lot of cross country
with the Skidoos and start to find out that a skidoo drives just a like a sidebike. Totally
unpredictable, a vehicle as it was never meant to be.

On the way back, I wait at a crossing for Sven, to tell him that he is driving without headlight.
While I am looking over my shoulder; I see Sven hitting the snow with the wheel of his side car
and disappear in the snow completely with his bike. Apart from his ego there is no damage. We
hoist him back on his bike for pictures and the bike after that out of the snow. Sven told me
that his visor was complete blocked with ice as it happened. Well he also did not have his
headlight one, so difficult to determine the root cause on this one….

In the evening we make us some dinner and hit the sauna, complete with rubbing ourselves
with snow and the (not so) hot tub. We make a fire outside and put some beers near it to
attract the other bikers (always works ! Even at minus ten ).

Friday 28th January

In the morning we say goodbye to the Belgian group and some of the French, who stay for
another week up north. The drive back to the first camping site near Hagfors is calm and pretty
relaxed. What would have given me a total panic the first day is now routine. The bike skids a
few times and once I end up at the other side of the road due to the tracks in the ice, but it
does not raise my heartbeat to much anymore, just gets me "defrosted" a bit…At the Hagfors
campsite we decide to make dinner from all we have still left over, this ends up being an
interesting combination of Nasi goring, meatballs in three different sorts, potato soup, french
cheese, pate…..only a real bikers stomach can do this. After playing the guitar again, and again
getting away with not getting tied to a tree outside, we hit the sack.

Saturday 29th January.

Since Maarten´s bike is broken, we need to now get back to Luxembourg with two bikes, so we
leave al none essential things behind in Maartens bike, trusting that somehow the automobile
club will repatriate everything some weeks from now. This means that dirty laundry (which, for
the record, did not account for a lot of volume…!!) and my guitar stay. Essential things like our
last bottle of scotch and some 15 cans of beer do find a spot in the bikes.

We make good time to the ferry. While waiting Boer makes some hot wine (aka as red soup)
on the parking. We met a couple who, who were also staying at the campsite in Hagfors, and
who were pretty amazed that we were driving faster over the ice then them with their normal
car.

On the boat the have a good dinner and turn in at a reasonable time, knowing that we need to
close to do 800 kms from Kiel to Luxembourg tomorrow.

Sunday 30th Jan

9 am we get kicked off the boat. On the parking lot we say goodbye to everyone. Me, with
Maarten in the sidecar and Lex hit the motorways. Since there is nothing to do I have all the
time to calibrate my speedometer by counting hectometer poles. Great way to spend your
time. After lunch, with people staring at us and giving us plenty of space, due to a combination
of how we look by now and smell, we loose each other. Lex fuels up, Maarten sees this a bit to
late, and cannot reverse into the gas station. Not because there is law that says your should
not, but because there are 4 police cars on the parking. We decide not the wait around on the
shoulder of the motorway (to dangerous), but go to the next parking, to spot Lex passing by.
This works. We hurle after him. By the time we are catching up, and on a very busy motorway
crossing, Maarten is making wild geatures that the engine is running only on three cylinders
and not reacting to the throttle anymore. There is no escape lane, and a lot of traffic. A few
seconds later the engine stalls completely. In entire silence we luck out, because the road
slopes and there is a turnoff lane 200 m up the road. We silently make it to that point, giving
each other frantic looks, and manage not to get hit by cars turning off. We decide that before
we further panic about what is wrong with the bike, I will just put the extra fuel in the tank. This
works. The problem seems to be that my fuel gauge has given up proper function. After fueling
up, we find out we have take a wrong turn somewhere. We see no hope anymore to catchup
with Lex. With the last drop of fuel in our tank we arrive in Echternach (again running on three
cylinders, this time we know better…).

One last time, as dozens of time before this week the attendant asks, "Are you guys crazy to
drive around in this cold ?". The answer is probably yes…you don´t have to be, but it helps.

Since Lex had part of our luggage, Maartens homebringings are now reduced two pair of
motorcycle suits, a helmet and a toothbrush….I drive home the last 40 kms, again through
snow on slippery roads, and wonder while all these local guys are going so slow…

Next year the grand tour up to the polar circle seems to be planned. I will be there !