Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Day 12 - The Depression of the Arctic Summer (as well as winter)

One fine day in the middle of the night
Two dead men got up to fight
Back to back they faced each other
Drew their swords and shot each other

This was a common ditty when I was a kid. It was full of contradictions and the Irish love contradictions. Well, the first line is no longer a contradiction. A day in the middle of the night is no longer silly, and therefore no longer funny.

Except that it should be « one wet day in the middle of the night …. »

Which brings me to my next observation … about the depression allegedly caused by the endless hours of darkness in the arctic winter.  It’s not just the arctic winter that is depressing. This particular arctic summer plays with the mind also.  The difficulty sleeping is bad enough, but when the driving rain sets in, you can’t even lie there in darkness and hope that « it will be fine by morning ».   Evening, night and morning have no meaning here during May, June and July.   So there is no concept of « the weather overnight » and therefore no prospect of a natural improvement in the weather by morning .… meaning anytime soon.

Are you still with me? Cos it gets worse. Because the grog is so expensive here, and difficult to buy, you can’t even resort to the traditional Irish remedy of drowning your sorrows … other from by standing in the freezing rain.

It’s now 4:30 am. Part of the depression will be relieved by being able to get up in an hour.   No, not because it’s morning, because that doesn’t exist.   But because we have an 8-hour drive today, and we want to reach Tromso before dark (ha, ha … these lines are not funny anymore).

People we have encountered

Initially it was primarily Dutch and German. The Dutch in particular seem to travel in convoys, whether of normal cars or campervans. Of course, the Dutch have long been known as great caravanners, but they have now migrated to the ubiquitous campervans, both modest and very large. The Germans seem to travel in all forms … motorbikes, cars, commercial vans (complete with some painter or plumber logo on the side), sedans/station wagons and of course camper vans. As we went further North, the preponderance of Dutch waned and the French made a big appearance, especially in very large campervans.

Other nationalities that we encountered (or more accurately the licence plates we saw) were Swedish and Finnish obviously, Danish, Belgian, Czech, Polish, Latvian, Russian, Bulgarian, Slovakian, Italian, Swiss, British, Austrian and Spanish. The only well-travelled European nationalities that we did see were Irish and Romanian. We also heard American accents, but not Australian, New Zealand or South African surprisingly.

We met no other Lotuses. In fact, we saw no other sports cars travelling outside their home patch.

Today's Journey ...

Well yes, I did get up at 5:30 ... and we hit the road at 6:30 ... with blowing, blinding rain all about.   4 hours later, we drove over hte bridge from the last of the Lofoten chain (only the most SW of the islands is called Lofoten itself) onto mainland Norway.   Another 4 hours got us to Tromso.

Along the way, we had much high stress because of the weather, but a few curiosities as well.   At one point, I could hear a loud rumbling, like the Elise was becoming really really sick.  No, it was an army helicopter directly overhead and very low.   It slowly moved ahead of us, followed by a 2nd chopper.   Hmmm, amusing, but hardly weird.   However it was the military Jeeps coming the other way a few minutes later that were weird.    Both of them had machineguns set up in the back (in the style popular among supporters of Somalian warlords) and they had soldiers in position manning said machineguns.   It was really spooky.

We later passed a military town, not surprisingly.   What was surprising was to see a white mini-tank among the normal camouflage tanks.   I'd only ever read about such equipment when the Norwegians were fighting the Germans in snow covered conditions.

A further couple of observations about driving in Norway

All roads have 2 deep grooves caused by the wheels of heavy vehicles.   When it's been raining (which seems to be all of the time), these grooves fill with water and are a major menace because of acquaplaning and because they push the car this way and that.   It also means that oncoming trucks and buses send up enormous rooster tails of water right onto your windscreen.    See photo below ...

The other observation is that TomTom will take you down some strange sideroads when set to "fastest" route.   No, TomTom is not having a bad day.  It's all a consequence of the very low speed limits on major roads - remember TomTom calculates the distance and applies speeds based on some percentage of the posted speed limits.   Major roads are restricted to the national 80kph limit, and many long sections with houses within earshot are restricted to 60 kph.   Small secondary roads have the same restrictions, but may be shorter.   Shorter wins every time because there is no speed advantage on major roads.   Also in the minor roads' favour is the lack of trucks and buses.

Tips for Elise Travel #3:
Coping with Creative Overtaking Manouevres:

As most of you will know, my driver has a need to be the car in front so overtaking other vehicles is a very common occurrence on driving holidays such as this.  I recall an incident, many years ago, when Peter was doing a Formula 3 driving day.  Just before all the drivers were to go out on the track for a few laps they were told, in no uncertain terms "No overtaking while on the track".  However, Peter must have misheard this and he interpreted it as "Go for broke", and so overtook not one but two cars ... at the same time!!  He was removed from the track and severely reprimanded.....but I digress....

On holidays, such as this, the roads are windy, rain falls heavily and constantly, and there are many trucks, caravans, buses, combine harvesters & of course cars.  Overtaking in these circumstances can be exciting (??!!) ... especially when sitting in the left seat in a LHD country.  I have found the best way to cope with this is to :
1. take a deep breath (mandatory)
2. clench buttocks (not sure why, but it helps)
3. close eyes (optional)

Item 3 is optional as I have found it is often useful to calmly & clearly (or if that doesn't work, hysterically) tell the driver that a truck/bus/caravan/car is approaching rapidly and that I can see the whites of oncoming drivers' eyes (this is accentuated because we are in a right hand drive car so I am the one in the firing line of oncoming traffic).

4. If required, chastise the driver.  Please ensure this is performed AFTER the overtaking has been completed and after you are safely on the correct side of the road.  Any chastising (or striking) of the driver during the move itself could have dire consequences!

End of Tips for Elise Travel #3.

Game for bored little children:
Can you spot the TomTom, the Garmin GPS, the mount for the Camera, the mobile phone, the sunglasses, the flask, the drinking cup, the road book, the map ... all on the dash of an Elise?

Day 12 - Tough journey to Tromso

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