Today was a day of firsts, not only as in the date but in many things that happened along the way. We woke in Ulsvag, Norway and by 9am were on the road. That was the first ‘first’ as we don’t usually move too early in the morning.
We had no set destination today, again a first. We typically make a point of plotting our destination but today was different, we just hopped on the road and started driving, south. Hmmm.
The extent of our planning, however, was to not use the coastal route due mainly to the high costs of taking ferries. That decision was to save us €100. In hindsight, which is a wonderful thing, we are now thinking that perhaps it wasn’t worth it. Or maybe it was, otherwise I wouldn’t have a story to tell.
We are making our way south to leave Norway hopefully before the winter snow set in. The surrounding hilltops have been sprinkled with snow that looks like icing sugar (powdered sugar) and makes for amazing photos, particularly in the reflective waters that can be found everywhere we look.
We don’t go far before Betsy, our motorhome, is stopped on the roadside for us to jump out and take some photos. A two-hour trip usually turns into three or four depending upon the landscape and photographic opportunities. On route we stop at a place called Drag for this photo.
It’s really not difficult to take wonderful shots here when the scenery is so spectacular.
The opportunity for more photos presented itself, however it was more of the same, albeit still stunningly beautiful. I made the decision that we would only stop again for different scenery and forty-five minutes later this arrived.
Engan gave us rocks of greys, blues, browns diving into the again reflective waters. When I first saw this sight my brain couldn’t comprehend what my eyes were seeing. The scene in front of us was one of seamless rocks in an unusual shape, until I realised it was the water playing tricks on my eyes.
We asked [the universe] for different landscapes, and Norway provided these for us unlike anything I had ever seen before. The colours had been carefully chosen from nature’s palette by the most experienced of artists. Should anyone care to paint this scene, it would simply look too contrived.
But here in Engan we stood with jaws dropped and eyes wide, trying our best to take it all in. It was still morning, just, and there was not a ripple of wind on the water, and the clouds above are soft and fluffy. The day is stunning, there’s nothing to worry about here, yet.
Another hour or so later the surrounds had changed and changed dramatically. We knew we were heading through Saltfjellet National Park and had been climbing for a while. However there was nothing, and I mean nothing, to give us any warning of what was to come.
We’re in the snowline, says Alan, excited to see the white around us. We pulled over to frolic in the snow (okay we’re from the other end of the world where snow isn’t common). We take photos of Betsy surrounded by the snow. Gosh it’s cold outside. About 1 degree showing on the dashboard. It was a quick stop. That was 5.59pm.
We continue climbing and drinking in the sights of the beautiful white snow and the barren mountain slopes. The beautiful autumn colours were left far behind us and it was just black on white. What a picturesque scene before us. Until…
Six minutes later at 6.05pm we are still climbing and then it starts to snow. Gently at first and we are pleased to have just replaced our dashcam with a better one now so we can capture the stunning scenery here in Norway. I also capture a video on my iPhone, and the delight of seeing snow is clearly obvious in my voice. The roads are clear and there’s no concern about driving, yet.
The next video is taken at 6.08pm when the snow is coming in heavy and just starting to land on the roads and is staying there. The sound in my voice has a little more concern than the previous one and I say “I hope we don’t get snowed in”.
The third video is just one minute later at 6.09pm. We are in Rokland. My voice is quiet and I state the obvious ‘we’ve really been caught out here today’. The road is white, Besty has slowed right down and we’re in trouble. We don’t have winter tyres on, nor do we have chains. We have snow ‘socks’ but there is nowhere to pull off the road to fit them. I look at the other vehicles on the road, what few of them there are, and notice they also haven’t put on any chains. Phew, that’s a relief.
Driving in horizontal snow is another first for us.
The weather is really closing in now, the visibility low and I am feeling concerned. We don’t know how far we are to safety, or how long this is likely to last. We don’t understand the weather in Norway and we’re miles from anywhere.
It defies belief that the weather conditions in 90 seconds could deteriorate so dramatically.
Watch the dash cam video to check it out for yourself then consider putting yourself in our driving seats. For those from Europe reading this, it’s probably second nature. But for those from Australia, or NZ, this situation is far from normal. In particular look at the colour of the road surface at the beginning of this video then see how quickly it changes.
We continue for another ten minutes. We see a sign for a parking area. Upon approaching this we could see it’s a steep slope of snow down to a snow-covered carpark. We bailed on that idea, realising that if we got Betsy down there, there was no guarantee we could get her out again.
We continue forward, now travelling at just 50km/hr. A van passes us and Alan opts to drive in his tracks giving us a smidgen more traction, or so we hope. Ahead we can see a sign saying we’ve just crossed the Arctic Circle. We hope there are some buildings or structures and a welcoming rest area to stop. There is a sign pointing to something but the side road is covered with virgin white snow and we are not about to turn down there.
So we plod on forward with Besty still occasionally losing traction as her feet find it difficult to hold onto the ground through the thickening snow. Thankfully the road is straight, it’s relatively flat and Betsy holds her line as she connects again with the road and Alan keeps her pointing forward. Again she slips and slews a little sideways.
Keeping a 3.5-ton vehicle moving forward in these conditions is no small feat. Alan does a sterling job of man-handling Betsy and keeping her pointing straight ahead. He also tries to keep me calm, but I know him all too well and realise he’s managing his own concerns for our safety in these conditions.
The snow has now well and truly settled on the road and it’s not going anywhere. The temperature has dropped from 1 degree earlier to zero and the indicator on the dashboard is flashing, which means that there is a risk of ice – no kidding Sherlock!
We often talk about how the sun follows us around, how we are lucky with the weather, and whenever we ask the universe for something, like different scenery, it delivers. Well, today it’s delivering and I make a mental note to be more specific in my future requests.
Up ahead we spied some lights. What was it? Is there a village there, or some sort of life? We nudge slowly and carefully towards the lights and see a parking spot. By now the snow is hammering into our windscreen, the wipers are on high speed, and the snow is caking where the wipers don’t reach, making an unobscured outlook for the passenger rather difficult. I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing by this stage.
My heart is in my throat, and I don’t mind saying that I’m more than a tad scared by now. It’s made worse by the fact that I have run out of data on my internet plan. However, that wouldn’t help in any case because we have very little mobile service up here. No-one knows where we are and there’s no way we can call for help. Great.
I calm myself looking at our position rationally, which isn’t easy when faced with a new situation like this. My rational mind says that we have lots of food, we had just filled with LPG at lunchtime, meaning we have heating and can cook, we have plenty of diesel, we are safe inside Betsy and we have each other. Plus I don’t think there are Polar Bears in this part of the world.
We turn into the lit parking lot at Storforshei, especially grateful that the entry is flat and notice a building with lights on. It’s a toilet block and the toilets in this part of the world are always heated. Now I know why.
I look outside and can’t help but see the beauty in the scenery. The bare sticks in front of me have snow clinging on one side from the now horizontal snow that’s hammering them. They stand staunchly, teaching me a lesson in humility. If they can brave it outside, then I can toughen up inside.
We park up and decide we’re not going anywhere tonight. On the side of the road stands tall skinny red pegs that mark where the road used to be before the snows arrived. The odd truck continues to drive on in the snow and I figure they, the Norwegians, are used to this stuff. We, on the other hand, are not.
Heading into Betsy’s garage Alan retrieves the snow socks that we purchased in Sweden. They are our insurance policy should we get unexpectedly caught out. I think this situation qualifies for the inaugural snow socks outing. Snow socks are lighter than chains, are made of a fibrous type material, and can be used to gain traction in the snow, providing one drives at no more than fifty kilometres per hour. According to the marketing material on the outside of the packaging, these socks are designed to ‘get you home’. I am now thankful for the €86 investment we made during the searing 31-degree summer heat.
Alan comes back into Betsy looking like a giant snowflake. He’s covered in snow, it’s in his hair, on his shoulders, and all over his clothing. He is also looking rather cold. By this time the temperature had dropped to minus one and it doesn’t look like it’s about to let up any time soon.
Alan takes a wander over to the toilet block to suss it out and I start to set up the cabin to bunker down. The heating is turned on, the blinds are lifted to cover the windows, and the front screen covers put in place.
We check out the forecasted temperatures for tomorrow and OMG!!!! Have a guess what it says? Go on, you can give it a guess. Well, we are expecting to wake to a balmy minus five, tomorrow morning. What on earth? Minus five, do people really live in these conditions? And what’s more, it’s due to ‘warm up’ to minus three by mid-afternoon.
My mind runs back to an earlier conversation we had with a local chap just a few days ago who said that the snow sometimes doesn’t come in until December. December! Not October! Did I really hear him correctly? Didn’t anyone tell the weatherman this news?
Then another conversation comes to mind from not one but two locals on two different occasions. ‘We don’t mind minus ten, it’s when it gets to minus twenty or thirty that it becomes too cold.’ Really?
By now the snow has turned to rain, which possibly means that it’s warmed up outside. If you can call it ‘warm’!
The amount of snow on the roads has visibly decreased with the help of the rain. Alan returns from his reconnaissance trip to the bathroom and strongly suggests that we should continue driving tonight, now! He recommends that we’re not to stay here because with the minus five conditions tomorrow, then minus six the next day, the wet snow is likely to turn to far more treacherous black ice and the roads could be closed. The black ice is more dangerous to drive in than the option we have now. Black ice is the name we give it when water on the road has frozen clear and becomes invisible to see. It acts like a skating rink for cars and I don’t think Betsy would like that.
My mind races back a couple of years ago when my sister, travelling during winter in the South Island of New Zealand, had a head-on accident with someone who skidded on black ice and wrote off their motorhome.
Local Weather Forecast For The Next Two Days!!!
I agree with Alan and we make a run for it.
So the cabin gets prepared for moving, the blinds go down, the TV is put back into place, and we are bravely on the road once more. Betsy’s feet firmly connect with the now wet tarmac and she’s much happier.
Before long a truck comes up behind us, so Alan pulls over to let him go by. Ah, following a vehicle lit up like a Christmas tree makes for much easier driving. Although just trying to keep pace with him proves a challenge. He’s honking. Before long the truck is just a distant blur ahead and we’re on our own again.
The Norwegians are prolific road builders and they are constructing a new one alongside us. Kilometre after kilometre of workmen, excavators, and dump trucks are still working away in the pitch darkness and freezing cold. Road barriers, temporary traffic lights, diversions, and dug up roads all try to slow our progress but after coping with the snow earlier, these are mere trifles. The snow has stopped and between the roadworks, the road is actually reasonable. The seal is in good condition and the roads provide a comfortable enough width when meeting trucks coming towards us.
We slowly and safely make our way down the mountain and arrive, relieved and happy, an hour later at the small settlement of Storforshei.
We find a cheeky parking spot outside an abandoned building and gain some shelter from the elements for the night.
It’s now the following morning as I write this and we awake to the most glorious of days, the snow is now more than just a sprinkle on the hills around us. The beauty of Mother Nature again takes our breath away as the clear blue sky shows off the fully covered mountains with her clean crispy white snow blanket.
Our day of firsts yesterday will make for a good story in our future.
In the words of a friend ‘we know we are alive’ and are happy (now) to have had this experience.
Our lesson with this new knowledge is to never attempt driving over a high mountain range in the late afternoon if there is a risk of snowfall. We just need to be a little more mindful of the elements and how vulnerable we can be.