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Journal 13

Without the Finnish, we could not have finished!

February 06

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Thanks Updated 15.03.06 Virtual Tour of Mel Please join us - added 20.02.06

From Helsinki, looking at the map it was about 1500km to North Cape and we hoped to be there in a few days, so with a glimmer of light at the end of our very long tunnel we carried on. The roads were good and flat and fringed by endless forests. We noticed a strange and familiar noise, which was getting louder as we drove. Stopping to inspect the car, we realised the bearing on the right hand side of the car had now gone. The problem we had in Egypt had come back to haunt us, only this time it was on the other side of the axle. We could not drive far with a wobbly wheel and no bearings, so we pulled in at a garage and asked if we could shelter there while we worked on the car, since we would have frozen if we tried to work outside.

Pulling out the axle the ball bearings fell on the floor in a mess of metal and iron filings. We had a spare bearing but we needed a lathe to machine the axle. Stuck in a small village 50km from the nearest large town on a Saturday night, it all seemed pretty hopeless. The garage owner came to see how we were getting on, we explained with hand signals, he nodded and then disappeared. Ten minutes later he reappeared with his neighbour, Timo who examined the axle. Then a girl appeared, Timo's daughter Saara, who translated for us. A while later we were carted off into the forest, where inside a large building we found ourselves inside a huge workshop FULL of machines, including a huge lathe. The machinist, Repe worked for over an hour fixing the axle and refused payment, just asking for a postcard from Norway. Back to Mel we put her all back together and waving our thanks to those in Leivonmaki who helped us we carried on our way into the night.

Helsinki Icicles Helpers from Leivonmaki
Helsinki Icicles People from Leivonmaki who helped us

The next day we got up early and headed down the road hoping to make up some time. We planned to stop in the city of Oulu for lunch, which sits on the Baltic coast. Just as we are arriving in town the noise we have learnt to dread started again. Trying to ignore it, hoping it would go away we carried on, but eventually we stopped to look and yes, the bearing on the axle had broken again. We drove around desperately looking for somewhere to work on the car, out of the snow. At last we spoke to Kjellman Vesa, the owner of a Teboil garage and he let us use his workshop, which was full of loads of power-tools and machines. We were now on our last spare bearing and it was difficult to find in shops, so we really hoped this one would last. Working into the evening again, it was a real fight to get the old bearing out, but with the help of a grinder at last it popped out and we finished the job before midnight.

Road in Finland
Kjellman, the garage owner, who took us in. Road in Finland.

The next day we went to the Toyota garage to see about a spare bearing, they said they could get one in three days if it was in Helsinki and it would cost 98 Euro. They also suggested that the reason the other bearing went was that I hit it with a hammer when I put it in or that there was not enough oil in the sump. Hopefully this answers our question of why the bearing only lasted 350km. At midday we set off, only 700km to North Cape as the crow flies! Two days and we could finish! 40km north of Oulu in a place called Ii we heard a bang and the dreaded grinding noise. We decided to drive slowly back to Oulu as it is the biggest town in the area and we know the garage. Tension gripped us as we prayed the car could make it back. Cheryl said, "I don't see how we are going to get out of this one" I replied "Nor do I, but anything could happen". With no spare bearings and their repeated failing anyway, it didn't look good. We were going through our options, was there any point just replacing the bearing again? Would we have to give up so close to our goal? We decided to head to the Toyota garage to ask their advice.

Andy pouring water on mel smouldering wheel Mel finally extinguished
Andy pouring water on Mel's fire Smouldering wheel hub. Mel finally extinguished.

As we pulled into the car park a car came screaming up behind us pointing at our tyre. " *%&!! Cheryl, quick pass the fire extinguisher, the wheel is on fire!" We emptied our two extinguishers but still flames kept coming from the wheel. I grabbed our 20 litre water container, but that did not put out the flames. Cheryl had grabbed the jack and started to lift the car so that we could try to save the tyre and get to the flames. In my frustration I shouted at her that she wasn't jacking fast enough, to which I did not get a pleasant response. Once Mel was jacked up I pulled off the tyre and tried throwing snow at the fire. Luckily a guy from the Toyota garage came out with an industrial size fire extinguisher. Calmly he came up to us: "Would you like to use this?" "YES!" we screamed. Finally we managed to get the fire out, it was nerve wracking, as the fire was only inches away from the rear fuel tank. I was covered in white powder and soot. I left Cheryl outside to check that the fire did not start again and then went into the garage to ask their advice. Maybe the whole axle is bent? If one bearing costs 98 Euros I dreaded to think what all this was going to cost.

The fire had destroyed the brake pads, cylinders and possibly our new tyre. Meanwhile Cheryl was getting concerned about the car falling off the jack, as we had not secured the car properly, so she decided to come in and find me. Walking up to the reception, she asked, "Hi, I am the one who brought the car in that was on fire, have you seen my friend?" The receptionist did not blink, nodded politely and said "Yes he went through there"; these Finns definitely stay calm. The Toyota garage managed to find a second hand axle on the Internet but could not get through to the owner of the axle. We decided it would be better to go back to the same garage that we had fixed the bearing in the day before as they might let us work on the car there and also there was a toilet and small restaurant.

We reassembled the wheel and drove around the corner to the Teboil garage and asked Kjellman if we could stay the night while we tried to find spares. The restaurant is a meeting place for all the taxi drivers in Oulu and suddenly all the Nokia (this is where the company started) phones came out. At one point three people were all on phones and swapping them in a frantic state of action. This lasted about 20 minutes, with them asking me various questions in English like: "is it full or semi floating?" "What is the ratio of the gear?" "Is the car diesel or petrol?" Then we were told to wait, not really knowing what was happening we sat down and had a hot chocolate.

Suddenly a guy turns up and tells us he has an axle exactly the same in his garage, we can have it for 150 Euros. We went to his house, collected the axle and discovered that he was a Landcruiser fanatic, he had three of them! One was the exact model as Mel even the same year 1978. When we got back to the garage there were four people from the Finnish Off Road Club waiting for us. One guy shook my hand and introduced himself and said "The Finnish Landcruiser Club President sends his regards." Jeez was I dreaming? This was like magic Elves appearing out of the forest to help fix Mel. As we worked people arrived to have a look at Mel and everyone was very impressed with our engine taking photos and asking all sorts of questions. We finished installing the axle before 10pm, they made a video of the whole thing for the Off Road club and all they wanted was a cup of coffee! (The drink driving laws here are very strict.)

Fixing car in Oulu Fitting rear axel
Donor of rear axel for Mel. Fixing the car in Oulu Fixing the new rear axel.

Cheryl and I got back in Mel and we started laughing, sure we were going to wake up soon from a weird dream, those Malaria pills were quite strong.

The next morning we were woken up by someone knocking on our door. Sleepily I opened the door still in my sleeping bag and as I did a camera started to flash in my face. "Hi we are reporters from a Finnish newspaper, can we interview you about your trip?" "Ok give me two minutes" they asked loads of questions and took lots of photos of us and they wanted to know all about what we had done, so we told them the whole story. That's one thing about sleeping in a car, you never know what will be outside when you open the door in the morning!

Offroad Oulu gang Us in Finnish newspaper Reindeer
Off-road Oulu gang once the job was complete. Article about us in the Finnish newspaper. Reindeer.

The Garage owner then insisted we use the staff shower (I wonder how much we smelt) and then gave us a tour of the town and surrounding areas of Oulu. We have heard that it is -30C 500km north of here, so we decided to stay and write up the journal and sort our lives out before the final push north.

Carrying on northward we visited the snow castle at Kemi and I saw my first reindeer. The Off-Roaders club had all been shocked with our tyres and they told us to travel, especially in Norway, we must have snow tyres with metal studs in them. This would cost a fortune and so we considered risking it, for it was a lot of money for only a couple weeks. However, we were put in touch with Rein who lives just above the Artic circle, with Anne his wife and four children. He was happy to lend us some spare snow tyres, which he had in his beautiful home surrounded by pine trees. He wanted no money and even gave us dinner after we swapped the tyres around (and delicious it was too!) The next day we took the obligatory photos at the Artic circle marker and visited the official Santa Claus village. Then we had a long days driving and just managed to get to Norway before sun down.

Snow creatures Mel in Lapland At the Arctic Circle
Snow creatures at Kemi Snowcastle. Mel in Lapland. At the Arctic Circle.
Rein,who loaned us snowtyres. Less than 10 metre visibility.

We woke early, hoping with only about 320km to go that if Mel behaved we would be at North Cape that day. Of course not wanting to tempt fate we didn't actually say that to each other, but we were hoping. The journey started uneventfully, it was a cold morning but we were getting used to that. Then as we drove north the clouds rolled in over our heads and the snow started to fall. At first it was a slight shower but before long the snow was falling so hard that we could barely see the car in front of us. We pulled over for breakfast, thinking that perhaps it would pass, but when we carried on it was just as bad. A British army Land Rover overtook us and Cheryl enthusiastically waved our Union Jack at them, thankfully I don't think they could see her due to the snow. It was now a real blizzard, there were sticks along the edge of the road guiding us as to where it led. We had to stop to fix the windscreen wipers as they were blocked with snow and the door was nearly ripped off the hinges by the wind, it hasn't been quite the same since.

Carrying on slowly we wondered could it get any worse? To get to North Cape there are several tunnels and we were grateful for the escape from the elements. One was about 7km long, which was fantastic, even if it did cost 15 UK pounds, one-way. The visibility on the road lowered further, to a point that at times we could not see past the front of the car. Again we had to stop to fix the wipers. I was staring at a small rock on the road, convinced that we were rolling past it, but we couldn't possibly be because we were facing up hill. "Andy, are we moving?" I shouted across to him over the howling wind, "Yes, the wind is pushing Mel up the hill!!" he screamed back. Remember now, that the Toyota garage car lift couldn't raise Mel she was so heavy. "Oh, OK" I replied.

There was a sign saying 31km to North Cape, which we could just make out through the blizzard. It was now that the drive got really scary. We came to a hill that was thick with ice and then we were on top of an exposed ridge, so that wind was pounding at the car. With the icy road and wind the car kept slipping and sliding, threatening at any time to go off the road. This was worrying because we couldn't see what lay beyond the road, whether it be mountain, cliff edge or sea. Inching forward Andy did a superb job of keeping Mel on course, but still I sat there clutching the door handle and phantom braking. I was scared of being in the car in case we crashed, but scared to be outside of Mel as I was sure I would be blown away to sea.

First signpost to NC Road Closed
First signposts to North Cape. ROAD CLOSED 13 km from North Cape.

We drove to a calmer section and found a sign that said 13km to North Cape. We both held our breath, Andy deliberately taking the corner with care, hoping 13 wasn't going to be unlucky. Phew, that went OK. But then a barrier with flashing red lights and a permanent looking sign greeted us, telling us "ROAD CLOSED". NO!!!!! After all this way we had failed. We were both very disappointed and filled with frustration

There was an information-line number on the sign, so we decided to give them a ring. The woman told us between November and April the road was closed to private cars, as it was too dangerous. We could go on a bus that left once a day, but it had been cancelled today due to bad weather. Otherwise we could arrange to drive up there when the weather was better, but we would need to pay for a safety car and snow plough, which would cost 500 uk pounds, plus tax. We discussed our options, 500 quid was just too much, but we really wanted to get Mel up there too. After a heated discussion, Andy was persuaded to ring them again and try to explain that we had driven from South Africa and hopefully get a better deal. After a lot of phone calls we were told it would cost 70 uk pounds per hour plus a fixed price of 55 uk pounds. It would probably take 2-3 hours. They also told us that the wind was much too strong today so we would have to wait until the morning to see if conditions improve.

Still not sure about the price, we had to meet with the lady who controlled all the snow ploughs and road maintenance in the area. This meant driving back over the exposed ridge. Andy tried four-wheel drive which helped, but when we got to less icy patches the car started to shudder. He realised the rear axle we got in Oulu must have a different gear ratio, this meant the front and back wheels spinned at different speeds causing poor Mel to bump along painfully.

At the snowplough office we discussed our trip and thankfully the cost had come down even more to just 65 pounds per hour and no fixed price. Then she said we could sleep at the office, which also had a lovely warm shower and TV. That evening we nervously waited for the morning, worrying about the journey, wondering if the last 13km were a lot worse than the roads we had already experienced and anxious the weather would settle for us. That night we got a glimpse of the green tinged Northern Lights; I hoped this was a good sign.

The first thing we did on waking was to check the weather, it didn't seem quite as bad as yesterday, but it changed so quickly and snow storms still occasionally blew over us. We had to wait until 11am until they would make the decision to go or not, it was nerve wracking just sitting around and by the time we got the news we were good to go I was really hoping they would cancel it.

It seemed Mel wasn't too keen on the trip either, as she just wouldn't start. Trying to jumpstart her down a hill she got stuck in a thick patch of snow, digging her heels in. A pick-up drove past and pulled us out, and at last the engine started. We drove very slowly along the treacherous roads, today the visibility was much better, and so we could see where the cliffs plunged down from the road. I think I preferred it yesterday, when I couldn't see! We came to the first hill, remembering this marked the start of the precarious section. As Mel crept up the icy slope, the wheels kept losing traction. Andy kept trying to reduce the power to allow the wheels to grip again but half way up he pulled off the accelerator too far and she cut out, this was going to be interesting. We then started to slip backwards completely out of control (Andy, not wanting to worry me didn't admit this to me until later, when we were safely back in a warm pub.) Andy pumped the brakes to try to stop us but to no avail… meanwhile I was confident he knew what he doing. Skidding backwards on ice, down a hill only metres away from a cliff, that led down into frigid seas, Andy later told me he had no way of knowing how to control the skid (but not to let any of his mates know…. oopps, sorry Andy). So he took what seemed his only option to steer toward the rock face. Mel whipped around 180 degrees and as if by magic we were now facing down hill. With a relived grin Andy then turned to me and said, "Well, that worked well, that manoeuvre is known as a J-turn."

The snow plough
The snowplough that cleared the way for our drive to North Cape. Only a few km from North Capt. A break in the snow storm
  Snow plough and safety vehicle
Break in the snow storm. Snow plough and safety vehicle at North Cape.

We got to the bottom, turned around and carried on to the gate where we were met by the plough and safety car. Then the barrier was raised and we were off! The road wound slowly up the mountain-side. Up a steep hill Mel was getting slower and slower, and I was sure we would cut out again, so I started shouting encouragement to her "Come on Mel, you can do it!" and she did. On the top of the cliffs the sun suddenly appeared from behind some clouds, tinging their edges with gold. Behind them a translucent blue sky shone over us. It was so beautiful, with the wind blowing snow across the road, blurring out the landscape edges, and suddenly it occurred to me that perhaps we hadn't made it and now we were climbing up into heaven!

We carried on and slowly we counted down the kilometres to North Cape. The snow returned and Andy was concentrating so hard that he could not take his eyes off the road for even a second, so I would have to shout out stats such as elevation, distance to destination and speed. I felt as if I was a member of crew on the Star Ship Enterprise.

Then we saw a sign, North Cape 500m, we were nearly there! Into a car park and then we arrived at a building with a small dome. We parked Mel and through the white snowstorm we could just make out the North Cape monument, of a globe, placed on the edge of the Cape. WE HAD MADE IT!!!

We celebrated with a tiny sip of champagne, as Andy still had to drive back down. Staring out across an expanse of white, the North Cape cliffs started to appear from out of the clouds. The sun's rays managed to penetrate through and then there was a glimmer of blue sky. "Quick, lets go outside while the sun is out!" So we raced over the slippery paths and at last looked over the northern most point of Europe. What a beautiful sight. I turned to Andy; "So, shall we go home now?"

WE made it View from North Cape North Cape wen sun came out
WE MADE IT! View from North Cape. North Cape when the sun came out.

So, we had made it to our goal of North Cape. We couldn't soak up the satisfaction for too long as in the distance there was another snowstorm heading for us and we still had to get down from the Cape.

Coming down from North Cape
Coming down from North Cape The two skiing brothers.

That night we celebrated at a pub and chatted to two brothers who the next day, were beginning an expedition to ski from North Cape all the way down Norway. It seemed as if the end of one adventure signified the start of another. This was also true for us, of course as now we would have to drive back home to the UK and then plan our future, whether that be getting a 9-5 job, going back to University, or even driving back down to South Africa…only time will tell.

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