After crashing on his first attempt to reach Nordkapp, the most northerly point of mainland Europe, Gordon Stuart was determined to make it there. In 2014, he did just that…
I kicked off my boots and unzipped my jacket after another long day’s riding and got ready to start making dinner. I’d put my tent up for what seemed like the 100th time and unloaded the bike. Having ridden over 400 miles on twisty, gravel covered roads, my whole body was aching. I hadn’t slept well for some nights due to forgetting to pack my airbed pump and the freezing temperatures. Riding alone on the road was starting to take its toll too. Nothing had gone ‘wrong’ but I was craving some real company other than meeting other bikers at petrol stations and answering tweets and Facebook messages. After a hard day’s ride I really wanted some home comforts but it was something I’d never seen before, the midnight sun, which raised my spirits. I was here, only 200 miles from my destiny, Nordkapp, the most northerly point in Europe and deep inside the Arctic Circle.
I never thought that a glance at a half setting sun would ever be the instant switch from feeling low to becoming content and at peace with life. I’d been planning this motorbike journey to Nordkapp for over four years, an idea born out of a late night conversation talking about dreams. I’d had plenty of these types of conversations in the past but from the moment it left my lips those four years ago I knew I’d make it to Nordkapp, one way or another.
Three years earlier I was sat at the side of the road in Northern Sweden wondering if I’d ever make it to Nordkapp. I’d just got off the phone to the Swedish recovery services and due to my remote location, it would a few hours before I could be picked up. I’d crashed my bike en route to Nordkapp. A slice of very bad luck, a piece of metal lying in the road which, when hit at 60mph, had blown my tyre, ruined my wheel and left me at the side of the road. I was physically fine, but mentally distraught. All I could think was that I’d let myself down, I’d let the charity down, and most of all my little brother.
My crash in Sweden in 2011 was first attempt to make it to the Arctic. Now, only a few hours from Nordkapp, I remembered just how far I had come both literally, being 2,800 miles from my home in Newcastle, and metaphorically. It was as I looked up at the sun that I thought of two things in my life back home; my 6 month pregnant wife Kirsty, who had been my biggest support and motivation; and my little brother Robbie who my adventure was all about. Robbie suffered a brain injury as a baby which has left him brain damaged and with learning difficulties. He’ll never get the chance to ride a motorbike 6,000 miles to the Arctic and back or be able to sit on a patch of grass, next to the bike of his dreams, with just a tent and a mess tin full of pasta and realise just how precious life is.
My ride was not only for Robbie but to raise money for brain injury charity CEREBRA who have helped him and my family over the past 17 years and do great work all across the UK.
After my crash in 2011, and limping back to the UK, I was pretty down about long distance riding. I’d been riding on the road since my 17th birthday, and off road years before that. I’d been all around the UK and across Europe but 2011 was my first really long ride that hadn’t been for me, but for something else. I kept riding my bike to work, and out and about, but I wasn’t really sure how’d I’d make it back to Nordkapp.
Fast forward to early 2013 and I was performing my annual ritual of looking for good deal on a bike during the winter season, when I spotted a GSX650F for sale at a bargain price. I’d been after one since they were launched out but never had the budget or come across the one. I always saw them as just what I was looking for in a bike. I wanted something sportier than a street bike, but also something that wouldn’t break my back doing 300 miles a day touring; the GSX was the perfect fit. After doing my due diligence, I put a deposit down on the bike and booked a train ticket to the other side of the country to collect it.
A 4.30am start to the day and a 400 mile train journey later, I looked over the bike and handed over my cash… it was mine. I started the ride back to Newcastle and was immediately in love with it. It was comfy, it was fast, and it felt right. Being February, it was a very cold ride home. As I hit the Midlands, snow started to fall onto the motorway and that’s when it hit me… I’m going to ride this bike to the Arctic.
I gave myself 18 months to plan the ride. A lesson learnt from my 2011 attempt was that, in my enthusiasm, I rushed the planning and wanting to make it to Nordkapp which, ultimately, led to my downfall. Again, I would ride for Cerebra, raise vital funds through promoting my ride, and also raise disability awareness along the way, all for Robbie and other children like him.
Over the next year and a half, I built up a strong following on social media, posting weekly blog updates, pictures, and videos of my build up. I also engaged local and national industry companies to support my ride. I gained the backing of a local motorbike clothing shop, my local racing club, and a training school, who supported me with funds for my fuel to the Arctic. A local photography company, and a production studio supported my media efforts making my pre-trip planning look professional which supported my getting my story to the press and appearing on BBC regional radio. I also negotiated a free survival course with some ex-Royal Marines to prepare for the harsh conditions for the Arctic. Nationally, I was supported by an insurance provider Devitt, giving me free European cover, and DFDS Seaways who kindly gave me complimentary VIP ferry tickets for my two sea crossings.
On the 24th May 2014 I set off from my home town of Whitley Bay in Northern England with the goal of reaching Nordkapp in Norway. I was seen off by my friends, family, and sponsors and was accompanied down the motorways by dozens of my local biker buddies. By the time I ended my day, a rain soaked 380 miles later, I was in Dover and my entourage had fully dispersed.
The next day I caught the ferry to France, where I rode 480 miles east into Belgium, then the Netherlands and into Germany before stopping to camp for the night. Another long motorway day followed as I rode north along the Autobahn, past Hamburg, and into Demark. I then ploughed on riding Denmark end-to-end before passing through into Sweden via the 8km Øresund Bridge, camping near Landskrona for the evening. Another 300+ mile day saw me head North past Gothenburg, crossing into my 8th country in 4 days, Norway, where I camped in Northern Oslo for the evening.
From here on motorways were a thing of the past, as was warm riding. As I headed through central Norway I rode several mountain passes which had only recently been opened for summer. With snow piled 10 feet high at the side of the road and sub-zero temperatures, these were the toughest roads I’d ever ridden My concentration was starting to be tested having been on the road the best part of the week and aiming to ride 200-250 miles a day on these difficult roads. Camping was also becoming a challenge. Even though temperatures were plus during the day at sea level, come night time the mercury was plummeting and even with my ‘winter’ camping equipment I was struggling to get any decent sleep due to being so cold.
As I moved towards week two of my ride, I continued riding north through Norway, meeting up for some beers (and reindeer) with local bike clubs in the city of Trondheim, and then again in Nordland.
Day 9 saw me cross the Arctic Circle, a symbolic point in my ride, and continue to head north, along the Arctic Highway, towards Nordkapp. By this time I was fully in ‘on the road’ mode and focused on reaching my goal. I was also being accustomed to the weather, and was blessed with little rain but still with low temperatures. Towns and people were becoming sparser as I headed north, but the scenery continued to take me a back to the point where every way I looked was like a postcard.
I detoured to the stunning Lofoten Isles on the West Coast of Norway before arriving in the northern city of Tromso. There I met up with another local motorcycle club who treated me to more beer and reindeer and some great conversation. After a rest day, which involved climbing the local mountain, I started to head northeast towards Nordkapp. I skirted around the Lyngen Alps, before arriving in Alta, 200 miles from Nordkapp.
On day 13, I started early at 6am to head up to Nordkapp. As I approached I thought of the ~3,000 miles I’d ridden over the past week and a half to get to where I was. It had been amazing and with the goal of Nordkapp in my mind, and the support from back home, I knew I was going to make it no matter what. I filled up on fuel in Honningsvag, and rolled onto the tarmac for the last 20 miles before Nordkapp. The wind was up and cold, the bike swaying from side to side as we snaked up the twisty road and climbed towards my destination. My palms started to sweat, my heart started to race, and my eyes welled up. And then, there it was, in sight was the iconic globe of Nordkapp, the most northerly point in mainland Europe. I pulled up to the toll booth outside of the visitor centre. Paid the (extortionate) price to enter the gates and I was there. I stayed for a good 2 hours. Taking in the moment, buying some souvenirs, and doing some filming to capture the moment.
And then it was time to turn back. I started up the bike and looked to what was ahead of me, the 3,000 mile adventure home, back to my wife and my little brother. It was one of the strangest feelings of my life. I was so pumped to have made it, but felt so empty. I’d been working towards this goal for 4 years, and I’d done it, ticked it off, and I was left thinking ‘What’s next?’, what I was I going to dream about when I was back home riding my bike? This was the part of the journey I wasn’t prepared for.
The 200 miles back to Alta seemed like 2,000. After the high, I was feeling very low, very homesick, and lost. Luckily that evening, I spoke to my wife on Skype who boosted my spirits, and met a couple of Dutch bikers who helped me regain my perspective of the great ride I had ahead of me to get home. I zoomed back south and over the next 8 days visited some of Norway’s iconic roads such as the Trollstigen Pass and the Atlantic Road, before heading back through Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands before catching the ferry back to Newcastle.
This was truly the ride of a lifetime, and I was able to raise over £5,000 for Cerebra, which was over 400% of my personal ride costs. I also filmed my whole adventure, and with the help of MPH Studios, was able to turn my ride into a 45 minute documentary to further raise funds and awareness for Cerebra.
To learn more about my trip and read the daily blogs from my adventure visit:
- Website/Blog www.arcticride.blogspot.com
- Twitter – www.twitter.com/acticride2014
- Facebook – www.facebook.com/arcticride
· And to donate please visit www.virginmoneygiving.com/arcticride2014