The days pass and the land has become even more sparsely-populated. Thin, undulating forests and countless lakes dominate; the sun scarcely seems to make it above the treetops all day; wildlife tracks show up on the roadside with increasing regularity. Today I see a pair of mooses, a mother and calf, plodding carelessly across the road as if it didn’t exist.
The last few days, however, are not supposed to have been about variety. No, I have come this way to make distance, and I’m now within a stone’s throw of the Arctic Circle, the point at which – on the shortest days of the year – the sun no longer rises at all. And, having crossed this imaginary line in spectacularly anticlimactic fashion, I’ll be able to brag when necessary of having cycled in the Arctic in wintertime.
More important for me personally (as bragging is not one of my hobbies) is the prospect of leaving this monotonous main road; the Swedish equivalent of the M1. Because scrutiny of my maps has revealed a spartan network of minor roads, paved and unpaved, criss-crossing the region to the north. A combination of them, I think, could make an interesting, remote and even-quieter ‘shortcut’.
Darkness falls as I reach the town of Storuman. I’ve pedalled relentlessly for 70km to get here before dark. Now I sidle down the main street with a vain hope of attracting the attention of some kindly passer-by to help me avoid a night in the tent. Although camping isn’t actually so bad once I’ve committed to it, the prospect of pitching a tent in the deep snow by the light of my head-torch is still one I have grown to loathe.
But Storuman appears to be another sleepy winter town. The life of this land is not found on the streets but tucked away in woodland homes and out in the wilderness, where I’m told people love to hurtle about on snow-mobiles and hunt moose. So I continue pedalling out of the town, feeling slightly disappointed, and I mentally prepare for yet another evening of night-riding. Today has been relatively cold, and the mercury has already dropped to -25°C.
The tables, though, have a habit of turning rather abruptly when out on the road. Once minute I’m scoping out a little lane for camping opportunities, contemplating noodles and frozen black-pudding. The next, I’m trying to explain to a driver exactly why I’m out here on a pushbike in the blackness at 25 below.
And the next, I’m in the back of the SUV, bike parked behind a conveniently-placed pet-shop down that same little lane, heading at high speed back to Storuman to spend the night in the home of one of the members of a band called ‘The Bonnets’ who are still playing together today as they have been since 1965, and his wife. He’s a musician, website hobbyist and social worker for orphaned teenage Afghan refugees, and she’s a nurse. And they make all kinds of wonderful homemade food to get this cycle-traveller’s tastebuds tingling.
This curious and contented couple spontaneously opened their doors to me this evening, and I can’t express my gratitude enough. Thanks to them, I’ll remember Storuman for more than just its superficial dullness: not only will I recall this brief meeting, but I’m told that this town is host to the largest and most famous arm-wrestling club in the world. Just imagine what I didn’t discover about those countless other small towns, simply because I didn’t manage to meet the local inhabitants!
I’ll be taken back to my bike in the morning, adding a large chunk of dried moose meat to my growing collection of items spontaneously donated to this crazy little voyage. In the unforgettable words of a man I once met – “the world conspires to help you”.