After having to postpone his original trip to the Arctic Circle via Alaska, Gordon Stuart, keen to give back to those who had donated to his cause, planned a new journey and began the 3,700 mile round trip aboard his V-Strom 1000XT to Iceland. He arrived home after completing the challenge 17 days later and raised nearly £5000 for charity.
Last month Gordon had to make the difficult decision to postpone his original trip to Alaska via the treacherous Dalton highway due to a lack of insurance from US providers after the recent changes to data is handled between countries. He didn’t let this problem stand in the way of a trip to the Arctic Circle though and immediately began searching for alternatives.
His new journey - the second of eight which will see him cross the Arctic Circle in every country possible - would take him across the channel and then up to Denmark before boarding a ferry to Iceland. From there, another short hop over to the island of Grimsey would see him cross into the Arctic Circle for the second time in his life after his journey to Norkapp, Norway in 2015. Yet another ferry would then take him back to Denmark via the Faroe islands before returning home the way he came.
After completing the journey and returning home to spend some much needed time with his family, we were keen to get Gordon’s thoughts on how the journey went, what he saw along the way and what challenges he had to overcome.
Gordon started by telling us about the first leg of the journey - the outbound trip from his home in Newcastle to the ferry that would take him into Europe, with emotions ranging from excitement about what lay ahead to the bitterness of leaving his wife and children for three weeks.
After the run from his home town and a short hop over the channel the hard work really began. It was now time for Gordon to begin the bulk of the journey which would take him through the Netherlands into Germany and finally up to the northerly point of Denmark where a ferry from the port of Hirtshals would take him to Iceland.
“I did 600 miles over two days which was a nice way to ease into the trip. Day two was a 400 mile stint, but being Sunday meant traffic was light and the Dutch motorways and German autobahns made clocking up the miles easy work. I camped at Flensburg, which is a great harbour town and I'd highly recommend it for a visit. I met a few people along the way - at a service station just inside Germany, I bumped into a German chap I’d met the day before; he’d been caravanning in Cornwall, and we had a quick chat about how we were both getting on.
“Day three consisted of a short 200 mile ride all the way through Denmark to the northern port of Hirtshals. The weather on both days was boiling hot - the thermometer on the bike showed 30+ degrees on both days!”
Gordon now faced a 48 hour crossing with less than ideal living conditions before he could get back on two wheels and continue progressing toward the Arctic Circle. Luckily for him, familiar faces were not far away and they would help to pass the time.
“The crossing to Iceland was a long one. There was the usual queuing at the port and wait to get onto the ferry. I spent about 30 minutes strapping down my bike and helping strap down another rider’s beside me. My accomodation was a 6 berth shared 'couchette'. A couchette is half-cabin / half-hostel and was the only option that suited my budget. There were 6 bunk-beds inside, a saloon style door (no lock) and no power sockets or safe place to lock any belongings. I therefore spent most of my time up on deck, reading and planning my route around Iceland.
“I met an American rider called Don who was doing a three month tour of Europe. I also got talking to an Icelandic couple who'd been biking around Europe for a few weeks. They gave me some really good advice about travelling in Iceland and dealing with the ever-changing weather. I also bumped into a British couple I met on the first ferry and we ended up having dinner together, again chatting mainly about motorbikes.”
After landing in Seydisfjordur following two days at sea, Gordon was itching to get his first taste of Icelandic roads and experience the natural beauty of the surrounding area aboard his V-Strom 1000XT. Unluckily for him though, he was also about to get his first taste of Icelandic weather.
“My first few days in Iceland were all about getting myself to the Arctic Circle. The stunning scenery of the country started before I even got to land. After such amazing weather in mainland Europe, it was back to reality upon landing in Iceland with the temperature barely getting into double figures and drizzle awaiting me as I disembarked the ferry.
“To get out of Seydisfjordur there is a steep and twisty mountain pass that runs alongside a river with some stunning waterfalls. By the time I'd reached the Route 1 'ring road' that runs some 800 miles around Iceland, the weather had started to get worse. The temperature had dropped down to 5 degrees, the rain was coming down hard, and I started to get blown around the road by gale-force winds.
“My first day in Iceland ended up being one of the toughest I've ever faced as a biker. My body started to physically hurt through trying to keep the bike upright and dealing with the low temperatures and wind chill factor. It took me several hours to cover just 100 miles of the 200 I had to complete. I was getting mentally fatigued and I couldn't even pull over and take a break - the roads in Iceland are often loose and raised from the ground leaving little room to pull off the road and rest.
“I finally found a rest area at Myvatn hot springs with shelter from the wind, and a cafe to get a bowl of soup and warm up. The cafe was packed and there wasn't a table free in sight. An elderly Canadian woman took pity on me and shared her table. It was a brief encounter, and apart from the spice of the goulash we didn't have much to talk about, but this simple gesture helped warm me physically and mentally. After my stop I jumped back on the bike and ploughed on, knowing I had another 100 or so miles to get to Dalvik to secure my ferry booking across to Grimsey the next day.
“I fuelled up in Akureyri and with only 25 miles to go the rain started to ease (although the wind didn’t). As the clouds cleared from the skies I was riding through some amazing scenery of crisp blue fjords, and snow-capped peaks that went on for miles. I pulled into Dalvik, found the shipping company’s office and booked the ferry for the following day, all with 20 minutes to spare until closing time.
“The next day I was up early to catch the ship - I've stopped calling it a ferry as when I arrived I found a vessel no bigger than a fishing boat with space for a maximum of four cars (not the P&O crossings experience I'm used to). The sea on the crossing was rough. Luckily I hadn't lost my sea legs from my time in the Navy Reserves, but my fellow passengers weren't so lucky!”
After a very choppy crossing to the island of Grimsey, a minute patch of land just north of Iceland, Gordon had but a few miles to travel before crossing into the Arctic Circle. This would mark the second time in his life he had done so. So far, he’d been on the road for seven days and had covered nearly 2000 miles.
“Once on Grimsey, I literally only had a few miles to ride before I passed into The Arctic Circle. There are very few paved roads on Grimsey so I took to attempting some of the islands hiking trails. While the V-Strom was more than up to the job, my own confidence and realisation that there was no doctor or mechanic on this tiny island stopped me from making it all the way to the northern point of the island.
“I’d completed my mission to cross the Arctic Circle and with the ferry back to Denmark only running once per week, I had 5 days to explore the rest of Iceland. My route took me through some amazing scenery and some challenging road conditions. In the north of Iceland, several peninsula that hug the coast line had roads designated as 'paved' and turned out to be anything but - there were plenty of big rocks, loose gravel and potholes the size of small swimming pools. The weather continued to work against me but I found with the screen tilted to full and the heated grips on, I was able to remain comfortable in the saddle.
“I also headed to the Western Fjords, the most remote part of Iceland. I encountered some breathtaking scenery with dozens of gigantic fjords between steep mountains, navigated with long sweeping roads home to more rogue sheep than traffic. My time there however was cut short by an incoming storm.
“I ended up spending a day exploring the city of Reykjavik as mountain roads were becoming difficult with winds speeds of 80mph. Riding to Reykjavik was an amazing feeling - I'd been here for a long weekend with my wife some years ago and I couldn’t help but feel a long way from home. I ended up stopping with a lovely Icelandic couple I’d met that night and was treated to some traditional cuisine and local beer. The next day it was time to get moving again. It took me two days to ride the southern route back to the ferry port at Seydisfjordur. The winds died down and the sky cleared which made for some great riding conditions. I saw some of the best sights; from volcanoes to glaciers, huge powerful waterfalls and iceberg lagoons, as well as some of the best roads the country had to offer.”
With the journey to the Arctic Circle complete, the journey home had to begin. Gordon’s return route would take him back through Europe after stopping over at the Faroe Islands for a few days exploring. Forecasts of more gale force winds and rain though meant things didn’t quite go to plan.
“The journey home felt strange. I was really excited to get back and see my family but I was also really enjoying being on the bike. I was due to stop at the Faroe Islands for a few days but the weather forecast was for thick fog, rain, and more gale-force winds, so I decided to carry on straight through Denmark after the two-day crossing.
“When I arrived back onto mainland Europe the sun was shining, there was a light breeze, and the temperature gauge on the dash was showing 26 degrees. It was from here I really got to see what the V-Strom could do as a pure-touring bike. I'd been on the road for over two weeks and was what I would call 'bike-fit'. We didn't disembark from the ferry until after 1pm but with a fuel range of nearly 240 miles, a comfy riding position and the fact half of my day was on the Autobahn, I was able to put in 400 miles before stopping to camp for the night. I passed through Denmark and into Germany, passing Kiel, Hamburg, and Bremen along the way. The following day was a similar story with over 200 miles to get back to Rotterdam completed just after lunch time.
“I got the overnight ferry from Rotterdam back to Harwich, Essex which docked at 5am. By the time I'd unloaded from the ferry and got through passport control it was 6am - just in time to hit the rush hour traffic! The roads cleared by around 8.30am and was heading North on the A1 back towards Newcastle. I had planned to get to Peterborough before stopping but as I was coming up to the services I still felt good and there was plenty of fuel left in the tank so I continued on. 20 miles became 30, then 50, then 100. Before I knew it I was at ferry bridge services having done 220 miles and with the fuel light finally coming on I decided to pull in for to fill up and rest. Even though I've clocked up tens of thousands of miles touring over the past 12 years, this was the longest stop-to-stop I'd ever done.
“The final miles passed quickly and all of a sudden I was back in my hometown of Newcastle. I’d completed the trip of a lifetime, ticking off my second Arctic Circle adventure. It felt great to be home, but I was already thinking about what trip to do next.”
Gordon was finally home. 3,409 miles on the road in 17 days. Six sea crossings, five countries, 100kms of off-roading and a whole load of new friends made along the way. The first thing we wanted to ask is how it felt to see his family and be back on UK soil.
“It’s a really mixed feeling being home. I missed my wife and kids like crazy but being on the road is great. You meet new people, explore new places, and just being on the bike is a great feeling. I think getting the balance right is key though; I wouldn't want to do an around the world trip as I couldn't be away from my family for that long but doing a big trip every few years with a goal in mind really seems to work.”
Gordon’s long term plan is to cross into the Arctic Circle in as many countries as possible. This means he has now completed two of the six possibilities. We wondered how it felt to tick off another country and get one step closer to achieving the overall goal.
“It’s a great feeling to have ticked off another Arctic Circle crossing. It feels even better to have done it during one of the more unique and challenging routes. Iceland always seemed like a bit of a dream, but after my Alaska trip needing to be postponed, the stars seemed to align. I know a few folk who have crossed it in Norway and Alaska but not so many who have made it to the far reaches of Iceland. I feel privileged and happy.”
Those following Gordon’s life and travels will know that his adventures used to raise money for two charities close to his heart after they provided crucial treatment to his two children. With this journey complete, how much money had he now raised?
“We raised a total of £5,104 during this ride bringing the total for my Arctic rides to £13,266. Simply amazing. None of this could have been done without my amazing individual donors, and generous supporters such as Suzuki.”
Speaking of Suzuki, how did the V-Strom 1000XT tackle the wind, rain, miles of gravel highways and almost freezing temperatures along the way?
“The bike never missed a beat. The engine has so much power, making motorways a breeze. It handles well on the more twisty roads with good grip and I felt very confident riding it in the rain with the three stage traction control. Off-road it did everything I asked of it including some hikers paths which I took it down on the island of Grimsey. It had more to give too but it was my confidence and experience that limited what we could do together, not the bike. The heated grips were a blessing. The weight of the bike was fine, even fully loaded. I was worried that I’d struggle with the seat height as I'm around 5'10 but I had no issues. The bike made a perfect companion, regardless of the weather or roads.”
The circumstances that lead to this journey are not what Gordon would have wanted. However, he was keen to repay those who had donated by upholding his commitment of completing an Arctic adventure. How then did this journey compare to those he had embarked on before?
“It was much tougher than I expected. The weather was truly wild and really kept me on my toes. Looking back, it was a great adventure and I enjoyed it overall much more than I thought I would. If I was to do it again I would have spent more time in Iceland exploring, but having only two weeks to plan and book, I had restrictions on what I could do.”
“There were so many parts of the journey I enjoyed though. First was the other bikers I met on the road, especially the Icelandic couple who invited me into their home for the night, looked out for me, and shared some great stories. That is what travel is all about. Second would be the views and scenery in southern Iceland which consisted of volcanoes, waterfalls, glaciers, ash beaches and iceberg lagoons. The island had so much to offer.”
With him one step closer to a lifetime goal, what would be the next challenge for the Arctic rider? Would he attempt to tackle Alaska and fix the problems that halted him the first time, or select another location to conquer?
“I'd love to start planning Alaska again soon but I fear budget constraints may hold me back in the short term. I saved for two years to afford the flights and other costs to get me to the final frontier, only for me to lose a good chunk of that when I couldn't get insurance. I used the rest of my trip savings to make it around Iceland. Most likely I will look at Sweden, Finland, and possibly Russia for my next challenge, then focus on North America after that. Watch this space!”
You can follow Gordon’s progress through his blog: http://arcticride.blogspot.com/
To donate to Gordon’s supported charities, click here.