Spring trip to the North

16 June 2024 at 2:26 pm

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This winter, my cousin invited us to a family party in Tromsø. Great! We'll take the van, I said. Both she and my wife instantly pointed out how far that would be, but I insisted that we could just make a trip out of it and take some days off from work.

There were a couple drawbacks to this plan in that it was mid-May, so we'd have to celebrate the Norwegian national holiday (17. May) on the road. No problem I insisted and soon enough, both AM and I had organized things so that we could work on the way up. This way, there were no problems for my customers since I could pull out the computer and help them when a crisis occured (it did).

The overall trip to Tromsø would be 22 hrs through Sweden or 20 minutes longer through Norway. Not much difference you may think? It really is. Going up, we travelled the Norwegian coastline and had a blast. So many exciting, small villages and gorgeous views that made us want to stop more often than we had planned. Going home, we went through Sweden and that was the exact opposite, but more on that later.

The original plan

The idea was to start off by visiting our son in Trondheim (8 hr trip) and then visit lots of small seaside towns on the way up. We had set aside 7 days going up, 2 days in Tromsø and then 2 days going back home via Sweden. It started off really well - with the turbo falling out in the first tunnel in Oslo, only 20 minutes into the trip. This creeped us out, but we had an idea about what it might be. The turbo is connected to the air system of the car and a small metal clip had fallen off at some point.

Off to Biltema to McGyver a solution using steel wire and gaffers tape. It worked! We were so happy to have solved it and for a long time, the trip went as plnned. The Turbo did however suddenly fall out again and searching online, we could see hundreds of others that have T1N Sprinter with similar problems. We stopped to see if something had come loose, but all seemed fine? Upon starting the car, the Turbo behaved well for quite some time - until it suddenly didn't?

We did notice a pattern though. This would typically happen as we drove into a tunnel? We started experimenting and found that it was related to pressing the air recirculation button when we entered tunnels. I called my dad (who have used the van extensively this year) and he never had a problem. He told that he didn't have any problems with the turbo and that he never turned on the air recirculation button… Really? Pressing this button caused the problem? A few days later, we got a good explanation for this.

A rainy Trondheim and our son greeted us. We had a nice day hanging out, shopping and grabbing lunch. Junior was in the middle of exams, so we didn't want to push his hospitality so we left before dinner. On our way North, we stubled across one of the weirdest and most wonderful attractions we've come across: Vuddu Valley! Along the E6 road - just an hour out from Trondheim - there is a piece of Norwegian Americana. It's a car repair shop, a museeum, a diner, an exhibition of the weirdest large models I've seen - and a huge candle-shop selling very unique creations (Kortmans Lysfabrikk AS). Need a gift for your hunting or fishing friend? These guys have something that will make them smile. Not neccesarily the most pretty or useful candles, but certainly unique?

Unfortunately, we arrived here a little late so we missed both dinner and the museeum, but if you drive E6 going North - you really should plan a stop by this place!

The plan (and car) falls apart

Driving out of Vuddu Valley, we noticed something odd about one of the back brakes. The brake was pulling on the brake disc? It didn't cause anything to go hot with normal driving, but what about going up and down mountains? We realised that this wouldn't be drivable for a 3500 km trip, so we started planning how to find a car repair shop.

We found a nice spot to camp called Skånes Skanse. Located by the fjord with a view to the massive Aker shipyards in Verdal, it was really idyllic.

It was now Saturday and all car repair shops were closed. Sunday obviously was the same, so we couldn't get the brakes repaired until Monday at the earliest. We settled here for the next days, visiting Stiklestad (historic landmark), went hiking and drove (carefully) the short trip to Levanger for a swim and shower in the communal pool (excellent quality!). Monday morning we went to the local Mercedes dealership (Sulland Motor-Trade) in Verdal and they were able to check out the problem. As expected, the brakes and disc were not in a state to be used, so they ordered new parts that would arrive the next day (Tuesday). We hung around town, got a few work hours in at the local library and waited for the parts.

Tuesday arrived and wouldn't you know: they had ordered the wrong parts… They had ordered a part that looked identical and had the same fastening system, but it was too big to fit where it was going. The Good news was that the correct part could be here the day after. The bad news - they had already swapped to the new brake discs, so we now couldn't drive the van to our excellent spot out at Skånes Skanse.

By now, our plan was falling apart and we started looking into how we could catch a plane if things kept going south. This was definitely the low of the trip and we had to spend the night in the repair shop's parking lot. In the evening, we discovered that this was where all the locals that were into car tuning would hang out. With no chance to catch any sleep, we walked out by the Aker yards. Here we met a local that had grown up at the farm next to Skårnes Skanse and we ended up having a great evening chatting with him by the fjord.

Overall, we had 4 days in Verdal. It's not something we would have normally done, but it really is a nice town. The brakes could certainly have failed in a much more boring place (such as somewhere along a deserted Swedish forest road) so we were not at all unhappy about our days here. Also - the technichian at the repair shop explained what caused the problem with the Turbo. Inside the engine, there is a pressure valve. When this isn't getting enough air, it'll give a “false alarm” that temporarily turns off the Turbo. When it happens - all you need to do is to strop the car for a few seconds and everything resets. Annoying, but that's how it is having an old car?

Trip resumed!

The day after, something had gone awry with the brake pads we ordered. They didn't arrive. I asked the car repair if they had an angle grinder and if it was possible to just “modify” the brake pad that was too large? I could see a smile on the guys face. If you work in a car repair shop today, it's not very often you'll get to improvise - and by the looks of it he liked the idea! An hour later we were off again with fully working brakes. Not an original part, but a fully working one!

The drawback was that now we had to make up for lost time and couldn't stop at all the places we had planned. It was a scenic trip though and we had several small stops along the way. The first day, we drove all the way up past Mo i Rana, staying the night along the road inside a fjord by a beautiful waterfall. The waterfall masked the sound of cars driving by and after a good nights sleep, we headed off further North and into the Northern parts of Norway. Beautiful scenery, raindeer, charming towns and settlements and extremely green mountain water at the polar circle.

AM had a great grandmother from Narvik, so we stopped there to try to find where her house was. I caught the really nice wartime museeum and exhibition when AM walked around the town. After this, we started thinking about where we wanted to celebrate the 17th of May. On the drive towards Tromsø, we drove though Setermoen - a town built around a military camp that many norwegian kids will serve at. Suddenly I saw the name of one of my ancestors - Jens Holmboe. My great, great grandfather actually founded the town of Setermoen and the Bardu community? The perfect place to celebrate!

After excellent cakes and gun salutes, we headed off to my cousin in Tromsø for some late dinner. The two next days flew by and we thoroughly enjoyed our days in Tromsø. Due to the sun never setting at this time of year, we were really happy with our blackout curtains as Tromsø displayed the best May weather in many years. We're really lucky to have such great family and friends up there! Suddenly it was time to say goodbye to the family and head home. We dreaded this as we needed to drive 12 hrs each day and we knew it would be boring. The Swedes have excellent roads though, so it should go faster, right?

Nobody lives in the upper half of Sweden?

I've always loved how great the roads are in Sweden, but apparently I've only been to the southern parts of Sweden? The roads were narrower and in much poorer condition than we had hoped for. The Norwegian roads might be twisty and turning, going up and down, but they're actually of much wider and higher quality than what we experienced driving through Sweden. I think that's why the time difference is marginal? It also striking how different Sweden is from Norway.

If you live in the upper half of Sweden, you're either into raindeer, hydro power or forestry. Norway at the same latitude have those things, but adds fisheries, mining, shipbuilding and oil. This makes the Norwegian shoreline much more livable than the massive Swedish forests and you instantly notice in Sweden that there's close to nobody living here. The roads cut cleanly and straight through the terrain since there are no towns to swing by. The view thoughout the entire northern sweden is literally looking at trees. It's primarily flat - unless you approach the Norwegian border. The Swedish “Rød stuga” is everywhere. While charming, it's surprising how few houses in this area have any other color than Red?

In Norway, you'll zoom in and out of fjords, climb mountains, go through tunnels, travel by ferries and all along the road there will be thousands of small coastal communities and once in a while a larger town of 10-40k inhabitants. Every place will be different - shaped by the surroundings. Every place is colorful and as opposed to the southern parts of Norway, blue is a traditional color up here. So is yellow, orange, green and many things inbetween. In general, the northern parts of Norway are much more colorful than the south. Here's the rough route we followed both ways.

So the drive through Sweden was extremely uneventful. We picked up some Swedish food, but the next time we'll travel the Norwegian coast instead - both ways. By that time, new segments of the E6 road will be finished, so the travel time should be just about the same, but we'll have something other than trees to look at!

Further plans

As mentioned, my dad now has taken the van across most of the southern parts of Norway. He's used it just as much as we have this year, but I think he'll end up using it more than us for now? We might catch up to him in September as we've planned a trip at that time when it hopefully won´t be too hot in the southern parts of Europe (as it was last summer). The plan is to head to Croatia and then just find nice places from there and southward. 

As can be seen in some of the pictures here, the rust really peeks through on several places. Interestingly enough, it's not where we've done our rust removal, but rather where the previous owner used “bondo” and glass fibre on top of existing rust. I'll do my best to get that removed before that trip. In November it's time for a new EU certification, so it better look decent in time for that.