You Guessed It--Sweden Off-Road Tour!
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From prehistoric times, the distant ancestors of modern Scandinavians were seafarers who used lakes, rivers, and the sea to travel through their densely forested lands. Later, as warrior/trader Vikings, their lengthy voyages took them as far away as the Atlantic coast of America, the Byzantine Empire, the Arab domains and possibly China. Throughout the entire country of Swedenfrom the southernmost city of Malmö to Kiruna Lapland, located above the Arctic Circle in the Land of the Midnight Suntheir adventuresome spirit lives on.
Peter Ojerskog, founder of the Sweden Offroad Tour, is a prime example of an adventurous Swede. His four-wheel-drive explorations have taken him from the frozen wastelands of Siberia to the scorching inferno of the Sahara. The 65 Viking descendant recently invited us on his companys latest adventure: a 21-day off-road tour of Sweden. Since four-wheeling is off-limits in most areas of this beautiful forested country, where most open land is private property, Peter devised a plan in cooperation with the Swedish military to wheel the wilderness areas inside their bases. Our involvement would take us through six of them, located near the towns of Alvdalen, Sollefteå, Umeå, Arvidsjaur, Boden and Kiruna. The final result led to one of the most extraordinary four-wheel-drive excursions Europe has to offer. And it showed us a conglomeration of highly unusual vehicles.
When we joined the tour at Alvdalen near the Norwegian border, the group had already been wheelin for 14 days. We pulled into camp with a new Mitsubishi Pajero (courtesy of Mitsubishi Sweden, and the European version of our own Montero Limited) after driving for more than six hours from the airport in Stockholm. We were greeted by a crew of 20 or more tired Swedes. For two days prior, they had explored the muddy trails around the shores of Trangsletsjon with their wild array of 4x4s (old flatfenders, new Mitsus, TJs, Blazers, as well as WWII Volvo military trucks and Hummers) and were hard pressed for a good nights sleep. After a delicious Swedish feast prepared by Peters two sidekicks, Minou and Helen, who became known to the group as Thelma and Louise, most did just that.
It was surprising to see such a wide variety of rigs assembled in this remote area of Sweden. Even more surprising was bumping in to Orn Thomsen, whom wed met in Iceland early last year. Orn heads up the Norwegian office of Arctic Trucks (headquartered in Iceland) and decided to join the tour in Alvdalen, being so close to his home near Oslo. Hey, man, yelled Orn. Wanna go wheelin in my new Hi-Lux? The Toyota double-cab truck was equipped with a rear locker, 35-inch Dick Cepek tires on Prime wheels, and Piaa fog lamps, and Orn was itchin to get it dirty. Within five minutes of leaving camp, Orn got his wish and submerged the Hi-Lux into a wet and muddy bog. However, the combination of a locked-up differential and extra-buoyant Cepeks paid off, enabling the Hi-Lux to escape the goo. It was midnight and still light, but we decided to head back for some shut-eye. Our 5:30 am departure time would arrive all too soon and we were faced with a hard day of driving to get to the next military outpost, 400 miles away in Sollefteå.
On the road the next morning, we faced rain that hadnt stopped since wed arrived in Sweden. This made the off-road conditions difficult at best. In other words, good.
Once in Sollefteå, the weather worsened, and this served to further excite a gathering crowd of 4x4 adventurers. Of the rigs that had arrived, one stood apart from all the rest. It was a flat-fender Willys sitting on an Unimog chassis and drivetrain. The owner, Hans Bystrom, had spent years building his unusual flatty, and now that its complete he drives it regularly through the trails that are open around his hometown. He gave us a demonstration of how it performed, confident that his rig, on 55-inch tractor tires, could tackle any trail in the area. The muddy trails and soupy bogs of Sollefteå were a challenge for most, but Hans powered through them with no problem. Actually, the gigantic Willys worked so well that Hans became the official tow truck driver for the day.
From Sollefteå, the group headed north toward a region of Sweden known as Lapland. We stopped near the coastal village of Umeå, situated near the western shore of the Gulf of Bothnia, and spent the day exploring miles of difficult trails through a heavily-wooded area northwest of town. Mats Lundquist of Sweden Mitsubishi, usually one step ahead of the tour, was found setting up his barbecue grill when we arrived at the trail. Mitsubishi, the major sponsor of the tour, provided two 2001 model 4x4s for participants to testdrive and Mats always had a crowd gathered around his campsite admiring the vehicles as he cooked an endless supply of burgers.
An odd assortment of 4x4s had assembled near his camp and divided into four groups before heading to the trails. Several rigs were caught in a severe thunderstorm halfway through a long and muddy trail, causing them to be trapped in the muck. One vehicle in particular, a Range Rover driven by Michael Robert Miles, from England, had a difficult time in this section. Michael completely swamped-out his engine, causing havoc for those behind.
When asked, Hows your Rangie holding up? he replied, Ill be driving something different next year. After six hours of winching and cussing (in Swedish, of course) the group finally made it back to camp, where they devoured coffee and burgers.
The tour pressed on to the village of Arvidsjaur for more hard-core trail action and continued after that to Boden. The rain had finally given way to clear, sunny skies, a welcome sight after so many days of foul weather. Boden became the highlight of the tour because it offered the most diversity in terrain. Participants enjoyed wheelin on an area dubbed the Mini Rubicon, as well as on huge sand dunes, forested trails and swamps. The Swamp Run was the most intense and was led by Mikael Folkeson (an army captain), in his 65 Volvo 903 Valp. Several military rigs, a couple of Jeeps, and a modified Blazer followed Mikael into a swamp that resembled parts of the Everglades. At times it was hard to imagine driving any further.
However, Mikael had ventured into this swamp many times during military drills and assured us that he knew the way. The Valp easily negotiated the flooded trails with its locked Dana 44s, front and rear, spinning 35-inch Monster Mudders. A couple hours later, we emerged triumphantly from the mosquito-infested area, completely covered in mud and were back at camp in time for dinner by the lake.
Leaving Boden was hard to do since it meant the tour was almost complete. The iron-mining town of Kiruna, our final destination, was 216 miles to the north. Along the way, it was easy to imagine the indigenous Saami culture that had once flourished here, herding reindeer across a sparsely populated land (like Native Americans, the Saami see themselves as culturally distinct from Scandinavians), and the town of Jokkmokk provided us a glimpse into their fascinating world.
Arriving in Kiruna felt as distant from the world we usually live in as we might have felt if wed landed on Mars. This is the Land of the Midnight Sun, and one of the last wilderness areas of Europe. As we explored this exotic land in our four-wheel driveslike the ancient ones had done by foot, dogsled, or boatwe realized that the only thing that has really changed is technology. We celebrated the end of our journey with this in mind, high on a hillside at midnight, overlooking the muted landscape of Lapland.
Five Reasons to Wheel in Sweden
Free health care
You can actually find replacement parts for your Husqvarna