Hanna Johansson from Sweden always pushed herself to go further afield on a Triumph but after people kept asking about her native Scandinavia, she changed her plans. It was an epiphany.
She was midway through a 20-nation tour of Eastern Europe when the constant questions made her realise her homeland was just as exotic a destination. “I was pushing myself to do crazier and crazier stuff but when you do that, you can miss what’s in your own backyard because you’re looking too far away,” she says.
Driven by a desire to find out more about Sweden and Norway and, with a plan to reach Nordkapp (right at the top of Norway) “in my own good time”, she began to look at the place of her birth and its neighbour.
Your own backyard
“Everyone I spoke to on my previous trip said Scandinavia was a cool destination, but I’d always thought of it as a bit boring – you do when you live there. Then I thought maybe I should investigate my own neighbourhood, and from the second I set off it just felt right,” she says.
Hanna took a modified 2018 Street Scrambler named Clyde in honour of Bonnie, the 2009 Bonneville SE that made light of her Montenegro-Albania-Bulgaria adventure.
She says: “I needed something robust for the terrain and, after 1,000km, I realised I wasn’t tired in my hands. The hand warmers were amazing and the new technology overall makes it a bike that’s good for distance as well as leaving the city, and does the job on difficult terrain.”
A memorable stop that banished the boring on Hanna’s doorstep journey of discovery was her first glimpse of the midnight sun at the Lofoten Islands, just off northern Norway.
“I will never forget standing by Clyde and looking out over the sea to the horizon and watching the last of the sun. It’s just the weirdest and most magical feeling to be standing there because it’s not supposed to happen, but when it does you feel like anything is possible,” she recalls.
“Being on a bike gets you back to things that matter and the whole experience was more unique and unusual than I expected something in my own backyard to be. It made me realise you don’t really appreciate what is under your nose until you get out there and try it.”
“I crossed the Arctic Circle”
Another highlight even closer to home was the hospitality of her countrymen during the two-week, 8,400km trip. “They always invited me in for a cup of tea in between campsite stops when they heard what I was doing.
“The whole thing made me feel like when I was young and exploring Stockholm, where I live, for the first time,” she says. “That feeling was even stronger when I reached a little town called Rovaniemi in the Lapland part of Finland where Santa Claus lives.
“I crossed the Arctic Circle and ended up at Santa’s village where I felt seven again because I was so shy when I saw him. I didn’t sit on his knee though.”
“Scenery to take your breath away”
The stunning mountains and fjords of Norway, where she met up with American photographer and friend Tim Burke, were a joy for Hanna, who admits: “I couldn’t believe the stunning and simple beauty of the place, even more so because it had been right there, a few hours away from me all along.”
The ICEHOTEL in Jukkasjärvi in northern Sweden was another revelation: “It’s like a hotel and art rolled into one, so a visit there is essential if you’re heading to Nordkapp. Sweden is fascinating in a more subtle way than Norway, which has scenery to take your breath away.
During her stay in Sweden, she visited the autumn German markets: “Swedes from around the world come home every year just to visit them. The markets were wonderful and really helped me connect with my country and its people.”
The link-up with Tim added a fresh dimension to the travels through her homeland and helped her see it in a new light: “I’ve always travelled solo, so this was a new experience for me. I learned from his experiences and as a pair on the trip we had to make compromises… but never sacrifices.”