A 2CV Raid to Murmansk? Ruut van Schie and his rally buddy Raymond van der Meij think it is an uncanning idea. They didn’t need any more encouraging to enlist.
Around Christmas 2016 I stumble upon a Facebook message stating: ‘In January 2018 we plan to drive to Murmansk. Who wants to come?’ An old fantasy pops up. Defying winter, snow and ice, looking for the Northern Light. And all of that behind the wheel of a Citroën 2CV, it doesn’t get any better. Together with Raymond and a yellow 2CV we call Rosie (although she never responds when we call her), we create Team Rosie. In the last few months Rosie has been (p)repaired for her task. Engine revision, insulation of doors, roof and floor, heating blowers, fog- and reverse light, two new batteries, oil temp gauge, oil pan protection plate and an extra protection skid plate fitted. Carburetor adjusted, new engine and gearbox mounts and an overhauled starter motor. The interior was fitted with boudoir red upholstery, a 27MC installation and a battery lock. Part two of our winter holiday!
January 23, 2018, Siutio – Aholansaari. Outside temperatures drop to minus 18. At noon we reach the local Citroën dealership where our engine oil is changed to a 0W40 grade to resist extreme cold. We drive on to Verkaus, to visit the Mechanical Music Museum. It’s stacked with machines that produce music. Piano playing machines, violin playing machines, old record players and, what else, a Dutch hurdy-gurdy. All of it presented by a former German tank commander with a very pronounced view on the world. Fantastic machines and dito stories.
Our navigation directs us to Aholansaari. Apparently there is more than one, so we are heading where we came from. It doesn’t take too long before we notice and head north again. Inside the car temperatures reach a comfortable 23 degrees. The oil temperature is just fine. Outside it’s starting to snow again. An ice road takes us to our destination for today, located on an island. We are told not to drive too close to the edge. Sticks in the ice mark the side and the middle of the road. Others mark the holes and weak spots. The latter we hear on arrival. It’s already Wednesday.
January 24, 2018, Aholansaari – Posio. We’re making good progress. At the first road on the left we try to stop. Taking in consideration the longer braking distance, we come to a halt just past the exit. That won’t happen to us a second time. We enter a larger, snow free road. When we take another exit, we hit snow again. Spontaneously, we decide to drive straight on and turn around further down the road. We’re just careful. That won’t happen to us a third time. We drive on to Paltamo. Before we hit road 78 north, this is where we will have some lunch and fill our tank. It’s a right turn. Raymond hits the brakes and starts turning in. What happens next, happens very fast. The front wheels loose their grip, correcting, grip restored, the rear end starts sliding, the 80 cm’s of snow marking the middle of the road quickly approach. Correcting the direction towards the side of the road and Rosie’s front end crashes into the snow pile beside the tarmac. Happy not to have damaged our precious Rosie, we decide we won’t miss a turn for the fourth time.
Road 78 is a beautiful route. The wind blows from the right, covering our side of the road with snow. It is hard to make out where exactly our side of the road is. Particularly annoying when you encounter oncoming traffic. The landscape is fantastic, a never ending Christmas card. Getting close to our destination, the road signs are hard to read through the snow that covers them. The next exit is missed by large #4. We follow team Noorderzon that misses the next exit #5. We take a sharp left, miss where Dyane RaidTeam takes a turn to the right and prolong our direction for far too long #6. That won’t happen to us a seventh time.
On to Posio. The map shows beautiful country roads. 40 km before we go left, another 62 to a right turn, etcetera. 80 km from Posio we get stuck behind a snow truck. It takes us 20 km to get passed it. On to a good meal and an early nights sleep.
January 25, 2018, Posio – Ivalo. The parking lot at the monument marking the Pole Circle isn’t freed of snow. We return until we find a spot to meet our expedition leader. As a kind of transition ritual, we are treated to a Finnish/Swedish specialty. It’s fermented fish from a can.
The fish is best described as a French stinky cheese. Stinks up the entire northern hemisphere, but when you’re into it, it’s a delicacy!
I’m not into it.
At the Pole Circle temperatures are around freezing point. Not really up to the expectations a name like that sets. We discover that ‘tropical temperatures’ like this have their downside. Snow melts on the warmer spots, but freezes again on the colder ones. Our right front door is jammed and hard to open or close. We ignore it and drive on. Meanwhile the snow is starting to freeze to our windscreen. It snows continually and we are looking through a gap the size of a postal stamp. We try to stay focussed and on the road. Temperatures are falling and our view is improving. The door is still jammed and every bit of suspension travel makes an abrasive noise. The faster we drive, the sooner we’ll reach the hotel.
In the distance we spot a car with just one tail light. No, it’s not, it’s a snow mobile. Nah, a motorcycle… with ski’s. Slightly confused we move on. At the next petrol station we stop for gas. That’s where we get a closer look at the contraption. It is a motorcycle with ski’s attached to the sides. The Polish rider explains he’s on a trip to the North Cape. As many think about our 2CV Raid plan, that’s how we now see him. We’ve got ourselves a new hero.
Today we’ve only missed two exits. We’re on a roll.
January 26, 2018, Ivalo – Murmansk. Today we finally get to drive to Murmansk. Our headlights don’t work. Wiring, check, nothing. Intelligent conversation, nothing. A little less intelligent conversation, that’s what we do best, but nothing. So we give up. At the first village we keep right in direction of the border. What a magnificent snowy road! What a beautiful landscape. It gives me goosebumps, that pretty! Nothing to do with the temperature inside the car. We keep opening the window to get some cool air in, and to take pictures of course. Only seven oncoming cars from here to the border.
First the Finnish check out. No problem. At the next barrier we have to fill in two forms. Next check. Patiently we undergo the passport control. Hand in our import forms. Only one needed. Redo the form and an additional one. If in doubt, there is always some Russian official there to help. Certainly much friendlier and more helpful than those we encountered on the border to Saint Petersburg.
The car is checked thoroughly, a drugs- or explosives? sniffing dog sniffs out Rosie. She doesn’t mind and we are allowed to move on, instantly hitting another beautiful road. One more crossing to go, the prettiest one yet. A huge green gate with a roll of barbed wire on top. A Russian officer approaches and literally opens the gate to Russia. On the gate we notice a padlock. At the end of their shift these men simply padlock the gate, go home, take their children to bed and tell them they can sleep safely, ‘daddy locked the gate to the big bad world’. The little one gives him a goodnight kiss, grabs her cuddly toy and sleeps the dream of the innocent. I think I’m getting a little homesick here.
What a great road. An icy one, with a cover of snow. The first 200 km we encounter three oncoming cars and another five left at the side of the road. The road is ours, it’s unbelievable. We cross like ten roads, at the most. Traffic only starts to increase when we’re like 50 km from Murmansk. We hit evening traffic. We take it easy, the road looks slippery, there are crashed vehicles all over. Downtown we see trains filled with fuel. We inhale the scent of tar. The Raid has made it onto the local 8 o’clock news. Tonight we hit the town of Murmansk. A discotheque serving lukewarm beer and a HardRock Café. We don’t have an early night.
text Ruut van Schie
foto’s Raymond van der Meij