As I’ve mentioned before, there are only four roads out of Kiruna and two of them are dead ends, one of which only goes round the corner. So there’s not much choice when you’re planning a day out. It’s right, left or straight on. After that it comes down to how far you want to drive before you get out and walk. It’s that simple.
Yesterday, reaching the junction at the end of the street, we looked at one another – right, left, or straight on? Right, we decided – we were in agreement (there’s a one in three chance after all). Towards Abisko then. We had a picnic with us, and our walking boots.
The drive along the fjäll road is part of the pleasure of such an outing – looking to the distant mountains, and at this time of year passing over fast rushing rivers. There are other cars and lorries, but they pass only occasionally so don’t interfere too much with your appreciation of the landscape.
We saw two reindeer by the roadside, with new springtime soft brown antlers. This is the time of year they should move up to higher ground to find new, mosquito-free grazing. We hoped these two strays would find their way to join their herd. It’s always a worry, seeing them so close to the road.
The winter had made large holes in the road surface, and as the we bounced along it seemed worse than usual. Then we noticed that ahead of us was a vehicle slicing off the top layer, in preparation for a new road surface. We’re grateful, in the long run, but while they’re doing it it’s hard to appreciate the gesture.
Our progress slowed to a very bumpy crawl. Every kilometre or so the road had obstacles on one side or the other – machinery, piles of rock, traffic cones. Sometimes there were traffic lights but sometimes not, so occasionally we found ourselves facing a lorry driving straight at us on the same side of the road.
Later, back home, we read that two motorbikes had collided with reindeer – probably the ones we’d seen. Perhaps frustration with their slow progress had led the motorbikes to speed up at the wrong moment. One of the men is seriously injured in hospital. Nothing was said about the reindeer, unquestionably dead.
The next day at the junction we both said, ‘straight on’. The dead end road to Nikklaluokta seemed a much calmer prospect than the road to Abisko.
And it was, at least for the first five minutes. Until we were directed onto another new, as yet unmade road, stones and dust flying ahead of us, digging machines ahead. It was another road of juddering and following slow digging machines. This new road will eventually replace the Nikkaluokta road, which, being close to the mine, is threatened like the rest of Kiruna. It isn’t a road yet though; it’s just pile of grit and stones.
It rather takes the shine off an outing, crawling along behind a jumping trail of cars. There are no other roads, so there aren’t any helpful long, winding diversions. We felt rather tired of roadworks, and yet at the same time we felt rather guilty about complaining. After all, if they don’t repair the roads we complain, and if they do…we complain.
So that was two out three roads we wouldn’t choose to drive down this week. What about ‘left’ then? Ah – well, this is the week that the immediate access to that particular escape road is completely shut off, due to pipe-laying activity for ‘the new Kiruna’.
It’s the start of the holiday season, everyone wants to get away to their summer houses, the tourists are arriving with their camper vans – it’s obviously the very best time for major roadworks.