Fighting the elements in the Lofoten archipelago4/6/16
The Lofoten archipelago in Norway lies 68° in latitude north of the Arctic Circle. The summer weather here is fantastic in the land of the midnight sun. Winters can be extreme however, with freezing dark nights and hurricane winds.
We are in Svolvær, one of the northernmost towns in the world, to meet truck driver Ken-Marek Vatnfjord. He usually works as a long- haul driver, but today he is taking us on the 120 km journey out to Reine, near the furthest end of the Lofoten archipelago to collect fish. He has driven on these roads many times before, in extreme weather conditions and during the polar nights. Although not much of a worrier, he always thinks about safety when the weather is bad.
“I can’t actually guarantee that I’ll come home again. Something could always happen as it has before on some of the worst roads. We take precautionary measures, particularly when we know that the weather is going to be bad, but you can’t just stop. Our job is to transport fish and other vital supplies to the communities up here when everyone else is indoors”, says Ken-Marek.
You can never be too cautious. It’s dangerous here.
Truck driver, Thor’s Varetransport
Ken-Marek leaves Svolvær to travel westbound on the E10 expressway. He has to drive in the centre of the road through the first tunnel, which is narrow with low sides. He slows down after the exit road to Henningsvær, one of the best-known fishing villages in Lofoten. He is well aware that there was a fatal accident here not long ago, when a Danish truck probably drove too fast where the road curved and went right through the safety fence and down towards the sea. The ice at the crash site on the day that the Danish driver died was as smooth as glass, and the truck took 100 metres of the safety fence with it.
“The trailer came off and ended up crashing into the driver’s cab and down into the water. They have since made the road wider and reinforced the safety fence, but you can never be too cautious. It’s dangerous here.”
Ken-Marek grew up in Sarpsborg in southern Norway but moved north when his grandmother from Svolvær fell ill. He applied for a job at the local hotel and soon after he found love with the hotel manager, Anne Helen. Although the couple moved south for a year, Ken-Marek was happy to go back north when he was offered the job as a long-haul driver.
That was back in 2007. Today Ken-Marek, Anne Helen and their son Kasper live in central Svolvær, not far from the Svolvær terminal where Thors Varetransport, the company Ken-Marek works for, is located.
“I actually couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I’m sure many people do it for the money, but being a long-haul truck driver is a lifestyle for me. It’s part of my DNA.”
We arrive at the fishing village of Reine, one of the most beautiful places in the Lofoten area. 330 people live here, most of whom work on the fishing boats or at the fish factory. This is where Ken-Marek has collected fish countless times.
I actually couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I’m sure many people do it for the money, but being a long-haul truck driver is a lifestyle for me. It’s part of my DNA.
“It’s good to turn around the large truck here when you’re loading goods, but the road down has a few obstacles that are difficult to get past on the worst days. The road is only wide enough for one car and there is no safety fence because of the many bends in the road. The water comes right up to the asphalt. You’ll be in the water if you make even the slightest error.”
Ken-Marek tells us he is happy that the company he works for focuses on a close partnership with Volvo, and that his truck means a great deal to him.
“It was registered the same day that my son was born. That was a day of double celebration.”
On this particular day however, Ken-Marek isn’t behind his own steering wheel. Instead he is test driving one of the company’s newest trucks, a Volvo FH 540 with the new I-Shift Dual Clutch technology. He says that he finds it very strange not to hear when the truck changes gear.
“My own car doesn’t even have such a good gearbox. At the same time, the truck seems very strong, which is important for us when the bad weather comes. There’s no doubt that the new technology makes our everyday lives better. It means that we are safer and can transport goods throughout the year.”
We are driving over the Gimsøystraumen Bridge. It is one of the windiest places in Lofoten. There is a light breeze today but Ken-Marek has driven over the bridge in wind speeds of more than 30 metres per second, when the bridge was actually closed.
“The truck had such a heavy load that I thought it would be ok. The windscreen wipers suddenly blew up on to the windscreen, the sun visor snapped and the wind caught hold of the entire truck. I had to steer against the wind to keep the truck on the bridge. I wasn’t scared but I will admit that I was a little concerned. Luckily I was okay. I won’t be doing that again”, he says.
We are still some distance away from Svolvær and it is starting to get dark. The days are short at this time of the year. You do not see the sun at all between December 7th and January 5th. This is the polar night period.
“You never quite relax at this time of year. The roads are generally narrower, the snow banks bigger and it is dark around the clock. I enjoy my time behind the wheel, but you cannot let your guard down. I have seen trucks hit the shoulder and overturn.”
The company Ken-Marek drives for knows exactly what to do if things get really bad.
“I really like my boss’s approach here. The most important thing is that we arrive safely and not the time it takes. We have not had any serious accidents. I think that this is the result of a clear approach, and in particular driving good trucks.”
We are back in Svolvær. The long working day is over. Everything went well this time. Now the truck needs to be unloaded and parked, before Ken-Marek has a brief chat with some colleagues who are still at work.
“It is always good to see the Svolvær terminal again after a long trip on the road. Then I know that it won’t be long before I see Kasper again. He’s always waiting for me at home.”
E10, formerly known as King Olav V's road, follows the route from Luleå in Sweden to Å in Norway. From Svolvær to Reine in Lofoten the road is twisting and less than 6 metres wide, often only 5 metres. The road is one of Norways 18 national tourist roads.
Model: Volvo FH540, 6x2 tractor, 2015 model with a Krone semitrailer.
Features: I-Shift Dual Clutch and Volvo Dynamic Steering.
Engine: 13-litre, 6-cylinder, diesel engine , 540 hp – 2,600 Nm.
Transport assignments: The truck transports fish products and foodstuffs in both Lofoten and the rest of Norway, covering up to 150,000 km per year on the road.