Thursday, 21 November 2019

Midnight Sun Rifle Challenge Pt3

Kit lists. I’ve made a few. Mistakes I’ve made, a few more. Days when the sun never sets, I’ve only seen one. 

In the shambling spirt of Newby and Carless’ English amateur adventurism on their Short walk in the Hindu Kush, having watched a few videos by Thomas Haugland, I send a text to One Man Rifle-Maker. 

‘Midnight Sun Rifle Challenge 2019… fancy it?’ and receive the reply “ texted Thomas to say we’re entering”

Of all the events in the Viking Rifle Series calendar the MSRC is quite possibly the least appropriate entry point. It’s billed as ’24 hours of misery and fun’. Which in legal terms means they did give us fair warning. 

This is my second whistle-stop holiday with OMR. 
The last one was a pistol shooting trip of less than 24 hours, he’s not a fan of; travel, Europe, or anything other than the plainest food. He does like Norway though and despite his obvious discomfort he was a font of good cheer, I’d defiantly have cracked without him. Never did get to see him eat pickled Herring, which was something of a disappointment.

I spend a while talking up the plan, clearly no one believes i’m actually going. I make a few half hearted attempts to start a fitness plan, I will admit they look deeply unconvincing. I get sciatica, I enrol in a pilates class, the pilates class finishes and somehow i leave the yoga milfs to their fate and don't re enrol.  

The moment where you get to represent your country on the world stage is an honour few of you will ever be afforded, but just occasionally its possible to promote yourself to those dizzy heights without a man in a blazer, with a clipboard, telling you legal action will ensue should you continue. 
Still flying high on a moment of optimism, bravado and irony we become The Precision Wombles aka Team GB [self appointed]. Secretly hopeful that no more deserving competitor will make themselves known.

All of a sudden we’ve committed to flying to the top bit of Europe to compete against real Vikings in a sport where, at best we’re the founder members of the veteran-novice division, just two ill-prepared chubsters who should be old enough to know better. 

It’s not like we’ve entered the Marathon des Sables. How bad can it be?

It turns out Vikings learned to shoot across valleys at concealed targets with their first plate of fermented herring. We’re squadded with lads two thirds of my age. One of ‘em  takes second overall. Most of them are probably only two thirds of my weight too.

As members of separate gun clubs we both tried to inveigle others into joining us. We set up a facebook group which we join a few friends to, responses are for the most part muted. The clubs both have a lot of 308 and 223 shooters who work it all out in Minutes Of Angle, so perhaps ‘Build a 6mm/6.5mm rig with a scope that reads in Milliradians ’ as a minimum bid was a big ask. 

All I got was flat out refusal(s) to even contemplate entering: 

The Tall Geek: No. I’d have no chance of winning. 
Club matriarch-in-waiting: That sounds like its an long way from the hotel. No.
South Side D: No. Walking! No. Are you mad? Did I say No?

OMR at least mustered a few broken promises. But in the end it was just two tubby Precision Wombles who make up Team GB [self appointed]

There is a saying [often attributed to the British Army] : Proper Preparation Prevents Piss-Poor Performance. 
I wouldn’t know, but I can attest to the opposite being completely true.

On one of my sporadic trips to practice I’d suffered catastrophic scope failure, On the whole I’d still recommend a Delta Stryker for the money [and the new model looks even better] but my first one died losing its lateral tracking after just over 200 rounds. Delta are making some serious inroads into the VRS so later  I took the opportunity to canvas every other user I met, and it seems I was in the unlucky 1%. The vendor had arranged for me to be sent a replacement. It arrived with about ten days to spare, time and tide being what they are that equated to one and a bit  panicked visits to the range. 

I say ‘one and a bit’ as on the first outing the staff found the perimeter fence had been cut, which necessitated a cease fire order while the whole facility was searched, needless to say this took up most of our booking. Our non-refundable booking.

When I got my rig it came with a couple of cases of home loads which proved to be accurate at 100 and 200 yards, so pressed for time, I duplicated them. 140 SST’s sitting long in the case and right at the bottom of the charge table, hindsight is a wonderful thing, a hotter load with a flatter trajectory may also prove to be a wonderful thing out at 1210m.   

Amateurish I know, ‘schoolboy error’ I hear you say, but OMR was not to be out done. On our return from Norway within a couple of weeks he’s sold most of his battery and bought himself a very handy Ruger Precision in 6.5CM which, being a fair bit lighter than the Tiktac, looks just the ticket for these competitions. I only mention this as it’s the dawn come to cast out the mordor-ish  shadow of the strategy he employed during the actual competition. Although he owned some highly accurate stalking rifles, just like the rest of us there are slots in the battery that are filled by rifles bought on a whim. In his case it was a Steyr Pro in .260 that would more honestly be marketed as the Steyr Flex-O-matic. Its nasty plastic stock distorts if you tighten the action screws, it wobbles if you don’t, several people claimed to be able to see the barrel whipping from side to side like a tuning fork. Perhaps remembering Thomas’ video where Thomas felt that a ten round magazine would give the shooter an advantage on several of the stages, OMR brought the Flex-O. A decision he was to regret. Frequently. 

I’ve never traveled internationally with a firearm before so its with some trepidation that i rock up at Gatwick Airport, at OMR’s instance, four hours early, I’ve got my pack and a Peli 1750 with my rifle in it. Which probably weighs as much as my ex wife. 
That morning in Gatwick airport it dawns on me that I’d not prepared an opening gambit, walking up to a woman you’ve never met before, in an airport, and saying “I have a gun” is frowned upon pretty much everywhere. I decide to go with the euphemism ‘sporting goods’ 
I’ve now got the massive rifle case and fairly substantial pack balanced on an airport trolly, buffeting other passengers aside, I make it over to the woman organising the queue, and enquire where I should be.
‘Yes it is’
“Have you got a licence for it?” 
‘Yes and I brought it with me otherwise I’m in a fair amount of trouble’, 
“Just go and stand over there babe’ 

OMR arrives before the armed response team and we wait together. The next woman gesticulates calling us to her desk, “Sporting goods to Oslo? “ She seems genuinely delighted to have something out of the ordinary to do and having drawn a blank over the phone leaves us at the desk to make procedural enquires in person. She in turn hands us to a fella who also seems nonplussed by this freak event, he goes off, he comes back and he goes off.

You need a European Firearms Pass to travel in Europe with your guns, but not to return [we’ll come to that later], Of course Norway was in the EU, but left. Being the pragmatic sorts that they are, and having long, permeable land borders with both Sweden and Finland [both still in the EU] they kept the simplified traveling-with-guns process. If you have an EU firearms pass you just walk through Nothing To Declare channel. If you don’t you need to be issued a temporary pass at the airport. 

Its fashionable to moan about our firearms licensing system but credit where credit’s due the Metropolitan Police turned around my request for a EU pass in less than a week. 
OMR’s force seemed to mistake ‘issue’ with ‘grant’ and had to be reminded of their service obligation by the NRA’s legal team. Whatever Brexit ends up meaning, if you have even the vaguest intention of traveling in Europe you’d be wise to get one issued, they’re free, and existing passes will probably be grandfathered in. People without EU passes will need a day off at each end of the trip to complete all the forms. 

Flying with firearms is notoriously a hassle, Ryan Air, my carrier of last resort, won’t even let you take a bow and arrows. Perhaps because Norway is a long country and the roads are clogged with Moose the national carrier almost expects you to have your rife with you. To fly with your firearm on Norwegen Air its £30 each way in advance or £60 on the day. OMR had spent much of the previous day on the phone forlornly trying to pay. Norwegen Air’s london office wouldn’t accept payment as the tickets had been sold by a third party, the seller wouldn’t accept payment as the request had Guns in the the title. 

The morning is ticking by. I’m putting a brave face on the growing sense of urgency. OMR isn’t keen on travel at the best of times. We’ve been passed from pillar to post. Eventually we meet with a nice man from Border Farce in a side office who makes a cursory inspection of our toys. We’ve handed over our rifles and ammo and he’s recorded us, and our rifle’s serial numbers in a ledger the trip is firmly in the lap of the old norse gods. We could arrive as competitors, or as observers awaiting compensation with a lot of explaining to do. The UK licensing authority takes an extremely dim view of allowing others to lose your rifle and ammo. 
In the excitement no one has extended their enquires as to how to charge us. So far so cheap. 

There are two sorts of english people at airports. Glam people and bus people. The glam people who seem to imagine there’s still something glamorous about air travel; they have their hair done, they dress up in their designer duds, and many of them spend time in an orangeification booth, all in a futile attempt to pass themselves off as classy international travellers. Like a horrible parody of what a poor person imagines a rich person looks like. Europe’s low cost airlines are often somewhere between the bus and the train in price, once out of earshot the staff will refer you and your loved ones as ‘the mud people’. Its all about as glamorous as a picnic in a supermarket carpark.  On Team Bus we bring our own grub and only travel with hand luggage. 

Gatwick is a horrible place and the airport its low point. The GBP [great british public] has little great about them. As usual its full of wildly over dressed women accompanied by their moody aggressive spouses, teenage girls with those handbags that cost as much as a pelican rifle case, dribbling children being towed along on garish suitcases by overwrought parents. Probably a hub for air rage. Defiantly a hub for bad skin. 
My usually solution would be to put a few away, but its still a bit early for more than a cursory Gin & Tonic, so we have breakfast instead. There’s a ‘spoons’. We have burgers. I have vague memories of OMR only eating plain food. He has his burger with nothing, just a patty and a bun, so plain that the barman says ‘mine are the same, kids can be so fussy, I bet next week they’ll want it with chilli sauce’.
Feeling a rush of bonhomie I ask the barman ‘Can i  have his pickles on mine? “This is the spoons mate, it’s not like we have real chefs”.

A couple of three hours later Oslo airport is everything you might expect it to be; spotless, made of laminated birch, and populated mainly by calm attractive tall people. The food stands look to be about he same standard as the hipster bars of hackney, the seating looks like it won a design award, the litter bins look like they came second. Here, to our consternation, the system breaks down momentarily. Our rifles need to be checked out of customs, then in again and the stop over will be conducted against the clock. 
Some speedy wombling later.  At the far end of the concourse we find a baggage guy who restores order, and we head upstairs to the check in for the next leg of the journey. 
Pillar-to-post begins again.  At the second counter we’re sent to the woman in charge gives us the cold one and asks why we haven’t paid, resisting the urge to haggle I offer to pay and we’re indignantly told she won’t be accepting payment, in retrospect this may have been some kind of super-dry Norwegian joke, we’re sent back the way we’ve come to see yet another chica check in, where we re-tell the story of our needs, convey our growing sense of urgency, and general mystification. An unexpected, yet welcome, “But why should you pay?” later our bags are checked and once again we really do seem to be £120 up on the morning. 

Leaving the unexpected delights of Oslo Airport behind we’re off the ground and on route.
From the air Norway looks like a archipelago of little blue-grey islands set in a narrow green sea,
We touch down on a small airport surrounded by snow covered peaks. Being Norwegians there’s none of the tedious pushing and grumbling you get when a plane full of English people arrives in Spain. So disembarking takes half the time. 
We wait by a luggage carousel so small you’d wonder why they bothered. Bardufoss airport serves some far flung military outpost where very young soldiers are sent to feel home-sick, and there are soldiers of both sexes, still in uniform, leaving for their holidays. One of them, as evidenced by his name tags, is literally called THOR. 
How Viking is that?

To say the Viking Rifle Series appeared bemused by our entry would be an understatement. But as competitors from Poland and Belgium all seemed to manage it, perhaps it was just us? 
We  registered in plenty of time, we’re offered places a while later, tried to pay but the transfer service didn’t like paying to accounts held in two names. Thomas kindly made a call on our behalf and the match director helped us with registration and promised to send someone to pick us up.

A Tall fella in outdoor dungarees and a thousand yard stare meets us at the airport, outdoor dungarees are more a sign of the outdoorsman than camo ever is, and when they’re patched with different ages and colours of patches you know he’s spent a few days afield. I mention this as you’ll meet him again later. He’s our driver, and a bit of a wag. He has that great northern thing where its still played for laughs, but delivered totally deadpan. For example this was his opening gambit. Delivered from behind a thousand yard stare

So what are your first impressions?
SBW: Its very beautiful, you’re all very tall, and the wit is very served dry
So I’m a cliche? 

He drops us off in town and we spend a sunlit expensive night in a very tolerable hotel. Overcome with excitement I buy a beer, just a can of beer. 100 NK or a tenner! Its not even a nice beer. One of the kids working the hotel’s night shift has lived in london, he rubs it in by reminding me a tenner is dinner two in The ‘Spoons.

For readers overseas: ‘The Spoons’ is a pub chain called JD Wetherspoons, where large commercial spaces like car showrooms, are repurposed into giant soulless pubs selling very cheap food and drink. Open from 8am they are both a cheap place to have breakfast, and perform the role that drop-in centres used to, for care-in-the-community types before austerity cut the funding. You’re very likely to be accosted by half hearted beggars on the doorstep, bags of shop-lifted steaks may be offered for sale, and its not unknown to find the staff crying in the toilets. I despise the owner, his childish politics and the way he treats his staff. But principles are for rich people, its a fine breakfast that comes with endless refills of Lavazza. For a fiver. I cant stay out of the place. 

Next time I’m in Bardufoss I’ll probably have transport and get an Air BnB as there are some really nice looking places on offer just outside town, but the hotel was fine, spectacular water pressure and flow rate in the shower, a firm supportive bed, and blackout curtains worthy of the name. I slept like a log. OMR tells me his nights sleep was stolen from him by horrendous snoring like a banjo duel played on chainsaws, cant say I heard it, must have slept though it. 

At Hotel Bardufoss they lay on a truly spectacular breakfast buffet, determined to claw back the tenner for that beer I shovel down breakfast in every European tradition: fruit course, cold cuts, muesli, yogurts [plural], fried things, and eggs a plenty. 

OMR has toast. Just plain toast. I knock up a few rounds of sandwiches for later.  

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