Ted Susan Norway

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Ted and Susan's End-to-End of Norway - 2011

Short link - http://bit.ly/GamesonsNorway

Introduction

Map norway.jpg

This is what we wrote before setting off in 2011:

We are aiming to cycle the Norwegian end-to-end in around 6 weeks (~2000 miles), providing that our bikes arrive in reasonable condition, and that the weather doesn't treat us too unkindly.

We are hoping to spend some time on the Lofoten and Vesteralen, ferry-hopping down the north west coast before arriving in the very hilly fjord country where the Rallarvegen awaits us. This is a dedicated cycle path of 50 miles, quite tricky in parts. Most sensible people do it from south to north when the gradient is 'down', in fact, very 'down' in some parts. We are going against the flow and going 'up'. How sensible, you might well ask ?

Assuming we survive this upland pass (glaciers, snow, no KFC or real ales) we will then cross by ferry to Denmark, where we hope to follow the north sea cycle route at least as far as Esbjerg, the first ferry possibility to UK direct. If we cannot afford the exorbitant fares, then we will visit Hamberg and the home of Fresian cows en route for the Hague, where lots of ferries await.

The Diary

Tuesday 21 June 2011

We flew into Alta at 11pm having left the good weather back in Oslo. No shortage of grey daylight even under the cloud at 11pm. Guest house is good and warm although it is 12 degrees C. We couldn't take food on the aircraft and the food stores were closed when we landed. Our landlady, concerned for our well-being provided us with emergency provisions and would take no money. This is Norway !

Wednesday 22 June

On and off wet today - the good weather has gone on holiday somewhere else. Assembled the bikes which arrived with only a little cosmetic damage. Rode into and around Alta stocking up on food and meths, the latter not for drinking.(!) Are we looking forward to soggy camping ? So we are making the most of dry and warm while we have it. Honnigsvag tomorrow by bus for the real journey to begin.

Thursday 23 June
Ted and Susan at North Cape

Got up at 5-30 to catch the bus from Alta to Nord Kapp and it started raining. Then just 5 miles from Alta the bus broke down so all the kit was offloaded to another in the wet. We then had yet another change before arriving at Honnigsvag at 12. No campsite there so we rode the bikes to Skipsfjorden to a very wet and windy camp. What were we doing here? Nothing for it but to head off up to Nord Kapp with all the fish n chip vans ! The rain stopped and even a little sun appeared. Lots of snow about but quite warm and the cosy camp kitchen restored our spirits.

Friday 24 June

Left the site at Skipsfjorden for our first real day's cycling and our first encounter with Norwegian tunnels. Susan found these to be horrendous - wet cold noisy with instant death lurking at every turn of the wheels, but we negotiated 4 of them, one of which was 6.9 km. Today the sun shone and we found a lovely lunch stop overlooking an azure blue sea. For scenery think the far north east of Scotland, north of Helmsdale. We found a rather rustic pitch overlooking the sea and after a few yarns the lack of alcohol did not seem to matter much. But the mosquitoes did - and do ! We are now 81 miles from NK. Nearly 1000m of ascent today - the cycling is going to be demanding even on the 'easy' bits.

Saturday 25 June

The day started fine but the cycling proved tough with a 300m climb out of Olderdalen and it was cool too (12 c). The route was no surprise as we had travelled it on the bus but some of the route over moor and bog was wild and desolate, the sort of place where you hope a tyre does not burst, or a chain break ! We were glad to arrive back at Alta, and we managed to find another seedy overgrown campsite but even this had a workable kitchen. 24hour daylight is great for camping and has not kept us oldies awake at all.148 miles from NK and 835m of ascent today. We are starting to meet quite a few long distance riders and motor cyclists.

Sunday 26 June

Nothing happens in Alta on a Sunday – not even the 24/7 shops open ! So we had the main E6 road to ourselves except for the inevitable ‘fish-and-chip’ vans (sorry all you motor-caravanners) which get everywhere. The cycling had now become very scenically rich with fjords and jagged maintains appearing around every corner, and a total contrast to the high tundra to the north of Alta. At the head of Kafjord, an ‘arm’ of Altafjord, we happened on the ‘Tirpitz’ museum which chronicled the efforts of the British to scuttle the pride of the German navy which was in hiding at Kafjord. A rare level road alongside Langfjord gave us views of the mountains to the west in the grey light, and a short climb took us to the lovely campsite at Alteidet. Later in the evening the low sunlight lit up the distant mountains of Kvaenanstindan across the clear fjord water and I took time to relish this most memorable of sights.

Monday June 27

Lots of climbs awaited us today. After the inevitable food shopping to load us up with such delicacies as 'sodd' and 'bog' ready for the hills, what delights awaited. The mountains just got more jagged and the sun came out to play, too. We saw hares. foxes, reindeer, and listened to cuckoos. We found a lovely, if expensive, campsite and pitched our tent to be eaten alive by mozzies. Even so, life was good ! 1378m of ascent today and We are now 273 miles from NK and in good spirits.

Tuesday 28 June

We awoke this morning too hot as the sun was streaming into the tent, and the deep blue sky was almost cloudless. With snow-capped mountains behind a clear fjord this must be a version of heaven ? An easy ride down Lyngen Fjord with the dramatic Lyngen Alps on our right side took us to our first ferry ride and the food store ! By this time the weather and our spirits were heading downhill fast and it was raining as we approached a very grey wet and unwelcoming Tromso. Even the campsite was horrible so after 65 miles we squelched another 14 to find something reasonable. Even the reindeer stag looked pissed off when he insisted on staying on the road as we chased him.933m of ascent and 333 miles from NK

Wednesday 29 June

Utility day today blogging washing oiling ! Dry today but mostly dull. Apparently this is normal weather for north Norway.

Thursday 30 June

We came into Tromso in the wet and we left it in the wet too, as Thursday dawned foul as we headed to and then through Tromso and over the 2 massive bridges which span the waterways. Man-made hills Susan calls them! Cycling round the bay of Tromso we quickly lost the city to find a tiny ferry to an even tinier place called Vikram. Now at last on tiny back roads cycling was peaceful and away from the hoards of fish n chip vans that are everywhere). But the minor roads also undulate much more and we needed a long mileage today to stay on schedule. We eventually arrived in a place called Olsberg which has no campsite, so rough camping it was, but we still had hot & cold water & wc! 94 miles today and 1269m of ascent saw (and sore) us sleeping like logs but not until we had seen the MIDNIGHT SUN with photo to prove.

Friday July 1

The day "dawned" fine and we left our comfortable free campsite to cover the 25miles to Finnsnes swiftly on smooth roads and with the now usual tail wind for FOOD. All the towns in this part of Norway were razed by the Germans at the end of the last war, so they all look temporary and still being built. Finnsnes is no exception. Lots of lovely green sylvan countryside with silver birch and a distant mountainous backdrop. We climbed over another sweeping Norwegian bridge and onto the island of Senja climbing over wild moorland before plunging down to the shore and the vivid blues yellows greens and pale sands. When we thought we were nearly at Gryllefjord the road rose up in a zig zag over a 120m col before another plunge down to another deep vitriol green fjord and a 3 hour wait for the ferry to Andenes on the Lofoten which had a very stark look in the evening light.

Saturday July 2

I woke up and heard rain in the night and the day was dull when we awoke and stayed that way all day. We passed by lots of rocky arretes and coastal scenery very like Mull and stopped at Risoyham for yet more food - a cyclist's obsession! We met up again with a pair of Swedish long distance cyclists whose friends then attempted to keep us awake all night with tranny and crap music until a pissed-off Englishman sorted it !!

Sunday July 3

In retrospect this day is the sort you never want to end and will remember for ever. Yesterday we forgot it was going to be Sunday today so we forgot to buy food, important as all shops are closed. Luckily an Esso shop in Sortland saved the day and we decided to take the hilly route over to the west side of the island down Eidsfjord and some of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen with dazzling colours and shimmering sunlight off crystal clear waters. Progress was slow as there were many photo stops. Finally we found a deserted campsite at Stokmarknes and watched the sun slide reluctantly behind a hill.62.3 miles today and 879 metres of ascent.

Monday 4 July

We were awoken this morning by the aroma of fish cooking and the sun streaming onto our tent. The climate north of the arctic circle has been a big surprise as we came with fleeces and silk undies not expecting the 15 to 25 deg C that it has been. A quick ride took us to Melbu for the ferry to take us from Langoya to Fiskebol, and the main part of the Lofoten, and here the road became quite busy. Norwegian roads are very good, but with that comes a lot of traffic and a loss of charm.

Even though we are far far north, we never feel really remote, as there is always a fish and chip van turning up or parked in the most unlikely corner. West of Svolvaer we saw fabulous colours and a climb over one of Norway's sweeping high bridges took us to a minor road leaving the main motor traffic behind. Raw rocky ridges, remote coves, the road bent and flexed around this beautiful coastline until we reached our campsite at Brustranda, 64 miles.

Tuesday 5 July

What a day this was ! We left Brustranda in clear sunshine and after a climb and a food buying stop, we were then cycling through the dramatic scenery that epitomises the Lofoten, with jagged rock all around, but as the road became squeezed between sea and rock the gem was Hamnoy. Here red painted houses clung to the rock above the sea on stilts. Eventually we reached Sorvagen with just enough time for a quick meal cooked by the roadside before our long (90 km) and late ferry crossing to Bodo where we arrived at 11.15pm. Still light of course we were a small stream of cyclists who arrived at the Bodo campsite and watched in awe as the sunlight reflected off the rocky mountains all around. This was the best end to a magic day.

Wednesday 6 July

Today in lovely hot weather we cycled the whole of 20 miles from Bodo to Saltstraumen where we lazed and cleaned and later watched the world's largest inland maelstrom at nearly midnight as the fishermen cast their lines.

Thursday 7 July

Another beautiful day today took us 47miles through more lovely scenery with sharp colours to a place called Mevic near another place called Ornes. We are meeting lots of long distance cyclists and our end to end is nothing out of the ordinary as some cyclists have been all over Scandinavia, another we met started in Istanbul. Lots of cyclists are passing us doing the end to end from south to north. Many Norwegians spend long hours fishing because, oddly the fish for sale is very expensive so nobody seems to buy it, so they fish for it. So it was that we found this grotty little campsite where the washblock and kitchen were full of fishing junk with its odours, and lots of blokes and fag smoke. We have learned that Norwegians are practical people!

Friday 8 July

We were glad to leave this dirty but beautifully siited camp even on a drizzly wet morning. We are now on the island hopping route 17 and this morning at Ornes was the start of many ferries on this route - 3 today. Out came the sun and the riding on the other side was superb as we caught up with other cyclists, one a French student cycling all the way home and whom we kept meeting later when we least expected. The 3rd ferry of the day was remarkable as we crossed the Arctic Circle – to have been the original starting point when I had the idea for the ride 4 years ago. A lovely campsite and a pint each (yes, beer in Norway - at an eyewatering price) made the day complete.

Saturday 9 July

Today proved to be hard although for the first 5 miles we had a tailwind - that is until we turned the corner !! Then it was a headwind and 3 VLT's (very long tunnels). These are hideous affairs for cyclists as they always seem to be uphill but the real problem is the noise from vehicles which bounces off the walls so you cannot tell where the vehicle is or whether the driver has seen you. Mmm. The next bit involved a 300m climb but luckily it started to rain so we found shelter under a bridge at the end of the tunnel just as the climb started so we did not know what was to come ! Another ferry and we just kept riding in the grey light until the spectacular sweep across the high suspension bridge and sweeping causeway in sharp sun into Sandnessjoen. Our campsite was well to the south of the town so we trusted to luck that there would be one - and it was very attractive overlooking the sea one side, and the mountains known as the 7 sisters on the other - bare rocky high mountains.75 miles today.

Sunday 10 July

Lovely morning, and our ride to the first ferry was along the foot of the 7 sisters then along a green isthmus in sharp sun where the Rose Bay herb and Ladies Bedstraw at the roadside made a very colourful aromatic show. One more ferry later and we were approaching Bronneysund, a very workaday town where we did not linger. Just south of the town we spotted a thunderstorm which then spotted us! Tent seemed a bad idea right then so we opted to try a hytte and just in time as the flood gates opened and we were dry, cosy and so were the bikes. Note that there are few, if any, shops open on Sundays so food has to be bought on Saturdays and carried, a real pain for cyclists.44 miles today

Monday July 11

Dawned wet and foul after thunder last night but soon cleared us and we rode from Bronneysund to Kolvereid. Lovely green scenery and good riding on the usual 'Euro' standard road which tends to rob the riding of character.66 miles and today we crossed the 1000 mile mark, or half of the Norway leg.

Tuesday 12 July

Bit of a low point today as the day started dull and turned wet at the end of the day as we completed 60 miles and could not find a campsite at Sjoasen. We did meet up with our French cyclist again and vowed to meet up in Trondheim but didn't! . We also got eaten by insects for dinner and breakfast as we wild-camped.

Wednesday 13 July

By total contrast this was a lovely day on a 50 mile roller coaster of a road sometimes single track even if most of the day we pushed a headwind. This was like the Loch Ness road in bonnie Scotland. These was no campsite at Rissa even though its website promised one, so we made Trondheim that night after 94 miles and nearly the last ferry.

Thursday 14 July

We had a much-needed day off today as we visited the lovely city of Trondheim with its wooden warehouses lovely town houses and marina, in blue skies.

Friday 15 July

Today we rode, again in sun, around Trondheim, missing it out. This is pleasant green Norway. Alongside the motorway from Trondheim to Orkanger we had our own special road although this is common in towns and drivers expect you to use these. As yesterday this was 83 miles of pleasant green Norway.

Saturday 16 July

This morning, we cycled from Surnadal, a sizeable town not marked on our map through green fields to yet another ferry, at a place called Kavanne. Ferries are a normal part of Norwegian life and we must have taken about 12 by now. No advance booking is necessary with a bike but none of the ferries has been full. Fares have been typically 60 krone (6 pounds) so not expensive - cars are about 2.5 times this. A stunning ride over a green isthmus gave us a long descent into Sundalsora, an industrial town at the head of a beautiful fjord - yes the Norwegians know how to mess up their country too !

We then took detours around two new tunnels using old roads with lovely views and no traffic but with a lot of climbing. We found a lovely campsite overlooking Tingvollfjord but we could not pitch the tent for ages, so intent was our hostess on feeding us waffles cheese and salad, totally unbidden. We also set right Norwegian politics and bringing up children ! 51 miles today

Sunday 17 Jul

This was a lovely day riding alongside Langfjord to another ferry at Solsnes to take us to Andalsnes. Sometimes single track, the road dived and swooped through trees of birch and pine like some of the more remote roads in Scotland. The weather deteriorated to drizzle as we neared Andalsnes so we were glad to find a large very pleasant and well equipped site beside the river.1350 miles completed and 3 days ahead of plan.

Monday 18 July

The TROLLSTIGEN awaits us so we thought it could wait !!! So we had a day "down" instead just walking - a very welcome rest. We have found that on a long tour one needs about one day in seven off the bike to 'reshape" bits and to reaffirm that other modes of life are possible!

Tuesday 19 July
Trollstigen.jpg

This was the day of the Trollstigen, an 800 m climb of some reputation. Off to a good start at 8.15 we thought we would beat the tour buses and fish and chip vans, but no, they were there too. The climb just starts without warning at 11 per cent through the valley then there is the wall, so just where does the road go? The hairpins are very dramatic climbing to a viewpoint and a little further on to the inevitable visitor centre. What a mess this is and I thought Norway was environmentally sensitive. Yup, they can muck up their country with the best. A final climb, and then a very swift descent took us to the Valldal ferry across Nordfjord (not the big one). Yet another climb awaited the other side and this was, if anything, tougher than TROLLSTIGEN. Suddenly we were overlooking a jaw-dropping scene of incredible beauty; vitriol green water sheer rocks and two cruise ships at anchor. Somewhere Geiranger lay down there, and we took lots of hairpins to reach it. We stayed in the first available site, so crowded was the place. Meanwhile the weather played cat and mouse with us as we ate overlooking this incredible fjord.

Wednesday 20 July

This was one challenging and very fulfilling day which took us from crowded Geiranger through to Stryn. Grey most of the day, sometimes with blue holes, we started at 8am knowing that we had a long climb ahead of us. But could we beat the tour buses and fish-n-chip vans ? Er, no. As there were two cruise ships in Geiranger, there were lots of punters wanting bus trips, so we encountered the buses coming down the hill towards us empty, then later, returning with all the punters on board. As some of the fish-n-chip vans were out early too, we had a lot of company on the climb, which itself was insidious, as the first bit was tough with hairpins and then it levelled out giving a premature sense of achievement - very premature as it turned out because the road climbed to 1300m from sea level.

Leaving the viewpoint at Dalsnibba to the heaving mass of metal, we passed a melt-lake with shear rock face on its western side before turning east on the main Oslo road. We could not use it west-bound because of a VLT (very long tunnel). The map showed a nice little yellow road going west from Grotli that would take us to Stryn, so we opted for it It was one of the few remaining gravel roads, and up it went when we thought we had already climbed lots. So back to the 5 mph crawl but what fantastic 'lunar' scemery with rocky outcrops, lakes and patches of snow, and even the sun came out - sharp light and striking colours at this 1400m altitiude. Past the ski centre, a dramatic descent took us to Stryn, more rain and a rather miserable campsite with Susan cooking omelettes in the rain !!

Thursday 21 July

The morning dawned soggy so we ate breakfast in their nice dry kitchen. The tent was packed up squelchy wet. But the day slowly improved. After yesterday, today would be easy, wouldn't it ? The road around Innviksfjord gave us some nice level (yes, level) cycling even if an hour later we were still looking at Stryn just a few miles away across the fjord we had had to cycle round. After Utvik, a 700m climb took us to the ski station and a fast descent to Byerkelo, where we had coffee in an ancient cafe run by an ancient lady serving other punters with rather too 'white' Norwegian food - all rather quaint.

A lovely road through a wide and green valley led over the watershed at Klakegg and on to Skei, where we bought food. In Norway, a cycle-tourist has always to carry at least a day's food as, although shops are now relatively frequent, some have restricted opening hours on Saturday and often completely closed on a Sunday which can cause a problem. Even so, it is still possible to cycle more than 50 miles and not pass a shop so the daily shop-up has to be planned. Also, food is horrendously expensive in Norway and our daily shop would cost us anything from 200 - 400 NOK (about £25 - £50). This is one reason why camper vans are so common, as campers can stock them up from home and buy little en route. At the end of 63 miles and 900m of ascent we happened on a lovely campsite at Vassenden near the town of Forde.

Friday 22 July

Today I had a lot of anticipation because our planned destination of Balestrand on Sognefjord was one I had visited nearly 40 years earlier when I was still a student, and I thought it one of the prettiest places I had seen. Also the Rallarvegen awaited across the fjord, and I expected this to be tough (it was !). A strong tail wind blew us downhill 5 miles to Moskog where we turned east towards Gualarfjellet, the pass taking us to Sognefjord. Strangely, the wind died and the reflections in the mirror-smooth lakes we passed gave us one of the abiding images of the tour even if the weather was grey, again. Then, mmm, the gearchange feels funny and the left down-tube lever goes a bit further than it should - well maybe I just should have changed the gear cables before leaving home, but that one was not the suspect one !! A quick bit of maintenance on a hairpin bend replaced the cable and I was still waiting for Susan to catch up !!

A 700m climb took us into the drizzle before another viewpoint showed the dramatic hairpin descent to Sognefjord that we had to take, and which was coming and going from view in the moving cloud below us. Now, when I last serviced the bike, did I make sure the brake blocks were properly aligned and secure ?? Oh, well, what the hell ........wizzzzzzzzz..... Sognefjord appeared quickly beside us in the soggy wet, and we wandered rather forlornly into Balestrand to pitch a tent, so we opted for a room instead !

Saturday 23 July

We had to make decisions here because Balestrand is the springboard for the Rallarvegen, the Navvies Road, which is an 80 km unsurfaced cycle route going up to 1340m onto the lower parts of the Hardangervidda where resides a glacier. A quick check of the magic machine (HTC) gave a poor weather forecast including significant rainfall on Sunday night. So far we had travelled nearly 1600 miles and were 3 days ahead of plan, so we decided to use some of them and sit out the rainfall until the weather improved. As the Rallarvegen was to be probably the biggest challenge of the tour with high rocky upland scenery, to do this in poor weather would not be good. So today we pottered in warmth, a litttle sun and high humidity, walking up to a local viewpoint before returning as the weather improved (yes). Never mind, the weather would be worse tomorrow, woudn't it ?

Sunday 24 July

The weather dawned fine, so we opted for the fjord cruise to the glacier downfall (£70 each, gulp quickly). This was a lovely quiet cruise along the mirror smooth Fjaerlandsfjord to its head, with luring views of the blue glacier downfall gradually enlarging as we got steadily closer. We were taken the final few miles by tour coach - what luxury after 1600 miles of Brooks leather !!! At last the weather had deteriorated a bit and there was a little rain but not quite the event I was expecting.

Monday 25 July

This day was 'commit' day. Commit to go south across Sognefjord to Flam to start the Rallarvegen, or 'cop out' and take the more conventional route through Voss to Bergen and Stavanger (N Sea Cycle route). I called this day 'Dad's revenge' because, had he lived, this would have been his 91st birthday. It dawned foul - as foul as it gets with wind and lashing rain. We had opted for the early ferry to Flam, so we sheltered down at the harbour in the entrance of the local supermarket for the early ferry. We watched as one small boat started up and moved along out of sight and we wondered why our 'ferry' had not appeared. We were soon to find out that we had missed it - the only boat moving that morning ! So we waited for the only other vessel on that route that day which was the fast ferry from Bergen at 11.30. We caught that, sure enough (!), but the rain was still lashing down, a pity because this is one of the most spectacular fjord trips to be had in Norway, and we could scarcely see the small defile of Naeroyfjord (Narrow Fjord) as we passed it.

Flam looked from the map to be a small and somewhat remote village starting point for the cycle route, but no. There was a cruise liner in the fjord and as the first station on the famous Flamsbanen railway, the place was thronged with tourists of all colours and shapes - quite the busiest place after Geiranger (by contrast Balestrand was very quiet). Oh, and it was still raining, so we ate lunch in a sheltered spot and decided what to do next. With minimal likelihood of acquiring any form of 'hard' accommodation, we headed for the campsite and pitched in the drizzle. Spirits weren't high, but I went off to look for the start of the Rallarvegen and ended up climbing up the first 10 miles of it through the beautiful and enclosed Flamsdalen, meeting Susan on the way down. Still soggy, but not raining hard now.

Tuesday 26 July

So we packed up the wet tent, squelched off the site and set off in the drizzle. At least the waterfalls were spectacular - water just launches itself over thousand foot cliffs in many places. The climb through Flamsdalen was as enjoyable as the previous day, then it occurred to me that as the route goes up to nearly 1350m and we were barely at 400, at some stage we had some climbing to do. Mmmm. Then we arrived, as suddenly the track deteriorated from smooth crushed gravel to rock-strewn watercourse zig-zagging up the crazy mountainside. Stupidity took over and I rode the first straight to zig number 1. Then I realised that my lungs were not made for this and that I would implode if I continued. It was as much as we could do to haul the bikes up the steep loose rocky surface as lots of other MTB'ers came hurtling, or shuffling down (with very variable capabilities).

After a needless detour to Myrdal station, we made it to Vatnahalset where the track levelled a bit and I waited ages for Susan. Over the course of the day (and tomorrow) she had five punctures (all in one tyre) and a chain break. (not all Schwalbe Marathons are made of acceptable quality with the puncture strip in the right place - I have taken one of these tyres apart - and the problem was much later in the tour solved by swapping the front to rear where the offending tyre had less punishment). Both of us were getting tired so at 6pm we found a level patch of ground (a real achievement in this wild terrain) set up camp, ate and slept well.

Wednesday 27 July

Wow, Wednesday dawned blue and clear with just a few white clouds covering this fantastic rock-strewn, lake-bejewelled, snow-patched landscape before us. This was the best campsite of all. We packed up slowly in the sun after a wash in sharp clear water. We were wise to stop the previous evening as there was a 200m climb just around the corner so the 7 km to Finse took us a long time. Once we had passed the 1343m marker we thought it would be all downhill from there to Haugastal. The track still bucked around and some parts were very rough and unrideable (with any bike) but by the middle of the afternoon we had completed the 50 mile route and were back on ordinary roads.

Mechanically the bikes (conventional tourers with 700c wheels) had stood the test well - a chain break is unremarkable, and the punctures would have been solved by using marathon plusses on the rear, (whilst noting it was just one tyre which gave all the problems). So we had 'done' the Rallarvegen from north to south - what an achievement on which to refect, but soon brought down to earth by impending rain (never far away in Norway). We were pleased to pitch the tent on a pleasant site in Geilo, sip a beer or two and chat to a Danish couple we had camped close by at Flam

Thursday 28 July

For me, the prospect was an anticlimax: we had reached the North Cape, cycled the long tunnel, made it back to Alta, crossed through Trondheim, cycled the Lofoten, cycled the coastal-hopping route 17 to Trondheim, completed the Trollstigen and anything else the fjord area threw at us, and now completed the Rallarvegen, the toughest challenge of all. The rest would surely be roll-over stuff. As I've said many times in these blogs so far, "er no", the remaining bits did not prove to be roll-over at all. Norway is scenic to its tip, despite what the Norwegians try to do to their country, with huts and other developments everywhere close to roads. Geilo and Skurdalen are ski-ing country and so 2 climbs took us down towards Uvdal before we took a small road off to the right over to Austbyggd. I could get little information on this road before our trip, it being so minor, but on the ground it is the usual two-track Euro transit strip as it climbed way up to 1200m again.

Rain was on and off, as was the sun and the inevitable headwind, so we were slow moving as we took in far-reaching views across the Hardangervidda that we had left behind (or so we thought) on the Rallarvegen. The sunshine was tauntingly close, as was the black cloud, as the road turned left across moorland reminiscent of the far north but studded with huts and 4x4s. I was looking forward to the fast swoop down to Austbygdd but stopped at the bottom of the steep zig-zap section to wait for Susan. Puzzlingly she did not appear, so off I set back up the first easy bit. Yes, yet another puncture. Anyway, after that the sun came out, the road was downhill, and the campsite, on the side of the lake, idyllic, but after so many tyre problems we stayed together for the last few miles.

Friday 29 July

Sunshine drenched our idyllic campsite, and we were able to pack the tent dry. The ride alongside the lake in the morning sun was the thing touring dreams are made of, and we found a lovely cafe in the pretty town of Rjukan for coffee and cakes. Yes, the world was good. I suppose a climb was inevitable but the climb past one of Norway's first hydo-electric plants was very hot and as we've now come to expect, the views spectacular. Today we found little scope for a lunch stop and the road seemed to go on hotly for ever, so we stopped for lunch only in the late afternoon beside the road, and at about 1100m elevation.

After 'lunch' things got better and the road went 'down' to Amot where we found a lovely campsite beside the fast-flowing river, and in the sun. Susan prepared a lovely meal and we sat at our table, and, yes, down came the rain. This lovely campsite was one of the cheapest at 60 NOK. Prices vary wildly between 200NOK and 60 but 120 - 150 is fairly common. Usually you have to pay for showers extra too, a real pain, but in Norway usually it's worth it as most showers will give you a 5-minute drench in as hot water as you care to stand. We have two mottos - 1 "Tinker with heat control on a Norwegian shower at your peril !", and 2 "Never trust a Norwegian day". Danish showers are usually miserable affairs by comparison.

Saturday 30 July

The sun came out to play as we left the campsite and after a brief stop in Amot we rode the lovely wooded road to Dalen with lakes and trees and rocky outcrops - truly delightful. We knew a climb was to come so we had a Pepsi stop in Dalen and set off up the hill. What a hill too, this was the steepest road (11%) we had climbed in Norway with the exception of a piece of back road near Trondheim which was 14 % for a short length. At the end of a few hairpins, the gradient eased as we took a right turn along route 45 for Setesdal. The road continued to climb out to 1100m again and we could look back again the Hardangervidda we had left behind days ago.

At one point we found a picnic area, set out our lunch and down came the rain, so we just munched through it. Later in the day we got to the watershed where the road dives down to Setesdal and one side of the road was wet and the Setesdal side dry and sunny, a straight line divide across the road. I should have photographed it. So we flew down our minor road to join the main Bergen - Kristiansand road and the weather looked foreboding again. Riding a little way south we found the town of Valle and took refuge in a very pleasant cafe as the rain sheeted down and the thunder rumbled away. Luckily the motel at Valle had all sorts of accommodation, so rather than a tent pitch we chose a cabin for NOK 450.

Sunday 31 July

Out came the sun, and the route now looked like a straight thrash for Kristiansand ! The route through Setesdal is a designated cycle route and it is very pleasant, too. Inevitably the Norwegians are somewhat spoiling the route for cycling by constructing yet more super-smooth finely graded characterless Euro-transit strips, but a minor road along the west side of Byglandsfjord proved to be a pine-studded delight largely away from cars, tour buses and fish-n-chip vans. The gentle breeze gave a BMW paint-finish quality to the fjord surface (generally smooth with lots of minor ripples) and our lunch spot was a delight. We even found a lovely campsite in the village of Hornnes after risking a meal in Evje. I say risk, because eating out is not generally to be anticipated with relish in Norway, as the food seems often not to be very appetising, can sometimes be stupidly expensive, and this time we had to wait while the kitchen staff finished their round of jokes. Mmmm.

Monday 1 August

The day dawned fine so off we set to puncture number 6. The straightforward and pretty main road route took us right in to Kristiansand. Lots of pine trees and little lakes lined our route and gave the air that lovely aroma reminiscent of parts of France and Spain. We passed what was euphemistically called 'Gods Terminal' doffed our hats and carried on to the ferry terminal at around 3pm where a ferry was to leave for Denmark at 4.30pm. How much did we want to explore Kristiansand  ? Well maybe after 6 weeks in Norway the pull of home was too much, but we were on that 4.30 boat. What a contrast Hirtshals in Denmark was ! When the ferry landed it was just a scrum of fish n chip vans, people, cars all heading for what seemed to be minimal accommodation, so we set off out of the place to find the next campsite 4 miles down the (flat) road. In Norway we had ridden directly 1942.9 miles from Norkapp, and climbed 119000 feet (36260m) or just over 4 times the height of Mt Everest. Another gulp. No wonder we were in calorie-deficit.

Tuesday 2 August

This was a day rather to forget and a contrast to Norway. The riding was unforgivingly flat and dull, and it was very warm and humid at times. We got soaked in thundery rain and later in the day I did not feel too well. Early in the day we had tried to follow marked cycle routes through the forest, and they were attractive, but with the risk of punctures, and loose surfaces and sand in places, progress was slow, and the routes difficult to follow. We had a cycle-route map of the area which proved to be largely a work of fiction indicating surfaced tracks where there were none, and counter-wise too. So we stayed on the windswept fish-n-chip-van infested rather-too-narrow roads. We found a functional campsite at Ferritslev, in regimented rows, with showers that had all the latest swipe-card gizmos but which did not work and entailed much swearing and dancing around 'in the all-together' as queues of people in various states of undress tried to solve the problems. I did get a shower eventually. And we did eat in the dry, too, but we were glad to leave in the morning.

Wednesday 3 August

Rural riding in sunshine took us to Thisted where we stopped for coffee, then on and down a spit of low lying land into a fierce headwind along a never ending road (you know the nightmare - the road that never ends) to the ferry to Thyboron. This is an unattractive location, but when we stopped for provisions in the local supermarket we got talking to an Austrian cyclist who had bettered our efforts, by cycling from Austria to Nordkapp through Sweden and Finland and back through Norway, on, for Yvonnes's beneft, a Kona Sutra. Lots of others talked to us, too, so friendliness made up for the lack of beauty. Just outside the village of Ferring we found a beautiful campsite, screened off with lovely hedging and aromatic roses, with super new facilities. We even had a conservatory where we ate our food.

Thursday 4 August

It dawned grey with weak sun and went downhill from there ! Susan had got up early to get all our washing nice and clean and dry, so some rain to get it all filthy and damp again seemed a good idea. The riding in the first half of the day was just 'the pits' with headwind, rain, a road which was just a little too narrow and vehicles driven by people that regarded you as an intrusion on their space. This was not fun. We got to a place which I nicknamed 'Never Mind Windy Gob', and where we were pleased to turn off the main road, although we were both tired. We did find a good place for coffee. Later we reached Oksbol, within reach of Esbjerg, and found another nice campsite where we stayed for two nights because the Esbjerg - Harwich ferry runs every other day, next ferry was due 6 August.

Friday 5 August

We used the day to find out how we could buy tickets for the ferry, even assuming we could. Starting point was the dockside and the DFDS office which was unhelpfully closed on Friday, but a note on the door did give us a number to telephone. So next stop we thought would be the tourist office. So we searched and searched the place and found it eventually, but not where it was marked on our maps. We asked the nice Danish lady how we could book the ferry thinking she could do it for us. Er no. You have to do it on the website, or ring this number. Dead unhelpful, since we knew we could not book online with the bikes (why not who knows ?) and we already had the telephone number.

So we found a reasonably quiet location and called the number. Unobtainable. Try the international code, and this time it worked, only to get a call centre charging me to listen to their tinny music, this time at international call rates ! 3 calls later I had succeeded in the booking ! It had cost me £6. A mere nothing considering the two ferry fares had just cost me £560. A cruise they call it. Anyway we were going home. !!

Saturday 6 August 2011

The day dawned fine and sunny, one of the very best, so since we had only to be in Esbjerg later in the afternoon, we set off for the ten miles to the coast and the dunes for which Denmark is famous. We spent a memorable morning wandering through the dunes and gazing out to sea over the vast sands. Denmark was making amends. Lunch we took at a sunny and secluded table and then we set off, I suppose you could say, for home. Our bikes took their places in the queue of mostly motorbikes and we waited to board. They let us on before the cars and as the route is an overnight, we went straight to the cabin for a shower and a change of clothes before going down to dine. I did tell you this was a cruise didn't I ? It was very pleasant to be eating as the dusk-lit lumpy ocean moved slowly past the flowers on the table, and I deliberately forgot how much it was costing me !!

The rest of the return journey was a little more mundane, as docking at 12, we cycled along the very attractive Stour estuary to Colchester, which was the closest location to Harwich where we could pick up a one-way car hire to take us home.

Post Script

We had made it. All the planning of the previous year including researching and choosing new bikes, tent, beds and luggage had all paid off. We had taken on and accomplished some of the hardest touring cycling in Norway - the Rallarvegen is certainly the limit of fully loaded road touring bikes - you don't need mountain bikes to do this; it just makes it a bit easier on the tracks, but much harder on the road and this was the majority of what we did.

There is nothing obvious that we would have changed. The wheels didn't break - 700c Rigida Grizzly on XT, 36 spokes 3 cross always felt strong and dependable, as well as fast on the road - Andy Blance and I agree on this. We both had too much warm clothing, but northern Norway can turn cold even in the summer.

Our inexpensive Vango tent performed like a dream and our only comment relates to its limited ventilation. At 2.4 kg it accommodated all our bike bags, two beds, and took all the weather Norway threw at it with aplomb. We also used the excellent Exped Downmats. These are the biz - don't compromise, give the rest away and get these, they are the best available. Quite simply, nothing else will do. We did have punctures, eventually traced to just one faulty Continental inner-tube. We also had a number of chain breaks.

We were seriously abused by insects all along the way, but no more than you would be on Exmoor or the Highlands of Scotland. The only exception to this is the type of horse fly which resides in the northern part of Norway. This thing looks like a bee, as it has stripes, so one is unwilling to whack it when it bites, which feels like a sting. They are an accomplished pest and are very persistent. A good insect repellent which works for you is necessary, although I found nothing which did. So I'm still scratching. As with any wild country, we had to check for ticks - they generally get friendly with Susan, but one did take a fancy to me.

Norway is horrendously expensive so we set our sights lower down the consumer spectrum, cooking for ourselves and largely staying out of anywhere that cost money ! Prices for lots of things seem very arbitrary, and the prices are not always displayed. Norwegians are scrupulously honest and expect total honesty, too. They leave bikes unlocked all over the place, and often leave cars, engines running, unoccupied while they shop in the foodmarket ! This is excellent for a cycle-tourist, as you can leave things unlocked knowing that your bar-bag won't be raided for money and passport. We regularly came upon honesty cafes, where the coffee, tea, biscuits are left for you to help yourself and somehow to pay the appropriate money. We took 17 ferries in Norway, and all were good value. Most of the shorter ones cost about 30 NOK (£3.50) per person, bikes free. Sometimes we would not be charged at all.

I have many memories to take with me but the two which endure the most are the orange midnight sunlight striking one of the rocky Seven Sister mountains to the south east of our campsite at Bodo after one of the most striking days of my life, and the snow-capped rocky peaks of the north set against a strikingly blue sky all reflected in deep still water. Yes, Norway is indeed a memorable country. If you've not been, then you know what you have to do.

Ted Gameson

Lofoten from Bodo Ferry at 11pm 5 July 2012

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