A Travellerspoint blog

From Stavanger to Kristiansand

Nearing the end

semi-overcast

After mulling whether I would have worked in a sardine factory had I grown up in Stavanger, it was time to take Bobik along the North Sea Cycle Route 1 (Nordsjøruta) following the south-west coast of Norway. My start was Stavanger and my end was Kristiansand, some 260 km distance. And over eight days it entailed some of the toughest cycling I had encountered in Norway.

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The terrain along the well-marked cycle path from Stavanger, through Sandnes and Figgjo, was moderately flat. After a quick stop at the Figgjo pottery factory, I ventured through Algård and moved to the coast. I whizzed over rolling hills, through small hamlets, past red farm buildings, a patchwork of fields of crops, rectangular bales of hay evenly spaced in the fields, and herds of cows and sheep generating a deeply rich organic smell.

To the coast

To the coast

The cycle path along Rv44 took me along the scenic Jæren coastal region through the towns of Varhaug, Vigrestad and Brusand. Norway is usually associated with mountains and fjords, but there are stretches of crescent shaped sandy and pebble beaches all along the south-west coast. I never broke out into a sweat and never had to count my pedal strokes as an incentive to get up a hill. It was what cycling should be like.

Coastline Joeren region

Coastline Joeren region

In the township of Hellvik, I ventured into the local Coop grocery store for a fizzy drink, a cold cappuccino drink and some nibbles.

‘If you like nature go on the cycle path to Egersund’ suggested the young lass taking my money. ‘Many people bike here. There are some up and down, but ok. It’s not paved but how do you say – um – small stones.’

It seemed an excellent idea. The North Sea cycle path was the road at this point with a reasonable amount of traffic and no shoulder. I turned off at the designated sign. I should have stayed on the road and risked the traffic.

The path was a well maintained gravel track but more suited to a mountain bike and the ups most certainly got me. The hills, although short, were terribly steep and I could not get any traction on my city slicker tyres and with the weight of the bike, my feet kept slipping on the gravel. I was literally sliding backwards. I tried walking on the grass next to the path, but that was just as slippery. I tried to zig-zag across the path, but to no avail. Finally, there were three times when I had no hope of pushing my bike up the hill so I had to take my gear off my bike, push my bike to the top of the hill, trudge down the hill, huff my gear up the hill, load up and take off again.

My 7.8 kilometre shortcut took me near three hours to complete but the scenery made up for the cycling pain. The track passed through thick, lushly green birch forest and cut into the side of an exuded magma mountain overlooking the ocean. Small coves sheltered traditional red boat houses and occasionally a small fishing vessel bopped on its mooring.

Outside Egersund

Outside Egersund

Arriving in Egersund, I headed to the Steinsnes NAF Camping Ground located about three kilometres to the north of Egersund, set up my tent on a grass patch, had a shower, gorged down a bar of chocolate and collapsed for the day.

Two sunny days in Egersund gave my body a rest as my knee was twinging. I endured a haircut that was too close to a mullet hairdo, and slowly meandered through the neat and tidy streets and town square. A lot of white paint is used in Norwegian towns and cities.

Egersund was a lovely town to explore. It lies nestled on the shores of the Fotlandsvatnet Estuary, the ocean end of the Lunde River. A flourishing herring and mackerel fishery in the 19th century contributed to the growth of the town. In 1843 the town was rebuilt after being gutted by fire and most of the buildings in the Old Town date from this period.

A cultural trail with placards describing the town history wove in and out of the white painted wood houses and along the shores of the harbour. I passed at least ten different architectural styles: Art Nouveau, Neoclassic, and late Empire. Tourists were at a minimum, so it was easy to get around, popping in and out of quaint shops and cafés and sitting in sheltered courtyards. I was happy to inhale the ambiance of the place: the almond crescent pastry slathered in a chocolate mouse and topped with smooth dark chocolate was a luscious delight.

A short trek to the top of the Arstadfjelltoppen gave me a bird’s eye view of the city stretching to the far beyond of the North Sea.

Egersund

Egersund

One of the joys of cycling is being able to stop just about anywhere you want, be chatty and be spontaneous. It’s amazing what you can discover. I left Egersund, rested, on a day of soft blue sky, heading for Flekkesfjord following Rv44. Before leaving town, I stopped in the tourist bureau to get a map but the office was conveniently closed. However, a gentleman in the adjacent office suggested I visit Jøssingfjord Tunnel which I was not aware of. Intriguingly, I was informed that ‘you can camp in the tunnel in hammocks.’

Not far outside of Egersund, I came across a stone statue by artist Stein Knudsen denoting the amphidromic point of Egersund. This is an oceanographic phenomenon which only occurs in certain places on planet Earth. At Egersund, waves crossing the English Channel meet with waves from North Scotland and the waves neutralize each other resulting in a point of zero tide – that is, there is no variation between high tide and low tide. The ocean does not move in and out, up or down. And yes, the ocean was flat and still.

Statue at Amphidromic Point

Statue at Amphidromic Point

My first stop of the day, after dealing with a modicum of moderate hills, was Hauge, a small town with a classy café. ‘You must go to Sogndalstrand – not many tourists at the moment and much history’ declared the owner of the café.

I made the side-track and cycled to the historical fishing village some 2.5 km outside of Hauge. And what a delightful place. The quaint, mainly white wooden houses with a spattering of red and ochre warehouses lined the main street, some jutting out over the estuary. Most date back to the 18th and 19th century, the oldest built in 1831.

It was a thriving village in the 1870s with shops, bakeries, pubs and a prison. Salmon fishing in the river was vital for the village and the average weight of a fish was 6 kg. By the early 1990s the fishing industry disappeared with the salmon and herring, and the town shut down. The buildings were eventually resurrected in the mid-1990s and put under a preservation order in 2005, the only town in Norway to have such status. Today, it’s a quiet place where cars are not allowed - you have to park your car on the edge of the village and walk. Many houses are residential, but some are shops, galleries, boutique hotels or restaurants all lined with a profusion of pots with colourful flowers.

Sogndalstrand

Sogndalstrand

The going then got really tough for the next two days. After leaving Hauge, my aim was to reach Jøssingfjord Fjord before nightfall and as with anything in Norway that suggests a fjord, there was going to be a steep incline and breathtaking descent.

Not far out of Hauge I pushed my bike about 6 km up the hill stopping for a lunch of crackers, banana and seed crackers at the turnoff to the Motorcentre Norway. Luckily there was very little traffic on the road and I kept remembering what my guide said when I climbed Mt Kenya: ‘Slowly, slowly’. And I was doing it slow.

I was pedalling through the Magma Global Geopark, a geographic area in southwest Norway, recognized by UNESCO for its unique and important geology, and cultural history. This was the area where an ancient mountain chain that was once higher than the Himalayas was formed from molten magma about 1.5 billion years ago. As the mountains eroded, the molten magma solidified and crystalized into a rock called anorthosite, the same rock that is found on the surface of the moon. Today, I cycled along a road surrounded by a landscape of giant dark grey boulders looming behind a scattering of small clear lakes.

Magma Global Geopark

Magma Global Geopark

About 49 km from Hauge, in the late afternoon, I finally arrived at the viewing point at the top of the mountain overlooking Jøssingfjord. This fjord was the site of the Altmark affair which precipitated the invasion of Norway by Germany. On 16 February 1940, Captain Philip Vian, on Churchill’s orders, took the British destroyer Cossack into Jøssingfjord. He attacked and boarded the German tanker Altmark. During the skirmish, 299 British sailors (captured in the South Atlantic) were liberated from the Altmark while eight German soldiers were killed. This incident caused Hitler a great deal of angst who then pushed for Operation Weserübung to commence to ensure that Norway did not fall into the hands of the British.

Sunrise Jossingfjord

Sunrise Jossingfjord

And this was where the magic occurred which made the exertion worth it. I cruised the short distance from the viewpoint to the entrance of the Jøssingfjord Tunnel which is actually two tunnels. The newer road for vehicles passes through a tunnel cut into the rock along the west side of the mountain. However, running parallel to the new tunnel is the original tunnel built in 1921. A change in road specifications and larger vehicles meant the original tunnel was too narrow and another tunnel had to be constructed. The original tunnel is now a bike passage about 100 m long, dotted with open holes in the rock where you can look into the U-shaped valley surrounded by steep, craggy mountains dropping to the narrow fjord below.

Entrance to Jøssingfjord

Entrance to Jøssingfjord

A slab of flat rock weighing a hell of a lot sitting on boulders with matching stone benches had been set up in the tunnel as a table fit for a Viking king and his clan. I sat at the table and viewed the valley looking through one of the holes in the wall of the tunnel and despite the tonnes of rock over my head, it was a prime spot to set up my tent. It’s also possible to spend the night sleeping inside the tunnel in hammocks which you suspend from cleats drilled into the walls of the tunnel, but this required pre-planning and a booking.

Inside Jøssingfjord cycling tunnel

Inside Jøssingfjord cycling tunnel

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I was awoken from a deep sleep in the middle of the night by a series teeth rattling, bellowing booms. The sound reverberated through the tunnel. My tent shook. My first thought was that there had been an earthquake as the air and rock around me shuttered but when the sleep haze left my brain a few moments later, I realized the booms were from blasting being carried out by the titanium ore mine across the valley.

I left my tunnel home before daybreak, having to wake the Italian couple who had driven to the tunnel for the experience of sleeping in the hammocks. I cruised down the windy hill from the tunnel, passing ‘Helleren’, two small wooden houses dating back to the 1700s, tucked under an overhanging cliff.

Helleren

Helleren

And then…. the day turned out to be THE hardest cycling day which left me shattered. I passed through a very short tunnel next to the dock on the shore of Jøssingfjord and met my first major ascent and descent into the fishing hamlet of Åna-Sira which sits on the shore of Lundevatnet.

Åna-Sira

Åna-Sira

Sweaty and exhausted, I indulged a cold Starbuck’s cappuccino drink and pastry at the small shop chatting with Appolina, the owner.

‘That was a really hard cycle from Jøssingfjord’ I stated the obvious. ‘Does it get easier to Flekkefjord?’

‘No, it gets steeper’ was the sanguine response.

I shored up my strength with another pastry and set off, crossing the bridge and up the hill which was at an 11 degree slope. My disposition did not improve every time a Tour de France type, of which there were a few, came whizzing downhill wearing lycra, riding his ultralight carbon bicycle carrying only a water bottle. I was not built for speed, but made for persistence which I badly needed that day.

Not far out of Åna-Sira, I found the road so steep that I had to push my bike counting in 30 step increments, taking a rest and continuing. It was a hard, demonic slog.

Bobik felt incredibly heavy. My legs felt like lead. My head was floating. I was walking so slowly that my odometer didn’t even register my speed. I was near despair at one point when I thought I was at the top of the hill only to see the rise continue even higher when I got around the curve in the road. I had a moment of mania thinking I was not going to make it and I needed to turn back. After a foot stomp and short self-pep talk where I told myself I knew how hard it was going to be to back track but didn’t know much farther forward I had to slog, I took a deep breath, downed a chunk of chocolate, gulped some water and continued pushing upwards. I finally hit the top of the mountain after more than 7 km of pushing. The road leveled out and despite having to battle a strong headwind, I passed numerous small lakes and rock outcropping, and masses of blueberry bushes which were on the side of a cliff - I could only ogle as I could not reach them - until I finally descended into Flekkefjord along a narrow, spaghetti road.

Flekkefjord

Flekkefjord

I sauntered into the charming Grand Hotell in the early afternoon, my face throbbing from sunburnt and windburn, and although the hotel was expensive, I was grateful for the shower and bed. I was very tired, took an aspirin and a hydrotablet, and took a short power nap wondering how my Dad managed the hills on a bike with no gears.

Flekkefjord is a small, old-world town settled in the early 1600s along the protected waters of Byfjorden. It was a neat and tidy harbour town nestled amongst high hills, built on both sides of the narrow waters connecting Flekkefjord with Grisefjord.

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It did not take me long to stroll through the narrow streets of Hollenderbyen (the old Dutch Town) and the newer centre of town. The seabed of the Flikkestøbuken is a historical and conservation jackpot as 17 sailing ships of different kinds, canons, anchors and other maritime paraphernalia lie on the bottom. The octagonal Flekkefjord Church provided a change from the rectangular, glaringly white wood houses. That evening, I indulged in an expensive meal of wild salmon with boiled potatoes and carrots. Simple, may sound bland, but I found it delicious.

I left Flekkefjord on a sunny warm day and instantly hit a pushing hill followed by a figure eight roundabout in which I got instantly lost. I very much liked cycling through small towns despite too many times taking me an hour to find the centrum and a nano-cycle to cycle through the centrum. I would get lost in a one street town, so getting lost on the figure 8 was frustrating, but not surprising. I finally found the Route 1 cycle sign on E39. Trying to stay off the main road, I made a couple of side-tracks along manicured dirt tracks with no hills, the first following the Old Main Road of Western Norway, built in the 1830s, biking through Gaupås tunnelen and Fosseland Tunnelen, both passing under birch forest of shimmering green.

After passing a few sort tunnels, I arrived in Feda, a picturesque village consisting of a store, school, a stone church and red houses lining Fedafjorden. My plan was to cycle to the town of Apta and then south to the coastal town of Farsund, but I got totally snookered by tunnels and a bridge over Fedafjorden. I was tempted for a nano-second to ignore the ‘no cyclist’ sign at the mouth of the tunnel, but I realized that I would have to pass through two tunnels and a suspension bridge, all banned to cyclists. The only way I could get to Farsund was to cycle up Fedafjorden to Liknes and then cycle back down the other side of the fjord. A detour of some 100 km so that was not going to happen.

Feda

Feda

Totally losing the Cycle Route 1 signs near Feda, I followed road 465 that cut through a broad valley through Øye, Liknes to Kvinesdal. It was easy peddling as it was flat, but the ride and the functional towns were uninspiring. Hills rose to the east and west, I passed some pulp mills, agricultural land and navigated through two short tunnels. When you are in first gear cycling on a flat surface, grunting, you know that the headwind is strong. And it was as I had a case of the wobbles.

Valley to Liknes

Valley to Liknes

It took me near 1 ½ hours to get to the top of the hill outside Kvinesdal. But my reward was camping next to one of the scattering of small lakes on the plateau. One of my best camping spots. It was dead calm and I set up my tent next to a picnic table on the edge of the still lake between two small birch trees. I took my shoes and socks off, luxuriating in the soft green grass. Neither my socks nor gloves ever shared my tent with me – the pong too great.

Last camping spot

Last camping spot

I sedately ate my dinner of seed crackers, brown cheese, smoked salmon and chocolate until the midges drove me into my tent.
I was nearing the end of my cycling in Norway and was ready for the rest of the trip to finish quickly – probably because I was so close to Kristiansand and I was eager to take the ferry to Denmark. The cycle to Rom and to Vigeland varied from easy, to dastardly and dangerous along E39, annoyingly having to side-track around a tunnel along a weed-infested track with a vertical drop to the water and needing to push up the occasional steep hill.

The stress melted when, in late afternoon, I relaxed on the veranda of my bungalow at Solatrand Camping, located about 10 km outside Vigeland on the Sniksfjorden, Diet Coke in hand. After some reconnoitering and chatting to guests, I decided to take a bus from Vigeland to Kristiansand which was a prudent move.

‘You cannot cycle to Kristiansand. E39 very stressful and dangerous, there are non-cycling tunnels to navigate around, and much road and tunnel construction work being carried out on a new expressway that would stop you from getting through’ explained Eve, the manager of the camping ground as she puttered inside my bungalow making sure I had milk and towels.

One cannot disregard local advice. I did not regret the decision to take the bus to Kristiansand when, from the comfort of the bus, I saw not only the extent of construction but the cycle path end at a wire fence in the middle of nowhere and be no more.

The end of the journey: From Kristiansand to Hirthals

After cycling for 10 days straight, I only wanted rest by the time I reached Kristiansand. I meandered for two days, indulging in my last Norwegian kanalbolles until I caught the Fjordland Ferry to Hirthals.

This was the end of my bike-packing with Bobik through Norway. I had not expected so much rain, such big hills or incessant traffic. Yet, for my first bike-pack, it was exhilarating, tedious, challenging and adventurous. I was introduced to kanalbolles, met other adventurous souls, tested my stamina and viewed some stunning landscape.

Despite being the country of my birth, I did not develop a personal link to Norway but appreciated the places that my parents had visited, and the splendor of this country and its people. And my mind boggled at the limited photos my parents had taken compared to the well over 2,000 digital photos I took on my bike trip.

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A Few Helpful Hints

1. Buying a bus ticket

You don’t have to pre-book a bus ticket but there is a risk that the bus may be full. You can pay for a ticket when you board the bus. If you do want to pre-book, as there is no one bus company for the entire country, the first thing you have to figure out is the name of the local bus company and then download the app.

An added expense is that some of the buses charge 50% of the cost of your ticket to carry your bike.

2. Expensive Norway

Norway is expensive. To manage costs, I free camped as much as possible. I had very little trouble finding nooks and crannies where I could pitch my tent for the night and these were the places I preferred. Sometimes, not necessarily the most scenic spots, but big enough to pitch my tent.
I would take rests from camping by staying in cabins, hotels or pensions. Most of the rooms provided by the accommodation I stayed in were basic, space efficient (that is, small) but clean. It was not unusual not have a kettle or TV provided.

There are innumerable campsites throughout the country where, for a small fee, you can pitch your tent and access a shower (usually for an additional 10 kroner) and cooking facilities. Most of these campsites also rent small, basic cabins.

I carried my own food most of the time. Breakfast and lunch were a smorgasbord: seed crackers, brown cheese, reindeer salami, carrots and apples. And chocolate. Dinners were mainly pre-made backpacking meals where all you need to add is water. I don’t recommend any of the meals that have ‘meat’ which was always as tasteless and tough as leather. I found Real Tumat, a Norwegian brand of dried meals, bordering on delicious.

3. Google maps: directions

Google maps did not like tunnels, fjords or islands. It throws farts out if it confronts any of these attributes and suggests routes both long and impossible. To get around this, I would use the car icon instead.

4. Useful websites

For weather, I used the app No.yr (www.yr.no) which gave me very accurate 10 day forecasts. To figure out the status of the road tunnels, I depended the Cycletourer website – www.cycletourer.co.uk

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Posted by IvaS 05:23 Archived in Norway Tagged cycling Comments (0)

From Lom to Stavanger

Mountains, fjords and tunnels seen mainly by bus

sunny

After two days enjoying blue sky and the warmth of the sun, the next stretch of my adventure was to cycle on Route 55 from Lom to the town of Skjolden on the northern tip of Lustrafjord passing through Jotunheimen National Park.

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Had I not by chance read before I left Lom that Jotunheimen meant ‘Home of the Giants’ and that the highest pass in Northern Europe (1,434 m) was located along this road, I would have happily whizzed my way towards the national park in pure ignorant bliss. Instead, I took the local bus further south to the town of Sogndalsfjøra and discovered how badly tested and totally exhausted I would have been had I cycled to Skjolden.

Eric was my more mature than young bus driver and I was the only passenger. Catching the bus when I did was good timing as the bus was running only for another four days when it was scheduled to stop service for the winter. I sat in the seat opposite Eric while he gave me a very enjoyable running history of many of the farms in the valley.

Passing a red farmhouse, I was informed that ‘this was the farm that once belonged to the King. It is now a very large dairy farm with lots of cows.’

‘And that monument' Eric pointing to a tall slab of brown granite, ‘was commissioned by the government but the artist had collaborated with the Germans so the government didn’t want it. The owner of the resort liked it, bought it and here it now stands.’

‘Ah – here we have a rock that fell off the mountain three years ago, but difficult to move, so they, how do you say, chip away so traffic can get around it’ as we sidestep a megalith of pure granite about four metres in diameter and height lying on the road.

Eric chatted away happily until we started the uphill climb along Sognefjellet Road (Route 55) into the national park. This was when I made a note to myself: there are some things you should not bother to do and bike-packing through Jotunheimen National Park in this lifetime was one of them.

Once we started the ascent to the summit at Sognefjell, Eric stopped talking. The road was constructed 1939 and provided an important link between the coast and inland areas. Salt and fish were transported to the east, butter, pitch and leather were transported to the west. Now, it is an artery used by a lot of tourists.

The expansive alpine meadows, lakes and craggy mountains piercing the cloud streaked sky as we moved ever upwards were stunning yet bleak. There are over 60 glaciers in the national park and 275 reach over 2,000 m.

Jotuheimen National Park

Jotuheimen National Park

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The higher we climbed, the road increasingly became a narrow, single lane strip of bitumen with no centre line. It was as if the engineers dropped a string of spaghetti and decided that how it fell was to be the route of the road resulting in hairpin bends and more winds than a ball of wool. It was not a road for the fainthearted. Buses, trucks, cars, motorhomes had to pull over, sometimes backing up, as the road was not wide enough for two vehicles to pass each other. I would have had to push my bike up for kilometres contending with traffic and cope with cramped hands, worrying whether my brakes would hold, on the way down.

Road out of Jotunheimen National Park

Road out of Jotunheimen National Park

Eric and I made a rest stop at Sognefjellshytta Mountain Lodge located at the highest point of the road. While sipping a hot chocolate, I crunched along the gravel floor viewing an art exhibition marvelling at the contemporary architecture of the new entrance building which had been constructed between two existing buildings. It was an exquisite creation made of triangular sections of laminated timber and glass giving a kaleidoscope view of the mountains and sky.

Sognefjellshytta Lodge

Sognefjellshytta Lodge

Taking the bus from Sognadalsfjøra was the most practical way to get to Bergen purely because of the number of tunnels between the two places, most of which I was banned from travelling through on bicycle. I had a short two hour wait for my bus which gave me more than enough time to wander around the town. Docked in the Sogndalsfjorden was a cruise ship that held some 6,000 passengers who descended into the town of 4,000 people for a two hour lark. Sogndalsfjorden is an offshoot of Sognefjord, known as the King of Fjords because at 4,291 feet it is one of the deepest fjords in the world and is very popular with the cruise set.

Viking Ship Sognaldalfjord

Viking Ship Sognaldalfjord

As good luck or bad luck would have it, there had been a major traffic accident in one of the tunnels on the main highway to Bergen. After a discussion between the driver and the main office of the bus company, a decision was made to divert the bus along a different route rather than wait. The bus trip took an extra two hours but the major detour took us through hamlets, small towns, small hydropower plants, over the plateau of Hallingskarvet National Park, skirting Hardangerfjord, and through innumerable tunnels that I would not have otherwise seen.

This route was also my introduction to an engineering feat I had never encountered before. After entering a tunnel, hewn in rock, we came to a large roundabout in the tunnel itself, made a left turn, popped out of the cliff on the sheer cliff edge of a fjord passing over a suspension bridge, popped back into the cliff on the other side of the fjord, came to another roundabout, hung a left turn and finally exited into blue sky again. Impressive.

Because of the delay, I arrived in Bergen after midnight and having no sense of direction in the dark and not being able to hear Google's map directions because of the din of traffic, I cycled in circles for a while until I found the rail line and followed it to my hotel.

Bergen provided me with a respite from cycling for three days while I strolled the streets, visited the shops in historical Bryggen, hiked up the hill behind the city and indulged in freshly made fishcakes on the waterfront. It was then time to enjoy a pleasant and relaxing bus ride to Stavanger as tunnel restrictions would have again made the cycle a long and dangerous one.

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I was born in Stavanger and my parents worked in StavangerFlint A/S, a Norwegian company that produced ceramic tableware. The company developed a flint - clay mixture using a recipe invented in England around 1750 by Josiah Wedgwood. They merged with their competitor, Figgjo Fajanse A/S in 1968. By the 1970s Stavanger Flint no longer existed as production was completely taken over by Figgjo who later moved their factory to the town of Figgjo, south of Stavanger.

We lived in company housing in Hillevåg, a borough located to south-west of Stavanger city centre adjacent to a natural habour. The area was a light industrial area since the early 18th century with a diverse array of activities occurring including shipyards, mills grinding grain into flour and sailing ships transporting barrels of salted herring.

My brother had located a map of the original site of the company and I walked to the area which was still a light industrial area with port facilities and modern factories. My parents must have greatly enjoyed the million dollar view to the east overlooking the offshore islands of Amoyfjorden, the mouth of Lysefjorden peeping out from the northeast.

Stavanger was teaming with tourists and their smartphones as two humungous, smoke belching cruise ships had disgorged their passengers and a running marathon through the city was being held. Jostling other visitors, I strolled along Fargegata Street resplendent with brightly painted buildings and flower pots brimming over with colourful flowers. The sun persevered over cloudy sky so sunglasses were needed to reduce the glare of the rows of brilliantly white, historical houses in Gamle (Old) Stavanger.

Stavanger

Stavanger

Street in Gamle

Street in Gamle

Stavanger cat

Stavanger cat

Stavanger letterbox

Stavanger letterbox

Stavanger letterboxes

Stavanger letterboxes


Before Norway became a powerhouse of oil and gas, half of Norway’s sardine factories were in Stavanger. I rather like sardines, particularly if they are smoked and infused with chili, but, as with cod, I learned more about processing sardines in the Canning Museum than I really needed.

On my way back to my hotel, I walked up the hill to Vålberg Tower, the former watchman’s tower, built between 1850 and 1853. The tower was used to warn of fires in the town by the tolling of bells and firing of cannons. The last watch was carried out in 1922 but the site is still the highest point in Stavanger proffering panoramic views of the old town, and the offshore islands and mountains.

Valberg Tower

Valberg Tower

Stavanger

Stavanger


View from Valberg Tower

View from Valberg Tower

Part 6: From Stavanger to Kristiansand

Posted by IvaS 10:46 Archived in Norway Tagged cycling Comments (0)

From Bodo to Lom

From Fjord to Mountain

semi-overcast

The wind was still in the morning, but the rain was a downpour. I was booked to take the ferry to Bodø in the early morning and navigated the steep gravel road from the camping ground to the ferry. I huddled in the warm, but steamy waiting room for 2 1/2 hours with dozens of other travelers – most being backpackers.

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The ferry crossed the mouth of Vestfjorden and the Moskenstraumen maelstrom, the world’s most powerful tidal current, and what a crossing it turned out to be. We travelled through open ocean, the wind whipping up near 2 m waves making the ride very lumpy bumpy. Rain slashed the windows at full pelt, the ship roiled with the waves and we were shrouded in mist. There was no middle or far distance – I could not see much past the orange lifesaving buoy hanging on the railing. A great number of people were seasick holding on to their sickie bags with clenched fists close to their chests as if hoarding their bags of gold.

I spent three days in Bodø luxuriating in hot showers and a comfortable bed as I needed to rest and regain my get-up-and-go. As with so many other towns in northern Norway, Bodø had been completely bombed and levelled in WWII. It was rebuilt with functional architecture so the town was not enthralling nor imaginative and there was not a lot to do. Tim, the American hiker I met on the Nusfjord ferry, was coincidently staying at the same hotel so we spent breakfasts and dinners sorting out the world and figuring out our next moves until he put on his backpack and continued on his walk south. In between dodging persistent rain showers while seeing the limited sights, I puttered and indulged in kanalbolles and cappuccinos in the warmth of the only café in town for another day.

Kanalbolle and cappa

Kanalbolle and cappa

I had planned on cycling down the coastal Kystriksveien route from Bodø to Brønnoysund but squelched that plan when I saw the 10-day weather forecast. I did not have the fortitude to tackle narrow roads, heavy traffic and more rain. Bodø is the northern most terminus of Norway’s railway system so I decided to move inland where the weather was better and view the scenery to Trondheim from the comfort of a seat on the Arctic Nordland Line.

My only serious accommodation challenge during my entire trip occurred in Trondheim. The Arctic Bike Race was being held and I could not find one available room. I had no idea where I was going to sleep as the train slipped past fjords, dense pine forests, alpine meadows, mountains with dashings of snow and crossing the metal orb marking the Arctic Circle.

I reached Trondheim at 10:15 at night. This was mid- August so the Midnight Sun was past its prime: the sun had set by 9 pm and it was dark by the time I disembarked the train. I initially kipped out in a dark cranny in the train station waiting room, but was kicked out at midnight by some very apologetic security guards who told me nicely, but not helpfully, ‘the station opens again at 6 in the morning.' Pushing my bike, I roamed around the dock area where the train and bus stations were located, peering nervously over my shoulder at shadows. I finally found a small, hidden nook in between a trailer holding temporary fencing and a loading bay in a corner of the open bus terminal. This spot was out of the mainstay of the bus terminal so I felt it would hide me and my bike, and where I would be safe for the night.

I did manage some sleep, but it was not a restful night. I laid down on my sleeping pad and although cold, I only wrapped myself in my down jacket for a degree of warmth and to make a quick getaway, if necessary. Occasionally a group of rather loud people would saunter through the terminal and I would watch, peering around the corner of the trailer, but I was noticed by no one. I packed my bike when there was just enough light to see and made my way to the train station where I thawed out and had a bad, but reviving cup of coffee and fruit bun when it finally opened.

Trondheim

Trondheim

Negotiating my way out of Trondheim was a challenge as there was no direct route out of the city. I had to wind my way through the university grounds and a number of major construction sites for a new road and a new tunnel.

But once outside the city, cycling to Støren was sheer bliss. The sun was out, it was warm verging on hot and I slathered on sunscreen for the first time in weeks. The old E6 had been kept as a bike path so I did not have to worry about traffic for about 50 km. The hills surrounding the valley of the Gaula River were manageable, and I passed through forest, a tableau of fields of ripening wheat and green grass ready for mowing.

The ‘Coffee and Waffles’ sign in front of a cluster of red farm buildings stopped me quick smart. I’m sure the place had a name but I could not see a sign. But I do know that it is an historical site where you can roam in and out of the buildings built in the late 1800s for a few hours on Sundays. I was invited in by the host for tongue numbing black coffee and traditional waffles with jam. I smiled more than chatted with an elderly gentleman who lived nearby and knew very limited English. ‘English was not taught in my day. Now they start learning in grade one’.

Cycle path to Støren

Cycle path to Støren

The coffee was discretely poured onto the ground - hoping it did not burn the lawn – and I toured the farmhouses getting a small insight into the ways of living and farming before electricity and diesel, and continued up the valley to Støren and Fagerhaug.

Once past the town of Støren I visited some historical churches and faced some tough cycling over the next three days. The incline was a continuous up as I ventured deeper into the valley to a final altitude of some 886 m. I made a bad mistake at one point by taking a side road to get out of the traffic on the E6. The road started as asphalt but turned into a very steep gravel road up which I had to push my bike. The hill was so steep that I could get very little traction and I and my bike kept sliding. It took all my strength to get the bike up the hill. I had to keep going up as it would have been dangerous and a nightmare to go back down the hill. The chain of my bike slipped off twice and my bike fell over once. I passed through an area totally devoid of trees due to logging and was very happy when I finally descended into Fagerhaug. In hindsight, I would rather have chanced the traffic.

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I did not get a reprieve from the unceasing incline and was headbutted by a strong headwind as I moved up the valley. Flat stretches were rare, my face throbbed from the exertion and there were few places where I could stop to rest. It was not a cycle friendly stretch of road.

The valley changed from agricultural land to heavily forested hills dotted with houses to stark alpine meadows as I progressed higher into the valley. I was entering a region where traditional wood houses had garden meadows and trees on the roof. It was mountain troll land.

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Torvtak, sod roofs on wooden houses, have been a feature in Norway for millennium as people used whatever material was locally available. Most houses were made of logs so a sod roof compressed the logs making the walls more draught proof and provided insulation against the cold. Several layers of waterproof birch bark were first laid down on gently sloping wood roof boards. Sod was cut from the pasture and placed on top of the birch. Whatever was growing in the sod ended up on the roof so it was a veritable hodgepodge of grass, flowers, moss and even small trees sprouting skywards. No two roofs were alike.

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On day three, after pumping my pedals for some 45 km in intermittent rain and descending fog, I decided to try my luck getting a room in the historical cluster of buildings called Kongsvold Fjeldstue.

Kongsvold Fjeldstue

Kongsvold Fjeldstue

I must have looked destitute and terribly bedraggled as the clerk kindly shifted people around and found me a single room in which I was able to stay for three nights. The weather forecast for the next day was solid rain but clearing the following day. This would give me the opportunity rest, go mindless watching YouTube videos, read, do some laundry and, having never seen a musk ox, go on a Musk Oxen safari in Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjell National Park.

Musk ox are known for their bulky build, thick fur and pungent musk smell, the adult males weighing in at some 450 kg. Although now native only to the Arctic, they were first introduced into the Douvrefjell Mountains in 1932 but became extinct during WWII. They were reintroduced in 1947 and the musk ox we were seeking, Norway’s only population, were descendants of these individuals.

Kim was our guide, the group consisting of 25 people. I rather dislike groups but Kim was the only person who had an inkling of where the musk ox were so we religiously followed her up into the mountains through alpine vegetation, getting our feet wet when she inadvertently led us into some bogs. We hiked cross-country for about three kilometres when we finally saw a small herd of musk ox consisting of two males, five females and a calf. The herd were at least one kilometre away on the other side of a ravine, so the best way to view it was through binoculars or they would just have been brown blobs.

Musk ox from afar

Musk ox from afar

We got no sniff of the musk smell, and despite being told to stand still if threatened or attacked we watched the musk ox do nothing for about ½ hour. The wind and cold finally defeated me and I headed back to the warmth of the lodge. Going back down, I stayed on the trail rather than go cross country. I was quite surprised that we were guided through sensitive alpine vegetation in a national park rather than following the well-marked trails.

Dovrefjell alpine area

Dovrefjell alpine area

Kongsvoll is said to be the cradle of Norwegian mountain botany. Georg Christian Oeder first studied the alpine plant life of the Douvrefjell Mountain range in 1756. Others followed and in more recent time, the botanist Thekla Resvoll laid out a botanical garden in 1924. Although moved from the original site at the Kongsvoll Railway Station to the current site on the hill behind Kongsvoll Fjeldstue, it was an opportunity for me to wander along the marked paths and observe some of the 250 species of alpine plants in the botanical wonderland of Kongsvoll Botaniske Fjellhage (botanical garden).

There were only a few fluffy clouds prancing across the sky when I loaded up Bobik the next morning and headed for the town of Dombås. The receptionist warned me about wind, but I thought nothing of it. I had been battling a headwind too many other times so it was nothing new in my brain. But there is a headwind and there is a gale force headwind.

Highway E6 followed a broad, open valley dotted with farmhouses which first ran parallel to the Svone River. While cycling past Vålåsjøen and Ausjåen lakes at an altitude of 936 m, I was buffeted by winds recorded at 11 m/sec (39.6 km/hour or 24.6 miles per hour) – according to the electronic wind warning sign on the side of the road – that hit me at a cross angle. The wind blew continuously but often a strong gust would blow and I would wobble when the wind hit the solid, broad side of me and my panniers. I had to cycle very slowly, stop often to regain my nerves and really concentrate so as to not lose my balance or go skittering across the road into the lake. It was eyes only on the road. Caravans, buses and big trucks passing by at great speed creating their own drafts of wind did not help.

When I reached the lookout at Fokstumyra, I was warmed by the sun and rewarded with an arresting view of the edge of the Dovrefjell Sunndalsfjella National Park plateau, the Dombås valley and the road snaking some eight kilometres down into the valley.

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I very much liked Dombås. I was able to score a small, comfortable single room cabin at Midskog Camping. The fertile valley was a luxuriant green with houses dotted hither and thither amongst crops of cereal, grass and potatoes, and snow-capped mountains rising in the south. There is little in Dombås itself except for a couple of petrol stations and small shopping centre. It’s really no more than a stopping place for people traveling through to Oslo or engaging in adventure activities in the Gudbrandsdalslågen River valley and surrounding mountains.

The cycle to the town of Lom was a total contrast to the cycle from Kongsvold. I followed the Gudbrandsdalslågen River inhaling the sweet smell of the pine forests as I cruised mainly downhill and along relatively extensive stretches of flat road to the town of Otta.

I arrived in Otta on a Sunday and everything was closed. I was fortunate that the owner of Killi Pensjonat was in the yard when I passed by and I was able to stay in a warm room overlooking the fast flowing Otta River. I was told that ‘many pilgrims stay here’ and I figured that these were mainly the backpackers who were trekking the St Olav’s Trail.

Otta River

Otta River

I was very much looking forward to visiting Lom as this was the town where one of Norway’s largest Norman style stave church was located. Examination of the wood in the oldest part of the church showed that it was probably built in the late 1150s. Various extensions and re-buildings, mainly in the Middle Ages, have expanded the size of the church from a small nave with round windows and bell tower to nearly double its original size. Today I roam through the church in awe with its wood staves and medieval murals adorning the walls, wondering how its construction and workmanship was possible without the aid of our modern tools.

Lom Stave Church

Lom Stave Church

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Part 5: From Lom to Stavanger

Posted by IvaS 05:47 Archived in Norway Tagged cycling Comments (0)

From Narvik through the Lofoten Island

all seasons in one day

I desperately needed a lesson on how to buy a bus ticket in Norway. Each district has its own bus company with its own app. Luckily, Marc, the Generation X son of the owners of the hotel was on break from university and he patiently guided me through the intricacies of identifying the correct company and app.

But I still stuffed up. I successfully booked my ticket to Narvik using the Troms Billett app. However, when I checked the booking later in the evening, a clock showed up on my screen with a box stating ‘Start Ticket’ under the clock. Having a twitchy thumb and not having even an iota of a clue of the consequences, I pressed the box. The clock started counting down to my departure time. A mild panic. I discovered too late that you hit the ‘Start Ticket’ button only one hour prior to your bus departure time otherwise the ticket expires. I had pressed it well over 12 hours ahead which meant my ticket was expired by 0712 the next morning.

A conversation in Norwegian ensued between Christine, the hotel owner, and the bus driver about my imbecilic action, but the driver had no compassion. I was told I had to buy a new ticket as the one on my app was expired. Bugger that I thought. I paid full fare for a ticket that I was determined to use. I loaded my bike and panniers into the hold, got on the bus and took my chances. I arrived in Narvik with nary a question about my ticket and I did not feel the least bit guilty.

Despite the hoop-la about my ticket, I was pleased I took the bus to Narvik. We followed Highway E6 along the coast, taking the ferry across Storfjorden from Olderdalen to Lyngseidet. There was a break in the rain, it was a calm day and I enjoyed the scenery on the deck of the boat as cruised smoothly across the fjord, squinting into the sun’s glare. The bus moved inland from the coast passing through low mountains, some with patches of snow covered with a thick forest of birch trees the valleys dotted with lakes. My fellow seatmate, a chatty PhD student in freshwater biology, regaled me with information about the invertebrates of the alpine lakes, bedazzling me with impressive array of scientific names but little science.

Storfjorden

Storfjorden

The Lofoten Islands create a protective barrier for the funnel shaped Vestfjorden against the ravages of the North Sea. The fjord is pinched in the Børøy Narrows before leading into Ofotfjorden where Narvik sits protectively nestled on the eastern shore.

The Narvik Budget Hotel was my home for three days. The bus rolled into Narvik in glorious weather: sunny, 22 0C and windless. A stunning change from my unremitting rainy days. The location of the hotel, however, was not stunning. It was located halfway up Narvikfjellet Mountain, a short, yet long, one kilometre steep climb from the centre of town, located at the base of the Narvikfjellet Ski Resort.

The next day, on impulse, I bought a ticket for the Arctic Train, the most northerly railway in Norway, which gave me an opportunity to dip my toe into Sweden. There was only a handful of tourists as this train had only started up again after COVID restrictions had been lifted and the business was just beginning to build up again.

Arctic Train

Arctic Train

The Arctic Train transports you 43 kilometres from the Narvik train station at sea level in Norway to the Riksgränsen Station in Sweden. This is the tourist portion of the 398 Ofoten (or Iron Ore Line) which stretches from Narvik to the iron ore town of Kiruna in Sweden.
For eons, one of the key exports from Sweden to Norway was iron ore used for making steel. Prior to 1902, huge deposits were transported from Sweden to the port of Narvik by reindeer drawn sleds which was dangerous and arduous, especially in the winter. Narvik was a crucial port as it was ice-free in the winter so iron ore could be transported year round.

The Ofoten Railway was completed in 1902 using migrant workers from both Norway and Sweden, and over 5,000 people were involved in the construction of the track. Graves still mark the places where men lost their lives during the construction of the railway. Today, electric locomotives pull 68 cars each containing 100 tonnes of ore and pellets with ten trains running each day from Kiruna to Narvik.

The power of the scenery was instant. I scored a seat on the coveted left side of the carriage and immediately outside Narvik we followed the track cleaved into the side of the mountain. We rose high above the impenetrably blue Herjangsfjord which was surrounded by snow clad mountains piercing the cornflower blue sky. We were told if we look closely, we could see the rust-covered wreck of a German destroyer sunk during the Battles of Narvik in 1940. I saw nothing.

Herjangs Fjord

Herjangs Fjord

The train followed the contour of the Hundalen Valley and we passed over seven bridges with drops ending in Hades, chugging through 20 tunnels hewn into the mountain side.

Suddenly, we stopped in the middle of nowhere and one of the daily iron ore trains passed within inches of us, each car filled to overflowing with iron ore. It took a few minutes for the 68 cars to trundle by. We started again and we slowly reached the higher alpine region devoid of trees, dotted with summer houses and small lakes. I suspect a gazillion mosquitoes find an ample supply of blood in summer. We then rolled along into Sweden for a short stop at the Riksgränsen Station in Altso before returning to Narvik.

In 1940, Hitler knew that Norwegian coastal waters and particularly Narvik, were vital for the transport of iron ore from Sweden to the furnaces in Germany. In April 1940, as part of Operation Weserübung, ten German destroyers advanced to the strategic port of Narvik in blizzard conditions, sinking two Norwegian battleships. The next day, five British destroyers arrived and some of the most ruthless battles on sea, air and mountains occurred between the Germans and Allied troops.

As with so many other towns and villages, Narvik remained under German control until 8 May 1945 and was decimated by the Nazis when they retreated.

The Nordland Red Cross War Museum in central Narvik presented exhibitions that told the story of the military campaigns of the Battles of Narvik through a historic collection of photographs and military artefacts. All along Highways E6 and E10, there were roadside memorials and information boards presenting key moments of the various battles.

After a few days of rest and sampling as many kanalbolles as possible, I headed out of Narvik on E6 towards Bjerkvit and the Lofoten Islands. Two shortish tunnels (both conveniently designed with bike paths), over the 1,145 m long Hålogaland Bridge, another shortish tunnel skirting the eastern shore of Ofotfjord and I was in the small town of Bjerkvik. Nothing was open as it was a Sunday but I was happy listening to the peal of the church bells, the myth being that they kept the mountain trolls away, sitting at a table on the shorefront looking across the peaceful fjord towards Narvik.

Halogaland Bridge

Halogaland Bridge

To get out of the mainstream traffic, I headed north along Highway 829 with its manageable inclines, forested mountains and scattering of lakes. Unfortunately, it was almost impossible to access a lake as Privat and No Camping signs were prevalent. Fortunately, the road ran only a few metres away from the edge of one of the larger lakes and leaning my bike on a barrier rail, I wandered to the lake. I took off my shoes and socks, setting the rather pongy items a fair distance away from me, and dipped my feet into the cold water. Snoozing in the tall grass with a wafty breeze, fluffy clouds and the sun warming my body was what I had too little of during the first few weeks of my bike-pack trip.

Lake country Lofoten

Lake country Lofoten

I woke to a nice day – meaning that it did not rain during the night. I had tucked myself into the bushes next to a small hydroelectric plant on Saltvatnet Lake and continued on Highway 829 north to the small settlement of Grov on Grovfjorden. Aside from a three kilometre push up a doozy of a hill along Highway 825 outside of Grov, cycling was uneventful through Tovik and Sandstrand and I only had to navigate roly-poly hills. Despite wishful thinking, no road along the coastline is flat.

Unfortunately, I had to again cycle on E10 when I reached the settlement of Steinsland and Tjeldsund Bridge. This suspension bridge was the first bridge connecting the string of Lofoten Islands. At 1,007 m (3,304 ft) long it crossed the Tjeldsudet Strait which separated the mainland from Hinnøya Island, the fourth largest island in Norway. This bridge formed an arc over the strait with its highest point 41 m (135 ft) above the water. To add to the challenge, the wind indicator showed the wind blowing at 6m/sec (21.6 km per hour, or 13.4 miles per hour) and there was construction occurring at the top of the bridge with only one lane operating. I cycled up the north side of the bridge to the construction cones and stopped behind the barriers. I wanted to take a picture of the strait and the churning water currents below but a neon clad worker put a damper on that idea.

‘Um – ok to go now?’ I ask when the last of the cars from the other direction passed by.

‘Yes, but pedal fast’, was the staid response

After a wet overnight stay in the village of Sandtorg, I headed south along E10 towards the town of Lødingen which sits at the end of a small jagged peninsula jutting into the northern side of Vestfjorden. Along my way, I stopped at the YX Kongwik House of Burger where I sat in a booth with an oleaginous table top. The YX Kongwik was a petrol station that offered greasy, artery clogging take away food and was a busy pit stop for motorists. Despite the condition of the table, I rather enjoyed the chicken burger, sweet potato fries and black coffee while I booked into a hotel in Lødingen using my phone. There were virtually no amenities, grocery stores or cafés on offer once I left Bjerkvik so I was glad of the petrol station and its offerings.

The Lødingen Brygge was a small, picturesque hotel on Vestfjorden. The receptionist was from Ukraine, spoke a sprinkling of English and knew virtually nothing about the town or region. But she did know how to check me in.

Lødingen is a quiet, gentle town lapped by the waters of the fjord, surrounded by mountains sprinkled with snow, with predominately white houses, kids riding bicycles rather than ear to mobile phone, and has the one type of shop I greatly enjoy and which I found in nearly all the settlements, towns and cities I visited: a wool shop of which there are numerous throughout Norway.

Knitting may not be a national sport, but knitting needles are clattered by many women. Garments knitted of silk have been found in Norway dating back to the 1400s. Sweaters were said to have evolved from what was once men’s underwear: nightshirts made in Germany and England, and possibly Denmark, were sold in Norway in the 17th and 18th centuries. As knitting became more commonplace and different types of attire were made, each region copied, modified and created new patterns and motifs.

A world for knitting

A world for knitting

‘The town was busier with more people and shops 10 years ago’, related a woman who had just come out of the frigid water after a swim. ‘Telnor (a telecom business) had an office here but pulled out and as with so many other small towns, there was nothing for younger people to do and families needed work, so many left’.

Swimming at Lodingen

Swimming at Lodingen

I assessed my next move and decided to take the bus to Svolvaer. It was an easy decision. The weather forecast for the next 10 days, according to the website Yr.no, was deplorable, the first hill out of Lødingen was an 11% slope and there were a number of tunnels through which cyclists were banned.

It was a brilliantly pragmatic move. I caught Bus 300 at Vegvesenets Stasjon, about 3 km outside Lødingen. The driver was not happy that he had to contend with a bike. As with all my bus trips, I had to take all my gear off my bike and place it into the hold. Most times, the bike also went into the hold, but this time my bike was placed on a bike rack on the ass end of the bus.

‘Will it hold?’ I queried after watching the bus driver strap my bike on with two rather dodgy, overstretched octopus straps.

‘Maybe. I don’t like bikes.’

I used a couple of my own straps to better secure Bobik and hoped for the best.

Bobik on the back of the bus

Bobik on the back of the bus

The day was windy, cold and foggy and the bus was a cog in a continuous line of traffic. Over a distance of some 100 km we passed through nine tunnels, the shortest about 100 m, the longest 3,340 m.

The bus crossed over from Hinnøya Island to Austvågoya Island, the northernmost island of the Lofoten Archipelago, at Sortlands brua. When we emerged from the fourth tunnel, it was as if we had passed through StarGate into another universe: the sun was out with only patches of harmless cloud marring the blue sky. I could see the sawtooth, deeply forested conga line of mountains characteristic of the Lofoten Islands stretch uninterrupted to the south. At one point, the road was reduced to a single lane with no centre line and there was competition between the bus and oncoming supply trucks for passing space. There would not have been any room for me and Bobik.

Arriving at the central bus station in the port town of Svolvær, I dragged my bags and bike out of the hold, loaded up all my gear and discovered that my hotel was just across the street. It was a ghostly, eerie hotel as everything was electronic. Fifteen minutes before my check-in time an SMS message was sent to me which gave me my room number and pass code that got me into the front door and up the elevator. Not once did I deal with a person except to ask a cleaner if I could park my bike in a storeroom. Despite Norway advertising itself as bike friendly, I, at times, found it difficult to find a safe place to store my bike in hotels and buses were reticent to take bikes. Many hotels just did not cater for bicycles. Although always clean and comfortable, I was usually booked into a single room so the hotel room was minuscule and my bike plus my gear plus me was a tight fit.

My parents had taken a picture of Svolvær harbour with Goat Mountain in the distance and I managed to find approximately the same view of the harbour and mountain. The buildings in the harbour had changed, but the mountain was a real tangible structure that had not changed over time and linked me with the time my parents had visited.

056c0540-cada-11ed-8cc6-993f1ad2af62.jpgSvolvaer harbour

Svolvaer harbour

The weather in Svolvær vacillated between steady curtains of rain, rain squalls and wind gusts. The sun would occasionally break out, the rays travelling over the side of the mountains like a spotlight, their movement dictated by the clouds.

Negotiating the weather, I wandered around the main square, poked through some of the art galleries, and visited the Magic Ice Bar, once a factory for freezing fish, with its ice sculptures of giant fishermen, ships, gods and mermaids – all bathed in eerie iridescent hues of purple and pink. Svolvær was an important port for the Lofoten fishing industry. Following the intense, pungent smell of dried fish, I easily found the cod processing factory located across the Svinøya Bridge on the islet of Svinøya in the more industrial part of town.

Dried cod heads

Dried cod heads

I needed pure gumption to face the rain a few days later. Cycling itself was easy as the E10, which follows the coast, was quite flat but there was a strong headwind and visibility was low as the traffic was heavy creating a mist from the rain on the road. A popular stopover for motorists and cyclists was the Gimsoystraumen Rasteplass, a building on the east side of the Ginsoystraumen Bridge. The building was empty and except for toilets the only benefit of the place was for e-bikers to access electricity to recharge their bikes and my being able to sit at one of the tables, pondering the bridge I was going to have to cross. I could have used an e-bike at that point. Between the steep incline of the bridge and the strong crosswind howling down the strait, it was safer for me to push my bike.

After a short jaunt along the southern coast of Gimsøya Island and passing over the shorter Sundklakk brua, I was now on Vestvågøya Island. I broke free of the E10 and followed the smaller Highway 815 along the coast to my camping spot at Brustranda Sjøcamping. There was less traffic but the rain squalls were interminable – I could watch a squall approach, looking like a rippling sheer curtain moving through the valley and across the barren, craggy peaked mountains. Chin tucked into my cowl, cold rain dripping from my helmet, I would pedal with fervour to the nearest bus shelter where I waited out the squall under its protective roof.

After yet again packing my wet tent in the morning, I peddled towards the town of Leknes and back onto the E10. The rain remained persistent and I was getting discouraged as I was tired of being wet and cycling through the haze of rain and low lying cloud. I was assaulted from both ends: water splashed down on my shoulders from the sky and my helmet and up my legs from the road. I was again on a road with little, if any shoulder and felt vulnerable with nerves on edge with the passing of each vehicle. My left knee was twinging but I would still get chuffed when my cycling efforts were recognized by toots, thumbs up and comments about my plucky energy.

Near Leknes

Near Leknes

‘Ya, we come to Norway to get away from the heat in Germany. But we did not expect so much rain and cloud’ expounded a German couple from the protection of their rented campervan. Rain and wind dominate the west coast of Norway throughout the year, but depending on who you spoke to, this was usual summer rain or it was more than usual.

One of the great pleasures of this stretch of my trip was taking the ferry from Ballstad to the heritage town of Nusfjord which was a convenient and scenic way to cross from Vestvågøya Island to Moskensøya Island.

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The ferry Ballstadgutt was a small, wooden fishing boat manned by two mature captains, Petr and Henri, both with ruddy cheeks. One was rolly-polly with a rather impressive belly and little hair, and the other was the polar opposite - skinny with a head full of white hair. The ferry transports only walkers and cyclists and on this day it was laden with three French cyclists, two hikers from Canada, an American hiker from Texas with the aim of walking from northern NorKapp to southern Lindesnes, and me.

The sky was indigo blue, the sea was calm with only a faint ripple so it was a smooth, pleasurable ride passing a rocky, isolated coastline and small offshore islands, some no more than a rock protruding from the water. The ever present seagulls, swirling and squawking overhead, broke the drone of the boat’s motor.

Nusfjord, the oldest village on Lofoten Islands, is a cluster of red and ochre fishing huts nestled on the rocky shores of the harbour surrounded by bare, towering craggy mountains. As with many of the villages and towns in northern Norway, its mainstay was the Arctic Cod fishery. It was touristy but quaint. A café in one of the restored fishing houses served a mean cappuccino and smoked salmon sandwich. I was joined by Mateo and Liam, the two French cyclists, where we attempted to converse in broken English. I tried to look very blasé and not notice the very fit, bare chest when Liam nonchalantly changed his shirt.

Typical Nusfjord hut

Typical Nusfjord hut

Coming into Nusfjord

Coming into Nusfjord


Waterfront Nusfjord

Waterfront Nusfjord

Moskensøya Island was the most popular and busiest of the Lofoten Islands. The stretch between Nusfjord and Moskenes morphed from a reasonable cycle to an unbridled mess when I reached the town of Hamnøya, embracing the shores of Reinefjord. I could not get out of there fast enough. There was no cycle path, the road was a single lane jammed with vehicles and people. The popular tourist town consisted mainly of ochre coloured buildings, crowded restaurants and people milling around or walking along a dirt path parallel to the road. Once I left the village, with its backdrop of craggy peaks, a scene worth many pictures, I had to pass through three tunnels, each about 1.5 km long, and way too many hills in the short 9 km to the town of Moskenes.

Hamnoya

Hamnoya

Hamnoya

Hamnoya

I arrived at Moskenes Camping to be beset by another gazillion people. It was a small township of tents, caravans and mobile homes. This was obviously the place to be. There was little space left for pitching tents and with all the rain, the once grassy ground was a soggy, muddy mess with patches of pooled water. I managed to find a spot on the lower bog where I did not sink into a deep puddle and set up my tent.

Moskenes campground

Moskenes campground

I headed to the showers to wash off the dirt ant sweat long cycling always involves. The facilities were adequate but crowded. Someone had either a sense of humour, did not understand English, or my mind was a wee bit wonky as the music that was piped into the loo was ‘I Gotta Get Out’ and ‘Down, Down’.

My dinner was simple that night – seed crackers, brown cheese, chicken and beetroot salad – finished off by a rich, creamy hot chocolate topped with a thick layer of cream served at the bar.

I woke to a rare day of no rain and walked from Moskenes to the most western village of Å (pronounced owww) some 5 km away, having to visit the town simply because of its name which means ‘stream’ and, mind-bendingly, being the last letter of the Norwegian alphabet.
Å, with its population of 123 people, was once a significant fishing port. Carefully preserved fishing huts line the water’s edge which have been turned into cafés, bakeries and museums.

Coming into A

Coming into A

I inhaled the sour smell of dried fish on drying racks as I entered the two story wood Lofoten Stockfish Museum. I learned more than I needed about the processing of cod: the gutting bench where the innards were removed and the heads cut off; the scales weighing the liver and roe; the sorting and drainage bench; the cod heads strung up in the air for drying; the hanging forks for drying the processed fish. A video detailing the life of the local cod fishermen made my days cycling in the persistent rain pale to insignificance as fishing takes place in the harsh, stormy winter months. A day with no storm was a good day. The video explained that today, the fishery is highly regulated to help rebuild depleted stocks – there is a quota and the fishermen cannot go to their nets until an allocated time of day, first lining up in a certain order.

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Ambling back to Moskenes, I popped into the Norsk Telemuseum Sørvågan (Radio and Telegraph Museum) which reflects the local history of telegraphy. Mr Breidal, whose parents worked in the telegraph station during WWII, was my guide. He had an interesting manner to him – he would pause in front of some display or instrument, give a brief description in passable English, almost reminiscing, and move on, expecting you to keep up. I never had time to read the information or look at the pictures and once I was finished with the tour, that was the end of it and I was expected to leave.

It was not surprising that I woke to pure, wet misery in the morning. It had started to rain in the early evening and never stopped, making the puddles in the camping ground grander and deeper. A Cimmerian gloom had settled over the area and the damp was seeping into my brain and penetrating every pore in my body. The previous day, in anticipation of rain, I had moved my tent from the lower bog to the upper bog next to one of the wood shelters. An excellent move as I stored my panniers in the dry of the shelter and packed my bike under relatively dry cover the next morning.

Part 4: From Bodø to Lom

Posted by IvaS 07:46 Archived in Norway Tagged cycling Comments (0)

From Hammerfest to Narvik

The Start of the Cycle

rain

I had one important chore before I left Hammerfest: finding a sleeping mask as light seeped into my eyeballs in the perpetual daylight making it hard to sleep. I scoured the shops. They were as rare as hen’s teeth and the only one I eventually found was red satin trimmed with black lace with Sweet Dreams embroidered on the front. So me.

Ready to leave Hammerfest

Ready to leave Hammerfest

Mum, me and traditional Sami, Hammerfest

Mum, me and traditional Sami, Hammerfest

Finally, I was ready to start peddling along the National Cycle Route 10. Panniers kitted out and firmly attached on bike. Check. Neon pink safety vest and helmet on. Check. Back light, front light and helmet mounted light blinking. Check. Picture of me standing regally next to my bike. Check. I hop on my bike, press down on the pedal for my gallant start….. and the bike wouldn’t move – it’s as if it was frozen in an iceblock. I gaze down in wonderment trying to figure out what is wrong. Brakes not jammed. Chain on cogs. After some head scratching I figured out that I had lashed the snazzy bag which held my sleeping mat and tent poles through the spokes of the back wheel with super tough Velcro straps.

It was a glorious day when I finally set off from Hammerfest heading south along Highway 94 following the west side of Kvaløya Island. Unfortunately, I lost the fine weather before I reached the Kvalsundbrua suspension bridge which crosses Sammelsundet Strait connecting Kvaløya Island to the mainland. Within two hours of leaving Hammerfest, the caprices of Norwegian weather in summer were revealed. No rain one moment, cold, penetrating rain the next. As it turned out, I was encased in near steady rain for the next two weeks.

Kvalsundbrua

Kvalsundbrua

I learned three important lessons very early on in my bike trek. First, bus shelters were my best friend. They were a place where I could rest, eat while sitting on a bench and get some respite from the rain.

Welcome bus shelter

Welcome bus shelter

Second, there were three levels of hills to be tackled: gentle, steep and chuffing hell. More realistic than Google’s binary system of ‘moderate’ and ‘steep’ hills. The slope of some hills were so steep that I was not able to pedal up them no matter how positive my thoughts. I was carrying about 35 kg of gear and I just did not have the strength in my legs nor a low enough gear ratio to pedal to the top – especially as some climbed for kilometres. I termed these hills push-ups as I could only get to the top by pushing Bobik and I quickly determined how best to push my bike without gouging volcanic craters of skin out from the back of my right calf as it hit the bike pedal.

Steep hill warning

Steep hill warning

Third, Bobik's bike stand was not strong enough to hold the weight of my bike with all its gear, so I had to continuously find proper leaning posts along the way. The end of picnic tables, walls and metal road guardrails worked well.

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The roads and traffic in Norway are a cyclists’ nightmare. In general, cycle paths are non-existent except for short stretches passing through the towns. I had to compete for space on narrow roads without a tendril of a shoulder with camper vans, mobile homes, buses, cars and trucks.
Another blight of the cyclist in Norway is the tunnels. Where once, you would go over or around a mountain, you go through. Sometimes. There are some 1000+ tunnels in Norway, many banned to cyclists mainly because of their length and the high volume of traffic emitting toxic fumes that would make a cyclist plummet off their bike. So that means preplanning, and then detouring on by-pass roads or traveling by ferry.

Tunnel and by-pass track

Tunnel and by-pass track



The first tunnel I cycled through was the Skjäholmen tunnel. Nervously, I entered the yawning entrance of the 689 m tunnel imitating a miniature Christmas tree: all bike and helmet lights blinking. Luckily it was early in the morning so traffic was light. There were no lights in the tunnel and as there was no cycle path, I cycled on the road hugging the wall of the tunnel hewn out of the rock as my eyes adjusted to the dark. The acoustics in tunnels were really weird. It’s terribly noisy and I found it difficult to figure out in which direction cars were coming and their distance as noise in the tunnel seemed to bounce and echo randomly. Despite being a short tunnel, I was pleased when I saw U-shaped daylight at the end.

I turned off Highway 94 and headed south onto the main E6 highway at Skäidi, a small settlement which marked the turnoff. It took me three days to get from Skäidi to Alta, finding cleared spots along the way where I could camp. The road rose to an altitude of about 660 m with undulating hills, there was no shoulder, the traffic was interminable and it rained persistently for two of the three days. I was following the Repparfjord River, a famous river for salmon fishing, cycling through bleak alpine habitat dotted with stunted trees and small lakes, and scatterings of holiday cabins. Low hills streaked in snow, capped by low, heavy cloud stood as sentinels in the distance. Reindeer wandered hither and thither – two stopping in the middle of the road gazing at me with a ‘what?’ expression, refusing to move despite my shushing and arm waving. The mosquitoes kept me going.

img=https://photos.travellerspoint.com/515075/fa6e5660-ca21-11ed-8322-f1ab112dfab3.jpg caption=When Mum did all the work]

Cabin near Alta

Cabin near Alta

Alpine house on way to Alta

Alpine house on way to Alta

The Canyon Smart Hotell in Alta provided the break I needed from my sleeping mat, a saturated tent and marauding mosquitoes. Eating a meal consisting of more than reconstituted food and finding a better sleeping mask were compulsory.

Alta is a functional city consisting of a shopping mall, sports shop and grocery store. The highlights for me were the pyramid shaped Northern Lights Cathedral and the Alta Museum World Heritage Rock Art Museum with its prehistorical rock carvings. In the evening, I indulged in the culinary delight of my first tender and tasty reindeer steak slathered in a beet-root sauce.

Leaving on a dull grey morning, I continued on Highway E6 along the coast through the towns of Talvik, Burfjord, Storslett and Sørkjosen. Generally the cycling was respectable although there were a few push-up hills. I rode through four tunnels, the longest being 3.5 km long (Algastunnelen), managing to pop out the other end of each unscathed.

Outside Talvik at 3am

Outside Talvik at 3am

A few fleeting moments of blue patches of sky peeking through the clouds lifted my spirits, but I mainly pedalled through heavy rain, the water splashing up from the road keeping my shoes and socks drenched. The village of Langfjord afforded me a pit stop to indulge in some freshly baked pastries with a raspberry fruit centre and badly brewed coffee. The shop owner did not speak much English but she showed me a picture of her family which had been published in a book about the valley and its people. ‘Some families have been in valley for generations although many of the younger people moved and are moving away to better opportunities’ I was told in hesitant English. ‘There are more huskies than people in town. Some people have as many as 15 dogs which they use for transport in winter as snow can get up to 2.5 m deep’.

The young lad in the tourist office in Burfjord really knew diddly squat. When I asked where I could camp, he unhelpfully pointed to a cement desert by the water lined with campers vans. This was not going to happen so I did a wee reconnoitre and asked if I could set my tent up under the stairs of the tourist building that went up to the second floor. I think he was so flabbergasted at my question that he silently nodded yes. It was a brilliant move on my part as I stayed dry during the night’s rainfall but still suffered a broken sleep because of the cacophony of shrieking, quarrelling seagulls.

Tent tucked under stairs Burfjord

Tent tucked under stairs Burfjord

‘There are very steep hills out of town’ warned the young lad in passable English. I’m not sure if it’s better to be prepared or just forge forward in ignorance. And I discovered they were a prime example of ‘chuffing hell’ hills. The first was a four kilometre ascent with a couple of small shops selling Sámi trinkets at the top giving me a pause from pushing my bike. This was followed by a near four kilometre descent to the next fjord, the first time my brakes and hands were tested.

Sami lady

Sami lady

While I rested my cramped fingers and brain in a café in the town of Sørstraumen, I chatted to a couple of elderly gentlemen who were on a road trip ‘going to the old places where we had once worked’. Both were very pleased that I was wearing a fluoro vest as they complained that too many cyclists wore dull coloured gear that melded into the road and trees. I whole heartedly agreed with them.

Trudging up Kvasnang Mountain, on the south side of Sørstraume, was my second chuffing hell hill of the day. The ascent was some five kilometres at a 9% grade – the road was narrow and as a tunnel was being constructed near the top of the mountain, I had to contend with dust from the quarry and large trucks, and crowded single lane traffic as I pushed my bike up the mountain. I made a lot of pit stops, and even got an encouraging ‘you are almost there’ by a cyclist cruising downhill. 'Bastard' thought my not too kind brain.

But when I eventually got to the top I was awe-struck. I was at the Aussichsparkplatz lookout at about 450 m altitude where I was rewarded with a spectacular view overlooking the waters of Kvaenangen and Skorpa Island. This was the view to wake up to, so I pitched my tent on a narrow strip of open space next to the cliff by the road and went to bed warm and dry.

Aussichsparkplatz Lookout in sun

Aussichsparkplatz Lookout in sun

And woke up in encased in cottonwool and torrid rain. Visibility was zero: I could see precisely nothing in the morning as fog had set in and the sea and sky were one. I could see no more than 10 m in front of me.

Aussichsparkplatz Lookout in the fog

Aussichsparkplatz Lookout in the fog

Packing my wet gear into wet panniers, I cycled the short distance to the pass. It was then a long and the steepest descent I had encountered so far to the bottom of the mountain to the town of Sørkjosen. I prayed that my disc brakes would hold up and that my tyres would not slip on the road glistening with oil. I took shelter from the persistent rain in a bus shelter at the bottom of the mountain, uncramping my cold hands.

It was an easy cycle to my hotel in Sørkjosen simply because E6 was flat. My room at the Henriksen Gjestestue looked trashed after I spilled everything out of my panniers. My shoes, the clothes I was wearing and tent were saturated and formed their own little fjords on the floor. My bathroom had no turning space being filled with gear hanging from every hook and nook available. I turned on the heat making the room a warm sauna, snuggled into bed and fell into a deep sleep, only getting up later in the evening to have a an overpriced dinner of smoked cod (never again – my blood turned into salt water), boiled potatoes and a sauce made from carrots.

At that particular moment I was fed up with cycling, wearing cycling pants, hills, rain, narrow roads and getting kissed by passing caravans and buses. I was initially inspired to keep going by Tom, a rotund guest from San Fransisco who stated that he had cycled from the northern town of NordKapp. This inspiration dissipated instantly when I discovered he was using an electric bike.

I had cycled some 300 km along the northern coastline, the road remaining stubbornly narrow and busy. The weather outlook was tediously more rain so I spent a rest day exploring the town of Storslett and decided to take the bus to Narvik.

Part 3: From Narvik through the Lofoten Islands

Posted by IvaS 09:43 Archived in Norway Tagged cycling Comments (0)

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