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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

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