My first impression of Norway was how pretty it was. Also how important skiing is in the area. This can be seen with the great number of people on skis that you find in statue form in the towns. My first night in Norway was spent at the house of Roger, a friend of Henrik – my Warmshowers host from my previous night in Sweden. He was an amazing guy with a countless number of talents, including competing in the 1984 and 1988 Winter Olympics for Sweden in biathlon.
My next big stop was in Lillehammer, home to the 1994 Winter Olympics as well as a statue that seemed to suggest children being kidnapped by a skiing bandit. It was the first time I’d been to the top of a ski-jump – they are remarkably steep – and anyone who criticises Eddie the Eagle for not being very good at it should try it themselves. That man had a ridiculous level of courage, or foolishness, to even dare go down one of those things.
Then it was further north to Foss. While riding I listened to stories from Norse mythology and found it quite glorious. Every single character in it seemed to be horrifically flawed (other than Tyr), which went against my preconceived idea that they’d be all depicted in a marvellous way. It was much more interesting than the next audiobook, a Norwegian collection of fairy tales. There were more than 100 stories, but they could pretty much all be split into 2-3 categories and mainly involved the youngest of three children doing the impossible leading to them being given half the kingdom after marrying the princess. Having said that, my favourite story was the explanation of why the sea is salty.
The weather, which had been unseasonably warm, turned a bit crappy as I got close to Foss. The cold wasn’t too much of an issue thanks to a parcel I’d been sent by my mum, but the wind was, and a ‘moderate gale’ wasn’t particularly fun to cycle into. It meant that one day I only cycled about 15km, from a barn to one of Norway’s high-quality heated bathrooms – the perfect place to camp out of the gale. It definitely put paid to my original idea, which had been that early October was surely a great time to go hiking up the tallest mountain in Norway. As there was snow at the top of the pass at 1400m, I’m not absolutely certain that the top of Galdhøpiggen at almost 2,500m would have been perfect for hiking in my Vibrams.
At the top of the pass
Dropping down the rather steep other side, I made it to the Sognefjord – the longest fjord in the world. With the blue skies, the fjord often resembled a mirror and so made for some lovely photos. There was a road down both sides, so I took the smaller road which would let me see the 12th-century stave church in Urnes, before taking a short ferry across the fjord. Things unfortunately didn’t end up working out like this, as being out of season they had decided to put scaffolding around the church to do some restorative work, and being a Saturday there was no ferry, and in fact wouldn’t be a ferry until Sunday evening. This meant I got the joys of a 30km ride back along the fjord – less pretty the second time.
While you are allowed to wild camp in Norway, that doesn’t work so well along the side of a fjord because there is generally pretty much 0 undeveloped space between the fjord and the mountain. This night however I did find a changing room, and got another luxurious night with hot water and electricity. Who needs a hotel? Or to pay the €20+ it would have been to officially camp.
If it hadn’t have been for the 60km detour the day before, I’d have had a nice relaxing day to Voss – the centre of extreme sports in Norway – but as it was I had another 160km with a big climb in it. The fun of the fjords is the steepness, so the roads down to them and then back away from them have a quite frankly ridiculously gradient. This is of course compensated for with the spectacular views – probably worth it, but as you spin up you definitely get a bit tired. Thankfully the day ended at a Warmshowers host, and yes I did spend a ridiculous amount of time soaking in the shower.
My hosts were going to be out for the day, and the weather forecast seemed like it would continue to be nice so I decided to take a relaxed two-day ride to Bergen instead of having a rest day. Even though it’s barely 100km from Voss to Bergen by car, the way by bike is a little longer. This is less because of the size of the road, and more because of the sheer number of tunnels. Some of the smaller tunnels have paths that you can push your bike along, others that are 5-6km are definitely not an option by bicycle. The Norwegian approach to road building is quite amazing, and the area includes the world’s longest tunnel at 24.5km long. None of these are possible by bike, so I found a 170km route instead, taking me along Hardangerfjord.
At the beginning of the day I had messaged my host in Bergen saying I was too far away and so would see her the next day, which was of course no problem for her. By lunch time I confirmed that. I had forever to go and so the next day it was. A couple of hours before the sun went down, I found a detour that would save me some kilometres and put me near Bergen for an early arrival the next day. I headed up said detour, which ended up being a hiking path which would have been steep enough to hike up, never mind pushing my bike up at the same time. The less than 2km took over an hour of lugging my bike and stumbling on big rocks, wishing I weren’t an idiot.
At the top, I got the joy of descending down on a mountain bike trail in the dark, barely being able to see anything, and when I thought it was safe as I saw the car park I smashed into a barrier that was down and impossible to see in the dark. My Ortlieb handlebar bag took the whole impact, doing quite impressively well. I thought I’d got away with it, until I opened my handlebar bag and found that instead of putting my Kindle back vertically as I always do I had put it back horizontally and so it was my Kindle that had acted as a shock absorber. If you are thinking of using one for that, my experience suggests it is a terrible idea, because it got destroyed, now leaving me unable to message my host to let her know that I might actually get to her place that night.
At just before 10pm I arrived at the flat of my host Annette. She was rather shocked to see me, but quickly stopped singing to her Skype call on iPad and answered the door letting me in to take up the kind offer of another delightfully warm shower and an amazingly comfy couch to rest after another long day.
Bergen has a quite small historical centre, and honestly if you are to come to the area it should definitely to visit the fjords instead. I spent a bit of time wandering around, but more time contemplating the next part of my route. While I’d had generally glorious weather (excluding the gale-force winds) it couldn’t last and so I was not convinced that riding to Oslo was a great idea. There was also the concern that a close friend was getting married back home, and so it was that I decided to take a ferry to Denmark – meaning I could ride to Copenhagen and fly from there. It also helped that a special offer meant that it was cheaper to take the ferry from Bergen to northern Denmark than it would have been if I’d taken a shorter ferry from southern Norway to Denmark. Life is often ridiculous that way. It probably also was like that with the idea that people on the 18-hour ferry would eat on board. Not being a millionaire I wasn’t going to spend €49 euros on a dinner, when I could get a kilogram of potato salad for about a euro and a can of tuna for 50 cents. €1.50 for all the calories you could really need for two meals, especially for someone laying around on a ferry.