A Norwegian Summer's Ride
By Neil Critchley
The plan was to visit the best of Norway's fjords and high mountains.
After two successive summers spent cycling around the Alps and then the Pyrénées. I wanted to try somewhere different. I'd wanted to visit Norway for some time, but the high cost of living had always put me off besides there were the high mountains of the Alps to cycle over first. Hence, with a new millennium commencing, it was definitely time to cycle around Norway - regardless of the cost. As usual maps were studied, this process was more in-depth than normal since I had never been to Norway and didn't know where were the best places to visit. After much research and assessing the feasibility of several options, I decided to concentrate on the southern half of the country. This provided the opportunity to cycle over the high mountain plateau of the Hardangervidda, Norway's highest peaks in the Jotunheim and to navigate my way around Norway's most famous features - its coastal fjords.
A Strange Arrival
I landed at Oslo's gleaming airport and as dusk was beginning to fall I re-assembled my bike. Despite my preconceptions that I would get a cool welcome, I emerged from the airport and was greeted with a warm and mild Oslo evening. My immediate intention was to find the Bed and Breakfast I'd booked for my first night, although only a few miles from the airport, the Gardermoen B&B was in the middle of nowhere. As I cycled away from the airport I took Route 174 as depicted on my map. However, quite worryingly after a short distance it suddenly became a dual carriageway and displayed all the features of a motorway. Although, a little perturbed I kept cycling since the signposts indicated that I was at least going in the correct direction and there wasn't much traffic about anyway. After a couple of miles, blue flashing lights pulled up alongside me - I played dumb with my excuses in English stating that we can cycle on motorways if they only have 2 lanes rather than 3. The police told me that I needed the 174, but this was the wrong 174 - two roads side by side with the same number - although only one was marked on my map. The police escorted me from the motorway and then told me to follow a cycle-route which would deliver me direct to the B&B. As things seemed to be getting sorted, the cycle-route moved away from the mainroad, I was a little concerned but the police had said to keep following it. Consequently, just as complete darkness fell I found myself in a remote valley, with not a soul around. I cycled up and down pitch-black roads, the few surrounding villages barely qualifying to be even hamlets. Finally, at 11 o'clock and having ridden 17 miles I arrived at the brightly yellow painted B&B and collapsed straight into the comfortable bed. I was in Norway, but not doing too well thus far!
After a hearty breakfast I departed on my loaded bike, knowing from past experience that the first couple of days are always the worst until those initial cobwebs are blown away. The area immediately to the west of Oslo is heavily forested and it was on quiet and desolate tree-lined roads that I slowly churned out the miles. Tiny villages came and went and I got my first impressions of how sparsely populated Norway really is. I reached Jevnaker and Honefoss with relatively ease, but the road around the lake was hard work by virtue of the numerous undulations. At around the 50 miles mark I began to feel very tired, a drink and some biscuits gave me a much-needed boost. My fears that this was likely to be an expensive trip were realised, as I handed over a large amount of money in the supermarket. Refreshed I pushed on to Hokksund and at the end of day one I'd covered 75 miles and didn't feel too worse for wear.
My second day dawned bright, perhaps the rain I'd anticipated was a myth. I cycled onto Kongsberg, a busy town sat on a particularly picturesque river, moving on I turned into the Jondalen valley and within a couple of miles, I'd seemingly left the rest of the world behind.
The road to Kongsberg, through immaculate farmland.
The intention was to reach Rjukan, famous for it's hydro-electric power station, harnessing the run-off water from the Hardangervidda plateau. Progress was made extremely difficult by high winds roaring down the fjords, greatly limiting my speed. After another long, but relatively straightforward day I made it into Rjukan. After two days of accumulating the miles it was time to start climbing the larger hills, to help ease the transition the sun decided to shine brightly all day long as I enjoyed the best weather of my entire trip. Leaving Rjukan I immediately faced a tough uphill, upon reaching one short plateau the scenery really began to open-up. Further on I began to see the snowy edges which lined the plateau, visible across wide upland lakes. The high temperatures remained all day and despite numerous hills, it was exceedingly enjoyable cycling. As the day progressed the road clung to a thin sliver of a lake, with rocky hills on side and wooded hills on the other. At the end of the lake, Urbo, it was a steep climb and then a rapid descent to my overnight camp!
A Rainy Entrance to the Western Fjords
After enjoying such good weather for a whole three days, the tables changed significantly. My ascent onto the lunar like Hardangervidda plateau was under heavy cloud, but the numerous lakes and snowy ribbons on the hills made the climb worthwhile. The road over Dryskar is effectively one of the few passes between East and West Norway, however I found it reasonably quiet. I cycled easily, however, my progress was completely blocked at one point, when trying to take an alternative route, I was greeted by a large block of snow and ice which had slid down onto the track, prohibiting further movement. The only alternative was to turn round and try a different tactic. The old road over Dryskar avoids the busy tunnel and twisted and climbed to the high point, providing some quality cycling. Next it was a fast and furious descent to Roldal village, a highly enjoyable experience. However, I was now faced with the long and steep climb over Roldal mountain. Again, I was able to avoid the main road, by taking a variety of minor and old roads, it was also at this point that it started to rain, I would have to wait two weeks before my next rain-free day. The descent from Roldal down to the western fjords was quite noteworthy by virtue of numerous switchbacks as the road plummeted down the side of the mountain; a real test for the brakes, especially in wet conditions!
Cycling towards Odda in the drizzle was not pleasant, despite the road been lined with some amazing waterfalls, worryingly in full spate. Odda was a thoroughly unimpressive town, obscured by its zinc producing facilities. It served a purpose in allowing me to restock on supplies, I didn't pay any attention whatsoever to the cycling shops, something I would live to regret!
Leaving Odda the heavy rain rolled in and within nanoseconds I was drenched, the last few miles to camp were awful. On a sunny day the campsite at Mage would have been fantastic - good facilities, cheap, no children's playgrounds and sat right on Hardangerfjord. Unfortunately, the inclement weather kept me tent bound. The following morning was damp, albeit not quite as damp as the night before; leaving the campsite I cycled towards Utne along the fjord. I expected that cycling around the fjord would be a fairly leisurely affair, however the road ascended high above the waterline, which meant several tough hills in the ever worsening weather conditions. Completely washed out I reached Jondal, where I boarded my first ferry of the trip, taking me across to Torvikbygd. I sat undercover for the 20 minute journey, feeling rather sorry for myself, trying to dry out and warm up my toes and fingers. As I cycled off the ferry it magically stopped raining, and over the next couple of hours there was a slow transition from rain laden skies to warm sunshine. My afternoon's cycling consisted of the usual undulating lakeside riding. I left Hardangerfjord near to Nes and had a couple of long climbs which took me to Fusa, a very small ferry terminal where I camped for the night and, under the bright evening sun, managed to dry out my kit.
I was now only a relatively short distance away from Bergen, where I planned to spend some time sightseeing. Departing Fusa was simple enough, as I took another ferry across to Osoyro. However, I was feeling quite tired and generally couldn't be bothered, hence the easy ride into the centre of Bergen was a fairly time consuming exercise. Under a gloomy sky I arrived in the bustling city centre of Bergen. First stop the YMCA hostel, which was full, next the Intermission hostel - closed for the winter! (It was only the 12th August). Admitting defeat I was forced to cycle some 5 miles uphill out of town to the Montana YHA. However, the hostel was extremely good and it was an easy bus ride into town. Bergen was a pleasant city, particularly the port area, where once again the morning cloud had been replaced by warm sunshine. I simply lazed about and rested after 400 miles of cycling. There were a couple of other cyclists staying in the hostel, so it was useful to swap stories and information - mainly the best way to get out of Bergen avoiding long tunnels and motorways. I had my theory which I maintained was the best option.
The old fish warehouses, now restored in Bergen.
After spending another sunny day wondering around Bergen, I cycled onwards during the late afternoon and once again the clouds rolled in. The initial stages of my escape took me up into the forested hills surrounding Bergen, as all of sudden the busy city disappeared. However, the latter stages of my ride were spent dodging busy roads. After 15miles I found a campsite and called it a day, I'd done enough to give me a head start in my push towards Voss. I sat watching English football at the campsite reception, before quickly erecting my tent before the next round of rain storms moved in!
I still had busy roads to contemplate, but the early morning traffic was tolerable as I finally left Bergen bound for Knarvik. I cycled over a couple of grand suspension bridges which transported me over peaceful fjords swathed in light cloud. It wasn't long before my greatest fear was realised, 6miles of road tunnel, too dangerous for cyclists and with no suitable alternative (only a 30 miles detour and several ferries). So, it was a case of sticking out a thumb and hitching a lift with the next van to pass by. The first people carrier approached and I tentatively stuck my arm out and, as if on cue, the van pulled up and the lady driving asked if I needed a lift through the tunnel. I quickly loaded my bike into the back of the vehicle was driven through the tunnel. The lengthy tunnel was full of polluted air, to the extent that you could see the exhaust fumes drifting by - it certainly would have been a very dangerous cycling option.
I thanked my escort and re-commenced my journey towards Voss, my plan was to avoid the busier roads and, by taking a variety of detours, to explore some hidden and peaceful valleys. This involved leaving the E39, to go towards Modalen, then through Eksingedalen and a climb over the hills to Evanger. However, in true Norway form this pleasant cycle was ruined by extremely heavy rain. Around midday continuous and unrelenting rain commenced, I was determined to reach Voss and carried on regardless. I had lunch in Mo and then had a 3.5km tunnel to negotiate. It wasn't lit, therefore, I had to carefully cycle through the tunnel with torch in one hand - which didn't provide a great deal of light in the murky darkness. To make matters worse the tunnel climbed quite steeply prolonging the experience. Emerging near to Hovik was relieving to the say the least. In clear conditions I'm positive my afternoon's cycle would have been very enjoyable, however the near zero visibility, rain and cold winds made it more a trial of strength. Furthermore, the downhill was a test of nerves, very twisty in wet conditions - the powerful cascading waterfalls provided a distraction. I reached Voss soaked to the skin, but after a record 81miles, I still felt fighting fit - maybe the rain was helping?
Into the Hardangervidda
As I left Voss it was still raining, however I could see traces of blue sky which lifted my spirits slightly. My route from Voss took me through Espelandsdalen to Ulvik, the rain petered out and limited sunshine met my arrival and lunch in Ulvik, a pleasant little village situated on a spur of Eidfjord.
The impressive fjords for which Norway is justifiably famous.
By the time I had cycled to the ferry port at Bruravik the sun was shining brightly; after a pleasant ferry trip I cycled towards Eidfjord. However, if the weather wasn't conspiring against me then it was dodgy gear shifters. My grip shift (which had replaced a broken shifter in France two years previous) had begun to crack, I'd lost my indexing but it was still workable. However, the whole grip shift suddenly disintegrated leaving me with no means of changing gear and with a steep climb onto the Hardangervidda next on my agenda, I deduced that this situation was far from ideal. I reached Eidfjord, hoping to find a cycle shop (I carry spare gear cables, but a spare shifter!) only to discover after asking numerous people that the nearest cycle shop was a 60 miles bus ride away - in Odda, the town I'd cycled through several days previously. It was now mid-afternoon and the next bus wasn't leaving until the morning, fortunately I found a campsite on the shores of the fjord and settled down for a warm evening.
After a round trip of almost 4 hours on the bus, I returned to Eidfjord with a new shifter, which I'd purchased within 5 minutes of arriving in Odda. Fitting the item took a matter of minutes and then I was ready to climb onto the Hardangervidda using Route No 7 a lonely road connecting Eidfjord and Geilo. I cycled into the early evening and managed a fairly respectable 45 miles of riding, which considering the morning had been spent acquiring spare parts wasn't too bad. I left Eidfjord after lunch in surprisingly heavy rain, however on this occasion the rain stopped abruptly and sunshine rolled in. For the majority of the ascent I used the old road, now open only to cyclists. It was a steep, low gear grinding climb, the type I have come to love, fuelled by the sunshine and amazing waterfalls, rocky cliffs and steep sided valleys I seemed to climb with ease.
One of many majestic waterfalls on the edge of the Hardangervidda
Once on the plateau the expansive lunar-like landscape revealed itself. I cycled past high lakes and could see for miles over the featureless terrain and, with the exception of the odd Bed & Breakfast, there were no forms of civilisation. I met a German cycle-tourist who, despite cycling distances similar to myself, was carrying tonnes of equipment - surely it must have slowed him down. I reached Haugastol around seven o'clock, I was now at the start of the Rallarvegen, a rough cycle track which follows the mountain railway right over the plateau and descends back to the fjords. However, my first priority was to find a place to wild camp for the night.
A superb place to wild camp.
Cycling the Rallarvegen was a brilliant way to spend a day. With a considerable amount of snow cover still remaining it was quite chilly to say the least, especially when the impromptu rainstorms passed by. But then the rain was replaced with warm wall-to-wall sunshine.
Snow and Ice on the Rallervegen.
Throughout the second half of the Rallervegen, I cycled past tremendously powerful roaring rivers, the noise was so great that normal conversation within their vicinity would have been impossible. Reaching a lonely mountain café, I decided to buy some lunch - to keep costs down I'd not eaten out at all, so I thought a treat would be in order. As I entered the café, I met an elderly American couple cycling the Rallervegen on hired mountain bikes. They'd just popped over to Norway for some mountain biking having spent a couple of weeks horseriding in Iceland! I ordered my lunch from the English-language menu, choosing "Grilled Sausage and Bread", imagining it was a poor translation of some Norwegian delicacy. Although, when I received a "hot-dog" I wasn't particularly impressed, consequently I had to supplement my meal with hot waffles covered in strawberries and cream - an ideal calorie intake for a cyclist. Also in the cafe were a couple of Dutch cyclists, in Norway purely to cycle the Rallervegen, which they had divided into two days.
Leaving the café, I had a very steep and bumpy downhill to Flam, made more interesting by the lack of responsiveness that a laden bike exhibits. I camped at Aurlands-vangen, ready to push on for the jagged peaks of the Jotunheim.
I climbed the Aurlands-Laerdal pass swathed in mist, in scenes reminiscent of Alpine days - mainly due to the extremely low average speed which I was struggling to maintain. As I slowly ascended I watched various cloud formations come and go, each bringing a fresh burst of rain. After 2 hours I reached the summit at 1302m, every single centimetre climbed from sea level, only stopping to take a couple of obligatory summit photographs in absolutely freezing conditions.
Cold and Wet on the Ovre Ardal - Laerdal pass.
The high speeds of the descent, coupled with the wind chill meant life was almost unbearable. I arrived in Laerdal with fingers numb and toes about to fall off. I ate my lunch and slowly defrosted. The fjord side town has two exits, a 6.6 km tunnel and a very long ferry journey. I opted to hitch-hike through the tunnel, since it also saved a considerable amount of cycling which would have been necessary to reach Jotunheim. I proffered my thumb, and no-one stopped. After about 30mins, I decided to admit defeat and take the ferry, I cycled over to the port only to hear the horn blowing as the ferry pulled out - next crossing in 3 hours. Hence, I had little alternative to return to hitching a lift through the tunnel. Fortunately, a very helpful Norwegian who was bound for Forde in an estate car, took pity on me and delivered me safe and sound to the peaceful Aurlandsfjorden. I bypassed Ardals-Tangen and camped in Ovre Ardal - pitching my tent just as the latest rainstorm rolled in, keeping me tent bound once again!
It was with excitement and anticipation that I left Ovre Ardal under improving skies. My previous night's sleep had been severely disrupted by a large group of motorbikers whose loud music and partying had kept most of the campsite awake all night. However, my sluggishness soon wore as I embarked on what promised to the best part of my Norwegian journey. The twisty climb into the Jotunheim, led me to Turtagro, it was during this early part that I experienced the freak weather changes which I was to experience for the remainder of the day, every twist and turn on the road held something different. However, I was rewarded with many bright spells where the true splendour of this area could really be appreciated.
At the start of the Sognefell at Turtagro.
I had lunch outside the hotel in Turtagro. Although, no sooner had I started eating, a couple of mad pigs decided to attack my wheels, not wishing to repair a puncture or a shredded tyre I retreated, much to the amusement of a gathered group of motorbikers. The high point of the Sognefell was still another 500m higher, however, with its many undulations I ended up ascending much more than this on the high and magnificent road. Every pedal turn was worth it and I was fortunate to enjoy such fine sunny weather as I cut right through the Jotunheim region before the long descent to Lom. I felt refreshed and extremely satisfied, just one day's cycling had made the previous two weeks worth of rain and hardwork more than worthwhile.
The sunshine brightened up the spectacular scenery of the Sognefell.
Returning to the Fjords
Rain once again delayed my departure from Lom, although I stood chatting to a couple of Dutch cycle tourists, who had also cycled over the Sognefell the day previous. The first 30 miles circumnavigating the Jostedalsbreen massif were fairly dull just gentle climbing along tree lined roads. At the 40 mile point, I turned off towards Gerainger, only 10 miles away but with a steep climb in between; the rugged mountain scenery meant that time passed quickly. The fast, twisty downhill down to the picturesque ferry port of Gerainger was another enjoyable experience, after a short rest I had another 600m climb to contemplate in order to reach Norddalsfjorden. The descent was interesting, as more rain reduced the visibility to nearly zero, although the rain eased off once I returned to the valley which led straight to the ferry port. Perfect timing, meant I cycled straight onto the ferry; I got of the ferry at Linge and camped at Valldal. Another quality day's cycling, I now awaited the Trollstiger with eager anticipation.
The traditional Staves church in Lom.
The holiday season was definitely over, the campsite was deserted, the reception unmanned, hence I had a free night's camping. As I studied my maps, I estimated that I was now three lengthy days cycling from Trondheim. However, I have learnt that predicting one's progress with cycle touring can be a very uncertain art!
As the heavy rain drummed down on my tent, my initial reactions were positive as I had hoped that it would be dry in the morning. However, at 0815, it was still raining just as heavily. At 0830 I decided action was necessary and carried on regardless. I'd only cycled a short distance when I discovered that with effect from 0700 that very morning the Trollstiger was closed for repairs. Hence, my plan was ruined and the high mountain road was no longer a practical option. Re-assessing my journey I discovered that I could make a lengthy detour, taking the ferry from Vestnes to the industrial town of Molde. It was a tough day's cycling, a combination of poor weather and tiredness beginning to set in. I reached Molde at around 1700, since the rain had now stopped I decided to cycle on for as long as possible, making up for lost time. The higher mountains had been replaced by rolling tree covered hills, yet I was now cycling alongside the fjords again. I left Fannelfjorden and reached a very pleasant campsite near to Eidsvag just before dusk.
The Push for Trondheim
I was still on course for Trondheim, just two days of cycling. Hence, I couldn't afford to let the morning's rain hold me back. However, my determination was rewarded as I cycled through Eidsvag and watched the clouds roll away and the sunshine move in. Utilising this solar power my morning's ride proved to be very enjoyable, I now joined Tingelvollfjorden and enjoyed the usual undulations, enroute to Sunndalsora, a fairly large and commercial town. I caught the final ferry of my journey from Rokkun, bound for the drab and industrial town of Skei. The ride towards my evening's campsite was not particularly noteworthy, but as I settled into camp east of Rindal, I knew Trondheim was within easy reach. Also, the deserted campsite displayed no signs of life, hence I had another free night. Due to further heavy and constant rain I took the most direct route to Trondheim, reaching the outskirts of this large University city in the early afternoon. A series of well-organised and well-planned cycle routes took me straight to the centre. I was also amazed at the number of people commuting by bicycle - a very refreshing sight. I arrived, soaked to the skin at the Youth Hostel, where my wet clothes at last had a chance to dry out.
I enjoyed an easy day wandering aimlessly around Trondheim, the student presence was unavoidable, every single street, park bench, café etc. was full of newly arrived students. The cathedral was an impressive sight, its ornate and intricate walls standing out in particular.
The cathedral in Trondheim
After two nights in Trondheim, my bike and I boarded the train bound for Oslo and, on the day that my trip was to come full circle, I delighted in my first rain free day for over 2 weeks. Oslo is a very dispersed city with much greenery even inside the city centre. Hence, it was a pleasant place to end my trip. The climate difference between this southern region and the western and northern areas was considerable. The hot sun made sitting on the lawns outside the castle looking over the fjords a very relaxing experience. Also, of interest was the ski-jumping into the fjord - I couldn't quite understand this phenomenon, but their aerobatics made interesting viewing! After a day and a half in Oslo, I cycled to the airport and completed the formality of flying back home.
Water-ski jumping in Oslo
My cycling trip to Norway was certainly different, it was a test of one's determination and on many occasions a battle against the inclement weather. However, I think I had a realistic view of Norway, the rewards when the sun shines can more than make up for days of damp and dreary weather. The wild and barren landscapes, made planning and logistics far more critical, as fresh supplies of food could quite easily be some 30 miles away. Yet, my most endearing memory will be the unspoilt scenery, lack of mass tourism and the sound of incredibly fierce waterfalls and rivers.