Once we’d arrived at the hostel and done the obligatory clothes washing I made my way to a Warmshowers host where I would be storing my bike for a few days while I returned to England for a cousin’s wedding. Lars turned out to be a great guy and showed Al and I some of the nightlife Oslo had to offer. Being a national holiday and the day to celebrate Norway’s independence most locals were way ahead of us in terms of the celebrations. This made for a really entertaining evening!
Next day, I took an early evening flight to London Stansted, meeting Hanna at the airport before staying at a nearby hotel. It was strange being back in the UK, cars driving on the left hand side and not thinking about my bike every few minutes. Next morning we made our way up to Norfolk and met my parents before checking into a quaint B&B in the small town of Wells-next-the-Sea. Find a more English sounding name if you can! Saturday rolled around and we were collected by old London double decker buses both to the service and to the reception. This blog isn’t really supposed to be about my daily life but it wouldn’t have been right not to mention the day. My cousin, Ben, married Lizzie, who I had the pleasure of watching England v Fiji with at the Rugby World Cup. The day in general was awesome and it was great catching up with cousins and their families. Having met up with Ben a few times in London over the last couple of years, I’m immensely happy for him and Lizzie and wish them a lifetime of happiness together! After a last emotional goodbye to the parents and yet another emotional goodbye to Hanna I took my return flight and arrived back into Oslo.
Lars kindly put us up for the night however he was working what is referred to as ‘Hell Week’ which meant a 3.45am start for him and therefore us too. Being so far north, light wasn’t an issue although the cold fingers did complain for the first couple of hours. We made good progress out of Oslo and stopped for our second breakfast at 9am having already done over 20 miles. We seemed to climb for the majority of the morning before a beautiful descent brought us into the town of Drammen. Frustratingly, another spoke on my rear wheel snapped on the descent. Rather than just cycling through the town, we diverted and found a gem of a bike shop called Bici and Ski. The shop was ran by two Polish guys who were both extremely friendly and extremely helpful. After coffees and conversations I had a working bike again and we were on our way again. After a couple more hours spent cycling through forested valleys with clear blue skies we started to look for a place to set up for the remainder of the day and the night. Having crossed a lake we came across a farmer who said he would be spraying his fruit trees all through the night but did suggest trying a place a couple of kilometres further on. We rode on and what a place we found! We had our own picnic bench in a clearing amongst the trees, a rock jutting out into the lake, flat ground on which to lay our tents, perfect weather and to cap it all off, it was only 3pm so we had plenty of time to enjoy it. The afternoon was spent with a spot of fishing (still no fish), regular dips in the lake and the odd snooze. After the first few days in Norway spent in towns and ports, it felt like the real Norway had finally arrived.
Skollenborg to Notodden – We enjoyed the location so much and also both had a lot of sleep to catch up on so ended up not leaving until early afternoon. We quickly reached our first proper ascent of the trip where we thought we’d reached the top when actually we were only 1/4 of the way up. I’d felt quite lethargic for most of the day but as the climb went on, my energy returned and I found that I actually started to enjoy the ascent. It was late in the day when we reached the top but our first big ascent of the trip also meant our first big descent of the trip. We enjoyed both the speedy downhill and great views as we arrived into Notodden where, after a quick pitstop, we found a place to camp. I’d seen there was an official campsite just near an airport from the map but not wanting to pay for camping, we opted for just the other side of the river. To get there we cycled across a runway and past many planes, many of which appeared to have landed on the water nearby and been towed in. Apart from another evening of unsuccessful fishing and a few too many mosquitoes, it was a lovely spot and was rounded off with a delicious pork chops meal.
Notodden to Seljord
We set off along the E135, the same road we’d been following for a lot of the cycling since Oslo, and covered 20 miles in great time. On the way we passed an old wooden church and then started to climb again. We cycled past two people cross country skiing using something similar to roller blades and walking poles. They were going uphill and it looked much harder than cycling! Later, a sign saying a 9.6km tunnel would be finished in Summer 2019 was displayed. Many miles of climbing and descending later we passed where the other end of the tunnel would emerge, the Norwegians sure love their tunnel building. A number of people have told me that they are the best in the world at it. As we approached the top of the climb Al found a broken spoke on his rear wheel. We tried to call a sports shop in Seljord to see if it was open and had a bike department but there was no answer. We didn’t really have an option but to cycle there anyway although it was off the original route slightly. After a few hundred metres more of climbing we hit the descent. It was the best 15km I’d cycled. Stunning views down a valley, past waterfalls. Hairpin bends cutting into the steep mountains. Unbelievable. Al had gone ahead to try and find the sports shop while I took some photos on the descent. Typically, I found him in a bar! Everything was closed as it was another national holiday. There wasn’t a great deal we could do so decided to enjoy the restaurant while we were there. The nice lady owner of the restaurant asked a friend of her’s to come and look at Al’s bike for us. The nice chap came down, despite it being a holiday but unfortunately didn’t have the tools or spokes we needed. He did however phone Arne who works at Inter Sport, the shop in Seljord that would open tomorrow. As he was out of town, it would have to wait until tomorrow so with that we cycled out of town and found a place to camp in a field next to a factory.
Seljord to Dalen
Next morning we were up early and at the bike shop a few minutes before it opened. Arne arrived and turned out to be a great guy. He was able to replace Al’s spoke and tweaked a few other bits. I bought a new rear tyre while we were there. Although it didn’t quite need changing yet, it was unlikely we’d see another bike shop for a week or so. Once again we set off and started climbing up into the mountains. The scenery was spectacular and we passed almost no signs of civilisation throughout the day until we reached a petrol station. where we gorged on ice creams in the amazing weather. After several days on the same road, it was time to say goodbye to the E135 for the final time and we turned on to the 45. This was a smaller road, great because there was even less traffic although one disadvantage was that the gradients were even steeper. The temperature was now in the high 20’s or low 30’s and we were able to ride shirtless for the first time on the trip. Mid-afternoon, we finally began the descent towards Dalen, we stopped at a lake which we jumped into before having our second lunch of the day. Then began the proper descent, more hairpin bends, very fast although I had to stop a few times to enjoy the stunning views. Huge drops were a metre from the edge of the road. It was simply jaw dropping and we both agreed it was scenery like this that gave us the reason to go on this trip. Once we arrived into Dalen, we decided to have a barbecue where we ended up buying 11 burgers, 21 chicken wings, 12 beers, a potato salad and crisps starter. The joys of being a cycle tourist means you can eat as much as you like! We rode off looking for a nice spot to camp, turned off the road and down a track as we always tend to do. We spotted a footbridge crossing a stream and once across we realised we’d entered an outdoor paintball area. Luckily there wasn’t any paintballing happening at the time. It turned out to be a perfect place to stay with our own water source, benches and beautiful surroundings. I put up my tent while Al decided to sleep in a nearby building. There were remnants of someone sleeping there before but he hoped they wouldn’t be returning that night. Sorry but loads of photos below…
Dalen to Rysstad
Yesterday was an incredible day which I thought couldn’t be surpassed but the next two days were just as amazing so please forgive the overuse of superlatives and the silly number of photos. I did try to cut them down a bit! After an undisturbed night, we decided to watch the start of a mountain bike race which Arne (from Inter Sport) and his friends were taking part in. We shared some good conversation with lots of people interested in the trip and watched Team Sterke Nils ride off before we set off ourselves. As we cycled out of Dalen just before 10am, it was already getting very hot. We knew we had at least 8 hairpin corners before we reached the top and it took forever to reach the first of 8 hairpin bends. Luckily it got ever so slightly easier after that and we finally reached the last hairpin after around an hour, once again, with stunning views on the way up. Sadly the end of the hairpins didn’t mark the summit and for most of the next hour we ascended further. As we progressed, I started to notice patches of snow near the road despite it being at least 25 degrees. The scenery just kept getting better and better. Snow capped mountains, rivers and lakes in all direction. We stopped for our second lunch of the day a lake where I had a swim. We got talking to a Norwegian guy called Paul who owned a cabin just up the hill. It seems very common for Norwegians to have a cabin somewhere in the mountains for activities in both summer and winter. As we were about to leave he invited to have a beer on his balcony. Paul and Freevil (Sorry I’m sure I’ve spelt your name wrong, it’s been too long since then!) were a lovely couple and invited us to have a look at these beautiful rustic cabins. As we went to leave Paul ran after us and gave us some hot dogs and buns. There was a good chance we might not make the next town before the shops closed so this would at least keep us going until the next day. We made another 15km with more amazing views and ice floating on the lake. We descended to Valle and made it there for 7pm but alas the shops closed at 6pm and everything was closed on the Sunday (the following day). A family advised that we could get some snacks at a petrol station but it was a bit of an issue as we had another 80km to do the next day. They then came back over to us and gave us the rest of their food as they were heading home that evening. More amazing generosity and a big thank you to the Fritz family! It was then we remembered about dumpster diving and decided to have a look through the bins of the now closed supermarket. There was loads of fruit and vegetables, drinks and a sandwich. All were still totally fine. We also asked a lady locking up another shop if there was any food they were throwing away and got two chocolate croissants out of it. It was an amazing day filled with generosity which continued in the same manner when a drunk lad gave us a beer and said there was a festival in Rysstad, where we were cycling to. Unfortunately our luck ran out as we cycled there in the evening but couldn’t find it. It was a slight anticlimax to an incredible, amazing day. Great landscapes, great weather, great people. Exhausted we collapsed straight into the tents and to sleep.
Rysstad to near Kjeragbolten
After the long day before it was a sluggish start to the day and it was almost midday by the time we set off. I think the delay in starting was also knowing that after one mile, we turned off the main road and started 3km of 10-15% incline, aka hell. With over 30kg plus the weight of the bike plus the weight of ourselves, the pace drops to somewhere between 3 and 5 miles per hour. Basically, it’s very, very slow going. Nonetheless we chipped away at it and made it to a short plateau. The climbing did not stop there however and before long we were rising again. Sporadic showers and a cloudy day only temporarily dampened our spirits as we soon passed the snowline and were rewarded with more fantastic views. The contrast between yesterday and today was staggering. We had gone from lush green valleys with forests either side to now hard rocky mountains with snow and ice as far as the eye could see. Snowdrifts up to 10 metres high guarded the sides of the road where colossal snow machines had broken a way through only a week earlier. This meant very few cyclists, if any, would have crossed the mountains so far this year. We knew this, partly because yesterday Paul had informed us but we could also tell cyclists were few and far between on these roads by the looks of bewilderment and complete shock on the faces of the drivers we passed. Continuing with the theme of having lunch in incredible places, we again stopped overlooking a lake. The sun even came out but there would be no swimming today. After a hot vegetable stew we pressed on and enjoyed another hair-raising descent to Suleskard. My rear wheel took another hammering and a broken spoke meant slow progress. Although I had a spare spoke we didn’t have the tool to remove the cassette which rendered this useless. More lessons to be learnt! We found we returned to the beautiful green valleys of yesterday but again this was short-lived as we turned off to start our second major pass of the day. Due to our late start, it was already early evening. Luckily by this time of year in Scandinavia, it only really gets dark between 1am and 3am and even then it’s not truly dark. This allowed us to enjoy evening cycling with very few cars on the road. And what a road it was. We were both suffering from sensory overload. I don’t really have the time or the words to tell you just how good the cycling had become the last few days. Single lane tarmac, traffic-less roads, snowcapped mountains, gushing rivers, regular waterfalls, frozen lakes…and then we reached the clouds. For a short period, we would be reduced to 50m visibility before the clouds parted or we dropped a little and we could see again. But before too long, as we approached the final few kilometres before the top, we could see very little. As we reached the summit, we just managed to spot the sign telling us where we were, we decided it was time to call it a night. It was approaching 10pm and we knew we had no more than a handful of kilometres the following morning before we would do a day hike to Kjeragbolten. With this in mind and the fact we were limited to seeing not much more than the tarmac a few metres in front of us, it would have been foolish to go on. That night we camped in a small car park, not the most glamorous of settings but having climbed for nearly 8 hours in total, we were not fussy. Five hotdogs later (thanks again Paul and Frevil!) I went to sleep exhausted yet satisfied and excited for the next day.
I awoke in anticipation that there would be tourists surrounding my tent wondering what the hell a hairy Englishman was doing camped in the car park. Fortunately I was greeted to a still empty car park and the surrounding area with few clouds in sight. We got going right away and were very pleased we’d camped where we had. Cracking views on the way down to Kjeragbolten and the start of the 27 hairpin descent we would be enjoying later would have been missed had we continued the previous night. Before we descended the remaining 24 hairpins though, we had the small matter of a 5-hour hike to do. We cooked the remnants of our remaining food, cabbage is not a breakfast of champions, and then set off. Kjeragbolten is basically a boulder wedged between two giant cliffs suspended hundreds of metres off the ground. It sits on the edge of the Lysefjord with the small village of Lysebotn located at one end. The hike started steeply with chains in places along the way to help people along. After a few ups and downs and more stunning scenery we reached the final plateau. Before going to the boulder, we walked to the edge of the cliff where the fjord opened up rewarding us with views for miles. I’ve ran out of superlatives for Norway already but we sat there open-mouthed for a few minutes taking it all in before venturing over to the boulder itself. Now, I’ve always been a bit edgy around heights but as I’m getting older I suppose my rational mind has taken over my adventurous one a little more. I watched Al hop out on to this boulder with ease, with nothing to stop his fall except the rocky slopes below. Then it was my turn. As I edged round the side of the cliffs towards the boulder itself, my hands began to sweat and my legs felt like jelly. In the end, it was an easy decision for me. Although I do love a good photo, there was no way on earth I was standing on that thing! For a few minutes after I contemplated having another go but due to the fact I was still sweating, even when back on terra firma, I decided against it. In the immediate aftermath, there was a small element of regret, but I’m happy with my decision. Life’s too short to end it falling off a rock! So with more snaps taken, we descended back the way we came at double speed and made it to the tourist centre. We’d done the hike fuelled only on cabbage, two apples, a piece of cheese and some sweets. It was time to eat, but not before we’d descended this monstrous snaking road to Lysebotn. Without doubt a highlight of the trip so far. I watched Al disappear while I took a few snaps and then got going myself. What a descent! Turn after turn with a cliff edge just metres away. I caught up and overtook a lorry on one of the bends and continued downwards. I just glimpsed a sign saying ‘Tunnel – 1.1km’ and made a mental note to reattach my lights soon. I was slightly surprised then, when I rounded the next bend to enter said tunnel. Of course, I know now that it meant the tunnel was 1.1km long. It wasn’t the ideal situation. A single lane tunnel, no lights and sunglasses on doing around 30mph however it would have been worse to stop. Luckily both Al and I made it through without meeting anything coming the other way. I rolled the last couple of kilometres into Lysebotn and down to the fjord, adrenaline pumping. ‘Let’s do it again!’ said Al. Unfortunately this would have meant cycling back up the way we came, something neither of us were really willing to do. So, with that we found some food at a hostel and enjoyed a couple of beers. The hostel was ludicrously expensive but I decided to bite the bullet, stay the night and enjoy the breakfast in the morning. Al disappeared back into the wilderness to save himself from the outrageous prices.
Next morning we loaded up at breakfast and filled bags and pockets with extra food to try and justify the horrendous prices. We rolled down the hill and waited for the ferry which came shortly after 7am. The journey down the Lysefjord was a nice one but would have been so much better if the weather was clear. In fact, we had made the decision not to visit another nearby attraction, Preikestolen, because of the weather. Unfortunately we didn’t have the time or money to wait around until the next sunny day. We took the ferry from Lysebotn to Luavvik, stopping at a number of small fishing villages on the way. From Luavvik, we spent the next 4-5 hours cycling to Tananger where the following morning we would take the ferry to Bergen. We decided to cycle to the port and then look for somewhere to camp as close as possible due to a 06:30 ferry. As we rounded the final corner before finding our ferry terminal a footbridge crossed over to a small island and just on the other side was a shelter. Jackpot! We made ourselves at home, collected fire wood, cooked up some food and enjoyed our last night before a short break off the bike in Bergen. The island was amazingly peaceful considering it was so close to an industrial port and the water was surprisingly clear.
After a great sleep we were up early the following morning to take the ferry to Bergen. After more sleep we awoke to witness more of Norway’s remote west coastline. Several hours later we arrived into Bergen where we would spend a few days recharging the batteries. This post is already long enough though!