It has almost been 2 years since I am living in Tromsø, but apart of occasional pit-stop at the Oslo airport (while flying somewhere else in the big white world), I have never seen any of (more) southern Norway. I had a week of vacations to spend, so what could be better then discovering my ‘new home’ from the bike saddle?
I took a flight down to Trondheim – some people would argue that that is still northern Norway, but i had to start somewhere! From there I had some 1500 km of beautiful coastal roads back up to the Arctic.
The start of the trip was amazing. It was so hot I had to bike just in shorts – something that would rarely happen in Tromsø. The lush forests and fields on rolling hills of Levanger and Verdal reminded me on my childhood and growing up on a farm in Central Europe. That afternoon I covered 150km and was well on my way along the coastal road – state road 17 that i was planning to follow all the way up to Bodø.
My setup was pretty basic. I only had 1 week, so i needed to pedal fast. The Norwegian roads are excellent and safe, so why not doing it on a racing bike? I had something like 10kg of gear distributed between a dry bag attached to the handle bar, small frame bag, seat post bag and my jersey pockets. I had a 3-season sleeping bag, bivi bag, trap, warm pants, soft shell, tiny down jacket, warm gloves, repair kit, pump, multi-tool, GPS, mobile phone, tooth brush, 2 water bottles and of course a credit card. I had no space for food except for a couple of power bars and I was relying on replenishing my stock at every tank station of cafe I run onto.
Already on the second day the fields gave way to a more boreal look. The forest around Namsos became strictly coniferous and farms got tiny. The landscape got a wild look of cliffs and steep mountains that is familiar to me from Troms. The road was still excellent and i kept on rolling until i reached the 200km mark.
I was sleeping in the bush, close to road most of the nights on this trip. I only bothered to stretch out a simple tarp roof if the weather forecast was promising rain. I am still amazed how accurate the weather forecast is in this huge country with only 4.5 million population. Numerical models really seem to do an excellent job and the rain will come within an hour of what was forecasted. So, i was warm and dry, yes – the only nightmare were the mosquitoes and the no-see-ums. It was terrible to crumble under the simple mosquito net i had to sleep in yet it was impossible without it.
Another challenge emerged on the third day of the travel. The ferries and their schedules. It is sometimes just some 30km of one to the next and while the car drivers I talked to on the road were complaining that the time between two consecutive ferries up the road is too long and they have to spend too much time waiting, that was certainly not the case for me. If I wanted to keep up with my distances and come home on time, i had to push myself into some serious sprints to catch up. Of course the ferries were also not running every hour and there was usually a long lunch break. I still dont quite understand how I managed to set another 200 km mark that day.
Arriving closer to Bodø the distance between the ferries increased, the hills got steeper and the tunnels longer. Just when I had to admit that this is a hard job, I got distracted by a wonderful surprise: I literally ran into Norwegian national bicycle championship! It was the men time trial day and I got a chance to ride with the elite 47 km to Saltstraumen, some 30 km south of Bodø. The road was not closed and the organizers simply had to let me go. I stepped away for the athletes and admired their performance and beautiful equipment while they rushed ahead of me and disappeared behind the next road curve. I have just managed to reach the finish line ahead of 10 best men (they started more than an hour after me!) and cheer for the winners.
That competitive spirit that got into me chasing those men had taken its toll. I cycled again 190 km and crushed into bed in a youth hostel at the Bodø ferry port. I slept also the the whole 3 hours that the ferry took to Lofoten. And I felt like I got hit by a bulldozer the whole next day. I had to call it a rest day. At least I tried. I even went to a viking museum at Borg… but the bug got me and I couldnt stop until i reached the next ferry port. Again 150 km in a day.
Next day I had the Vesterålen to cross. I still felt quite smashed and again i couldnt resist reaching Andenes – the next ferry port and again 150 km. Then I was on Senja – the island where we spent our family vacations last year. Just 130 km from home! And of course I was home for dinner. One day earlier than expected – everybody happy: me and all those waiting for me at home.
No, not whole Norway is like Tromsø and I will have to take still more time to discover it all!