Category Archives: Norway

10 to 12 May 2015 – leaving Norway, glimpse of Finland, hello Sweden

That was a good night’s sleep, lovely and warm in my cabin. I think the campsite lady believes I’m a bit mad for coming here now rather than in summer, however despite the cold and rain I was smiling when I arrived yesterday, and was still smiling in the morning, which she seemed impressed by. At least I don’t get plagued by mosquitos and midges at this time of year.

My cosy cabin for the night

My cosy cabin for the night

I was up in good time to tackle the 130km to Kautokeino, my longest ride of the tour yet. I was slightly nervous due to the hills, continuing headwind, and chilly weather. This part of Scandinavia can be pretty unforgiving if you’re not prepared for it. Only one thing for it really, thumbs up and off we go; I’ve worked out how to use the timer on my camera, but still need to work on the angles!

Thumbs up and off I pedal

Thumbs up and off I pedal

Anyway, off I pedalled in the drizzle, keen to be on my way to the Artic Mobil campsite at the other end of the ride, as well as the Remo supermarket in the town, or village, or whatever it turned out to be. The road wound through pine forested hills next to a big river; the Karasjokka followed by the Jiesjokka I think.

Following the river through pine forested valley

Following the river through pine forested valley

I started passing quite a few piles of logs by the roadside, awaiting pick up to one sawmill or another. Logging must be a key industry here, especially with all the log built houses, however none of the hills look too denuded of trees so seems to be well managed.

Log piles by the roadside

Log piles by the roadside

The rain stopped after a couple of hours, bonus, and fueled by bread, salami and banana from breakfast I made good time over the hills, crossing a fast flowing and very cold looking river as the sun came out.

Very cold looking river - fancy a dip anyone?

Very cold looking river – fancy a dip anyone?

Bridge crossing - more Arctic Tundra on the menu

Bridge crossing – more Arctic Tundra on the menu

I soon climbed out of the pine forests and back into Arctic tundra, passing the now familiar scenes of frozen lakes and scrubby silver birch. I was pretty happy to see a sign saying only another 70km to Kautokeino.

70km to Kautokeino

70km to Kautokeino

Taking that photo did earn me a honk from a passing car, one of the few I’d seen in the last hour that snuck up on me. Undeterred I cycled on, stopping to top up energy levels next to…another frozen lake.

Lobster rationing sweets; 1 for me, 2 for him

Lobster rationing sweets; 1 for me, 2 for him

Frozen lake panorama - lot of them about

Frozen lake panorama – lot of them about

It was another double thumbs up moment, still haven’t got the angle right.

Double thumbs up under blue skies

Double thumbs up under blue skies

The E92 eventually turned into the E93, amongst a sudden convergence of speeding lorries which was slightly alarming. The E92 had been pretty quiet, however E93 definitely saw an increase in traffic levels with HGVs going from North to South and vice-versa. I didn’t see any moose, despite there being warming signs about them, but I did spot some more reindeer, which I duly herded off the road.

Doing a bit of reindeer herding - so like the sheep in Scotland

Doing a bit of reindeer herding – so like the sheep in Scotland

The whole landscape is criss-crossed with snow mobile tracks, which are especially visible on the frozen lakes. I saw one snow mobile speeding across a lake which looked to be thawing rather rapidly; rather them than me.

Other than the reindeer there was plenty of bird life to listen to, as well as catch glimpses of as I pedalled along. At one point I think I saw an owl, it was definitely owl shaped; I guess they have the hunt when it’s light here. I also saw an eagle, not sure what sort, as well as more geese and numerous smaller birds, some quite colourful but all to quick to catch on film.

The road continued on like this.

The road is long, with quite a few winding turns

The road is long, with quite a few winding turns

And in a similar fashion like this.

Okay, so less of the winding turns at this point

Okay, so less of the winding turns at this point

I may have been getting a bit blaze about the stunning landscape at this stage, however I’d seen a lot of the same for a while now and was quite looking forward to a town. I’d passed a few small villages nestled on hillsides, but nothing of any significant size. It makes me wonder what people do to survive/earn a living up here; there must be forestry, maybe mining, and tourism.

After a lot of ups and downs I eventually made Kautokeino after 9 hours and 15 minutes in the saddle, covering 129km. I was tired by the time I reached the Arctic Mobil campsite due to all the hills, as well as the headwind, however the campsite owner, a jovial Norwegian lady with only limited English, gave me the use of the Sami tipi for the night which buoyed my spirits, and cheap at 100 NOK. One downside; the shower, which cost 10 NOK, was cold, not what you want after a hard day’s riding.

Arctic Mobil campsite in Kautokeino - Sami tipi for the night

Arctic Mobil campsite in Kautokeino – Sami tipi for the night

Inside the tipi - pretty snug, and room for Smaug too

Inside the tipi – pretty snug, and room for Smaug too

Feeling rather tired I decamped to the campsite kitchen to cook up some noodles and drink peppermint tea whilst I planned the next few days. Sometimes I really miss coffee but don’t drink it anymore due to migraines, somehow peppermint tea just doesn’t quite do it. I should have brought some whisky, that would help, haven’t had a drink since arriving in Scandinavia; a bit odd but not missing it at the moment. After a few hours I retired for the night, but not before putting on my thermals and a few layers as the temperature was dropping to freezing, as evidenced by the snow getting more crunchy. The tipi, whilst comfy, was a little drafty, it having a hole for the smoke to go out of; as recompense it did have a divan type thing to sleep on.

I slept extremely well that night, waking up a bit late (08:15) but refreshed, and to sunshine, ready for the day ahead. In the back of my mind I was considering whether I could pedal out of Norway, all the way through Finland, and into Sweden in 1 day. I didn’t think I could make it, and there looked to be campsite and wild camping options along the way, but I decided to keep an open mind; 3 countries in 1 day would be an achievement, and I like setting myself challenges to liven things up.

A new day awaits, the sun shines

A new day awaits, the sun shines

After breakfast and more peppermint tea I pedalled to the supermarket for supplies, bidding the jolly landlady goodbye with a wave. I splurged out in chocolate and expensive salami, needing to use up some NOK.

Remo supermarket seem to be the staple in Norway

Remo supermarket seem to be the staple in Norway

I found a pastry, it was pretty nice, and gave me a good boost for the ride ahead.

Second breakfast in Kautokeino

Second breakfast in Kautokeino

I rode down the E93 to the border with Finland, keeping an eye out for moose again.

Beware the moose

Beware the moose

I didn’t see any, but passed lots more tundra and frozen lakes.

I pedalled through the border via the ‘Nothing to declare’ channel, passing some lorries stopped at customs that must have been transporting fish; very smelly. Goodbye Norway, hello Finland.

So, on into Finland, my 3rd country of the tour, and my first impressions were that it wasn’t a lot different to Norway; more reindeer for example.

Finnish reindeer

Finnish reindeer

The road through Lapland took me down to Enontekio where I thought I might find a campsite, even if it was a bit soon to stop; I didn’t, so I carried on toward Palojoensuu. Some of the place names are quite convoluted so apologies for any typos.

Pedalling through Finland

Pedalling through Finland

I rode through part of a national park, a sign telling me to watch out for all sorts of wildlife including Brown Bears, Pine Martens, Otters and Lynx; I didn’t see any of these but again birds were in abundance; Snow Buntings, Ptarmigan (heard not seen), Grouse, Capercaillie and birds of prey.

I passed through fells, forest and mires, keeping to the road of course. I thought this might be a good place to camp, until a lorry turned up and looked intent on staying for a while, with the engine running.

Nice lakeside stop, could've worked for wild camp aside from lorry

Nice lakeside stop, could’ve worked for wild camp aside from lorry

There were lots of frozen lakes again, but there seemed to be more thawing going on in Finland.

More thawing going on in Finland

More thawing going on in Finland

Pedalling through pines and Silver Birch the road was a lot flatter and made for easier riding than the last few days. I could hear the sounds of running water everywhere, mixed with birdsong, with the occasional reindeer or group thereof startling as I rode by. It was as if the land was waking up from being asleep all winter.

Island in the river, Finland

Island in the river, Finland

There was so much running water from all the snow melt, and all of it very brown, leaving everywhere very damp and not very suitable for stopping to camp. I made it to Palojoensuu and guess what, couldn’t find a campsite despite there being one marked on the map; maybe it just hadn’t opened for the season yet. I cycled on keeping my eyes peeled for a suitable spot out of sight of the road, but everywhere was either snowbound, or in one instance had a large ant’s nest inconveniently positioned; there are quite a lot of large ant’s nests in Scandinavia, all waking up, reckon it’s one mega colony.

Possible wild camp option ruled out due to snow and ants

Possible wild camp option ruled out due to snow and ants

After a bit of a climb I finally made Kaaresuvanto about 21:30, then crossed over the bridge and into Sweden and Karesuando. I’d done it, 3 countries in 1 day!

There was no activity on the border, and I pedalled straight through following the signs to a campsite, which turned out to be closed, or completely absent of anybody anyway. Without realising it I’d gained an hour somewhere along the line, but after 146 km I was too tired to pedal any further, so opted to pitch my tent anyway and pay if anyone turned up, which they didn’t, so a free night’s stealth camping for me, wahey!

Tent pitched, Hilleberg Akto doing well

Tent pitched, Hilleberg Akto doing well

Deserted campsite in Karaesuando

Deserted campsite in Karesuando

After several rounds of cheese and salami sandwiches I turned in for the night, listening to the sounds of birds singing, or in some cases just squawking. Pretty awesome day I thought, as I drifted off to sleep.

Wake up call in Karesuando

Wake up call in Karesuando

No sooner had I fallen asleep than I heard my alarm go off, at 06.00; I’d slept pretty well again. To be honest I think it was more the bird song that woke me up; so many birds singing, and new calls I haven’t heard before. Over breakfast I watched a hawk getting mobbed by two very persistent Magpies, who eventually forced it to land in a tree.

My phone said it was 06.00, however I think it might have actually been 05.00, as the time kept changing as I crossed the border and further into Sweden, it was a bit confusing but didn’t really matter.

No-one had turned up overnight, and there was no number to phone, so I packed and pedalled off from my stealth camp at about 07.00, or could have been 06.00. Unfortunately there was nowhere to refill my water bottles but I still had one and half left.

Good morning - still a bit early really

Good morning – still a bit early really

I rode through the village of Karesuando, which still looked mostly asleep aside from one other cyclist pedalling the other way, who glanced at me rather confusedly; I gave them a wave anyway.

Leaving Karesuando Camping

Leaving Karesuando Camping

The road took me through pine forested countryside, with little in the way of hills or any kind of wind, however it was quite cold and overcast, despite the sunshine earlier; at least the rain held off.

I pedalled past the village of Narva, out on an island.

Narva

Narva

The scenery didn’t really vary very much, and there wasn’t much in the way of traffic. A few cars gave me a wave, as did a few lorries (mostly Post Nord Logistics), and the one police car I’ve seen all tour flashed their lights at me and gave me a thumbs up, all nice and encouraging; although I hoped they weren’t just trying to warn me of an impending hurricane or snow storm.

Road like this for quite a long time

Road like this for quite a long time

I could go 30 minutes to an hour without seeing another vehicle, certainly no other cyclists, lots of thinking time. Lobster had to give me a motivational talk at one point.

Motivational talk from Lobster

Motivational talk from Lobster

You can start wondering what on earth you think you’re doing, riding all the way out here, on your own, in these conditions? Why not do what ‘normal’ people do and take a trip to New York, or the Maldives? Why set yourself challenges like this?

I’m not sure I completely know the answer to these questions, however I know it’s to do at least partly with continuing to try to discover myself, and to give myself time to mull things over and perhaps decide on a future direction. I know I enjoy setting myself a challenge and seeing just what my limits are. I’m also a strong believer that it’s important to get out of your comfort zone from time to time, in order to grow as a person and experience the joy of new things, and grow in confidence. Then there’s just the joy of travelling, seeing new places and meeting new people. I could prattle on for ages about this, however in summary I’d recommend everyone, should the opportunity arise, take some time out and challenge yourself once in a while; see what happens.

I arrived in Vitangi, my destination for the day, at about 12.30, a bit earlier than expected due to the time zone change thing. I had a quick look around, and was hailed by a lady who’d seen me cycle out of Karesuando earlier; she congratulated me on a quick ride – 110km all in about 6 hours.

Vitangi Church

Vitangi Church

The town hosts a population of about 800 people, according to a sign, and lies to the South of the lake, the campsite being on the North side. You have to cross a bridge to reach it. The ice on the lake has nearly all melted, in contrast to most of the lakes I’ve passed to date.

Ice on lake nearly all melted - you might be able to see some swans standing on it

Ice on lake nearly all melted – you might be able to see some swans standing on it

Lakeside 1

Lakeside 1

The grassy nodules look like they might be troll heads, think they're formed by old tree stumps

The grassy nodules look like they might be troll heads, think they’re formed by old tree stumps

After pedalling about a bit I cycled back over the bridge to the campsite, which was as deserted as the one from last night. It did however have open toilets, shower, and a kitchen room, with power and running water. I tried calling the number at reception but there was no answer, so I pitched up anyway, and sat out enjoying the sun which had come out in force, warming things up nicely, and drying a few clothes I washed through.

Campsite with lakeside view

Campsite with lakeside view

Noodles were on the menu again, with cheese and Tabasco, hasn’t got boring yet.

Noodles, cheese, Tabasco and peppermint tea

Noodles, cheese, Tabasco and peppermint tea

I thought I saw a furry rodent face scuttle pass at one point, through the grass, but might have imagined it. There was certainly a lot of bird life about again, and I nodded off for a while listening to them all.

Lobster ensuring I record the day's events accurately

Lobster ensuring I record the day’s events accurately

Despite enjoying the solitude I was quite looking forward to getting to more populated areas again, where I might meet a few more people. It’s great being out in the ‘wilderness’ and I love the challenges it brings, however it can get a bit samey.

VItangi campsite double thumbs up

VItangi campsite double thumbs up

As if on cue a camper van turned up with a couple from Switzerland, and one of them was a cycle tourer being driven up to Nordkapp by his wife, Astrid, to start his own tour! Fredy, 65 and just retired, intends to cycle back down to Switzerland and then, if all goes according to plan, on to South Africa. He’s taking a slightly different route to me, via Russia and Estonia, and said it was a bit of nightmare securing the Russian visa.

Freddy, off to start his own tour

Freddy, off to start his own tour

What’s more, he’s doing it with his dog Dimitri, in a trailer! And Dimitri isn’t exactly small.

Dimitri snuffling about

Dimitri snuffling about

This is the second person I’ve met this year cycle touring with their dog. The first was Maggie Scorer, who is currently cycling around the coast of Britain, a tour that I completed in 2013, with her Dog Oscar – http://dogontour.co.uk . Oscar isn’t very small either, but looks like he’s loving it from the pictures.

It was great chatting with Fredy for the evening, hearing about his plans and comparing notes. He felt like he had to do something now he’s retired, and would regret it if he didn’t, and now he’s doing it, brilliant. His website is here: http://www.sasbybike.ch (there might be an English version coming soon). He’s a rotary club member, which I assume is the same organisation as in the UK, and is raising money for charity – school in Africa. Fredy also has a passion for birds and brought me up-to-speed on the various species I was likely to see, or that I’d already seen.

VItangi, sun through the trees

VItangi, sun through the trees

I wish I could speak more foreign languages. Everyone I’ve met so far has at least adequate English, whereas I only have adequate French as well as English, and a smattering of words in other languages. Hopefully I’ll pick up some more on this tour.

Needless to say it was great to meet a fellow tourer, my first since reaching mainland Europe, and I hope to bump into Fredy and Dimitri on the road somewhere in the future; he has some great plans, and Astrid is very supportive in driving him all the way up here. The chance meeting gave me the boost I needed, and I retired to my tent after a lovely evening, falling asleep quickly after a last cup of peppermint tea.

Tune in next time to hear about my encounter with a varmint – remember that furry rodent face I thought I saw…

Does anyone want to see my ride statistics/map? I can post links to them on the Garmin website if so, I just keep forgetting.

Also, I’m in Gallivare now, and still 100km in the Arctic Circle, should make it out tomorrow. Need to tot up my total km too.

08 and 09 May – the Arctic Tundra

I forgot to include a few pics from Nordkapp on my last post, of the round carvings at the cape designed by children from several nationalities who gathered there to have them erected in the name of peace. They’re quite striking, although I did get slightly soggy feet getting to them.

Back to more current affairs. I slept solidly for about 10 hours in Olderfjord, a pretty solid rest after the hard cycle down from Honningsvag, and awoke to a brilliant view and sunny day.

Oldefjord - nice view to wake up to

Oldefjord – nice view to wake up to

After breakfast I packed up, paid up, and pedalled off, but not before pausing to gaze across the Norwegian ‘Ocean’, a beautiful vista. Today would be the last day I rode alongside it, as I head further South and inland towards Finland and Sweden.

Packed and ready to pedal to Lakselv

Packed and ready to pedal to Lakselv

Here’s another shot from the same place as Lobster couldn’t decide on the angle.

Packed and ready to pedal to Lakselv 2

Packed and ready to pedal to Lakselv 2

I intended to stop in Lakselv for the night, some 65 km away, and the day looked promising with the sun shining and the temperature going up. Unfortunately the wind that made yesterday difficult was back today, albeit not as strongly which came as a relief.

Coastline alongside E09

Coastline alongside E09

Ride down from Olderfjord pretty spectacular

Ride down from Olderfjord pretty spectacular

The ride down the E09 was pretty spectacular, with more trees gradually appearing, a few reindeer herds, and at one point a couple of moose in a paddock; I don’t think they were wild but could be wrong.

The long and winding E09

The long and winding E09

Handlebar view - not much room for anything else

Handlebar view – not much room for anything else

Two moose regarding me with suspicion

Two moose regarding me with suspicion

As well as the moose, more cars (not just Volvos!) were starting to appear, and more frequent signs of human habitation, not quite towns yet but getting there. I even passed a couple of the people on bicycles, not tourers but they gave a friendly wave which always makes you smile and gives a boost.

Nature reserve 1

Nature reserve 1

The Arctic tundra was still very much in evidence, however I did pass through a nature reserve where the river forms a delta into the sea, where much bird life was in evidence; mostly wildfowl but also a few buzzards soaring about.

Lakselv delta nature reserve

Lakselv delta nature reserve

Have I mentioned how handy it is to have a bike stand on this tour? I wouldn’t leave home without one now, so much easier!

How handy is a bike stand?!

How handy is a bike stand?!

The terrain was mostly gently undulating, with the occasional bigger hill. All easily manageable; my legs must be getting stronger. I passed a pen full of Huskies basking in the sunshine, they gathered to have a look at me but didn’t enter into a barking fit which was a pleasant change as far as dogs are concerned. Despite the headwind I made good time to Lakselv, amazingly being spotted by my stalkers from home on the town webcam as I rode in.

I resupplied at the Remo supermarket in Lakselv, and then decided to carry on to a campsite a bit further on, my legs still feeling pretty fresh. I had a small escort of kids on bikes as I left the town; I don’t think they’d seen a bike with so much luggage on before.

The next campsite was only 10km down the road, but it proved to be closed which was a little frustrating after diverting up a track for a few kilometres to find it. Still, it was a nice off road detour, and I passed a several butterflies flitting about, struggling against the wind slightly, as well as emerging wildflowers; it must be springtime! It definitely felt warmer, perhaps around 11 degrees centigrade, with a few cold patches when the sun went in.

Still feeling fit I decided not to go back to Lakselv, but to pedal on to Skoganvarre where the ACSI app reliably informed me there was definitely an open campsite. I rode on for another 20 kilometres, passing through a restricted army zone where no photos are allowed; a shame as some wonderful frozen lakes and pine forested mountains. I nodded to the bored guard on gate duty as I passed a barracks, he nodded back, smiling, clearly amused at the stupid cyclist slogging through the hills at this time of year.

I arrived at the campsite at about 17.30, having covered 95km which I’m pretty pleased with after 97km the day before. Thankfully the campsite was indeed open, and I was able to pitch my tent close to another frozen lake where people go fishing on the ice in winter.

Skoganvarre campsite - frozen lake thawing

Skoganvarre campsite – frozen lake thawing

The ice is thawing now, bringing the ice fishing season to an end, which means this campsite will close in a few days and not open again until June for the next batch of holiday makers; guess I got lucky. I chatted to a couple if Finns who have been coming here for years; apparently the fishing hasn’t been good this year, I hope it’s not a case of over-fishing like so many other areas of the world. It was great to talk to them and I’m constantly impressed at how good nearly everyone’s English is up here, can’t say the same of my Norwegian, although I have mastered ‘Takk’, just about.

Tent set up in Skoganvarre

Tent set up in Skoganvarre

The campsite was a little more expensive at 150 NOK for the night, but I did have use of a campsite kitchen, as well as a lovely hot shower which was most welcome. I spent the evening eating, not unusual, as well as planning the next few days ride and updating my blog. Oh, and I remembered to check the UK general election results; a conservative majority which came as a bit of a surprise, and a shame to see such a big Lib Dem collapse, perhaps not such a surprise though. I really haven’t missed all the social media furore and indignation.

Thanks to everyone following my tour so far, and for the comments whether they be on twitter, Facebook or here, helps keep me motivated; although that’s not too tricky given the scenery I’m cycling through.

I didn’t get such a good a night’s sleep in Skoganvarre, due to some of the other residents packing up and leaving in the very early hours of the morning, and not being at all quiet about it. Tent walls aren’t very sound proof, especially versus slamming doors and shouting. Anyway, I awoke to the sound of rain, and was somewhat reluctant to get up, so had breakfast in bed instead; bread, salami and banana, what a luxury!

Cloudy and raining in Skoganvarre

Cloudy and raining in Skoganvarre

Using a porch to shelter from the rain I packed up, and was soon on my way, waving goodbye to the campsite owner and hacking a couple of Ingress portals in range of the Wifi signal as I pedalled out; if you’re confused as to what Ingress is look it up, it’s a fun game to play, especially when you’re travelling, but data hungry so I’m not playing it much out here.

Packing up in a porch

Packing up in a porch

It was only a 50km ride to Karasjok, up an initial gradual 1000 foot climb to a plateau, then across and down to the municipal village. I opted for the yellow lenses in my glasses today, they make everything look happy.

Yellow lenses make things look happy

Yellow lenses make things look happy

Rainy day on the road

Rainy day on the road

Crossing the river Lakselv

Crossing the river Lakselv

Whilst the cycling was relatively easy, especially without the headwind of the last few days, it was pretty cold and wet. The scenery was impressive; Arctic tundra consisting of silver birch scrub pines, and more frozen lakes. I expect it looks starkly different and beautiful in the summer, but with a lot more insects of a biting nature.

My passage along the road was accompanied by the sound of cawing crows, honking geese, and other tweeting birds all waking up for the spring. I think I might have seen a Waxwing, but it was only flitting by and I not sure if they all migrate or not; I suspect all the geese I’ve seen and been honked at by are migratory.

Latterly I started to hear the sounds of bangs in the distance. I think there are a lot of hunters in Norway, as was evidenced by the two people dressed in snow camo heading off into the tundra dragging sleds behind them, complete with rifles; I wonder what they were hunting? Probably why there aren’t many bears or wolves left.

Road side map with bullet/shotgun pellet holes, a little concerning

Road side map with bullet/shotgun pellet holes, a little concerning

I eventually passed the source of the bangs – Karasjok shooting club by the looks of it.

What must be the Karasjok shooting club

What must be the Karasjok shooting club

The descent down into Karasjok was pretty fast and thus freezing. You get cold pretty quickly when you’re not pedalling and it’s damp, however it’s nice to get some speed up now and again. Karasjok has a cool coast of arms, 3 fires on a shield, representing the 3 ethnicities that live here; Sami, Norwegian and Kvens.

Coat of arms of Karasjok kommune

The Kvens are Finnish and Swedish peasants/fishermen who migrated to Northern Norway in the 18th and 19th centuries, and of whom I had no prior knowledge. I’d heard of the Sami, and Karasjok is where their parliament is based.

The Sami (Laplanders) are the indigenous people of Northern Europe, the Arctic  bits, and are found in Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola peninsula of Russia. They’re traditionally fishermen and sheep herders, as well as fur trappers, and of course nomadic reindeer herders; the Sami are the only people allowed to herd reindeer here. I’ve passed several touristy Sami spots so far, and seen a few in their cultural dress of red coats and dual pointed black hats, but haven’t had chance to get any photos yet; somehow seems a but crass.

I also spotted this sign; Norwegian zebra crossing signs are much cooler than UK ones.

Look cool whilst using this crossing

Look cool whilst using this crossing

I found the campsite and decided to opt for a cabin, which whilst a luxury at 500 NOK would be warm, allow me to dry my stuff, and would set me up for the long ride tomorrow; about 130km to the next campsite!

The cabin was very cosy with a nice view.

Cosy cabin in Karasjok

Cosy cabin in Karasjok

Room with a view

Room with a view

I feasted on noodles and cheese, followed later on by an expedition pack of minced beef hot-pot I’ve been lugging around with me for about 2 years, and which I need to use before it allegedly expires.

Finishing the evening watching some Bear Grylls ‘The Island’, using a VPN link to access 4 on demand from the Europe, very handy. I don’t think I’ll get many tips on how to survive the Arctic tundra from the TV show, entertaining though it is.

Early night now before tomorrow’s attempt at 130km (80 miles), I hope it’s not raining.

06 and 07 May 2015 – Nordkapp and heading South

Right, where to begin? It’s been an exciting few days and I’ve covered quite a few kilometres; I’ve decided to work in kilometres now, seeing as I’m in Europe and all that. I hear there’s also been an election in the UK, jolly good, carry on, I think I’ll stay in mainland Europe for a few more months until things calm down.

I’d turned up the previous night in the wind and rain somewhat nervous about the conditions for the ride ahead, however I awoke in the Hostel Vandrerhjem with sunshine pouring through the curtains; this was about 3am, it doesn’t stay dark for very long at this time of year.

Vandrerhjem Hostel

Vandrerhjem Hostel

The friendly landlady gave me a dorm room to myself, and a buffet breakfast was supplied each morning, setting me up for a good days cycling. You have use of a communal kitchen, as well as showers, and a washing machine. It costs 350 NOK (Norwegian Krone) a night, which bearing in mind Scandinavia is expensive is good value for money. I’m using a prepaid Travel Card on this tour (Caxton FX), which I load up with the currency I want from my current account, then use abroad as required; no charge for withdrawing from ATMs and much better than using my debit or credit cards from an exchange rate and fees point of view. Check out the Caxton FX Global Traveller card if you’re thinking about using a prepaid card abroad, I reckon it’s one of the better ones, Caxton being its own foreign exchange house.

I’m going to try a new approach to this post, using mainly pictures with minimal words, for two reasons really; 1 because I don’t think most people want to read a version of war and peace each time I post something, and 2 it’ll also be a lot quicker for me, touch wood. I haven’t edited any of these photos yet, again to save time which I need to spend on planning. This may or may not work, but we’ll see how it goes. See it already isn’t working because I’m typing drivel.

I set off about 09.00 and headed down to the tourist information, about 2km south from the hostel.

Honningsvag Harbour

Honningsvag Harbour

There was a troll, or maybe it’s a gnome, they seem interchangeable in some places. It was also pretty cloudy and ominous looking; the sky, not the troll/gnome.

Troll, or maybe a Gnome

Troll, or maybe a Gnome

Troll and me - he seemed like a friendly chap

Troll and me – he seemed like a friendly chap

Can’t remember what the St. Bernard was about. Probably a harbour master’s dog from an earlier epoch.

St. Bernard statue

St. Bernard statue

Having checked at the tourist information that the road was indeed open, and having a conversation about wild flowers, I started pedalling North towards Nordkapp. It’s about 41 miles there and back, going up a total of 1,548m, quite slowly at many points. Here’s a link to my ride: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/766943093

Almost immediately it started get hilly, or rather, mountainous.

Refuge hut, halfway up first mountain

Refuge hut, halfway up first mountain

A strong cross wind attempted to blow me off course several times, mostly into the snow, as the road wound up the mountain.

Road stretching up mountain

Road stretching up mountain

There were lots of scenes like his.

Road to Nordkapp, pretty snowy

Road to Nordkapp, pretty snowy

And this.

Frozen lake on way to Nordkapp

Frozen lake on way to Nordkapp

The strong wind made it chilly, but at least it was mostly behind me on the way there, mostly, the road does twist around a fair bit. At one point I heard hooves crunching in the snow off to my right and saw a herd of reindeer making their way through the rocky scree parallel to me. I hadn’t expected to see them, very exciting.

Reindeer herd

Reindeer herd

I did make take a video of them, but haven’t worked out how to deal with that yet, a task for another day, so here’s another pic to compensate. Cycling here at this time of year is obviously just a silly idea, a jolly coach driver affirmed as much a little later the same day.

Reindeer herd 2

Reindeer herd 2

After a couple of hours I made it to Nordkapp, through some pretty awesome but bleak scenery, meeting hardly anyone else on the road, and certainly no other cyclists.

Nordkapp monument 1

Nordkapp monument 1

Nordkapp is the northernmost point of Europe accessible by road, and not actually the northernmost point, which causes some arguments apparently. It’s a fitting place to start or end a tour, and is the starting point to Eurvelo 1, the cycle route that runs all the way to to Italy.

Eurovelo 1 marker stone

Eurovelo 1 marker stone

I spent a couple of hours at the visitor centre, entry for which I got at student rates because I was on a bike; should be free after pedalling over those mountains!

Nordkapp visitor centre, or Bond evil villain secret base?

Nordkapp visitor centre, or Bond evil villain secret base?

There’s a monument erected in the 19th century by King Oscar II marking Nordkapp as very much part of Norway. It’s very monumenty.

Monument erected by King Oscar II

Monument erected by King Oscar II

I paused for several minutes near the Nordkapp globe like monument, for a few selfies and pictures of my bike, just to prove I made it, and because I wanted to get a picture of the Cycle Tour Festival bottle in this far flung location.

Nordkapp - Smaug made it - that's the name of my bike, from Oxford Bike Works

Nordkapp – Smaug made it – that’s the name of my bike, from Oxford Bike Works

Nordkapp - Cycle Tour Fest bottle, and a travelling lobster

Nordkapp – Cycle Tour Fest bottle, and a travelling lobster

Nordkapp - view West

Nordkapp – view West

Nordkapp - view East

Nordkapp – view East

Nordkapp monument again - are you bored yet?

Nordkapp monument again – are you bored yet?

It was pretty blustery outside, so I was glad of my polartec Buff; did an admiral job keeping my head warm over the last few days and fits under my cycle helmet snugly.

Me at Nordkapp

Me at Nordkapp

During my tromping about outside I was spotted on the webcam by folks at home, who now appear to be successfully stalking me by various Norwegian webcams; I think there might be a job in MI6 for one or two of them.

I retreated inside in need of a warming brew, lobster helped.

Hot chocolate required

Hot chocolate required

There were a lot of trolls knocking about the visitor centre, here are a selection, all seem pretty friendly but maybe that’s just their tourist face.

There were several layers to the visitor centre, making it an ideal Bond villain base. Features included a cave of lights, which wasn’t overly impressive, a peaceful chapel, and rather bizarrely a Thai museum.

Chapel - peaceful spot

Chapel – peaceful spot

Apparently King Chualalonkorn of Thailand visited and has his name carved in the rock at the Cape.

Thai museum

Thai museum

There was also a stuffed sea bird exhibit, a cinema where I didn’t stop to watch the film because several coach loads of tourists turned up, and a museum detailing the sea battle off the cape in the second world war. The latter sounded pretty dramatic with the sinking of a German battleship with nearly all hands.

Having done Nordkapp, I was pretty excited to be starting my tour in the Arctic Circle, and got back on my bike to pedal to Honningsvag and the hostel. It was amazing to think about all the countries, places and faces that await me on this tour; inspirational place.

Excited to start tour

Excited to start tour

This was easier said than done, as the wind had got a lot stronger and was now in my face (about 25mph reducing speed to 3mph at times). It was really hard work, aside from a few downhill stretches where I just had to be careful not to get blown of course. Needless to say the air turned blue a few times; many cyclists will empathise with this, it becomes personal versus the wind.

Nice downhill stretch

Nice downhill stretch

It took about 3.5 hours to get back, as opposed to the two to get there over the same hills and distance. I was somewhat relieved to make it back to the hostel, after picking up some supplies at the local supermarket – Remo.

After a warming shower and a lot of pasta I settled into an evening of route planning, ably assisted by a travelling lobster and chocolate milk; very happy they have chocolate milk in Norway. I’m also using the ACSI app to find campsites, which is proving quite handy so far.

Lobster helping with route planning

Lobster helping with route planning

I awoke the next day surprisingly non achy, and after a large breakfast courtesy of the hostel packed up and pedalled off to Olderfjord. This was a 97km ride through several tunnels and into a strong headwind again, for most of the day. Not a lot to report other than hard cycling, through arctic tundra, however the tunnels made things novel.

Packed and ready to pedal

Packed and ready to pedal

The first tunnel was from Honningsvag through the mountain, it felt like entering the mines of Moria.

Honningsvag tunnel entrance

Honningsvag tunnel entrance

The tunnel was fairly flat, and went on for about 5km.

Honningsvag tunnel 2

Honningsvag tunnel 2

The echoes were fairly dramatic, and I enjoyed making Orc noises, as well as singing a few songs to speed me along.

Honningsvag tunnel 3

Honningsvag tunnel 3

A few cars passed me, and one lorry, they all sounded very loud. I made it to the other end, where the road continues to follow the coast past the occasional fishing village, and not much else.

Road follows the coast south

Road follows the coast south

I soon got to the next tunnel, under the sea to the mainland. This was a more challenging affair descending for 3.5km before ascending 3.5km to the other side.

Nordkapp tunnel entrance

Nordkapp tunnel entrance

Nordkapp tunnel - down into the depths

Nordkapp tunnel – down into the depths

It was very hard work pedalling up to the surface, however thankfully I wasn’t chased by any Balrogs, Trolls, Orc or Goblins, just the occasional car.

Nordkapp tunnel - phew made it out

Nordkapp tunnel – phew made it out

On I pedalled, into the headwind.

Handlebar view

Handlebar view

Stark scenery in places

Stark scenery in places, but dramatic

I passed lots of interesting rock, which is probably fascinating if you’re into geology.

Rock strata - is this metamorphic rock?

Rock strata – is this metamorphic rock?

The road continues to undulate around the coast, and I continued to shout at the wind, to little avail, passing the occasional herd of reindeer,  a few startled crows, and finally the first trees of my trip, a veritable mini Lothlorien.

Road following the cliffs

Road following the cliffs

Mini Lothlorien

Mini Lothlorien

I made to Olderfjord after a 7 hour cycle, at about 17.30, to be greeted at the campsite by more trolls.

Olderfjord campsite troll guards

Olderfjord campsite troll guards

I had to call the campsite to book in, which was a bit annoying as I’m trying not to use my phone to save on money; costs me £3.00 a day to use my phone abroad, chargeable only when I use it during a given day, but will get expensive if I persist.

Satisfied I’d found a sheltered spot mostly out of the wind I pitched my tent, cooked up a vast amount of noodles, then promptly feel asleep for a solid 10 hours. I’m happy to report I was plenty warm enough in my sleeping bag and down jacket.

Unpacked and tent set up, a room with a view

Unpacked and tent set up, a room with a view

Wonderful view of the Norwegian 'Ocean'

Wonderful view of the Norwegian ‘Ocean’

One other thing to report; my SP Dynamo is working brilliantly for charging my GPS and phone. Much easier than the PowerMonkey solar charger which I have as a back-up. Actually the solar charger would no doubt work well here given it’s not dark very much.

I was going to try and type up today’s ride too, however it’s late and I ought to get a good night’s kip before tomorrow’s ride; a short one of about 50km got Karasjok. I’ll blog again from there hopefully, if I make it up the big hill.

If you’re enjoying my blog please consider donating to the Big C, a Norfolk based cancer charity very close to my heart. Every little helps and keeps me motivated in those headwinds and over those hills. You can donate here via my Virgin Money Giving page here: www.virginmoneygiving.com/james

From Cycle Touring Fest to the Arctic Circle

The Cycle Touring Festival in Clitheroe wrapped up on Sunday afternoon, after a brilliant weekend. About 200 people attended, including a broad range of guest speakers and experts. It was fantastic to meet so many like-minded individuals, most of whom have completed one or more tour by bicycle, with several having been on more epic round the world or one continent rides, and a few just planning their first odyssey.

Closing moments at Cycle Touring Fest - great bunch of people

Closing moments at Cycle Touring Fest – great bunch of people

There were talks from individuals or couples on their rides, including touring South America and the Andes, Asia, Africa, USA and Alaska, Canada, the Middle East, Australia, as well as more locally in the UK and Europe. Some of the feats of endurance, as well as the commitment shown, and ability to survive and adapt to any environment or culture were frankly astounding, as well as hugely inspiring. I’m not sure I’d have the guts to pedal the length of Africa, or some of the high altitude routes n the Andes, but I guess it’s all about taking things one step at a time and building up your experience. Hats off to the likes of the Laura and Tim Moss, McNeils on Wheels, Tom Allen, Tom Bruce, Emily Chappell, Helen Lloyd, Anna Hughes, Kev Shannon, Stephen Lord; this list could go on for some time, however needless to say there were lots of very cool people there.

As well as hearing about so many amazing adventure by bike, I was able to pick up lots of useful advice and top tips for my forthcoming tour, and any future tours in Europe and beyond. There were talks on equipment, picking a touring bike and bike maintenance, surviving extreme environments, touring as a man or a women, preparing psychologically, communicating your trip and writing for magazines (thanks for the latter Ruth and Scot), to name but a few topics, all in a friendly and inclusive environment. Needless to say I have come away feeling a lot more confident and reassured about my forthcoming ride, as well as with the knowledge that if I need it there’s an amazing support group there I can get in touch with, if I get stuck and need more advice. I feel like I’ve made lots of new friends for life, as well as had the opportunity to meet up with folks like Anna Hughes, and Tony and Gill Pearson who I’ve only communicated with over the internet up until now. Anna has just published her book East, Sleep, Cycle, on her tour around the coast of Britain, well worth a read.

Eat, Sleep, Cycle - Anna Hughes

Eat, Sleep, Cycle – Anna Hughes

Available on Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Eat-Sleep-Cycle-Around-Britain/dp/1849536872/

I completed the same tour, albeit slightly different route as I decided to include a few islands, in 2013; rather than go for adventures in far flung lands it can be just as exciting and rewarding, and at times just as extreme, to explore what’s on your own doorstep. You can read about my own ride around the  coast of Britain, and check out the route I took, via my Bike around Britain website – www.bikearoundbritain.com

I could continue to wax lyrical about the event, however if you’re interested it’s probably best just to sign up for next year’s and go along yourself, certainly worthwhile if you’re thinking about cycle touring and want to learn stuff, meet people, and realise it’s not so strange a thing to want to do. Many thanks to Laura, Tim and the whole team for organising and running it. Who knows, maybe next year I’ll be able to give a talk on my own experiences whilst cycling from Norway to Spain to Istanbul?

Oh, and they had a bar, always handy, Saturday night partying left me somewhat delicate first thing Sunday morning. Probably wasn’t the only one though…

The illustrious Kev Shannon - he punched a wolf you know

The illustrious Kev Shannon – he punched a wolf you know

Kev cycled around Europe a few years ago, down to Istanbul; you’ll have to ask him about the wolf punching incident, pretty terrifying.

Sidenote: I’m typing this up flying North over Norway, over stunning landscapes full of snow covered mountains, wooded valleys and lakes, can’t wait to get on the ground!

Flying to Tromso - stunning scenery

Flying to Tromso – stunning scenery

At the end of the festival they gave those of use departing on tour a bit of a send off, including cake which is always a win, so I’ve really started on a high, thanks again Laura! To round things off, and as I was staying over until Monday morning, Tony, Gill and several others including myself headed to a local pub in Waddington (Lower Buck Inn I think) for a few pints of ale and some grub; a fitting end to the festival celebrated with Timothy Taylor’s Landlord, one of my favourites.

Post Cycle Tour Meal at the Lower Buck Inn

Post Cycle Tour Meal at the Lower Buck Inn

Gammon Steak with all the trimmings, awesome

Gammon Steak with all the trimmings, awesome

Lobster on a hat plus pint of Landlord

Lobster on a hat plus pint of Landlord

On Monday I packed up my tent, which had stayed nice and dry despite some pretty persistent rain, said my goodbyes and pedalled off to Manchester. A pleasant ride over a few hills, but nowhere near as many as on the inbound ride, and the rain held off. I even met up with Graham from the festival in Manchester, completely by chance. He’d just got off the train on his Brompton and was pedalling home; we crossed paths 4 miles from my hotel.

After 37 miles in about 4 hours I reached my hotel, a cheap and slightly shabby affair that completely did the job for one night, and checked in. I had to nip out to find a large bag to put all my panniers into, airlines not being particularly sympathetic if you turn up with 4 or 5 different pannier bags needing to go on a flight. I had a few ideas about what might suit, but as I was short of time and it being a bank holiday Monday I opted for buying a large canvas rubble type bag from Wickes, which has loops at the top, in which I could fit all my panniers then tie it up with bungees. I have to report this tactic worked very well, and the bag only cost a fiver so not precious about discarding it at the other end of the flight.

Panniers packed in a Wickes rubble bag, worked a treat

Panniers packed in a Wickes rubble bag, worked a treat

I managed to sneak my bike into the hotel room and spent the evening packing that into the large CTC plastic bag, then unpacking and repacking my panniers several times in a state of slight paranoia. I chose the large CTC plastic bag option for transporting my bike as it’s cheap at £10, you can fit the whole bike in by just turning the handlebars, lowering the saddle, and putting some padding in; for example I used a plastic bottle to cover up the derailer, another top tip from the festival. Baggage handers can also see what it is so there less likely to throw it about, in theory anyway.

Bike wrapped and ready to fly

Bike wrapped and ready to fly

All packed up I tried to get some sleep, after all the TV didn’t work, and Wifi didn’t reach the room, however it was slow coming due to high excitement levels. I think I eventually nodded off about 00.30 and awoke with a start what seemed like 5 minutes later, but was in fact 06.30. I’ll skip over the journey to the airport other than to say when the shuttle vehicle first turned up it was a taxi, in which my bike wouldn’t fit, d’oh; one minibus later I arrived.

Wheeling my bike and baggage through the airport precariously perched on a trolley proved challenging, as did checking in, but I got there eventually. I had to go back to check-in after security as they don’t like bike tools in hand luggage, and there was no way I could do without them. Not sure what damage I’d do with a small wheel wrench and a few allen keys! Everyone was helpful, however it was a great relief to finally get on the plane and start my journey North.

The flight involved three planes, one to Olso, then a connection to Tromso, followed by the final plane to Honnningsvag with a stop off in Hammerfest to drop a few people off; Hammerfest sounds like a cool place. The planes got gradually smaller the further North I journeyed, flying over some beautiful vistas. Needless to say I eventually arrived in Honnningsvag, as did all my luggage, thankfully. I screwed my pedals back on, remembered to pump my tyres up again, twisted a few things that had had some abuse back into the right place, and pedalled to the hostel through the wind and sleet; only a couple of kilometres to a safe haven.

I’ll leave you with a few photos from the journey

My next post will cover today’s ride to Nordkapp and back, and probably the next few days, depending on when I next get online. I might be offline for a few days as I journey South.