Bergen, Norway (August 1, 2013)
After three layovers and a close call in Frankfurt I arrived in Bergen, Norway. I unpacked my bicycle and rode out of the airport into a new world. Almost like coming out of the womb, I cycled the foreign roads to the city center. The time here is 6 hours ahead of the east coast and although I was able to sleep on the plane I was a bit distraught with finding my way about.
Bergen, is surrounded by seven hills and seven fjords, and was the original capital of Norway. With a temperate climate and a large harbor the city drew sea vessels from all over the east. The city still has a lot of historic sites and many of the earlier architecture is still inhabited.
The city is a cross between Victoria, BC and Anchorage, AK. Being this far north the sun doesn’t set till after 11pm and cruise ships from all over the world still come to the harbor for a night in town.
I spent my first full day walking the streets and cycling to the top of Mt Floyen. I marveled at the old wooden houses along the harbor, and walked the cobble stone streets in the downtown area. It is very easy to get around, many people speak English and are very friendly. However the road signs are extremely confusing, each street name is at least 11 letters long it will take sometime before I can pronounce many of the Norwegian vowels. Prices are extremely high and I will be surviving on a kg of pasta and a large loaf of bread for the next few days. Alcohol is ridiculously over priced, the cheapest bottle of wine is close to 120 krone (20 dollars) and a beer in a bar is no less than 60 krone.
Regardless the city is beautiful and the weather is a great change from the hot and humid south. Tomorrow I am heading to the Fjords north of the city, via a dirt trail that passes two mountains and a few glaciers. I am slowly making my way to Oslo and should be in Sweden by late next week. Scandinavia here I come!
Fjords, Viking Ruins and Cloudy Skies (August 6, 2013)
The sky was overcast and rain looked definite as I departed from Bergen. My bike felt especially heavy as I carried it up and down stairs trying to find the bike route out of town. After much talk with several cyclists I have decided to cycle the Rallarvegen route to the fjords in the city of Flam. The route was an early logging road used in the1930’s and is now too rough for automobile traffic. It is said to be one of the best cycling routes in Norway but to get there and to avoid the endless tunnels I have to take a bit of a detour. Instead of riding north, I will head south to the city of Os, where I head across the fjord on a ferry to Venjaneset. While on the ferry the rain starts and I can tell its going to be a long day, as I prepare to get soaked I contemplate my shoe options. Other than my funky sandals I have one pair of shoes and socks. Please comment on this but I feel that It is better to ride in sandals in the rain than get my shoes and socks wet. If these are dry I can put them on at the end of the day to warm me up when I cook, plus it could take me days to dry the shoes. It is not the coldest rain but downhill riding can be pretty cold. From Venjaneset the road hugged the fjord, and I passed waterfall after waterfall heading north. In the small town of Eikelandsosen I head inland and climbed to the top of a step pass. “Be happy even though the body is not” I keep telling myself, and look forward to a nice warm sleeping bag.
It is totally pouring!! My front panniers are a great wind block for my wet feet and my fenders which were a joke to south westerners are doing a great job at keeping the road spray off my legs. By this time the rain has mixed with fog and visibility has become so bad that I struggle to see the turns in the road. I pull of the road at a gas station and ask directions to Torvikbygd. “You must really like cycling” a motorcycle couple asks me outside, “not today” I respond, “well at least you can warm up on the step hill’s”. They ride off, I think to myself how they will probably reach my destination in 20 or 30 minutes.
I warm up in the ferry waiting room and observe a family feasting on hot dogs, mother can’t finish hers and throws away more than half of a juicy frank. The steam continues to rise from the garbage. The ferry is designed for automobiles, and does not offer shelter from the storm, I wait in the restroom for the sounds of the engine to stop. I depart the ferry in Jondal, (one of the best fishing spots in western Norway). Utne is about 35 km north and is the only name that I have been able to pronounce correctly). This is fruit country. Outside of each town is a small kiosk where fruit is being sold, and I see raspberries, cherries and currants. I pass a house with two people sitting outside smoking, and decide to try the Julian charm. ” Do you know if there is a spot nearby where I can camp under a roof and be dry for the evening”? Response “I have a house nearby and you can camp there”, “just cycle over that hill and I will meet you”.
About an hour later I am lounging inside a warm house, smoking a home rolled Norwegian cigarette and frying up a whale steak. Whale is so good! I actually filled up on it! Lars, my host gave me over a pound of meat to cook! He introduces me to his girlfriend Monica and her brother and we stay up till 3am and become good friends.
I wake up in a daze and pack for the road, I am introduced to brown cheese which is very similar to caramel but creamier. Lars tells me of some epic Viking ruins and my day is planned. Sad to say goodbye, I have stayed with so many people on the road but I really felt connected with Lars and Monica, there is something more than just coincidence here.
I cycle up hill to Utne and marvel at the beautiful, historic hotel built in 1722. Just outside of Lars’ hometown, Grimo there is a dirt road that leads up the mountain to an ancient Viking site. It is so steep that I have to push gaby in the mud. The rain just doesn’t stop and I befriend a farmer working on his tractor on the way back to town. It is already 5pm by the time I take the ferry from Utne to Kinsarvik. On the ferry I run into the farmer again. He asks me where I am headed and I tell him hopefully to a dry place. He invites me to his house and offers me room to sleep. He lives in the town of Loftus, and has many acres of Morello Cherries.
Eidfjord, Haugastol,Rallarvegen, and Rallarvegen (August 10, 2013)
Lofthus to Haugastol (via Eidfjord)
Haugastol to Flam (Rallarvegen north)
Flam to Haugastol (Rallarvegen south)
Meters climbed in the last 72 hours: over 3,000
A full day of sunshine! I departed Lofthus, and felt the warm sun on my back. Now that the clouds have temporarily departed I can see the top of the mountains. I got to Eidfjord in a few hours, and ran into a few other cyclists at the visitor center. One cyclist, probably a Spaniard, rudely demanded where I was from then responded by saying that he was from the best country. Obviously it is not that good if you are cycling in Norway. I admired the turquoise blue harbor while preparing for the step climb. From Eidfjord there is a 5,000 feet accent to the top of mountain. Most of the time there was a bike path, but at one point the path was completely washed out leaving no option other than to ride through a 15 km tunnel! Once inside the tunnel I had about 45 minutes of pure fear. It was almost completely dark inside except for the headlights of passing vehicles, and if it weren’t for my headlight it would be almost completely dark. I thought of my friend Jacob Thompson who once passed out while a train he was hopping passed through a tunnel. These thoughts did not bring me much hope as I continued through the darkness and carbon monoxide.
I made it to Haugastol (the official starting place of the Rallarvegen) by late evening. No food stores, no gas station, only an bike shop with hundreds of rental bikes prepped for the busy weekend. With 4 pieces of bread and some macaroni noodles I took the dirt road out of Haugastol and on to the Rallarvegen. 86 km of rocky dirt roads descending down 5,000 feet to a small fishing called Flam. Within the first 10 km I found a vacant hut and pitched my tent near a large lake.
I awoke to a cloudy sky and decided to go back to sleep, bad idea. When I awoke the second time it was pouring rain and a new hole in my tent started dripping water on to my warm dry sleeping bag. Shit! I quickly got everything together, and put all my soaked gear into my panniers. My first thought, due to the rain was to cycle half the Rallarvegen, and turn around at Finse. However after talking to some local diehard cyclists at the bike shop, I decided to ride all the way back down to sea level and see the beautiful city of Flam.
Although the climb back up is one of the steepest grades in Norway the ride down was breath-taking. I am very proud to say that the Rallarvegen has made it to my top 3 most beautiful places cycled. (The other two places are Dempster Hwy, Yukon and Hana, Maui). Glaciers, water falls, mountain sheep, goats, and jagged mountains. The road from Finse to Flam was mostly downhill, passing lakes and streams, and small villages. At about 20 km from Flam the road has a very step switch back section that descends 800 meters in 3 km!
I arrived in Flam just in time for the rain to start again. I cycled through the small village a found a nice flat spot to pitch my tent near the water. Although chemistry is not the most interdisciplinary science, I have used my later education from construction to keep the leak in my tent from becoming too troublesome, this technique I call the “tent plunger”. It is standard procedure when pulling a toilet to drain the bowl than shove a rag inside to keep the water from pouring out. The tent plunge follows the same principle, shoving all my clothes into the corners of my tent to keep the water out. I have used half a roll of guerrilla tape, and it still leaks, using the tent plunger not a drop.
Flam was full of tourists! Many wealthy Chinese, French and German leaving lots of extra food on their plates at meal time. I contemplated buying a train ticket (just to the top of the mtn) but the price including bicycle was over 350 kr (more than $50) for 20 km! I would ride the steepest hills if someone paid me $2.5 a km, so I rode back up. This was my second time climbing the mountain, in some areas the road was so steep and rocky that I had push. Up, up and up! The reception alone made the trip worth while, I must have posed for 3-4 pictures, as it is uncommon to ride the Rallarvegen in the other direction.
That night I camped near the glacier at the top of the mountain and shivered in the late evening wind. All night I could hear the sound of the bells from the grazing sheep.
I awoke to the warm sun, again! Shining through the tent, giving me the opportunity to dry out a few of my things. I cycled back into Haugastol and while writing this I met a very nice couple in the café. We talked for a few hours and they bought me pizza!! I am now heading back into Rallarvegen in the rain to check out an epic trail recommended by my new friends. I wish you all a good day!
Coming down with feverish cycling (August 16, 2013)
Haugaustol – Geilo – Tunhovd – Nesbyen – Fla – Honefoss – Oslo
Cycling down to Geilo, I felt like my tires were half deflated. Something didn’t feel quite right but I shrugged and continued on my trip towards Tunhovd. I passed a American, from Oakland riding a custom Rivendell frame, he was also on his way to Oslo but was connecting with a train in the next town. His set up, with custom hubs and wheels probably cost close to $5k. By the time I made it to Tunhovd, it began to rain again and I quickly looked for a roof to eat some lunch. After a few slices of bread, sugar and energy drink packets I continued on. Within about 20 minutes my stomach started teaching an advanced chemistry lab, and I felt like was going to explode. Keep pedaling, I told myself, the symptoms may continue to worsen and you may need to be close to a town. My temperature began to rise and I could feel the early symptoms of a GI sickness. It felt like I was towing a vehicle behind me, and each small hill took an enormous amount of energy to climb. I finally made it to the small town of Fla found a park bench and tried to keep things from spinning. Am I really sick? I thought? Maybe just cold? I pushed my bike across the street to McDonalds and decided to see. I ate a cheeseburger, and if it weren’t for the handicapped bathroom would have vomited all over the restaurant.
I found an open field about two blocks away and had an awful night of feverish dreams; and stomach pains. I awoke before the sun, and lay in a cloud of sickness till the sun came up. I ate a few aspirin, and packed up my gear for another day. It was 50 miles to the next town, and there I had a bed for the night.
Pedal, pedal pedal, puke, pedal, pedal, puke. ahhhh.
When I was a kid my mom would always say well being sick at home is just the same as being sick at school, maybe so but being sick on a 50 kg bike sucks!
Getting into Honefoss, I repeatedly searched for a warm dry spot to rest while I waited for my host to get off work. I finally found the movie theater fire escape, where I could sitindoors out of the rain.
My host welcomed me, and offered me some leftovers, I ate all I could but didn’t make it very far. After several trips to the bathroom, I asked him and his wife if I could stay another day and rest, not possible was the reply and I needed to leave by 7:30am the next morning. OK, I will just cycle to the woods and find rest again there.
The next morning I cycled into town and decided to wait for the library to open. I sat on a park bench and watched the river push debris into a small lake. Since leaving Haugaustol, I have notice several changes; more minority cultures, graffiti and overweight people. After 20 minutes of sitting in the park a lady approached me and asked me where I was from. We talked for a while and she invited me into her warm house for coffee, yeah! She lived in an old house overlooking the river. We hang for a few hours, and she told me that I reminded her of an old friend, I met her two sons and then she invited me to stay.
I spent two days with Heidi, her sons Cas and Bru and her boyfriend Life. We went hiking to the top of a local mountain, where I viewed the tragic island of Utoeya (where a crazed Norwegian gunned down at least 70 people at a political party in 2011), we went canoeing, she cooked me reindeer and she even cycled with me to Oslo. You are awesome Heidi!
My fever is gone, but I am still having stomach problems. It seems every time I eat my stomach is filled with so much gas that I feel like I am going to puke. At night it is grumbling and painful for hours while I try to sleep. Lesson learned, I do not have the Norwegian genes to handle the local water from the steams and rivers.
Heidi took me on the old forest road to Oslo, during WWII the Norwegians used this road to hide supplies and make attacks on German ships in the Oslo harbor. It is very interesting to ride through the forest and into the capital city.
Oslo is a beautiful city full of Brad Pitt look a likes and Ralph Lauren models. The Nobel peace prize is awarded each year in the city hall, and overall the city has a very multicultural feel. Edvard Munch, the Norwegian artist, has many of his paintings here, and the new Opera house draws people from across the country.
I went to the Russian consulate today, Russia is possible! Will be in Sweden tonight,