Northern Norway: beauty between tunnels and under rainbows

Northern Norway: beauty between tunnels and under rainbows

And then we roll into Norway! But rolling soon turns to pedalling, as flat roads are a thing of the past. Up and down becomes the new mantra. A country that stretches from Utrecht to southern Spain, with a population of just 5 million. Where the geography of the north is incredibly different from that of the south, where people seem to love Mexican tacos, but where Norwegian salmon is a staple of the weekly menu. Will you cycle with us through the extraordinary (and terrifying) tunnels and under the bright rainbows?

Arctic and barren landscape

Every kilometre we cycle, a few trees disappear from the landscape. The bushes get smaller and lower and the green gives way to bare rock and Arctic tundra. The tree line is above the Arctic Circle at 300 metres, as the ground is simply too cold with an average temperature of around 10 degrees in July. There are even areas in the far north where no trees can grow up to sea level! In the Alps, the tree line is between 1800 and 2200 metres.

You will also notice the number of motorhomes and cyclists on the road. It is a popular route to and from the North Cape and there are not many alternatives. We also meet a number of female cyclists, alone or in groups; remarkably more than in other countries. We climb and descend, are easily overtaken by many campers and lighter cyclists, and the first attempt to find a suitable wild camping spot for the night takes some effort. The ground is anything but level, but after some searching we find a spot by an idyllic lake where dense vegetation is hard to find in the rocky and barren landscape. Audrey doesn’t like the fact that it’s so close to the road and that we have no shelter, but it’s time to drive the pegs into the ground. The sun is already low in the sky and the clouds are starting to glow orange and pink. The reflection of the sunset on the lake invites us to take a dip, but the water is freezing cold, like walking on a bed of pins and needles.

We are no longer surprised that so little grows here when we realise that the stakes cannot be driven into the stony ground. Fortunately, a German couple in a camper van were passing by and were happy to lend us their hammer. At the same time, a young German woman passes by on her bicycle. She has been to the North Cape and is now cycling south while we are on our way north. The next morning Audrey complains about a pungent smell that occasionally wafts past her as she tries to prepare breakfast. Then it turns out there is a delicious turd stuck under Eloy’s shoe. With a half-broken twig and ice-cold water, cleaning it up is a nice way to start the day. ….

Distances in perspective

At the end of the day, we arrive at a small campsite where the owner is the first to greet us. There are a few tents and, despite the drizzle and low clouds, the view over the Porsanger Fjord is beautiful. Suddenly we realise that this is an ebb and flow sea: the Barents Sea. It is named after the Dutch explorer Willem Barentsz, who was stranded on an island in the sea centuries ago. With a view of the sea and 190km to go, the North Cape suddenly feels very close.

Camping in Norway can be expensive for a cyclist, especially if you are travelling alone, but sometimes it is necessary. Comfort, warmth, showers, company, a washing machine. Sometimes there is even more luxury, like at this campsite, a small barrel sauna, but also a heated common room with kitchen and TV. It feels strange, but like a benevolent luxury, to sink into a comfortable sofa in front of the TV in the evening and watch the film ‘Titanic’ because it happens to be on the tube. The homely and warm atmosphere makes us stay for a long time, but eventually we have to crawl through the downpour into the cold tent.

The owner offers us and 2 other cyclists to use the sauna (but we are too tired and refuse!) and when we want to book an extra night the next day, she gives us the money. We don’t have to pay for the laundry either. “I love cyclists and I want to cheer them up“, she says. As we leave, she runs into a storage shed and tells us to wait. Suddenly she is standing there with a Norwegian flag and a Sami flag in her hand. “You can’t leave without these“, she says, waving us off with a smile.

Originally a nomadic people living in Lapland, the Sami have their own parliament. This means that they live scattered across Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, and have a say about their people and their land in each of these countries. Some of the Sami live from reindeer herding. Here and there we see real farms, where help is needed to prepare for the winter or where you can book an excursion.

‘I’ve never done this before, but I had to do it!’

The weather forecast for today and the next few days does not look good. An icy wind will blow in from the far north this afternoon and the amount of rain is not to be underestimated, but maybe we will get it anyway. We leave the campsite in good spirits and immediately feast our eyes. To the left, the sheer cliffs, with a stream of water splashing down here and there, and to the right, the wild sea. At the stroke of midnight it starts to drizzle and we jump into our rain gear.

After 3 hours and 35 kilometres in the pouring rain, we arrive at a mini supermarket in the neighbourhood. The first (and last) shop of the day. By now Audrey can feel her wet clothes clinging to her body; the best rain gear won’t stand up to this weather. We park the bike in the hall near the front door and walk in, the floor turning into a muddy, wet mess in no time. A little embarrassed, we ask if we can eat our lunch in the shop as there is a corner with a table and chairs where we can drink coffee and try to dry off a bit. Meanwhile, we keep checking the weather forecast: this storm will continue for at least another 24 hours. It’s strange how we react. First we eat, the energy boost helps us think more clearly. One redcurrant roll after another disappears. “I don’t know what to do, we can’t stay here“, Audrey says to Eloy. We order another coffee to warm us up and maybe bury our heads in the sand.

Suddenly the cashier asks where we are going. When he saw us looking puzzled, he pointed out that one of his customers wanted to ask us something. The man charges and then comes over to us: “Do you want to sleep in my barn?” We didn’t see that coming! “Have you been watching the weather?” he asks, and we nod. “I grew up in this area, I know how bad it can be. You can’t stay outside for long in these conditions and sleeping in this shop is not an option either“. He lives 3 km away.

Audrey looks at Eloy with a mixture of surprise, scepticism and hope. Actually, we have to keep going because we are on a schedule. We don’t know who he is, but we can’t go on in this weather. Hoping and surprised, we follow him for 3 kilometres behind his car. Audrey’s lungs can barely take the rocky pace through the hills, so Eloy is already well ahead of us. Then down a dirt track and there we see the typical red Norwegian barn. The man, called Arnulf, has made a real mancave in the barn with a barbecue, pool table and some furniture, and we can sleep here and he immediately pulls out another gas stove, which he starts to hook up to heat things up a bit.

Arnulf is a keen football fan, a fireman at the airport and has lived here most of his life. He lives in his childhood home and asks if we would like to join him for dinner. Inside we meet his Thai girlfriend and swap stories. On the kitchen table is a huge bowl of blueberries that they spent two days picking. He is going to make juice from them, just like he used to do as a child with his parents. A huge kettle with a hose comes out and he proudly shows us the process. Then he opens the freezer, which to our amazement is full of 25 kilos (!) of salmon, and takes out 5 large pieces, “That should be enough!” A fellow fisherman had caught 50 kilos, which they smoked together, so he got half. His fridge was full of trout, mackerel, sardines and other fish. We cannot believe our eyes and have never seen or eaten so many fresh salmon. We are satisfied and thank Arnulf again for his hospitality. As we sit down to coffee, Audrey asks, “Why did you bring us, strangers, to your house in the first place?” He replies, “I don’t know. I’ve never done this before, but I had to do it!

As we crawl into our sleeping bags, we hear the blustery wind rushing through the cracks of the barn, but are soon distracted by the mouse we see running past, because of course it would rather be inside than out at the moment. Eloy, the (literal) hero in socks, quickly closes all the bags, but we can’t blame him when it turns out that the bread has already tasted good. We blink once more: Arnulf went to the shop and came back with 2 soaked cyclists!

Witchy weather and a crash course in tunnel cycling

Today is better, it still rains occasionally but the sun shines in between. We count at least eight rainbows. ‘Witchy weather’, as Eloy’s mother would say. The first tunnels are also appearing, and cycling uphill through a tunnel takes a lot of getting used to. It is slow, there is little light and the noise is deafening, but it is good practice for the infamous North Cape Tunnel, of which more later.

Norway has no fewer than 900 tunnels, the longest being a modest 24.5 km! Fortunately, we don’t have to go through any of them. Some tunnels are closed to cyclists, then there is often a steep path leading up along the tunnel, sometimes there is a cycle path, and often there is nothing and you cycle on the road or the slippery pavement. Occasionally we find a button for cyclists at the entrance. This warns drivers that there are cyclists in the tunnel. Handy if they do, which is often not the case.

We pass a road sign warning of wind: 0.2 – 73 km. We laugh about it, in 200 metres to 73 km? Exactly those 200 metres down the road, we are almost blown off our bikes, screaming like a farmer with a toothache, tears welling up in the corners of our eyes. No way!

We put up our tent in a covered picnic shelter because of the strong wind. A few reindeer come along and have a chat. It is a beautiful spot, but as the evening and night progresses the wind gusts increase. The bikes, although parked in the cabin, fall onto the tent in a huge gust of night wind. Audrey is trapped and Eloy runs out in his boxer shorts (this time without socks) to get her out. As he turns to look out onto the lawn, he sees a herd of small, beautiful reindeer and their mother. They look at the scene and must be thinking. Strange cyclists in underwear…

Your fears are your greatest gift

Audrey is afraid of the tunnel. Not the first 5 today, but especially the last one: the North Cape Tunnel. It’s the tunnel that connects the mainland to the island of Magerøya, the northernmost part of Norway. It has been raining for a while and it is quite cold, so we stop before the tunnel entrance to put on some extra clothes and gloves. The tunnel is 6.8 kilometres long and goes a whopping 212 metres below sea level, an oppressive thought. First 3.4 kilometres of steep descent, only to arrive there like an ice cube. Then 100 metres straight ahead and then a sticky, sweaty or wet 3.4 kilometres uphill with an average gradient of 9%. There is no cycle path and every time a vehicle passes it sounds like an approaching aeroplane, which we cannot see or hear until the last moment, whether it is coming from the front or the back. The air quality is not fantastic, as it is in most tunnels. But it is not too bad for us. The crowds are also manageable, so we occasionally zigzag up the steep slope to avoid hyperventilating our way to the top. Audrey keeps telling herself: straight on, every metre is one, you can do it. The signs on the wall tell us how many metres there are before we see the light at the end of the tunnel. When your fears teach you to trust.

Once we are on the island, the wind picks up and literally blows us off our feet. We are blown off the road and decide to take shelter in the toilet after the tunnel and get something to eat and drink. Stefan, a German cyclist, also seems to have retreated to the toilet to take a break from the tunnel and the wind. He gives us his chocolate, we a diluted cappuccino with biscuits. He does not have a cup, but we have an extra one. “That says a lot about you, that you have a guest mug“, says Stefan jokingly, overjoyed at the hot drink.

After a while we decide to move on and crawl until we find a sheltered spot to pitch the tent. Right next to the road, in a pit, or rather a drainage pit, we see a small tent with a bicycle next to it. It turned out to be Daniel, the German we had seen earlier at the supermarket.

We put up the tent and quickly boil a pot. As it turns out, it is already quite late and tomorrow promises to be (another) long and hard day. Because of the length of the days in the far north (the sun only dips below the horizon briefly at night and it doesn’t really get dark), the natural biological clock sometimes loses track of time… Even though the tent is in a sheltered spot, it swings back and forth all night and the rain beats deafeningly on the canvas. Eloy looks at Audrey with alarm at every gust of wind and asks if she has all the pegs down well enough. The tent stays put and everything stays dry. That it was dog weather is proven when we find a fresh pile of poo and a strange delicacy (bones!) under the front of the tent in the morning. A fox seemed happy to share our shelter.

The tent: It’s alive…

North Cape: One of the toughest rides of the whole trip!

The next day starts sunny and the wind has died down. Climbing up to the North Cape is a challenge with the packed bikes, but by now we know that we can do it. Then, in a matter of minutes, the weather changes! The wind picks up, the clouds roll in and the icy rain hits our faces like needles. We can’t see anything but a white haze. As soon as we cycle more than 50 metres apart, we lose sight of each other. Every time a car or caravan passes, Audrey is blown off the road by the change in the wind. One kilometre from the North Cape she shouts that she wants to turn around. The wind prevents her from cycling and she has to push the bike uphill. Everything is wet, cold and despite two pairs of gloves she can’t feel her fingers.

But then she saw the entrance appear in the clouds. A woman at the gate waves that cyclists can ride through without paying. Norway seems to be showing solidarity with cyclists and pedestrians, as will be seen later with the many ferries between the islands. Audrey rushes to park the bike pontifically at the Tesla charging station and hides in the nearby toilet block for a few minutes to come to her senses and thaw her fingers.

Different perspectives

We cycle a few more metres to the main building, park the dripping bike next to another in the corridor, and then see a shadow of the famous globe. Mentally and physically, however, we are unable to look directly at the globe. We see cyclist Daniel staring out the window. He is calling his family and making a hot coffee on his gas stove. Zoltan, a Hungarian cyclist, is also there. And later, Stefan, the German cyclist we met just after the North Cape Tunnel, drops by. We celebrate this moment together, share this experience, but also enjoy it separately. Each for his own reasons and looking at the globe from his own perspective. For some this is the final destination, for others not yet.

Slowly but surely the sky clears, the rain stops and our ends come alive again. We sit outside for two hours and wander around the visitor centre, where there is plenty to see and read about Norway and the North Cape. We cycle back to the village of Honningsvåg the same day, as we have a boat booked for the next morning. It feels like we are cycling on another planet compared to the experience earlier in the day. Although it is the same route, the low clouds have disappeared and rainbows and the last rays of sunshine paint a golden layer over the previously hidden lunar landscape. A tale of different perspectives, and a reminder never to limit yourself to one point of view.

We arrive in the small town of Honningsvåg around midnight, but cannot find a place to camp. The only hostel is closed and we drive around looking for a spot. Wild camping in Norway requires a minimum distance of 150 metres from the nearest house. At 2am we finally crawl quietly into our tent between the rocks in Honningsvåg harbour, a questionable distance from the houses. Tired, happy, relieved. We feel everything, but at the same time we don’t. We quickly make a cheese sandwich for a late supper and calculate that we can sleep for another 2.5 hours to catch the boat at 6am. ….

Highway No. 1

It is already quite light as we quietly pack up the tent at 4.30am. Thousands of seagulls sit on the hill above the village. We cycle to the quay with half an eye open, but there is no boat in sight. The Hurtigruten, or Coast Express, as the mail boats are called, is on what is internationally regarded as one of the world’s most beautiful sea voyages. It arrives after 15 minutes and the ship can be described as gigantic, to say the least. It can hold cars and is loaded with pallets of all kinds of goods.

For more than 130 years, shipping has been of great importance to the 34 municipalities and towns along Norway’s weather-beaten, rugged and previously inaccessible west coast. At one time, the 2,700-kilometre shipping route was known as National Road 1. Today, ships still carry people and goods up and down the coast every day. The entire journey from Bergen in the south to Kirkenes near the Russian border takes 6 days.

We spend 10 hours on the boat, first sailing to Havøysund and Hammerfest, and later disembarking in Øksfjord. This way we avoid having to drive back the same way through the North Cape Tunnel, and experience a piece of Norwegian maritime culture. We sail through fjords with mountains rising steeply from the sea on either side. Several times Audrey calls out to Eloy, “Look, over there!” as a large fin rises above the surface. The slow passing of the landscape is similar to cycling, but there is also luxury and the atmosphere is different as there are many foreign tourists on the boat. We learned from two other Norwegian cyclists who also boarded the boat in Honningsvåg that there is a shower on the boat and a sauna that everyone is allowed to use! Another highlight is the washing machine on the boat (yes, really!), because with the humid conditions of the past few days we don’t need to explain how everything and we smell after 6 days of not showering. …. Fresher than freshly washed, we disembark 10 hours later in the somewhat deserted Øksfjord. No one seems to be getting off the boat with us in the village of around 500 people.

We immediately notice how quiet the road is compared to the route to the North Cape. When a passing cyclist sees us staring at the huge peaks and glaciers that now surround us, he stops and starts explaining all the peaks we see. After 2 cars have passed in 5 minutes, he says: ‘Oh, a lot of traffic today’. This shows the contrast well. We cycle out of the village and pitch our tent a little further down the road, overlooking the first glacier of the trip: Øksfjordjøkelen. Rested after a few short nights and long days, Eloy drives back to the supermarket in Øksfjord in the morning and returns with chocolate balls given to him by a stranger.

A special place to spend the night

We have to cross several hills on the way to Oksfjordhamn. The weather is drizzly and we set off late because the burner we use to cook our breakfast and dinner broke this morning and we were trying to fix it. It took a while, but it worked. The last hill we cycle through and above the clouds. The mist hanging over the landscape makes it a mysterious ride. At the top, a woman in a caravan stops. She wants to take a picture of us. She used to cycle a lot too, but now she travels everywhere with her van and camera. Moments later, we disappear deep into the clouds and our rain suits and don’t see much of the landscape until we reach the valley.

In Oksfjordhamn harbour there is a sort of kota, a wooden hut, but there is no one around to ask if we can spend the night. There is, however, an abandoned caravan site with a toilet block where you can take a hot shower. Blessed! Meanwhile, it’s still raining outside, so we’re very happy with this hut. It even has a heat lamp, like the ones that hang over newborn chicks. All evening we see no one else for miles around. In the morning a man in a big car stops. For a moment we think ‘we’ve been caught’, but the man gets out and asks if we have the heat lamp on and if it is giving off enough heat. Later in the day, after we have cycled quite a bit, we see him driving by, happily honking and waving.

Eloy’s first flat rear tyre in the Norwegian Alps

And then, after 24,000 kilometres, something Audrey thought impossible happened. After a night camping among the mountains that make up the Lyngen Alps, Eloy wakes up with a flat rear tyre. The final score was 7 – 1 (Audrey – Eloy). The scenery could use the delay. Mountains with some snow left over from last winter, glaciers and turquoise lakes make our eyes stare endlessly. Here and there, red wooden houses seem to have fallen randomly into the landscape. Some are decorated with a wooden heart, a silent reminder of the Covid pandemic. A few short ferries, which are free for cyclists and pedestrians, bring us closer and closer to Tromsø.

Speculoos and salmon in Tromsø

With a population of just over 75,000, Tromsø is the largest city in northern Norway. Situated 300 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, the city lies on the same northern latitude as Alaska and Siberia. This makes for incredibly long winters. From 21 November to 21 January, the sun cannot be seen here because it does not rise above the horizon at that time.

In Tromsø we met the Belgian Bonnie and the French Basile with their 3 teenagers. Their house is on a high hill with a beautiful view of the mountains, the water and the setting sun. Together they enjoy sports activities. Their last family cycling trip was in the USA and Bonnie is about to embark on a solo cycling trip through Italy. We stay with them for a few days, visit Tromsø and are able to wash our inner tent, which is beginning to suffer from the damp climate (mould!). Basile and Bonnie came to Norway to study a long time ago and never left.

We are impressed by Basile’s French cooking skills applied to the giant Norwegian salmon. He works as a marine engineer in the Norwegian salmon industry and explains the process. There are many salmon farms in the fjords. We make apple cake for dessert and in the morning the sons’ favourite comes out: the only Belgian speculoos paste (readers from Belgium will know!).

Hyper-modern Tesla’s through unimaginably ancient mountains

After Tromsø we cycle over a high bridge to the island of Kvaløya. Basile has prepared us for the fact that the scenery over the next few days is going to be extraordinary. What an understatement! Our mouths regularly drop open in amazement. Crystal clear water that makes you think you are in a tropical place, surrounded by steep mountains that rise directly from the sea. The shapes of the mountains are the result of several ice ages, creating this alpine and dramatic effect.

We also notice that there are a lot of Teslas driving around among these Norwegian giants. We later find out that 1 in 5 cars in Norway is a Tesla. Electric driving seems to be heavily promoted as the country plans to be the first in the world to ban the sale of fossil fuel cars by 2025. Some ferries also appear to be electric.

Senja, a pearl of the North

After taking the ferry from Kvaløya to Senja, we pitched our tent in the harbour. There seems to be a hot shower and toilet within easy reach. When we crawl out of the tent the next morning, a thick fog hangs over the mountains. We could barely see a few metres ahead, but we could hear the water birds. By midday the fog had cleared and we took a lunch break. Audrey picks raspberries in the bushes while we hang up the damp tent to dry in the sun. The dead straight mountains seem to be projected onto our retinas like a bumper sticker. See the top 2 photos below.

Senja, thanks to the mountain range, is an island with many tunnels and steeper climbs, but as we are taking it easy, it is doable. Occasionally we meet another cyclist, usually from the opposite direction, who warns us of the next tunnel. At the end of the day we find a spot to camp in a rather spooky troll park. It seems that the park did not survive the fire and the covid crisis and is now abandoned.

And then it’s time to get out the lapskaus. A typical Norwegian (or German or Danish: opinions are divided) dish that we will be tasting for the first time. It used to be eaten mainly by sailors at sea, because the mixture of meat, potatoes, onions, lard, carrots, celery and spices was nutritious enough. To be honest, it doesn’t look very appetising when it’s on your plate, but it’s quick to prepare, tastes like a sort of snort and, at the end of a day’s cycling, tastes (almost) anything.

One day you ride in the sky, the next day in the shit💩

From Senja we head over to the island of Andøya. An equally enchanting island, with the white beach at Bleik and one of the most bizarre wild camping sites. Even the public toilet we find is probably the most unusual we have seen on the whole trip. And there are many of them, sometimes literally filled with shit. Mirrors reflect the landscape inside the building, and once you’re in the pot you can enjoy the view by pressing a button! Whether the people outside can also enjoy you on the pot, maybe a little bit…..

The sunset is otherworldly. With the mountains behind us and the sea in front of us. Eloy goes to the lighthouse and climbs the stairs to the top. He explains that he didn’t have a camera with him, but that the image will stay with him forever.

The next day we could not find a suitable place for the tent. It rains cats and dogs, it gets dark, and just when we think we have found a spot, we are suddenly surrounded by six very angry cows. They come closer and closer, with steam coming out of their noses. We shout at each other and at the cows to scare them off, but then we flee through the shit to find another spot in the dark.

A few minutes later we stop at a freshly mown field and pitch our tent in the rain behind some white hay bales. Hopefully we won’t be standing in cow dung this time. Exhausted, wet and hungry. These are the moments when you feel that your head is not thinking clearly, but the learned routine of pitching and unpacking the tent helps. And we know that in these moments we should not and need not say anything to each other. We eat sandwiches and yoghurt out of the bag for dinner while lying in the warm sleeping bag, ignoring the fact that everything will still be soaking wet when we put it back on in the morning. But there’s nothing we can do about that.

It’s still dripping in the morning, but fortunately we haven’t seen any more night cows. Today we cycle first towards Stokmarknes, over a steep bridge that Audrey always has to mentally prepare for…. To the right of the bridge it is raining, to the left the sun is shining. The result is many rainbows today. Arriving in Stokmarknes, our eyes are drawn to a huge glass structure. It houses a retired ship from the Hurtigruten fleet: the MS Finnmarken, built in 1956. It was here 130 years ago that the world-famous Hurtigruten, or mailboats, began their journey along the west coast of Norway, and today there is a museum here.

The Lofoten Islands and ‘the right to roam’

There is a ferry between Melbu and Fiskebøl to get to the Lofoten Islands. The Lofoten are a famous archipelago. On the one hand, it is known for its fishing tradition, which has kept the local economy going for centuries. Cod is caught over several months in the middle of winter and then hung to dry on wooden racks. On the other hand, the Lofoten are known for their extraordinary landscape, which has allowed tourism to boom, perhaps too much.

As well as the beauty, we find that there is a lot of toilet paper in the bushes, the narrow roads are overcrowded, and there are paths through the countryside alongside the official roads. Only 25,000 people live on the Lofoten, but more than a million (!) people visit the islands every year, mostly concentrated in the very short summer season. A million people in a fragile environment leaves a lot of traces.

There is a wonderful right in Norway that allows everyone to experience its natural beauty, allemannsretten (the right of all), or “the right to roam”. It is an important part of Norway’s cultural heritage, as the right to roam freely has existed since ancient times, regardless of who owns the land. But with this right comes a responsibility to preserve it. It is our duty to leave no trace, not even toilet paper.

The first moose and what a shelter!

Just after the ferry we meet up again with Zoltán from Hungary, whom we met hundreds of kilometres north at the North Cape. We decide to cycle together to an unforgettable (cycling) shelter. Completely surrounded by huge windows, overlooking the sea in front and the mountains behind. While a sea otter plays with shells, a pair of moose emerges from the bushes at sunset. The moment is magical. And they are huge.

As the sun sinks below the horizon, the temperature drops rapidly. A white mist and silence falls over the landscape. We huddle together to sleep.

Crowded with motorhomes

After passing the town of Svolvær, the road becomes very busy. Sometimes Audrey has a whole line of motorhomes behind her as she tries to cycle up a hill. The roads are narrow and winding, the motorhomes are bigger and wider, so overtaking is difficult. She just tries not to think about the frustration of the drivers and concentrates on her own heavy breathing.

At the end of the day we camp on Rørvika beach. There are small spots in the bushes where you can pitch your tent. There is also a toilet and Eloy and Zoltán decide to take a refreshing dip in the tempting but ice-cold seawater.

At night, Eloy suddenly finds himself sitting up straight in his sleeping bag. What are you doing?’ asks Audrey. I hear something squeaking,’ he says. Audrey’s ears do not register all such sounds, which is sometimes useful and sometimes not. Heroically, we check the awning and the pannier of food, but see nothing. In the morning it turns out that there are small pellets in the open pan. ….

The next day Zoltán goes for an extra bike ride. He catches up with us later in the day and asks if we want to spend the night in a hut on a campsite, as the forecast is for heavy rain. So we end up at a campsite in Storfjord, the hut is quickly turned into a mess full of cycling gear and we have a pleasant evening.

Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, Plan …

On our last day of cycling in the Lofoten, we keep changing our plans. First, the petrol burner for cooking fails again, but that is a worry for later. We say goodbye to Zoltán as he has a different pace and plan. There is a terrible tunnel with heavy traffic where we have to cycle uphill. We use the mossy and slippery footpath as there is no cycle path. The other 2 tunnels we were lucky enough to be able to avoid by taking a path that runs alongside them. There is already a lot of wind, but the weather forecast for the next day is much worse. So we keep postponing the finish and cycle on. At dusk we pass the pretty and touristy town of Reine. The streets are deserted as night falls, it is raining and cold to the bone. The lights in the little red and white wooden houses keep us warm. They look like Christmas houses with candles inside. Somehow we long for the warmth of such a house, but we also enjoy the scenery around us, the clouds hanging just above this fairytale village, hiding the peaks of the surrounding mountains.

But then the energy starts to run out. Our faces are grumpy when a car stops. A couple of men get out; they are from Croatia. But… they are making a documentary about Norway and ask if they can film us while we cycle. We laugh in disbelief and the grumpiness disappears within seconds. Suddenly we are cycling in a documentary about Norway.

A choppy ride (on the water)

Finally, due to the bad weather forecast for tomorrow, we decide to pitch our tent 1.5 km from Å harbour. Tomorrow morning we take the ferry back to Bodø on the Norwegian mainland. There we meet Zoltán again, who has chosen our camping suggestion after all. We set up our tent by the light of the bike’s headlights and headlamps. It is now 21.30. The yoghurt from the bag is a fantastic invention, and together with some bread it becomes dinner, as the cooker is still broken.

In the morning we feel that the wind is already much stronger than yesterday. We really have to say goodbye to Zoltán. Luckily there is only one more tunnel and then we are at the harbour in a few minutes. The ferry takes 3.5 hours and we have taken one earlier just to be on the safe side, as we are leaving for southern Norway by train tonight. All passengers are asked to enter their first and last names into a recorder. We wonder if we won’t need a ticket for this long crossing after all. On the boat we read that it is indeed free for pedestrians and cyclists.

The sea is wild and the waves high. Things roll off the tables. We both get a bit nauseous and seasick. Later we find out that the next ferries for the day have been cancelled due to extreme winds. Arriving in Bodø, we look for a supermarket that is open on Sundays. We find one on a hill. The real main entrance is closed, but a side entrance leads us into a narrow corridor where a small selection of the shop is sold at a slightly higher price. The construction is quaint, though.

Train ride to Oslo

The next time we go to the station, we find that we are not the only cyclists on the train. There is a German couple with a 6-month-old baby who have also cycled all over northern Norway. Later, another 6 cyclists arrive, hopefully able to get on the train. We had reserved our seats on the train a few weeks ago, but then a storm damaged part of the track, so we had to take the bus for part of the journey.

Ten hours later we arrive in Trondheim at 7.15am. Like the rest of the passengers, we ask at the information desk about the new timetable. But the next train refuses to take bicycles, and by now there are about 15 cyclists waiting on the platform. The conductor of the next train smiles nervously when he sees everyone’s bikes (and luggage). He manages to get everyone on the train. The bike shed is pleasantly full.

Equally nervous are the bus drivers of the 3 coaches when they see the number of cyclists and their luggage that they have to carry with the other train passengers…. Eventually, this too comes to a head.

Reunion

Together with the whole group of cyclists, after 24 hours of boat, train, train, bus, train, we arrive in Oslo. Almost 2,000 kilometres south, in a different climate, where it feels warmer and the sun is remarkably more visible. Audrey’s mother, sister and partner were waiting for us at the station. After more than a year, we hug each other tightly. They had come to Norway in a camper van and we were going to spend a few days together in Oslo. The luggage goes on the bus with the family. We cycle through Oslo, not knowing that we have a 17% gradient ahead of us as the campsite is on the top of Ekerberg. But we get a great view and sunset over the city!

For those interested, here are the statistics for northern Norway:

  • Travel period: 13-08-2023 – 04-09-2023
  • Days: 23
  • Distance: 1111 km
  • Elevation: +7360m
  • Rainbows: 14
  • Tunnels: 22
  • Ferries: 7
  • Weather: 4 seizoenen in een dag, zelfs in de zomer
  • Sleeping:
    • Tent/bivak: 17 nights
    • With local people: 3 nights
    • Train: 1 night
    • Cabin: 1 night

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