A quick heads up until I get better wifi

Hi all. Well 10 days after departing Tromso I am in Saltstrauman (Bodo was full).  The wifi here isn’t very good and won’t let me upload pictures so I will just give a status check!

It was a lovely sunny Sunday when I set off, cycling through the park that runs down the centre of the island, off around the airport, across another large bridge (they need to be high enough to let our good friend the Hurtigruten through), and off to the ferry at Brensholmen for the start of some island hopping.

What I have previously referred to as the finger is a series of islands running southwest from Tromso, connected by bridges and ferries. So this leg of the adventure was an island hop from Tromso across the islands of Kvaloya, Senja, Andoya, Langoya, Hadseloya, Austvagoya, Flakstadota and Moskenesoya. The route followed three of Norway’s national tourist routes – the Senja, Andoya and Loftofen.

The Atlantic coast sections were often wild and windy with the mainland side often peaceful sheltered bays. In all it was a 450km coastal ride with the odd pass, bridge and ferry; and with the exception of 2 days (plus one I took off) nice and sunny.

So after all the hassles getting started, The thousand k mark is behind me and my ride across Europe well underway. Two more rides and I leave the Artic, 34 days after crossing the Artic Circle. An amazing month!

Sorry to be so brief and hope everyone is well.

Stephen

 

The Long and Winding Road

Well here I am in Tromso. I read somewhere that it is the Paris of the North. I haven’t been to Paris yet, but I’m not convinced.

Geographically, it is (you guessed it) on a fjord surrounded by (you guessed it) snow covered mountains. Architecturally  it has no Gothic buildings and the people wear beanies rather than berets. Admittedly they don’t speak English, but that hardly warrants the Paris of the North tag.

Much like the Paris-end of Collins Street, maybe someone ate a baguette here once?

But I digress. The journey from Alta to Tromso was indeed a long and winding road. Long stretches of coastal road followed by an ascent over a peninsula to another fjord.

Slartibarfast certainly did give the place a very baroque feel, but in terms of giving a fulfilling feel of progress it does bog things down a bit. After a day cycling around a fjord the road you traversed is a short stretch of water away. Kieran Perkins could match a days cycling with a quick warm up swim.

A sign just outside Alta claims Oslo is 1395km away and it is highly plausible that it is just over the other side of the hill but with 1395km of circuitous road to get there.

While building up some leg strength, I’m not yet up to the 90km stretches that seem to the standard unit of distance between towns so I have basically been doing a full day followed a half day cycling with a roadside camp followed by a hut or motel.

While Norway has an “All Man’s Right” provision for free camping, the reality is that there is not much unused flat land along the coast and inland is still snow. My luxury campsites have therefore been largely just off the road with nights listening to trucks whizzing by.

It has been largely overcast and I think I got mild hypothermia on the inland leg from Breivikeidet to Fagernes, which was a three hour battle with a blizzard, but I am sure as I move south I will miss the ability to ride in full thermals and a down jacket! Mmm, maybe not.

And on the clothes front, you will all be relieved to hear that the bike shorts are doing the trick and I no longer feel that the bike seat is coming with me when I dismount.

I’m staying in Tromso for three nights – recovering from the blizzard and doing some washing (my shirt can literally stand up by itself) and then will head west towards the “finger”. I’m looking forward to this as the ride along the highway from Fagernes to Tromso was awful – hard enough cycling up hills without having two 18-wheelers passing on the same stretch of narrow road. Will need to avoid the highways from now on – but on this route until I reach Boda I won’t have to worry about this (and can hopefully learn from Udo and Tina after that).

Glad people like the panoramas. It’s a bit harder to take pictures while cycling and I sometimes feel they are just repeats.

It’s the question I always ask the locals, “Do you ever forget how amazing the place is?”. The young guy who gave me a lift from Lillefjord admitted that sometimes you do but only until you leave and return and realise how “ugly” other places are in comparison.

At times the monochromatic rock and snow of the mountains and the blue of sea and sky do seem to just be the permanent canvass over which the fishing huts, cabins and sparse forests are placed. But stop and lose yourself in the glaciers, waterfalls, streams, rivers, lakes and it comes back to you. I cannot recall another place where you can do a complete 360 so often and still get a continuous beautiful view.

In coming weeks those views will gain more colour. Leaves are beginning to sprout on the Beech trees and the Birches won’t be far behind. Above 100m it is still Winter but Spring is coming!

Hopefully that will also mean that the shops and campsites I marked on my GPS will finally open, though going by the signs to date June 1 is more likely. Still I won’t complain at times over the past few weeks it has been like having the North to myself and I think that’s probably the way it is meant to be seen. Stark, desolate and beautiful.

More pics ….

In Alta – On Purpose!

Well I have access to a computer so first thing first, some pictures.

(click on picture to start slide show)

The ride from Skaidi to Alta was a good test of my old legs, with most of the first day involving a 42km slow ascent up a series of valleys.  With the exception of a small blizzard, the weather was fine, though the blizzard was a bit of a challenge.  It was basically horizontal snow.  Gravity suggests it did land somewhere, but as far as I could see (which admittedly wasn’t that far) the snow didn’t actually hit the ground. Glasses on or off seemed to have no effect on visibility, and regular snow flakes going straight into you ear is very disconcerting.

I passed the high point for the day, and turned into a more sheltered valley where thankfully it soon turned to rain and then stopped.  I was pretty cold and wet and so stopped at around 5pm and set up camp by the road, just in time for a shower.  I was asleep by 7pm and awake raring to go at 3am, though that plan was cancelled when it started to snow again.

I finally got away to finish the last 25km (of 87) to Alta, skipping breakfast with a view to getting some at a roadhouse on the way (I was sure I had seen some).  I had and it was 2km from town, but I stopped anyway.  It was a lovely bakery where I enjoyed a fresh ham and salad baguette and freshly brewed coffee (and two hours later sushi for lunch so I am well satisfied).

Tomorrow I set off down the coast following the E6 to Olderdalen where I will head back across on the ferry to Lyngseidet and swap to the 91 to Tromsø.  From there I will make my way down the “Finger” (a long peninsula) avoiding the main roads where possible; getting another ferry from the end of the peninsula across to Bøda. My guess is that will keep me busy for a while.  As it turns out the E1 route is snow as far south as Bøda, so it looks like I’ve avoided a 1,00km roadwalk.

Oh yes and most importantly I have some padded bike shorts – and boy do I need them!

Keep well

Stephen

A Slightly Bigger Change in Plans

Well it was an early start on the 5th of May and I was dockside shortly after 5am awaiting the ferry. It was a classic floating hotel with nine levels and who knows how many cabins.

After getting my very own Hurtigruten swipe card (which I will set in glass as an heirloom for my family as it is precious to me), I wandered around an empty ship. With all bar the 6 passengers who boarded with me still asleep, there was no fish-slapping to be found and so I grabbed a coffee and muffin and watched the coastline pass by.

We docked at 8am and I made my way towards the Havoysund township and the bridge to mainland. Off the normal tourist trail, it was very much a fishing village. Lovely painted wooden houses a counterpoint to some industrial scale fish factories.  The road skirted the town and over a high bridge to the road to Olderfjord.

It’s an 88km road walk from Havoysund to Olderfjord and I decided to break it down into four 22km days. Road walks suck big time as the constant pounding kills your feet, but if you have to do a road walk, this is the place to do it.

I will load some photos once I get to a PC but the road swaps between section running along the fjord coastline then cutting inland to meander up a valley over a pass and down again to another fjord.

By 2pm I passed the 20km sign and while a bit short of my target, came across a roadside stop. An ideal campsite: soft ground, running water and a beautiful view. I pitched my tent next to the ruins of a peat house, the remaining walls not much more than knee high. The region had been inhabited since the Iron Age so who knows how long it had been there.

So I spent the afternoon alone with my thoughts.

At my last meeting Michael Lappen (an old friend and mentor), he asked me what I did with all my time on the trail and my answer was that I just think about stuff.

In NZ it was getting my shit together and for much of the first half of the walk it was a Robert de Nero in The Mission type of scenario- struggling with my physical and emotional baggage in the hope of coming back from the abyss I had taken myself to.

This time around things were both simpler and more complex. Going from north-south NZ to north-south Europe was just the next level of walking, but I had already walked 500 miles and walked 500 miles more without getting “back to your door” and on many levels this trip is just an excuse to achieve a self-imposed solitude in new surroundings as an alternative to loneliness in familiar ones.

My hotel room in Oslo had a poster wall claiming that  “The best things in life are NOT things”. I sent a picture of this to Rose, who replied “no it is people”. This was running through my mind as well; because when I first saw it I thought “no it’s experiences”.

But was it really experiences? Close the deal, move on. Develop the strategy, move on. Deliver the project, move on. Complete the adventure, move on. Pretty shallow really, and when I think about it, it was always the people that made each experience a buzz.

Here I was 52km into the walk missing Lachie’s lordship at the card table at the end of the day while Alex was confounding his fellow Trekkers – unable to explain his powers of ESP.

The highlights to date – midnight chats with Jan-Eric at the Oslo hotel and meeting Udo and Tina at the start of their adventure at Nordkapp.

Rose was right, it was people and I had already decided that whatever happens I would be there on December 29 to give my beautiful son Lachie a hug on his 18th birthday.

So off I set at 5am for the second day of road walking. More coastline, more valleys and passes and every time I got more than 100m above sea level slush!

10km in my feet were sore and I could feel the toe nails I had lost in NZ lifting again. 20km in and I was hobbling, and contemplating my next move. What happens after Olderfjord? If conditions are the same, it’s a 300km road walk to Kautikino!

Just before Lillefjord I started hitching.

The secret to saving a good strategy is knowing when to change tactics. I could still reach Cape Passero and hug Lachie – just not on foot.

I would head back to Alta to get a bike. A few cars passed before a young food inspector from Hammerfest picked me up and drove me through to Olderfjord. We crossed the E1 trail (snow) and arrived with a couple of hours to spare before the next bus. I grabbed a late lunch and as fate would have it, ran into Tina and Udo.

We discussed my change in plans and I got a lot of advice on bikes and routes, which was much appreciated as my knowledge of bikes only slightly exceeded that of snow. Saturday morning I went shopping and with the help of a bike technician got myself a new modus propulsion. If I meet Tina and Udo again I hope they approve and don’t just shake their heads in bewilderment.

I am happy and while 27 gears and disc brakes seem quite a lot, it’s a nice ride. Sunday morning I loaded it up on the bus for Hammerfest to continue my trip.

I met some young guys on Saturday night on a leave pass from Oil Rig building at Hammerfest and as well as being at the same latitude as Lillefjord, I wanted to see this construction that dwarfed the town where it was built.

I piled my bike and trailer onto the bus for Skaida, the bus exchange to the other northern towns, saw Tina and Udo (who did not laugh at my bike), then continued on the bus to Hammerfest.

The town had the same colourful wooden houses of Honningsvag and Havoysund.  I didn’t see the rig but it was clear the place serviced the oil industry and was a working town.  I didn’t stay long before starting the 58km ride back to Skaida.

It crossed my mind that it had been at least 6 years since I had last ridden a bike!  20km in there was a pop and it crossed my mind that I may have never changed a tyre!!!

I looked back – no support car, no one running towards me with a new back. Clearly the TDF is faked.

Well it wasn’t a 5 minute pit stop, but I managed to replace the inner tube, reseat the wheel, and get the chain back where it belonged.

No further midadventures, though I was conscious I no longer had a spare. The last 9km to Skaida were undergoing roadworks so to be safe, I pushed the bike through a few sections. I also got off and pushed on a few hills – cycling clearly uses a different set of muscles.  But just after 7, I was back in Skaida. A bit cold and wet and with a very sore bottom, but having covered more in an afternoon than I would have in two days on foot, I was pleased with myself and the change of transport.

The bad weather has set in, so I will stay put for the day before a 2-day ride to Alta. I will get a few spare inner tubes and while I refuse to become a 50-something in lycra, a pair of padded shorts under my trekking pants may be the go (hope they don’t look like incontinance pads).

Well after a messy start, I think I’m on the way!

Hope you are all well.

Stephen

A Slight Change in Plans

Hello all.  Well here I am back at the hostel in Honningsvag!

I headed off to Nordkapp on Monday along with two other bus loads of people from the Ferry service that runs up and down the Norwegian coast.  Just love the name of the ferry service – The Hurtegruten.  I keep picturing a Monty Python sketch with all the passengers on deck between ports belting each other across the head with raw fish.  OK, I have a weird sense of humour.

Nordkapp itself was a desolate place with a huge visitor centre, a number of statues, and lots of tourist taking the obligatory photo of pretending to hold up the world. The highlight was meeting a German couple with a Formula 1 inspired tandem cycle on their own adventure.

The promise of seeing an expanse of sea off to the horizon did not come to pass as I was there for the rarer event when the warm waters of the gulf stream meeting the cold arctic air and creating a sea of mist.  It was just like being high in a mountain range.

In the midst of the statues was the one I was looking for – the start of the E1 Trail.

At Nordkapp
Start of the E1 Trail

I had a drink and pit-stop and hit the trail.  I found a second trail marker about 50m from the start, and that was it (though they may have been buried in snow).  The snow was slush and after a kilometre or so I took to the roadside.  The buses soon passed by on their return journey and other than the occasional car, motor bike and one cyclist, I had the road to myself. It was actually very pleasant for a road walk long gradual descents and ascents across the plateau- visions of the skateboard scene in Iceland from the Secret Life of Walter Mitty – though I think my skateboarding is even worse than my skiing!

I made it to the Skarsvag turn off and camping ground at about 4pm.  The campsite was closed (and it was too early anyway) so I kept going for another two hours stopping at a picnic area at roughly the halfway mark.

It was one of the most beautiful camping spots I have found and after putting up my tent, I just sat taking in the scenery. I had a reasonably pleasant night in my new ultralight tent. The only glitch was that while my superlight air mattress was really comfortable, it was a slippery sucker, and as my tent was on a slight incline I woke up every couple of hours with my nose poking into the side of the tent.  Will have to be more diligent in choosing future sites.

Got up at 03:30 to see that my private bay had disappeared under the mist, packed up, and set off again by 4am in clear and sunny weather.

The mist was rolling in
The mist was rolling in

It was an easy road walk for the first two hours – firstly to the Gjesvaer turn of and then along this road to the point where the trail went “bush”.

The departure point from the road was not marked, so I went by my GPS.  Within a hundred metres I knew this was going to be tough going.  The snow was soft and every few steps I was knee deep in snow.  While I tried to follow the GPS trail as well as possible, it always appeared that something got it the way – mainly snow that would give way to thigh depth and on one occasion waste depth.  It was extremely hard going with a full pack, so I took to aiming for the islands on no snow, keeping in mind the overall direction I was meant to be going.

The highpoint I was aiming for was clear enough to see – just that getting there was not that straightforward.  The descent was an even hairier experience and involved quite a bit of sitting back on my pack, crossing my fingers and sliding down the slopes, and at one point walking about half a kilometre across a frozen lake (something I would have said no way to at the start of the day).

It turned out to be the easiest part of the walk (if you ignore my constant fear that I was going to drown any minute) and was clearly an opportunity to relive a piece of history – primitive wanderer so pissed off at clawing his way out of waist deep snow says “to hell with it, even drowning is more preferable to this”, and discovers that it is OK to walk across frozen lakes.

The lake crossing led to a small opening where for the first time in a while my trail and the gps track met, soon hit some new obstructions and said bye again.  To top it off the rising mist was on me and for a while I just sat in a semi whiteout waiting for visibility to improve. Eventually it did enough to keep going and shortly I saw the reindeer fence, which gave a reference point to find the valley I wanted to descend.  A few more mishaps and misturns and snow bridged over streams and I finally hit the road and the easy walk to the tunnel.

However the 8km stretch of snow took 5 and half hours.  I could see the mainland plateau from the top, and the next stage would mean doing this for 70 kms, with 4 days of bad weather.  So I decided that it would be stupid to attempt it solo, and hitched back to the hostel to regroup.

So plan B, I will take the Hurtegruten to Havoysund – the next town to the west at roughly the same latitude as the start of the planned mainland track. The Ferry leaves at 5:45am tomorrow and after fish-slapping a few tourists will get to Havoysund by 7:45 where I can start the walk to OlderFjord via Road 889.  Not as adventurous, but better odds of making Olderfjord.

Stephen

And So It Begins

Firstly sorry the pictures looked all over the place in earlier posts. Looked OK on my iPod. Fixed now.

Well tomorrow the real trip starts. Alas the bus to Nordkapp doesn’t leave till 11:30 so I can forget the early start. The tunnel back to the mainland is the other issue as there is only one bus a day and I will need to rely on hitching a ride (message to self, remember to do so from the wrong side of the road).

Once through the tunnel the mainland track appears to start at the tunnel exit with a trail leading up to the alpine plateau.

So the plan is to go to Nordkapp, and then head back across the island (32km) stopping some point after midway for the night and then making an early start so I reach the tunnel with plenty of time to hitch a ride.

If I can get a ride quickly I can head up to the plateau in the afternoon/evening, if not there was space to camp at the bottom of the climb and I can head up the next morning.

If the weather holds, I should make Olderfjord in 5-7 days.

Look forward to reporting in then!

Stephen