NORWAY - DAWN TO DUSK
I am up early as I have a lot of ground to cover, but nevertheless the sun has already long risen by the time I emerge from my tent; this close to midsummer in Norway the sky is never truly dark but instead glows with a soft twilight through the darkest hours of the night. The view from my camp spot is a spectacular vista of the Innvikfjorden below. The skies are clear and the morning breeze is crisp against my skin as I break camp and mount my bicycle for the descent. It is going to be a big day.
I have been blessed by a spell of the best weather Norway has experienced in recent memory, and in fact the hottest May here for 71 years. I have only had 30 minutes of rain in the entire month, unheard of in Norway, a country notorious for its wet and often bleak climate. It has been a dream but if the forecast is to be believed my luck is finally about to run out and tomorrow will bring with it an end to the fair weather and a solid week of much reduced temperatures and lot of very heavy rain.
In order to take advantage of this last day of sunshine I have therefore resolved to reach the Geirangerfjord - the last major fjord along my route in Norway - by this evening in order to see it before the clouds set in. Following at exhilarating ten minute descent onto the fjord, I spend the next hour riding east along the coast. As I pass Loen I see an enormous P&O cruise ship docked, with hundreds of animated British pensioners milling around the town. Upon stopping a lively looking couple I am told that the good ship had left Southampton just two days ago, having sailed north through many of Norway’s western fjords. I have to chuckle – two days! The same distance has taken me almost two months! Though, as the lady points out (whilst miming knocking back a glass of wine) my method of travel was probably considerably healthier.
At the small crossroads town of Stryn I have a choice to make. I am heading for Hellesylt, from where I will take a ferry over the Geirangerfjord to Geiranger itself. The road to Hellesylt takes a roundabout route to the west in order to circle around the obstructing mountains to the north, but there may also be a more direct route straight through the mountains from the small hamlet of Flo to the east.
Of my three maps of Norway this route only appears on one, so I am not entirely sure that it exists. Still, I am feeling optimistic and fancy it will make for a more interesting journey than sticking to main road, so I decide to throw caution to the wind and gamble on the more adventurous route.
The road to Flo is narrow, beautiful and remote, with spectacular views of the gorgeous Oppstrynsvatnet lake below. When I arrive, I find that Flo is comprised of little more than a farm and a few scattered houses, and I begin to worry when I find no trace of the track marked on my map. My GPS is no help and there are no people around to ask. All I can eventually find is an extremely steep and slippery dirt track which seems to go straight up into the mountain.
It is next to somebody’s house and there is a sign saying ‘PRIVATE’ in English, so I fear it may simply lead to somebody’s garden, but with no other prospects and loathe to give up and backtrack to the main road, I decide to give it at try and begin painstakingly pushing my bike up the dusty track.
The day is hot and the bike is heavily loaded with water and food, so it is hard going and each step is an effort, but I am rewarded with ever more spectacular views as I slowly gain altitude. My legs burn and my shoulders are sore from pushing, but an hour of sweat and grunting finally brings me to the top where the road briefly levels out before heading down into the valley.
I let some air out of the tyres and bomb my way down some gorgeous flowing singletrack, delighted to find that the descent is far more gradual. I am joyful and whooping as I sweep down out of the mountains; the most rewarding moments are usually those which we have sweat for and the punishing climb has made the downhill all the sweeter.
The singletrack eventually gives way to a dirt road and I pass a few elderly Norwegians fishing in the river who look slightly baffled to see a bicycle coming towards them. I can be so vain sometimes; I get a real kick out of seeing the surprise on people’s faces when they find me biking in off track places not usually traversed.
The dirt track finally turns to tarmac and I complete my triumphant descent into Hellesylt. The waters of the Geirangerfjord glisten ahead of me as the mountains loom tall around. There is a majesty to Norway’s fjords, to fjords in general. They awe us, dwarf us, inspire us. I feel very privileged to be here and elated to have arrived the way I have.
I have an hour’s wait, time I spend snacking and admiring the view, before the ferry arrives and I wheel my bike on board. The cost is extortionate at around $35, an entire week’s budget for me, but as this will be my last fjord and I have wanted to come for years, I bite the bullet and enjoy the beautiful cruise over to Geiranger.
As I sit on the deck and gaze out in wonder at the spectacular mountains rising straight up out of the water, I reflect on what has been an incredible month in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Every day in Norway has brought jaw-dropping beauty. I am first and foremost a lover of nature and wild places; Norway has been a fairy-tale and I will miss it dearly.
In Geiranger I remount my bike and set off to begin my last challenge for the day – ascending the 11 hairpin bends of the famous Ørnesvingen Eagle Road. Along with Trollstigen and the road at Lysebotn, it is one of Norway's big climbs and something I have been very much looking forward to. I click down into bottom gear and settle into the familiar rhythm, moving slowly but surely, onwards and upwards.
Some people think I am mad but I really enjoy mountain passes. I find it almost meditative. I revel in the physical challenge and at being fit enough to succeed. I love the feeling of achievement, the thrill of looking down to see how far I’ve come, the pleasure of seeing the views get better and better with every switchback.
I reach the top and smile as a soft breeze sweeps over me, the cool wind drying the sweat from my skin. From my vantage point the fjord stretches into the distance, breathtakingly beautiful. I have reached my goal , and can now relax and enjoy the view. I sit for a long while, watching the water and the mountains, thinking my own thoughts and enjoying the silence. Finally, with the sun starting to set I reluctantly pull myself away and quickly find somewhere to camp, always an easy task in Norway. I nestle down into my sleeping bag and let out a satisfied smile. Tomorrow may bring rain, but I will face tomorrow’s problems tomorrow. It has been a good day.