Friday, August 29, 2014

The Lucky Days

 On the way to Stavanger I ended up biking through "The Birthplace of Norway" it was in this area that in 872 Harold Fairhair fought a civil war with all the Viking clans, won, and united Norway under one king. This made Norway the strongest force in the north and began the Viking heyday of pillage, conquest, and northern expansion.
 Upon reaching Skudenshaven, I took a side road because I wanted a picture of the harbor and historic houses. When I turned to go back up to the main road I saw a public bathroom, with a shower! One cannot refuse fate, so I took a long delightful shower in one of the cleanest places I had showered so far.

Fresh and clean, I meandered my way down to the ferry dock, the deserted ferry dock. I asked a man who was walking past when the next boat would come. He looked at me with surprise and said, "the ferry service stopped running one year ago!" Ack!
He kindly offered to share his taxi with me and I jumped at the chance to not have to backtrack over 50km. I would have to take the bus since there are no roads that bikes are allowed to go on from where I was to Stavanger.
Once in the taxi I found out that he has close family in Ballard and had just visited for Norway's independence day which he said was celebrated with greater gusto in Seattle than in his town. We talked about areas we had both been in Washington, BC, and Norway; he had even visited Leavenworth (the Christmas town right?). He then insisted that we take the taxi through the tunnel to a farther bus station so I wouldn't have to wait so long. When I was dropped off, he refuse to let me help with the fare (thank god since it was over 800kr or $150!) saying that we need to take care of each other from time to time. He gave me his card in case I had any problems and it turns out he was the cheif pilot for the Norwegian Coastal Administration. If I had not taken the side street for a simple picture, my day would have been so very different.

Arriving in Stavanger my good luck continued and I managed to find accommodation for my last two nights. Once that was settled I headed off to the last major sight that I wanted to see in Norway, and probably it's most famous, Preikestolen, or Pulpit Rock.
 It is every bit as impressive as it looks in all the pictures. An 1800 ft sheer drop to the fjord below on 3 sides. Since I had one last night of camping left, I figured I might as well do it someplace cool. I packed up my things into one pannier, locked my bike to a tree, and hiked up so i could camp out on the top. Normally the rock is crawling with tourists, but that night it was only me and an Italian couple (my tent is the bright green one). We drank tea and watched the sun set and miraculously had the whole rock to ourselves.
 After a fairly windy night, I woke up at 5:45 to watch the sunrise over Lysefjiord. The wind was still howling and chilly. Much as I could have watched the view forever, I headed down the very exposed trail to make breakfast and ride last 20km of my trip back into Stavanger.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Bergen to Stavanger

Bergen is such a cool city that I thought it deserved some frolicking. So I kicked up my heels, had a delicious beer that cost $20 The
one of the quirkiest bars I've ever been in. I saw next to a heavily tattooed and pierced, very large woman with a head full of dreadlocks and was instructed where to eat and where to walk later on in the day. I followed her good advice and treated myself to the best food I've had all month at a tiny little restaurant called Bastant. I was blissed out on homemade mushroom soup, grilled blue cheese, and vanilla cream crazy good desert (followed by another beer naturally).
To walk off my dinner I zig zaged up tiny cobblestone streets and alleyways looking at all the shops and beautiful older homes. Bergen is an artistic hub with jewelry shops, art galleries, pottery shops, and so many fun little stores that I couldn't make it ten steps without getting a distracted by bright shiny objects. By the docks there is a fish market that rivals Pike Place. You can buy any and all kinds of tantalizing smelling seafood including whale meat. Just next to this there is a plaza where vendors sell reindeer sausage and "I heart Norway" tee shirts.

 As the cruise ships pulled out of the harbor, the whole city quieted down. Runners came out in full spandexed force and sidewalk cafes filled with locals enjoying the evening. I retreated to the rooftop terrace of my hostel to enjoy a cup of tea and watch the sunset over the harbor. It is amazing how misery is forgotten when in the presence of comfort and a full warm belly! Once again, I am back in love with fickle Norway.
The next morning I stopped in at the Bergen cathedral and let a candle for a safe journey, I figure it can't hurt!

As I started to bike my way out of the city I ran into a statue of a creepy child being spit on by frogs.
 Outside of Bergen I had one if those perfect biking days. It warmed up enough that I wore shorts for the first time since the beginning of my trip. The road gently rose and fell and though the scenery wasn't extrodinary, there were twists and turns  so it never became boring. The distances seemed to fly by and I jokingly told myself that I would only stop and camp if I could find a place with a picnic table and a stream.
 Lo and behold! I found a small grassy park a little ways off the road with 3 picnic tables, flat mowed grassy lawn, a stream flowing out into the ocean, AND a bathroom... With toilet paper even! I was feeling downright spoiled.

An early morning start of 10am (I just HAD to wait for the dew to dry) and I was once again on windling country roads loving my bike and wishing I had more miles to go before Stavanger. The rolling hills, craggy rocks, and blooming purple heather made time and distance fly by. It was just beautiful.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Voss to Bergen

There are no bicycles allowed on the highway between Voss and Bergen so I was sent on side roads and bile trails along Hard anger for den. Lined with waterfalls and steep cliffs I was happy to be on a bike instead of driving on the narrow mostly one lane road.

 Fortunately I was on a fairly common bike route so I had many happy kilometers on designated bike paths with no cars.
 And then it rained. And rained, and rained, and rained. I bikes up hill with a viscious headwind for hours hopping for a campground so I could take a hot shower and have a dry place to cook food. Didn't happen.

I took refuge in covered bus stops and people's open garages. I was soaking wet from head to toe. Between the wind, the spray from passing cars, and the endless hills, I may have had a break down. Unfortunately after having a tantrum, there is nothing else to do but get back on my bike and press on.

 I admitted defeat and camped on an old road bed that went around the cliff side of one of the many tunnels. It was still pouring rain so my tent became a damp sauna, and I crashed out for the night.

I woke up to pounding rain, swore for about 10 minutes, then packed up my stuff and biked up the road. I stopped at the next bus stop and paid 41kr ($7) for a bus to take my stinky wet self the rest of the way into Bergen. It was a very good choice.
Bergen is full of cool little streets and alleyways packed with shops and cafes. The historic district dates back to the 1700's but some of the wooden houses are modeled after ones built in the 12th century. The alleyways in between have raised wooden walkways ans tiny staircases leading up to the second and third stories. It is easy to wander from bakery to cafe for a long, satisfying afternoon.
I am staying at a hostel in the middle of town for the night, I don't think a hostel has ever felt so luxurious!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sognalfjord to Voss

Coming down off the fjords the air was instantly warmer, but it seemed that in the two days I had been up high, autumn had come to Norway and the trees were already changing color!
 In Urnes I visited the oldest stave church in Norway originally built in 1070 and with painting and carvings inside dating back to the 1600s. The church is high on a hill across the fjord from the nearest town. The steep entrance fee was countered by the free apples I collected from the surrounding orchards.
 The church was built with old growth pine. the trees were topped, limbed, and left standing for up to 10 years so the sap could penetrate and beter preserve the logs. After this time consuming process only the best were than chosen for the church. Inside and out, the wood is elaborately carved then heavily coated in black resin to protect it from the elements. This church still exists mainly due to the stone foundation that prevented the bottom timbers from rotting.
Across the fjord once again I found myself climbing. It was late, staring to rain, and way past time to find a campsite for the evening. I almost broke down and stayed in a regulated site for the sake of a dry kitchen and a shower, but all 3 places I passed were closed. So up I continued on for an hour more until I found flat spot off the road.

I woke up to a very curious cow nosing it's drooling snout into my tent. It rained throughout the night making for an unmotivated start. Fortunately the Norwegian day doesn't start very early. Grocery stores open at 10 and many of the tourist offices don't even have staff until 2pm. So for me get out of my tent by 9am was really getting a crack of dawn start to the day.

 The morning was cold and foggy and the road went straight up. Once again I found myself surrounded by snowfields and mountain huts. So much for a flat day of cycling! The rain continued through the morning stopping briefly as I flew down the side of the mountain into Voss where I changed from a down jacket and full rain gear to a tank top and a sunburn.

Along the 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Up, Up, and Away to Lom and back to the Fjords

I left Geiranger on a rainy mornin , planning on biking at least up the the next rest area. Foetunatly the weather mostly cleared and I decided to press up, and up, and still up. I ended up doing a 17km climb up a 10% grade that put me on the top of a beautiful but very cold plateau.
 True to Norwegian style, in the most desolate areas you will find mountain cabins, in this case, chained to the rocks that they wee built on. The road is only open May to September and often gets 12 feet of snow! At the summit there was a hotel which gave MW a chance to drink a beer and a coffee and dry my cold toes on the heater.
 The way down drops gradually down to Lom, a town full of sod roofed wooden buildings and a beautiful stave church.
 I camped a little ways out of town and read my guide book. Without knowing, I had chosen the Sognefjellet road. My book described it as the highest road in western Europe rising to 1434m (4700 ft) "should only be undertaken by the highly fit and experienced cyclist with perfect brakes." This made me a little nervous sin e I had a fully loaded bike and my brakes were held together at this point with a piece of scrap metal and electrical tape. Nonetheless, as the road was suppose to be one of the most beautiful cycling routes in the world, I figured I couldn't miss out.
The next day I had the most breathtakingly beautiful bike rides of my life. Worth every pedal stroke.

 Sheep dotted the high alpine meadows and in the spring and winter wild reindeer roam the plateau.
 The high point on the road gives access to the Jostedalsbreen Glacier, the largest in Europe.
 On tourist routes there are many sculptures that are suppose to highlight the landscape. Mostly they look modern and out of place, but I thought this one was neat because you could climb all over it.
 The ride down off the plateau I was a bit worried about. I had biked down plenty of super steep brake squealing dexents but none had elocotwd any words of caution. My fears were ungrounded and the 8-10% downhill grade was magnificent! There were long flat stretches to take in the view and the road plunged from the plateau down to sea level in just six miles. I was grinning like a goon the whole way down.

I had thought to camp on the plateau, but the elevation made the wind bitterly cold. There had been spotty showers throughout the day so I decided not to risk a cold wet night. Instead I found an amazing campsite set on a grassy bluff over a brilliant glacial blue lake with a waterfall for a view. I was giddy from my good luck and slept like a log.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Andalsnes to Greiranger

Trollstigen, or the troll's ladder is a 12% grade climb up a steep valley. If you want to feel like a cycling rock star, I highly suggest biking up. Tour buses full of people take pictures and cheer as you huff and puff your way past. At the top, people shake their heads on disbelief and tell you that you are amazing and strong and all sorts of things to make your head swell. 

 The ride itself is spectacular. You Climb so far so fast that you reach the top before you know it. Once there, the visitor center is full of food, beer, and the Norwegian afternoon treat of waffles with sour cream and jam. When I was in line to buy my snacks the cashier asked if the man in front of me and I were together, he replied to her with a wink, "Not yet!" And left me smiling for the rest of the afternoon.

Continuing on the road climbs through a valley of high peaks, waterfalls, and glaciers. The landscape is so beautiful that I am amazed people don't drive right off the road. I nearly did more times than I'd like to say!

 A quick ferry ride across a fjord followed by a climb and I was ready to camp for the night.
I stayed at a great stop/ picnic area along with a few camper vans. It poured down rain all night and into the next morning. Mustering the motivation to crawl out of my tent took a fair amount of time, but the camper next to me quickly invited me in for coffee.

A German family from Bavaria gave me the perfect opportunity to procrastinate the bike ride down. I told them about Leavenworth and the Bavarian theme and had them rolling with laughter. They offered to drive me into Geiranger, but a glutton for misery, I decided to ride. Down a 10% grade for 5 miles in the POURING rain took me to Geiranger fjord, probably the most photographed fjord in Norway.

I decided to take a break from camping for the first time in two weeks and find a cabin or a room for the night and hopefully wait out the rain.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Kristiansund to Isfjiorden

 The Atlantic Road is supposedly one of the best roads to bike in the country and one of the reasons I wanted to go to norway.  I had to take a $12 bus ride to get to the start of it! Once I was on the other side of the tunnel, the bus driver let me off and for the next 30km I threaded my way across bridges and over wind scoured islands as I made my way to the bridge I had been itching to bike over for months.

 It is much more impressive in person, I assure you. From here there is nothing but open ocean to the west. Norway is one of the most sparsly populated countries, but in the loneliest reaches of the outer islands there always seems to be a house or a cabin accessible only by rowing a boat from the mainland.
 As I made my way back inland, I passed farm after farm harvesting hay. This made it harder to find a quiet field to camp in, but it also meant there were strapping young norweigian farm boys everywhere you looked. I biked slowly that day.

In many of the fields you would see the plucky little Norwegian fjord horses. Half draft horse and half pony these thick necked stocky horses were used to plow the fields before tractors came along. The other thing you see are ticks. They are tiny though, about the size of a pencil point and somehow that made them seem a little less nasty when I plucked them off my ankles.
 The next day I felt like I was in a Norway postcard. I biked along fjords most of the day. When the sun would break through it was so beautiful that was amazed no one drove off the road.

 I found myself smiling like a goon the whole evening as I rounded each corner and was met with yet another stunning vantage point. I got lost only once and of course the person that I asked for help didn't speak a word of English. When I pulled out my map to ask if I had taken the right turn, he shook his head, can't read a thing without glasses. But charades are an amazing thing and I headed off the right way.

I found a place to camp next to Isfjiorden and went to sleep early. Tomorrow is Trollstigen, a steep switchbackimg road that seemed like a good idea to bike up when I was sitting on the couch. "Good luck, you'll need it!" Someone told me when I explained where I was off to next.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Trondheim to kristiansund

 Nidaros cathedral, the holiest place in Norway and the end of st Olav's pilgrimage was beautiful and huge. But the fish houses on the edges of the downtown were my favorite.

 I stopped for a lunch of fishcakes and beer at a little cafe and started talking to a man who looked like Varys in the Game of Thrones. Before I knew it he had bought me 2 more beers and I was loving Norway. He quoted philosophers and said statements like "there are no problems, only solutions." But it was wonderful to have someone to talk to for the afternoon. When he suggested that we share a bottle of white wine and a shrimp dinner, I knew I should be moving on. I gave him a kiss on the cheek and thanked him for the afternoon. He returned my kiss with a rather slimy one on the side of my neck. After a week of hard biking and no shower it had to be rather foul!
 I biked along bike paths and small roads and found a beautiful place to camp for the night on the side of a fjord on a grassy flat spot. The sunlight was giving everything a golden glow and fell asleep feeling content and happy. At 2:40am, I woke up to the sound of water gently lapping... About 6 inches away from the door to my tent! The tide was rising and I was in danger of being cut off from the road as the water rose over the grassy bench. I packed up my things in record time and barely made it up onto the highway. I found a grassy driveway to fall asleep on until a normal morning hour.

 The ferries that run in between islands and across fjords are fast and easy. I prefer them to the tunnels that drop under water. I had a big one to go through this morning, 5km with an 8% grade down and up. When I got to the other side there was a huge line of cars and red lights flashing saying that the tunnel was closed. I told the first few cars that I didn't know why because it had been clear the whole way. A man looked at me and said "it closed because of you, bicycles are forbidden." CRAP! I had to bike uphill past every single one of those cars as they shook their fingers at me

When I stopped at the tourist office in Kristiansund the lady at the desk said that normally when bikes go through the tunnels they call the police to pick them up, and that the last time  it happened the newspaper got there first and the biker had their picture on the front page! Fortunally I made it through without all that, but when the tourist lady checked the news, they had a write up about a "cyclist" going through the tunnel and closing down this morning. Oops.
 Now I am waiting for a bus that will take me 4km through a tunnel that is also closed to bikes so that I can bike the North Atlantic Highway, one of the best cycling routes in Norway that is inaccessible by bicycle.
Both kristiansund and Molds, the next big town I come to, are known for their rose gardens and the streets are lined with them. When creepy bar guy from Trondheim asked me why I chose to come to Norway, I replied without hesitation, "because it is beautiful." So everyday I get to bike through the mountains and coastlines and there is something so nice to realize that it can truely be that simple.