When Tina announced she and Ana were going to visit friends in Germany at the end of September, my initial thoughts were to take the opportunity and head off on a bike trip. But where to go? I looked north initially. I would love to ride up to the Arctic Circle and beyond. However, the nine day limit combined with shortening, cooler days saw me set a more realistic target of Bergen on the West Coast of Norway.

I calculated that it would still be approximately 1300 km, and via a mix of dirt roads and mountain passes in potentially cold and wet conditions, it was unlikely to be a walk in the park. This suited me fine, as I needed a bit of a blow out before the winter set in, but neither did I want to stretch myself too thin (ha, like I havn’t done that before!). I did, after all, want to actually make it!

The weeks leading up to take off date saw temperatures plummet to negatives at night and single digit maximums (we are talking Celsius here) during the day with a bitter wind chill factor thrown in to boot. It was a bit of a shock after a stunning summer to be honest and had us both a bit concerned about just how cold and long winter was going to be; it was only the very start of autumn! Anyway, there wasn’t much ado but to get on with it and ride the bike really.

My packing had been a little haphazard and had involved a series of five minute stints over the previous week. I guess I have done enough of these trips to know what I need, and I wanted to go lightweight and fast. But the cold weather had seen me rethink a bit at the last minute. A reasonably large tent, warm sleeping bag and a lot more warm riding clothes – on Tina’s suggestion (bordering on insistance) had ballooned the selected small panniers a little. But if the weather stayed as cold as it was (it did), I would be wearing most of the gear most of the time anyway (I did), so I didn’t actually need any storage room for it. In the end it was a compromise between comfort and lightness (isn’t it always?) and I ended up with a load somewhere between a fully loaded touring rig and a light weight Brevet rider.

Riding out of Stockholm I simply followed the Sverigeleden – Sweden’s National Bicycle Route. It weaved its way throughout the northern suburbs and despite not having much of map to guide me, it was well sign posted so I had no problem following its intricacies, which were many. It was two hours of solid riding before it actually directed me onto a road. It was a small country lane and with the main motorway not too far away, the road weaved its way through small villages and farms on virtually traffic free roads. It wasn’t too long before the bitingly cold rain arrived. It felt and looked like it was going to snow, but it was just the normal wet stuff that came. Sheltering behind a barn, I donned the water proofs, warm gloves and booties and continued on my way north for the rest of the afternoon. It was cold, but I stayed relatively dry in all my kit; I was grateful for Tina’s insistence. Over the next nine days, most of it was never removed, even when it wasn’t raining, apart from getting into my sleeping bag at night.

 IMG_5398That evening I made camp in a small patch of forest to the west of Uppsala, with approximately 100 km on the clock. It had been a late start and it was dark by 7 so I was simply pleased to be on my way with a few kilometres down. I realised that I hadn’t actually pitched the tent I had with me for a couple of years, and it took me a bit longer than I would have liked in the rain. However, I got there eventually and snuggled up into my warm sleeping bag, relished the simplicity of it all and enjoyed listening to the rain’s pitter-patter on the tent fly as I dozed off for a good nights sleep.

The next two days saw the cold wet conditions continue and I followed the Sverigeleden to Mora, all the time sticking to small country roads (often with a dirt or gravel surface). The riding was pleasant (when it was dry) and I wove my way through farm lands, woodlands, small rural settlements and collections of summer houses. It was nice riding, but nothing to get too excited about. I managed just under 200 km a day and when I arrived in Mora I was a little bored with it all to be honest; as well as being a bit tired having put 500 km on the clock in two and half days. I was bored with the riding, the long lonely days (and nights), the cold miserable weather and despite my good progress, the realisation that I potentially didn’t have enough time to get to Bergen to get my flight on time. I checked into a room at Mora, relished in a hot shower, had a good feed and decided to sleep on it.

IMG_5390The next morning, my motivation was low. I wasn’t too sure whether I could make it to Bergen to get my flight on time, and even if I could, I wasn’t too sure if I could be-bothered. I’ve been in this space many times before so I did exactly what I’ve done in similar situations before. I simply packed up, headed on my way with an open mind and to see what would eventuate. I removed the pressure from myself of actually making it and decided it was easy enough to turn around and head home if I had to; I at least had time for that. But as so often happens, I hit the road, and despite the freezing morning, I actually quite enjoyed it. Gone were the farms, the summer houses and the villages. It was pure fore, for as far as the eye could see. This was the far west as far as Sweden was concerned and by the late afternoon I had pedalled my way into Norway with a smile on my face. Sorry Sweden, but you just didn’t excite my riding passion on this trip.IMG_5385

The road changed almost immediately. The slow rolling hills turned into steeper longer passes and as the road headed up I was surprised to see men in camouflage shouldering guns. They were not the army, but hunters and they were everywhere. Four-wIMG_5383heel drives were parked sporadically along the side of the road and as the sun got low I spotted men, motionless at the side of openings in the forest waiting for something to walk by. I got a little nervous when it came to finding a place to pitch the tent, until I eventually found a small river in which I couldn’t see the tell tale sign of a parked four wheeled drive near by.

The next day looked like it would be navigational fun and games. I didn’t have very detailed maps (in an effort to go lightweight and if truth be known also due to lack of planning) and I’m too old-school for fancy electronic navigational aids, but the map that I had only showed motorways and lakes; two things not exactly synomonous with pleasant cycling.

I headed towards the centre of Hamar, just south ofLillehammer in which the Winter Olympics were hosted in 1994 – no wonder it was cold! At the tourist information I asked for my best options to beat the motorways and lakes and in no time at all, the friendly staff had photocopied me a cycle map (which they had for sale), poured me a refreshingly hot coffee, and had gone to the café next door and bought me a large biscuit to go with it. Now that’s what I call service. And the afternoon was ever the more pleasant for the encounter as I weaved my way around the cyclist’s impediments on a network of lovely cycle trails and small rural roads.IMG_5401

That night after I had climbed over my first real pass of the trip I camped next to a lake on a disused railway line. Well at least I assumed the overgrown weeds were indicative of its disused state. Later on a passerby informed me that I was unlikely to have any overweight trains rumbling past me during the night so I slept well.IMG_5414

It was a cold start the following morning. I dusted the ice off the tent as best I could and was straight into a freezing descent which took me into the small town of Bagn. I only stopped to get water before climbing steeply out of the valley (and the clouds) to a lovely dirt road that coasted through a stunted and autumn yellowed forest. Down below and in the distance sat glimmering lakes and summer houses. The low sun and chill in the air was an ever present reminder that summer was long over.

IMG_5422Down on the other side, I again descended into the clouds and into the dew infested Eikvidvegen River Valley. I sought out a warm bakery in Gol to unthaw. I had actually passed through here in my first few weeks living in Sweden on my first work trip to Norway. It had been late at night, but as the days were long then, it had still been reasonably light and I had thought at the time it would be a beautiful place to tour. The touring was definitely living up to those expectations. I was well into the swing of things now, my dour mood in Sweden a thing of the past.IMG_5426

After Gol I headed due west again and picked up a very lumpy forestry road on the south side of the valley in order to avoid the busy, narrow and flat road on the north side. It was the line of most resistance. However the riding was pleasant and peaceful; until the hills started getting reasonably steep! And then the road turned into a track, then a path, before deteriorating into a goat track. It was slow going on the cyclocross (which wasn’t geared for off road riding with panniers) and I was reduced to the odd push. But it spat me out at the right place – Geilo, in time for a pizza at the ubiquitous Peppes Pizza; a common institution in Norway.

After I finished it was five o’clock and dusk. I headed west with haste in search of somewhere to pitch the tent. However despite the beautiful forest and lakes, the whole area was overrun with holiday homes of some sort and secluded camping spots appeared limited. I ended riding until it was practically dark and hastily pitched my tent in a car park at the start of the famed Rallarvegen – a popular cycle route I was planning on riding as soon as I awoke in the morning.

I had made good time across Norway. The kilometres were down a little from the long days in Sweden due to Norway’s lumpy nature but the 150-170 km a day had put me in good stead. That and the realisation that somehow I had forgotten I was flying home on Monday, not Sunday as I had originally thought, meant I had an extra day up my sleeve. It was a nice feeling going to sleep with that knowledge. And with probably the most scenic part of the journey to come the following day, the timing was impeccable.IMG_5453

The Rallarvegen (The Navvy Road) was built between 1902 to 1904 for construction access to build the Bergensbanen railway connecting Oslo and Bergen. It is now a popular bicycle route and when the snow melts every July, up to 20,000 cyclists ride the 80 km Rallarvegen (which is closed to cars). The route, which is totally above the tree line offers spectacular views to the surrounding alpine landscape. I couldn’t wait to ride it. Therefore my only complaint would have to be that it was too damn short! IMG_5439

I knew I had time, so I tried to take it slow. There was no sign of the 20,000 cyclists, it was October, they had been and gone. The road weaved itself across the valley floor, the alpine vegetation was dominated by deep yellow and organce hues, the sky a light glacial blue and the cyclist (me) was coloured with a radiant happiness. The trail passed through the small town of Finse, a strange Alpine outpost where the railway stopped. It seemed its sole purpose was a very large bicycle renting outfit that operated for two months of the year. From there on, it was just the odd historic working mans hut, railway outpost, miles of avalanche protection for the new railway line, my squiggly road, and me. I stopped at the highest point of the trip (1343 m) and left before the bitterly cold wind froze me to the spot. I tried to tIMG_5466ake it slow, honestly I did, but the riding was spectacular and riding was my natural heater. So I plodded on.

    IMG_5473IMG_5470Eventually the trail branched. There was an option to plummet down the road to the fjord at Flam, or an option to  head up to the railway station at Myrdal. Either way, it was a dead end for a cyclist. From Flam, you went by either boat or a 20 km road tunnel; from Myrdal a short rail tunnel took you through to the valley on the other side of the mountain. I chose the train. I waited out the biting wind for four hours for the five minute journey, and 30 minutes after extracting myself from the heated train carriage, I had pitched the tent on a lake shore.IMG_5474 IMG_5479

The next day the clouds had descended and rain was on its way again. I spent the morning descending myself. I arrived in the town of Voss and was checked into the local hostel by 10 am just before the rain arrived. I had just had five days of spectacular weather when it had mattered most, so I relished a lazy day eating and reading in Voss before the final push to Bergen.

The final push was a bit longer than expected due to a road closure and very long detour. But despite the rain, I loved riding in the fjords. The rain meant that waterfalls thundered onto the road and as the lumpy road weaved its way around the coast I enjoyed the final burst into the city I last rode into in 1995, where did all that time go?

Despite taking a few days to get into the rhythm of things, it had been a great trip from the heart of the Baltic to the North Sea. The landscapes had been very varied, from the rolling countryside of Sweden, the mountainous heart of Norway and ending in the steep fjords of the coast. Each part of the trip had had its challenges, some more enjoyable than others, but looking back in reflection, they had all combined to make it an enjoyable and challenging trip. With winter fast approaching, I feel it will put me in a good mind set for the dark cold months ahead.

By the time I reached the city limits it was dark. I had a day to spare before my flight so sought out a roof over my head to explore the city from. When Analisa and I had ridden into Bergen all those years ago, we had stayed at a weird sort of campground. I distinctly remember pitching the tent on the top of the roof of a group of cabins. I followed the first signpost I saw to a campground that would be handy to the airport for my flight in a few days time. The signs directed me down a side street and I arrived at a sort of ‘weird campground’. In my tired, soaked state, I looked past the entrance and could not believe what I saw. It was the same place I had stayed 18 years earlier. And no, I did not pitch my tent on top of one of the cabins, I rented one of the cabins instead.

(First published http://swedishroaming.blogspot.se – 2013)