Birthdays, blue skies and beautiful roads

Weeks 6-7 - A coastal route from the fjords to Trondheim, via Bergen, Kristiansund and the Atlantic Ocean Road

"You’re cycling in Norway? Why?!”

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After testing my climbing skills in the fjords, (see my previous post), I decided to head west and follow the coast north to Trondheim, Norway's third largest city. These past two weeks I have covered 900km and almost 14,000m of ascent on heavily undulating roads. The highlight? - wheeling across 8km of ocean on the Atlantic Road, simply the most incredible piece of tarmac I've ever seen.

I celebrated my 25th birthday in Kristiansund, a small city on the coast. Treating myself to my first Airbnb complete with double bed (what a treat!) it turned into a relaxing day of doing not much at all. I did, however, have some interesting conversations with My host Wei. He couldn’t quite fathom my motivations for leaving the safety and security of a career in the actuarial profession. It was hard to get across just how motivated I was to do this trip. I think the idea of casting aside routine, financial stability and a roof over my head seemed a bit mad to him. And on the face of it, it is. But I’ve found a new routine, of waking early, draining a morning coffee, blasting out a day of cycling, punctuated by breaks to take photos, chat to locals and gaze out at the ocean. I’m on a tight budget (which is being severely tested by Norwegian prices) but still have a hold on my finances. And the shelter of my MSR tent is sufficient in torrential rain that I consider it a sturdy roof.

There is no strict schedule and I am usually just thinking about my basic needs. If I'm tired I rest; if I'm hungry I eat; if it's getting dark I set up camp. In such simplicity, I am finding an awful lot of contentment. While I enjoy the athletic challenges of running marathons now and then or putting in a huge day on the saddle, it is on these days where everything is simple and straightforward that I am maximising my enjoyment.

The conversations with Wei were useful to me. It gave me pause for thought on where it all might end, and when, and what comes afterwards. But I then realised this is an ultimately fruitless exercise - planning the week ahead at any given time is enough, the rest is a problem for future me.Anyway, on with the blog post...

Generous hosts in Bergen

A row of colourful harbourside buildings on Bergen Harbour

A row of colourful harbourside buildings on Bergen Harbour

I left the fjords two weeks ago feeling exhausted and decided to take a day off in Bergen, a beautiful city on the west coast full of colour, vibrant markets and superb cycle paths.

My first night in Bergen I stayed with WarmShowers host Hans, the ex-chief of the Norweigan Cycling Federation. Hans was a massive help in helping me plan a route north to Trondheim, having cycled from the North Cape to south Norway previously. We chatted at length about the Tour de France (congrats Geraint Thomas!!) and Hans' previous tours across Europe. A recent broken hip had not been enough to keep him off the bike for long. (He flew past me on his commute to work the following day as I cycled back into the city).

I ambled around the markets during my day off, spending some time in Bryggen, the historical harbourside with rows of colourful warehouses. Stopping at a swimming spot in Hellesnet I found a well placed diving board that allowed you to jump straight into the sea. My incredible sense of timing meant I arrived for a swim as a thunderstorm rolled in, and jumping into the sea while lightning flashed above me was a pretty surreal experience, and absolutely freezing!

I'd been contacted the previous day by Frode, who had invited me to lunch while stranded on Ombo the previous week. Frode's close friend Joachim had a spare room in Bergen which I was able to use for my second evening in the city. Both Frode and Joachim are indoor divers and previously represented Norway at international competitions. Unfortunately, their years of experience and fascinating stories of training and championships did not rub off on me, so at Hellesnet my attempted dive into the ocean resulted in me looking like a frog trying to skydive into a raging bathtub.

Welcome rain

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Heading north towards Kristiansund I took in a few nights of camping on the side of roads, a CouchSurfing stay in Førde and a couple of days of torrential rain as I approached Mølde. The landscape was full of forested hills and amazing little cabins on lakes (see below) that inspired me to start dreaming of building a wooden cabin in rural Norway and sacking off cycling around the world. Obviously, I'm not going to do that - the mind wanders quite a lot when cycling!

Having had nearly 6 weeks of sun with Europe sweltering under a heatwave the rain was incredibly welcoming. Despite getting drenched again I was positively delighted.While taking a ferry to a landing named Larsnes the ferry attendant exclaimed at me having spotted my bike. “You’re cycling in Norway? Why?!”, a smirk was etched on his face. My reply was easy enough - “well I need to go through it to reach Istanbul”. (Though not strictly true, there are more efficient routes to Turkey that don’t involve a 3000km detour via Scandinavia...)

A day later and 60km further north, on a ferry from Hareid to Sulesund, the same attendant tapped me on the shoulder. “Are you still enjoying cycling in Norway?”, seeing me looking like a drowned rat after a day of torrential rain. I replied with a beaming smile, “Absolutely, the rain means I don't need to find a shower today!”. That same smirk on his face quickly faded, I suspect he was annoyed at my positivity having got drenched himself.

Departing the ferry, a thumbs up from the sodden ferry attendant was all I needed to keep the smile on my face and cycle through the rain towards one of the most impressive roads in the world.

The Atlantic Ocean Road

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Our family used to summer holiday in Scotland every year, and there I developed a love of getting battered and blasted by salty sea air on the east coast of Fife. I was looking forward therefore to getting right out to the coast of Norway and testing myself against the North Atlantic, expecting fierce winds and ocean spray in my face.

What I got instead was tranquil water, not a sign of any wind, an epic sunset and the most peaceful and relaxing evening I can remember.

The Atlantic Road connects a series of small islands to the mainland via eight bridges. It is exposed and open to the ocean, but on this day the ocean was incredibly placid. I crossed the length of it at the end of a 110km day and set up camp on a tiny spit of rock at the end of the road. Settling outside on the rocks at 10.30pm I watched the sunset until 12.30am, seeing in my 25th birthday in the most idyllic camping spot I’ve found so far.

25, still alive

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Seagulls woke me at 5 am on my birthday, so I promptly got back out and watched the sunrise. It was a very different sort of birthday, but a memorable one all the same. I'd opened a birthday card from my parents at 12 am that had been buried in my panniers for 6 weeks. I'm starting to wonder what else is in there that I've forgotten about.... probably some bonus food.

After a brief 30km cycle I had to board a bus to get through the Atlantic Tunnel to Kristiansund. This was absolutely the most stressful moment of my trip so far. A madcap bus driver threw three of my panniers into the coach storage and then hoisted the bike onto a flimsy rack at the back - one pannier and my tent still attached. I spent a 30-minute bus ride staring at the wing mirror fully expecting my bags to be tumbling down the road behind or to see my bike disappear under car behind. This paranoia was unnecessary, as it turned out.

The following two days to Trondheim were unremarkable and passed easily, giving me more time to just enjoy the surrounds and take regular roadside breaks, contemplating what materials I needed to start building that wooden cabin on the fjord...Ahead lies around 800km of coastal cycling to Bødo where I'll catch a ferry to Lofoten. I'm hoping during this time I'll meet that furious ocean wind and spray I've been waiting for.

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