Into the Arctic Circle
Weeks 8-9 - Continuing up the coast from Trondheim to Bodø
At 66 degrees north, on a small spit of land between Kilboghavn and Jektvik, there is a small metal sculpture. This landmark indicates the edge of the Arctic circle. Inside it, I was reliably informed by the ferry captain who was shuttling me towards Jektvik, is technically the Arctic. Therefore, I am now an Arctic explorer. Job done. I might as well go home now.
Then again, I fancy a bit more...
The further up this beautiful country I cycle the more dramatic the scenery has become. The mountains grow taller and more jagged, with sheer cliffs and rock falls commonplace. The roads dive into longer and darker tunnels through kilometres of mountain rock that has been blown away by dynamite.
I am now further north than the capital of Greenland, as well as most of Canada, Alaska and Russia (honestly - here is proof). As if to enforce this point the mountain peaks have been showing off their snow caps which gleam in the baking sun that is still not strong enough to melt them away. Maybe I should have packed crampons and an ice axe afterall...
The weather has become wetter, windier and more unpredictable. After a frankly ridiculous spell of warm weather I have recently found myself having to hold on the roof of my tent, while sat in it, to stop it blowing away in ferocious winds.Camping on a beach on Wednesday I felt like a hermit crab with a shell made of nylon as I walked my tent back onto its original pitch. That night I spent spread-eagled across the groundsheet to maintain structural integrity.
I bet Sir Ranulph Fiennes never had such pressing issues on his Arctic expeditions.
I have been working my way further north via Fv17 - the "Coastal Highway" - 630km of silky smooth tarmac, icy cold tunnels and six ferry crossings. The route from Trondheim has been by far the most enjoyable period of my trip. I can put this down to the following:
The wild camping has been incredible - on the side of fjords; on sandy white beaches; hidden under sheer cliffs and on top of mountain passes.
I have been averaging around 70km a day - an easy distance giving time for lazy mornings, photography stops and long restful evenings.
I have met a number of other cyclists following the same route - in fact, I have been bumping into one couple from Germany every day for a week. We have been sharing stories and advice and marvelling in unison at the landscapes we have been moving through.
I met a thoroughly insane man who lived in a rotting cabin in the woods - he invited me back to see the snake he had caught in his mousetrap (I declined) and insisted drivers in Norway are intentionally trying to run over cyclists (they aren't). On a day where I was feeling down having been beaten by wind and rain this guy's ramblings about politics, the oil industry and tourism were enough to make me laugh out loud and forget about the weather.
Roads like these...
Honestly, if this carries on I'm just going to have to go all the way to the north pole.
Route 17 largely overlaps with a Eurovelo cycleway. It follows a low altitude through valleys and along the coast, avoiding higher mountain routes that are more common in south and central Norway. I've adapted to the lack of high vantage points by throwing up my drone to take a set of aerial photographs.The variety of perspectives that this opens up is helping me appreciate this country more and more. The three shots below for instance:
A shot of my campsite up above a fjord on a beautiful, blue sky morning - I hadn't realised just how dramatic the valley below was when I had pitched up the night before.
A birds-eye view of a small island cabin - Illustrating how people will build upon even the most difficult pockets of land to reach in order to achieve a sense of isolation.
A winding coastal section of route 17 - Showing me just how impressive the road was that I had just cycled over!
Stepping back my average distance has allowed me to fill some time with other activities besides photography and furious cycling. After 9 weeks on the road I think I've nailed down my favourite ways to while away those spare hours. Like all good arctic explorers I have been doing the following:
Listening to Harry Potter audiobooks - because Stephen Fry's narration of the wonderful world of Hogwarts is simply fantastic.
Waving to every man, woman, child and animal I see - admittedly, this means mainly waving at sheep. But they seem to appreciate it nonetheless.
Curating an array of Spotify playlists for every mood, occasion and type of terrain I'm cycling over.
Diving into endless podcasts and reading kindle books most evenings, as far as my limited power supplies will allow.
I realised that my progress over the first month did not leave enough time for small things like this and I had become frustrated because of it. It is amazing how much of a difference some quiet contemplation makes, whether that's with some background music, a book in hand or just staring out to sea.
Probably the most important thing I've learned so far then is to appreciate the true value of time - seizing and enjoying every moment of it without procrastination, idleness or too much of any one thing, like cycling...
This will all change very soon of course when I need to cover 1,500km in two weeks to get to Estonia in time for my next marathon (easy). But until then, I'll just enjoy exploring the Arctic.
Days on the road: 54
Rest days: 9