Leg breakers and the Lysefjord

Week 5 - Mountain climbing on the bike and by foot through Lysefjord

My route from Holmestrand to Sandeid - week 5

My route from Holmestrand to Sandeid - week 5

"...your legs must be ruined!"

Last week, my fifth on the road, was all about getting high above Lysefjord. I climbed over 8000m on the bike, travelling 500km from Holmestrand on the east coast to Sandeid in the Fjords. I also took in two day/night hikes to see some of Norway's most impressive vistas.

Beginning where my previous post left off, I had a lazy morning with Lars, my CouchSurfing host in Holmestrand. Playing with his Norwegian Elkhound and plotting a route to Kjerag in Lysefjord - home to the boulder above the blue. I was mentally preparing more than anything else for the assault on my body from lugging 30kgs of touring bike up mountain passes above 1,000m.

Into the Fjords

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Leaving Holmestrand I passed though Heddal, taking in it's beautiful Stave Church, and eventually camping on a small lake in Hjartdal. The roads wound through forested hills and the gentle inclines gave me time to gawp at the ever more impressive scenery.

The second day can only be defined as 'killer'. I plotted a route via a town called Dalen,  situated in between two seriously impressive hairpin roads. This meant an incredible 800m descent into the town, with hands cramping on the brakes and tyres squealing. But of course what comes down must go back up (apparently). I was faced with 900m of ascent through hairpins and steep corners to get out of Dalen and back onto the open road. The day in total took in over 2,000m of ascent, far more than I had ever attempted on a bike before.

The third day to Skuleskard passed via a ski resort (Brokke) where my usual picnic lunch was shunned for ice cream, chocolate milk, coffee, waffles cake. A just reward for another morning of hard climbing! Another 800m of climbing to over 1,050m in altitude in the afternoon left me exhausted. Fortunately on this day as with the previous two I camped near water and was able to take an 'ice bath' in the fjord beside my tent.

Kjerag

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The final ascent to Kjerag passed along a gorgeous road called Lysevegen - an incredible path through mountains, valleys and fjords. Up on these wild and remote roads I got friendly with the sheep who took an interest in my bike, stopped off regularly to take in the views and eventually rolled into the Kjerag visitor centre at midday. I was ready to take on my first hike.

Note: don't buy lunch here - it is utterly extortionate!

The Kjeragbolten is a testament to the power of nature, which deposited this boulder 600m above the Lysefjord during the last ice age. The location is hugely popular for BASE jumping as well as being a worthy pilgrimage for anyone wishing for a shot of adrenaline. The hike took around 2 hours but was fiercely steep in parts, with metal guide chains and harsh ground underfoot. The view, (see below), was simply spectacular. I ascended in the afternoon to avoid the crowds with the intention of watching the sunset before setting up camp on the cliff.

Having planned a road trip around Norway almost five years ago which never materialised I was ecstatic to finally take in one of the places I had been dying to visit for years.Climbing out on the boulder (first photo below) was full of fear and excitement. The surface is big enough to comfortably stand on but looking down into the fjord below gave me a strong dose of "don't do anything silly".

After getting the shots I wanted I set up camp on a small patch of grass overlooking the fjord and the end to a truly awesome evening. Waking at 4 am, the sunrise was the same smoky orange as the previous evening. I descended quickly, jumped back on the bike and descended the final section of the Lysevegen road - a series of 27 hairpin bends down to Lysebotn including a kilometre long hairpin tunnel through the mountain below. This road is a testament to some incredible road design and engineering.

I'm very glad I went down this road and not up...

At Lysebotn, a delightful settlement at the mouth of Lysefjord, I caught up on England's World Cup semi-final defeat to Croatia (no shame there and I didn't really care given the beauty of my surroundings). Eager to banish any lingering thoughts of football I jumped on the ferry from Lysebotn to Forsand, to cruise along 42km of the Lysefjord.'Lyse', I was reliably informed, means 'light', and it was easy to see how this body of water got its name with the midday sun beating down on the turquoise water and reflecting up onto the mountainsides that line the fjord.

Preikstolen

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My second hike was to Preikstolen after a 30km cycle from Forsand. The hike was not as tough going as Kjerag. But by this point my legs were essentially useless after a tough week. It is a 90-minute hike up to the viewpoint for an average person and the trip can, therefore, be comfortably done in a day.I chose again to hike in the evening, arriving around 8 pm as the crowds were dispersing, and was greeted with the most spectacular sunset I've had the pleasure of witnessing. Before the sun went down I had time to once again hoist my Above & Beyond flag, a reminder of the challenges I'm undertaking in the name of supporting the Bristol Heart Institute.

As the sky turned pink and cloud rolled into the valley below I set up camp and sat on the cliff edge until the light was gone. I woke to a view of nothing more than 3 metres in front of me, surrounded by thick cloud and fog.Descending at 10 am I passed hundreds of hikers heading up for the day into the cloud - I hope it cleared up for them!

Broken legs

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As I retrieved my bike at the bottom of the Preikstolen trail a Frenchman asked me if I'd been up to the top. When I told him what I'd done over the past week he cried "Crazy man! Your legs must be ruined!". I thought this slightly ironic as the previous Frenchman I had encountered at Kjerag was scaling sheer cliffs above the boulder while wearing Adidas trainers and trying to get a better vantage point! That was what I would call crazy.

Unfortunately, his words were not far off the mark. As I embarked on the next day of cycling, heading towards the coast and Sandeid, my legs were completely out of gas. I camped on the Island of Ombo and had a huge lie in the next day, discovering on the other side of the Island at midday that I had missed the morning ferry and the next one was not for 5 hours. A kind local named Frode began chatting to me near the ferry landing and ended up inviting me for lunch with his family at their holiday cabin, supplying me with soup, ice cream and coffee and a great conversation. I concluded there are worse places to be stranded than Ombo. Frode would later help me secure a bed in Bergen where I am currently writing this post - I'm again amazed at how chance encounters turn into fantastically generous offerings from people I have never met!

As I finally rolled into Sandeid my body gave a sigh of relief. Sunday was the first day off I have had since Amsterdam three weeks ago - (my supposed day off in Copenhagen turned into a 40km Ride!). I had a chill out with Lars, another WarmShowers host, watching the World Cup final with him and accepting his very kind offers of food, drink and a warm bed to sleep in. I've since spent a lazy few days in and around Bergen as the first 5 weeks catches up with me.I am exhausted and planning to cut back on my average distance per day. I will now work my way up the Atlantic coast via Eurovelo route 1 to the Lofoten Islands and spend more time letting my body recover and taking in the beauty of this country,Lessons learned:

  • Norweigan roads are amazingly sympathetic to the landscape, following the ups and downs and not caring which way they meander.

  • Hiking in the fjords is tough - take plenty of food and water, layer up and make sure you enjoy the view. (Don't wear hot pants and sandals like one girl I saw)

  • If you find yourself in the fjords with a camera you will spend the next week trying to cut down the hundreds of shots you take.

  • Take a break and don't burn out!