Trondheim! Yes, we opted for the soggy ‘dried fish’ route after all

Once again, thank you to the new Oldies Club donors for their incredible generosity. Getting these donation notifications has really cheered me up while I navigate the still difficult weather!

You are:

Jamie Baverstock, Anne Bell, Lorraine Atherton, Ailsa Parry (WOW!!) and Di Allen

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/dogandsnailbiketravels

 

The hard statistics thus far

Since departing Wabamun by bicycle:

  • 41 days in the saddle
  • 2712 kms pedalled for an average of 66.15 kms per day
  • over 20,000 vertical meters climbed
  • maximum downhill speed – 72.4 kph (yeehaw!!!)
  • slowest uphill speed – 4 kph (blah)
  • longest day – 112kms
  • shortest day – 22kms
  • 32 nights of camping in the wild
  • 9 nights on commercial campsites
  • approximately 5kg of body fat (mine, not Murph’s) evaporated
  • £800/$1306 cad – so far – raised for the Oldies Club!!!

 

Items lost, destroyed or otherwise since beginning of trip:

  • Kong squeaky beaver mascot
  • fleece blanket
  • warm beanie hat
  • miniature tennis ball
  • 2 x bike mirrors
  • bike helmet
  • Murphy’s precious Equafleece jumper
  • several usb cords
  • Macbook Air – yes, it did completely die after all. I am typing this on a freakishly expensive Norwegian laptop. I’ll call it a ‘souvenir’ since it has all the funny Norwegian letters on the keyboard. No excuse to spell Bodø Bodo anymore!
  • silk sleeping bag liner
  • 1 x glove
  • 1 x sock

At least my tent didn’t end up over the cliff and to a watery death.

In the 950-ish kms since we left Bodø

The freight train is ready to pull out of the station

Do you really want to know about the weather? Not really? I’ll tell you anyway; it was better than predicted but less than lovely.

We pulled out of Bodø under bright sunshine, 14c (which is positively tropical in these parts), full of hope and thrilling to the trilling of the open road. The following day was pretty good too, but the ten after that were gray, cold and quite gloomy. Hardly any rain though until today – all less than inspiring for photo ops, so the camera hardly came out. It also made it less likely I’d stop to smell the wild flowers for any length of time. If I kept moving, I’d stay warmer. Temps have consistently been between 6-12c during the day and much colder in the wind and damp air. Nights have been tolerable not going much below the same. The flipping midges have been GROTESQUE!!! Their itty-bitty, blood-sucking carcasses pile up in my tent every night as I lose my mind and commit mass murder. Murph, however, seems spared – I must grow more fur. Until then, my most prized glam accessory:

Image result for midge head net

Still, I’ll take midges over Canadian mosquitoes any day. All of these un-scenic things considered, I thought I’d focus more on the people side for this post.

As I got further from the gravitational pull of the Lofoten Islands, the cyclists I encountered entirely thinned out. This was nice in a way – I felt more special. When I did come across another me, we would generally stop to chat and swap road-war stories, much like it was when I was further north. We were the burly hard-core types on BIG rides – a more exclusive type, bien sûr !!

Three delightful Norwegian damsels escaping their husbands and children for a little spin from Nordkapp back to their home in the south. 1500kms!
This fine young fella was guarding the road when I swung around a corner. After a bit of a nervous stand-off with me looking for the nearest exit, he gave a big snort and headed off.

Momentous day – we cross the Arctic Circle

This lonely little globe marks our return to the dark side…

…and we’re officially back in the land of the summer moon. Sort of. The sun kind of goes down for a few minutes over the horizon. I still have to wear a sleep mask and a pillow all night to be able to drift off.

 

Our unusual and charming alarm clock that morning. Thousands of free-ranging sheep since Bødo.

 

Murph introduces me to more of the nicest people!

Gerhard, a very kind German motorhomer and avid fisherman, insisted we take a couple of his freshly-caught fish with us. It was a bit of a challenge frying them up on our little Trangia alcohol stove, but Murph loved them!!

The wonderful Elsa of Nesna made my day. We chatted about her town and its history while I waited for the ferry. She was a young girl here during the German occupation and had an uncle who emmigrated to BC after the war. Did she ever think of leaving Norway? Perish the thought!
Marietta and her very sweet family from Lund, Norway – the ferry’s destination. Marietta struck up a conversation about bike touring and local history at the dock and we became fast friends.
This is Olav from Steinkjer. Olav is an 89 year-old retired farmer. He volunteered that he’ll only get an electric bike when he is 100. Be like Olav.
Our last ferry on this section – memorable for all of the jolly nice local people I met aboard, and a pretty ferry she was too!

Hilary Clinton is hiding in Helgeland

On a tiny road, in the middle of nowhere with no one around for miles …made my hackles rise.

What now then?

The travelling circus comes to rest

I have a wedding to get to in Burgundy, France on July 27th. I’d really like to attend my dear Cousin Boris’ nuptials, but I have no idea if it’s feasible. I’m more than a week behind the loose schedule I’d set, and it’s a tangled spaghetti of problems and expense to get there. I don’t think a non-dog-toting bicycle tourer can empathise with the difficulty and stress of planes or trains with the gear, the bike and an elderly dog. Not quite as easy as just hopping on any old flight. Murph must be in the cabin with me which most Scandinavian airlines make impossible (that’s why I flew to Finland – Finnair was cool and Murph+bag dimensions worked for us), the bike has to be disassembled, then I have to find a box to cram it into, then there’s a very large bag full of gear, the transfers, car hire to get to the remote part of Burgundy and of course, it all costs a bomb. Finally, I have to get back to where I left off! AAAAAARGH! Oh Boris! Can’t you wait until the end of August to get married – that’s when I’ll roll into Montot under my own steam.

I believe I will just carry on as planned for now, but it’s all very preoccupying. Yes, St Olav’s Way it is . From here, I start away from the west coast with Lillehammer, Oslo and Gothenberg, Sweden in my sights. That’ll be over 800km of steep climbs up real mountains, sometimes on long stretches of dirt tracks – all the while, battling the ever-capricious weather. I’ll be roughly following the Eurovelo 3/Norway National 7 bike route.

A little info about St Olav’s Way, which I’ll be doing in reverse, here:

https://pilegrimsleden.no/en/about/om-pilegrimsleden

I hope to get a couple of supplementary posts in when I can, but for now, signing off from Trondheim!!

Tromso to Bodo via the Spectacular Lofoten Islands – 695kms (for a grand total thus far of circa 1595kms, plus the 400 to the Calgary airport) Whoohoo!!

Well, you’d think I’d be pretty fit by now, eh? Sort of, but still puffing a bit up those hills.

As is now my habit, I’d like to first thank all of the new Oldies Club donors for their WONDERFUL support!! Belinda Bauer, Rose and Steve, Lorraine and Dick Rigby, Katrina Hoogendam, Anne White, Anon x 2, Mika and Caroline Anderson and Louise Stanforth. In the days when there are thousands of charities in need of donations, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping this worthy one!

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/dogandsnailbiketravels

A new chapter coming up on the mainland

Hello from Bodo, Norway!! My laptop has been resurrected thanks to the very competent Frederick at Bodo Epelhuset. Hurrah!!! It’s probably taken an internal beating trying to survive the cold temps and eternal damp. My heart sank completely when it wouldn’t fire up the other day – no more blogging? What would Murph’s legions of fans do for entertainment now?? In any case, everything is fine – for now. Fingers crossed it’ll keep trucking – there’s still a heck of a long way to go.

Where were we last post? Ah yes – Tromso and the beginning of the real rain. We left Tromso Camping under blue midday skies and made our way west and over the great hump of a town towards Senja Island, the northern gateway to the Lofotens. It was time. Murph was bored with the comparative luxury of our hut and very ready to move on. She’s such a little travel-terrier star!

A few pics of Tromso:

The fab Anthony Gormley in Norway?? Yessir! Looking out to the harbour. A great surprise for a Gormley sculpture fan like me!

Moving to the Island

Most cyclists I met coming from the south mentioned the Island of Senja. Though not technically part of the Lofoten chain, they claimed it was just as beautiful. I thought I may give it extra time for a thorough examination. Unfortunately, the big rain started just before there, and didn’t end until 11 days later – our last day in the Lofotens. With temperatures around the 6-8c mark, extremely gusty headwinds and the endless squalls of rain, the camera didn’t come out much. Crossing Senja and the Lofotens had more of a survival/expedition vibe. Shelter from the rain and wind was tough to find and putting the tent up and down in such conditions was a very, very trying task. If my sleeping bag or extra layers of clothes got wet, I was sunk. Very few communities, campsites or services meant I was on my own and I had to be extremely careful. Still, we managed, and all of the gorgeous scenery helped us along.

At the end of a particularly gloomy, soggy day, I cycled into a tiny town and the small store there. I met the very sweet Vanja and her boyfriend Nils who directed me to the beach with the Golden Toilet. Vanja excitedly pointed out that not only was it heated, but there was a shower with hot water – all free to use. AND, there was great camping on the beach. Yippee!! You have no idea, folks, how valuable a heated public toilet is to an exhausted, freezing and wet-through cycle tourist. In one, I can warm the dog and myself up, dry things, shelter from the wind and rain, have a wash, do laundry, fill water bottles, clean dishes, semi-assemble my tent out of the rain, recharge my phone – and of course, the thing for which toilets were actually designed. Not only practical, THIS particular toilet was a genuine tourist attraction. People were pulling up in their cars, getting out in the pouring rain…wait for it…to take tourist snaps of this very special latrine. Long live the heated public toilet!

Though Senja really deserved a much more involved inspection, the weather forced me to keep my head down and push on. From Gryllefjord, we hopped a grim little ferry to Andennes, on the first Lofoten Island of Andoya. This particular ferry was a pain in the butt. Cyclists were clearly an unloved thorn in their side, and we were shoe-horned against each other risking damage to our bikes and equipment. Then we encountered a very grumpy agent who forced Murph and me to travel on the open deck for the hour and a half crossing. I was wet and cold and angry. We could have been tucked well out of the way of other passengers under a stairwell inside, but this chap was obviously having a bad day and we paid for it.

Dogs on ferries with foot passengers in Norway is a gamble – it depends on who’s in charge. Overall, I’ve found Norway to be the least relaxed about dogs anywhere in Europe. Almost a bit hysterical. I knew this coming, but it’s not easy to work with. Despite it, I’ve found the occasional very accommodating and reasonable official, but there’s certainly no guarantee. I imagine it’s quite different in the south of Norway where I understand the dog culture is a bit more progressive.

The Lofotens

The rest of the Lofotens is a bit of a blur simply because of the terrible weather. Most days involved heavy rain, cold and big wind. Fog was also an issue and it often obscured the surroundings. There was a wonderful morning when we had sunshine for THREE WHOLE HOURS! It almost made me sad. In the sun, it was one of the most excruciatingly beautiful places I have ever been. I felt a teeny bit ripped off – as did my fellow cyclists. Hey ho!! A cold rainy day in the Lofotens is still better than a sunny day slaving at the peat moss plant in Alberta.

Checking out yet another fascinating bit of toilet culture. This one is in the middle of nowhere. Floor to ceiling one-way windows so you can gaze out to the ocean while your business is being done.

Speaking of my fellow cyclists, I was seeing more and more coming from the south. All kinds – day trippers, credit card cyclists (don’t carry much baggage and stay in hotels), laden long-distance tourers like myself, groups on tours with electric bikes – you name it. The best cyclists though, were the ones I kept bumping into along the way. Jenny from Seattle, for example, and I keep running into each other in the most improbable manner. I found a very well-hidden wild camping spot in the absolute middle of nowhere, popped out of a shrub to collect some water at a little waterfall, and there’s Jenny at the side of the road eating biscuits. So adorable! She was having brake problems and her modus operandi under stress is to eat biscuits. Good strategy. Anyway, I invited her to share my perfect little spot for the night. Murph was delighted – she loves Jenny!

Just passing by. Jenny discovering me hiding in a bus shelter on a very rainy day.

Then there’s the Kiwis – Mark and Sarah Jane. They’re the lovely ones I shared a spot with by the glacial river a few weeks back, and here we are in rekindling our friendship in the Lofotens. All four, Jenny, me and the Kiwis met again completely by chance on the ferry to Bodo. Spooky.

Mark and Sarah Jane from Christchurch New Zealand

The rest of my ride through the several Lofoten Islands was extremely worthwhile despite the weather challenge. Only a few pics, alas.

On our one beautiful and sunny morning, we found the Grunnfor Cyclist’s shelter – built for us!! Link here: https://70n.no/Grunnfor-bicycle-shelter-encountering-the-environment. You can sleep inside on a platform, cook and gaze and socialise – no charge. A special place, and I sure wish there had been more of them at regular intervals. I didn’t stay here but came to check it out. There was also a charming little bar/cabin that was open for all to use. Love.

The last islands before Bodo

I have had to dig deep to find the mental and physical toughness to get through the challenging conditions on the Lofotens, but I was soundly rewarded on our last day before the ferry; a full day of sunshine! Oh how it changed the world around us!

I

Looney Arctic surfers
On the tiny island of Hamnoy
Fish heads drying in the occasional sun
Immaculate Reine

The day my roof blew off

I had made a rather poor choice of camping spot the evening before the ferry to the mainland; on a cliff with the ocean below. Exposed. Windy. But hey, it was sunny and nice when I set up the tent the night before. Had I learned NOTHING in my blustery time on the Lofotens???

Well, the next morning, of course it was blowing a total hooley, and as I struggled to pack my bike up and sort Murph out while staying upright myself, my tent suddenly blasted off like a giant Chinese dragon kite. As it became airborne, I swung around and ran full-pelt after it, dove – all fours off the ground – and just before the extremely pricey tent met a watery end off the cliff, managed to reel it in by the last dangling cord. Phew! That would have been a tear-inducing disaster. I credit my early ice-hockey goalie career with my still-sharp reflexes. Thanks Ken Dryden for the inspiration!!

Bodo

I am relieved to report the long ferry ride to Bodo was spent in the warm interior thanks to a sympathetic worker. Four toasty hours later, we all disembarked in the pleasant town of Bodo. Jenny sped off into the distance and Mark and Sarah Jane melted into the crowd of foot passengers and other cyclists. I had reserved a little hut at the nearby campsite in order to find first aid for my laptop, so off I went in a different direction.

These little huts are a great find, if a bit pricey, generally run-down and smelly. They are heated though, and I can leave Murph safely while I run around completing errands. I can certainly justify the luxury as the rest of our nights are spent camping wild in the glorious Norwegian nature for free. What a privilege!

As I look at the long-term weather forecast for the coast, I see more of what we’ve just had. Cold, rain. While the rest of Europe bakes and boils, here we freeze and drown. I remind myself all the time that we are in the Arctic! But it’s true, that even for here, the weather has been poorer than normal. I have contemplated heading back over the mountains and into empty central northern Sweden, then south towards Gothenberg. Warmer, drier but hundreds and hundreds of kilometres of only forest. Or should I tough it out on the spectacular Norwegian coast and hope for a weather miracle? What to do? I will sleep on it and decide in the morning. Come back next time to find out if we ended up looking for a nice if dull Swedish smorgasbord, or if we decided to stick with soggy, but attractive dried fish.

For more interesting history and information on the Lofoten: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lofoten

Nordkapp to Tromso – 550kms, 8 days, good weather and great legs!

Before I start this post, I’d like to thank all the gorgeous people who have been donating to my Oldie’s Club Just Giving Page – YOU are the superstars!! Strangers and family, from North America and Europe, have been so generous. You are directly improving the lives of abandoned elderly dogs. Thanks to you and the Oldies Club, they will get much needed veterinary care, and hopefully new forever homes. Murph and I thank you with all of our hearts!

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/dogandsnailbiketravels

You are:

Chris Chenore (wow, what a generous cuz!!!), Maggie and Mike Chenore, Judith Wolf, Laura Cartwright, Heather Patrick, Tina Griffin, Susan Woodruff, Sally Stranks, Jayesh Patel, ANON, Steve Jarvis and Karen Sumption.

Since we last chatted…and PS – you can click onto the smaller photos to enlarge them

Waiting out the gales and trying to stay positive in Olderfjord

Both Murph and I were aching to leave the confinement of our little cabin in Olderfjord and get to the first major symbolic point of our adventure; the North Cape. We had been stranded by dramatic weather for three days, and though it was slowly improving, it wasn’t happening fast enough for me. It was still rubbish out but it looked much better the following day. I decided to take a bus up the last 120kms and cycle back down. After all, we would have had to retrace our route anyway – only one road up and one down. I packed up all of our gear and hoped the driver would allow Murph on board.

We needn’t have worried! We had the sweetest driver in Norway, and a whole bus to ourselves. Problem was, the driver said he wasn’t sure if the final portion of the road to Nordkapp was open; they had suffered a major dump of snow with the same storm. We would find out if we could continue once we arrived in Honningsvag, the biggest town on the Cape.

Triumphant!!!

All in our favour again as the rain had come and melted most of the recent snow. It was a shock how quickly we got up there. After all, we had been travelling by bike at the blistering pace of 12kms per hour for the last week. The second shock was just how many motorhomes and tour busses were already at the top. Monsterous numbers of busses full of cruise ship passengers from Honningsvag, and dozens of motorhomes.

I put my bike and bags together in the perishing wind with hundreds of tourists watching agog. Then they spotted Murphy…and the paparazzi-fest began. I felt like we were the star attraction in a polar zoo, forget that they were in this most amazing and spectacular place called NORTH CAPE! Nope, a dog on a bike trumps it all. Murph will undoubtedly be in hundreds and hundreds of photos all over the net.

Once Shirley was assembled, away from the masses, and with Murph cozy in her nest, I popped into the attractive restaurant/viewing station to grab a coffee. By the time I got out, a colossal wall of dark grey was swiftly moving at us from the north. I quickly manoeuvred us over to the globe and snapped the inevitable North Cape shot before we were all engulfed. It was then so numbingly cold that I simply couldn’t hang about. We started pedalling south in earnest.

On the way there I was worried that, somehow, taking the bus up was cheating and perhaps it would take the gloss off the momentous occasion. But it was OK. It felt absolutely WONDERFUL to be there, and now on the creaking bike, rolling southward and aiming roughly for Spain, I felt invincible. And so it was then that the clouds started parting to reveal slightly less grey!

The dopamine and adrenaline really started kicking in as we made our way through this strikingly beautiful, humbling and inhospitable place. The tough climbs were welcome because they warmed me up. The zig-zagging steep descents were bone-chilling but tremendously breathtaking. There were dozens of intrepid motorbikers, motorhomers and busses squeezing by me on the narrow road, but all were polite and careful. Many, many gave us thumbs up, little honks, waves and shouts of encouragement. I felt myself well-up on occasion, blurring my view of the road. It was one of the most memorable days I’ve ever had on a ride. I was sad to see Honningsvag come into view; it meant the end of the Cape.

Honningsvag and the source of the tour bus traffic.

We wild camped peacefully in the sun with this outrageous view before attempting the most dreaded of all tunnels: the 7km long, undersea Nordkapp Tunnel.

Yessir!! And free.

I’d been reading about The Tunnel on various cycling blog sites for a few months now. I had convinced myself that all were probably exaggerating its hideousness to some extent.

Nope. It. Was. Awful.

3.5kms straight down under the Barents Sea to the icy depths of a damp, dripping hell with deafening lorry/bus/motorhome/motorcycle traffic flying by in the dim yellow light. I was very worried about Murph so I bundled her up in layers and put plugs in her ears, though she’s already quite deaf. Then, the reward for the misery of reaching the bottom; 3.5kms at 10% straight up – no relief, no mercy. I will never in my life cycle through such a thing again. If you’d like to read more about this torture device: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Cape_Tunnel

Once we got through the tunnel, we started making our way back towards Olderfjord, anxious to get onto some new territory. At Olderfjord, we would turn right and start southwest over and around a series of fjords until we hit Tromso.

The riding was getting tougher and I fought the cursed headwinds still, but it was getting even more scenic. On our new road, the traffic was much thinner and the road was stimulatingly curvy. My legs and lungs were coming up to the standard, and I just felt great. I was drifting into that familiar mind/body zone of cycling omnipotence. Even my rear end was reasonably happy (new saddle!).

Some of the gorgeous places we pitched our tent for the night on the way to Tromso:

Reindeer grazing below our pitch
Our toughest climb yet. Absolutely worth the effort!

There were very few communities of any size along the way until we reached the last stretch before Tromso. I had to plan carefully for food. As we hopped from fab fjord to fab fjord, I admired the simplicity of the houses and buildings; pretty, harmonious and completely unpretentious. Red is the colour here.

A typical little fishing arrangement along the fjord, replete with abundant drying fish.

Murph always finds us a great table near the window!

Another sunny day. Enjoy it girls, because it could be your last for a couple of weeks.

Yes, it did start to rain, and rain all day just before we hit Tromso. It was all made better by cheerful encounters with other bike tourists – namely Sarah Jane and Mark Jonathan from Christchurch, NZ. We spent an evening shivering merrily together by a glacial river before pitching up for the night. They have covered roughly the same ground as me, and then some. Have you guys got a blog?? Message me!

I was also very happy to meet and share an overnight spot with Murph-loving Jenny from Seattle whom I’ve run into again here in Tromso. Intrepid and brave cyclists from the world over are arriving thick and fast in the area despite it being a little early in the season.

Our first little Norwegian ferry taking us across a fjord. Free for cyclists!! Tromso is not far now. A darling Slovakian woman working aboard brought me coffee and waffles on the house. Another Murph fan.

So here we are in our cute little cabin in Tromso pondering the next stages towards the unmissable Lofoten Islands. The weather is predicted to be plumb terrible for as far as the forecast can see. All of my new cycling companions are feeling a bit glum about it, but it is Norway after all; stunning, but wet and cold. I feel quite fortunate that we’ve had some sunshine to speed us over the more difficult altitudes thus far.

I will spend the rest of the afternoon exploring Tromso, then pack up and head out into whatever comes our way tomorrow. Next post will be all about Murph travel and all the gear she requires to keep her comfy and safe. Murph fans – tune in next time. Until then, adjø from Norway!

Smokey Calgary to Smoked Fish: Oldersfjord, Norway via Amsterdam and Ivalo, Finland – 300kms of cycling under the belt

So far…

Murph and I escaped Calgary on May 30th with only a slight hacking cough. The smoke from northern wildfires had just rolled in. I thought of my nieces having to endure the horrible air quality from these pernicious fires year after year.

There’s a city over there somewhere
Ready Captain!

We had an unexpectedly smooth flight to Amsterdam. The plane was less than half-full and we got an entire row of seats to ourselves. Much to my great relief, Murph slept comfortably in her bag the whole way. Arriving at Schiphol in Amsterdam was a bit of a shock however; it was madly busy – the beginning of a bank holiday weekend. Pushing a trolley through the throngs with a huge bike box, all the gear, and a dog that needed to pee was possibly the most stressful thing I’ll have to do on this trip.

Made it to the car rental joint red-faced and breathless. We started our two-day rest in the Netherlands before our next flight to Helsinki, then Ivalo, Finland.

Relaxing in old Haarlem. Just wonderful to be back in the genteel café culture of Europe!

With jet-lag more or less resolved, back to the dreaded Schiphol to board our flight to Finland. Both flights were jam-packed this time, and most unenjoyable. Never mind – we made it to Ivalo!

The airport is closing – must hurry to assemble the bike and pack everything aboard!

It’s 7pm and we’re knackered. We cycle a few kilometres towards Ivalo and stay at a riverside campground.

Murph demonstrating her Hurtta sleeping bag

It was a cold night after the 34c of Amsterdam – only 8c here and colder through the night. Adrenaline and novelty got me through and we bustled out of camp the next morning keen to experience a completely new country. The weather looked only semi-cooperative, and it did indeed rain much of the next few days, hence very few photos. As I made my way north though, I was treated to immaculate road surfaces, sweeping curves and gentle gradients; absolutely my favourite type of terrain to cycle. The wild camping opportunities were superb. Murph and I delighted in hoisting the tent in the wild blueberry bushes overlooking rivers and lakes.

Midway through our Finnish leg, we met our first bicycle tourists coming from Nordkapp. This sweet, young French couple are touring the entire world over three years! They are paragliders and each is carrying their own paragliding kit on their Surly Trolls along with all the other clobber you need on a world expedition. And I thought I was mad to haul around a dog. They have a very cool blog here https://www.lenvolavelo.com/

As we spun our way up the hills and towards the Norwegian border, the landscape became much more tundra-like. Scrubby birch trees and lichen everywhere. We had already encountered several reindeer (you’ll have to wait for the YouTube video), fox and innumerable species of waterfowl. Very, very few communities on the way, never mind shops with food. I had to plan wisely. The complete isolation became slightly monotonous after a couple of days and I welcomed the sight of the Norwegian customs booth as I sped down the mountain from the forlorn plateau. Once crossed over, the landscape immediately changed – much more agricultural and lush, more populated and very, very beautiful!

A few kms into Norway.

The roads in Norway have, so far, been a little rougher than in Finland, but the drivers are spectacularly generous to the cyclist. Almost without exception, they give wide berth when passing, wait behind you if there’s oncoming traffic and slow down when passing you. Bravo!!

I wasn’t exactly producing great mileage up until now. The gusty wind was straight in our noses the first few days, and I took an awful lot of breaks for Murph. I constantly reminded myself that we were not in a race. We only had to worry about getting to food every now and then. I am astonished that we already, somehow, find ourselves on our first frigid fjord belonging to the Barents Sea, and properly in the Arctic.

As expected, it was getting tougher the further north we pushed, but just when I would start to flag, some lovely motorist/motorhomer/motorcyclist would give me a big thumbs-up, a ‘bravo’ or a honk and enthusiastic wave. The further north we get, the more frequent the support. Honestly, it made me feel like a gladiator – a slightly emotional gladiator. I’ll admit there was an occasional tear of joy.

The weather has turned grimly against us as we fight our way from Lakselv on the final stretch to North Cape. Frustratingly, the forecast has gone completely bonkers. It was meant to be in the teens in Olderfjord, but now it’s looking like rain/sleet/snow over the next few days. Murph hasn’t been getting enough comfortable down time, and I couldn’t decline a break from the damp and cold, so I took an extortionately-priced, heated camping hut in the outpost town of Olderfjord, about 120kms from the top of Europe by road.

Now as we are cozy and safe, the crucial question is, should we even try to get the last 100kms to North Cape at all, or abort it citing dangerous weather? Gales, snow and freezing rain feature in the forecast for the next few days. Olderfjord is a crossroads and we could start heading southwest to Alta from here for better, warmer weather. Does this diminish our adventure at all? Most people say that Nordkapp is just a tourist trap – rather bleak and ugly. It is, however, a massively symbolic point on our journey.

What should we do? Wait a few days in our expensive lodging, hoping the weather improves and then keep going north, or say sod it – let’s start for the south?

Tell me what you think in the comments!!

It is my desperate hope that this entitled and self-indulgent travel will raise a ton of money for my favourite charity along the way; The Oldies Club. These gorgeous people work to find homes for overlooked elderly dogs who are stuck spending their golden years in shelters and fosters all over the UK. The link below will allow you generous, dog-loving folk to donate what you can – as little as £2 or $2 – more if you can. Also, please consider them if you are ready to give a beautiful old soul a loving new home. Do it for Murph!! Click on the just giving link below.

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/dogandsnailbiketravels

From Wabamun to Calgary International Airport by bike…with human company!

What better way to get to a bike tour than to bike tour to it? Points against in this case; I was out of cycling condition, dubious about the visual and experiential merits of biking in my home province, and services were simply too far apart between stages in this spartan landscape. I also wanted a gentle ride so both Murph and I could ease into it. I decided that it would be fine – Alberta is flat in the middle, the weather forecast looked superb and I was aching to try some of my gear out. I was also willing to sleep in a ditch if I had to since campsites were not well-spaced, and on the route I was thinking of, every inch of land is fenced and private. I started roughly planning the 350km trajectory.

My brother-in-law, Mika, is a very good amateur road racer and had previously expressed interest in doing a little tour with Murph and me. I’ll admit, I am not generally inclined to tour with another human, never mind a nouveau Greg Lemond. No matter how willing they are to go at my pace, I can’t help but feel the need to rush instead of dawdle along like usual. Add to the mix my enormous over-protection of the old dog…I really doubt a human travel partner could understand and tolerate my need to pander to her limits. Though I feared a failed expedition, I accepted Mika’s offer to come along. I left it to him and his Garmin + Strava app to plan the route with a little input from me.

Six day later, Murph and I are camped just outside of Calgary, and Mika has pushed on to his home which is only another 40 steep kilometres away. How did it go? Well, the weather turned absolutely wet, foul and freezing. The mosquitoes sent us around the bend. We faced strong headwinds five out of the six days we rode, and the route we ended up on, though beautiful, was peppered with long sharp hills and horrible gradients. Though Strava found us pretty paved routes, the traces are left by ultra-light road racers, not loaded bicycle tourists.

Despite all this, we didn’t kill each other! Mika is an incredibly gentle and tolerant person – I probably would have killed me! The route suited his abilities and priorities more but he certainly tried to understand my limitations and work with them. We are from two different cycling philosophies but managed to keep it together enough to mostly enjoy our experience. This is a kind of miracle, for cycle touring with someone new, especially with differing ability and experience (he with the bike-fast-and-far part, me with the bike-slow-and-travel part), requires a colossal amount of compromise. I would have preferred a gentler pootle to Calgary so as to keep my physiology intact and the pooch sweet on cycling, but what I got was a pretty fierce and scenic little ride that I will look back upon as worthwhile despite my frequent and loud cursing. Thank you Mika – you are a true gentleman and a really nice guy!

Only three sleeps to go until the real McCoy. Next stop; Amsterdam layover.

It is my desperate hope that this entitled and self-indulgent travel will raise a ton of money for my favourite charity along the way; The Oldies Club. These gorgeous people work to find homes for overlooked elderly dogs who are stuck spending their golden years in shelters and fosters all over the UK. The link below will allow you generous, dog-loving folk to donate what you can – as little as £2 or $2 – more if you can. Also, please consider them if you are ready to give a beautiful old soul a loving new home. Do it for Murph!! Click on the just giving link below.

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/dogandsnailbiketravels

A vlogging virgin starts a YouTube channel…be kind!

If you can muster the energy, please like, subscribe and share my YouTube channel (this will not only help me to grow my channel, but more importantly, will help me spread the word for the Oldies Club). To do that, view the video in YouTube itself, hit the SUBSCRIBE button, and then the little bell beside it so you can receive notifications when I post a new video. It means a lot to Murph and me, and the dogs of the Oldies Club!

What’s it all about, Murphy?

Oh dear. I almost called my shiny new bicycle touring blog ‘Existential Cranks’ because I thought it was clever. Is this next tour really going to be about sweating out lingering existential angst though? Bollocks to that. It’s definitely got a certain carpe diem vibe this time around. This upcoming Arctic Norway-to-somewhere Mediterranean (possibly Gibraltar, maybe Sardinia) is much more about celebrating decent health in my 50s, and a continued lust for adventure. My dog is coming with me and I am slow as a snail on my fully-loaded touring bike. I carry my home with me. Dog and Snail Bicycle Travels. Simple, and not nearly as pretentious and onerous as the other idea.

The time to fling myself off the cliff is nearing. The tiny house is sold, the car is sold and all personal belongings have been mercilessly whittled down to what will be carried on the bike, and two boxes to be left with my parents here in Wabamun, Canada. Murph and I fly from Calgary to Amsterdam on May 30th – about 5 weeks from now. After a few days recovering from jet lag, we hop onto a flight to Helsinki, then Ivalo, Finland where we begin to pedal north for 500kms. Once we reach the most northerly road-accessible point in Europe, the North Cape, we will start heading down the west coast of Norway, eventually joining the Pilgrim’s Route (Eurovelo 3) to see how far south in Europe we can get. After the tour is over, we will resettle in the Brexit-addled UK.

My little terrier, Murph, as mentioned, will be my returning co-pilot. This will be our fifth big tour together since 2008 when we crawled up the Massif Central from Burgundy, France, and free-wheeled down the other side into Provence. I was so green and so unfit, but by the end we were completely dazzled by the freedom and exhilaration of bike travel. I was amazed that my little dog was such a natural vagabond. She charmed everyone we met along the way and opened doors to wonderful, warm encounters, insistent offers of drinks, meals, free camping and great stories.

Sestrieres after a big climb over the Alps from Italy into France

Our last tour of note was a soggy 7000km trek through eight European countries over three months in 2016. Murph was already twelve years old and I was certain it would be her last bike adventure, especially after a devastating cruciate ligament tear two years ago from which I never thought she’d recover. Well, she is now fourteen and a half, zipping around like a pup, and despite being quite hard of hearing and needing long naps, is still full of terrier beans! When I pulled out my dust-covered touring bike a few months ago, her whole body started wagging and she tried to hop unaided into her bike basket. I took it as a clear sign and started planning another dream tour in earnest, but I thought I’d better make it THIS year in case Murph finally decides to act her age.

Of course, touring with a dog is all about the dog. Her needs, comfort and enjoyment come first at all times. In consideration of her mature age, I plan to take more breaks and spend fewer hours in the saddle daily before we set up camp. Where she was responsible for socialising me with other humans in the past, she’ll now teach me to slow down and smell the wild blueberries. Her personal kit has been massively upgraded; she has her own dog-specific sleeping bag, a very expensive Thermarest Trekker air mattress, a luxurious padded perch on the back of my bike (with sun and rain covers) and a full complement of technical clothing to protect her from the elements. She will also have absolute control over daily mileage decisions. She is less keen about strangers fawning all over her now, likely because of her hearing (she gets startled), so I’ve prepared signs in the languages of the countries we are crossing, asking people to leave her be unless she requests attention. Queen Bee. Finally, if at any time during the tour I feel she’s not coping, we will stop and rest a few days or call the whole thing quits.

I plan to maintain this blog along the way (to follow us and receive new posts, use the link to email alerts on the right) and will also attempt to make fabulous (ha!) videos on my new YouTube channel. Links will be posted right here shortly.

I have never tried to raise money for charity on previous bike tours. I HATE pestering people for money. It has been pointed out to me, however, that I am very selfish to squander the opportunity to do some good.

Therefore:

It is also my desperate hope that this entitled and self-indulgent travel will raise a ton of money for my favourite charity along the way; The Oldies Club. These gorgeous people work to find homes for overlooked elderly dogs who are stuck spending their golden years in shelters and fosters all over the UK. The link below will allow you generous, dog-loving folk to donate what you can – as little as £2 or $2 – more if you can. Also, please consider them if you are ready to give a beautiful old soul a loving new home. Do it for Murph!!

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/dogandsnailbiketravels