From Verona, Italy to Punta Braccetto, Sicily. The sun sets on on the most wonderful cycling adventure
My Oldies Club Just Giving page is still open. If you’d like to make a small donation, even just £2/$2 to help the Club find homes and provide veterinary care for abandoned/homeless senior dogs, please follow the link below- we’re only £108 short of £1000!
Yes, it was quite a stretch between blog posts. Gird your loins, therefore, for a very long read
Here we are at Camping Scarabeo, still in a kind of post-mega-adventure dream-state. It’s been two weeks since we rolled into our old friend’s beachfront campsite in southeastern Sicily. It really is the end of the five-month, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink European bicycle epic. I stopped keeping close track of the stats once in Italy, but here is an approximation of the biggies:
- five months, almost to the day, of cycling
- nine European countries visited, most of those from top to bottom
- 7500 – 8000 kms pedalled, including cycle to Calgary airport from Wabamun
- 55,000-60,000 vertical metres climbed
- temperatures ranging from -3c to +42c
- one pinch flat (amazing tyres, these Marathon Plusses!!!)
- no major mechanical failures – Surly Shirley!!
- no major camping equipment failures – Big Agnes Copper Spur HVUL2 tent, Rab Ascent 700 sleeping bag, Sea to Summit Ultralight sleeping mat, my beloved Trangia alcohol stove, old Ortlieb panniers – the sturdy, reliable equipment-dream-team was equal to the task
- only one short illness (me)
- Murph, 100% healthy throughout the trip, including a very good appetite!
- approximate average spend, minus purchase of replacement electronics and flights = 30€ per day, including very occasional stays in cabins, hotels and pensions
- the major fail – my Macbook Air bit the damp dust, but it was knocking on a bit anyway and can probably be repaired
- tech winners! OSM app (with subscription for offline mapping) got me from the top of Europe to the very bottom with gpx tracks. Great tool! Strava GPS was useful for keeping track of daily mileage and elevation profiling, along with a little written diary capability. It can be a battery sucker though, and I almost always forgot to turn it on when I started my day, but overall, a positive tool to use. Nice to share progress as I went along with my fellow Strava family and friends. Google maps was indispensable for finding services and alternative accommodation. Downloaded offline maps saved me on a number of occasions as well. My Anker 20100mah powerbank and 21 watt solar panel were indispensable, keeping my phone, camera, gopro and headlamp charged up, thus keeping me independent when wild camping.
- times I was a hair’s breadth away from quitting; two. The first was shortly after I arrived in Germany. I started to feel like the cycling was becoming a job. I stopped enjoying myself, wasn’t able to muster any enthusiasm and the feeling of adventure had evaporated. After a break in France with family though, I was revived and soon got into a different gear. The second time was when I became ill in northern Italy. It was a reality check but I stuck to my contingency plan, found a beautiful and peaceful place to recover and pushed through.
I’ll try to keep the rest of this as painless as possible for both of us – it really should have been three separate posts, so I hope you have some time on your hands!
Since the last blog entry, the many roads travelled, plus one long ferry to get us to Sicily…
Having spent much time in the campervan here over the years, Italy has been quite familiar to me. A blessing and a curse. On another big bike tour with Murph, I crossed the north from the Slovenian border to the French Alps, mostly following the Po River. I knew the further south I got, the more treacherous the road cycling would be. I was following Eurovelo 7 gpx tracks the whole way, but there was precious little info on the internet about the route after Verona. I would need to muster all available sang froid!
Over the mountains to Florence
What? No photos from Florence to Rome???
Well, only a couple. Too busy trying to stay alive on the roads and finding safe places to sleep. From Arezzo towards Orvieto, the Eurovelo 7 route was surprisingly flat. It followed an agricultural canal system, but consequently it was a bit dull scenery-wise. Swathes of the path were washed away, left unmaintained for years, flooded – and at several points, overgrown to the point it was impassable. Thank goodness for OSM – it got us out of the jungle via several footpaths. All good fun!
Arezzo was a stunning, ancient place and I decided to take a couple of days off there to look around. We were lucky to arrive during an antiques fair with hundreds of stall-holders crowding the campo and tiny streets of the old town.
To be honest, I don’t remember much of what happened between Arezzo and Rome. I do remember hardening my resolve to skip the last part of mainland Italy, and getting on that ferry to Sicily from Naples!
Rome to Naples
Here’s a little video of our arrival in Roma; Murph has some competition! Please note that my video editing skills are completely amateur – working on it!
I was glad I stopped in Rome, but really couldn’t leave fast enough. I enjoyed meeting Llyr, a fellow peripatetic soul (and friend of a friend) who was participating in local amateur cycling competitions. We had a merry evening discussing Brexit (urgh) and the merits of eternal nomad-ism. He was at a large campsite within the city limits, but it was too noisy and chaotic for my delicate sensibilities.
After one night, I threaded my way through the manic suburbs and towards our first encounter with the Mediterranean coast – we made the MED!!!!
Murph’s first Med beach in a good few years. She was not displeased!!
From here, we would follow the coast all the way to Naples. This is where the cycling became quite gruelling and unpleasant – potholed, busy and narrow roads with no shoulders, endless rubbish dumped everywhere and very few places to just hide and rest. For a good many kilometres, this stretch was one run-down beach town after another. There was, however, a quite lovely bit in the middle which included one of Mussolini’s ‘new towns’, Sabaudia. I had come across a couple of these interesting Italian Modernist towns on previous trips in the north. More on Sabaudia here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabaudia
After picking our way through some terribly impoverished towns on the outskirts of Naples, I was thrilled and relieved to arrive on the seafront road that would take us to the ferry terminal.
Come for a little ride with us:
Palermo, Sicily to Punta Braccetto and … The End
We had a peaceful overnight sail from Naples and arrived fresh and ready to ride. Mercifully, it was very early on Sunday morning and the streets of Palermo were almost deserted. I planned our route counter clock-wise, following the coast towards Trapani, where we would join Sicily’s one and only long-distance bike route, the SIBIT. Some very useful information about this route here: https://italy-cycling-guide.info/cycle-routes/coastal-rides/southern-sicilian-coast/
Like the rest of the south of Italy, cycle touring Sicily is not for the feint of heart. I dabbled in it during a four month winter stay here; it can be hugely challenging but also incredibly interesting. I plan on writing a separate blog about it in the future, so we’ll just post the highlights here and let you get on with your day.
The first lovely day in Sicily and feeling elated. Such a lively place!
A few of our scenic stops
La Scala dei Turchi
Wonderful and characterful couple of nights in Licata. We stayed in a stonkingly interesting pensione where we were lovingly cared for, fed and guided – all for the humble rate of 35€ a night. http://www.dimorasangirolamo.it/
Only 25kms from THE END OF OUR TOUR!!!!!! How can it be???
Arrival at Camping Scarabeo
Murph’s new front yard. You earned it babe!!
Camping Scarabeo, Punta Braccetto, Sicily
Murph and I are now ensconced in a comfy little ‘bungalow’ here with our old friends and we will stay put for the next two months. The plan is to plan! Re-entry to the UK is a bit complicated at the moment, but we have the luxury of a mini-paradise from which we can launch the invading armada. Will there be a narrowboat on the canals of Great Britain in our future??
Many thanks to you all who have followed, supported, cheered us on, made donations to the Oldies Club – and generally made me feel safer and cared about!
Cycle people out there (or anyone else) – if you have any questions about any part of this tour, feel free to ask in the comments section. I’ll do my best to answer promptly.
Here’s to the next one!!!!
PS – My Oldies Club Just Giving page is still open. If you’d like to make a small donation to help the Club find homes for abandoned/homeless senior dogs, please follow this link https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/dogandsnailbiketravels
I’d love to get us to £1000!!!
České Budějovice, Czech Republic to Verona, Italy!
Another 1000kms in the can!
It’s been an absolutely wild ride since I left my heart in České Budějovice, Czech Republic, with only a couple of little blips. I followed the Eurovelo 7 gpx track on my phone as it led me over some hefty climbs, and at one point, to a dead end. I ground up a nasty hill for about 5kms, coasted down the other side to the river, at which point there should have been a ferry to the opposite bank. Annoyingly, said ferry hadn’t been in operation for a few years, so it was back up the same nasty hill with my curses echoing through the valley and all the way to a 20 km backtrack to find a bridge – all as darkness was falling.
The day ended on a high note though as I stumbled on a campsite and had a merry evening on the Budvar with a terrific bunch of English-speaking locals. The following morning’s fuzzy head was not as much fun, but I soldiered on.
The finale for the Czech Republic was pretty wonderful – plenty of beautiful little towns and a varied route towards the border with the north of Austria. Český Krumlov, often called Prague in miniature, was on the way. It was a stunning place with beautifully-preserved medieval buildings, but was completely given-over to mass tourism. Poor Murph, who was trapped in her basket on the bike, was mobbed by adoring tourists so I took a couple of snaps and quickly pressed through the throngs to get us out.
After Krumlov, my route took us up and down verdant hills with the larger Austrian versions looming in the background. I was eventually directed to a dirt forestry road and we made our way up and up to a nondescript border-crossing leading us into north Austria. Once out of the forest, the vista revealed the classic Austrian countryside in all its splendour. In veritable, clichéd Sound of Music fashion, I was overwhelmed by the desire to make a fool of myself on video:
After all that terrible, lovely climbing, the reward came in the form of a long freewheel all the way into the posh city of Linz, and onto the Danube.
From Linz, we would follow the famous EV6 bike path along the Danube and up to Passau. This was very familiar territory as we had cycled this bit in 2016. From Passau, back to uncharted ground as we started along the stunning Salzach River towards Salzburg.
The Salzach provided the luxury of hopping over to the Bavarian side when I felt like having a good German weissbier and warm giant pretzel, or to stay on the Austrian side for lovely cakes and pastries. I fell MADLY in love with the Bavarian town of Burghausen and the whole area thereabouts. I plan to return for a more forensic study at a future date.
After Salzburg, the Salzach departed the German border and led us towards the Drau. We were not so far then from Italy and the Dolomites. First though, I had a grinding, thigh-ripping climb up to the perched resort town of Bad Gastein.
Shortly after reaching Bad Gastein, the road comes to an end and a car-train took over to get us through the remaining mountains by tunnel.
It was getting dark after we got off the train and we were in a bit of a wilderness. A wild camp behind a derelict church was in order.
In the morning, after a thrilling descent, we were on the Drau. Two more days in Austria, then we would climb into the Italian Dolomites.
In wasn’t as much of a slog to get to the Italian border as I feared, and once near Bressanone, we were on another river and would eventually join the Adige River bicycle path. It would be excellent separate bike paths from here on with a few short exceptions. The only minus was that we shared the steep valley with busy motorways and main train lines, so quite noisy. The staggering scenery and quintessential Italian villages more than made up for this! I was dying to use my few pidgin-Italian phrases but in this part of Italy, everyone speaks German. I’d have to wait until Trento to embarrass myself.
Whoops – Back up to Austria Jac!
I forgot to add this endearing encounter:
Just before the Italian border as I was huffing up an incline, I heard a squeal of delight behind me as more Murph fans caught us up; meet Alice from Hong Kong, and Guillaume from Switzerland! Alice is cycling the world, and she did a good deal of that with her little dog, Canton (she’s holding up a photo of her!). Very tragically, little Canton was killed by an out of control speeding car in a hit-and-run in Montenegro. Alice was still in bits over it. My heart broke for her. There are definitely risks to both dog and human travelling this way, but there are also many risks at home. Canton was an abandoned street dog, and Alice gave her the most incredible life – how very sad it had to end like that.
Anyway, she met Guillaume in India and they decided to cycle together from there. Just wow! We had an excited chat and exchanged touring info before reluctantly parting ways. You can read more about Alice’s travels with Canton here: https://www.facebook.com/alicebikeswithcanton/
Guillaume’s page: https://www.facebook.com/guillaumeavelo/
Trento, Italian-speaking Italians, and the nicest Trentino family!
I would have completely passed beautiful, historic Trento by if it wasn’t for Alberto, Sabrina and adorable Gianluca. I stopped at the Bicigrill Trento for a quick bite, planning to speed to a campsite much further down the road afterwards. Alberto and family were at the next table over and we struck up a conversation. Next thing I knew, they were taking us back to their beautiful home, appalled at the idea that I wouldn’t be properly visiting their beloved city. What followed was a guided tour, the best gelato in Trento, Pasta Pomodoro lovingly prepared by Alberto, and a relaxing evening watching videos of 12yo Gianluca perform with his ballroom dancing club. He is FABULOUS, and totes adorbs!! I camped in their back garden and was sent on my way in the morning after a delicious cappuccino and breakfast. Murph also made a friend for life with Player the poodle!
Alas, I only made it about 40 kms down the road. I had been feeling a little off over the last couple of days, and now, I started feeling positively dreadful. Strep was my googled self-diagnosis. The golf ball in my throat was agony and I was woozy and feverish. I quickly found a room and decided to sequester myself until better. A helpful pharmacist drugged me up, and my vineyard-agriturismo hosts have provided me with a peaceful paradise in which to recover. I only hoped I hadn’t infected Alberto et al. Dear Alberto has been checking on me via messenger every day since I left them – what a luv!
Five days later, I’m quite a lot better and will try to make some gentle headway tomorrow. During my illness, I did consider throwing in the towel and heading for the UK, but I think that was just the fever talking. The days are getting shorter though, and I’m still a long way from Sicily, but I’ll chug along for a while yet. Murph, by the way, has been raring to go. My little old lady is quite an inspiration. Mustn’t let the side down!
It’s ciao for now from Murph and me. Verona, Mantua and Bologna are calling, and the great Tuscany is not too far after that.
From Gothenburg, Sweden to České Budějovice, Czech Republic
- A few minor stats to begin:
- 102 days on the road
- circa 5500 kms pedaled thus far
- 38,000 metres of elevation climbed
- presently in country number 7
- minimum temperature -3, maximum temperature +36
- days of rain – too many to count
- bags of dog food – 6
- flat tyres – only 1!!!!
- other mechanical issues – NONE since I’ve had a few parts put on properly after Edmonton bike ‘mechanics’ put them on backwards. Surly Shirley is built like a brick sh*thouse!! Now I’ve gone and jinxed it, haven’t I?
Why has it taken you so long to write a post, madam?
The lack of production has been weighing my mind down. Since leaving Scandinavia, the dearth of stable internet connections has plagued me. I lost an entire post in Germany that took me a day to put together, along with an edited video which involved hours and hours of fiddly nonsense. It just went POOF into the ether, never to be recovered. I was whooped! In case you haven’t intuited, living life outside 24/7, with a dog to care for, in foreign countries and on a strict budget can be all-consuming. To preserve my sanity and the ability to focus on the larger task at hand (survival), I put aside the digital world for a while. Anyway, I reasoned, I would have quiet time in France while on hiatus with family in a short while. Well, haha!! The French visit turned into non-stop hive of action with me mucking in to prepare a giant fancy-dress surprise party for my beloved cousin’s 30th. Great fun, but not conducive with quiet, writerly isolation!
Never mind! Here I am now in this cool little Czech city and I am certainly spoiling us with civilised inside-living for 5 days, still-iffy internet, cheap beer and the mental space to plan the next move – but holy cow, there is a lot to catch up on!
I only had to pedal a few hundred metres to get from my Gothenburg accommodation to jump aboard the very grand high-speed ferry to Fredrikshavn in North Denmark. What a pleasant experience for both Murph and me! Finally we were welcomed into a warm, comfy lounge with floor to ceiling views out into the gorgeous, shimmering sea. Norway – you are almost perfect, but take note of the ferry thing, please!
I felt confident in the big change of itinerary I had planned while staying in Gothenburg. The original route – Hamburg, Cologne, Belgium, France, Spain and Portugal – just felt too easy and familiar now that my confidence was up. The new trajectory would roughly have us going through Central/Eastern Europe and ending in Crete – or maybe Sardinia. I was in good physical shape and feeling mentally strong enough to take us through the unknown, so off we went aiming for Berlin, then the Czech Republic. First though, we had Denmark to navigate.
There were a few choices of routes through Denmark and I really didn’t think much about it. I simply put us in a line following the east coast in search of some beach time for Murph and me.
I had also discovered an app that revealed the locations of the wonderful, small free camping and shelter places all over Denmark. This was very cheering. I had become so used to the freedom of wild camping, the thought of loud, crammed and expensive commercial campgrounds churned my stomach. Here’s a few examples of these very Danish provisions designed for hikers and cyclists:
A bittersweet farewell to Scandinavia. Hello Germany!
At last I arrived at Gedser and hopped aboard another comfy fast-ferry that would speed us to the teeming port of Rostock. We arrived several hours later to a full-on tall ship extravaganza – the Hanse Sail Festival (more here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanse_Sail), with all sorts following us into harbour. Colourful, noisy, exciting – and just what the doctor ordered to re-invigorate my flagging enthusiasm!!
After a giddy afternoon in Rostock, and a little tipsy on Kirchbier, I continued following the Eurovelo 7 route which joined up with the very popular Berlin to Copenhagen radweg. This meant there were a lot of other cyclists of varying abilities enjoying this easy and safe itinerary.
Once I got my new-country bearings and started moving south through the interior, I really started to notice that we were in the former East Germany. There was, at times, a forlorn ’70s air to it, and I got the impression that life was still hard-going for a lot of people. Towns were a bit unkempt, there were a lot of abandoned and collapsing houses and industrial buildings. The campsites were dumpy and depressing, and the service was a bit on the surly side.
Despite this, there were clearly a lot of other folks doing their best to turn the collective frown upside down. Still, I was looking forward to getting to Berlin to surf on some urban dynamism. It took me 4 days to pedal there, and I should be shot because I didn’t take one single photo during that time! I know now that I was suffering a little long-term traveller’s malaise. I recognised the feeling from my last big cycle and knew it was just a matter of stopping for a few days somewhere and doing something completely different.
Berlin! Alexanderplatz – another planet.
This was my first visit to Berlin, and despite an unshiftable weight of adventure fatigue, I was pretty excited. I had always imagined that Berlin would be the kind of behemoth city-of-the-world that I could melt into. My instinct was right – it was mind-blowing, but in a much different way than my dear old city of London. Berlin felt like a Jackson Pollock painting – seemingly random, abstract splatterings of colour and expression all over the place, but if you took the time to untangle and interpret it, there was cohesion and meaning. There was enough suffering and rebirth here to fascinate for ten lifetimes. If it wasn’t for my complete lack of talent for the German language, I think it could be Murphy’s next home.
I wanted to linger there, but I needed to make my way to France for cousin Annabelle’s big 30th surprise party. I also desperately needed to get my mind off of cycling for a while and breathe a different oxygen. Trains and planes were impossibly complicated with bike and dog, so I hired a car and drove us the 1300kms to Burgundy. I would return a week later and carry on with the cycle.
Upon arrival in Montot, France after barely surviving the German autobahn. My fun Uncle Francois and good friend, Le Jim. Below that, a fancy-dress surprise party awaiting cousin Annabelle.
After a busy and slightly fraught visit, it was back into the rental car for the 1300 km return to Berlin. I needed a vacation from the break from my vacation (channeled a little Gertrude Stein there). First, I had a date to keep with former Walks on the Wildside customer, now friend, Nadine Harbarth. Nadine and her partner Jairo moved to Berlin from London after the birth of their first child. They love it and haven’t looked back. Wonderful to see them all, and of course my little ex-charge, Cobo the terrier.
While I was visiting Berlin, I stayed on a lakeside campground in Potsdam. OMG – it was crammed to the rafters, extremely expensive and so noisy that it impossible to sleep. I resolved to do some sneaky stealth camping in the endless empty forests as I made my way to the next big milestone, Dresden.
From Potsdam, I joined the very popular Elbe River bicycle route and things really started to look up. Great weather, lots of characterful places to stop and explore, and reasonably comfortable riding. I also returned to the occasional forest stealth camp which gave me back restful sleeps and great sense of peace. The only slight negative – since arriving in Germany, there were plenty of cobblestones to negotiate which made things a bit uncomfortable, especially for poor old Murph, but I just took my time and picked my way through them.
My interior life also took on a renewed lightness. The break in France, though not at all physically restful, served to completely detach my mind from the intense daily routine of long-distance cycle touring. All was clear and buoyant again.
It really was lovely here along the Elbe. The locals seemed cheerful and relaxed, the cyclists I met were having a splendid time and the infrastructure was better than north of Berlin. I even had a new Jonathan and Sarah Jane in the form of two Hamburgers, Connie and Jurgen! I kept bumping into them in random places along the route and we had many laughs despite a bit of a language barrier. Jurgen and I managed to down quite a few pints together!
Dresden!!! Amazing place. Absolutely flattened by Allied bombs late in the war with tens of thousands of civilians killed. Restored with great devotion and attention to detail – work still being carried out today.
Czech border only about 25 Kms away now. Goodbye Germany!
Entering the Czech Republic
The main reason for making the big diversion to eastern Europe rather than the more familiar west, was to explore the Czech Republic. Prague would have been the obvious focus, but I wanted to get a feel for life everywhere there. I stopped and explored most of the towns along the Labe (the Czech Elbe). I found the ride towards Prague pretty challenging! The path threw me a bit of everything; cobbles, mud, large gravel, STAIRS!, diversions onto fast motorways – all a bit tough and grubby after Germany. Towns really tried hard to tart up their historic buildings and there was a bustle about them, but it was obvious that there was more left to achieve. All in good time!
Arriving on the outskirts of Prague, I spotted a paddle-sports complex that offered cheap tent camping. There, we had a pleasant stay and top-drawer access to the World Cup Canoe Slalom Competition. Very exciting and fun to watch!
I didn’t hang about Prague for long. The following day, I packed up and took a little spin through the touristy bits. The place was crawling with tour busses and river boat cruise passengers. I took a couple of snaps and quickly made my escape.
Once again, south of the main city, things improved vastly. I went from feeling a bit disappointed in my Czech experience, to absolute delight! Holy cow, did the riding get tough though!! EV7 now veered off the river and into the big hills. It was the first real climbing I did in weeks and weeks, and it was endless and steep. Strangely, I was kind of getting off on it despite the 33c temps. My progress did slow right down, but it was not a problem. I met a wonderful group of locals at a campsite and thanks to them, I finally felt more connected with the real Czech Republic. We did have a bit of a session on the old Budvar though!
The next day, and with a very furry head, I started away for a bigger university town that my new friends told me about. I wanted to find a pension there and have a few quiet days to plan the next part of the journey – and to finally get this post out.
I love this town. I completely lucked out with my perfect hotel, the atmosphere is alive, young and positive, and it’s simply gorgeous. My three-night stay has turned into five and I’m feeling completely refreshed and well-prepared for the next challenges.
Now, here in southern Czech Republic, I have to decide the rest. Will it be the eastern Adriatic, including Croatia, Montenegro, Albania and Greece, or the more predictable Italy, north to south? I’ve ruled out Spain and Portugal because it’s so damn far away now. For Pete’s sake, winter is coming!
I still won’t commit firmly to anything, but after a hefty amount of research, I’ve now ruled out travelling through Croatia and Albania towards Greece, mostly because the reportedly-terrible roads will be too hard on Murph. There were also widespread reports on the internet of the intentional cyanide poisoning of thousands upon thousands of stray dogs in Albania. For me, this is an unforgivable medieval cruelty which causes an unspeakable death for these poor creatures. A very good reason to boycott Albania, and of course, a very real concern that Murph could be exposed to bait. Overall, a shame, because my daft heart really did desire the road less traveled. My dear girl comes first though!
So, at the moment of writing this, it looks like we will continue on Eurovelo route 7 to Austria (which is only about 70kms down the road), joining our old friend, the Danube, then jumping south through Bolzano, Italy and hopefully, all the way to Sicily – or Sardinia – from there. I think it’ll be a magnificent last leg despite my familiarity with Italy. We will have some gruelling climbing through both Italy and Austria – I think I’ve lost my mind, but I’m actually looking forward to that! I’ve even been researching a detour to the infamous Stelvio Pass, but it may be a case of overconfidence. My knees would surely detach from my body and go on a Gilet Jaune-style protest.
For now, Murph and I bid you farewell from Czechia. All the good folks from Wabamun are on my mind, particularly my sweet Dad and Mum!! Hugs to you all.
The slow road to Gothenburg Sweden – 3700kms and counting!
Pre-blog kudos for my wonderful charity donors – Murph and I have miraculously encouraged around £900 into the Oldies Club coffers – eternal gratitude to these new supporters – Marie Carlson, Sue Beland, Anne Belle, and 3 x Anonymous!! Let’s keep it going!!
Goodness gracious! Has it really been 16 days since I left Trondheim full of pilgrim spirit? Murph and I had been a bit lost in a fuzzy purgatory after the mad Arctic buzz, so we became secular pilgrims and received our pilgrim’s passport which launched us onto St Olav’s Way. I was in search of some cultural heritage and was grateful to have a distracting theme as it felt that, perhaps, the most exhilarating travel may be behind us.
I followed the Way fairly meticulously but ended up a bit underwhelmed by the spartan Lutheran churches on the route, especially since most were closed! I often made long detours to visit them, and make sure we got a stamp in our passport, but I gave up in the end. I’m sure if I had the time and inclination to dig deeper, it would have been much a more satisfying and interesting experience. The highlights for me were most definitely the beautiful occasional stave churches, and meeting the very few other pilgrims along the way. I decided to deviate.
After mentally packing the pilgrimage away, I felt the urge to get us off all official routes and follow my nose. It was still pretty cold, averaging about 12c, but that made for comfortable climbing. I felt strong enough to take us off-piste in search of another kind of Norway, so I opted to climb up towards the the rounded mountains of the Dovrefjell National Park where we would see muskox in a surreal, moor-like wilderness. That put me back into the adventure/challenge zone quite nicely. We were back to beautiful, quiet roads, expansive nature, and alas, a bit more challenging weather. At one point, I had to dive into a sheep poo-infested grazing area and hastily set up the tent as a frightening storm bore down upon us. As the wind and rain thrashed the tent that night, I dreamed I was Peter Pan flying my tent up to the stars. The tedious weather damaged yet another potentially remarkable discovery, and I grudgingly put my head down and got us off the mountain.
Once down from the Dovrefjell plateau, we were forced to rejoin the terrifying E6 motorway for several miles. That reality-check convinced me to route us through some more elevation and onto back roads, but the heat had also arrived. It got so hot so quickly there was no time to adapt, so I started looking at ways to get to Sweden and the shady retreat of forests, lakes and rivers as fast as possible. Oslo be damned.
After Lillehammer, I started us on hard-packed clay roads towards a very remote Swedish border crossing. More wilderness adventure please!!
It was a bit of a slog to get us into Sweden, but well worth it. We found ourselves in Swedish cottage-country where we were spoilt for choice of bathing spots and cool shade. There were more beautiful, low-traffic roads, but the Swedish driving style was a bit jarring after the near-perfect Norwegians. Speed demons! This provoked a bit of latent road rage in me as cars flew by us on gravel roads spitting rocks and sending up clouds of choking dust. How rude!! I did hope I would find a surfaced road sharp-ish.
Sweden felt very different from Norway in all kinds of ways – more relaxed, but also a bit scarier. Suddenly, for the first time on the entire trip, I had an instinct to lock my bike when nipping into shops for food. There was more rubbish strewn about, and bad graffiti was everywhere. The first person to talk to (at) me was a bit of a perv (turned out he was a Danish perv). It took me a good couple of days to groove into the Swedish vibe, but when I finally got there, I felt a renewed enthusiasm. Sweden was more dog-friendly, the food choice in shops was better and quite a bit cheaper, and people smiled and waved as I passed – at least until I got further south, then it seemed most people would rather dive into a shrub than make eye-contact. I understand this is an almost-universal cultural trait of southern Swedes – a bit like London tube-goers. I understand this, and not only respect it, but was guilty of the same most of my years in London. I was utterly mortified when I moved back to Canada a few years ago and random strangers in supermarkets felt compelled to share their life stories while you were shopping for personal hygiene product. Blurgh.
Ultimately Norway was so exceptional for a feeling of safety and trust, but consequently, perhaps a bit stiff. Sweden feels somewhat more dynamic, but I don’t let my guard down as much.
The heat was a big factor on the rest of the way to Gothenburg and my strategy had to be adjusted. I got us packed up by 6am, we rode until the sun was at its apex, stopped by a lake or a river until late afternoon, then carried on until late in the evening until I found a good spot to hoist up the tent. This was a blessing in disguise as I was forced to do more quality relaxing – and the sultry evening rides that took us through vast stretches of beautiful farmland and empty, well-surfaced roads were splendid.
So we find ourselves in the interesting Swedish city of Gothenburg at a dog-friendly hostel in a groovy hipster neighbourhood. I am in culture shock after having been completely feral for so long. This is a proper rest day and I only go out to get food, walk the dog and stretch my own legs.
From here, we will either take the ferry to North Denmark, or carry on down the Swedish west coast to Copenhagen. More big decisions. I have an almost undeniable hankering to take us through eastern Germany and then down through Czechia and Austria – a complete departure from the original plan which had us going through Hamburg, Bremen, Cologne, Belgium and Northern France. This will add hundreds of kilometers and an awful lot of time, but at present, it’s what’s firing me up. Murph is totally into the lifestyle now, especially since the weather warmed up. She is a real beach-hound – no worries to stretch it out for her.
Will we end up behind the former Iron Curtain, or will we take the easy way to the Med??? Stay tuned!!
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!
Jamie Baverstock, Anne Bell, Lorraine Atherton, Ailsa Parry (WOW!!) and Di Allen
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:
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 !!
Momentous day – we cross the Arctic Circle
…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.
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!!
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?
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:
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!!
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!
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 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!
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.
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!
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!!
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
It’s 7pm and we’re knackered. We cycle a few kilometres towards Ivalo and stay at a riverside campground.
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!
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.
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.
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