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