I awake to the sight of Norway’s hilly, rocky coast. A picturesque collection of birch and jagged rocks seems to frame every sign of civilization, or as close to civilization as you can get on this remote shoreline. The ferry darts through so many islands it becomes hard to tell where the islands end and the coast begins. Finally, it veers deep inland and the town of Bergen appears as a series of steep hills dotted with houses. The arrangement of the homes appears almost random, as if someone had poured them onto the hills from a great height and didn’t much care about getting an even spread.
Bergen is nice, as far as towns go, but I find the tall buildings and droves of tourists to be a bit suffocating, so I focus on getting my act together and vacating town as soon as possible.
First item on the agenda is getting my mobile sorted out. After gaining access to the internet on my phone for the first time in quite a few weeks, I move onto item number two, working out where the hell I am actually going to go. Norway has a series of national cycle routes, but my online map is quite rudimentary and I’ll feel safer once I have a more detailed cyclic map to work with. Unfortunately, after checking a number of tourist information centers and map stores I discovered that the cycling map I was hoping to buy no longer exists.
To drown my disappointment I eat an overly expensive meal at Burger King, and then decide to press east to the local campsite to rest up and get my bearings.
Getting to the camp requires following one of the national cycling routes, and it proves to be a valuable tool in avoiding the various highways and tunnels that are the bane of a cyclists existence in Norway. Like a drunk trying to avoid the booze bus, the cycle route takes the scenic path, using a combination of footpaths and local roads to kind of lazily meander towards the destination.
When I eventually arrive at the campsite I am pretty much sold on following one of the national routes east, and the hideous nature of the campsite, filled to the brim with campervans, motivates me to get a head start today rather than starting in the morning.
I get my first shop out of the way and start heading east on cycling route number 4. The route takes me onto narrow roads snaking their way alongside the fjord. The terrain is beautiful and absurd. The land rises up sharply from the fjord where a few houses perch precariously. Then you have the road, which is barely wide enough for a single car and barely has space for a barrier before the dramatic drop down. Directly above the road the mountain rises up as a rocky cliff face, with the rocks often coming close to arching over the road.
I overtake a father and daughter on an evening cycle and I see them in my rear view mirror picking up the pace to try and catch up. The route leads me onto a bridge with a conveniently placed rest area, so I stop to make supper. The cyclists eventually catch up and the father barrages me with questions about my trip before jumping on his bike to head home. The chain falls off. He doesn’t seem fazed as he drags it back onto the rusting gears and grins as he explains that he hasn’t had the bike serviced for 9 years. I smile uncertainly as I ponder the ethics of me letting him cycle away on his deathtrap.
I have a big supper and as I am cleaning up I notice a couple pacing around their van, peering into the windows. I know that dance all too well, and I quickly confirm that they had indeed locked themselves out. The two front windows are slightly ajar, so I fall back on previous experience and suggest lassoing the lock with a string, ensuring the noose is tight by using a stick to hold it down. It doesn’t quite work, as the sticks at our disposal are quite soggy and brittle. Next, we try to actuate the door button on the car remote, but again the sticks let us down and break before we can apply enough force to press the button.
As the couple keep trying various methods, I go back to my bike and mentally undress my panniers. Bag by bag I list everything they contain in the hope that I’ll have a eureka moment. It works! My tent poles! I have three of the suckers and they would be far stronger than any stick. As I start assembling them I have another idea. If we can get two tent poles to go through one of the key chains from either side, we might be able to pull out the keys and let them slide down the pole to the gap in the window. The couple are desperate and don’t hesitate in trying my adventure game inspired plan. We immediately run into a hitch, as the keys just won’t budge. The poles bend, as they are designed to do, so we simply aren’t applying enough force to dislodge the keys. I am ready to try something new when the couple, who are operating the pole on the passenger side, cry out. The steering wheel blocks my view of the key past the keychain, so I wasn’t able to see that our thrashing about has released the keys from the ignition. We hurriedly brought in a third pole to ensure that no matter what, the keys wouldn’t drop down onto the car floor. Slowly and carefully we intersected the three poles at the key chain and pulled the keys fully out of the ignition and out the window. I couldn’t believe my idea had worked. Clearly, decades spent playing adventure games had paved the way for moments like these.
The couple thanked me profusely, and I discovered that the woman was from my hometown in Poland, Gliwice. Before leaving she gifted me with a small bottle of Polish vodka, a very rare thing in these parts. We parted ways and I got back to the business. Breaking into the van had eaten at least an hour, and it was getting a bit dark. More importantly, the cycle route markers had disappeared. I consulted the map and if definitely crossed this bridge before heading off down a dead end road and somehow crossing back over the fjord, presumably by ferry. The only problem is that I could find no evidence of a ferry crossing on my map apps. Could it be out of date?
It was late enough that there was no traffic on the roads, so instead of cycling 20kms up a possible dead end, I decided to try and head up the main highway. From the map it looked like I could mostly use side roads before hitting a 10km section where I would have to jump onto the highway and tackle a few short tunnels. As long as I made it to the town where the cycle trail picked up again from the supposed ferry crossing I would be on track. It was genuinely getting dark as I raced across the highway. The only traffic was the occasional truck with about 20 high beams turning the night to day for a few seconds before they were flicked off. I soon hit the first tunnel that marked a point of no return. On the other side I would find myself in a town that could only be accessed by the bicycle unfriendly highway. I pressed on regardless, and after a stressful 10 kilometres I found myself in front of a cycling route marker, picking up the trail as if nothing was amiss. It was about 3am at this stage, so my main priority was finding a place to pitch. I settled for a small gravel overtake point just outside town and for the first time had to use my extra tent poles to pitch the tent without using pegs.