Wake up today with the intention of taking a bus to Aurland, the base of my first big climb in Norway. The Aurlandsfjellet is a scenic road shooting up from the Aurlandsfjord into the bare snow filled mountain tops before descending down to the fjord-side town of Laerdal.
When you think of the word “shooting up” you are likely picturing something quite fast, like a gun going off, or a drug addict in a Holden trying to evade the police hot on his tail. I can assure you that my ascent up the 20km of non-stop climbing will be the opposite of this, unless the guy in the Holden cleans me up and drags me up the mountain on his bonnet.
Getting there involves crossing a tunnel by bus, so I pack up and head up to the bus stop outside camp. And my wallet is gone. Where the hell did it go? I had it in the tent this morning, did I roll it up with the tent? Did I leave it in my pants pocket and drop it somewhere on the camp lawn? In the toilet? I retrace my steps but it is nowhere to be found. I check with the camp owners but nobody has handed in a wallet. The bus rolls by as I unpack my tent and panniers. Nothing. Then it comes to me. I was repacking my handlebar bag this morning as it was getting quite cramped with all the junk I was throwing in it, and I found a clever little spot to hide the wallet. So clever I almost immediately forgot where I put it.
With the wallet found and the bus gone, I decide to cycle as far as I can and find some other way of crossing the tunnel.
The ride up the E16 is busy but mostly with tourists who are give me a wide berth. To avoid a tunnel I have to climb up the hillside and end up at a beautiful mountain lodge. From their gardens I have an amazing view of the valley heading east. And the 18% grade zig zag heading back down the hill. I chose the right direction to get here.
Down the zig zag my brakes struggle and buses let me pass them, which is a first. The valley is impressive, with towering rock faces on either side. I soon arrive at Gudvagen, where I look around for a way through the tunnel to Flam. As I look for a bus stop I coast past a long line of buses waiting for the ferry to Kaupner. Oddly, I also see a lane for Flam, but no schedule. Online I find that there is indeed a ferry, and it should be leaving soon. I mill about the port and watch as a ferry arrives and empties out. It stays empty. I cycle up to the man at its entrance and check to make sure it is indeed running to Flam before boarding and parking my bike. It is truly empty, and we depart down the world famous Naerfjord on a 2 hour trip to Flam. The fjord is fantastic, and teeming with kayakers both on the water and on remote banks where campfires are being lit. It is truly idyllic.
Halfway through the trip a crew member approaches me with a hotdog wrapped on bacon. I accept with starving eyes and scoff this unholy but delicious combination.
We set down in Flam on time and I make my way to the campsite for a quick supper before riding up the fjord to Aurland. The hour is still quite early to set camp, so I begin the daunting climb with the intention of climbing until it gets too dark to continue.
The beginning of the climb is a series of long switchbacks through a heavily wooded mountainside. It is surprisingly easy going, and in my lowest gear I can manage going straight up without resorting to breaks or zigzags. A kilometre in I run into a tourist taking photos who cannot contain his excitement as he waves me down. He is incredulous of my being there, mostly because he had rented a mountain bike to get up the hill before having to get off to walk it and then finally abandoning the bike altogether. We chat for a while and he takes a selfie with me before departing back down the hill to his bike.
Good camp locations are scarce, and I make it to the official lookout point in the dark where I spot a hiking trail out to some flat forest. I find a nice spot hidden from view. I pop down to the lookout to take a few photos and bump into a pair of Israeli travellers. My account of how I sleep night to night terrifies them, and I do my best to assure them that the odds of someone finding my hidden campsite pitched in near complete darkness in a remote Norwegian forest and then robbing me was about as likely as me finding a burger in Europe better than one in Perth. Shame Europe, shame, shame, shame.