Sunday, 11 August 2013

Heading north into the Arctic.

At last we found boring Norway. Although that's a bit harsh. Just boring when compared to the amazing fjords. Norway north of Trondheim is lovely, but not amazing. Rolling hills, green pastures, cows and rivers. Not what I was expecting but that's what travelling's all about. Three years ago I was in Alaska (on Heidi) and there was little in the way of green grass and fields with cows in them! I remember camping in Fairbanks and riding 200 miles north to the Arctic circle past pine forests and rocky terrain very unsuitable to farming. But northern Norway is different. Very different. We were still camping on lush grass (I didn't camp on grass at all in Alaska or northern Canada.) hadn't seen a mozzie or midge and weren't at all worried about bears killing us in our sleep.

Luch break on the road

Wild raspberries near the Arctic circle. Who'd have thought?

There are two ways north from Trondheim. The fast main road (E6) which passes through the Arctic circle just north of the intriguingly named city of Mo I Rana. Go this way if you want a photo crossing the circle. Or the picturesque, twisty N17 which winds its way down to the coast and via a series of seven ferries (I think it was seven, we lost count of the number of ferries we'd actually used) heads north towards Bodo. We were thinking of going the quick way (As I'm not sure we'll have time to get to Nordkapp at this rate) but, on advice, we headed east for the N17.

Another day - another ferry

It took us the best part of three days to travel the N17 (National Geographic lists it in its 101 most scenic routes in the world!). I'm sure in nice weather it lives up to the hype. Unfortunately we saw a lot of clouds and rain. It was still a nice road to travel on but weather is everything, especially on a motorcycle when you're camping. I think we'd been a little unlucky with the rain and the N17 was a real disappointment. There were times, I'm willing to admit, when I looked upon the camper vans we saw was envy. All curled up in their lovely warm, dry boxes. And I'm sure Tracy felt the same.

Trondheim had been warm at plus 20 degrees C but as we approached 66 degrees north the air cooled. At Polar Camp, where we stayed on Wednesday, the average daytime temperature in August is 12 degrees. Layers were being added during the daytime and thermals at night. Our 'holiday' was beginning to become a bit of an endurance test. And neither of us wanted that. We were beginning to discuss how far we would put up with this if the weather didn't improve. Was there any point fighting through the rain and cold just to get to Nordkapp?

At least the weird Norwegian architecture cheered us up.

The last day on the N17 saw us approaching Bodo, the gateway to the Lofoten Islands. It had rained during the night and most of the following day. Which was a real shame as this was a special day. We crossed the Arctic circle. But not your normal, boring road way. No, we did it on a ferry. I can't imagine there is anywhere else in the world where you can cross into the Arctic on a regular ferry. As the ship passed 66 degrees 33 minutes we could see a global marker on the rocks.

Crossing into the Arctic.

We then rode for two hours in Arctic rain. I'd been looking forward to riding this far north. In Alaska I'd stopped at the circle and then turned south for Panama. I'd been to Iceland, but the north of that country doesn't quite reach 66 degrees. As we got off the boat at Jektvik I was now further north than I'd ever been. But somehow the rain took the edge off it!

But at least I had a plan! We were heading for the Saltstraumen Maelstrom. Claimed to be the world's strongest, at high tide millions of gallons of water violently churns its whirlpool way through a three kilometre strait connecting two fjords. This happens four times a day and I knew the next one as at 12:55 pm. We had sixty kilometres to cover in an hour and as long as was careful, on the twisty, wet N17 we would make it.

We did – just. I rode over the bridge at five to one with the waters gushing below us. At the other end of the bridge I turned round and rode back over. Only then did I realise that there had been a policeman stationed at each end of the bridge. He didn't seem bothered with us at all, but it was a little weird. As I exited the bridge I pulled into a lay-by full of cars and people. I'd assumed that they were all there to see the Maelstrom but somehow it didn't seem right. Why all the Norwegian flags? Why the police? Why the brass band and dance troupe? Something was afoot...

We'd inadvertently stumbled across 'The Arctic race of Norway - The most picturesque road race in the world'. A four day bicycle race which was heading our way. As we'd been crossing the bridge over the waters the police had been blocking off the road and we were now stuck in a lay-by with cycling enthusiasts for the next hour as we waited for the race to pass it.

Standing there in full motorcycle gear and waterproofs, cold and wet we watched the brass band and dances practising their moves. As the time approached people started to congregating near the road. Many walked up the bridge no doubt to get a better look at the cyclists as they slowly climbed their way up. Police cars and motorcycles passed us, building the tension.


And then, woosh. They were here. The three leading bikes sped passed us in seconds and about twenty seconds later the Pelaton was upon us. And then gone again.


The Pelaton heading for the bridge


It was all over.

But we had to wait another thirty minutes until the road was open. We'd been cold and hungry and wet. But somehow this unexpected delay had made our day. A little glimpse into what can happen on an August day in Bodo.

                                   It's still very beautiful – even with the clouds!


The following day we shared the three hour ferry (perhaps our last ferry!) to the Lofoten Islands with two Portuguese bikers. They'd taken THREE days to ride from Portugal to Norway! And had ten days to see the country. It made me grateful for my long summer holidays.

I'll update the blog about the Lofoten Islands in a couple of days. The weather has improved, the sun is out and we're here for a few days....

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