The Arctic Cycle Tour, 2005
Updated January 12 2009
A break to investigate old snow on the road to Reine
Raining again this morning when we leave the hostel at nine. The French students are all asleep apart from their leader, a tousle-haired bloke who has spent a dreadful night outside in the hostel's annexe - a caravan on its last legs, reserved for any overspill. It is a cool 9°C today. Visibility is poor, and the wedge-shaped Måltinden mountain (2135') at the top of the fjord is entirely hidden in low cloud. Still, we have the road to ourselves as we cross back from the tip of Moskenesöya to Flakstadöya, the previous island in the chain, then cross back again at a bridge five kilometres further on.
Under duress, P. is wearing his poncho for the first time today, its hem raised from the ground with duct tape and the addition of a belt. I am a little concerned about his feet in their cotton socks but my rear mudguard seems to keep most of the spray off him. Fortunately the rain stops and the weather gradually improves as we follow the winding road down to Reine.
Reine is often cited as having the most picturesque views in Norway. The cloud is lifting as we cycle into Sakrisoy, and the vista is impressive. The road is a thin ribbon for the last two kilometres with the sea on the outside on our left, and the twin fjords of Vorfjorden and Kjerkfjorden on our right. The sparkling water is flanked by seven towering mountains over 2500' tall, their peaks wreathed in clouds.
Riene from Tindstinden (1607')
We pull up at Dagmar's doll museum for the key to the rorbu we booked yesterday over the phone, and she points out the building to us - it is called Tømmerbua, and it is built on stilts set onto a large granite outcrop just on the edge of the village. It's rather special - the front of the building is over the water, and there's a gallery for fishing from that runs underneath the room that Janet is standing under in the picture below. The front door opens inwards to a boot room with lifejackets and fishing tackle in it; a second key opens a door off this to the left hand side of the building, which is ours for the night. Inside, the rorbu is beautifully laid out - the walls are made of heavy wide planks with exposed beams overhead; two hand-made double glazed windows make the main room very snug. Downstairs there's a table against one of the windows, opposite this is a heavy wooden dividing wall with a worktop with drawers, cooker and sink along it. A low doorway leads through to a small downstairs bedroom with a built-in bunk, and a simple open staircase up to a loft just about tall enough to stand up in with two single beds and a table. There's a modern bathroom with a shower off the bunk bedroom downstairs.
We bring the bags in from the bikes, and then sit down to a big lunch of bread, cheese, salami, and an apple each. This would be a great place to stay during a dark winter holiday in the Lofoten Islands, and it is especially nice to have discovered this bolt-hole rather than be staying in some anonynmous hotel for the night.
After lunch we spend a pleasant hour or two mooching around Sakrisoy Doll Museum and the antique shop upstairs (mostly junk); there's a chance for several rounds of waffles with damson jam with Earl Gray tea here, while we work our way through the massive collection of Donald Duck comics in the bookshelves beside the table we are eating our waffles at. Finally we return to the rorbu with a big loaf of fresh brown bread and some powdered fish soup from the fish shop opposite the musuem, do some washing, and generally relax for the rest of the afternoon. Dinner is a big tin of stew on rice with chocolate for desert, followed by packing and an early bedtime. We are planning to rise early tomorrow and ride to Å in time to catch the bus up to Stamsund with the bikes, so that will have time to explore the little village whilst avoiding retracing our route of the last couple of days.
Only problem is that a French family have moved in next door and seem generally unaware of how well noise travels through a wooden building; we had peace and quiet earlier in the evening while they were out fishing, but I'm going to sleep with earplugs in now that they are back ...
2330 update - they have gone very quiet after Janet banged on their door and gave them a piece of her mind...
We wake up to the rattling and buzzing of the alarms on our mobile phones at 7 AM, which we set in anticipation of getting away at a reasonable time this morning. Porridge with bananas again for breakfast, but by now we are on a new bag of "halvegrynne" - pure porridge oats without the seeds and nuts P. has been picking out of his bowl for the last week or so. We leave the hut at 09.30 - not bad for us considering - and I ring Michael to check that he's okay with the keys being left in the museum's postbox. I'm naturally very apologetic since this is an ungodly hour to be calling anyone in Northern Norway on a Sunday morning. Shops and businesses are universally closed today.
The road from Reine to Å is narrow, winding, and hilly - quite a change from the previous days of pedalling along flat roads right next to the sea. Finally - after several failed attempts in previous years - I manage to take at least one workable picture of the shortest roadsign in Europe (the SLR dropped onto the road last year and the exposure meter is broken):-
Å in Lofoten
The rest of the village is more difficult to photograph, although it is tiny - just a little natural harbour with wooden buildings on all sides. We reach the village - the last in the Lofoten island chain, and the place where the road north-west abrubtly terminates - at 11 o'clock. It's a bit grim because three or four tour buses have arrived before us, so the ambience of the place is quite different with two hundred people being herded around it. Janet is not impressed and is quite happy to sit in the square with a fresh cup of coffee and a warm pastry while P. and I explore the fishing museum. The cod liver oil tasting I have been promising them both does not materialise because the queue for it stretches out of the tiny shack - mad fools!
A little while later the rain settles in again, so we take refuge in the bus due to leave for Leknes in half an hour or so, which is pulled up in the coach park on the other side of the short tunnel at the top of the village. If the weather had been better, we'd have walked a little further on along the footpath out of the coach park, which in a minute or two leaves you with a view down to the end of the island chain, the sea at your feet, but the rain is really pelting down now. The bus driver is a helpful chap, he soon has our bikes stowed away in the large luggage lockers underneath the coach while we munch honey and banana sandwiches in the seats just behind him. Tickets to Leknes on Lofoten Route 101 are fairly reasonable - bikes travel at half the adult fare. Soon the bus is feeling its way down the narrow winding road back towards Reine with seven or eight passengers on board - the rain is lifting now and I'm feeling warm and sleepy.
I wake up an hour and half later as the bus pulls into Leknes. Two more cyclists have joined us, and our bikes and theirs are dreadfully tangled up in the hold. After sorting everything out we pedal off towards the hills on the 815 road to Stamsund, where we'll be staying for the next day or two at Roar Justad's place. I called him in advance and he sounded a little unsure about arrangements, but we think he'll have a bed for the three of us for tonight.
It is raining steadily and the the road climbs after Fygle to about 131 metres before descending back down to sea level and Storfjorden - pity it is raining again, but it isn't too bad. I point out Arnulf Andersen's three huts on the opposite side of the bay as we pedal along - I stayed here for a night last year, and it was very pleasant; they are built on a little promontary into the water so that one can see the open sea at the end of the inlet from the windows, and they each have a traditional grass-turfed roof.
Stamsund is for us about two and a half hours from from Leknes, and the old oil tanks above the harbour are quite a welcome sight for us as we round the headland. On the exposed seaboard side of the island the waves have white caps them. When we arrive at the hostel, Roar is having a nap, so we sit in the warm fug of the main living room with several other hostellers taking shelter from the weather and drink a pot of tea.
Roar Justad's place - we stayed in the middle first floor room of the annexe on the right
I recognise Roar at once when he reappears and he seems to be his usual warm but monosyllabic self - he rarely says more than a few words at a time, and usually he's looking away when he says them, following up with a crafty look at you to see what effect they've had when he's finished. He seems unchanged from when I was here last fifteen years ago. We are directed to a nice large room on the first floor of the annexe to the right of the main building, above his private quarters. Our room has a wood-burning stove, two large built-in bunks across the wall to the right, and a big shutter - half the size of a table-tennis table - up against the windows. This is on a hinge, and would close them off if it were to be raised; there's a prop under the shutter to keep it off the floor.
Looking out over the harbour from our room at Roar's
The bedding and curtains are a nice colourful touch, but above all we have a great view out over the bay in front of the hostel, and the room is quiet too. Apart from new paint on the wooden exterior, the Vandresheim does not seem to have changed much since my 1990 visit ... Roar found a good formula and stuck to it.
Early morning sunbathers on the deck - July 1990
We round off the day with a big meal of spaghetti carbonara with bacon from the Esso garage just up the road, and turn in fairly early at 10 pm with the rain still pattering from time to time on the windows.
Something wakes me at 03:15 and it's too nice a morning outside to go back to bed immediately, so I go out onto the deck and down to the main building to make another pot of tea and have a read through the hut journals and photo albums from the early days - the mid-eighties saw quite a few winter lock-ins, with guitars and long flowing hair much in evidence. Some of the long term visitors collaborated on a guide to the area and fishing in the bay; I copy their illustrations of filleting a cod into my diary in case we manage to find a similiar fresh fish later on. Back to bed at 04:20 - I sleep through until the others get up at 09:30.
After breakfast I approach Roar for a lifejacket and fishing line for P., and of course a rowing boat. He is naturally enthusiastic and soon turns them up for me on payment of a small deposit; however the wind is blowing out to sea, so we row about in the harbour instead of bobbing about gently on the ocean beyond, because I've been caught out trying to row back inshore against a strong breeze before! No joy, but soon afterwards a Japanese man and his son return with a frightening red-eyed grey fish about the size of large loaf of bread, so we have to leave for another spell of jigging the line in the seven or eight metres of water just off the breakwater ... meanwhile Janet can't find the scary looking fish on the wallchart, so plucks up the courage to ask Roar what it is as he helps the visitors gut it. "Herring!" he shoots back, with a quick penetrating glance at her....
The weather is getting better and better today, so we go for a long walk around the shoreline of the bay and practise our scrambling on the rocks above the sea. Afterwards I cook Tuna Surprise for supper in the little kitchen opposite our room, and we turn in at 10:00. A very relaxing day; we've made friends with several other visitors, including a kindly Dutch cyclist who has driven on his own to Stamsund with his bike to reprise some rides in the area after many years of family holidays in the area.
We plan to cycle to Hov on Gimsøy today and make the best of the fine weather. Gimsøy ("Green eye") is a flat island with a mountain at one end - dominated by bird reserves and cattle farms. Arable farming doesn't feature much this far North because grain doesn't ripen properly.
We pack our things and say goodbye to Roar and our new friends - hope we can come back here again soon.
The ride along the 817 and 815 is gorgeous - it seemed completely new despite our driving along it a few days ago. We are keeping our eyes peeled for sea eagles, which I saw here last year. The road is quiet enough to ride side-by-side most of the time, and the sun sparkles on the waves on our right, also picking out the trees and bushes on the rock walls on our left in an ever-changing spectrum of colours. There are quite a few white sandy beaches here - we stop for a brew-up and a spot of sand castle building at Risoya after lunch (pizzas all round) at Brustranda Camping. There's a handy Naermart shop after Brustranda with some things we'll need for dinner tonight, including a couple of tins of stew and some rice.
We get an unwelcome surprise after crossing the graceful suspension bridge onto Gimsøy though - the road is gravel for quite a long stretch between Storvika and Vinje. This is tough going for me with the trailer bike, I have to ride exactly in the compressed tire tracks of previous vehicles to avoid sliding over in the loose stuff, so average speed falls from our usual 8 or 9 mph to about half of that, at twice the effort of riding on tarmac.
Nevermind, we regain the tarmac for the last forty minutes to Hovsand golf course (the furthest North of the Arctic Circle) and onto Hov. The farm is easy to find; it is a bit more like a ranch than its English namesake, but has a pen with two kid goats in the garden and several rabbit hutches. The owner is very friendly, and shows us to the annexe we'll be staying in - a long, low bungalow with seven rooms and a communal kitchen/living room and bathroom; we have this to ourselves for the night. We spend the afternoon and evening on the beach in front of the farm, which is a large white cove we've got all to ourselves. Dinner is a protracted affair that lightens the load on my bike considerably.
Big day ahead of us today - we want to catch the ferry to Stokmarknes on the Vesterålen islands to see what they have to offer in terms of weather for the last few days of the trip. The ferry will leave Svolvær this evening. I wake up bathed in sunshine at the unearthly hour of 0415; the sky is absolutely free of clouds, this demands a photograph or two of the sandy bay. Outside it is pretty nippy - 6°C, so back to bed for another hour or two of shut-eye.
Early start from the farm after P. has had a chance to feed the goats and rabbits and bounce for ten minutes on their trampoline. He loves it here and wants to know when we are coming back again. Meanwhile I have covetly dumped the jar of honey and the strawberry jam today in an effort to reduce excess baggage.
Another gorgeous morning of sunshine and fine roads back to the Gimsøy Bru (bridge); the roadside verges have plentiful wild flowers; the views remind me of the small roads I've cycled in Switzerland. We have lunch in the picnic area by the bridge with several other cyclists on tables near us, but as usual everyone goggles when they see P.'s trailer bike, which is now festooned with luggage and is obviously a real novelty in Norway.
The second part of the ride from the junction of the Henningsvær turn-off to the start of the cycle path at Ørsnes is quite tough for Janet since it is mostly uphill on the busy E10; plus once we've come through the tunnel the weather seems to change to cold and overcast again.
We are back in Svolvær at six p.m.; to pass the time we eat a rather good evening meal at the Baccalao restaurant just off the Torg (or square). As we are sitting at the outside table a beautiful wooden yacht pulls into the marina area and moors; the British couple who own it are meeting friends from the southbound Hurtigruten (which arrives at seven) for dinner; it seems that the yacht has been working its way up the coast of Norway after leaving Southampton two weeks ago, which I find very impressive; you'd need to be a competent skipper in these waters.
After dinner we follow the warm evening sunshine to the Torg itself, and get to chatting with an benevolent-looking German cyclist in his fifties who has cycled to Nordkapp (and has been in Norway since May); every inch the long-distance explorer in his wooly skullcap and goretex gillet...
We are the only cyclists to board the Hurtigruten ferry at 9pm for the Northbound trip up the Raftsundet. This is one of the scenic highlights of the Hurtigruten voyage up to Kirkenes, and it is a real shame that as the evening wears on the sky becomes just more and more overcast and rain-filled.
To make up for the disappointment, the captain has laid on a special surprise as we edged gently up Trollfjord in the rain - what on earth is that? Good grief! Trolls with long bushy tails and wild hair, some with flaming torches in their hands, prancing about on a ledge on the rock wall at the top of the narrow inlet! The trip up the fjord is exciting in itself, since the fjord is not much wider than the large ferry, and is about 2km long with 3000' rock walls on all sides ... the trolls are an added bonus though. P. and I run to get a good vantage point on the bow when they were spotted; there is quite a throng of people on deck suddenly. The trolls are just a little too far away to be distinguished clearly in the gloom and rain, but eventually after much hooting and flash photography a bright orange RIB zooms back into view to pick the poor unfortunates up and return them to their normal crew stations on the ferry. By this time P. has gone back indoors to escape the driving rain, so as far he knows there are still trolls in Norway.
Rain gets heavier and heavier as we approach Stokmarknes at 0130 - it is pelting down when we disembark, and for the first time on the holiday it is nearly pitch black too. To make things more surreal, there are youths in cars roaring up and down the road next to the ferry terminal, pulling handbrake turns and revving their engines - are they drunk? We really don't want to try and cycle anywhere in the dark with these madmen on the road with us. I splash across the road to the concrete bulk of the hotel (the Hurtigruten Hus) and the doors slide open to admit me to the pool of light by the reception desk. The front desk manager is expecting me, and has directions for us to follow to the hut he's got the keys for on the other side of the bridge somewhere, but we are having none of this. He hums and haws for a bit, then shows us upstairs to a huge suite furnished in dark wood inlays, very 1975. With his help, we rapidly make a bed for the lad on the floor in the living room, then turn in ourselves, leaving the large picture windows ajar to let in some of the cool night air and the sound of the rain hammering down on the concrete roof of the hotel above our heads. Zzzzzzzzz...
An extraordinarily rewarding day today, but a really tough one for all of us. We wake up at around 9 AM and wander down to a pleasant buffet breakfast in the hotel (just three or four other guests there). Stokmarknes is the northern base for the Hurtigruten company, and there's a good museum built into the hotel complex. Janet is feeling wrecked, so has a bit more of a doze while P. and explore the museum and discover the history of the Coastal Express. Seven ships and 76 lives have been lost during peacetime accidents, and around 700 more lives were lost at sea during the 1940-1945 period, so one really shouldn't take the hazards faced by the ships on their long voyages up and down the coast lightly. As well as many artefacts from the ships, the museum also has great sound-effects piped in to convey the drama of the coastal voyage. After a quick tour indoors, we crossed to the M/S Finnemarken which is in a permanent dry berth next to the building to get a taste of how Roald Dahl would have found the journey in the 1930's and 40's - very utilitarian and I would imagine quite uncomfortable compared to the luxurious ships of today.
We start our ride from Stokmarknes to Melbu at 11:30. The road is just gorgeous. The sun is shining again with a cool breeze - perfect for cycling. At the sign of a little wooden fishing boat by the road, we pull up and dismount to carry our bikes down the track to the beach through myrtle bushes and moss. The little sea house I found for the first time last year is just as we'd left it. Inside we find the hut book with my entry for last July when I had an extraordinary cup of tea here with Mike and Regina. Sadly the book is completely full up, so we write inside its back cover and leave a luggage tag with a drawing by P. hanging up on a nail in the wall above the little woodburning stove.
Three views of Uvershula
Twenty minutes or so later we remount and ride on to Melbu, where we catch the ferry to Fiskebol after a short delay. The hotel in Melbu seems to be undergoing refurbishment, but otherwise the place is just as it was last summer, pretty quiet for a weekday afternoon.
At Fiskebol we cycle off the ferry and boldly tackle the steep climb up the hill onto the Laukvik rode. But there's a snag here - the road turns to just-graded gravel with the odd tennis-ball sized rock in it after just 2km. This makes for really tough riding. Fortunately the gravel is pretty dry because this would be too slippery to ride on in the wet.
I'm too busy fighting to keep the bike upright to admire the scenery until we catch up with the huge yellow grading JCB. He's moving very slowly. Fortunately he stops the thing when he sees me waving, and lifts his earmuffs to talk to me - ok, we may have cycled ten kilometres on the newly turned gravel, but the road will be tarmac again in two kilometres at the start of the Grunforfjorden stretch. Big relief! And indeed 2km further on we are back on the hard flat road. The scenery here is just magical, but unfortunately Janet isn't looking to spend half an hour soaking it up at this point since we are very overdue for our hut in Laukvik. I use the mobile to warn the owner that we are still working our way slowly towards him - he tells me not to worry.
So we finally arrive in Laukvik at 1930. The site is lovely - about 200m from the rocky seashore, very quiet, with perhaps five cabins and several other cycling couples in tents. Our cabin has two L-shaped sleeping areas on the left wall (for two adults and four children), bathroom opposite the door, and a small kitchen area. Plus a large gate-legged table before the window with a settle chair on one side. The owner shakes me by the hand and congratulates me warmly - I am very glad that we decided to spend the night in a hut rather than the tent tonight because we are shattered!
Last day of cycling today. Rain overnight and intermittent drizzle today - Janet game for the ride back to Svolvær rather than taking the 1430 bus though, which I'm really pleased about. Traffic becomes much heavier when we join the E6 at Sidpollen, to the extent where for the first time I didn't really feel comfortable about being in with P. on the trailer. The road climbs a fairly steep hill after the junction with the E6, and I take the opportunity to pull off at the viewpoint at the top of this for lunch.
Lunch in the rain above Sidpollen
We put up our Ray Mears-style tarpaulin to keep the rain off our sarnies, a poor job because there's no sturdy tree within range to anchor it to. The rain gets heavier after lunch, and Janet loses her cycling cap to a gust of wind that takes it over a cliff when a lorry passes her.
In Svolvær we dry out with coffee and pastries at the Baccalao cafe on the seafront, and then at 1930 we board the southbound ferry to Stamsund and then Bodø, cruising back down the island chain we've been crawling along on our bikes for the last fortnight.
Tomorrow we'll have a rest day at the Bodøsjoen campsite and see the aircraft museum, and then the next day we'll be flying back to Oslo and home. It's been a brilliant holiday, couldn't have chosen a better area for a tour in this year I think - and we are all looking forward to coming back next year to explore a bit more of the Land of the Midnight Sun!
Finally, some other cyclist's accounts of their experiences, and useful links for next time:-
homecycling The Arctic Cycle Tour, 2005
Text and images unless otherwise attributed © Jerry Webb 2005
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