|home .:. map .:. gallery .:. report|
North Cape report
Now I am sitting on board a plane several hundred meters above the earth and I am gazing at fluffy clouds wondering if I have chosen the right place for my holidays. I must be crazy to have decided to go for a month's cycling trip, over three thousand kilometers through the rain and in winter temperatures, only to see Europe's northernmost point, Nordkapp, where according to Pascal's Guide Book all you can find is a parking place, a souvenir shop and a globe. I am thinking about my friends who have chosen Spain, Greece or Egypt for their holiday sites and the thought that I would be better off there crosses my mind. But now there is no way back. All I can do is wait with expectation for the surprise of tomorrow which is going to bring something new for me each and every minute.
If you decide to fly by plane it is advisable to mark your luggage with your name, address and flight number. My bicycle must have lacked some essential pieces of information on it because by a strange chance it did not arrive along with me. I am sitting in the airport restaurant waiting for the next evening airplane on board of which must be my equipment. As a consolation of sorts I have received a 180 krone token which entitles me to a good dinner. I am staring at my veal and chips with some sort of a vegetable salad knowing perfectly well that this is my first and last visit in a Norwegian restaurant - the prices that I encounter here are five times as high as the ones in Poland. I come to think that the loss of my bike might just be a stroke of luck. At least I can have a nice and filling meal.
* * *
The first stage of my trip is the highway from Bergen to Voss. If you choose the wrong way you may be unlucky enough to end up on the national road linking Bergen with Oslo and it may mean a lot of trouble to an expert cyclist like you. Surprisingly enough, in its southern part Norway does not look like a secluded place where you can find more reindeer than cars. The road to Voss is full of tourist's cars, Bergen inhabitant's cars, Oslo inhabitants' cars, big trucks with even bigger trailers, fast and loud motorbikes and other God only knows whose vehicles going from God only knows where and what for. And because there is no side-space on this road it makes traveling a rather unpleasant experience. The smashing attractions are tunnels. There is no side-space in such a tunnel , much less a pedestrian or bicycle passage. The service road is no more than a meter wide and from time to time it brushes the walls of the tunnel. Every couple of ten meters a fire extinguisher, telephone or other devices completely useless to an average cyclist spring unexpectedly out of the wall. It is necessary to watch out for sewage wells in the darkness of the tunnel as they appear every now and then deep in the surface of the service road. The road at its whole length is so narrow that it is impossible to lead the bike by the handle. All you can do is put one foot on the pedal and progress like on an engine-less scooter. When a car or even a motorbike appears behind you a sound similar to a herd of Russian tanks marching on the Red Square in Moscow drills through your head and you have the impression that some kind of a monster is going to attack you from behind in the next minute. There is no point in mentioning regular motorway traveling - the speed of a cyclist pales in comparison with the one of a car driver and taking into account dim lights and wet surfaces you can safely say that such a ride proves clear suicidal tendencies. From my point of view, everything looks like a computer simulation in which the task is to get from one end of the tunnel to the other avoiding numerous obstacles - fire extinguishers, telephones and sewage wells - and trying hard not to turn aside from the service road to the main lane where you can bump into your enemies. There is a professional illumination added to this and the sound effects surpass every existing surround trick. The only problem is that when you see the "game over" caption you will not be able to insert a new coin to play once more as you only have one life. The game seems to be more human-friendly when you realise that you do not have to shoot anybody dead in order to win. As a matter of fact you cannot really win - you can only survive...
* * *
I needed two tunnels of such a kind to realize that I had gone the wrong way and
I had to come back to the nearest intersection. That was where I spotted a sign
pointing out a bicycle road to Voss and I followed this with a sudden wave of
joy. I happened to get into tunnels many times afterwards but never did I
encounter anything like the terrifying passage on the road to Voss. The longest
and the last tunnel linking the isle of Mageroy with the continent, in spite of
its seven kilometers of length, of which some 210 meters were built below the
water surface, turns out to be a safe one. Cars appear there sporadically and
if you get tired you may lead the bicycle by the handle along the pavement. In
the interior part of the country the entrance to tunnels over three kilometers
long is forbidden to cyclists. The reason for this is not only poor visibility,
but also some dangerous exhaust gases which may lead to loss of consciousness.
By the side of some of the tunnels special lanes for bicycles and pedestrians
can be found allowing one to evade the obstacles. It is worth the trouble to
use them in order to see some unforgettable views.
Another attraction in this country are marvelous mountains spreading out over the whole area. In the south they create unforgettable scenery coupled with the azure sky and the green blue shade of fjords. These mountains are high and that is why I am often forced to get off the bicycle and, having seen a sign informing me that throughout the next ten kilometers the gradient of the road is going to reach ten per cent, I decide to take a longer break and push my two-wheeled vehicle in front of me. I happen to stay in a few such beautiful places for the night. One of them is a wild road between Videstater and Grotli where I have found a functioning ski lift. The other place is the famous Trollstingen where the road curves eleven times to pass by a 180- meters -high waterfall. When I reached the Tollstingen Pass it was already getting dark and the clouds lit by the setting sun and creeping into the mountain pass and stretching beneath my tent looked like a tantalizing quilt.
I am sitting in front of my tent gazing at the white powder puffs below and I spot a Polish car which has come to a halt several meters in front of me.
- "Would you like me to take a photo of you?" I ask, having noticed that my compatriots are struggling with the time releaser of their camera.
This is how the conversation begins. This young, friendly couple decided to travel across Norway, starting with Nordkapp and ending up in the south.
- "Is this where you are going to spend the night?" they ask. "Aren't you afraid of bears? They are believed to like this area very much..."
I knew nothing about any bears in Norway, but that question frightened me a little. I can understand warning against cows, sheep, elks and reindeer, but bears...? Had I learned about it earlier I would have taken some kind of a horn or something, but now it is too late to find another place to stay for this night. I hurriedly prepare a swift evacuation scenario I put a gas cooker ready to be used in the tent beside my other stuff. When I hear a bear I will set my tent on fire which is undoubtedly going to scare the guest and give me some time to jump on my bike and hurry downhill. Bears are believed to have short front paws so I think I will have a chance to escape. The night passed peacefully. From time to time I heard bells of sheep grazing near by. I am still unsure whether it is true that bears can be found near Trollstingen or if it was just a joke on the part of my countrymen.
* * *
The mountains make the majority of the roads in the southern part of Norway look like winding ribbons where cars move slowly along one after another. Sometimes the road gets so narrow that it is only possible for one car to progress slowly along the route. In spite of this, the driver's manners are faultless. Every time they want to overtake a cyclist they use the lane destined for cars coming from the opposite direction. Not even once did I hear the sound of a horn. On the contrary, many times a big truck had to crawl behind me until the driver could safely overtake my bike. Such an immaculate traffic education is rare on national motorway E6 linking the south with the north of the country. The cyclist is persona non grata there and usually gets a raw deal. The wind blowing from the north makes the whole adventure even more exciting as when you are overtaken by a big truck with a trailer a sudden gust of wind blows directly into your eyes and the subsequent turbulence make you lose control over your bicycle for a moment. This makes the whole journey on the aforementioned road exceptionally dangerous, but it is not far to the outskirts of Nordjosbotn, where the majority of trucks turn in the direction of Tromse, the largest town in the north, and everything calms down and, much to my surprise, motorway E6 turns into a secondary road. All that can be seen there is an occasional car. But the dangerous southern past of the E6 was the reason I did my best to avoid it choosing rather less frequented ways, among others road 17 stretching along the coast, fortified with small isles which make sea journeys by ferry an indispensable element of traveling.
In mentioning the Norwegian people, it is inadmissible not to drop a word about their high level of education and irreproachable manners. Practically everybody between 16 and 45 has a satisfactory command of English, from a shop assistant or a farmer owning heads of milking cows to a travel agency employee. Everyone is very polite and likable, never refusing to help, but at the same time not excessively obliging or open-armed. Don't expect them to invite you for a cup of tea when you knock at their door to ask for permission to set up a tent on the premises of their property. You can expect such graciousness in Poland, France or Greece but not in Norway. There are very scarce exceptions to this rule.
Thanks to the growing popularity of the English language, traveling across Norway is sheer pleasure. Even more so since the accessibility of tourist facilities has been well looked after. In every larger town there is a tourist information point with colorful booklets and competent service. Along all main roads, every couple of tens of kilometers, you will be able to find a well-marked parking place with restrooms, information boards, and tables on which you can prepare a meal. Furthermore, in the south of the country restrooms have hot running water. On every single day of my journey I set up my tent on no-man's land which Norway is never short of. However, if you'd prefer to rent a reasonably priced room or find a place in a youth hostel you will not have to pay through the nose, unlike the supermarkets.
Following road 17 I arrived at Bodo, a town from which a ferry to the Lofoten Isles sails. The isles are famous for their picturesque fishermen's colonies full of boats, nets, and fish. The weather had turned winter-like long ago and only once in a while do enjoy short sunny intervals. That is why the villages that I am lucky enough to visit are missing of their usual magnetic charm, although Reine, one of the first colonies where I find harboured fishermen's boats, nets, and racks for drying fish, makes a lasting impression on me. Afterwards the road frequently turns from the coast to the interior of the isles and the only reminder of the fact that I am still visiting the Lofoten Isles are the characteristically pointed mountain peaks, very popular among mountain climbers. It is especially the village of Hennisvager, one of the most famous ones, where the sun mercifully emerges from behind the clouds and provides for unforgettable views and allows me to admire the atmosphere of this beautiful area. Unfortunately, the fishing period is over in May and I cannot see the fishermen at their daily chores. However, their boats moored in the middle of the village look impressive and I allow
The northern areas are full of mushrooms. I am not an expert on mushrooms. When I was a child my father used to take my brother and me to the country and we would stroll with my cousins in the woods there, picking up whatever got into our hands to trust eventually to our uncle who would sort out toadstools from mushrooms. My place of birth, a concrete town called Rzeszów, definitely did not favor the development of mushroom-picking skills since no matter how much it rained nothing was willing to grow on asphalt. My mom makes a mushroom soup only occasionally, but I can clearly remember the taste of mushrooms - I know for sure that I like them. And I found one like those from my childhood. A big one. Even cut into pieces it wouldn't fit into my canteen. The classic method of checking its edibility worked well. From the bottom I could see tubes and it did not taste bitter at all. However, I was afraid that hidden in my tent somewhere in a forest, in case of any alimentary system upset, I would not be able to crawl to the nearest village to ask for first aid. That was why I decided to knock at the door of one of the near-by houses to ask the immortal question: "edible or not?". I knocked at the door of six houses afterwards - nobody knew. Nobody had ever bothered to pick mushrooms themselves. Nobody could even find an atlas book on mushrooms. They don't pick them there, they just buy them in shops. Finally, some passing cyclists decide unanimously - "edible." "Sure," I thought to myself. "Easy to say - edible. After all, it is me who is going to take the risk..." I cooked the mushroom together with one of the soup powders that I had taken with me from Poland and ate it. It must have been edible since I woke up the next morning. After that I saw lots of mushrooms of the same kind growing almost everywhere - on the side of the road, in parks and even in the middle of some villages. I did not pick them up, since my mushroom had been practically tasteless and had had a texture similar to a sponge. Maybe an expert could make better use of it. Pity that so much of it is wasted every year...
* * *
The time destined for my trip is coming to its inevitable end and my assessments prove unequivocally that I will not be able to reach Nordkapp. I thoroughly study the map, count the kilometers left and eventually decide to increase the daily portion of my itinerary. Unfortunately, the following days bring nothing but nightmarish, deja vu wet from rain. Every time I wake up to listen to the rain drops splashing against the tent, I fold up the tent, put on my wet clothes and ride some 130 kms in pouring rain only to set up the very same wet tent and slide into an equally wet sleeping bag which I had previously tried to dry over the gas cooking machine. The temperature drops to eight degrees and the northern wind blows directly into my face. Every day I squeeze into the goretex anorak I borrowed from a friend of mine and it protects me from the merciless drops of rain. On top of this, my trousers are full of holes by now, which makes me look like a victim of a brutal attack and mending them has long stopped being fun. To cap it all, I have nightmares in which I give up my goal of reaching the North Cape in the last minute and I return to Poland very disappointed. Every day I ask people at petrol stations about the weather forecast and there is not even a shadow of a doubt: "This is normal at this time of year," I hear. "We are accustomed to it," a smiling Norwegian, wearing only a short-sleeved T-shirt, replies. And I can still see eight degrees on the thermometer over which the rain is slowly running down.
My assessments show that the distance between Nordkapp and the last bigger town on the route, Alta, is about 180 kms. That is where I have to make the final decision: either I risk my return airline ticket and go towards Nordkapp or I decide to take a bus to Tromso airport and wait there until the following Monday when my plane takes off. I will never forget the sign post in the middle of a town which shows that instead of the expected 180 I have still 240 kms left. That may seem a minor difference, but if you have two days of journey ahead of you and the prospect of a day's hitch-hiking trip from Nordkapp to Tromso, which is some 600 kms, then the whole question looks desperate. I franticlly look for other possibilities of reaching the airport on time. No good by bus, as it arrives to Tromso after the departure of my plane. I can consider going by plane from Honninsvag on the Mageroy Isle, but this will mean some additional 800 Polish zloty... Determined to find a way out, I go to the airport in Alta to talk to a nice Norwegian lady responsible for selling airline tickets. An empty waiting room favors a long conversation. I talk a while about the goal of my trip, impressions from the route, the rain and my problem as well. "You will make it. I see that in your eyes, you can make it," I hear in reply. Not to waste my time I set off again, without any airline ticket, but with the priceless piece of information that there is a daily connection by ferry operated by Hurtigruten lines from Honninsvag to Tromso. I have gone too far to give up now.
Once you have passed Alta you get on a fifty-kilometer-long plateau on which you can find strolling reindeer. Speeding cars risk a lot since the animals tend to get on the roads and any recklessness may cost the life of reindeer plus some necessary mending of the car. Throughout some 100 kms I spot three run-over animals lying on the side-space. I happen to see a stray herd jumping onto the lane only to run away from potentially dangerous bicycle wheels in fear. Strange as it may seem, they are more afraid of me than of the passing cars If you take a camera equipped with a telephoto lens you are sure to bring back some marvelous pictures. My lens is unfortunately not that good and before I take my camera out the animals are already out of its range. It was only in Mageroy that the reindeer seemed to be more like domesticated and let me come a bit closer. If you happen to be in the northern part of Norway it is actually hard not to see them closely. >From a certain point their presence in the landscape is as obvious as the presence of cows and sheep in the south.
The area I have decided to cross is a real wilderness only rarely embellished with a village of sorts. Until quite recently there were some detached houses along the road and every 40 kms I could count on the presence of a supermarket. Now, when I am reaching Smorfjord, the last village on the way to Mageroy according to the map, I want to be sure: "Where am I going to find the next supermarket?" "The next one is in Honninsvag, 100 kms away from here," I hear from a shop assistant in reply. Now I know that there is 100 kms ahead of me, throughout which I will not find anything except for moss, reindeer and mountains. But I also know that even if I break my bike or my legs I will do anything to reach my goal the next day.
.:. On the 27th day of my journey, having left 2700 kms behind me, in pouring rain, I see the goal itself: Europe's northernmost cape - Nordkapp. A place where all you can find is a parking place, a souvenir shop and a globe.