‘You can go whichever way you want, but you can’t escape yourself’ – Norwegian Proverb
Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock), Canon 5d2, 16-35L
Dull grey skies and a chill wind as I packed my gear onto the bike in Northern Denmark. Having left several weeks of 30 plus degrees it was a bit of a shock to the system but in many ways it was a pleasure – I’m not a lizard so there is only so much heat I can take. Deep down, I knew it was going be a different type of weather as I headed North to the Arctic – wetter, colder and well, grey-er. Waiting in the queue at the terminal I chatted with some other bikers heading North – the topic of conversation being the very tight speed restrictions (more on that later) and the draconian fines for breaking them.
The full route taken to Nordkapp, its a long, long way through Norway.
As with every country (bar one – more on that in my final post), I was greeted with warmth and a smile at the customs checkpoint. Wiping the beads of rain from the visor, I slipped into the humongous queue leaving the ferry terminal and spent the best part of an hour getting out of Kristiansand. Traffic wasn’t moving at all, no way of filtering and difficult and tiring clutch work since many of the roads were sloped. I pulled off for a rest – over an hour had gone by and I had travelled only a few miles. Sitting looking at the large pieces of gravel in the truck stop and watching the rain create tiny pools in between them seemed to fascinate me for quite some time as I munched through some Haribo I had bought on the ferry. Haribo would be a big part of my Norway experience. Haribo and cans of tuna. Sometimes as a complete meal.
My first Fjord, outside of Kristiansand, Canon 5d2, 16-35L
Finally clearing the traffic jam the roads opened up and I was out in the country side. I readied my right hand for some throttle action but with the sat nav blinking 40mph at me, I paused. I couldn’t work out throughout my entire trip why the speed limits are so low in Norway – I really can’t see it being for safety reasons. At such a low speed on wide open roads , people tend to take more risks as you are continually behind a lorry or camper van. With motorways set at 50mph and 30mph strictly enforced if there is a house within 10 miles then progress is slow. Very slow. Mind numbingly slow. It took me a week to adjust to riding so slowly and the concentration it needed was double that of riding at speed. I can certainly recommend Norway to visit but if you’re thinking of going, take a tour where someone else drives unless you’re a whacky kind of person who loves taking risks with their licence/prison and has thousands of euros spare for fines.
It took an eternity to get to Stavanger but with brief breaks in the rain, I saw my first Fjords as I plodded along the E39. As I pulled up at the first one to take the above shot, I caught myself for a second, started out over the water, twisted my head and looked behind me and thought ‘Bloody hell, I’m actually in Norway’ Throughout the trip and even before it, I had told people that Nordkapp was the aim but I also told people that I would just see how it goes. It wasn’t so much a fear of jinxing the trip but the reality that accidents, illness and whatever else can come from nowhere. I still had a long way to go but at least I was in the right country now. It was quite a moment.
The Route through Norway
I’d treated myself to staying at the cheapest place I could find in Stavanger – a school that rented out students rooms to travellers. Well, I say cheap. Cheap by Norwegian standards. You hear the stories and the tales of a beer costing £10. They’re true. A mars bar is £3. A beer was £10-12. A tiny hot dog at a filling station was £4 – and everyone seems to eat them – presumably because they’re ‘cheap’. I found two things that were cheap. You guessed it, haribo and cans of tuna. I’m pretty sure that this constitutes a balanced diet* since fish is good for you and there were plenty of greens and reds in the haribo – I had read somewhere that the trick to nutrition is making sure to have colourful food** rather than grey food (Disclaimer: *may not be balanced, seek advice from your nutritionist, ** food colouring may not constitute a trick to healthy dieting)
I pulled in to the school in driving rain and trailed water into the reception. A young man sat behind the desk. With Harry Potter style spectacles, a white shirt, a sensible haircut and a body weight approaching all of 2 stone, this guy just looked like a complete techno-nerd. Then followed a totally bizarre conversation. I gave him my name and he replied by asking to see the email of confirmation. I dug out my phone, wiped the water off the screen and handed it over. He then went on to his MacBook, taking great care, precise care to move the screen angle slightly and adjust the position by half an inch on the desk. ‘Yes, I see the reservation’. ‘Oh, have you got many people staying here?’, ‘No, just you tonight and tomorrow’. I asked why he needed the email since my reservation was on the computer. A smile and no reply. I nodded slightly and stared outside, watching the rain dance off the bike and wondering how long this would take as I desperately wanted to eat.
Stavanger map – Preikestolen is marked
As he passed me the room key, I tried to make conversation – ‘Long journey, very low speed limits eh?’. ‘Low? oh no, we think they are too high’. I looked at him, he looked back at me quizzically.’Do you have faster limits on motorways?’. A smile, ‘oh yes, on the motorway we have, you can travel at 55mph’. Awkward silence. He sat back down, adjusted his MacBook again. ‘Right, is there anywhere to eat locally?’. A smile ‘let me look for you!’, adjusted the macbook,typed something in. ‘We have 6 places to eat within 5 miles, will you go on the bike?’. I paused ‘Erm, no. Is there anywhere within a short walk from here?. MacBook adjusted again, typing. I asked him if he lived locally – he replied that he did and then returned to his screen. ‘There are two places within a 10 minute walk but they may be closed now’. I said ‘surely, there must be something, a supermarket or a cafe?’. A smile, an adjusted MacBook and typing. I looked in disbelief at him. ‘No, no – where do you know locally that you can just give me directions to?’. ‘there is a petrol station that way, they will have basic food’.’ Which way ?’….the MacBook was swivelled around to show me the direction. I was losing the plot, I pointed back past the bike and he said ‘yes, left’. I thanked him and got out of there. Technology is wonderful but not when it replaces any level of interaction with the real world.
My jaw dropped as I looked at the prices in the petrol station. With little choice, I purchased a hot dog and a pack of haribo (vampire flavour I think) and a bar of chocolate. I forget the price, something like eleventy squillion kroner. The hot dog never made it off the forecourt and I discovered that it is possible to fit an entire bag of haribo in your mouth in one go. It’s a real balancing act once the haribo are in your mouth, you need to slurp to stop saliva running out but you also don’t want to die in a Norwegian filling station because you inhaled a fang shaped sweet. I’m sure you’ve been there – its a delicate operation and bizarrely, is very rewarding when you manage to swallow the lot without spitting any out or choking. One of life’s little victories, they should probably use it as an exercise in mindfulness, it would beat crayoning and knitting.
I crashed out – it was still light even at 10pm and as I headed father North it would be light for most of the night-time too. It is an odd thing to be sat outside as I was on many nights at a late hour and feel like it was mid-day. Never had a problem with sleeping though – I was usually exhausted after each day’s ride and could probably have slept on broken glass.
I was up early the next day, took off the panniers, strapped down the tools and first aid gear to the back seat and headed out for Pulpit Rock – Priekestolen – one of the most famous landscapes in Norway. A short ferry ride, a ride round the Fjord and then into the car park. The weather had taken a turn for the better with sunshine and temperatures close to 20 degrees. No parking charges was a bonus and I felt completely prepared for the short hike to pulpit rock in a t-shirt, my motorbike trousers (with armour in) and my trainers from Andorra. A half litre bottle of water was shoved in my pocket. All set for the short hike on the ‘easy’ trail to pulpit rock. Short and easy, god bless internet forums for their advice. Off I went.
Easy stuff, really easy
I sat down at the side of the trail, wiped the sweat from my head and neck and guzzled my water, casually shaking the last drops out on to my tongue. I was breathing heavily after the long climb and as I looked back, I saw the bike in the car park. Pretty good, I’d gone all of 500 yards. The sign read ‘this way to the start of the trail, 4.8 miles’. Oh my god.
It’s not easy and it’s not short. Unless you’re a mountain goat or some kind of uber fitness runner with bionic legs. Clambering over rocks, waterfalls and having to lower yourself down 10 foot drops is not easy. There were the usual people decked out in walking gear, backpacks and sticks who were probably equipped to scale the North Face of the Eiger, a second group of casually dressed tourists of all ages but in suitable footwear and then there was me.
This is the ‘easy’ path to Pulpit rock……..5 miles of it……
You have to climb over rocks at a steep angle – you think you are making progress and then you reach the rise and you descend farther than you have just climbed. This goes on and on and you can’t even see the point you are trying to get to which makes it hard to get bearings. After about an hours climbing, scrambling and descending I sat down at the side of the trail and stretched out my legs to try to dry them out from the sweat that had built up inside the bike trousers. Having a fixed and impermeable liner is not a great idea when physically active. With a forlorn look, I asked someone who was going the opposite direction how far the summit was. Their reply is burned into my brain to this day.’Oh, not far!’ I hauled myself to my feet, tied my laces up and ploughed on. I saw the steep rise ahead of me leading to a summit – it looked tough but there was also a sign so I imagined I must almost be there. The sign read ‘Pulpit rock, 3.8 miles’. If there is an afterlife, I hope Ms ‘Oh, not far!’ has a groundhog day of walking that trail for all eternity, in the snow, barefoot.
Water wasn’t a problem as I filled from the streams but I was getting hungry. Over a summit, only to see another summit ahead and then finally, it levelled out just at the point of complete desperation. My hamstrings were glad of the relatively level ground and it did feel like I was most of the way up a mountain.
Levelled out, stunning, iPhone
I had tunnel vision, focussing on every step, getting ever more hungry and sweaty. My legs were screaming and the breaks got more frequent to rest. Others who were walking at the same time as me were struggling also. They stopped and ate sandwiches and poured coffee out of flasks. Hot dogs, crisps, bars of chocolate, fruit – everyone seemed to be producing food and munching loudly. My stomach rumbled incessantly. I had nothing but the half litre plastic bottle.
Then a rope bridge around the side of a cliff edge where you have to hang on to loose ropes – not for the faint of heart and several petrified people hanging on for grim life. More climbs, more descents and over rock paths. Then, finally a long and arduous slope and then you see it….
Pulpit Rock, Easy, iPhone
With (literally) a last gasp of energy, I power walked up the slope and then collapsed at the top just 20 yards from the view. As did nearly everyone else who arrived there. One big mass of gasping, sweaty people all gazing off into the distance with that thousand yard stare that says ‘just give me a moment…’
With a big push, I got back to my feet, walked the last 20 yards and fell into a painting. I have never seen anything like it.Being perched on a piece of rock something like a half a mile up is amazing of course but the scenery is unique. Not only the scenic view but ‘how’ it looks. It is surreal in the true sense of the word – it looks like you are staring at a painting that some cosmic artist has spent a millennia creating. Other than a basic black and white conversion in the photo below, this is what it looks like. I don’t think a word truly exists to describe it and that is probably a good thing. It’s a hard hard walk to get there, it really is, but it’s absolutely worth every single sweat inducing, stomach rumbling, ankle bending step.
Surreal, canon 5d2, 16-35L
Northern edge of the rock, Canon 5d2, 16-35L
The journey down was less arduous. Even though I had to ascend and descend the various valleys, you are always (overall) heading down. Even the rain didn’t stop my progress. As I dropped back down and reached the half way point, I saw a couple who had started out with me at the bottom of the trail. Time was marching on and the weather was moving in. I smiled and told them it was still quite some time to go and maybe they needed to rethink. They too had been told it was an easy climb. I hope they turned around because by the time I got back to the bike, the rain was pelting down. I imagine the waterfalls and streams would soon overflow making the going treacherous and possibly dangerous
Shattered, Back at the Bike, iPhone, its not a double chin, its poor lighting
I found a supermarket on the way back to Stavanger. Two cans of tuna were eaten about 5 seconds after paying and with a dessert of sour haribo’s, my stomach finally stopped rumbling. A glorious ride and ferry journey back to the school – with good light and the sun breaking through and hamstrings that were relieved to be motionless, I took my time, still trying to process what I’d just seen. It still seems surreal to this day. What a place.
I pulled into the school, wandered into reception and picked up my key. I talked with MacBook guy who was, surprisingly, glued to his MacBook. I casually asked him about the best route to take to get to the ferry terminal for Bergen. He adjusted his MacBook and moved it back slightly, his fingers curled in anticipation of the google search to come. I took a step back, told him i was tired and I’d see him in the morning and walked out into the evening light. Never did get those directions.
View over the Lysefjord, with feet, Canon 5d2, 16-35L