As far north as we can go

We played a bit of planes, trains and automobiles to get to the far north of Norway. After our unplanned overnight stop in Oslo we flew to Tromsø, arriving in the late afternoon. We put our bikes back together in a corner of the airport. No real damage was sustained despite the witnessed rough handling by the luggage trolls at various airports. Just a few new scratches, a couple of things bent out of shape and a cut in my left brake hood. Par for the course. Amazing that airlines can charge you a premium for a piece of luggage, yet reserve the right to treat it without respect, and give you very little recourse in case your precious bicycle gets damaged. But if you have golf clubs, they still get loaded on free of charge. But I digress.

Tromsø harbour looking south.
Tromsø harbour looking south.

The main city of Tromsø is on an island between the mainland and Kvaløya, one of the larger islands off the coast. We got to the tourist info centre in downtown Tromsø just as it was closing but Jan managed to grab some local maps and brochures. We picked up some groceries as well before heading to the campsite in Tromsdalen, across the Troms Bridge, on the mainland. The campsite was expensive, 225 NOK ($40) and a bit of a mud pit. Otherwise, the facilities were nice. We didn’t feel like paying so much for the mud pit and decided to go further north the next day. Our friends Alba and Gérard, from Barcelona, are joining us on July 23 just south of Tromsø, so we figured it would be neat to cycle from Europe’s northern tip to where ever we end up in the south in a few months.

Polaria, a museum about all things arctic and arctic exploration.
Polaria, a museum about all things arctic and arctic exploration.
Looking north to Tromsdalen with the Arctic Cathedral on the right.
Looking north to Tromsdalen with the Arctic Cathedral on the right.

We boarded the Hurtigruten ferry in Tromsø’s harbour at 6.30 PM. This ferry service runs the length of Norway from Bergen in the south to Kirkeness in the north near the Norway-Finland-Russia border. Its fleet of ships sails every day. Our trip to Honningsvåg would take 16 hours. Kind of a mini cruise. We did not opt for a cabin – too expensive – as we figured we would find a place to sleep somewhere. The ferry cost 2318 NOK ($412). To plan your own cruise, here’s a link to the Hurtigruten: www.hurtigruten.no

Because the sun does not go below the horizon at this latitude until the end of July, our trip north gave us great views of the coast. The changing weather, sun and clouds often provided dramatic vistas. We stayed up on the observation deck until after midnight when we finally needed to find a place to sleep. We found a completely empty salon, obviously not in use on this sailing, at the aft section of the ship on deck D. We laid claim to a large wrap-around sofa and tried to get some sleep.

The coastline north of Tromsø.
The coastline north of Tromsø.
The southbound Hurtigruten ferry.
The southbound Hurtigruten ferry.
Light piercing the clouds.
Light piercing the clouds.
A faint rainbow.
A faint rainbow.
Sun illuminates a fiord near midnight along the northern Norwegian coast.
Sun illuminates a fiord near midnight along the northern Norwegian coast.

The following morning we sailed into Honningsvåg just before noon and docked beside the Queen Elizabeth cruise ship, making our great ship look like a toy. It had regurgitated its load of several thousand passengers into this northern outpost, most of whom had probably boarded buses to Nordkapp to see the midnight sun from Europe’s most northerly cape.

The Queen Elizabeth moored at HonningsvåŒg.
The Queen Elizabeth moored at HonningsvåŒg.
Jan cycling off the Hurtigruten in Honningsvåg.
Jan cycling off the Hurtigruten in Honningsvåg.

We also aimed for Nordkapp after buying some groceries. The wind was blasting at 35-40 kph so we decided to just go as far as the only campground nearby, 8 KM north of Honningsvåg. Luckily, there was a large kitchen and dining room at the disposal of campers as the wind and rain made conditions very unpleasant. We spent the entire evening inside, along with other campers, and met a nice family from Denmark, with whom we shared a table.

Our night in the tent was a tormented one as the wind threatened to send us flying. The only thing keeping us tethered to the planet were eight guy lines held in the ground by small metal pegs. The constant flapping of the fabric was loud and the blasts of wind inflating and deflating the tent every few seconds made for a very non-sleep friendly environment. But we were so tired from lack of sleep the night before on the Hurtigruten, we eventually succumbed and slept soundly. I did have to get up in the night to answer nature’s call and found a peg had been ripped from the ground and part of the tent was madly flapping in the breeze. I pounded it back in along with all the others threatening to let go, dove back into the tent and slept a few more hours. The wind died down after that and the morning greeted us clear and calm, perfect conditions for our run up to Nordkapp, 25 KM further north.

North to Nordkapp.
North to Nordkapp.

We arrived there after a two-hour ride along rolling arctic terrain with some fairly steep climbs and blistering descents. The entrance fee at this northern tourist trap was 245 NOK ($43) but to our pleasant surprise, the young man in the booth gave me a wide grin and thumbs up as I pedaled up and he said: “Cyclists are free. And you can camp over there behind the building.” We had not been sure if we would be able to camp. We had heard of people doing it, but by all accounts, it was not allowed as it is a National Park. So, a nice surprise.

Here we are at Nordkapp.
Here we are at Nordkapp.

Nordkapp is a kind of pilgrimage for many people, as are many extreme geographical points on our planet. The validity of Nordkapp being Europe’s most northern point is called into question all the time by the geographical purists. In fact the point of land directly to the west of Nordkapp is about 1.5 KM further north but there is only a trail going from the road to that low-lying beach and lacks the dramatic vista of the cape with its towering cliffs. You’d be hard-pressed charging people 40 bucks for that.

Then there is the debate about islands being included in marking the northern most point of Europe, because Nordkapp is on the island Magerøy. If indeed islands are to be included, then Svalbard would be the northern most point, or perhaps Fransz Joseph Land. What about Greenland? Isn’t that part of Europe? It is Danish territory. The actual northern-most point of mainland Europe is the cape at Nordkinn, near the town of Melhamn, about 50 KM due east of Nordkapp. I suppose Magerøy is technically not an island any longer since it was connected to the mainland with a tunnel in 1998. Anyway, let’s just go with the idea of Nordkapp being Europe’s most northern point of land.

A small tent camp of those of us crazy enough to camp at this inhospitable place.
A small tent camp of those of us crazy enough to camp at this inhospitable place.

It felt as if we had landed in some kind of commune where we all waited to participate in a ritual: to watch the sun above the horizon at midnight. Dozens of mobile homes and caravans were lined up in the parking lot with their noses pointed west. This remains a mystery to me as the sun would be somewhere on the northern horizon. Habit, I guess. After all, the sun sets in the west.

The commune of camper vans facing west.
The commune of camper vans facing west.
The tour buses lined up at Nordkapp.
The tour buses lined up at Nordkapp.

Around 10 pm, 15 tour buses arrived and disgorged their human cargo. Many of them (like us) walked, two by two like lemmings, towards the sculpted globe monument at the cape for the obligatory photograph. Unfortunately, this night was not a night to watch the midnight sun. The wind and clouds had slowly built up during the day and by evening the wind was what the Norwegian weather forecast calls a “fresh breeze” at 11 metres per second, or about 39 KM per hour. It doesn’t become a “strong breeze” until 12 metres per second. Personally, I find the one metre per second difference between the two a bit odd. I think at home a wind warning would be issued at those speeds. But here, “until the motorcycles get blown off the road, it’s not a strong wind,” according to Tedd, the owner of a campsite where we stayed a day later.

This was about as much sun as we got at Nordkapp that night.
This was about as much sun as we got at Nordkapp that night.
Us at midnight at Nordkapp. Yes, those are down jackets! No sun.
Here we are, midnight at Nordkapp. Yes, those are down jackets! No sun.

Nevertheless, everyone hung in there until after midnight. The sea fog even rolled in, temporarily obscuring any kind of view whatsoever. From the building, you could barely see the monument 100 metres away on the edge of the cape. Shortly after midnight, the hundreds of disappointed midnight sun worshippers filed back into their motor coaches, souvenirs in hand, joining the parade back south to Honningsvåg to their respective hotels, ferries or cruise ships. But we, along with the other campers and all the mobile home denizens stayed behind to experience a night of “fresh breeze” at Nordkapp. You better believe those caravans were a-rockin’. Not much sleep was had, again, due to the constant torturing of the tent by the wind.

Some reindeer in the bottom part of the photo in the big landscape near Nordkapp.
Some reindeer in the bottom part of the photo in the big landscape near Nordkapp.

The morning was sunny but the “fresh breeze” was still blasting away from the west. We had breakfast in the tent and packed the bikes to begin our journey south. The wind was mostly from the side those first few kilometres but as the road swung east a bit the wind pushed us along. It still took us two hours to get back to the campground outside Honningsvåg. Just then, the rain began so we fled for the warm and dry kitchen to have lunch with Mark, a cyclist from Poland whom we’d met at Nordkapp. He had cycled here from his home near the German border in southern Poland and was heading back through Finland and the Baltic states. When the rain subsided, we cycled back to Honningsvåg to go to the supermarket, and there we met Sven, a German cyclist on his own long tour of Europe. He was heading north.

Jan leans into the wind to keep her balance while riding south from Nordkapp.
Jan leans into the wind to keep her balance while riding south from Nordkapp.

Honningsvåg is on Magerøy, an island off the north coast that used to be serviced by a ferry but is now permanently connected to the mainland by a seven-kilometre-long tunnel. We had already gone through a 4.5-kilometre-long tunnel on our way to Magerøy’s south coast but that one is mostly level as it perforates the mountains. The Nordkapp Tunnel descends at 10 per cent over 3 kilometres to reach the bottom of the channel under more than 200 metres of water. It was quite the ride down at about 50 KM per hour and over in mere minutes.

It was cold and a bit foggy in the tunnel’s bottom and level for about 1 kilometre before climbing back up to the surface on the other side, a 3-kilometre climb. Very slow going. Thankfully, there was not much traffic. Every time a car approached the sound was as if a jet was coming along. Deafening. It was a relief to get back into the daylight where we just had to contend with the noise of the wind.

Jan exiting the 7-kilometre-long tunnel underneath Lafjorden. It connects Magerøy to the mainland of Norway.
Jan exiting the 7-kilometre-long tunnel underneath Lafjorden. It connects Magerøy to the mainland of Norway.

The wind remained “fresh” all day and, unfortunately for us, blew in the wrong direction. Occasionally, the road swung to give us a bit of a tail wind, but we mostly took it in the face. It turned into a very long and hard 86-kilometre day by the time we arrived in Repvåg at 8 PM, exhausted, cold and sore from battling the wind. We pitched our tent in the least windy spot we could find between the café and a Finnish motorhome and bolted for the showers. Standing under the hot spray slowly made everything okay again. I lingered in its warmth until the 10 Kronur ran out and I got blasted back to reality with a shot of cold water.

There was a tiny kitchen for campers – about 3 metres wide and 3 long – with a small counter and sink and a table with two chairs and a hotplate. We were the only ones using it. A good thing as any more people would have made it impossible to move around inside. Our dinner of mashed potatoes, spiced wieners and corn disappeared quickly, followed by another mug of tea with milk and honey, a cookie and a shot of whiskey before we straggled off to our nylon domicile for the night.

We spent a weather day in this tiny kitchen for two at the campsite in Repvåg.
We spent a weather day in this tiny kitchen for two at the campsite in Repvåg.

The morning was as bad, or worse, as the night before. Driving rain pelted the tent in waves as we awoke from our slumber but eventually one has to emerge from the cocoon to answer the bladder’s urgent demand. We moved back into the tiny kitchen where we lingered all morning watching the weather with faint and false hope for any sign of improvement so we could continue south to Olderfjord. Eventually, we asked the proprietor to look at a weather forecast, which he did for us on his mobile. The outlook for the day continued to be rather grim so we decided to stay. At that moment, two Swedish cyclists emerged who were heading north and their report confirmed that staying put was the right decision. They didn’t even bother with their tent and rented a cabin for the night while we remained in our little pink and purple kitchen sipping coffee and tea, slowly watching the day blow away in the “fresh breeze.”

A postscript of note: We finally finished the 4 lbs. bag of quinoa Jan has been carrying since Vancouver. We had it with a tomatoes, a red pepper and a can of tuna in a tikka masala sauce (from a packet). Yummmmm!

Lots more pictures on the Flickr page. Click on the link at the top of this page.

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5 thoughts on “As far north as we can go

  1. I’ve seen enough pics with Paul and Jan in down jackets. Get south!

    from Paul: we are, but it takes a while on the bicycle

  2. A “fresh breeze” and flapping tents causing lack of sleep seems to be a theme. Or is that just my imaginatation – quit your whining 🙂

  3. What you are doing is so hard but so great at the same time-mostly great though!
    Amazing photographs and writing-thanks for sharing it!

  4. AWESOME posts you two!!!
    I spent the last 90 mins going through the entire blog and LOVED it!!!
    Great videos, amazing photos and funny, enjoyable writing!
    Seems like the trip is going very well and I couldn’t be happier for you two 🙂
    I’m all caught up now and will be commenting, so watch for my posts Paulie!
    Love you two and miss you lots, but so glad to be able to “ride along” with you!
    xoxoxoxo
    –Rafe

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