Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Jo and Beamer get to Nordkapp

I am delighted to discover that Jo and her faithful bicycle Beamer made it to the North Cape, completing 10,000 kms or more on the road since leaving Munich at the start of the year. The weather seems to have been pretty much the same for her as it was for me!

She writes in an email today that she is now in Finland, and is setting out soon to cross the borders of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania on her way home...

New pictures on flickr, including Stamsund

You may have been wondering why the photo trail on flickr went cold just after I arrived at the North Cape. Well, the good news is that none of the pics taken on the trip were lost in the Great iPod Disaster, it has just taken me longer than usual to find a good solid Internet connection with enough bandwidth to upload them.

So today, I have uploaded and captioned the pictures taken with the Canon EOS 350 SLR including those from Stamsund, and you'll find them here:- - helpfully organised into separate sets for Norway and Sweden.

I've even tagged the Stamsund photos with "Stamsund" ... now if I had a bit longer I could put these into a separate collection, couldn't I?

In the meantime, I have 430 pics from the smaller Canon Ixus here to sort out, ouch!!

Monday, 28 July 2008

I'm in Avista for lunch

Despite a lot of rumbling thunder yesterday afternoon, I am now edging into the second week of lovely cycling here with blue skies, melting tarmac on the road, and gentle breezes - no rain yet.

Yes, I should splurge on a T-shirt or two... rather than wearing the Icebreaker wool top, although this is surprisingly comfortable to ride in in the 30° heat.

In fact I've settled on a routine of rising at 0400 and riding until breakfast time (0700), then stopping for a siesta in a wood (inside the tent to keep insects at bay), emerging at 1700 for a bit more riding. This has been working very well for me, I'm clocking up 100 km days by riding in the two cool periods and of course the already quiet roads are even emptier in the early mornings and late evenings.

The slight downside is that there's nowhere to take a shower, and I could do with carrying even more water than the five liters already distributed around the bike. However the ICA stores I tend to shop in often have a fresh fish counter, and staff are generous with their ice on request.

Incidentally, I'm impressed at the variety and freshness of the produce for sale here - even more choice than I'd find in equivalent shops in the UK. The Swedes obviously take their food shopping seriously!

The scenery is just beautiful here - the suggested route may have been penned by someone with an obsession for hiding out in the woods, since it doesn't seem to pass through any places large enough for a shop, but I can work around that by diverting to a large town after breakfast each day. The scale of the map I have is 1:500 000 for this region, which makes route finding hit and miss - I spent three hours on a gravel road winding through pine and birch forests and long lakes last night after leaving Sala, before groping my way back onto the tarmac road I should have been on, which ran mostly parallel to the alternative. I am glad to have the compass and a GPS with me; I envisage some serious back-tracking at times on the smaller gravel roads. Fortunately the terrain continues to be very gentle, and traffic has not been a problem at all.

Friday, 25 July 2008

An unexpected summerhouse

This is the summerhouse of Carl Linnaeus,the man who invented the taxonomy system we use for the plant and animal kingdoms. I discovered today that he was also something of an ecologist, perhaps the earliest one in print.

The serendipity of finding the house at Hammarby is due to the winding path taken by cycle route Sverigeleden 15, which has taken me on a winding ride from the corner of Sodermälm where the Zinkerdamm hostel lies, to Uppsala, where I am staying tonight. It should be said that the route has also taken me through numerous parks and underpasses, to the extent that at times I've almost decided to give it up for the faster road beside it, but it has come into its own, now that I am out of Stockholm.

The house is announced only by a brown "historic monument" sign on the road with the name Hammarby, and by the pantiled roof of the old building by a bend in the road.

He bought the small farm to avoid the summer outbreaks of malaria in Uppsala, where he held a seat at the University from 1738. He may also have purchased it to provide an income for his family in the event of his predeceasing them.

The museum is small, but it is a bit of a treat really - especially to stand at the doorway to the old man's bedroom and find its walls covered from floor to ceiling with beautifully printed flower illustrations from one of his most beloved sets of books. He strikes me as being a man who discovered his vocation early in life and had the rare satisfaction of being the foremost authority in his world on his favourite subject, botanising.

It has been hot today and yesterday - 30° for two days now. I could do with something other than thermal wool tops and Ronhill Tracksters to change into when I get off the bike in the evenings!

The countryside here reminds me a little of Hampshire - quite a few copses, large fields of wheat and barley, and lovely little roads only wide enough for one car. It is flatter though, and considerably less populated. Difficult to photograph; I think Kansas probably looks similar too... too vast to fit into the viewfinder on the camera.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Summer days in Stockholm...

... I was taking photos in the deserted old town district at 07:30 after waking up very early this morning. Worked out very well, because I was at the door for the extraordinary Vasa Museum an hour later, just as it opened, to beat the crowds. As it was I had it pretty much to myself for the first hour, and it is an unmissable experience - it is quite breathtaking to find a whole ship from 1628, 90% of it original, hanging in the dim lights in the huge hall. They have done an excellent job in presenting the artifacts and the ship itself, which is so heavily carved that the first thing I was reminded of was the Geiger spaceship created for the original Alien movie, the one that the doomed crew of the Nostromo board before John Hurt gets a squid attached to his face.

After a long look at scarily realistic reconstructions of the faces of various members of the crew who were trapped in the narrow hull when the newly-launched ship turned over and sank, I watched a very good film explaining how the ship was raised in the early 1960's and subsequently preserved. It is in a better state than our own HMS Victory at Portsmouth in the UK, and was even more gaudily painted when it was new.

Spent the afternoon at the equally good Skansen Museum, which houses a vast number of buildings moved to the site from all over Sweden in the last 200 years. There's enough for several trips, I couldn't have seen it all, but what surprised me most was that the commercial side of it was so restrained. I was expecting fast food stands and the greasy smell of burgers, instead I found staff teaching groups of visitors to do the Swedish equivalent of a Morris Dance. I loved the buildings most; each has a member of staff in the costume associated with the period of the dwelling, very helpfully explaining what the various artefacts on display were used for - they are very keen on people joining in and trying various things out too.

Tonight I have packed everything for an early ride towards Uppsala (sic) tomorrow morning on Swedish Cycle Route #15, which seems to head roughly towards Oslo and promised to give me a reasonable sample of what the countryside here has to offer. I am very excited by the prospect!

Tuesday, 22 July 2008


Few words from an airline stewardess are as worrying as these:

"Don't worry, just run when you get into the arrival hall and make sure you get your connection - we'll send your luggage on to your hotel! Just file a missing baggage complaint when you get into Stockholm...".

I only have a laptop and a camera with me. I don´t have a room booked. I don't have any maps or guides to the city, I was going to buy one in the Duty Free area of Oslo airport.

Anyway, I run, and I run a good long way all the way to Gate 48 on arrival in Oslo.

I reach the gate just as it is closing, I'm the last passenger on board.

And then a miracle occurs - the captain decides to delay departure until the missing bags from Bodø are safely on board, and my bike is rammed into the remaining slot under the wing.

So arrival in Stockholm was fine, and all my bags were reunited with me within a few minutes. I took the excellent Arlanda Express train into the main city railway terminus twenty minutes later, calling the Zinkensdamm Hostel on the way as a last resort because they come at the end of the listing, so may get fewer calls. It's a pleasant, very organised hostel with 450 beds and individual lockers for food inside the fridges. It's on the island called Södermalm, about twenty minutes or less by bike from all the sites.

But best of all, the city is a fantastic place on a bike! Separate cycle lanes with proper signs for routes and their own traffic lights, few cars, and an extraordinary number of waterways, gorgeous buildings, and tree-shaded squares to gawp at.

I'm loving it!

I bought a new SIM card for Sweden today, no connection yet via the Vodafone SIM card and the laptop, so pictures will surely follow in a day or two when I have found out who to roam with.

Monday, 21 July 2008

In the departure lounge again

Now I am beginning to remember why I said I would never do this flying business with SAS again. The check-in at Bodø went fairly smoothly despite them detecting 55 kilos of baggage when the limit is 20 and 8 in the hand, but unfortunately the 12:40 flight has been rescheduled for 14:30 because the original 'plane has a technical problem and a new one has to be flown up to Bodø to replace it. This cuts my transfer time in half - always notoriously difficult to switch to a different aircraft in Oslo because of the hassle of collecting bike and bags for a connecting flight. Nothing to do except cash the 100 Kr lunch voucher, and see how things pan out.

I need a clue about cycling from Stockholm airport towards the city too - ideas anyone?

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Stockholm tomorrow

It's a gorgeous 22° C here this afternoon, the sunshine is twinkling on the waves in the harbour, and a whale was spotted in the bay this morning. I must be nuts to leave, but I feel a strong pull towards roaming around Sweden and finding out how it is for cycling there rather than going over old routes again up here in the Lofoten Islands. I have reached the tipping point a bit more easily because the hostel is nearly empty but for the really long term residents like Marlene, who has found a permanent job in Leknes as a psychologist, and the heavy duty Polish fishermen.

I have just booked a flight tomorrow with SAS from Bodø to Stockholm, leaving at 12:40 - so I'm about to start shoving things back into bags in the otherwise empty dormitory (most of the others left this morning). I'll be taking the hurtigruten to Bodø later this evening for a night at the old standby, Bodøsjoen Camping.

Interestingly, SAS call you back after telling you that their lines are busy. Of course they can't confirm the bike on the plane immediately but I am pretty hopeful there won't be a problem. The flight was cheaper than I was expecting, maybe because I am taking it tomorrow rather than booking it several months in advance.

I should probably borrow a set of fishing scales from Roar too, to see if I can reduce the weight of my bags to the requisite 30 kilos...

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Summer evenings in Stamsund

I'm still at Stamsund because it is such a lovely place to stay - I plan to move on tomorrow or on Monday. Yesterday the southerly wind fell and the colder northerly breeze took its place, but it has a fantastic effect on the scenery ... the mountains fifty miles away are perfectly clear, and the very long evening sunshine (there's no sunset) made it look extraordinarily beautiful, with long shadows falling over the sharply folded mountains all around us. A light shower with the sun low in the sky made for a perfect rainbow in front of me, with an astonishingly pink veil of clouds behind.

Unfortunately I didn't get to capture this on my camera very well because my Norwegian teacher Margaretha rang for a chat just while the sun was going down behind the mountains behind us, bathing everything in golden light ... she's got her second set of visitors staying
until the 12th of August in Laukvik (where she has her summer cabin from June to September) and wants to know whether I can still come to visit her the following week. Naturally I'm keen to see more of the area around Stavern with a native who knows it well!

We've been fishing from small rowing boats, with a mackerel line and six lures each. Sometimes I'm successful, but I think I have been too close to the shore because most of the fish I catch are on the small side. The more experienced fishermen here bring back full sized cod by the boatload, easily as long as your forearm. I feel happiest to go out only when the water is perfectly still though, despite having two sets of oars, a mobile phone, and of course a life jacket. No fishing today, the breeze is a little too strong. Instead I've been taking some time to look at the possibility of a kayaking trip - the Odin Tour - near Arvika in Sweden next week, with help from Søren (whom I mistook for a Swede with perfect English until he told me otherwise) guided for them for a while and has piqued my curiosity on doing "the other half of the Ray Mears thing" for a week or two in early August.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Connection restored

Thanks to prompt action on Janet's part, the bootable USB stick was in the post box when Roar and I went up to the post office this afternoon. Ten minutes later, I am relieved to find everything looking much the same as it did before the file system got corrupted.

I'm hiding in the outbuilding that Roar calls "The Library" at the moment. Now I should probably put the laptop away. If he finds I've smuggled one into his island paradise, he'll probably slip it quietly into the sea while my back is turned, and that would be more difficult to recover from!

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Stamsund again

Apologies for the scarcity of news in July, I've found it a challenge to get to Blogger now that the school holidays have started and public libraries have closed until the next school term starts.

Briefly, I've had a succession of good days on the E6/E10 from Hammerfest down to Setermoen in the Bardu region - despite being the backbone of the Arctic Highway, the road usually has a good rideable shoulder and the traffic behaves sensibly with speed cameras on the sections that are straight and would otherwise be too fast for comfort.

Obviously I've been taking pictures too but haven't been able to upload them yet.

Yesterday the rain descended with a vengeance and the predictable tailwind vanished, so I hopped on a bus for the last section to Narvik, not really wanting to be riding in rain and spray on the busy section of road from Setermoen. On arrival in Narvik I had the option of taking the train I've been looking forward to catching to Abisko, because it left in fifteen minutes ... but in the end the lure of returning to Stamsund first was too strong, so I caught the connecting Lofoten Express bus in the downpour, and spent a very enjoyable evening at Roar's. I've got a bed in the dormitory over the kitchen in the main building so I may be settled here for several days... if not longer!

The picture comes from the hytte book at the Justad Vandreheim, of course, and there's a hilarious story attached, but I'll save that for later...

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Not a happy day scenario

Last night I connected both iPods to the laptop at the same time in order to back one up to the other. There seems to be a bug in the kernel for mounting two identical 80Gb iPods because the file system table got corrupted, wiping both iPods and the on-board memory of the laptop - so until I can somehow restore the system image from a memory stick after downloading it from the EEE forums, I am without a laptop, guidebook, music, or photos I've taken. Not to mention weather reports from, my emails, and of course mobile access to Blogger (I'm writing this from the public library in Hammerfest on a very slow connection). Not a happy day scenario - the only good news is that the majority of the photos are also on the memory cards, and as I write the photo shop up the road is burning the surviving 4 Gb onto CDs.

Anyone with access to a small Xandros distro with mobile networking (ppp) and Huwea USB mobile internet modem support is welcome to point me at their image :-) - in the meantime, posting is going to be a bit more limited for the time being.

Incidentally, I can strongly recommend the Arran Nordkapp guesthouse - the mostly Polish staff made a big fuss of me and kept bringing more and more free food for dinner last night. The rooms being refurbished are warm and very comfortable too. Full marks to them!

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Because it's there

... the rather solemn expression on my face was wiped out a moment later when the Danish family who'd offered to take my photograph whipped out a bottle of champagne to share with me, since they'd also achieved their ambition by driving to the North Cape.

Still, I could have done with a really strong ray of sunshine over my shoulder to light up the scene.

As it was most of the visitors spent a few minutes in the stiff breeze outside, and then retreated to their cars or the Visitor Center for coffee and waffles.

71° 10' 21" - Nordkapp

Without wishing to spoil the anticipation of the view from the cliff from the furthest Northerly point on the continent, here's the view of the toll station where people fork out 200kr (£20) per person to get inside the perimeter fence.

Happily for me, the fee was waived because I'd cycled there!

But as you can see, the weather wasn't great - about 4°C with a sea fog and a breeze - I could hardly write postcards inside the Visitor Hall, my hands were so numb. Very glad of my Helly Hansen fisherman's thermal top and rain jacket, because the ride here is a tough one - the road climbs most of the way to the Cape and there's not much distraction for the eye except for small herds of reindeer, and small stones from the road that have been arranged into names on the turf by other visitors. Still, the place does have a certain something - I think Buzz Aldrin's comment on his immediate reaction to the lunar surface applies - "Magnificent desolation".

As you can see from the photo I was lucky enough to drop off most of my bags at a small guest house in the fishing village of Kamøyvær on the way to the Nordkapp, about 28km from it in fact, so most of the ride was made simpler by not lugging all my gear up there. I think it is not a trip to be made lightly from Alta on a fully loaded touring bike.

Northbound again...

Monday 07 July, and I'm on the M/S Richard With heading for Honingsvåg so that I can see the North Cape in good weather.

I was out on the deck as the M/S Finnmarken crossed our path so that I could catch the tooth-rattling fanfare of mighty horn blasts from both ships on Janet's tinny Dictafone.

I've had two wonderful days exploring Tromsø and I'm hoping the present good weather will last until I've cycled the 70km or so from Honingsvåg up to the Cape and back again. No accommodation booked yet, but the ferry is due to dock at 11:15 which is at least during daylight, and as you can see the weather is still holding up. But by golly the shore looks bleak ... I don't know how I'd cope with bad weather on an exposed 100 km ride along here between settlements.

I spy with my little eye...

...I spy with my little eye, something beginning with T.

Did you guess it?

Yes, it's a traffic light. I can honestly say, hand on heart, that this is the first traffic light I've seen since leaving Trondheim, which was weeks ago.

Now I'm off to get my "I rode the escalator at Bryggen Shopping Center" badge! Whoopee!

The brewery

On a lighter note, here's the front entrance to the famous Mack brewery in Tromsø, the world's most northerly brewery. Is it just a coincidence that the British Consulate has its offices in the same building?

Fulll marks to Tromsø University Museum

The University Museum was open on Sunday and I found it very thought provoking and engaging - particularly the exhibition "Sapmi - Becoming a Nation" which you can explore a little, too, by following the link. The three rooms manage to tell a story very familiar to me from my time living in North Wales about cultural assimilation, the resurgence of national identity in the 1960's and '70's, and the tensions that this creates between peoples living in an area.

The reconstruction after the German "burnt earth" destruction of this area in the war was characterised by standardisation, new settlement building in the post-war style, and an even more pressing desire on the part of the mainstream cultural establishment to give this part of Norway a single national identity. Effectively, the end of a millennium or so of tradition for the Sami living here, who at the time felt ashamed of being regarded as a backward and overly conservative minority in this vast region.

Few of us realise that only 10% or so of the Sami were reindeer herders before the devastating cultural changes brought about by the war and the reconstruction period.

But of course it's not a story with a happy ending: the defacing of the road sign above is a small indicator of the depth of feeling here about the re-establishment of Sami identity in the period since the 1960's.

Tromsø is great!

I certainly want to come back to Tromsø again.

I called ahead to book a room at the Fjellheim Sommerhotel because I didn't know what kind of city I was coming into. The city is mostly on an island sandwiched in the middle of the strait between the mountains on the larger islands on either side, and I was somewhat hampered by not having any kind of map or guide with me.

It was also late when I got to the outskirts of the city - 10 pm or so - because I'd missed the earlier connecting ferry between Senja and Brensholmen on the 862 and had to wait for the 15:45 sailing.

As I mentioned previously, the stretch between Brensholmen and Tromsø isn't particularly long, but there are big hills to climb and the headwind made things hard for me.

I crossed a very tall and exposed bridge on the north side of the city (wind 10 m/s here) on a cycle lane away from the main traffic, and followed this cycle lane in a generally westerly direction around the island, passing the airport and then not much else - but I couldn't see how bicycles could use the busy road tunnels into the center. So after fifteen minutes of uncertain riding with the sea on my right and forests on my left, and pretty convinced that I was now completely wrong to follow the cycle route, I stopped to ask for directions at a hotel near the Tromsø Folk Museum, and discovered to my surprise that I was only two streets or so away from the hotel on Mellomsveien, which connects the museum district in the suburbs with the town center. So Tromsø turns out to mostly wooded on its west side, and much smaller than I was expecting, given that it is apparently the ninth largest urban conurbation in Norway.

A few minutes later I was enjoying a scalding hot shower and the luxury of having a big room with fresh white bathtowels and crisp cotton bed linen instead of the somewhat grimy sleeping bag and my rolled-up jacket for a pillow. The Fjellheim is mostly empty tonight and turns out to be a Lutheran bible school, but it's got huge rooms and is a nice quiet relaxing place to stay, even if the price is higher than I can afford in all conscience.

Sent a text message to Wilfed and Johanna before going to bed to tell them that I'd arrived in Tromsø - to my surprise they've arrived here this evening too, so we've arranged to meet tomorrow at the tourist info center in town to explore it together and maybe have a picnic in the park.

Hammerfest - Alta section

This is the 144 km route along the E6 from Hammerfest to Alta, with 5120hm of climbing. Hammerfest is a couple of stops southbound on the Hurtigrute from Honningsvåg but the southbound prices are cheaper and to be honest Finnmark is a bit too bleak for me to gush about it, even in July.

If you mouse over the route profile you should see the pointer on the map move to follow the point you've selected on the profile - assuming that the Bikemap site is working when you read this, and that your browser supports the iframe tag.You'll have to find the little pin on the map and click on it to see the route profile and other information on the route I've created on their website.

To me this looks like a better way to Alta than directly down the E6 from Nordkapp, which has more traffic, those long tunnels, and fewer settlements.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Tromsø, finally!

Friday night, 9pm, riding into a strong headwind but the road is about to run down off the plateau beside Kattfjordvatnet on the island of Kvaløya and down to sea level at Kvaløy - so Tromsø is in that sunlit gap with sea in it, in the middle of the frame, about 25 km away. Phew!

I hardly ever use the iPod, but it is proving invaluable when the headwind gets this strong, especially when the road is climbing...

More brake bodges...

The hills on Senja made big demands on the brakes from time to time...

The previous fix with a nut and bolt on the yoke wire finally started to pull out under the strain.

This is plan B, which involves tying a length of elastic shock cord to the arm with the weaker spring so that it is balanced better against its stronger counterpart on the other side - anything to stop the pad rubbing on the rim. The other end of the shock cord is looped around the quick release at the axle.

I suppose the better option would be to take the spring out and see whether I can bend it into better shape, but I don't want to do that while I'm miles from the nearest bike shop. None of the shops I have found stock cantilever brake kits - Norway converted to the ubiquitous V-brake fifteen years ago.

Senja - absolutely gorgeous

Now that the sun has come out, the island of Senja is transformed into one of my top five places to cycle on in Norway. There are some long climbs, because the road around the west side of the island follows the waterline as far as it can, but has to climb over the saddles between each peninsular from time to time, but the cycling is mostly easy and the scenery is outstanding. Saw my first pine marten too as it crossed the road in front of me. I'm sure I'll be back here.

This picture was taken in front of Tungeneset, where the mountains look just like the Pamirs.

If you are thinking of staying here it might be wise to bring your own tent if you are traveling alone though. A room at the holiday complex at Hamn is around 790kr a night with breakfast, and the kro at Meffjordvær were asking 600kr for a small single room on the top floor. The night after the beach camp saw me at Botnhamn Camping, which has three or four basic cabins for 450kr and free hot showers. I chose a cabin because I lazed about on the beach all morning and it was 11pm again by the time I rolled up to the campsite - it looked like there might be rain during the night and the breeze there made it decidedly chilly, but as things turned out the sun was out again an hour or two later.

Best beach camp yet

In the end I found a headland all to myself near the end of the road to Skaland quite late in the evening (about 10:40-ish), and pitched the tent a little way back from the beach on a thick and very comfortable patch of dry moss. Nobody around for miles, and just the song of a cuckoo nearby for company. There was a spring nearby too, so I felt I could have stayed there for days. This photo was taken at the end of my first night without rain in the tent, and it certainly seems that the cloud is now lifting from Senja - the prospect is for several days of sunshine to follow.

Evening meal, 01:40 AM


"Crikey!" as the late and sadly missed Steve Irwin would have said.

This troll is too big to wrestle with, that's a rowing boat under his arm!

He apparently weighs 125,000 kg and is 17.96 m high (while sitting down) - and he is in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's largest troll. Happily the family who look after him have a lovely little grotto where visitors can relax with a slice of apple pie and a cup of coffee. It is all very tastefully done, but I think that owner Leif Rubach is just a little fed up with people asking him how on earth he came up with the idea for building a troll as a tourist attraction.

If you are looking for something different to take your family to, here's the Senjatroll website.

Gryllefjord under cover

... cloud cover, that is.

I took this picture as the little ferry from Andenes was in the last few minutes of its journey to Gryllefjord.

It is pretty spooky, riding in total silence (bar the sound of the tires on the perfectly smooth tarmac). The first leg runs around the bay from the tiny settlement and up into the thick clouds at 170 meters. Very grey for an hour in thick fog as the road winds along before plunging back into technicolour at the exit from the long dark tunnel at Ersfjord, where the sun is briefly out.

I'm relieved to find that the tunnels on Senja are indeed lit on the inside, and well surfaced - checked this with three Polish cyclists just before deciding that I would go around the west side of this very beautiful island, rather than taking the shorter route.

I picked up an extra-bright head torch in the sports shop in Andenes, so I now have two headtorches to shine at the front of the bike.

There's no traffic at all here. I just need the cloud to lift, which I can see is slowly happening, and to find somewhere to sleep tonight, preferably not too far away.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Food miles

Can you spot the differences between the two bikes?

This was taken on Andøya when I stopped to chat with Reidar, the Norwegian end-to-ender I mentioned. He's riding a Thorn Raven Tour bike (the new edition of my bike), and his is propped up on a stand just like the one I had before I threw it away ... my frame was buckling at the mounting point for the stand, it couldn't take the weight when the bike was propped up.

Aha! That's a clue... Reidar is holding my bike while I take the picture, and clearly the difference lies in the massive front panniers I am carrying. Reidar expects to take five weeks to get to the bottom of Norway because he is fit, and is carrying just enough food to get to the next shop. And he looks the part too - proper lycra clothing, RayBan sunglasses and a good helmet. He wanted to know why I was carrying so much, wouldn't a couple of PowerBars be better?

I explained that my food has traveled many miles with me, and the potatoes are my friends now. I couldn't possible eat them. They are traveling in comfort along with the other goodies in the front bags that were cheaper in bulk and probably wouldn't be found again, like the kilo of dried milk powder (goes off when the silver packet is opened for the first time), and the month-sized packet of spaghetti.

But the good news is that all that weight really keeps the bike rolling on the flat roads around Andøya - in fact, once I get up to cruising speed cars seem to think twice before crossing my path. The weight certainly irons out the small hills, even if the rear drop-outs are starting to bend open under the strain.

Heavy planning session!

Just a quick update on where I am with plans for July.

I'm going to take a gamble on the weather staying fairly settled for the next fortnight or so with perhaps three or four days that are not much good for cycling. Certainly the last week has been excellent, a little cold still but much more sunshine and the wind has been the main factor in slowing me down - it is blowing at times at 10 m/sec from the north which makes progress a little difficult.

So my latest plan is to start from near the North Cape on a 692 kilometer ride southwards towards Narvik along the E6, turning towards Abisko National Park at Narvik (Abisko is about 85 km from Narvik, and of course it is inside Sweden, down the King's Road). I have some details for the Park with me which indicate that I can hire a rucksack and rubber boots (necessary items!) for walking on trails between huts inside the park.

The plan for this section of the route as far as Olderdalen (where I will have to decide whether I'm heading for Sweden or Tromsø) is saved on the website - have a look if you have a recent browser and a broadband connection - it's interactive!

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Ups ... and downs

I'm posting from the room behind the second window from the left on the first floor of the green painted building on the left of Andenes tourist information center.

Things can change rapidly with the weather here.

I woke up at 4 AM on Andenes campsite to the sound of rain lashing the flapping tent, so groped around for shoes and the peg bag before crawling out into the squall to rig the extra guy lines and peg them in well. Mosquitoes in abundance despite the rain - fortunately I still had the midge-proof headnet I was using at 1 AM in my jacket pocket, so got the job done without having to slap them as they landed.

The cloud are really low and the rain is heavy. The only remitting feature is that the temperature is a balmy 11°C so it isn't bitingly cold and wet, just cold and wet.

Still raining at 9 AM, and on into the morning.

Last night I met a couple of German cycletourists, Johanna and Wilfred, who are cycling up to Tromsø - Johanna left Munich in March and has been touring in England, Spain and France since. She seems to me to be badly in need of a break in her year off, particularly after racing up the coast of Norway from Spain, clocking up some 150km days in order to meet Wilfred for this leg of the tour on the date he was due to arrive in Bodø. She's also given her bike a tough time: one rear stay snapped (it's a new frame!) but fortunately she managed to get the bike shop in Bodø to braze it together again. The couple talked to me quite a bit last night after I undertook to back up and burn a CD of photos from Johanna's trip, and before they left the campsite for the ferry to Senja they serenaded me with Auld Lang Syne on Wilfred's mouth organ.

I couldn't summon up the enthusiasm for the next island on the Whale Route with the steady patter of rain on the tent, so sat inside on the folded Thermarest mattress in low spirits for a couple of hours, listening to the rain and willing a break in the clouds to appear. When it didn't by lunchtime, I resigned myself to packing a wet tent and damp things and was soon on my way into the town center.

But the good news is that Martin at the Tourist Info center in Andenes (think of Robbie Coltrane playing Hagrid) took pity on me and gave me a key to a room in the sjøhus next door for 220 kr, so I'm writing this in the kitchen after catching fuzzy black and white hints of the NRK1 television coverage of Venus Williams playing Tanasugarn at Wimbledon. It looks like the weather was fine and sunny for them. The sky is still cloud filled and grey here but the tent is starting to dry out, and I've got all my clothes in the washing machine here, so my mood has improved considerably. To make life even better, I decided to celebrate the first month away by buying a book to read, and to my amazement found "The Letter of Marque" by Patrick O'Brien (one of my favourite authors) in the only bookshop in Andenes - and it's in English!