June 14, 2016 by Rob Gardiner
After several days of spectacular, but exhausting off-road cycling, my first day alone was spent doing blissfully little. Camped just outside the quiet town of Otta, beside a wide river, I relished the time I spent prostrate on the grass, bathed in Scandinavian sunshine.
But, soon, normal service was resumed. The following day’s ride took me back up into the mountains, as I wound my way through narrowing river valleys towards the snowline. It was only as the afternoon turned to evening that I emerged onto a snowy, wind-sculpted plateau, dotted with fast-moving skiers.
It was odd to see people skiing right beside the road, making my bicycle seem exceptionally out of place all of a sudden. But the feeling was somewhat justified. I had pedalled my way up the Sognefjellsvegen – the highest mountain road in Northern Europe – and had passed through the heart of Jotunheim Mountains.
A snaking, hair-raising descent followed, as I once again left snow drifts behind, in exchange for steep-sided fjords. This exhilarating evening was the perfect end to a day of cycling that had covered more than 140 kilometres and involved over 2,000 metres of climbing.
The following day, I eschewed the lure of the mountains for the softer beauty of the fjords, exploring the tranquil shores of Lustrafjord. But soon this amiable meandering came to an end, as Norway’s enemy of cycle touring forced my hand: a succession of lengthy road tunnels meant an unavoidable bus journey.
Handily, it turned out that my intended destination, Hjelle, shared its name with a number of other towns. This threw a spanner in the works – in the shape of 45 additional kilometres.
That evening, I battled a stunning, but steeply winding fjord road, assaulted by a number of wet, blustery showers. Even under heavy clouds, soaked to the skin, it was still a spectacular ride.
The challenging riding continued the next day, as I left sea level for yet another high, snow-decorated pass. Once again, the threat of impassable snow drifts loomed ahead, as I passed a locked barrier and ignored a sign that clearly said “road closed”. However, instead of deep drifts, I was greeted by a clear road and an unspoilt wilderness that I had all to myself.
Loathe to leave this snowy solitude behind, it was only the thrill of another enormous descent that dragged me away. Soon, I was plummeting down into Geiranger Fjord, marvelling as a jagged emerald landscape encircled me, contrasting with the deep blue of the sea.
However, as the fjords became more impressive, the cycling became yet more challenging. Hairpins littered the mountain sides, as I wound my way up and over a succession of passes. These culminated with the Trollstigen, a twisting mountain road that clung, improbably, to a near vertical rock face.
As I raced down the Trollstigen, with my fingers frozen – immobile – to the brake levers by a cold northerly wind, I began to miss Otta’s warm sunshine. Fortunately, my schedule necessitated a short train journey south, so it was with a sense of relief that I returned to warmer climes.
But whilst the temperature changed, my routine did not. I was soon grinding my way up onto the scenic Peer Gynt Vegen, which snakes its way across a pine-dotted mountain plateau. In the distance, snow-capped peaks hinted of landscapes I had yet to explore.
However, it was all soon to be over. After a day following a succession of gravelled cycle paths, I quickly found myself within striking distance of Oslo Airport.
My final evening was spent drinking expensive, mediocre beer. But I did not care. I was acutely aware that – for once – everything had gone to plan. A cavalcade of breathtaking vistas racing through my mind, as I reflected on two weeks of near-perfect cycle touring. It had been Otta bliss.