Destination Nordkapp – Day 1
We’re all guilty of a shameful lack of imagination at times. The trip of a lifetime beckons, the world is your lobster, and so you sink hours into staring at maps – inevitably planning the fastest way to get down through the dull flatlands of France to arrive at the foothills of the Alps. Famous Cols and passes stretching out before you like the playground of the riding gods. France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria – they’re littered with concentrated bursts of adrenaline, linked together like a string of time-trials. It’s a superb place to ride. But it’s not the only one.
Book a fly-ride to the States, New Zealand, Australia, or South Africa, and the landscapes will change your perception of scale forever, with skies that just seem bigger, and a conspicuous lack of humans to clutter the view. But they’re still a poor imitation of riding heaven, short bursts of stunning roads and breath-taking panoramas often disappointingly conjoined by motorways, dual carriageways, or miles of featureless tarmac.
But there is another way – somewhere where you can ride for 2000 miles in one direction without ever touching a motorway, seeing a traffic jam, discovering a poorly surfaced road, or fearing for your safety should you get lost or break down. Somewhere the vistas are so enormous, so dramatic, and so alien that you feel you’ve slipped into a CGI world created for a film backdrop. Somewhere where the daylight is as vibrant at midnight as it is at midday, and the sun never quite sets. And you need to go North to find it. The best riding on Earth is in Norway.
While you could stick a pin anywhere in a map of Norway and uncover a great road, we wanted to be a little more scientific, so embarked on an epic ride from Oslo to the most northern tip of mainland Europe, Nordkapp (the North Cape), clinging to the West coast all the way. Bring on eight days, 3355.3km, 40 fully-laden Honda Africa Twins, and a total disregard for sleeping.
Day 1: Oslo to Fosnavag 531.1km
As we snake out of Oslo in an orderly procession of 40 Africa Twins, the tension is palpable. Warnings of strictly enforced speed limits have made us jittery, and the outskirts of a major city seem a likely place to be ensnared. It occurs to me that I don’t even know what their speed cameras look like here.
But within minutes the landscape is already opening out, like an enormous unfurling 3D map, as Oslo recedes behind us. The views are already beautiful, and the instant familiarity of the Africa Twin means that there are no distractions vying for my attention. Fjords and forests pass in a patchwork of rise and fall on roads that seem to shun straight lines in a way the Romans would never understand. Then we’re climbing, scything through graceful curves into an increasingly vertical landscape – and the temperature is abandoning us. Oslo’s 19-degrees has slipped to 13, and there’s snow on the mountain peaks as we navigate the Beitostolen Pass to our lunch stop above lake Vinstre. It’s even colder here, and many rifle through hastily packed panniers in search of extra layers.
The landscape feels like a marriage of Scotland and Switzerland, but there’s an overwhelming sense that over each horizon there’s just more of the same – with no end in sight. With hot broth, coffee and chocolate pushing against our ribs we crack on. There’s 550km on the roadbook today.
Descending from the pass reveals another world. The vegetation changes to Pine forests and cyan lakes, the smell of freshly cut hay filling our nostrils, as warmth seeps back into our extremities. Then we’re climbing again, and the rain comes as the temperature plummets once more. Even I concede that summer race gloves look like a poor choice, and pull over to don winter ones and an oversuit. A wise move, as we immediately climb past a frozen lake and the rain becomes a full-frontal blizzard of crisp sticky snow, clarting us and the ATs with a comical arctic layer. The final climb to Geiranger Skywalk is abandoned as the visibility vanishes and the road becomes impassable. Instead we flea for Geiranger itself on an insane descent of dizzying switchbacks, colossal cruise ships resting in the fjord hundreds of feet below looking like children’s bath toys from up here.
The hairpin switchbacks are so severe that a coach in front of us rips its back-end off on a turn, luggage compartments flying open and suitcases spilling out. We edge round it, and keep plunging down, the smell of hot brake pads and roasting clutches emanating from RVs and trucks as they battle gravity.
At the bottom we elude the rain in a café, rewarding ourselves with hot coffee while we wait for our first of many ferries. An hour later we’re loaded and chugging down the fjord between vertical cliffs and innumerable waterfalls, old farms clinging perilously to any available perch between them. An hour later we dock with such a lurch that our unsecured bikes wobble perilously, mine – parked close to the ferry wall – leaves its sidestand and thumps the wall before returning to its sidestand.
Back on the road it’s a plunging rollercoaster through the mountains as the smell of the sea seeps into our nostrils. The coast arrives with a series of bridge-linked island hops and the trip meter reveals that we’re close to the end of day one. A last push and suddenly we’re in Fosnavag, 531.1km after leaving Oslo. Dinner passes in a blur of superlatives and assertions that it can’t get much better than this. Which proves to be very wrong indeed.