Before 2010, I've been to polar Norway twice - cycling in 2003 (ru) and in a family car trip in 2008 (ru). Although there are lots of other nice places around, this "end of the world" attracts me again and again. Now, I've got a "concept": the farthest north-east Norvegian peninsula, Varanger, is almost encircled by roads. Almost, that's the key word. Some 20km is real wilderness without any paths at all. Sounds like a goal: to close this loop in a mixed cycling-and-hiking event.
Bus to my starting point, Vadsø, starts from the Finnish Lapland capital Rovaniemi in the afternoon (Lapland bus schedule here BTW) connecting with a morning train from my home Helsinki. That means gettin up at some 4:30AM and riding 20 hours. I also had to disassemble and wrap my bicycle to be admitted to a "Pendolino" train on the night before the departure, which takes quite some time.
By 0:55 I'm finally at the destination, Tana Bru. The only thing I needed there was a bank machine to get some Norwegian cash. Fortunately, it was found just at the bus stop.
My intention is to camp by the roadside as soon as possible (it is light even at 1:00 now, but still riding during the daytime is much nicer by many reasons). Somehow there is no "promising" place along the road 890. I had to pedal about 8 km before laying down at some place of "mediocre quality" by far-North standards: there was no nice waterline nearby. But that did not matter after 20 hours of the road.
The weather is simply fantastic. Clear sky, about +15°C, and -- that's especially hard to believe -- tailwind.
So far the road is flat. I make a small fork to Høyholmen natural reserve - that's a gravel road along a thin spit. Nice table with benches serves as lunch place. Road signs at Austertana show some "Restaurant/camping", but I did not turn there to check. Gradually the path is raising up to the heights; not really high above the sea level, just some 200 m, but at this latitude, it means opening of the space and no trees any more.
We cycled this segment in 2003. I got full with nostalgic feelings.
Right after fork to Nordfjord, where I plan to go still today, I leave the panniers in bushes on the roadside and continue unloaded to Båtsfjord. The town has a number of sculptures, more than one department store, several fast food cafes which are open until 22, and a restaurant which I visited. This was the only time when I ate full meal indoors in this trip -- there were either no more eating places along the route, or they were already closed by the time I arrived.
It was a must to acquire about 330 meters of height to get to the foots of a radio mast (could be the tallest one in Norway). And it was worth it! Pictures do not deliver the feeling how huge that mast actually is. During the uphill - part of which required the lowest 22:32 gear - I watched the Hurtigruta ship entering the harbor.
Today's camping spot was found, or selected, on the road to Syltefjord, not far from its fork. I expected it to be a "very quiet gravel road"; gravel it was, but not quite quiet by polar standards. Cars were passing regularly, maybe once in 15 minutes. Mountain ridges around are lit with the night sun rays.
145 km, 8:07 riding time
The sun is almost frying! It's almost hot (so that even the jacket is not necessary and I'm riding in a long sleeve jersey). The day has been started with bathing in a tiny lake just next to the tent.
About a kilometer before Syltefjord, there is a "natural phenomenon" (I read about it at baatsfjord.info): the "Stone bridge". I have not understood from the writing, how it has developed. It's not hard to reach it leaving the bike at the road, although some jumping over rocks is needed. I managed to do it not changing the cycling shoes.
A very promising roadsign! Motor sledge trail to Hamningberg! That's just what I need! So, there is some path without mountain climbing at least. Well, there can be swamps (which is not an issue for motor sledge). Later, I did not find any traces of this trail or any other marks.
Syltefjord has as many as two cafes, both were open. One of them is advertized by nice-looking decorated signs "Stauran cafe and camping". That is a place "with an attitude"! All interior made with "natural materials" only - wood stumps, boughs, reindeer fleece; all walls covered with souvenirs, which, as I understood, the owner makes himself. Almost always the so-called "local souvenirs for tourists", normally made in China, are utterly stupid, dull and repulsing, at least to my taste. This place was a rare exception. I would have bought something, if only I had not need to carry it in the panniers along a way, about which I do not know anything yet.
The second cafe "at a tourist information" did not have that much "attitude", but a larger hall and wider selection of pastries.
...And now I have arrived to the key point of my route: river Syltefjordelva, which needs to be crossed. I did not figure out in advance, how big it is and what are the crossing options. But already when riding along, it became clear that this is nothing like Amazon. Now, at the river mouth, I took the decision that I will just ford it. To see all the options, I rode also to Hamna (Harbour) and looked at the opposite coast. At a distance, looks "walkable". It was probably possible to wait, or to search, for someone with a boat who will sail across, but this was likely even not needed.
Everything packed into dry bags, spare inner tube pumped and tied to the bike, and I have crossed the river mouth in two passes - first time carrying the panniers on the back, second with the bike on the shoulder. It was never deeper than until the hips, and by reason unclear to me not really cold. I even bathed in the river which just crossed.
Until Jonnejokka there is something which probably can be called a trail. I could easily roll the bike with the panniers on it. After its crossing (depth = up to knees) trail traces became less discernable and I had to switch the panniers into the backpack mode. I have a "single-volume", 80l capacity rear pannier(s) with real shoulder strips and belt. While carrying on the own back, that is of course not exactly as comfortable as carrying a backpack designed for it, but still quite possible. And, for weightweenies: 80l pack weights itself 1400g. That is less than two Ortlieb panniers which would take 50l and can not be carried separately from the bicycle in any way. "Mixed biking-hiking" would be impossible (or at least seriously more hard) without such pannier/backpack. Well, it is not waterproof.
I would have had quite a good heartbeat level while arrived to the Østerelva lagune, that is if I have had a meter. Large, dry (rarity in polar latitudes), open space with the river mouth in its eastern end. After crossing it, some uncertainty hit me: what if this is just Jonnejokka? In this case, I'm behind the schedule and must catch up. I did not have GPS map but just the receiver (in the phone) which showed degrees, and the paper map had degrees and minutes marked. After realizing that I can't convert one to another in the head, I understood without any further uncertainty that my roof is about to be gone and the only option is to settle the camp. Thanks to my past trips, I know where hiking in such mental condition can lead - fortunately, there have been no serious accidents, but a lot of situation where you do not understand afterwards, "was it really me went that much crazy to do THAT?". But after the heartbeat returned to normal, degrees were successfully converted, and it became crystal clear that this is really Østerelva and I'm in fact going ahead of my plan.
The camp is excellent. Sun would warm up the tent all the night. Tender breeze blows away mosquitos (not much of them anyway). From what I can see now, conquering the mountain slope will be relatively easy.
Bathed in the Barents Sea. Those who have been there know that this is not a routine event. Most of time it is dead cold, most of shore is large, sharp and slippery rocks. Fortunately, here, right at the river mouth, the water is already real seawater, but the shore is still almost a river shore - sandy. That's a real gift. Definitely, seawater means also sea temperature, i.e. "about dead cold".
Now, the romantics starts - or ends, depending on your attitude. Acquainting 400m of height walking with the bike was in fact easy in the beginning, I could roll the bike while the slope was green - covered with moss. The final "step" to the plateau required carrying. In fact I did not have too much of weight, if you do not think the ultralight standards - about 12kg bicycle and about 10kg backpack. But of course the bike on the shoulder is not as convenient to carry as the backpack load.
...And finally I arrive to the lakes on the saddle point. There is no actual mountain pass; it's rather just a flattening on the plateau. The water there can go either way. This is the top of the trip, in both literal and indirect sense.
Silence. Rare shriaks of polar gulls. The feeling is similar to that on the Polar Ural, except that now there are no mosquitos at all.
At first, I almost could ride the bike downhill. But that did not last long. I had to carry my iron horse about 5-6 kilometers over rocks. I defined three grades, which straightly correspond to the rock size. When the average rock diameter is about 5 cm, it is possible to ride the bike. From 5 to 10 cm I could roll it with the panniers on the rack. Between about 10 and 20 cm, one can try to roll the bike unloaded. Over some 20 cm, any rolling is imposible and the bike has to ride on me, not vice versa.
Sharp change of the landscape happens at the point where the power line delves into the valley Gunnargamdalen. Steep way down was the last carrying segment. In the valley I immediately find almost ridable path.
Syltevikmuan is the entry to the "inhabited world" - it's the start of the track road accessible to cars. "The loop" can be considered to be closed at this point. Since now, it will be cycling only.
Asphalted road to Hamningberg -- I have no other words than platitudes. Harsh, scarce. North.
Hamningberg is (now) a summer-only village with some dozen of houses. And a cafe, which is open one month a year. And no cellular coverage.
I camp in the western part of the peninsula. It's almost on a walking path, but there is no much other choice: just sharp rocks everywhere. It would have been even harder to find the place if my tent had been 10cm longer or wider.
Heavy rain in the morning. I thought I'd have to pack under the tent. But just when I finished breakfast, the rain ceased.
The weather has changed. It's cold, wet and windy - now this is what's considered normal for 70 degrees latitude. All the clothes I have been carrying gets utilized now - cap, gloves, membrane pants. What a happiness that I have solid, tall hiking boots - in a mesh cycling shoes riding would not have been possible.
Mountains are covered in the clouds. It turns out that I made the most challenging part of the path - bike-carrying over the plateaux - exactly before the weather change. This is a real luck. How much more difficult it would have been to climb there over wet and slippery rocks, under mountain wind, and not seeing anything ahead except own boots and the GPS screen. I have to thank the weather for being so friendly to me.
40 km to Vardø again fill me with impressions. 2 years ago we did not drive this way "there and back". And now I think that we did it right. One can never get such feeling of the nature, pressure of wet wind, visibility openings in the clouds, slightly different smell in the air from the mountains and from the see - out of the plastic foam car seat. I guess that visitors in the car would just think, "So, we spent an hour driving there, and then an hour back".
I did not turn to Vardø, although it would be interesting to add own comments about the tunnel leading there - at the moment of this writing, the database of Norwegian tunnels for cyclists has no information on it. I had time to go there, but I'd then need to keep en eye on the clock, which I did not want to do. So, I again did not visit the Pomor museum.
But I certainly turned again to the partisan museum in Kiberg. This place is definitely recommended for anyone with lightest interest in the history of the World War II.
In fact I expected a cafe by the museum - it is called "Little Moscow" (come there to know why such name). But that one was closed. I had to make some dinner almost immediately at the sea shore, as the energy was about to be over. After that, a very nice cafe was found in Komagvær. Well I guess any cafe would be very nice after long energetic riding in cold, fog and wind.
One more sightseeing appeared in Ekkerøy. I made a loop there to look at the village and to check out the museum and - you guess it - the cafe. It was too late for either to be open, but the memorial made me wonder about last century happenings in these faraway outskirts.
Approaching Vadsø, I climbed a bit upwards to gaze at a local airport. A plane has just arrived. All the building is smaller than some countryside railway station; despite that modest size, there is no free parking.
And voila, I'm at the Statoil gas station which is the departure point of the bus to Rovaniemi. Arrived just before 10, when it closes - got the last leftover hot dogs for half price (I did not even ask for the discount - did I look so hungry that the guy at the cashier felt that I need it? :) ) Too bad that after closing there is really nothing outside, not even a bench. I rode around Vadsø, familiarized with a number of outdoor points of interest (there are some). At the midnight, I was cycling over a "culture park" on a Vadsø peninsula, which presumably contains traces of the human activity starting from ancient times.
Back at the Statoil station, I have enough time to disassemble the bike again. Bus departs by 2:30, I occupy the last seat row and sleep in peace. 12:30 at Rovaniemi, train change in Oulu. 10 o'clock in the evening I'm back home.
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