In the summer of 2014, Rudi and I cycle in Norway. We ride from the southwestern oil city Stavanger to the old royal seat of Trondheim, going through forests, past fjords and over passes and plateaus. In two weeks’ time, we cover 1370 kilometers and climb 17,500 meters.
Day 1: Stavanger > Lauvik (38 km)
Fifteen years ago, Marieke and I crisscrossed through rainy Norway with two bikes mounted on the back of our Citroên ZX. In an attempt to escape from the rain, we descended to the beautiful Lysefjord. The road was so steep (almost 1,000 meters in almost ten kilometers) that an indicator light blinked on the dashboard: “replace brake pads”. When we drove back up again, we took a walk from the restaurant to the Kjeragbolten – looking at the picture of myself on this ‘floating boulder’ makes me nervous even after many years.
That was in 1999. In 2014, I wanted to return to Norway, but now for a real cycling vacation. I imagined a bike ride from Stavanger to Trondheim, starting with the impossibly steep climb from Lysebotn with many pitch-dark tunnels – one even with a hairpin bend… At the beginning of August Rudi and I meet at Schiphol Airport. Rudi still wonders why has let himself agree to this tour, as Norway is certainly not on his wish list…
The flight to the oil city of Stavanger goes well. When we leave the modest airport and want to check where to go next, Rudi finds out that he forgot to upload the track, which I had prepared so carefully, onto his Garmin Etrex GPS device. Luckily, we have an old-fashioned map with us. The  is a quiet road eastwards along lakes and sometimes a climb. In Sandness we end up in a real roller skiing championship. Just after the village of Lauvik we find a perfect spot for our tent behind the parking lot next to the ferry pier. For the first time we use my new petrol stove.
Day 2: Lauvik > Brokke (73 km)
At 9 am we get on the boat that will take us to Lysebotn in two and a half hours. Via the intercom we learn about the wonders of nature and the greatest works of the Norwegians in three languages. As soon as we enter the impressive fjord, covered with low clouds and rain, I get a déja vu-feeling: oh right, Norway = bad weather…. Yet the Kjeragbolten is clearly visible: a boulder that is wedged between two gigantic cliffs at the very top. In Lysebotn itself it’s pouring heavily so we decide to cook spaghetti under a roof before we continue. The ascent against the south wall with an elevation of 900 meters in nine kilometers is tough, but not as impossibly steep as in my memory. And there’s only one tunnel in it – illuminated and without a pin bend. Quite bizarre how my memory apparently (doesn’t) work…
While the steady climb from Lysebotn is not really tough, the road eastwards, with a lot of unnecessary climbs, turns out to be more difficult. We are therefore happy when we can have lunch in Ådneram at 4 pm. In a shop we see for the first time mackerel in tomato sauce in a squeeze tube: delicious and super handy for travelling. While we are eating, a young man from Estonia comes along. He arrived here yesterday by bike and takes a rest day because of the rain (really?). He constantly asks questions about our bikes. After he has asked ‘Can I ask you a last question’ for the fifth time and has even ridden a bit on Rudi’s bicycle, we flee further eastwards. The next first four kilometers of climbing are still quite strenuous, but after that it’s not that bad, even though in the descent it starts pouring down on us. After this afternoon’s 2,000 meters of climbing we put up our tent on the semi-flooded camping site of Brokke: we’re tired but satisfied.
Day 3: Brokke > Løyningvatn (122 km)
We throw 100 Kroner in the letterbox of the camping building (no one around) and descend further to the main valley, where we turn left onto the  in the direction of Valle. This valley is wide and lovely, and the road lacks steep climbs. In the winter sports resort of Hovden we buy groceries and continue our ride on the boring plateau. We see road cyclists every now and then, yet we hardly see any holiday cyclists here or later this holiday. The descent on fresh asphalt towards Haukeli is fantastic.
Down in the main valley we continue westwards on the [E134]. This transit route is not busy but people tend to drive fast. Most motorists –except those of some campers and buses– keep distance to us. In Haukelifjell we ask for water at a kind of shopping tent along the road, where they have Polish doughnuts and horse riding gear in their assortment. The woman behind the counter has no license to sell us beer so instead she donates a 0.5-liter can. Well, that’s friendly! A few kilometers further on we find a nice camping spot on the left side of the road next to a lake where I can wash myself. We have dinner in the setting sun.
Day 4: Løyningvatn > Utne (138 km)
When we get up it is still quite chilly (5° C), but as soon as the sun rises behind the hills, the temperature rises quickly. We cycle a few kilometers to a car tunnel where cyclists are not allowed to pass; the alternative old road above offers a beautiful view of the snowy mountains and the water of Stávatn. We’re not allowed to enter the second, more than five kilometers’ long Haukelitunnelen, so we climb over the pass (1,100 m). A bit further on the third tunnel is closed, so we cycle over the narrow and winding road over the hill together with the (freight) traffic. We descend through a valley that would not be out of place in the Alps.
In a supermarket in Røldal we meet this German holiday cyclist on his way to the North Cape. He really has too much stuff with him – as if he is going to travel through Siberia for two months. However, he has forgotten to take with him a wrench for the steering head and he is lucky to be able to borrow mine. He leaves for Skare at least half an hour earlier than we do, but during the climb we overtake him after only a few kilometers. I wonder how many holiday days he has…
On top of the pass along the Røldalstunnelen the landscape changes completely. It is very wonderful here. After a narrow passage we descend via a series of beautiful hairpin bends to the junction with the main road. After this, we continue on the wide road to Skare. From the exit to Odda there is a lot of traffic. We soon find out why: the giant twin waterfall Låtefossen attracts many tourists. It’s like a fair with all those buses, campers and caravans. So we get the hell out of here! From Odda we take the  on the left bank of the Sørfjorden. After 138 kilometers and climbing 1,500 meters we arrive at the beautiful campsite next to the fjord, west of Utne. We dine at 10 pm and eat salmon with baked potatoes and tomato salad. What a great day!
Day 5: Utne > Haugoastøl (108 km)
We start the day with the completely unnecessary climb and descent to Utne. At 9 we take the boat to the east bank of the Sørfjord. The road from Kinsarvik to the northeast is slightly sloping, although we have to ascent a little more at Indre Bu because of the connection road to the new Hardanger suspension bridge. From the picturesque Eidfjord we head south along the Eidfjordvatn. The alternative “old” road through narrow tunnels and right next to the water against perpendicular rock walls is quite spectacular. The climb to Måbø is also via the old road: a varied route through a rough gorge with steep walls. We ignore the sign stating that the road ahead is closed to cyclists because of rock avalanches – rightly so, as it turns out later. At the end of the gorge, we are shocked to see so many tourists taking pictures of the high waterfall Vøringsfossen.
We climb further to the east: first 6 to 8% in the direction of Maurset and then more gradually to about 1,250 m. On the green plateau the climbs don’t become steep. Only just before Haugastøl we descend again. This is the eastern starting point of the star attraction Rallarvegen. A few hundred rental bikes are ready for the trainloads of day-tourists who in summer “go on an adventure” on the gravel road along the high railway track between Geilo and Voss. In order to be ahead of the crowd tomorrow, we already start cycling a bit ahead. After five kilometers we find a nice camping spot.
Day 6: Haugoastøl > Aurland (90 km)
We weren’t the only ones who came up with the idea of camping here. Close to our spot is a red Hilleberg tent with two Norwegian ladies and their dog Gipsy from Trondheim. For the time being it’s not that busy; when we leave at a quarter past nine, only six cyclists have passed by. The Rallarvegen is so easy from this side that, before we know it, we reach the ugly village of Finse. We see many backpackers who quickly make selfies with the station and the mountains in the background before their train continues its journey. The landscape is beautiful, but not as impressive as I had imagined based on earlier travel reports. Halfway we drink coffee in a cozy mountain hut.
From the highest point of the route the environment becomes rougher, as does the road. There are long, steep stretches down over loose boulders. We have to be constantly careful not to get a flat tire. At a certain moment we cycle through a narrow gorge along fast-flowing water. After a boring stretch along a lake we have to pedal for a while before arriving in Myrdal. Here we see hordes of tourists making pictures of a waterfall. We descend a couple of hundred meters very steeply along this waterfall in a series of funny hairpin bends. Next we descend towards Flåm, where everything is aimed at entertaining the passengers of the cruise boat. Now that we are back at sea level, we realize how easy the east-west route was; when you cycle the Rallarvegen from Flåm to Finse you really have to be tough! From Flåm we continue to the campsite of Aurland. There we drink beer and get a bottle of wine from our friendly Dutch neighbors.
Day 7: Aurland > Borlaug (93 km)
Today we start with a big climb: the pass road towards Laerdal. Since the completion of the Laerdal Tunnel in 2000 –with almost 25 kilometers the longest car tunnel in the world– the pass road has lost its importance. An elevation of 1300 meters in 15.5 kilometers makes this climb more difficult than l’Alpe d’Huez. During the first eight kilometers we have a nice view on the Sognefjord. Then we go over a ridge to the east side. We reach the summit through some long hairpin bends. Well, the summit… it’s more like a plateau on which we constantly ascend and descend. On the second “summit” a van from Bergen unloads a dozen Ukrainian tourists. They descend on rental bikes to Laerdal. Descending without having climbed feels so unfair to me that I overtake them one by one until, a few kilometers further on, I am the first to reach the third and “real” summit (1,300 m).
Despite the many holes in the road, the descent to sea level is great. In Laerdal we do some shopping before going up again, this time gradually (500 meters in altitude in 40 kilometers), on the “historical” road to the east. On the way we see salmon jumping two meters up in a wildly swirling brook. After this we reach the famous stave church of Borgund. This wooden church was probably built between 1180 and 1250, and has fully retained its medieval character. From the outside, the church looks characteristic – it looks as if a gang of ferocious Vikings is about to storm out of it. The interior is simple, cramped and quite dark. We camp a few kilometers further on in Borlaug.
Day 8: Borlaug > Randsverk (109 km)
We continue our trip through a rather boring valley. At Tyinkkrysset we turn left and climb to Lake Tyin. From here the landscape is very wide. In the north we see the eternal snow of Jotunheimen, with mountains that reach an altitude of almost 2500 m. After about twenty kilometers on an unpaved but easy road we take the boat to Bygdin in Eidsbugarden. I was looking forward to this boat trip, but the monotonous view is disappointing. (In hindsight it would have been better to go via Øvre Årdal to Turtagrø, and then via the  along the west side of Jotunheimen to the northeast.) From Bygdin we climb over the rather busy  to the north. After the “summit” the views to the west are beautiful. What follows is a wide road through a quiet valley with many holiday homes. We pitch our tent in Randsverk.
Day 9: Randsverk > Nordberg (98 km)
During the first fifteen kilometers from Randsverk the cycling is quite strenuous. It’s only just before the connection with the  that we can descent into the wide valley. That  turns out to be an annoyingly busy road on which people drive fast. In Lom we order the largest and most expensive hamburger available at the gas station. We do our shopping and continue through the monotonous valley that is lacking any noteworthy views. After almost 100 kilometers we stop in Nordberg at a simple campsite with sanitary facilities in the ’70s style.
Day 10: Nordberg > Valldal (95 km)
We cycle further west. The tail wind is quite strong, so we quickly reach the highest point of the . Just before the Grasdaltunnelen we turn right onto the . It’s beautiful here: on the left there are rugged mountain walls with a retreating glacier on top. At Djupvasshytta the toll road to Dalsnibba starts: an elevation of 460 meters in just five kilometers. When I cycled up here fifteen years ago, it was still a gravel road – nowadays there is perfect tarmac. We’re in shape: even with luggage we can easily stay ahead of a cyclist without bags. On top of the summit (1,500 m) we enjoy a beautiful view of the Geirangerfjord and the mountains to the west and south.
The descent is spectacular – in the same category as the great Alpine passes. Soon we see two huge cruise boats in the fjord. A few kilometers before Geiranger the tourist industry starts, and in the town itself it’s really terrible. So we get the hell out of here! From the fjord we climb via eleven sharp hairpin bends to the north. Here the lovely, agricultural landscape forms a big contrast with the rugged Geirangerfjord where we just came from. In Eidsdal we bake fried eggs and bacon. We cross the Norddalfjord by ferry and cycle across all kinds of ugly caravan parks to Valldal. About twelve kilometers after the ferry we see a perfect campsite on our right at the end of the village.
Day 11: Valldal > Mittet (97 km)
The  towards the south side of the Trollstigen goes through a green valley with high mountains. It looks like Austria here. The climb from this side is easy with only in the last few kilometers short climbing bits of 6 to 8%. After the pass height (858 m) we descend a little further to the finish of the Trollstigen: the eleven hairpin bends cut into the steep wall underneath the Dronning (1,568 m), the Kong (1,593 m) and the Bispe (1,475 m). It looks impressive! The downside of this beauty is that it’s suddenly very crowded, with countless cars, campers and also the buses that bring cruise passengers from Åndalsnes to the viewpoint for a quick visit. Especially these buses cause traffic jams and ruin the descent for us and other cyclists. From Åndalsnes we cycle another 46 kilometers on a mostly flat road before we reach the campsite in Mittet.
Day 12: Mittet > Ålvund (117 km)
From the nice campsite we cycle along the Langfjorden to the east. The  suddenly goes inland at Vistdal. We climb about 500 meters (7 to 10%) and on the other side we descend just as quickly to the Eresfjorden. Unfortunately the allegedly beautiful route via Eikesdalen does not fit in our timetable. After having lunch in Eidsvag we take the  to the Sundalsfjorden. At Øksendalsøra there is a long tunnel. We take the alternative road along the coast, which is no longer maintained and of which the asphalt itself is well overgrown. We climb 250 meters to a transmitter mast and descend through the pouring rain to the sad industrial town of Sunndalsøra. Probably looking like a couple of clochards we eat under the roof of the local bank. After a few tunnels and a short climb we arrive in Ålvund, where we pitch our tent on a nice spot on the fjord.
Day 13: Ålvund > Viggja (117 km)
In Rykkjem we take the ferry to Kvanne. On the  there is little traffic and we hardly have to climb. Right in front of us is the area of Trollheimen: the “house of the trolls.” It’s rather disappointing that we don’t see any at all. From Surnadal the old road runs parallel to the , which is nowhere difficult to ride. After Rindal we turn left and go through a varied landscape on narrow roads in the direction of Hoston. Just like elsewhere the farmers here are busy with the hay; everywhere the characteristic white roles are lying in the meadows. We climb a few hundred meters and then descend to the Hostovatnet. At this lake we turn left and cycle along narrow tractor paths with climbs of up to 15% to the [E39]. From Orkanger we follow the low-traffic B-road to the campsite in Viggja.
Day 14: Viggja > Malvik (60 km)
We continue on the quiet road along the Orkdalsfjord. Despite the many villages there is no supermarket to be found anywhere. From Buvika it suddenly gets a lot busier and it starts to rain heavily. For cyclists like us, the road to the center of Trondheim is well signposted. Suddenly we come face to face with the Nidaros Cathedral. I count more than 120 images on its facade. It was The church was ready in 1152 and is considered to be the most important one in Norway. In the Middle Ages the Norwegian kings were crowned here. The city now attracts no less than 30,000 students, many of whom ride a bike.
On the east side of the center of Trondheim are nice streets with wooden houses painted in cheerful colors. Via the bridge over the Nidelva and the steep Brubakken, that actually has a bicycle lift, we go to the Kristiansten Fortress, which offers a beautiful view over the city centre. Back down again we eat hamburgers and beer. After that it’s time to look for a DIY store where they sell insulating foam, bubble wrap and tape for the bicycle transport to Schiphol (Amsterdam Airport). Unfortunately, they don’t sell bubble wrap, but we are lucky to find a few kilometers further on the road a large piece of insulating foam that we can use. We spend the night at the excellent campsite near Malvik.
Day 15: Malvik > Vaernes (16 km)
From the campsite it is only a short distance to the compact airport. At the check-in desk we are helped quickly and adequately. Prior to the holiday, KLM gave me conflicting instructions of the way to pack the bikes: in a box or in a bicycle cover? Once here, they don’t care at all. According to their administration system we don’t have to pay for the bikes, something which I of course won’t dispute. After two hours of waiting we fly back to the Netherlands. The bicycles arrive undamaged. With satisfaction we look back on a beautiful and unexpectedly sunny cycling trip through Southwestern Norway.