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Seeking the Arctic in Norway

Monday, December 18, 2017   (4 Comments)
Posted by: Shirley Hardy-Rix #197037

Back in 2012 we were in Smithers, British Columbia, when we met Floridian rider Dave Hand. We rode to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, the top of North America, together. When the three of us were all going to be riding in Europe at the same time this summer it seemed the perfect opportunity to catch up and ride to the top of Europe together.

We met up for a small reunion with Jens and Katja Witte, two German BMW riders with whom we spent time with in Alaska back in 2012. From their home in Bogel the three of us hit the road, heading to Norway for another milestone on the road.

We rode from Germany's Rhine Valley to the Netherlands and spent a couple of days in and around Amsterdam. From there we moved on to Denmark and here we had to make a decision between taking the 10-mile-long bridge to Sweden or the ferry to Norway. The group decision went for the ferry so, we missed the massive bridge, but we also missed a fair amount of freeway riding, arriving in Norway in the heart of fjord country. We spent our first night in a cabin right on the edge of a fjord. It was a great start to our adventure.

We'd heard lots about the beauty of Norway, but nothing prepares you for the superb scenery and impressive roads. It doesn't matter if you are on a tiny back road or a major highway; around every corner there is a sight to take your breath away.

We are all surprised by the cold weather. Our first full day on the road starts with a lovely, sunny morning but there is a real chill in the air. The liners are in the riding pants and jackets. Dave has his heated riding vest cranked up high. The weather isn't so great. We ride through hail and rain but the scenery is amazing. Around every corner there is a wow! moment of snow, icy rivers and mountains.

We stop at a shop to check out a tourist map on the wall. We've been told about a viewpoint over a fjord in the area. A local asks if we are lost. “Well, not really," I say. "We're just trying to find something.”

He tells us to take Lysefjordveien, a small side road into the mountains, saying we won't be disappointed. He was so right. We find ourselves in a dream of snow, snow and more snow. The road has been carved out and is clear. The snow is up to 15 feet high on each side of the road and the sun is out. We are in motorcycle heaven. We ride back and forth, mucking around like school kids.

There is a very dark, gloomy cloud moving across the valley. The weather is closing in, so we head out of the mountains riding through a whiteout of cloud and fog all around us. We have to take our time. The ice warning light is on with the temperature down to 33 degrees Fahrenheit. It's cold, but it warms up to about 39 or 40 degrees in no time. The cold and snow is so much easier to deal with than the rain. You start to descend and the weather improves. When it's raining, it's just wet.

Getting around Norway isn't just about back roads, mountain passes and highways. There are also an incredible number of tunnels, the longest of which stretches 15 miles through a mountain. There are even tunnels with roundabouts where two tunnels meet. There are ferries that take you across majestic stretches of water like the Sognefjord, Norway's longest and deepest.

Every day we are on twisty mountain roads where the temperature plummets and the snow falls. Not great on a motorcycle, but we all have to admit we love it. Riding through the switchbacks and across mountain passes, the GPS indicates there is a lake alongside the road, but it's frozen now and covered in snow. The sights are just awe inspiring, especially for Aussies like us and Dave from Florida, where sun and sand are more the order of the day.

We keep heading north with Nordkapp and the Atlantic Highway as our main objectives. When Norway designs a tourist road they really put a lot of thought into it. This road with its sweeping wave over the Atlantic coast is just incredible. It's short, but what a piece of engineering. The weather is cold, but it's dry and the water is calm, so we really enjoy this stretch of the coast.

We can't shake the cold, wet weather. Even the locals complain about the absence of Norway's summer this year. On the day we cross the Arctic Circle it's snowing again, and the ice warning light is flashing – again.

The rain is forming into ice on my visor. When we get off the bikes, the rain turns to snow and there is a thick covering of snow all around. It's cold, but magnificent and quite an achievement for all of us. The Arctic Circle here is very different to Alaska. Life is here, along with farms, communities, cities – a far cry from the oil workers' camps in Alaska.

We are now in the land of the midnight sun. For the next few weeks the citizens who live up here will not see darkness. The locals admit to feeling a bit more energetic at this time of the year rather than the weeks of total darkness in the winter.

Everyone has advice about what to see on trips like this, and one thing they all agree on is not missing the Lofoten Islands. As we get closer to the islands we realise what all the fuss has been about. It is spectacular with small rocky islands in every bay and snow-capped mountains around us.

We head into Henningsvaer. The small road to the town is lovely and there are two one-lane bridges to get over to get to reach our hotel on the water. There are lights to control the traffic, but they aren't working over the weekend. It's all fine until we encounter a motorhome on the bridge – lucky we weren't a car or there would have been some backing up to do. On the edge of the bridge are massive drying racks filled with cod heads and bodies drying in the sea breeze. Probably just as well it isn't warm!

The day we make our run to Nordkapp the sun is shining and we all hope this will hold until we get to the end of the road. A local warns us that the winds can be so strong they can blow a caravan or motorhome over. We just can't imagine that happening on such a lovely day. Summer has arrived in northern Norway. At least that's what we thought, but the wind hits us while riding across the plateau and it's most unpleasant. We're all thinking about how bad it would be if it was raining as well.

The Nordkapp Tunnel is over four miles long and when we come out the other side the weather has deteriorated. It's raining and the wind is getting stronger all the time. We don't go far when there's another, much shorter tunnel. We pull up at a wayside point inside to put on our wets. Dave admits this is some really hard riding, and he used to race motorcycles. We're all struggling and there is an unspoken fear that we will be blown off the road.

We finally get to Skarsvag, the town closest to Nordkapp, where we are spending two nights, hoping for a break in the weather. I admit to the others that I've been pushed well past my comfort zone, but after a hot shower and in some dry clothes, things don't look quite so bad.

Friday, June 12 and the weather hasn't changed. It's raining, windy and cold. We are closer to the North Pole than we are to Oslo, the capital of Norway. Nordkapp is just under eight miles away. It's hard to believe, but riding that short distance the weather gets bleaker, colder and even windier.

We nearly get blown off the bikes waiting to pay our entrance fee at the ticket booth. We park the bikes beside a motorhome, using the bigger vehicle as a windbreak. There is a monument to mark the northernmost point of Europe. Walking out there is difficult with the high winds swirling up the cliff face from the water, which is 330 yards below us. Dave and Brian have to hold me down so I don't get blown off my feet. The wind literally takes your breath away. It is hard to hear each other speak over the roar of the wind, but we all know how we feel.

This is quite an achievement. We've made it to the top of Europe. We shouldn't underestimate what we have done, riding in biting wind, snow, hail and rain through snowfields, mountain passes and alongside fjords.

We have seen beauty that is hard to put into words and photos don't do justice. Most importantly, we've done it together. Brian, Dave and I have shared something incredibly special, bound together by the friendship and camaraderie of life on the road.

 

After leaving Dave Hand in Scandinavia, Brian Rix and Shirley Hardy-Rix headed into Russia and made their way through Central Asia with their next goal in sight – Vladivostok. You can read more about them on the Aussies Overland website or on Facebook.

Comments...

Mike Valentin says...
Posted Tuesday, December 26, 2017
Shirley, what a captivating experience to share with us! Thanks. Can you tell us what is the information on your helmet, "For Service Call:", what information is contained therein? Happy New Year, wherever your next travel takes you. Jubel!
Roger Vreeland says...
Posted Tuesday, December 26, 2017
Thanks 4 sharing your adventure with us. Just past Christmas + we're freaking out that we're getting a "real" winter. What we realize now+ there is a opportunity for real adventure. Thanks for reminding us of comeradre of the road + the wonderful adventures + people in the world. Thanks again! if I make the Chili Chili Run on New year's day...its partly because of you. Enjoy your time,+ live your dream. Cheers+ Thanks,!
Joel Foster says...
Posted Tuesday, December 19, 2017
Loved reading your story. When I was done I had to follow your route on google maps. Then had to look at all the pics on google street view. What a trip that must have been. Your truly living the dream. Cheers
Bryan Whitehead says...
Posted Monday, December 18, 2017
Beautifully written and the pictures are breathtaking. Thanks for sharing - I'm cold just reading it!

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