Trip Archives: Northern Europe

Three months of cycling in the north of Europe in the summer of 2009. I zigzagged from southern Sweden through Sweden and Norway to the North Cape, then briefly went to Russia and ended the trip in northern Finland. Total distance cycled: pretty much exactly 7000km.

Киркенес

I went to Kirkenes to find out whether it’s possible to get a visa for Russia. There’s a Russian consulate here, but I went to see the two local travel agencies to ease and speed up the process.

One of the agents told me quite daunting stories about the (lack of) freedom one enjoys when traveling in Russia. It would be necessary to stay at hotels as opposed to camping or staying at private places. And cycling in Russia – oh me goodness – that’s absolutely impossible. That contradicted some of the info I’d read previously, and the image the other agent painted was more friendly (not exactly great, though). Apparently it is still necessary to stay at hotels every now and then to have a track record of one’s journey, or to get such a (fake) record by other means. In any way, I applied for a 2-week-visa to go to Мурманск, the world’s biggest city north of the Arctic Circle.

Tried to find road maps of Western Russia or the Kola peninsula in the local bookshops, to no avail. Went to the library and the friendly librarian dug out a map of the region right next to the Norwegian/Finish border. It turned out to be Cold War material: a “Joint Operations Graphic (Ground)”, compiled by the U.S. Army Topographic Command in 1969 “from best available sources”. There were several white or whitish spots on the map where the sources weren’t all that good, apparently.

David and I were thinking about going to the Øvre Pasvik National Park while the consulate is processing the visa application. The park is said to have a lot of bears, and also hosts the point where the borders of Norway, Finland, and Russia meet. The idea is to cross into Finland with bikes, which may be difficult, and cycle back to Kirkenes to pick up my passport, hopefully containing the visa.

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Båtsfjord – Kirkenes

Boarded the M/S Trollfjord, one of their newest boats, around 1am. Paid about 780 Norwegian Crowns for the passage to Kirkenes, including a cabin and breakfast. That’s less than I paid for the hotel in Vardø AND it carried me across the Barents Sea for several hours!

Arrived in Kirkenes around 10am. Lots of Russian fishing trawlers in the harbour. The town seemed almost deserted, very few people out and about. Streets, hotels, and public buildings have their name written using Latin characters and underneath again using Cyrillic ones. E.g. library: библиотека. The Russian border is at most 12km away. Found a campsite a few kilometers outside town.

The French guy I’d met near Vadsø, David, is staying here, too, as well as yet another Swiss cyclist, Cyrill. We had a long chat over dinner and beyond, about our previous trips and experiences, as well as ideas for future tours and adventures. We’ve all done more than 4000km on our current journeys.

We also listed the most useless things we’re carrying around on the current trip. David is carrying a spatula, Cyrill’s got a second mobile and rubber boots (even though he thinks they might be useful at some point), and me, I’ve got two tents in my luggage as well as pills against sea sickness.

The weather was awesome today. Warm and sunny. Forecasts are not that good for the coming days, unfortunately.

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Vardø – Båtsfjord

Definitely found my limits on this trip. Getting up at 3am to catch a feery at 4am is one of them.

So I had breakfast at the hotel. I had only 2 main options now: stay another night in Vardø and attempt to catch the next boat to Kirkenes again at 4am, or take a boat to Båtsfjord or even Berlevåg and hop on the ferry bound for Kirkenes already in the late evening. I chose the latter option and boarded the M/S Nordstjernen, built in 1956 and one of the older Hurtigruten boats still in service, at 4pm, and arrived in Båtsfjord around 8pm. Had dinner on a bench near the harbour, and waited for the Kirkenes-bound boat.

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Ekkerøy – Vardø

Left around 8am and arrived in Vardø around noon. No campsite available and I’m gonna catch the Hurtigruten boat to Kirkenes tomorrow morning at 4am, so I checked into a hotel. Freaking expensive for what’s on offer, even after a discount, but I’m used to that by now.

After exactly 10 weeks of traveling and 5500km of cycling I’d arrived at the easternmost point of Norway as well as my trip.

Update: Murmasnk is even further to the east, but at that time I didn’t know I’d go there.

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Tana bru – Ekkerøy

The day promised to be beautiful, not a single clound in the sky, and a cooling and strong tail wind blowing.

Crossed the Tana and rode further to the east, towards Vadsø, the capital of the Finnmark fylke (county), along the northern shore of the Varangerfjord. Stopped at a museum showing Sámi art and which is built close to an ancient Sámi settlement and burial site.

Camping wasn’t possible in Vadsø, especially the island of Vadsøya, so I cycled on eastward. Right outside the town I met a frenchman pushing his bicycle. He had cycled here from France, approx. 6500km, and now had a flat tyre and flat spare tubes. He didn’t want any help as he was heading to Vadsø anyway to catch the Hurtigruten ship to Kirkenes in the morning.

After 90km I stopped on the peninsula of Ekkerøy and camped near a nature reserve.

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Ifjord – Tana bru

Rode east from Ifjord. Crossed the Ifjordfjellet, which was amazing. Watched Sámi people drive reindeers in the village of Skadjájávri. At the river Tana the road turned south, towards the town of Tana bru, which I reached after 91km of cycling.

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Mehamn – Ifjord

My – somewhat outdated – weather forecast didn’t predict any better weather for today than that of yesterday, and I decided to leave first thing in the morning and head south – home. The rain stopped and I packed my stuff and left at 5.30am. It was quite cold and a strong headwind blew. I fought with hills and wind, and after 4 hours I had only done 36km! Otherwise the weather turned out to be almost fine – the sun shone every now and then, the sky was blue, and there was almost no rain and no fog. I felt a bit betrayed by the weather gods. I made peace with it, though, and will come back to conquer Kinnarodden on another trip. Reached Ifjord after 105km.

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Mehamn

It started to rain during the night and didn’t stop pretty much all day. I wanted to do the hike to Kinnarodden, the truly northernmost point of mainland Europe, but not under these conditions. Stayed in the tent and continued reading T.C. Boyle’s ‘Riven Rock’.

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Skipsfjord – Kjøllefjord – Mehamn

I boarded the M/S Nordkapp, one of the Hurtigruten boats, in Honningsvåg in the afternoon, and it dropped me off in Kjøllefjord two hours later. From there I cycled the 43km to Mehamn through a cold evening. Both Kjøllefjord and Mehamn are at sea level, but the road crosses a fell so the ride involved a nice climb. The landscape is slightly less green than on Magerøya, the Nordkapp island; there is more scree here, and it’s less hilly on top of the plateau. The picture shows Kjøllefjord (the M/S Nordkapp had just left the fjord towards Mehamn).

Pitched my tent next to Mehamn’s small airport, right at the official start of the hiking track to Kinnarodden.

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On my Todd, again

Andrea, Philip, and Torsten left in the late afternoon to go sleep in the Hurtigruten waiting room. Their boat to Tromsø/Bergen leaves tomorrow around 6am from Honningsvåg. It was a fun time riding with them.

Temperatures are now well below 10°C during the day, and around 5°C at night.

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Nordkapp/North Cape & Knivskjellodden

Generally, the North Cape is considered the northernmost point of Europe. Unfortunately, that’s not quite correct. First it is not on the European mainland, but situated on the island of Magerøya, and second, a place called Knivskjellodden reaches about 1.5km further to the north and into the Barents Sea. The northernmost point of mainland Europe is Kinnarodden. More about that later.

We got up pretty late and left in the early afternoon. Like pretty much everywhere else in Norway, the road to the North Cape is in very good condition. There are quite some climbs, though. It was cold and foggy and we didn’t see much of the surrounding countryside. Lots of busses passed by, full of passengers of the Hurtigruten and other cruise ships.

We passed by the car park where the hiking track to Knivskjellodden starts. There was no further info on the track there and we continued to the North Cape for now.

All of a sudden a sign popped up in the fog saying the entry to the North Cape was 500m up ahead and the entrance fee would be 215 NOK/person (almost 25 Euros). Quite a steep price for a natural landmark. The gate itself wasn’t visible through the fog yet and we discussed whether we should try and sneak through the fog. However, the fog lifted and we tried to just ride through the gate – and got caught. So we had to pay a reduced fee (for cyclists) of 140 NOK. Even that fee is ridiculous for what’s on offer, however since we knew from the start that entry wouldn’t be free we accepted it.

We rested in the visitors’ hall and took some posing pictures at the globus, at 71°10″21’N, with and without bikes.

Later we rode back to the car park near the Knivskjellodden track. It took us 2h10m to the northernmost point of the Magerøya Island, the Knivskjellodden, at 71°11″21’N. We had a break there and signed the guestbook, then walked back. There were a lot of reindeer grazing; the track is well-trodden and quite muddy at times, however almost always there are some stones available to step on. One has a nice view at the North Cape from Knivskjellodden.

Today I reached the northernmost point of this journey after exactly 9 weeks of travelling and a little over 5000km of cycling.

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Honningsvåg

We took a day off due to pouring rain and postponed the visit to North Cape and Knivskjellodden. Instead, rode the 18km back to Honningsvåg to do some shopping and stayed in the warmth of the kitchen at the camp site. Not much to see in Honningsvåg.

Met three Italian cyclists, though, who’d cycled here from Milan via the Baltic States, Russia, and Finland.

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Olderfjord – Skipsfjord

It started to rain during the night and the wind got stronger and now blew coldly from the east. Neither wind nor rain stopped when we woke up. We decided to wait a bit and see whether there was any change. It was still pouring at 4pm and we left anyway. It was quite cold and we had only short breaks. I’ve never cycled so much with so little stops and food. To speed up the cycling, like yesterday, we kept pushing Andrea every now and then, especially downhill. We came to the tunnel that connects Norway mainland with the island of Magerøya. It has an impressive length of 7860m and goes down to 212m below sea level. After 101km of cycling we reached the campsite at Skipsfjord, 9km after Honningsvåg, at half past 11pm.

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Alta – Olderfjord

Andrea left in the morning to check with local bike shops about getting her bike fixed. Torsten and I went to town a little later, too, to stock up on food. Andrea had no luck with the bike shops. She decided to go on to the North Cape with the broken derailleur anyway, and we left in the afternoon.

Right after Alta we climbed up to a plateau and followed it for a few hours. Stopped in a small settlement with an unpronouncable name, Áisároaivi, and had dinner. At first we wanted to stop there for the night but later felt like going on, persuaded by the mosquitoes.

It was night by now but still quit lightish. The ride was awesome, across the fjell in twilight, with a light south-western tail wind, almost no other traffic, and the occasional reindeer. We finally reached Olderfjord near the junction of E6 and E69 after about 110km of cycling in the middle of the night. Put up the tents not far from the road and went to sleep pretty much immediately.

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Alteidet – Alta

We crossed into the Finnmark fylke (county) and had a brief stop at a car park a little later, where we met our Polish friends once more.

In the afternoon, we stopped in Talvik for lunch. Talked to a (different) Polish cyclist briefly who was going in the opposite direction.

When we left Talvik, Philip and I sprinted ahead up the first hill and saw the Polish couple, sprinted even more and almost caught up to them at the top of the next hill, but decided to wait for Andrea and Torsten first. And waited. And waited. Eventually, Torsten appeared alone. Andrea’s bike had broken down a kilometer back.

Didn’t look good at all. The derailleur was bent into the wheel and the frame was bent a little, too, where the derailleur attaches. There was no way to fix that properly. So Andrea decided to remove the derailleur altogether, shorten the chain, and cycle on with a single gear. Easier said than done, but an hour later the bike was ready to roll again.

Soon we started to push her a little to increase the average speed a bit. We made it to Alta, after 103km of riding, where Andrea hoped to find a bike shop that could fix the bike, at least to some degree.

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