We’d chosen to avoid the E6 motorway, and instead ride up the Fv17 route, which skirted the inland fjords before curving out to the coast and up to Bodø where we’d catch the ferry to Lofoten. But after following signs for the road out of a small town, we found ourselves riding uphill through a vehicle-only tunnel, and we were spat out onto an entirely new route altogether. Stopping at the side of the road to catch our breath, we consulted the map and tried to work out how to rejoin the Fv17. I was frustrated about the prospect of having to ride through the tunnel again. Road tunnels in Norway are both a blessing and a curse – low visibility, freezing temperatures, lorries and a cacophony of ventilation for kilometres – but surfacing once again to see the mountain you’d avoided scaling often made things easier. In this case, I convinced Tim that we should press on and try to rejoin the main route further down – it was one of those ‘on your head be it’, moments. After riding for about ten minutes, however, we realised that this little mistake had turned out to be better than we could have ever imagined. Norway’s beauty was outdoing itself. A recently paved road meandered around rocky peaks, connected to every island by delicate suspension bridges. As we wound our way along the road, walls of trees and rock opened out onto vast blue lakes where little yellow and red cottages held fort on grassy outcrops, with only a rowboat and pulley connecting them to the rest of the world.
The trees were so still, the water so placid and the mountains so towering. We stopped for a long break at the side of a fjord, sitting in silence while we took it all in. The water was so tranquil, we skimmed stones across it just to watch it ripple, listening to the echo of our voices bounce until they left the valley completely. This was the Kystriksveien, or coastal route, a hidden treasure we would have missed had we followed our predetermined plans and not gone off-piste after the tunnel. And to top it off, there were hardly any cars.
Every so often, the road would just end at the water and we’d find a queue of a few caravan holidaymakers jostling to read a ferry timetable, pinned on a wooden hut. The rhythm of touring when you’re at the mercy of a ferry timetable is a funny thing. We’d wake up bright and early with the intention of clocking a good distance before lunch, only to wait two or three hours at a port – an odd experience when you could sometimes see the next stretch of road rising out of the fjord just a few kilometers across the water. But one look at the map for an alternative way around will have you waiting obediently… With daylight on our side, however, this wasn’t such a bad thing. It gave us the chance to rest, eat, swim or even nap for a while when the sun was at its hottest, and when we picked up the road again on the other side, we’d cycle – re-energised – into the late evening.
Throughout the trip, there was always a feeling of being at the mercy of something: the ferries, the weather, the sun and even the supermarkets. In our first week, we rode around 120 km every day, but we couldn’t really have done much less, given the distances between towns and shops. Plus, everything shuts down on Sunday and closes around six on a normal day, so the freeze-dried meals we’d packed for backup really came in handy when we lost track of time. While food is pretty pricey up north – we once spent 35 kr (£3.50) on a cucumber – we were tipped off by another tourer that supermarket dumpsters were always full of fresh food. And then there was BACONOST a squeezy cheese complete with bacon chunks that became part of our daily intake. At points I’d find Tim just squeezing Baconost directly into his mouth.