Polarcirklen 66° 33°

August 2014

10 days - 1181km - 11,317m

This was a tour born out of a love for Scandinavian culture, and a friend’s idea to cycle the length of Norway’s E6. Originally planned for a finish in Nordkapp, time constraints led us to planning ten days of cycling from Oslo to the Arctic Circle Centre – a natural stop for all travellers, situated on the E6 road in the Saltfjellet mountains in the county of Nordland, and a suitable compromise for us. We flew from Manchester to Oslo and returned to Oslo by train from Mo I Rana, via Trondheim...

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With our late evening arrival into Oslo, day one was simply a case of unpacking our travel bike bags, saving our panniers from their ‘chinese laundry’ flight cases, building the bikes, and escaping the airport. Having updated to the newest version before setting off, my Garmin maps were still not up to date enough for Oslo’s evolving airport and we struggled out to find our way but, at first opportunity, we found a secluded, tree lined field and camped out beneath the runway flightpath; air traffic seemed to stop by 11pm…

We started our second day by navigating onto our loosely planned route and pedalling north; the scenery was already beautiful. We found a Joker convenience store and stocked up on food and water for the next couple of days – the Joker was far cheaper than the Statoil fuel station we visited the night before! The day ended just north of Elverum after 126km of riding. Our riding was structured around food/coffee stops every 40km, or whenever something pretty required further investigation. During the final leg of each day the search for sleeping grounds began, providing much discussion and comments of “the legs feel strong” or “there’s loads of light left”, often leading to the passing of many beautiful spots before settling for something mediocre (Norwegian mediocre was generally still incredibly beautiful) 20km up the road.

Day three was a simple one in terms of navigation. We followed the river Glomma and the E3 for the entire day through Rena and Koppang, finishing just north of Alvdal. We had seen a lot of cross country bikes passing us on cars, and in Rena we discovered why as a peloton of riders snaked parallel to us on a side road. I had a spoke break when pulling out of our lunchtime-lay-by: one of the few eventualities I wasn’t prepared for. The wheel stayed true with 35 remaining spokes, and Google was kind enough to suggest a few shops in Tynset where we could get it repaired. A food stop was made at an incredible truck stop at Hanestad, notable not for it’s food but for it’s sheer size and collection of americana, somehow placing an 80’s big rig on top of the forecourt’s canopy. Feeling especially lazy we stopped for dinner at a Jaf’s fast food restaurant and thoroughly enjoyed the most expensive kebab i’ll probably ever eat. At £17 it was almost as tasty as the free wifi which beamed across from the Taverna next door. Camp was set up at the edge of a truck stop. 159km ridden.

By our fourth day routine had begun to set in – waking up easier and packing away the camp in a more streamlined fashion, although the constant removal of slugs from groundsheets was a bugbear. First stop of the day was Tynset, with hope of repairing my back wheel. After two disappointments we came across an outdoor/hunting store who had a mechanic starting at 10am (only half an hour to wait!). Fifteen minutes later and we were on our way, leaving the main roads to head east to Brekken where the landscape quickly changed into lakes and forests as we followed the RV705. This was possibly the most beautiful road of the trip with views across into the mountains of Sweden, and became the benchmark for all future scenery.

We camped road-side at approximately 950m above sea level; temperatures dropped to freezing during the night. Awakened from a heavy sleep by a suspected campmate’s snoring, I was confronted by a dozen Caribou eating the moss around the tents beneath an extraordinarily starry sky. I watched before nodding back off – the toilet break waited till morning…

"the RV705...was possibly the most beautiful road of the trip with views across into the mountains of Sweden, and became the benchmark for all future scenery..."

The next day brought more of the beautiful RV705, undulating towards Trondheim and the ominously named suburb of Hell. We skimmed Trondheim’s eastern edge and, although the Sunday evening traffic was dense around the airport, there was a little hard shoulder reserved for us. We did get caught out by Sunday opening times though and were forced to shop at a fuel station again. Camp was made at Åsen by an E6 truck stop – as per the norm this benefitted from free of charge, spotless toilet facilities. 152km clocked for the day.

Continuing along the E6 we were stopped by the police who were concerned for our safety; apparently cycling is prohibited on the dual carriageway sections – our own fault – we probably wouldn’t have braved that road in the UK, but we were minutes away from joining the Innherredstruta cycle route which we could follow 55km to Steinkjer. This cycle route was well signed and guided us through scenic farm land and lakes via Levanger and Verdalsøra to the E6N cycle route, then back onto the E6. City traffic ceased quickly and the road north was peaceful. We made camp at the north end of lake Snåsavanet. 130km done.

Day seven was when the weather turned. After what was apparently one of the longest, driest summers on Norwegian record, we would now be rained on until the end of our Norwegian tour. We followed the E6 all day, pausing for breakfast (several pastries and a milkshake!) in Grong, a particularly hardy little town located at a fork in the river. The land was notably more rugged here: white water and rocky outcrops, fir trees sprouting from implausible crags and plumes of clouds rising from the forests off into the distance. We passed some log cabins near Namsskogan on the banks of the river Namsen and for 300NOK per hut we we able to warm and dry ourselves, and plug in for the night. The novelty of cooking on a hotplate opposed to travel stoves was not wasted on us. 105km ridden.

Having treated ourselves to a late morning rise in our cabins we travelled under the Northern Lights inspired arch which welcomes travellers to ‘Northern Norway’, then spent all of day 8 along the E6 until stopping at a huge Co-op supermarket in Mosjøen to re-stock. In the car park we got chatting to an age defying elderly lady and, after a brief history of Mosjøen and the surrounding mountains, we spent the night in another cabin on the edge of lake Luktvatn at Olsen, 575NOK this time. 147km cycled that day.

"The land was notably more rugged here: white water and rocky outcrops, fir trees sprouting from implausible crags and plumes of clouds rising from the forests off into the distance..."

Day 9 brought us the much anticipated Korgfjell Tunnel. Prior research had stated this was closed to cyclists but we saw no signs, including any for a tunnel-avoiding-detour, and there was a path along the inside bearing cycle tyre tracks in the dust so we went for it. A 10% descent the whole way and intermittent incursions to the path by signage made this quite an experience, improved only by the truck driver with the airhorn and a sense of humour we met in the middle. It was loud. An exhilarating contest of resisting speed but needing to pedal to keep warm, I’m not sure it’s an experience I would repeat…

Once through the industrious Mo I Rana we headed inside another significant tunnel and onwards, up a never ending climb (‘climb’ isn’t the appropriate word – a 3% gradient over 30km which brought the regular glance over the shoulder to confirm we were still ascending!) for the Arctic Circle Centre. Anxiousness grew as it seemed to be devoid of signs until we were 1km away (we sought google re-assurance way before then). The museum was closed, which we knew this during planning as our trip over-lapped their seasonal closure (the Arctic Circle Centre is open from 1 May to 15 September). Regardless, we had a nosey through the windows, posed for photos, and explored the field of cairn piles and made the appropriate international phone calls before heading back down. The weather closed in around us with intimidating speed, forcing a descent from the Circle into a forceful headwind and lashing rain. 154km.

After spending the night at Korkstrand Camping, we had a steady trip back to Mo I Rana (64km) opting to take the ‘old road’ around the outside of the Illhølliatunnelen tunnel, which proved to be a good choice. I’m not sure how long this road will still be there as it has been left by man for nature to reclaim: edges of the tarmac and the majority of crash barriers had made their descent down into the river valley below, while from the right huge boulders had fallen from above and trees were creeping down the rock face, their roots searching for new footholds through the tarmac. This loosened the whole road surface, which was quite sobering; we found we cycled this stretch rather quickly!

Having found ourselves in Mo I Rana a day earlier than planned, the train station master (a devout Liverpool fan) was kind enough to store our bikes away and let us spend a night in the station until our train back to Oslo the following day.

"A 10% descent..made this quite an experience, improved only by the truck driver with the airhorn and a sense of humour we met in the middle...The Korgfjell Tunnel...was an exhilarating contest of resisting speed but needing to pedal to keep warm..."

This was a thoroughly enjoyable, interesting and beautiful 10 day journey, however I couldn’t help feeling that my first cycle tour bore the burden of time constraints – perhaps our attachment to the E6 may have been to our detriment. The occasional foray into less humanised areas were without doubt the most satisfying of the journey, however our goal would not have been reached without the bloody-minded-northernly-path of the E6 road.

Daily I dream of what awaits in Norway’s northernmost reaches, or perhaps the west coast.

I can’t wait to return…

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