The cycling group and guides meet in Bergen. This bustling university town is busy with returning students, tourists and even a few residents. Located on the sea, the town has numerous wooden structures and in the dark winters a building easily catches fire and it spreads. As a result Bergen has burned to the ground several times.
Around 1 PM we board a train to Voss. Our group consists of Matt, a young tech type who works for Intel in Austin, Glover, a hospital administrator from Cambridge, MA, Nancy and George from Salt Lake City, who appear to be rather expert cyclists and brought their own Richy bikes. George has completed two Iron Man competitions– including Hawaii, and he is now 68 years old. Everyone appears to be compatible and we laugh a lot. We are all fitted with bikes before we really ride out. Our three guides are Sandro and Joachim from Norway, and our friend from Ciclismo Classico, Massimo…with whom we rode in Sicily two years ago.
The next 6 days have an unbelievable mix of rain with intermittent sun. In Norway, rain is a given and sun is an afterthought. An old Norwegian adage states, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” We all look quite dazzling wearing shower caps over the bike helmets.
In Norway there are a number of ferry crossings that connect land areas across the fjords. Western Norway is a place where there is no single tourist attraction. Instead, everything is simply beautiful. Around each turn of the road the forests, mountains and small settlements seem so perfectly made and placed. The slower movement on the bike creates an appreciation for all this extraordinary land. The area is punctuated with waterfalls and we even pass a roaring river with high rapids. Some of the biking is on trafficked roads and through short, dark tunnels…not my favorite places.
Unlike the grey glacial water of Alaska, here the fjords have a transparent green due to the mineral content of the glacial melt. The mountains are so high that they play tag with the clouds. We visit the oldest church in Norway which has a carved wall that dates back to the 11th century, and contains symbols from the Viking era.
In the higher mountains, the weather is quite cold but the scenery continues to astound. The highest we go is 4200 feet and here we cycle past glaciers, high mountain tarns, and rock debris, all above tree line. The cycle down is through a glorious green valley topped by the craggy mountains. This was one of the longest downhills I’ve ever done.
Another curve filled descent brought us down to Geiranger Fjord where the cruise ships come in. It was strange to be in a small town with so many people. Some of the cruise ship people were so astonished to see cyclists they actually took photographs with us.
Occasionally, on a high mountain above the fjord, there are subsistence farms. People live and work here and send their children to school by boat. However, mostly the land is undisturbed. The jagged rocks on top meet the clouds and multiple water falls drop into each fjord.
About 250 miles of cycling and we end our trip in Ǻlesund. Like Bergen, this town burned to the ground and was completely rebuilt in a set of styles that include both the 19th and the 20th century. A final farewell dinner and we begin to focus on Croatia.
A little factoid to conclude: Norway is about the same size as Montana where the population is 1,000,000; Norway’s populaton is five times that amount and FIVE times as expensive.