Expedition Norway Part 6: Rørvik to Bergen

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For the first time since leaving Kirkenes the wind was directly behind me, and I couldn’t have been more thankful. If I’d been paddling north I wouldn’t be moving. Leaving Rørvik, I pedalled beneath a high, majestic bridge, a guilty pleasure I revel in when travelling on water. I adore the anonymity of passing beneath a train of traffic, nobody up there having a clue what strange craft is down below.

The sea state was uncomfortable that day, waves crashing around but, crucially, into the back of my bike, propelling us forward. I sought refuge that night in a community roundhouse in a tiny village called Utvorda, delighting in the shelter that had been built by the local government years earlier for village concerts and summer drinking by the water. On that wet, dark night I was just grateful for cover.

The weather wasn’t much better the next day, fishermen rubbed their eyes in amazement as I bounced past on the waves, but that afternoon a series of passes from Hurtigruten ships began that would shape the culmination of the journey. First, in the fjord north of Bessaker, the MS Lofoten stalled to a halt, the passengers waved over the starboard side and crew opened a side hatch and lowered down a dry bag on a stick. “It is a gift from all of us,” shouted the house manager, “something to eat, something to drink and something to wear.”

I spent that night in Bessaker, in a room above the local shop that the manager, Torhild, led me straight to after my arrival, but not before offering me a choice of the breads that the next day would pass their sell-by date.

The next day, the MS Spitsbergen opened up their tender deck in the open water beyond Stokksund and again, with all the passengers up above waving flags and snapping photos, I was beckoned to approach. But this time I was invited on board, where a single table and chair had been set up on the tender deck. Tablecloth and ice bucket and all the dressings, and a medium-rare burger and a side of potatoes and salad served to my amazement. I must admit, it was quite awkward eating with the crew and passengers staring down, knowing that the ship was halting its schedule for me, but the kindness, execution of a bizarre idea and the audacity to support my trip this way sums up Hurtgiruten as company. They’re family. You simply wouldn’t get this service from a typical cruising company.

At Lesøysundet the owner of the local Brygge kindly offered me a room, and the next day I was delighted to reach my primary goal for this expedition, passing the 1000 mile mark and ticking off the 14th different non-motorised journey over 1000 miles of my life. It takes a lot of time, energy and support to reach that distance without a motor, and such has been the resolve needed to make this journey a success, I can safely say I’ve never been so grateful to reach the 1000 mile mark - for so long it had seemed an unbridgeable distance away. The Norwegian coast can be as brutal as it is beautiful.

Later that day I got another treat, my fiancé Emma and good friend Andy were waiting on shore having driven from England to support my last two weeks, and they’d be there for each of the remaining nights whatever the weather.

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Hurtigruten’s MS Richard With sent a tender boat out with a takeaway meal for me north of Kristiansund, a gesture to rival its fellow ships. A local journalist asked me to try a sweet Svele snack in a film for his Kristiansund-based paper, we were treated to a night in the dreamy Hotel Brosundet in Alesund, and then woke up to the local TV2 crew waiting in the lobby - the resulting segment going out on national TV and ensuring that everyone we met for the rest of the journey would know about the ‘crazy man on the waterbike.’

The weather treated us kindly as I rounded Stadt, a peninsula famed for its rough waters, and then, on the final straight south to Bergen, I passed the remaining Hurtigruten ports, Måløy and Florø, names that had justifiably felt a great distance away when I started this journey two months earlier in Kirkenes.

Originally, I’d imagined that this journey would take six weeks and as I left a small marina on the west side of Florø the ninth week of the trip began. I had less than a week to go before further commitments back home began, and the tail end of the hurricanes that had left a trail of destruction across the Atlantic were now feeding into weather patterns in the eastern Atlantic. The forecast didn’t look great for the coming days and I decided on a dash south from Florø into hopefully calmer waters. Two hours later I realised I’d made a mistake as winds gusted up above 35 knots and hungry waves removed bags from my bike’s pontoons.

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Thankfully I retired behind a sea wall on the island of Askrova. For an hour I’d battled conditions that threatened to finish me off and I promised myself that given the same situation again, I’d opt to stay on land. I’ve been travelling under my own steam for over a decade and the joy of youthful freedom has evolved into life where adventure is still important, but not as important as life with a loving fiancé. Typically, under the shelter of a roof kindly offered by a local, I spent two days weighing up the increasingly poor weather against the importance of finishing what I’d started, and eventually I opted to stay safe, to call the journey 80 miles north of Bergen.

Norway is a country famed for its wild beauty, but all too often that rugged country can be taken for granted. Mobile phones don’t work everywhere. Weather can change in an instant. As important as it is to experience wide open landscapes and push our boundaries, there is no point risking our lives for the sake of reaching a goal. I chose to take on this journey for the same reason behind the other 1000+ mile expeditions I’ve enjoyed so far - to be alive.

And so, with a little tickle of relief in my belly, it seemed fitting to cover those last miles between Askrova and Bergen with my best friends and the biggest supporters of this incredible journey down the Norwegian coast; Hurtigruten. Several weeks earlier the MS Polarys has arrived into Kirkenes with my Schiller Bike on board, and here we were, riding the ship south through raging winds and angry waters. Not one thing I saw from the decks made me want to be back out there on the water and although the journey had ended prematurely, the memories I’d gathered since leaving Kirkenes will stay with me for a lifetime.

“What’s next?” is always the question people ask the moment a journey finishes, and my answer for now, is to rest and then, when I’m ready to take on this journey one more time, to write a book. I pedalled 1243 miles in 9 weeks, camped on the most beautiful of remote beaches, met hundreds of strangers who I’m now glad to call friends and enjoyed one of the most memorable chapters of my life. Norway will always be a special place and this a special time, where it was normal to spend my days two miles offshore, only to come back to the mainland where the locals would take one, amused look at my bike and ask, “are you crazy?”

And my answer: “I’d be crazy not to do this.”

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Tentipi Zirkon 5 Light

During this summer's trip along Norway's coastline I chose to carry a Zirkon 5 Light tent by Tentipi Tents. It gave me loads of room to spread out clothes dampened by a long day on the water, and even without the inner tent it provided more than adequate shelter for those moments when I got sick of the gorgeous views outside (*this never happened). 

In full transparency, it was a fairly warm Summer/ Autumn in Norway so I barely used the Hekla firebox, but it's pretty cool to get a fire going inside and I'm looking forward to some cosy winter camping with this set-up in future.

For a full run down on the Zirkon range check out https://tentipi.com/en-gb/zirkon

Photo Blog: Fordypningsrommet - the Ocean Sanctuary

Expedition Norway Part 5: Bodø to Rørvik

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As the impressive blue tidal surges of the Saltstraumen swirled around our rib, I was ever so thankful that I wouldn’t be bringing my Schiller bike this far inland. Two hours earlier I’d made my way into Bodø and found the nearest low-lying pontoon to the Hurtigruten dock. Soon afterwards two ribs joined me on the pontoon, piloted by Andrea and Meike from Stella Polaris.

“We’re taking Hurtigruten passengers to the Saltstraumen whirlpools,” Meike said. “You should join us!” invited Andrea. And that was that, it would appear that timing is always impeccable when a water bike is the transport.

I set off from Bodø late in the afternoon and was hit by growing winds before I’d made it across Saltfjord. It was a relief to eventually find a beach and pitch my tipi, then gather some driftwood for a fire to dry my shoes and socks, which truly haven’t been dry for weeks.

The next morning the wind was still up to its tricks, gusting over 25 knots, which is just a little too much for comfort. My worst nightmare on this trip is to capsize and the only likely culprits are large waves and high winds. The other is bring struck by a boat or having a whale breach directly beneath me, the latter is the only one I don’t have control of - the other three I can actively avoid by making sensible decisions. And this day was one of those times, I buried my left shoulder into the wind and edged into the nearest marina, which just happened to be overlooked by a Spar with a cafe. What are the chances?!

For three hours I nursed a coffee overlooking the water at Sandhornøy as evil-looking blasts of air sped over the surface. The store manager, Sandra, had asked me to let her know when I was leaving so she could take a photo and unbeknownst to me she’d told her boyfriend I was here. “My name’s Håvard,” said a breathless man as he shuffled into the corner seat opposite me, “I heard you were here and I came running. I’ve got a place you have to see.”

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When Håvard showed me pictures of his ‘place’ I couldn’t resists, and decided to end the day on a mammoth 1.7 miles. Minutes later we were in a speedboat bouncing over the waves to an archipelago several miles off the coast, and I can honestly say the rest of the day and the location of that night’s sleep was immediately bumped towards the top of this journey’s highlights. Fordypningsrommet was something else, a creative and architectural masterpiece that I’m quite sure will be the dwelling of choice for artists and writers on this coast for years to come. The peace, views, sense of protection from the elements and unique, waving sensation when sleeping in an elevated hut based on Sami food stores - all of this took me to a different place and I resolved to return here to write my next book.

 

A day off the water always does wonders, and as sad as I was to leave Håvard, Sandra and their island base it always feels good to gain more ground. The 1000-mile mark on these journeys is my holy grail and I don’t get there by sitting around. I skipped from island camp to island camp, soaking up the Northern Lights on clear nights and occasionally popping into a marina or waterside town for supplies but spending the majority of my waking hours on the water travelling at 5kmph, inching south.

 

On the island of Dønna I arrived at the southern marina as dusk began to fell. “We can find you a bed,” said the first men I met, and I was driven up to a community-renovated house on top of the nearest hill. “Rest well,” waved Magne as he rushed off to see his family.

 

I felt blessed by the weather, all around isolated rain showers fell across fjords, everywhere but over me. Until a 150 metre-wide column of water started making its way in my direction and all of a sudden I was utterly drenched. But boy was it worth it, the resulting double rainbow diving beyond its pot of gold into the water at each end of the arch. Gorgeous. 

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As I made my way against the current into the long Bronnøysund harbour I saw a figure at a window of a waterside office building open his window and stare at me in disbelief. Then another window opened, then another and I waved at twenty faces and cameras, giggling that work at the local government building had just come to a shuddering stop.

Bit by bit I was ticking off the Hurtigruten ports as I moved south. Ornes, Nesna, Sandnessjøen, Bronnøysund and then, after one of those days when the rain hasn’t stopped and my skin was reconsidering its natural waterproofing, Schiller and I paddled into Rørvik and fell into a marina apartment, desperate for a long sleep.

Expedition Norway Part 4: Finnsnes to Bodø

Everything felt familiar getting back on the water after a week-long break, except for this time I was solo. Luckily, in the first of a string of kind offerings from the locals, a forklift driver from Nor Lines in Finnsnes lifted up my Schiller Bike and drove it the 500 metres to the small pontoon which had greeted us a few days earlier.

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Just two hours of pedalling later the winds picked up and I sought shelter in an inlet. I parked on a beach and walked to the nearest house, where I knocked and a lovely lady answered the door. I explained what I was doing, she asked if I was crazy (I’m pretty sure this is a customary situation in Norway, it happens overtime I talk to someone) and then after chatting to her husband pointed at a cabin on the waterfront and said, ‘you can sleep there.’

I spent the evening with Ruth and Vidar, and the cabin owners Astrid and Ernst, eating, drinking and hearing tales of history from this area. Outside a storm raged, and I couldn’t have been more thankful not to be camping!

The next evening, another 20 miles south and east, I responded to a Facebook invite to stay at a new fishing and activity ‘resort’ called the Jaeger Adventure camp, in Kastneshamn. Trond was waiting for me on the pontoon, a man shaped like a tree trunk with fingers so thick it was clear that he’d been working since the day he was born. Trond showed me to a cabin and then switched on the sauna before inviting me to join him for dinner. I started to wonder whether I’d ever need to use my tent and stove again.

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The next morning was calm and I made plenty of ground, a relief after two relatively short days. The Norwegian coastline is long and it doesn’t get travelled by sitting around talking about reindeer, but the conversations of my new friends rang around my head as I edged along fjords, beneath bridges and past salmon farms.

The next big challenge came in the form of the Tjeldesund, a narrow fjord separating the mainland from Hinnøya, the largest island on the Lofotens, which are a collection of islands streaming off to a point in a blaze of other-worldly beauty. The Lofotens are a pearl for the Norwegian tourist board but, mainly because I travel at 3 miles per hour and need to reach Bergen before Autumn sets in, I’ve decided to cut through on the inside of the island chain. 

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This decision brings both frustration and joy over the next two days. The Tjeldesund is famous for having extremely strong currents, sadly flowing northerly, in to my face. Their strength changes throughout the day and I’m lucky enough to be invited in for eggs and bacon by a group of families who stare open mouthed at my water bike as I arrive at their campsite’s beach. ‘You’re crazy,’ they all wonder, one by one.

The next day, after a night of rain, I find myself battling the current and high winds for four hours, making the distance I’d usually expect from one. I find another beach and this time a farmer walks down to meet me. ‘I saw you in the news,’ Martin tells me, ‘would you like to join us for dinner?’ His wife Martine and daughters Emilie and Sigrun are wonderful company, and in the five hours I spend with them a new calf is born in the neighbouring barn. Martin shares this good news as he pushes me off into calmer evening waters, ‘as it’s a bull and a redhead, we’re going to call it Dave.’

Compared to the morning’s conditions, this evening was sent from the Gods. The water was like glass and I practically sprinted past Lodingen and out of the southern mouth of the Tjeldsund, eventually finding an island in twilight and settling down on a beach as the Northern Lights danced above in a cloudless sky.

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A 15 mile crossing of the Vestfjord was rewarded with lunch and a coffee at Tronøy Fyr, a lighthouse-turned-hotel perched in a glorious position on the mainland, and then I plodded on happily, making my way past bays and headlands, sheer cliffs climbing towards the sky to my left, the shadowed mountains of the Lofotens slowly becoming smaller as the Vestfjord widened to my right.

The next day I stopped for a coffee at a fishing village, where Tommy and Katalin keep a series of waterside cabins and rentable boats in immaculate condition. ‘Would you like to stay for the night?’ they ask, but the day is too young and I decide to push on. Ten miles and two wind-blown fjord crossings later I edge towards Nordskot, a deliciously beautiful little village which boats high speed ferry access from Bodø, the big city around 50 miles further south. 

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My nemesis, the wind, hasn’t stopped fighting and I seek shelter in a small bay bordered by pontoons and adventurous looking boats. A young man in orange overalls comes down to meet me and after I explain what I’m doing and ask if I can pitch my tent he nods his head and says, ‘You’ve come to the right place, do you know where you are?’ 

It turns out that I’ve landed on Mannshausen, the home and now resort belonging to famous Norwegian polar explorer Børge Ousland. And the young man who invited me in, his son, Max. I spent two days on Mannshausen waiting for the winds to die, enjoying the company of a fantastic, multi-talented team of volunteers who have travelled the world to spend some time here. Meanwhile, guests enjoy the most stunning accommodation in futuristic glass-fronted waterside cabins.

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I’m sad to leave, but the endless islands of Steigen make for beautiful water time, and I only wish I could stop longer and camp on each sandy beach that I pass. The next day I reach Bodø and cross my halfway mark on this journey. 700 miles complete so far, the rest is downhill.

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Expedition Norway Part 3: Hammerfest to Finnsnes

The three days after leaving Hammerfest were among the toughest and most rewarding of the journey so far. I set off from the dock beside Hurtigruten’s idling MS Kong Harald, with a crowd of 40 waving me off. I can’t explain the feeling of gratefulness I have with such support, especially from enthusiastic strangers, and little did I know in a few days time that the Kong Harald would provide one of the moment’s of the trip.

Image by Andy Bartlett

Image by Andy Bartlett

I am largely alone on this journey, there’s arguably too much time to process information but I have friends to share it with, often in the form of puffins who gather in the centre of the biggest channels, sometimes in pairs and sometimes in groups of up to 100. It says so much about Finnmark that I’ve seen more puffins than humans since arriving in Norway, and their wonderfully confused paddling style sends them in zig zags as I approach, before they opt for their last resort: to dive out of site. They’re just lovely and dappy and make me giggle out loud.

I spent my first night out of Hammerfest some 35 miles west, making camp on a beach comprised of huge boulders. The tide was low, always the worst time to land, and it took over half an hour to haul my Schiller Bike towards the high tide mark, ensuring that the lapping water wouldn’t steal my steed as I slept. The effort aside, making camp in a remote spot is a glorious feeling. I am king here, just for a night, and my tipi is my castle. I pitch on the sand, using head-size boulders instead of pegs, then build a fire and clear part of the beach of driftwood, always leaving a little in case the next water biker comes along and needs some warmth. 

The next day I am in a fight with the wind. The Schiller Bike is stable - I’d take it over a kayak in open water - but the going is slow and tough. Endurance journeys are physical, of course, but it’s 90% a mental game. In the middle of a channel, sometimes 10 miles from the nearest land, I have nothing to gauge my speed with. It is a game of trust, just keep the wheels turning and eventually, however long it takes, you’ll get there.

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And there, of course, is unknown. I have never been here before, and it is that golden promise of uncertainty that drives me on. This was my hardest day on the water. Waves covering me each second, soaked to the bone, cold to shivering with just endless cycling to keep me going, but the ending was worth it. I reached a small village called Bergsfjord hidden down the bottom of a gorgeous, wave-filled fjord, and tucked into a pontoon, relishing the calm I hadn’t seen all day. A white van was up on the road waiting for a ferry, and I saw the driver incredulously taking photos as I approached. I’m used to this, a water bike is a rare species up here.

One hour later I find myself in the driver’s front room, which also happens to be a cafe in the village store, which he runs. A plate of veggies and wild salmon is kindly thrust into my hands, and then a beer. Oh my, this is amazing! Strangers are just friends waiting to happen, and Roar, my new friend, is one of those angels that so often appear in the midst of an adventure. There is something wonderful about travelling slow, moving with a story and a natural ice-breaker, and with the vulnerability you only have when you don’t have a place to stay. Humans are at their best in these situations, especially far away from cities, and Roar is the perfect example.

After food he walks me around his store picking out chocolate and energy bars from the shelves, with each one looking at me with a grin and the words, ‘Will this take you further?” So, so kind.

I spend the night in the village ferry terminal, a habit that I believe is now going to be become regular on this trip. ‘Of course you can sleep there!’ everyone says, as though I’m crazy for even asking. Imagine that kind of open doors policy in the UK?!

The next morning I’m joined by a pod of 12 small whales, who breach alongside for half an hour before going on their merry way. I love being so high up out of the water, with the extra views this affords. A special time indeed, to be graced with presence of the locals. 

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Three nights and 100 miles later I pitch camp on an island after another day of headwinds and views that will never stop astounding. Today is special. As Arctic Terns territorially dive-bomb as I scoop away sheep poop before pitching the tipi, I keep an eye on the horizon. It’s rare that anyone actually travels alongside me on a trip like this, but on this occasion my friends Andy and Chris have made the journey to Norway, and after flying into Tromsø they’ve paddled (one in a kayak) and pedalled (the other on a second Schiller Bike) 15 miles north to meet me in this gorgeous spot.

I’m glad to see them and grateful that now the Arctic Terns have some other targets, and we catch up around a camp fire as the biggest moon I’ve ever seen rises to the North, above fjords and mountains.

Three and a half weeks earlier I’d flown into Tromsø then jumped aboard Hurtigruten’s MS Finnmarken for an enjoyable 34 hour journey north and east to Kirkenes. It has taken me all of three weeks to make the return journey, and passing beneath Tromsø’s bridge was a milestone to be celebrated.  It feels wonderful to have completed that section, one third of the journey to Bergen, over 450 miles under the bows.

Two TV channels and the local paper shared our story the next day, which ensured the waves we received once back on the water were of recognition, not amusement! “Oh, you’re THAT guy!” said Ulrik, a 74 year-old resident of Vikran, a few miles south of Tromsø. We’d pedalled into a marina where he keeps his boat, and before we knew it he’d opened up the clubhouse and invited us to stay. 

Andy and Chris joined me for the last three days before I took a week off the water to heal some blistered feet, and a few miles north of Finnsnes, on a beautiful flat calm day with winds to our tail and sun blazing down, the MS Kong Harald came into sight. This time though we met mid fjord, and the Kong Harald came to a stop, right there. Hundreds of passengers were out on deck, waving flags and cheering down to us. The whole ship was visibly leaning to the right and we couldn’t believe it! The captain and staff up on deck waved down, saluted and took photos, and behind me Andy was wiping his eyes with emotion. Well, that set me off, and there we were, tears dripping down our cheeks at the kindness of all these people, making us feel like part of the Hurtigruten fleet despite our minimal size. 

Expedition Norway Part 2: Kongsfjord to Hammerfest

As week one breaks into week two, I’m feeling at home now. My days are relatively simple. I wake in a tipi, eat breakfast, pack up, load my Schiller Bike and push off into waters unknown. There’s a power to feeling home in the unknown, not knowing where I’ll be laying my head tonight or what surprises will appear before I next reach land, or indeed, when that landing arrives.

Image by Yellow Matilda

Image by Yellow Matilda

Every day the scenery changes, as though the same coastline is rotating away from me, ever so slowly. 

After a day’s rest at the gorgeous Kongsfjord Guesthouse, a small group of local residents and guests joined Adam, Laura and Angus - my team, to wave me off. This was to be my hardest day at sea. Just a few hundred metres off the beach, after a lone seal had popped up to say ‘hi’, the swells began to do exactly why they’re named. At times the horizon was lost as I dipped and rose between peaks, all the while measuring my progress in a highly inaccurate way, by mentally checking a point on the shore - a tunnel, a rock, a valley - and ensuring that it was coming closer and then slipping into the distance behind me. 

Image by Yellow Matilda

Image by Yellow Matilda

I travel slowly, especially with head wind and waves, and the average moving speed is around 3.5 mph. These endurance journeys are always as much a mental battle as a physical one, you only move if you want to. Luckily, that’s what I’m here for. After sixteen miles, two light houses, several hundred waves that would have dwarfed the guesthouse I stayed in last night, and the gradual reeling in of the fishing town of Berlevåg, I made it to the next marina, shattered.

The local online newspaper had written a piece about this journey and included the online tracking map, which blips up my position every 30 minutes or so. In the hour or so after my arrival into Berlevåg harbour at least ten people had driven, walked or cycled to eye up the Schiller Bike. It feels great to be part of a story that inspires people, and after a six hour wait for the winds to lower a group of five local teenagers still waited on the pontoon to see me off. A couple of them hopped on the Schiller Bike for a twenty metre taster ride, before my next ten miles began. As I pedalled off they waved, toothy grins wide and happy.

Image by Yellow Matilda

Image by Yellow Matilda

Outside of the harbour two Hurtigruten ships greeted each other with their regular waving competition, music blaring and crowds a cheering, the passengers all feeling part of a larger family that extended all the way out to an unseen water bike a couple of miles west.

After a while these days seem to blend into each other, but if I focus hard on the memories that have piled up in just a couple of weeks each day is noticeably unique. From ten mile crossings to hopping across a 200 metre stretch of land between fjords in homage to the path of decades of fishermen avoiding the ruthless open waters north of Nordkinn, then past salmon fisheries and across the foggy crossing to Honningsvåg, a 25 metre minke whale stalking me harmlessly from a short distance, huffing and puffing with each breach.

A generous crowd pointed me towards their ferry waiting room, saying ‘you must sleep there’ as I arrived late onto the island of Måsøy, and fishermen and leisure cruisers waved and drove close with their smartphones at the ready, wondering at this strange British creature who had chosen to travel this wide open coast in the most odd way. 

I must admit though, slowly I’m beginning to love the wonder of all these strangers, many of whom become temporary friends. I arrived into Hammerfest to the incredulity of a local reporter who still didn’t believe I was pedalling the coast, even though my Schiller Bike was before here eyes and my tracking map now showed a distance of 304.8 miles.

Slowly, bit by bit, this country is becoming part of me. And there’s a whole lot more to come.

Expedition Norway Part 1: Kirkenes to Kongsfjord

Image by Yellow Matilda

Image by Yellow Matilda

One hundred people stood on the front deck as Hurtigruten’s MS Finnmarken approached Kirkenes on the morning of 21st July. I was one of them scanning the horizon as the final islands passed by, but I supposed I’d be the only one leaving our new destination under my own steam. And, I was pretty confident, there definitely wouldn’t be anyone else leaving on a waterbike.

For over a decade I’ve been led by a quest called Expedition1000, a project to undertake twenty-five different journeys over 1000 miles in distance, each using a different form of non-motorised transport. From skateboarding across Australia to paddle boarding the length of the Mississippi, my memories are now shaped around those moments spent mid adventure; the wild campsites, battling violent headwinds, chance meetings and serendipities with strangers that would become friends, and the milestone events on each journey - the beginning, the thousand-mile mark, and the end.

Kirkenes is where I begin my 14th journey over one thousand miles, and my transport this time is a Californian-built Schiller Bike, a bicycle set up on two inflatable pontoons, which moves along thanks to a pedal-powered propellor. Strange, you might think, and you’d be right. In fact, should I make it through the inevitable challenges Norway’s vast coastline has to offer, this will create a new world record for the longest distance travelled by a bicycle on water.

Image by Yellow Matilda

Image by Yellow Matilda

After three days of prep, based out of the Thon Hotel in Kirkenes, I pedalled away from the beach just one hundred metres from the MS Richard With, named after Hurtigruten’s founder, who began his first journey from this very city in 1893. I was very aware, in those blissfully calm first miles, that I would be retracing a journey known as the world’s most beautiful voyage, but that my experience would be much slower than the thousands of lucky Hurtigruten passengers who experience this coast each year.

My first week on the water has seen 135 miles pass under my bows. I’ve been joined by dolphins and seals, found hidden beaches and rocky bays, shipwrecks that could tell decade-long stories and abandoned cabins with views that most millionaires would dream of.

Patches of snow still cling to the north-facing grooves of the cliffs that plummet straight into the ocean, a reminder that even though the days are 24 hours long at present, the Winter and its corresponding darkness will be back again soon.

Image by Yellow Matilda

Image by Yellow Matilda

Compared to my surroundings, I am small and insignificant as I pedal slowly (at around 4mph) around headlands and across fjords, but the friendliness of everyone I have met these last few days makes me excited to visit each new town, village and shoreside hamlet. From fishermen to artists and owners of guesthouses and bistros, the Norwegians have an air of calm about them, a spirit riddled with the positivity one needs to get through the long cold of Winter but the grounding that only nature of this beauty can bestow upon a human.

Image by Yellow Matilda

Image by Yellow Matilda

It’s hard to take for granted the scale of the mountains and the power of the waves, and the resulting respect for life and nature carries its way through everything the locals do.

My only previous visit to Norway was a two day spell kayaking along the Oslo fjord, but the north, this place they call Finnmark, it is spectacular. If you need to climb high to get a good view, then this is almost the top of the ladder. I’ve felt like I’ve been travelling around the edge of the world some days, coastline to my left and endless hungry sea to my right.

In one week I have pedalled through soaking rain, sunshine that had me down to my t-shirt and shorts, deep fog and the flattest of wide ocean. I can’t imagine what is too come in the next seven weeks, but I’m ready for this experience to become a part of me.

The Schiller Bike - fit for travel

The Schiller Bike - fit for travel

I'm a week into this Schiller bike journey around Norway's coast and the unusual craft that I first tried one week ago today has now become familiar, and seeing as 90% of the questions I've faced so far revolve around my waterbike, here's an attempt to outline just how fit it is for travel.

Blog 1 - Alice Cooper

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This Summer I'm exploring the Norwegian Coast like nobody ever has, by travelling 1500 miles along the Hurtgruten route between Kirkenes and Bergen, using a Schiller Bike. If successful this journey will be a world record distance by bike on water.


If you ever need to break away and give yourself some fresh headspace, travel. 

Do something new; jump on a bike or a plane, in a car or a train, hope aboard a ship and take in a coastline from the best possible angle - from the sea.

I'm doing just that. After a year of challenges that have tested me in ways I've never before had to deal with it has taken just a day and a half to (almost) switch off. I left London yesterday morning and touched down briefly in Stockholm before descending three hours later through heavy cloud cover above snow-speckled peaks above Tromsø, Norway.

The coolest man in the world was sitting beside me on the plane, everything about him just screamed rock star - the long hair, wide brimmed hat, necklaces, rings and slow, drawling American accent. He even held his iPad like a dude. Turns out Alice Cooper have a gig in Tromsø this weekend and my plane neighbour is the lead guitarist in the band.

I told him what I was doing and he held out his hand, "You're living the life, man, that is a loooong trip."

This stuff doesn't happen when you stay at home, and if by some freak of chance it does, the story wouldn't have been half as good.

I'm ready to play a part in some new stories. The FlyBuss dropped me on a slick sidewalk a few metres from the water and as if it had been rehearsed there was the MS Finnmarken, looming into port, with little painted nostrils and singular fangs on its bow, as if to say 'this is me, deal with it.' 

Hurtigruten, the parent company of this vessel and another eleven that patrol the Norwegian coast between Kirkenes and Bergen, are the reason that I'm here, and their attitude as a company has been exemplified by two people who pushed the idea of this journey and turned it from a throwaway suggestion into reality.

Marcella saw me speak on another (much uglier and larger) cruise ship in the Mediterranean last year and Ant has forced through the proposal, as well as bringing Visit Norway in on the act. These things are always because of the people, and along with Judah and Robyn from Schiller Bikes in San Francisco, and Neal and Tim and Stephanie and Cheese and Carl and David and Jenna and tens of other people who believed in this trip, I'm about to do something bonkersly brilliant.

And while I'll be solo on the water for much of this journey, I won't be alone. As per usual I'll be sharing tales daily on social media, and I'll also have company nearby in the shape of a Yellow VW van named Yellow Matilda, a wise young dog named Angus, and their owners Adam and Laura. Team Yellow Matilda are currently making their way north on the roads between England and Kirkenes, some 2500 miles.

 

A new challenge 

I was ready for something new, a challenge that didn't just extract the rust from the old joints, but provided a real test in the midst of a dramatic, unfolding story. 

These characteristics always come with risk and the risk here is the sea, and that's why I find myself boarding the MS Finnmarken, because over the next two days we'll be sailing north and east along the route I'll soon be pedalling.

Fear and danger are always greatest from afar, and from afar is where the thinking and planning is done. On this journey, beyond keeping a beady eye on the weather and keeping my head on my shoulders when wind and sea state will undoubtedly force crucial decisions, the biggest challenge is the unseen. Especially for the first 400km, the current is against me. The wind almost certainly will be, too, but keeping a positive mindset is a matter of balance and expectation - pedalling against the tide and trying to measure gains by the movement of the land to my left, that's going to hurt some days.

Scouting the route gives me a chance to see what's to come (which isn't something I'd usually choose to do - often when you know what's next on a self-propelled journey it would put you right off), to ready my mind, to pick out those few-and-far-between camp spots and safe havens on a notoriously aggravated, difficult shoreline.

The scale up here is other-worldly. The Hurtigruten route is known as The World's Most Beautiful Sea Voyage and while it's easy to brush aside a gorgeous marketing line, the 24 hours I've now spent on board have confirmed three things: yes, this is an utterly gorgeous corner of the planet. Yes, this is going to be a huge challenge, and yes, no matter how many journeys I make my way through, there is always another way to stretch out the comfort zone.

In fact, the only pieces left in the puzzle that makes up the pre-trip conundrum, are Schiller Bike-shaped, in as much as the tracker on the DHL website stopped updating on Tuesday afternoon. I was hoping that my Schiller Bike would be ready and waiting in Kirkenes in time for my arrival tomorrow morning but I haven't yet been sent confirmation of delivery, so this looks unlikely.

No journey on this planet has ever begun with every detail nicely sewn up weeks in advance, and that's all part of the show. Roll with the punches, adapt to your surroundings, be prepared to change a plan when the wind demands and most of all, understand that you can try to plan an adventure as much as you like but when it comes down to it, you're never fully in control.

If you don't love that feeling and all that comes with it, I hope you still enjoy following this journey from the comfort of the familiar. Just don't expect Alice Cooper to sit down next to you.


The best ways to follow Expedition Norway:

  1. Everything you could possibly need and more on www.davecornthwaite.com/waterbike
  2. Daily video diaries on www.facebook.com/davecornthwaite
  3. Images on www.instagram.com/davecorn
  4. Tiny 140 character thoughts, snippets and snapshots on www.twitter.com/davecorn

And when you finally succumb to the temptations of Norway, please use the excellent resources on Visit Norway to plan your trip, and consider Hurtigruten as the perfect introduction to this wonderful land.

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