Across Norway In A Day

Cycling The Whole of Norway in One Day by Matthew Norway and Jeff WEBB supported by Fara Cycling. An action to support World Bicycle Relief.

It’s 10:00 at night, 19 hours since we begin on a quiet Swedish border, a world so different to what is now in front of us. The wind howls from the stormy north Atlantic, it’s raining on and off and every extra layer of clothing I add does nothing to maintain my body temperature. How did it go this wrong this quickly. All the planning, all the training, all the money gone to waste in an empty car park, on the outskirts of a random village on the west coast of Norway. Just seventy kilometres from our destination. Although it might as well have been a thousand. Sebastian our camera man try's to consolidate me, “It was a crazy project and 390km is some achievement.” It falls on deaf ears. I’ve cycled the longest ride of my life in extremely challenging conditions, but the feeling is one of emptiness, one of complete failure. I gave up. The devil on my shoulder whispers in to my ear… “loser.”

 

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F/AR From Fara Cycling

PART 1

I never got into cycling for the high pulse, max watts, or team power rides. Early on I discovered how much I enjoyed using a bike as a vehicle of discovery; less so as a form of exercise. For the past few years I’ve cycled all over Norway, arguably the most beautiful country in the world, and documented it all for my Youtube channel. The most popular cycling route covers the length of Norway from the most northern point, Nordkapp to Lindesnes peninsula at the very bottom of the country (or vice-versa). Three thousand kilometres of some of the most diverse and beautiful landscape anywhere on the planet. A journey I completed last year with immense satisfaction. But what makes these north-south routes so appealing? One word: completion. Whether it’s Cairo to Cape Town or John o Groats to Lands End, you cover the whole of the landmass. It creates a real sense of fulfilment and achievement. It’s that simple.

 

 

And that’s exactly what I had in mind when I started to plan a full east to west route across  Norway. Surprisingly, I discovered no official route. The most eastern point is Vardø in the far north and the most western point is close to Bergen in a place called Vardetangen. Not exactly a straight line. I decided early on that my route had to be cycled in less than 24hours (more than 400km but less than 500). I’ve never cycled over 400km in a day before and felt this would be the perfect opportunity to see what was possible. I also wanted both gravel and road segments as to miss out on some of Norway’s famous gravel tracks would be a sin in itself.

 

 

I first plotted a route to Bergen, then Stavanger, but both were too long and difficult in a day. Cycling to Trondheim I knew was too easy considering Norway’s unusual long bottle neck shape. This left the pretty town of Ålesund. Norway’s 9th largest settlement with a population of 53,000 inhabitants. A quick Google map search stated 430km from the Swedish border. Perfect. After adding the gravel segment it stood at 455km with 4000 meters elevation gain. Totally doable in a day.

 

 

I sent it over to my cycling partner Jeff Webb, CEO and co founder of a local high-end bike company called Fara Cycling. He loved the route and knew a lot of the roads from his years of experience cycling in Norway. He provided a few alternative options on a couple of sections and voilà, the perfect route across Norway was born! 463km in total. I called it the ‘Goldilocks’ route as it was ‘just right’ for an epic long distance day ride across the whole country.

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The Goldilocks Route - Vauldalen to Ålesund

Three weeks later it’s 3am and Jeff and I are on a remote Swedish border crossing. The place is called Vauldalen, about 800 meters above sea level, it’s a chilly 6°C, dark and forbidding, and we have the added bonus of an army of mosquitoes happy to see us. The night before I’d not slept a wink. My brain’s fight mode was well and truly in place and the adrenaline was pumping.

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Leaving the border behind

the sunset at the iconic Aksla lookout point a 160m steep hill that overlooks the pretty coastal town. The plan was to create a movie of the ride for my Youtube channel and inspire others. I knew we couldn’t film and ride 463km at the same time. Therefore, we hired a camera crew which consisted of Sebastian and Lucas, Polish brothers who have filmed many races here in Norway. I’ve never been filmed for the whole day before so it was a strange feeling having a camera follow my every move as we prepared to leave and cycle into the cold morning.

 

 

Jeff, although not a morning person (as I quickly discovered), is a highly experienced endurance cyclist. An ex pro in his youth; today he loves the ultra long distance rides. It was only a week before, he was racing 1200km through the Italian countryside crossing over mountains, farmland and even coliseums. He completed the race with a very respectable top 15 finish. Back on the Swedish border Jeff was calm and confident about the day. He’d rode over 400km numerous times. As for me, this was my first attempt but I was quietly confident with Jeff at the helm setting the pace. We knew what we had to do, we had planned accordingly, We’d made it to the border, all we had to do now was cycle! So off we went, the long lightly lit road layout in front of us like a metaphor of the challenge we had set ourselves. 

 

 

I always find the first few hours on the bike the hardest. The devil on my shoulder is in full vocal mode early on. Prodding at my insecurities, trying to find weaknesses to exploit. The mind is a complex instrument and can be both your best companion and your worse enemy on a long ride. Psychologist believe the average human being has over 6000 thoughts a day. Of which, two thirds can be negative. Luckily, Jeff had awoken from his morning slumber and was in full talk mode. This kept my mind focused on the here and now. Company is essential on these long rides. 

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The Long Road Ahead

PART 2

 

The first 100km is sparsely populated with a vast forest and scattering of lakes separating the small communities that live here. Within the first hour it’s starts to get light. I stopped to take a leak and as I looked to the horizon the most amazing blood orange sun was rising up. I’ve never really seen the sunrise while cycling. It was a clear still morning and for the next hour we were treated to an incredible array of light. The suns rays started to warm up the ground which created mist which hovered over the numerous lakes we past. It felt like a scene from a movie where the hero must go on a mythical quest. There was a strong archetypical presence… we were being treated!

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Mist rising off the lakes

After 40 km we reached the sleepy old mining town of Rorøs. The whole place feels like a museum with old wooden houses and traditional shop signs. It was 4.30am as we rode down the silent main street. At the bottom we hear voices shout out to us. We stopped and turned around. Three young lads enjoying an all nighter with their favourite tipple. They were slouched on a step outside a shop, beer in one hand, phone in the other. One shouted out, “have you come from the Swedish border?” Jeff shouts back “yes”, slightly confused. “Are you cycling to Ålesund” shouts another! “Yes” replies Jeff, now trying to wrap his brain around why they would know to ask such questions?! Ålesund, remember, was 420km away on the other side of the country! We never really found out why they asked such questions but it certainly added to the strangeness of the morning. 

 

After moose and deer spotting for the next 100km we reach the first gravel/off-road part where our camera crew couldn’t follow us. Jeff had insisted we take this 20km route directly through the forest. I was sceptical due to the distance we needed to cover in the day. This would really slow us down and we didn’t know what the off-road conditions would be like. But I agreed, and off we went. The first 5km was like cycling in Nordmarka (the forest that surrounds Oslo). The gravel roads were good and everything was going to plan. However, deeper into the forest the terrain got more hilly and the road started to disintegrate. At one point we got lost. I was internally fuming as my initial doubts were now being justified. We slowly made our way out and by the time we got back onto tarmac our average speed had dropped from 28km an hour to 24km. My Strava ego was hurting.

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The off road section

The smooth tarmac was brief, The turning to Grimsdalen was just up the road. Grimsdalen is an old mountain pass road through a historic valley where traditional farming practices have been going on for centuries. The 70km gravel road is mainly in good condition and the climb up to 1250 meters above sea level is relatively gradual. Nevertheless, the valley is wide and exposed to the elements and thus our good fortune with the weather was about to change. 

 

A full headwind greeted us as we climbed up onto the exposed mountain pass. Our average speed on this segment was just 18 km an hour. Every kilometre was a fight into a strong mountain gale. It brought our already dwindling morale to a new low and further ruined our initial time schedule. The sunset dream in Ålesund was slowly disappearing. By the time we came off the mountain and reach the half way point at Dombås (230km) we were 2.5 hours behind our initial plan. 

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Grimsdalen
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Spectators

Tired, hungry for real food, and slightly stressed about the time. This was further exacerbated by the hoards of cars and camper-van tourists cramming into Dombås to use as a stopping off and refuelling point. The local cafes and supermarkets were overcrowded with people. We had to find food, eat, quickly, rest and move on within 20-30 mins. All I wanted was to relax with a cup of tea and unwind for 10 mins. Instead I was stressing in a supermarket queue as the family in-front argued over how much candy the kids were allowed. By the time we’d picked up food and had hastily eaten It, It was nearly 4:00pm. Three hours behind our planned schedule. 

 

Time plans rarely go like clockwork on a bike ride and the weather was not something we could truly calculate in. Therefore, we push on, reminding ourselves that 24 hours was our original aim and that was still attainable. Moreover, most of the hard climbing had been done and we now had a long gentle descent to the coast. Morale picked up, and we agreed to remove the last stop break at Åndalsnes to make up time. We had this ride under-control and the legs and mind were still strong.

 

It’s 109km from Dombås to Åndalsnes down one of Norway’s most beautiful old glacier valleys called Romsdalen. It weaves into a narrow valley with only room for one road; the E136. As expected it was busy with July tourist traffic. Nevertheless, we were pleasantly surprised to find the first 50km had some roughly patched together cycle path. It wasn’t great but beats camper vans flying past you. Unfortunately the wind that we had battled over Grimsdalen was funnelling down the valley straight at us making the road another slow and tiring affair. To add insult to injury we could see more and more dark clouds forming ahead of us. Rain, a lot of it, was approaching. 

 

Near the end of the valley lies the tallest vertical rock wall in Europe. Known as Trollveggen or in English the Troll Wall. This unique natural wonder is pure eye candy. However, by the time we reached it the heavens had opened and the temperature had dropped. We were 330km into the ride but there was no time for photos we had to push on to Åndalsnes. The wether did not ease off and as we hit the coast we realised a storm was coming in off the sea and right in the direction we were cycling. 

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Trollveggen

Norway’s west coast is notorious for its wet and windy condition all year round. The temperature was hovering just above 11°C degrees but the wind chill brought it into single digits. Welcome to summer on the west coast! As we passed 370km we rode through a large dark rain cloud that seemed to drop on us a year supply of rain (for some countries) in the space of a few minutes. I shouted to Jeff although he could barely hear me because of the strong wind. “I can’t cycle in this Jeff” I shouted at the top of my voice. He looked behind having heard some form of noise. I was already on my way off the road up to an old barn that could provide shelter. I wasn’t going to ask permission from the farm house close by. I needed shelter immediately at all costs. Jeff stopped and followed; instinctively understanding my situation.  

 

Sheltering in the barn I was having a moment. I had convinced myself that the wind, cold and rain had made continuing the journey futile. I was freezing, shivering, and completely soaked and we still had over 90km to go. I looked at the weather forecast on my phone and it wasn’t going to ease off. In fact the Norwegian Meteorological Institute had tweeted an extreme wind warning for the area. Jeff was calm and suggested we at least cycle to the famous fjord bridge about 15km away and then take it from there. After a few minutes of having a moment contemplating the situation I agreed. 

 

So back on the bikes we went. Fortunately, the rain eased off a bit which helped as we headed around a fjord towards Tresfjord Bridge. Things started to looked a bit more optimistic as we crossed over and decided to continue on. Maybe, just maybe, we can do this, I quietly said, trying to convince myself. The distance cycled was now 390km and we were about to turn off on to a remote road that takes us over a mountain pass towards Ålesund. Jeff shouts out to me. We stop at a bleak carpark with an outdated tourist information board. The clouds over the mountain pass were something resembling Mordor from Lord of the Rings. Huge shifting rain clouds with severe headwinds is all we have to look forward to. The time is 10pm, darkness is approaching and with the conditions we face it will take close to 4 hours of riding (if we’re lucky) to finish off the 72km. This ride is over!

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Wet, Cold and Windy

PART 3

When I formed the idea in my head to cycle across Norway. The biggest image I had was riding into Ålesund on a beautiful night with the sun setting. Cycling is about them magical moments that live with you for the rest of your life. I’ve had my fair share and presumed from the start that this ride would give me what I wanted. I convinced myself the sunset moment was guaranteed. Stood in a random car park shivering as I loaded my bike onto a car rack in dwindling light was the biggest anti-climate to any bike ride I’ve ever done. 

 

 

Should we have gone on? It’s like saying should you summit the mountain although you know you will come back with three fingers missing. It’s just a ride and my own well-being is far more important than some arbitrary finish point that I penciled on a map. But don’t get me wrong - I was devastated not to complete. I’d put a huge amount of pressure on myself. Five days before, I’d posted a YouTube video to my followers about the challenge. On the ride day I posted live up dates on instagram. This generated numerous messages in return. “Keep going buddy,” “You're on fire,” “Go go go,” were some of the messages flooding my account. And of course we had the camera crew! Sebastian filmed me as I loaded the bike on the rack and got into the car shaking and feeling sorry for myself. A moment I don’t want to be reminded of, all in glorious 5K. There was no hiding from the failure and no matter how much I justified it the underlining message was - we gave up!

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Lights on the Fjord

For days after the ride my thoughts were haunted by this failure. “Why did this have to happen to me?” “What are the chances of getting extreme weather like that in July?” “If only we had normal weather we’d of made it!” I went over the footage of the day knowing that I had no ending to the story. My editing skills were going to be tested to their limit on this one. I racked my brain on how to put a positive spin on this but it was futile. Deep down I knew there was only one way to finish this. Go back and try again!

 

 

Still, going back was far more than creating an ending to the ride. I had a personal reconciliation to make. I wanted to rewrite the memories that plagued my mind. I can’t end the summer with this ride lingering in my head. I rang Jeff, I’m going back I proclaimed! I had a feeling Jeff would join although the ride to him was considered done and dusted. It was just one of many big rides Jeff had done. He had nothing to prove. But if I had gone back alone and completed it then that would change the dynamics. We had to finish this ride together.

 

 

A week later we’re back on the remote Swedish border. This time, no camera crew with a support car. Just two riders with bikepacking bags carrying everything we need to tackle 463km. Surprisingly it felt more enjoyable doing it this way. No one to rely on, no one to support us. We’re on our own and the whole of Norway awaits again.

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Swedish Border 2am

At the end of the first ride Sebastian (the camera man) had tried to consolidate me by suggesting we had learnt a lot from our 390km ride. At that moment I was too annoyed to believe him. However, he was right, cycling the route a second time it all seemed easier. The off road section that had infuriated me the first time was now a complete adventure that broke up the tarmac ride and added spice to the journey. Grimsdalen seemed less intimidating on a calmer day and instead of stopping in the busy town of Dombås we found a nice quiet cafe in the small village of Dovre close by. Experience is everything in life.

Romsdalen valley was quieter with less tourist on the road and instead of a strong headwind we were greeted with a beautiful tailwind which took our average speed back up to 28km an hour. There is no other sport on the planet where weather conditions play such a fundamental role in your outcome. It was a great feeling reaching that bleak carpark that we had called it a day three weeks prior. We looked towards the mountain pass. It was clear! We rode on.

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Grimsdalen

The pass was far from easy and the back roads to Ålesund were hilly and slow going. The last 72km was going to be tougher than expected. We were certain now that giving up 3 weeks ago was the right decision. The sunset ride that I was desperate to experience was finally granted to me as we summited the mountain. I had my magical moment at the top of the pass. The view ahead, the archipelago that Ålesund is part of. The sky was alive with glowing colours. I rode down flying into the tree-line below. It was one of them only on a bike moments. Nothing special to the naked eye but everything to a tired rider, having passed 17 hours on a bike. That simple sunset descent meant everything.

 

 

We rode into Ålesund in darkness, it was now passed 11:30 at night. However, we still had the small task of climbing up the steep hill that over looked the city. A part of us didn’t want to do it but bypassing it was not an option. We’d come this far! In the darkness we struggled to find our way and the hill was steeper than we imagined. We pushed to the top to find the last strip of light was hovering on the horizon out to sea. A red stripe. It was beautiful. Ålesund and the surrounding area were lit up and the dark calm sea behind created a visual account of the end of Norway. We began in the dark and arrived in the dark, and in-between we saw an array of terrains and landscapes that only Norway can offer in a day. 

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Across Norway in a day complete

Support World Bicycle Relief

At Fara Cycling, World Bicycle Relief has been our favourite charity for years. What a better way to change people's lives than by providing them with our favourite method of transportation - a bike! WBF has designed a bike that is perfectly adapted for use in remote areas of developing countries and can provide families, or in this case health care workers, greater mobility and truly improve their lives. A WBF "Buffalo Bike" costs only €134, so our aim in our campaign is to raise €1,340 to be able to buy 10 bikes and donate them where they will really make a difference.
 
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We had to finish this ride together.

About the Author:

 

Matthew Tolley is a Youtuber who focuses on bikepacking in Norway. Matthew is currently building a website that will document every route he has ridden and provide practical information for those that want to experience the very best of Norway on a bike. The full feature length film of ‘Across Norway in a Day’ will be available to watch on his YouTube channel from late September 2021:

Youtube Channel

The Goldilocks Route GPX File

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F/AR From Fara Cycling