From Stavanger to Trondheim, Norway (2014)

In the summer of 2014 Rudi and I cycle in Norway. Our trip starts in the oil-city Stavanger in the south-west and ends in Trondheim, the old “seat of the king”. We cycle through forests, on high plateaus and along many fjords, and if possible take the pass roads. In two weeks we travel some 1.370 kilometers and ascend 17.500 meters.

Day 1: Stavanger > Lauvik (38 km)

Fifteen years ago Marieke and I drove in rainy Norway in our Citroên ZX. In an attempt to escape from the rain we went down to the beautifully located Lysefjord: almost 1,000 meters within 10 km. The road was so steep that a warning appeared on the dashboard: “Check your brakes!”. Back at the restaurant near the summit we hiked to the Kjeragbolten – the photo showing me on the “floating boulder” still makes me nervous. But that was 1999. In 2014 I wanted to return to Norway. I imagined a cycling tour from Stavanger to Trondheim, starting with the unimaginably steep climb from Lysebotn (including many tunnels in the pitch dark; even one with a hairpin!)

Early August Rudi and I meet on Schiphol (Amsterdam Airport). Rudi is still wondering why he agreed on this tour; Norway is certainly not on his wish-list… The flight to the oil-city Stavanger goes well, and when we leave the modest airport the temperature is 24°C. But in what direction should we go? The carefully prepared GPS-track was not loaded onto the GPD device… Fortunately we took an “old-fashioned” map with us. A bit further, in Sandness, we end up in the middle of a local roller skiing championship. The [13] is a quiet road to the east along small lakes and once in a while a climb. After the small village of Lauvik we find a perfect camping spot behind the parking place next to the ferry pier. We use the petrol stove for the first time.

Day 2: Lauvik > Brokke (73 km)

At 9 a.m. we take the boat that will bring us to Lysebotn in two and a half hours’ time. The intercom teaches us, in three languages, the wonders of nature and the grand achievements of the Norwegians. I get a sense of déjà vu when we enter the impressive fjord: low-hanging clouds and rain. Welcome to Norway. Yet the Kjeragbolten is clearly visible: a small “marble” high up the cliff squeezed between two gigantic rock faces. When we arrive in Lysebotn the rain is pouring. We have to find shelter to cook pasta. Climbing the south face - 900 meters high in 9 km – is demanding, though not so incredibly steep as I can remember. Moreover, there is just one tunnel – illuminated and without hairpin. It is strange how my recollection contains false images…

While the gradual climb from Lysebotn is less severe than I had anticipated, the road to the east is far more demanding. There are many unnecessary short climbs. We are glad to arrive in Ådneram at 4 p.m. Finally we can have lunch. In the local supermarket we see mackerel in tomato sauce in a tube for the first time: tastes well and practical when travelling. During our meal a young guy from Estonia drops by. Yesterday he arrived here on his bicycle, and he takes a day-off because it is raining (can you imagine?)… He is interrogating us on our bikes. After he has said for the fifth time ‘Can I ask you a last question?’ and has even made a test ride on Rudi’s bike, we leave this place. The first 4 km are quite hilly, but the remaining part is relative easy. During the descent it starts to rain heavily. We pitch our tent on the nearly drowned camping of Brokke. The after noon’s two thousand altitude meters made us tired but we are also satisfied.

Day 3: Brokke > Løyningvatn (122 km)

We throw 100 NOK in the postbox of the reception building and descend further to the main valley where we take the [9] to Valle. This valley is broad and charming, and steep climbs are absent. We go to the supermarket in the ski resort Hovden and continue on the dull plateau. Now and then we see racing cyclists – but we hardly see any people on a cycling holiday like us, neither today or during the whole vacation. The descent on the brand new tarmac to Haukeli is fantastic.

Once down we take the [E134] to the west. This is not a very busy transit road, but people tend to drive fast. Most drivers, except for busses and campers, keep sufficient distance to us. In Haukelifjell we ask for water in a sort of shop tent next to the road where they sell Polish donuts and horse riding gear. The woman behind the counter gives us also beer, since she is not allowed to sell alcoholic drinks without license. That is very friendly! A few kilometers further down the road we find a nice camping spot next to a lake in which I can wash myself. Dinner is ready just before sunset.

Day 4: Løyningvatn > Utne (138 km)

It is chilly (5°C) when we awake, but as soon as the sun rises above the hills it gets comfortably warm. After a few kilometers’ cycling we approach a tunnel that is forbidden for cyclists; the secondary road on top of the hill offers a splendid view of the snow-covered mountains and Lake Stávatn. Also the second, more than 5 km long Haukelitunnelen is prohibited for cyclists, so we have to take the 1.100 m high pass road. On the other side the third tunnel is closed due to maintenance; all (freight) traffic has to take the narrow, winding road. We descend in a valley witch a scenery similar to the Alps.

In Røldal we meet a German cyclist heading for the Nordkapp. He has taken with him way too many stuff – as if he were on an expedition in Siberia. What he forgot though is a socket wrench for the headset and he is lucky that he can use mine. He leaves more than half an hour earlier than us, but we catch up with him after just a few kilometers on the climb to the Røldalstunnelen. I wonder how many vacation days he can spend… On top of the pass road the landscape completely changes. It is really beautiful up here. We descend to the main road via a series of hairpins. Next we speed down to Skare.

From the junction to Odda onwards there is a lot of traffic. We soon find out why: the gigantic Låtefossen waterfall attracts numerous tourists. It is like a fair with all these campers and caravans. Let’s move on! In Odda we take the [50] on the left shore of the Sørfjorden. After 138 km and 1,500 altitude meters we arrive at the nicely located fjord camping west of Utne. We have diner at 10 p.m.: salmon with baked potatoes and tomato salad. This was a great day!

Day 5: Utne > Haugoastøl (108 km)

We kick off by taking the highly unnecessary climb and descent to Utne. Just before 9 a.m. we take the ferry to the east shore of the Sørfjord. The road eastwards from Kinsarvik is easy; only near Indre Bu we have to gain altitude due to the junction with the new Hardanger suspension bridge. At the picturesque Eidfjord we move south along the Eidfjordvatn. The old road takes us through narrow tunnels and right next to massive, vertical mountain walls. Also the ascent to Måbø is on the old road: a varied route in a rough gorge with steep walls. We see a sign stating that the road is closed for cyclists due to rock avalanches, which we rightly neglect. When we approach the end of the gorge we are surprised to see so many tourists taking pictures of the high Vøringsfossen waterfall.

We continue climbing to the east: first 6 to 8% in the direction of Maurset and next less steep to 1,250 m. The road on the green plateau is relatively easy; there are no steep climbs at all. Just before Haugastøl we descend again. We are now in the starting-place for the Rallarvegen “star-attraction”. Hundreds of bicycles are lined up here for the loads of tourists going for “an adventure” on the path along the railroad track between Geilo and Voss in the summer time. We want to stay ahead of the crowd, start the Rallarvegen right away, and find a nice camping spot after some 5 km.

Day 6: Haugoastøl > Aurland (90 km)

We were not the only ones camping at this location. Close to our spot there is a red Hilleberg tent with two Norwegian girls from Trondheim. Their dog Gipsy chases away the cows. We eat our pasta while enjoying the sunshine. It is not very busy on the Rallarvegen: only six cyclists have passed by when we leave at 9.15 a.m. From this direction the road is so easy that we arrive at the ugly village of Finse before we know it. There are lots of backpackers here trying to shoot selfies before their train leaves. The scenery is nice, though not as impressive as I had imagined when reading other travel reports. Half-way the Rallarvegen we drink coffee in a cozy mountain hut.

At the highest point of the route the landscape becomes rougher, as does the road. There are long steep parts with loose rocks. We have to continuously pay attention to the road surface to prevent getting flat tires. We cycle through a narrow gorge with a wild river. A dull part along a lake shore is followed by a strenuous climb to Myrdal. There we see many tourists looking at a waterfall. We descend several hundred meters along this waterfall in a series of very steep, funny hairpins. What follows is a nice descent to Flåm, a town which core business is entertaining cruise boat passengers. Now that we are on sea level again we realize how easy the east-west route has been; people who cycle from Flåm to Finse will have a much harder time! We cycle a bit further to the camping in Aurland. There we drink beer and also receive a bottle of wine from our Dutch neighbors.

Day 7: Aurland > Borlaug (93 km)

Today we start with a considerable climb: the road to Laerdal. Since the Laerdaltunnelen – with a length of 24.5 km the world’s longest car tunnel – was completed back in 2000, this pass road lost its importance. The climb of 1,300 m in 15.5 km is slightly steeper than l’Alpe d’Huez. The first 8 km we have a good view of the Sognefjord. Next we go over the ridge, to the east side. Via several long hairpins we reach the summit. Well, not really the summit… this is more like a plateau with several short ascents and descents. On the second “summit” a group of Ukrainian tourists gets out of a van. They will descent to Laerdal on rental bikes. In my opinion descending without climbing first is unsporting, and I do my very best to overhaul them one by one, arriving first at the third and “real summit” (1,300 m). The descent to the sea level is great, despite the many holes in the road surface.

After we went to the supermarket in Laerdal, we go the supermarket and take the “historical” route to the east. This is a nice road, gradually ascending 500 m in 40 km. In a rough mountain stream we can see salmon jumping two meters in the air. Next we arrive at Borgund’s famous “stavkirke”. This wooden church was built sometime between 1180 and 1250 AD and its appearance from the Middle Ages has been preserved. The exterior of the church looks so characteristic – as if Vikings can enter the scene any moment. The interior is simple, compact and quite dark. We camp a few kilometers further down the road in Borlaug.

Day 8: Borlaug > Randsverk (109 km)

We continue our trip through a dull valley. At Tyinkkrysset we turn left and climb to Lake Tyin. Up here the landscape is grand. In the north we can see the eternal snow of Jotunheimen, with mountains rising to an elevation of almost 2,500 m. After some 20 km on a good gravel road we arrive in Eidsbugarden where we take the ferry to Bygdin. I had been looking forward to this boat trip, but the monotonous views are somewhat disappointing. (With hindsight we should have taken the road to Turtagrø via Øvre Årdal, and next the [55] at the west side of Jotunheimen to the north-east.) From Bygdin we climb on a rather busy [51] to the north. After reaching the “summit” the views to the west are panoramic. The wide road continues in a quiet valley with lots of holiday homes. We pitch the tent in Randsverk.

Day 9: Randsverk > Nordberg (98 km)

Today’s first 15 km are strenuous. Just before reaching the main valley the steep descent starts. The busy [15] is irritating: people tend to drive very fast. At the petrol station in Lom we order city’s most expensive and biggest hamburger. We go to the supermarket and continue our journey in the dull valley that offers no interesting views at all. After nearly 100 km we stop in Nordberg at a simple camping that has a toilet building decorated in seventies’ style.

Day 10: Nordberg > Valldal (95 km)

We cycle onwards to the west. The back wind is pretty strong, helping us to reach the highest point of the [15] soon. Just before the Grasdaltunnelen we turn right and take the [63]. The landscape is beautiful here: at our left we see rough mountain walls on top of which is a retreating glacier. At Djupvasshytta the toll road to Dalsnibba commences: 460 m elevation in 5 km. When I cycled up here fifteen years ago this was a gravel road; now there is perfect tarmac. We are in good shape: we can easily stay ahead of a tourist without baggage. The 1,500 m high summit offers a splendid view of the Geirangerfjord as well as the mountains in the west and south.

The descent is certainly as spectacular as the descents of the great pass roads in the Alps. In the fjord two gigantic cruise boats are anchored. A few kilometers before Geiranger the tourists start to crowd and in the town itself the atmosphere is truly horrible. From the fjord we take eleven steep hairpins to the north. Here the quiet, rural scenery is in contrast with the rough Geiranger fjord we just came from. In Eidsdal we bake scrambled eggs and bacon. We take the ferry to Norddalfjord and cycle along several horrid caravan parks to Valldal. After some twelve kilometers we see the perfect camping at our right.

Day 11: Valldal > Mittet (97 km)

The [63] that approaches the Trollstigen from the south goes through a green valley with high mountains. It looks like Austria here. From this side the ascent is easy, with bits of 6 to 8% only in the last kilometers. After the summit we cycle to the finish of the Trollstigen road: the eleven hairpins that are “glued” to the steep cliffs of the majestic mountains Dronning (1,568 m), Kong (1,593 m) and Bispe (1,475 m). This is very impressive. The downside is that suddenly it is very crowded, with numerous cars and campers, and of course coaches bringing the cruise boat passengers from Åndalsnes to the viewpoint. These busses cause queues and spoil the descent for us and fellow cyclists. From Åndalsnes we ride an additional 46 km on a largely flat road before we arrive at the camping in Mittet.

Day 12: Mittet > Ålvund (117 km)

We leave the fine camping site and cycle along the Langfjorden to the east. At Vistdal the [660] continues further inland. We climb some 500 meters (7 to 10%) and descend just the same to Eresfjorden. Unfortunately the route via Eikesdalen, which we were told is wonderful, does not fit into our time schedule. After a lunch break in Eidsvag we continue on the [62] to Sundalsfjorden. At Øksendalsøra there is a long tunnel. We take the alternative road along the shore, which has not been maintained for a long time. The road is overgrown, but the tarmac is still good. We climb 250 meters to a (radio) mast. In the pouring rain we descend to the bleak industrial town Sunndalsøra. In a clochard-like style we eat bread under the roof of a local bank building. After a few tunnels and a short climb we arrive in Ålvund, where we pitch our tent at a nice spot next to the fjord.

Day 13: Ålvund > Viggja (117 km)

In Rykkjem we take the ferry to Kvanne. The [670] is a quiet road with few climbs. Right in front of us is the Trollheimen area: the “trolls’ house”. We do not see any trolls. From Surnadal we take the old road parallel to the [65]. Pedaling this road is easy. After Rindal we turn left and head for Hoston on narrow roads and through a varied landscape. Just like anywhere else in Norway the farmers are making hay. The characteristic white hay bales are drying in many meadows. We climb to approximately 330 meters and descend again to Hostovatnet. At this lake we turn left and ride on narrow jeep tracks, sometimes climbing 15%, to the [E39]. From Orkanger we follow the local road to the Viggja camping ground.


Day 14: Viggja > Malvik (60 km)

We continue on the quiet road along the Orkdalsfjord. Despite the presence of many villages we cannot find a supermarket. Near Buvika there is more traffic and it also starts raining.  In the outskirts of Trondheim there are good signposts for cyclists pointing to the historical center. Suddenly we face the Nidaros dome. I count more than 120 sculptures on the main façade. The cathedral was completed in 1152 and is generally considered to be Norway’s most important church. In the Middle Ages the Norwegian kings were crowned here. Nowadays the city attracts 30,000 students, many of whom ride a bike.

At the east side of Trondheim’s center there are nice roads and alleys, with many brightly colored, wooden houses. Via the bridge over the Nidelva and the steep Brubakken, that actually has a bicycle lift, we cycle to the Kristianstenfort, from which we have a good view of the city center. Back down we order hamburgers and beer. It is quite a challenge to find a hard-wear store where they sell insulation foam tubes, bubble plastic and tape that we intend to use for the air transport of the bicycles. They do not sell bubble plastic here, but we are lucky that we find a big sheet of insulation foam right next to the cycling lane. We pitch the tent on the fine camping ground near Malvik.

Day 15: Malvik > Vaernes (16 km)

It is just a few kilometers riding to the small airport. Checking-in is smooth and fast. Prior to the vacation KLM gave me mixed messages concerning the way the bicycles should be packaged: i.e., in a box or in a bag. Once we are here they do not bother at all. We do not even have to pay for the bike transport, something I will not start arguing about. After two hours waiting we fly back to the Netherlands. The bicycles show no signs of damage. We are very satisfied with the beautiful and often sunny tour through the southwest of Norway.