3rd JUNE 2018
It’s all very well casually saying “I’m going to start my cycle at North Cape.” However, it’s a remote location right at the top of Norway and I’ve got to somehow transport myself (and my bike) there first.
The journey for me actually begins at my mother’s house in the village of Taynuilt in Scotland. I leave on a sticky, warm Sunday afternoon armed with bottles of drinking water and covered in sunscreen. In a typically Scottish weather change, I’m soon in the middle of a long, solid downpour as I pass through Glen Lochy. Every item of clothing that I’m wearing is now completely drenched. I shelter under a shop front in Tyndrum for about thirty minutes until the rain eases off, but the damage has already been done. I reach my campsite at Inverarnan in a damp and squelchy state.
The first thing I notice at the campsite is that nearly everyone has taken care to cover their arms and legs in an effort to combat the Scottish midges. A handful of campers have even resorted to wearing bee-keeper style nets over their heads to keep the tiny flying beasts at bay. My first thought is that they are just soft tourists and all they need to do is Man Up. Five minutes later I’m putting up my tent and being driven to distraction as they flit around my head, trying to bite inside my ears, my hair, my eyelids. I spray on some Jungle-strength mosquito repellent but nothing seems to dampen their enthusiasm. They are absolutely relentless. Once I’m safely inside my tent they hang around outside the door flap, waiting for me to emerge. Every trip to the shower or shop brings them chasing after me like some horror movie swarm. As I go to sleep I can see them congregating all over the outside of the tent, happy to wait till I step outside tomorrow.
In the morning my cycle gear is still wet, the midges are still there and I can’t get out of the campsite quickly enough. The next part of the road to Tarbet is horribly narrow and windy, but luckily there’s three separate sets of roadworks to break the flow of traffic. When I know a queue of cars is approaching I just pull over and let them pass. Once they do I have the road to myself for a while until the next stream arrives. In this way I stutter my way to Tarbet.
For the rest of the journey into Glasgow I’m able to follow cycle paths, which aren’t as direct but are beautifully quiet and far safer. The first section uses the old road along Loch Lomond side, before I’m directed through Balloch, Renton, Dumbarton, Clydebank and finally along the Forth and Clyde Canal to my sister’s place.
It’s taken me two days to cover this distance, and all the time I’ve been thinking that I managed this same trip in a single day a few years ago. I know I’m going to have a few aches and pains to suffer while my body gets used to the routine of cycle-touring again. At my sister’s most of the evening involves me being Uncle Bob to their kids, before an Indian take-away and a beer send me to bed sated.
The Tuesday prior to departure is fairly quiet, save for a wander into Anniesland Cross to sort out bank stuff and to purchase a few items that I’d somehow forgotten to pack. I’m in bed earlier than normal tonight, having set my alarm for 4.45am with promise of a long day tomorrow.
After setting the alarm for 4.45am, I’m wide awake at 2.30am through a combination of itchy midge bites and nervous excitement for the day ahead. I pack up and leave silently before the rest of the household wakes. It’s now around 5.30am as I cycle along Great Western Road – normally busy and nightmarish for cyclists, but strangely empty and quiet at this hour. I get to Glasgow Queen Street train station deliberately early as I need to get my fully loaded bike on a train to Edinburgh. This is Scotland’s main train line and by far the busiest, so I’m hoping they allow my bike on board before rush hour begins. As it happens, no one bats an eyelid and I’m at Edinburgh Park station an hour later. Then it’s only a short cycle to Edinburgh Airport.
At the airport I’m faced with the problem of packing my bike well enough so that Norwegian Air will allow it on their plane. Normally airlines prefer bikes to be packed in bike-boxes and sometimes they insist on them. I wasn’t able to bring one with me so have to resort to the fairly amateurish method of wrapping the bike in black bin bags and sticking it all together with packing tape. I’ve also got to cram in my tent, ground mat, helmet and the pannier bag containing all the liquids and sharps. Forty minutes later I’m finished, make my way to the check in desk and am relieved that they check me in without question.
An hour and a half later we land in Oslo in glorious early summer sunshine, the airport ground crew all wearing shorts. After a three hour layover I’m boarding the next flight to Alta and checking the other passengers to see if they are all wearing cold weather gear. The two hours flying North really do have a detrimental effect on the weather. On the approach to Alta there is still an awful lot of snow unmelted on the mountains. There’s also an angry wind buffeting the plane and creating messy waves on the dark sea below. I can feel the cold as soon as I step off the plane and a big red sign at the airport entrance announces that it’s a chilly five degrees. The wind chill will be knocking that figure closer to zero.
My bike is dragged unceremoniously through the Oversize Goods door and I borrow a pair of scissors from a customer service desk to prepare the task of unwrapping it. It takes a good thirty minutes to remove all the packing and re-attach everything, by which point I am the only passenger left inside the airport. I then have a final six mile cycle to my campsite, which is predictably on the opposite side of town to the airport. It’s in a nice spot right alongside the Alta River though, with some very Norwegian looking wooden cabins and a few reindeer antlers hanging above doors. However, I’m in my tent again. I get inside and wriggle my way into my ‘mummy’ style sleeping bag, while the wind blows icily against the outsides. I know I shouldn’t be surprised at it bring cold above the Arctic Circle, but it’s still a rude awakening to be dropping twenty degrees from yesterday in Scotland.
It takes me a while to drift off to sleep which is partly due to me still being a bit wired from the early start and with all the travelling. It’s also got a lot to do with the fact that it’s after midnight and it’s broad daylight outside. The 24 hour daylight at this time of year is going to take a bit of getting used to. So is cycling on the right hand side of the road while trying to negotiate roundabouts and junctions. And so is the cold.
Still, I lie there quite content in my sleeping bag having made it to Northern Norway. Now I just need to get me and the bike up to my start point at North Cape …