8th JUNE 2018
I’ve been at the Alta River Campsite for a couple of days now and my thoughts turn to the problem of getting to my start point at North Cape. It’s still 150 miles away, but I’m not particularly keen to cycle it as I’ll only have to cycle it all in the opposite direction again when I begin the journey properly.
Public bus is an option, but I’m never certain whether the driver will allow a bike in amongst the hold luggage. My final option is from a couchsurfing contact who says I might be able to hitch a lift with them and put the bike on the back of their car. They are taking part in an annual charity walk from Honningsvag to North Cape. This would definitely be my preferred choice. At this point nothing has been confirmed so I check bus times, cycling options and message Isabelle from couchsurfing to see if I can tag along. My mind is made up instantaneously when I get a reply from Isabelle saying I can join them in the car as far as Honningsvag. We leave at 4.00pm tomorrow and this will get me to within twenty miles of North Cape.
When I wake, I’m relieved to find the wind has dropped and the temperature has crept up just a little. This gives me some hope as the weather has been plagueing my thoughts since I arrived. I’ve been checking the conditions at North Cape obsessively and have found an awful mix of snow, rain, wind and near-freezing temperatures for the last week. I was also told the story of a Portuguese guy who had cycled 3,300 miles from his home in Lisbon, intending to finish at North Cape. Only last week he reached the North Cape plateau amid snow and driving wind and was forced to give up. He was only ten miles from his destination. Stories like this only help to give the high plateau of North Cape an even more intimidating, inaccessible image in my head.
I spend most of the day at the campsite packing, eating, showering, relaxing – generally using ther facilities for as long as possible before I have to leave. The heated floor tiles in the shower rooms are a particular highlight.
My meeting point with Isabelle is at the Northern Lights Church in Alta town centre. It’s one of those huge ultra-modern structures, but it looks to me like a giant submarine. She had suggested meeting there after she finished work, then cycling to her house, so I’m a little surprised to see her arriving on foot with a dog in her arms. I’m even more surprised to hear that the dog is named ‘Pusi.’ She gives me a home-made map and I cycle the ten minutes to her house where I meet my other travelling companions for the trip – Bendik is a big happy bear of a Norwegian and Robert is a Latvian/Israeli who has been working here since last November. Pusi the dog joins us too.
We attach my bike to the back of the car with bungee cords and head North about 6.00pm. It should take us about three hours to reach Honningsvag, but there’s no pressure to get there before darkness falls as it just doesn’t get dark up here at this time of year. We head inland through some hilly and barren mountains, even spotting a few reindeer munching on marshy leaves near the roadside. Light in colour, they are very skittish and run off if the car stops near them. They are also a lot smaller than I had imagined. I was picturing a large moose-like creature, but they’re not much bigger than deer in the UK. Far more impressive are the six huge sea eagles we encounter when we reach steep, rocky cliffs back at the coast again. Most of them are airborne and soaring just above us, but one has landed near the shore. We stop the car to get a better look but this spooks the enormous bird and it takes off again. The wingspan is massive. When I’m cycling on the way back down I hope to be able to creep up on them silently and get a closer look.
We continue North, hugging the coastline and through a handful of tunnels until we reach Isabelle’s mother’s house in Honningsvag around 10.00pm. We have some food, then I head out for a couple of drinks with Bendik, Isabelle and her mother. Judging by the tables and chairs the venue looks like it might be a restaurant during the day which converts to the Honningsvag disco at night. I say ‘disco’ because it feels like I have magically stepped back in time to my late teens, with music to match. It is quite a surreal experience, especially as the whole building is dwarfed in the shadow of an enormous cruise-ship moored at the dock outside. We only stay for two drinks, which is a bit of a blessing when it costs £7.60 for a single bottle of Peroni. Back at the house most of us share a bottle of red wine and have a chat. I feel a bit embarrassed that six Norwegians are all conversing in English to accommodate me. It’s well after 1.00am (and still broad daylight) by the time we decide we better get some sleep before the big trek to North Cape tomorrow.
Saturday arrives and the omens look promising, with a settled sky and only a light breeze. I know conditions can change very quickly up here, but at least it’s a good start. We make the short walk to the Honningsvag Community Centre where all the charity walkers have to be registered. Rather than walk I’ve decided I’m going to cycle out to North Cape. Twenty miles of walking on hard tar will wreck my knees and it seems pointless to walk the distance today, then cycle there and back again tomorrow. However, Isabelle goes in and registers me as well, which means I can join in at the food stops and scoff fruit, chocolate and drinks. It also means I’ll receive a medal at the end for completing the North Cape March even though I’m cycling !
We retrace our steps back through town, past the airport and along the coast. It all seems very flat and easy so far, especially as I’m toddling alongside the walkers at the same pace as them. We reach the first food stop and checkpoint where no-one seems to mind that a cyclist is taking on as much fuel as everyone else. The first big hill starts shortly after. The three walkers are able to scramble up some rocks to take a short cut while I continue plodding round the hairpin bends on the road. There is another walker on the other side of the road who is keeping pace with me and I don’t think I could physically cycle any slower without stopping. Part of me is thinking that I’d like to do the whole trip at this lazy pace.
At the top the road flattens out and I’m able to catch up and rejoin the others. Even on a long downhill section I stay with them when I could easily freewheel into the distance. It’s about this point that Mr Competitive Robert joins another group and speeds off as we’re trudging along too slowly for him. We continue downwards until a fork in the road marks the point where you can cut off to the fishing village of Skarsvåg, or continue up the huge hill which leads onto the North Cape plateau.
For me this hill doesn’t seem so bad as the first as it’s more of a long slow plod, rather than a sharp incline. Bendik, on the other hand, is starting to suffer. He injured his hip when he was younger and the old wound is causing him a lot of pain by the look of it. He doesn’t complain though, and on uphill sections has taken to walking with the same motion as if he were skiing. We’re going really slowly now, but I couldn’t care less, because we’re only a few short miles from North Cape.
We summit the last big hill and take on food and juice at the final checkpoint. For the last few miles Isabelle has her music playing, the sun comes out and the temperature reaches a balmy ten degrees. I’d almost go as far to say that it’s warm. After all my fretting about the possibility of horrendous weather, it’s actually turned out to be surprisingly benign. The clear day also means you can see for miles across the Arctic Ocean. I’m just glad that nature has been kind to us today as we’re on a barren platreau, surrounded by sheer cliffs which drop about 300 metres into the sea.
We reach the North Cape car park, home to about sixty motorhomes, a dozen tourist coaches and a handful of motorbikes. We are one of the last walking groups to reach the finish, but even then there’s some stragglers behind us. As we reach our destination Isabelle’s playlist has chosen Golden Brown by the Stranglers to see us across the finish line. That beautifully mellow song seems to fit all our moods perfectly and any time I hear it now I’ll probably think of this moment.
It’s been a bit like Wacky Races today with all the forms of transport making their way to North Cape. But the important thing for me is that I’m one of them. Now I’ve reached my start point the journey can really begin. Better turn right around and start pedalling.