Onwards and Downwards

10th JUNE 2018

It’s taken the best part of seven hours to reach North Cape in the company of the charity walkers. We get our soup and medal for completing the march, have a look around and take pictures at the North Cape Globe. Then they all jump in a car and get a lift back to Honningsvag. I’ve now got to retrace my footsteps in the form of cycling, although I seem to have forgotten how many uphills there would be on the return trip. In my mind I’ve convinced myself that it will be mostly flat with two big long downhills. What I think will take three hours takes closer to four. Journeys always seem to take longer on the way back. I have a glass of red wine and a celebratory chilli con carne when I eventually return around ten thirty at night.

Isabelle asks if I want to join them for a hike to an abandoned coastal village called Kjelvik on the Sunday. I tag along as I’ll probably never get the chance to do this again. We drive round to the next inlet at Nordvågen, take a three hour hike up and over a hill, before a final steep descent into the small, sheltered bay of Kjelvik. Unless you follow the trail we have, the only other way into the village is by boat. This was once the capital of the region, but now there’s only half a dozen deserted buildings and a holiday cabin.

On the way back Isabelle shows me another small inlet, far away on the other side of the fjord. This was the spot where her great grandparents had fled during the Second World War rather than face forced evacuation. For a whole year they lived in what was practically a cave, surviving only by hunting, fishing and eating berries. Keeping a constant watch for Nazi patrols, they could only light fires on dark, cloudy nights. If they had been discovered they would have been shot. Salvation came when Russia liberated Northern Norway, but on their withdrawal the Nazis burned every building in the area so they’d be of no use to the Russians. The only structure they didnt torch was the church in Honningsvag, thus making it the oldest building in town. Everything else was built after 1945.

Isabelle’s mother has a huge cooked dinner of pork, potatoes and salad waiting for us on our return. The rest are driving back to Alta tonight as they all have work tomorrow, but they really don’t look like they can be bothered. I’ve been sharing a room with the other two blokes, but get the space to myself tonight which means I miss out on Bendik’s snoring and comedy sleep-talking.

As it happens, I don’t leave Honningsvag till the Tuesday due to a weather forecast that looked disturbingly Arctic. The generosity of Isabelle and her family has been humbling. I was a complete stranger a few days ago and now I’ve been a guest at their house for the last four days. Everyone is working early on the day I leave, so I’m told to just help myself to breakfast and let myself out.

Almost the first thing I do when leaving Honningsvag is to cycle through the four kilometre long Honningsvag Tunnel. I’ve got my bright green luminous water-proof on so traffic will have no problem seeing me. It’s next to useless as a water-proof. Fortunately most of the traffic seems to be tour buses and motor-homes heading in the other direction towards North Cape, so only a couple of cars overtake me on my way through.

About an hour later I’m about to go through the Daddy of tunnels – The North Cape Tunnel. Opened in 1999, this is a seven kilometre long undersea tunnel that links the island of Magerøya to the mainland. The first half of the tunnel is a fun downhill which I freewheel down speedily. At the bottom it levels out, I slow down and start to pay more attention to my strange surroundings. The feeling is slightly eerie with the dark, the damp and the bare rock walls. What little light there is comes from a row of dull orange lights overhead. And all the while I’m thinking of the tons and tons of seawater suspended above me. What begins as a slight uphill towards the other side soon gets progressively steeper, and there’s three kilometres of this to look forward to. With the tunnel’s echo I can hear traffic approaching long before I see any lights, but it’s really difficult to tell which direction it’s coming from. I’m constantly looking over my shoulder to see what, if anything, is behind me. At times I can hear a huge roar in the distance which sounds like all Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse on motorbikes bearing down on me. As it gets closer I daren’t turn around in case I wobble and end up in the middle of the road. The noise is deafening on the way past, but then I’m perplexed to see a small car trundling off into the distance ahead of me.

It takes an age to crawl up the slope. Towards the end I’m pulling over onto the muddy pavement to let traffic pass when I hear it approaching. I figure it’s a lot safer this way and it also gives me a chance to catch my breath. Because I’m really sucking in oxygen by this point, I can taste car fumes even though there’s extractor fans in the tunnel to clean the air. There are distance markers at the side of the tunnel, so I know roughly how long there is to go and I’m counting it down in 100 metre sections by the end. I make it up and out the other side to be greeted by the sight of small bushy trees that were absent on the island. I’m also greeted by a nasty headwind.

I only make it as far as Repvåg tonight where the campsite is the most basic and yet the most expensive so far. It’s situated on an exposed peninsula where I try to cleverly arrange my tent so it’s sheltered on three sides by the reception building, a shed and a motor-home. Almost inevitably the wind howls in from the fourth, open side. This is the coldest I have felt in my tent yet, with sleet battering into the canvas above me. Inside my sleeping bag I’m fully clothed with two pairs of socks on.

The next morning doesn’t bring any change in the weather. It’s bloody freezing with wind, rain and sleet gteeting me when i open the tent. If I look down the fjord I can see the showers that will be upon me within five minutes. I get back on the road and into the headwind as I want to make it to Olderfjord today.  Although it’s cold and there’s a couple of sleety showers, I somehow manage to dodge most of it and stay dry.

Just after lunch I stop at a rest area for a drink and some munchies. An old German couple in a motor-home beckon me over and offer me a cup of hot tea and a frankfurter sandwich. They don’t speak English and I don’t speak German, but their gesture is truly appreciated. Sometimes it’s simple little things that make your day.

I get to Olderfjord, still dry, and pitch my tent in the campsite which sits at the head of the fjord. With the constant headwind I’ve travelled less than 50km, but I still think it feels a touch warmer here.

Get chatting to a German cyclist in his twenties called Nicklas who is in the final stretch of cycling from Athens to North Cape. A couple more days and he’ll have managed something similar to what I’d like to do, but in reverse. There’s also a grumpy, but quite funny 75 year old Dutch lady who chats and gives me a Finnish beer. She is touring in her own car, which she sleeps in every night. She’s converted the car to the point where it’s basically now just a passenger seat with a bed in the back.

In sharp contrast to last night, I only require the regulation one pair of socks in the sleeping bag tonight, so it is officially warmer.

4 thoughts on “Onwards and Downwards

  1. Glad it got a bit warmer..id be worried about my tent parting company with me by the sound of tht weather…..onward bound x

    Like

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