TARIFA TO NORDKAPP – a cycle ride from Southern Spain to Northern Norway

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is only a short article to accompany the photos that have now been put onto the website. Thank you all for your support throughout my ride. Those of you who know me will not be surprised that several thousand photos were taken during the 8,000 km ride.

My blog, which I wrote most evenings, hopefully sketched a picture of daily events, the joys, frustrations, elation, lows, injuries and sheer marvelment of the diversity of the countries I traveled through and the people I met on my way.

There is talk of a book being published, one that will contain the very best of the photographs and be accompanied with both blog entries and additional humorous and observational anecdotes.

As mentioned in my closing rambles, whilst enjoying the luxuries of a Hurtigruten cruise ferry to Bergen, I have now calculated some figures.

Total days spent cycling = 78

Total distance covered = 7,946.91 km

Total time spent in the saddle = 484 hours and 5 minutes

Total elevation gained = 94,816m (the equivalent to 10.7 Everest ascents).

Total calories utilised = 200,898 (25.2 per km cycled)

Average bpm whilst cycling = 91 (double resting pulse)

Countries visited:- Spain, France, Belgium, Luxemburg, Belgium (I liked Belgium), Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway.

Number of notable climbs:- Fifteen, five of these climbs exceeded 1,000m of continuous elevation and included such classics as Alto del Angliru and Lagos de Covadongo in Spain and Col d Aubisque, Hautacam and Cirque de Gavarnie in the Pyrenees, with two short punchy climbs in Belgium, Mur de Huy and La Redoute.

Posted in News | Leave a comment

Images of Bergen 6th August

Suffering withdrawal symptoms from cycling, however Bergen is a great city.

The hills are very steep.

Indecision is acceptable and understandable.

Nectar comes in glasses.

Warming up on a 140 round a minute anti aircraft gun, wives should be obeyed implicitly.

What no handle bars and a peculiar shaped wheel!

Getting lost amongst the numerous timber houses.

Deep into the Bryggen back streets of Bergen.

Cobbles and timber houses dating back to the 1700’s.

Posted in News | Leave a comment

A Leisurely Return from 71°10’21” to Honningsvag via Skarsvag. 28th July.

Back at my Honningsvag seaside residence, found by Brian (my thanks friend), I had just opened my ‘early’ evening beer, a Mack, remember the most northerly brewery on the world in Tromso, ….

Note the nice little touch on the pull ring.

…. when a man carrying a fishing rod walked through my back garden to the sea. For a fleeting moment I thought of offering him my ‘later’ evening beer, thankfully the moment evaporated quickly. Within fifteen minutes he had caught a sizable fish ‘this size’ that didn’t get away. It would have taken him more time to go shopping for it. These waters must be teeming with fish. Yesterday I took a video of hundreds of fish jumping, creating a sound like waves on the shore.

The anticipated feeling of anti climax never arrived. With the weather remaining perfect, beautiful surroundings, reindeer with calves at foot grazing the hills and a sense of achievement, I was feeling good.

Last night whilst waiting patiently for an opportunity to take a photo, a gentleman offered to take my picture beside the Globe. Frank and I immediately fell into conversation and spent the next few hours happily chatting. You really do meet some great people when you travel. Retired early through hard work and intellect, he had ridden his BMW from his home country of Germany.

Having pitched my tent near the north facing cliffs, I returned to the Globe to wait for the midnight sun. As the hour approached those of us who had arrived in plenty of time were edged aside by the professional late comers who have the ability to arrive at the front of any crowd without seemingly moving. Impervious to any protest, they stubbornly remain allowing others of their group to also achieve pole position. Perhaps the fence on the cliff’s edge shouldn’t be do sturdy.

The visitor’s centre at Nordkapp is impressive, providing information on natural history, historical events and a curved screen video of life at Nordkapp through the four seasons.

Part of the display of birds found in the region.

Here is a brief time line of some events:-

1539 – The Swedish priest Olaus Magnus drew a map of northern Europe. He filled in the undiscovered areas with sea monsters attacking ships. Nothing like instilling confidence in sailors.

1553 -The Knyskanes rock was first named North Cape by the English captain and navigator Richard Chancellor, in his search for his route to China.

1664 – Francesco Negri from Ravenna, Italy visits and is subsequently considered the first tourist to the area.

1873 – On 2nd July King Oscar ll of the Norway-Sweden union unveiled the royal monument to indicate the northern most point of the Norwegian kingdom.

1950 – Olav V, beloved king of Norway visited Nordkapp.

1956 – The road to Nordkapp was opened on 30th June. The first car having visited the previous year to start the Cape to Cape race to Cape Town.

1984 – On 7th June the Royal North Cape Club was founded, with the unveiling of the Midnight Sun Road.

The trusting nature of Norwegians is refreshing, cycles, vehicle snow tyres and other items of value left unattended and rightfully they are proud of their honesty. However with hundreds of other tourists around I didn’t feel comfortable leaving my cycle and gear unattended during the 20km walk I’d planned, so rode back to Honningsvag via a detour, to Skarsvag, which is, guess, yes, the most northerly fishing harbour in the world.

My previous less than complementary comments regarding the competency of some RV drivers was borne out when I heard the sound of metal scraping on tarmac as a RV rejoined the road from a layby at the top of the last long and sustained descent back to Honningsvag. I had stopped to check that my load was secure. Something getting caught in the spokes at 60km/h would have consequences. Turning, I saw the RV drive up the hill with it’s rear access ladder dragging on the road, door wide open and items falling from the vehicle. Any following vehicles would have had to negotiate the debris to be able to over take and advise the driver.

After a brief stop to take a photo with a coach party, both the coach and I set off down the hill. An exciting descent would be an understatement, pure enjoyment. Topped by half the passengers waving and clapping as they over took me as the hill ran out onto flat ground. The driver even touched his horn.

Tomorrow will be a chilling out day in Honningsvag, a town I now know well. Then a 4am rise on Monday to catch the 5.45am departing MS Nordkapp to Tromso, stopping at Hammerfest, the world’s most northerly city!

Honningsvag harbour.

The Nordkapp arrives to take me and Hugh to Tromso. I met Hugh from Bristol, UK as we both waited for her.

An expensive but excellent IPA.

Posted in News | Leave a comment

Today I Finished a Wonderful Journey. 27th July.

The Globe at Nordkapp.

I have pitched my tent 400m from and parallel with the globe that marks the furthest land point of Europe. So tonight, for one night only, I will be the most northerly inhabitant of Europe. To the east I can clearly see the Russian coastline and the next land mass to the north west is Greenland, which I certainly can not see. Looking due north there is no land mass until the northern coast of Alaska. Quite a thought.

The weather is perfect, with the sun shining and a gentle breeze. There is an uninterrupted 180 degree view of the sea with the occasional small fishing boat passing by with it’s tail of seagulls flying noisily behind. Somewhere out in front of me is the invisible dividing line between the North Sea and the larger Barents Sea, with it’s huge untapped resources of oil and gas.

A pair of reindeer have just wandered pass the tent. It isn’t often anyone can say that and whilst I remember, this morning as I packed up the tent I was treated to three brief glimpses of a Sea Otter.

Children of the Earth. Created by seven children from around the world who came together for a week at Nordkapp to create a symbol for. World peace.

It is beyond me to describe just how serene and beautiful this place is. However, and not only in the winter, it can be a desperate place to be, with winds strong enough to pick up stones and hurl them through the air.

I have been here for some hours and yet the fact that there is no more cycling to do has not fully registered. No more maps to read, plans to amend, wild camps to find or daily food shops.

This cycle ride has been an epic, longer than any trip to climb an 8,000m mountain. I have met some fantastic people, some I hope will remain in contact. I’ve seen innumerable places throughout Europe, learnt more than I ever though possible and whilst I have turned the peddles, sweated, hurt and swore at idiot drivers and determined flies, mosquitoes and tics. …..

(Hot, bitten by mosquitoes, pestered by flies, target practice for RV drivers, another hill never to be recycled, is completed.)

…. I have also shouted out loud with joy and exhilaration, sung tunelessly at the top of my voice in the darkest, coldest road tunnels and pushed the boundaries of safety to gain a greater speed on long steep descents.

Whilst I thank everyone who cycled with me. Whether planned or by chance and good fortune, the one person I really want to thank is Anne, my wife. Who is not only my wife but also my weather girl, my hostel booker and my link with the real world.

Tonight with a continuing clear sky the midnight sun will be very visible.

And it was!

Tomorrow I will cycle the hilly 35km back to Honningsvag and perhaps do the hike to Knivskjelladdon, provided I can secure the bike.

The statistics – I have purposely not delved into any stats. beyond each days figures. I didn’t want to initiate any reoccurring thoughts revolving around, ‘only another 1,000km to ride, only another 6,000m of elevation’. What I can say is I believe I have exceeded the intended 8,000km. Just in July has seen 1,600 miles covered and 31,898m of climbing, nearly four Everest’s in one month. When I get home I’ll work it all out and post it for you to see.

As you all know I am raising money for cancer research. Many of you have been very generous and I thank you so much for your donation. Others perhaps have got it on their ‘to do’ list. Please, please make that donation. I have a Just Giving page – http://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/tim-ralph

This won’t be the last blog of the trip. I’ll post all the stats and continue to harass you to donate to cancer research. I also intend posting several hundred photos of the trip on my website, although that won’t be for a few weeks.

I would like to add a further note about cancer. Recently a very dear and close friend had an operation to remove a cancerous growth. Whilst she is both physically and mentally strong, she still has a fight ahead of her. She is young and beautiful and does not deserve to have this terrible disease. I make no apologies for mentioning this, if it results in more money for research.

Posted in News | Leave a comment

A Day of R and R. 26th July.

I could have risen early, packed up the tent in the rain and cycled into town to look around. However today was planned as a rest and recuperation day. Arguably I needed neither, but there is little else to do. The rain continued until 11am and I continued to remain lazy until that time too. I’ve since looked around Honningsvag and the museum.

One of the Hurtiguten ships dock in Honningsvag.

Querky things abound in unusual places. These ‘souls’ obviously survived the stormy seas.

Honningsvag’s main attraction has to be it’s museum. I spent an enjoyable two hours learning about both its ancient dwellings and modern history. The sorcery laws of the 15 and 16th centuries, resulting in death of both men and women. The ‘Scorched Earth Policy’ the Nazi’s operated in all villages and towns in this area and the rebuilding programme. The sinking of the German battle ship, Scharnhorst by four allied Destroyers. The past whaling and current fishing industries and future oil and gas production from the Barents sea and a surprising piece of random information was the fact that Honningsvag in the 1960’s was known as ‘ Little Chicago’s, for it unruly and gangster racketeering.

Honningvag harbour.

Part of Honningsvag.

It was inevitable!

This evening a had a coffee where the only other customer was another cyclist. We immediately fell into conversation. Aldo Rock, an Italian with perfect English, was energy loading before setting off on his road cycle to Nordkapp. Initially a ‘Dark Horse’, as we chatted about sport it came to light Aldo has competed in the cycle race across America. He is also a Triathlete and has a radio and TV station in Italy and is giving a radio interview from Nordkapp this evening at midnight, hopefully with the midnight sun shining. Now that’s how to mix work and play.

Aldo, if you read this I hope the ride to Norkapp wasn’t too arduous. The wind was particularly strong. It was good to meet you, hopefully one day our paths will cross again.

My home for tonight.

CORRECTION:- In a previous blog I refered to the Inuit people. This was a mistake, the reference was to the Sami people.

Posted in News | Leave a comment

Nearing the Finishing Line. 25th July.

The patchy rain forecasted for today was ‘patchless’, seamless as it hammered down on my tent during the early hours. This did not bode well for the ride up to Honningsvag. However after a coffee in the restaurant attached to the campsite, the skies had cleared and the signs were good.

The route from Olderfjord to Honningsvag consisted of far reaching sea views, open windswept country, sea cliffs, tunnels and reindeer.

Cod drying racks.

With the calm sea to my right the E69 hugged the coast, weaving in and out of numerous coves. With a brisk wind coming in from the west, there were times when it was blowing directly at you and others when it was pushing you at 40km/h depending whether you were cycling the southside of the deep cutting coves or the north. Around Repvag it is necessary to climb up over the north east peninsula and head west into the wind before entering the Nordkapp sea tunnel. This was hard work and I was willing the tunnel to arrive to give restbite from the wind.

At 6,870m and 212m below sea level, with a 9% ‘hill’ down into it and a longer 9% ‘hill’ out of it, the tunnel holds a certain respect by cyclists. Some write having had frightening experiences and loathed every minute in it. This instills trepidation in all about to enter it, including me. Having put both my rear lights on and front light and layered up, in I cycled.

On reaching this far north in Norway every cyclist would have now been through many tunnels. What made this one so different was the immediate massive temperature drop, enhanced by the speed that you descend under the sea. Lighting provided in the tunnel is minimal and the noise of the extractor fans trying to remove the fog is loud. It is also true that sound is distorted particularly with motorcycles sounding like trains. The ascent back out was long and with vehicles passing, care was needed. My main concern, as it has been for many days, is the incompetence of some RV drivers. The problem being it is impossible to identify those excellent drivers and those who should not be in charge of a RV. However the overall experience was enjoyable and the warmth that greets you ad you emerge is welcoming.

A further two tunnels, the final one, The Honningsvag tunnel, at 4,440m cutting through a 400m high mountain brings you a less than auspicious area consisting of a desensitization plant and derelict concrete silos before Remi1000 welcomes you into Honningsvag town. A town completely rebuilt after the Nazi’s burnt it to the ground as they retreated in 1945.

During the ride I saw numerous reindeer. I took some time to get reasonably close to this cow and calf.

Brian, the recently retired GP from Glasgow, who was great company for a few days, way back sometime somewhere, mailed to say he had been to Nordkapp and was now in Honningsvag and suggested having a meal and drink together before he headed home early on 26th on one of the Hurtigruten ships. We enjoyed a pizza and some beer together whilst our bikes got soaked outside. Not able to delay out departure any longer we headed off to try and find a derelict building to save putting the tents up, as he had to be on the ship by 5am. Unsuccessful, we pitched the tents overlooking the sea, said farewell to each other and slept though a wet night. I heard Brian’s alarm, but was back to sleep immediately.

I how have four days until I board the MS Nordkapp for Tromso to meet Anne for our trip south to Bergen. I think I’m going to get to know the island of Mageroya very well.

Posted in News | Leave a comment

Across the Stokkedalen and Repparfjorddalen. 24th July.

Today has been a great ride with a feeling of having crossed over a large remote stretch of country.

The road tunnels leading into Alta from the west on the E6 had not permit cyclists. All the detours added distance, however the deserted roads and beautiful scenery more than compensated.

Alta is a reasonably sized town with a modern relaxed feel about it and an unusual and striking church. The cafe I found also did an excellent cappuccino, none of this £3.50 coffee from a thermos. The apple pie and ice cream were also good. No excuses needed with 120 km to cycle and a 1000m of climbing ahead, I was looking forward to today’s ride.

The church at Alta.

Having put in several 100 km plus days, I’m now two days ahead of schedule. The heavy rain that had been forecast for tomorrow is now patchy rain, but strong winds and heavy rain is forecast for 29th. Plans need to be flexible, so hopefully Honningsvag tomorrow night, 25th. I had thought about cycling through the 7 km sea tunnel to Honningsvag during the night when traffic is light. This would have necessitated carrying two days food to camp over near the entrance and I haven’t the capacity. Besides I have quite enjoyed the previous tunnels and the reported loud and bewildering noise of vehicle’s hasn’t been as expected.

Back to today, many of the photos today were either taken using my Olympus ‘from the saddle’ whilst moving, or the light contrast was too much for the phone camera.

There were two substantial climbs, not steep at 7 and 8% but long. Sea level to 250m at Sarves and 385m at Sennalandet. For some reason the flies weren’t around and these climbs were enjoyable. Once on the barren tundra, where the road in front ran for miles straight to it’s vanishing point, there were a surprising number of small timber dwelling dotted around the undulating hills, each with a snowmobile. The sun was shining and the air cool, this was very enjoyable!

Then came a real fright. I had heard the screech of a bird of prey above me for a few minutes. Without warning there was a loud swishing sound near my right ear as I felt the air disturbed. Looking up I saw a bird do an incredible rising turn and started to descend towards me again, screeching all the while. Fortunately there were no vehicles around as I waved my arm and shouted, expecting him to make a strike. The bird subsequently flew around me and I managed to get two photos of it again on the Olympus. These and others will go on the website hopefully within a few weeks of returning home.

My campsite at Olderfjord when I left for a meal.

And when I returned.

That’s why I prefer wild camping. My neighbour’s drank at least ten cans of beer became very loud. had a smoky barbeque and snored.

Posted in News | Leave a comment