Adventure 2017: Hugh Newton and Alisha Johansson — Biking Norway
March 28, 2017
Biking more than 1,000 miles along the coast of Norway is all fine and dandy, save for one thing: all those irksome fiords. "You're going in and around fiords all the time," says Hugh Newton, who undertook the trip last July and August with local Alisha Johansson. "And you're always climbing passes to get to the next one. And this is the flattest route in Norway."
Climbing an average of 3,300 feet each day, the local riders spent 17 days biking north to south along the coast from Tromsø to Trondheim, mostly above the Arctic Circle. They did the trip entirely self-supported, carrying their camping gear in panniers.
Pedaling knobby-tired cross bikes — Newton's a custom-made Eriksen and Johansson's a Specialized — loaded with 50 pounds of gear, the first part of their route took them to the island of Senja, the Vesterålen archipelago and the Lofoten Islands. From there, it was a three-hour ferry ride, one of 13 in all, to Bodø where the ride south continued.
En route, they passed through old fishing villages and farms, marveled at ice-capped mountains and re-supplied — "we ate a lot of meat and potatoes and beet salad" — for their one-pot meals every day. Without any flats or mechanicals the entire way, the trip was perfect, in fact, save for the rain and headwinds.
"It was unusually wet," Johansson says, adding at one point they experienced non-stop rain for five straight days, prompting them to rent a cabin. "There was no way to stay dry. We just chalked it up as the 'humidity' being up again."
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They became adept at taking ferries, which, with a bike, gets you treated as a walk-on passenger, as well as riding through tunnels, which they relished because it negated another hill. One day, they spent seven kilometers biking underground.
They also learned a few tricks of the trade. In Norway, you can camp within 150 meters of any inhabited structure, making finding tent spots easy; you can pick and choose when you want to ride, with the Arctic summer offering 24 hours of daylight; and the backroads often provide the best ride. "The best advice we got was to stick to roads that don't have a centerline," says Newton. "The drivers go slower on them."
The credit for piecing the route together goes to Johansson, who visited Norway a few times while living in Sweden for five years.
While weight was an issue, that didn't stop Newton from buying a half-pound bronze sculpture of a king cormorant from a village blacksmith, that he lugged along as a mascot. "Some people might bring along a tiny, and lighter, stuffed animal or something as a talisman," he says. "It inspired us every day."
That held especially true on the steeps, with some roads topping 15-percent grades. "We barely had low enough gears to get up them," Newton says. "Oftentimes, we'd make our own switchbacks on the road."
As for advice they'd pass along to others repeating the feat? "I'd highly recommend planning a rest day or two," Johansson says. "On our rest day we still climbed 2,500 vertical."