4th to 11th May

May 9th finally I get to sit down on a bench and write. I’m in a campsite called Lone camping which is about 15 miles north east of Bergen. Its my third campsite in Norway. They are mixed events. There is usually one view which is stunning (the one that gets into the camping book) but invariably another which is the back of a petrol station – as here. Look one way and I see Bertha with a mountain, the snow melting behind her. Look the other and its huge trucks refuelling and pumping up their tyres and a fast main road.

But enough of this criticism. A kind Norwegian man gave me some recommendations in terms of routes from where I stayed on the first night here, at Flekkefjord, which was a couple of hours from Kristiansand where the ferry docked up to tavanger. He said ‘Perhaps theere are too many mountains, even for an Englishman’. And he was right, there were deep blue lakes, hairpin bends both the going up and going down variety, tunnels and amazing views over the sea. Driving here is effortlessly stunning. And the Norwegians must know it. There are lay byes exactly where you would want to pull off and admire the view. (A voice was asking me, as usual, ‘why is this a beautiful view? Is it because you recognize it from a stock of catalogue views?’ What is beauty?. This is the usual voice that comes with me on every trip, asking me why on earth I would want to do this.) (I wish the fat man on the sit on lawnmower would go away). Some things are perfect. The weather for example. So far beautiful blue skies with a temperature of about 18 during the day, dropping down to about 12 – 14 in the evening. The roads, and the bike is performing well. Now for the bad and good news. Journeying up the coast involves taking ferries, two so far. On the first from just north of Stavanger to Skudenshaven, I left Bertha unsecured. There were no usual straps and I thought this is only a short trip so perhaps they don’t tie down the bikes. As we proceeded the sea got rougher and the boat dived and rose. Up on the sun deck I thought, well if Bertha falls there will be plenty of people on hand to help. Then when we arrived i went down to the car deck and breathed a sigh of relief to see her still upright. But when I got close to her I could see that she’d been damaged and someone had set her straight again. I started her up, checked the indicators and lights and all seemed well but something on the handlebars did not look right, but I started off, then I realised that a mirror was missing. I went back and found it lying on the floor under a bulwark. I remonstrated with one man and then another but they continually told it it was my responsibility to look after her. ‘Hey, bad luck, man’ the manager said in parting. A campsite was nearby and it was about 6pm on Sunday. Unlike most European campsites, no one seems to be ready to greet you here. On Sunday there was just a number to ring posted up on reception. On ringing it a small girl gave me another number to call, eventually summoning a woman who took my money and toldd me about a mechanics, just 200 metres up the road that I could visit in the morning to see if they could fix my mirror. This was number two campsite. Just me and a couple of guys in a mobile home, and a petrol station. I was fuming at Norway. My argument about the bike was gong through my head over and over again. Added to that there was a fierce wind, so it was impossible just to sit and unwind. In the morning I headed off to the mechanics. I talked to one man then another who spoke quietly and with an effortless can-do approach. He went off and welded the broken part, commenting that the mirror was fixed with a left handed thread. He brought back the perfectly welded part and fixed it back on – perfectly. We spoke quietly about riding bikes and ‘Norwegian miles’ which are 10 kilometres apparently. ‘So how much do I owe you?’ I asked. A brief conversation – ‘its nothing’. It was fixed for free and in a way the net effect of the whole event was positive. I went back to the campsite and made another coffee, ate my lovely Danish marzipans and headed off. Lovely roads including a fantastic long a dark tunnel, amazing bridges and beautiful views, including the first snow-capped mountains. I just made a ferry up to Bergen and drove straight on. This time I parked up right against a rail and used the ropes they casually leave there. But this time you could stay with your vehicle so I sat glued to Bertha this time, but the journey was calm. And now, after missing my turning, I am at this campsite. I feel there is something cynical about running it from the petrol station with two young rather uninterested boys selling petrol and telling you where you can’t park or put up a tent (anywhere that is remotely nice) but not bothering to tell you that you need to buy tokens if you want to use the showers. With some lateral thinking I’ve found an ok spot. The sun is still warm and the breeze has dropped. There are a coulple of tents over the way but I have defied possibility and parked near to where I have put up my tent. There is even a picnic bench right next to the tent, where I am sitting in comfort at last, typing up my diary. I dropped in at Spar over the other side of the main road before arriving and bought some steak, onions, mushrooms and olive oil. I’m a little tired of my dehydrated food. I’ve also got a couple of beers at a not too exorbitant price for all that. The sun will set early tonight as it disappears behind the mountain over to the west. There are some ominous clouds up here. Its time to start chopping and frying.

May 11th Wednesday
The night of my meat feast it rained and rained keeping me awake most of the night. I felt rather gloomy yesterday morning but remembered the advice of a Norwegian biker to travel East, away from the coast, to avoid the rains which, as I saw on a satellite film, do come in from the south west. After taking a coffee and delicious cake in the cafe near the campsite, I rolled up my wet tent and packed up. In fact by the time I did pack up it had stopped raining though the sky was extremely heavy and the waitress said that it would stay wet all day. I wore my hi visibility vest- with its Salvation Army price tag still on but didnt’ put on wet weather gear that makes you feel like Mr Balloon man. It was a lovely 40 miles or so, some of it next to the train track, up to Voss, quite a pretty town where I had another coffee and another pastry, not quite so nice this time. Norwegians seem to be relaxed, quiet, with nothing to prove, helpful when need be. I took a closer look at the welding the mechanic had done on my mirror fixing and am amazed at the neat job. After many lovely long tunnels and a very short ferry trip from Brusevik over the fjord (I sat on Bertha all the way) I rode down to Kinsarvik where, after a moment of panic thinking I had a flat tyre after riding the gravelly road at some raodworks (and the previous panic about the engine smelling really hot when I stopped), I parked up. I had noticed two campsites next to eachother just out of town and was determined to stay somewhere good this time. I walked passed the first four star establishment with its archery targets and cabins going up to a much humbler place with space for about 10 caravans or tents. A builder told me the man in charge was down in his cabin. I walked down and knocked on the door getting no reply, then again where a bearded rather elderly man welcomed me enthusiastically and engaged me in german conversation. At last this was the kind of hospitality I had been hoping for, and the site is a gem, albeit a slightly unkempt one. My tent is about 6 feet from a beautiful Sorfjorden, that does actually connect to the North Sea as some Norwegians also staying here told me when I asked where all the fast flowing water goes to. I walked back, picked up dinner (more meat vegetables and beer) and rode back down here. Later in the evening the manager (he is not the owner who lives in Oslo) invited me into their cabin for tea with his wife. She was rather formal like my German grandmother but he was enthusiastic, telling me how frustrating it was that he could not speak English. We burbled away. He told me he used to own three BMW motorbikes, but stopped as the bikes started to get too big. They spend just 6 weeks here if I understood right and are from Osnabruck in northern Germany. Needless to say, I’m staying here one more night. I plan to stay at Lillehamer which looks to be half way back to Kristiansand and the last night, Friday, I will stay in what seems to be a campsite right in the town, almost within view of the ferry terminal where my boat back to the top of Denmark leaves at 8 on Saturday morning – but I am wishing my time away. Even though the weather was beautiful (till it rained – but even that was only at night – I have never ridden in the rain) its only here that I have got in to the spot I was hoping for. Its as if someone is standing behind my shoulder all the time, someone extremely critical, asking me, sneeringly why I am participating in something so dreadful. Well, here, this critical person has become quiet for the moment and my buoyancy defeats it. The simple pleasures – this morning I had a hot shower and washed my clothes from which steam arose in the cold morning air on the line here. I’ve had one lovely coffee and marzipan cake from Odense (I have one left). The ferry boat goes back and forth all day up the fjord and back to just around the corner from here where you can’t see it dock. I have the feeling I will take a day off from riding. The weather is perfect again.

May 2nd Day 1 of my trip to Norway

2nd May in my cabin on the stenna Hollandica, the multi-million new ship built only last year for this route from Harwich to Hoek van Holland and back. I managed to take a wrong turn even before I left Cambridge and then got bizarre messages from my GPS. Nevertheless I know the way here well by now. Its such a beautiful twisty route to Harwich from Cambridge and I always seem to take it on sunny late afternoons on the way to catch this ferry. I arrived among the first dozen vehicles and got chatting to a German woman from Hamburg travelling with her husband. I like the way that these trips open up brief conversations with strangers. Then a couple of cyclists ask us where they can buy tickets. Its sunny but so windy and I retreat into the strange cabin staffed by a few machines only where I buy tea for #1.40 and eat the first of my stash of muesli bars and shelter from the wind. A fellow with a bicycle asks for my help putting the wheel back on and later we ask eachother to take pictures of ourselves next to our various two-wheeled modes of transport. Two Polish guys on big bikes arrive but dont seem to want to talk much though they offer to shake hands with me. They are riding all the way back to Poland tomorrow. I can’t believe it. After waiting for hours in the cold, so cold I wait with my helmet on, e ride up the spiral ramp to the boat. When we get level with the boat I look up and the enormous mouth that takes us in. I wish I had been able to film this enormous entry. We tie down the bikes praying they are still upright at the end of the journey and jostle my way up the elevator to my deck and stagger into my room and drop my bags and helmet on the floor. I look in the mirror and smile. So far so good, no self-doubt, no boredom. This will be a new kind of trip for me. Lets see whether Norway’s wild camping and beautiful sites offers something that the crowded, mobile home filled sites of Germany and southern Europe don’t. Tomorrow is a bit of a ride though, but not that daunting if I break it into two 2 hour slots with another hour on the end. I will be tired by the end of it for sure but intrigued by the Hollenstedter Hof hotel. I’ve stayed in two so called biker hotels in Germany. One I found awful (the dinner was ghastly) and the other was very pleasant.

Its already ten past ten UK time that’s 10 past 11 tomorrow’s time. so Suddenly its time to prepare to get my head down.

the boat had two coaches with Czech plates full of Asians. ‘Will all the Indian people who have not yet eaten, please go to the restaurant’ – that’s what thee Dutch lady announced.