Following a week of rain, the forecast for Saturday was sunshine and blue skies.
This called for celebration.
We got up at 6.30am, prepared a Nistepakke (packed lunch) and wandered down to the train station where we purchased two tickets to Finse. We were about to embark on Bergen’s equivalent of the Otago Rail Trail.
In 1902 – 1904 Norwegian rail engineers began building the main Oslo to Bergan railway. The track had to rise up to the fjordy mountain plateau, reaching its highest point at Finse at 1222m before descending down again to sea level in Bergen. Before the railway could be built, the engineers needed a service road to access the rail line. This unsealed road, now known as Rallarvegen, is still in existence today, and now serves as a popular cycling and walking track.
Our plan was to cycle the 37km track from Finse to Myrdal, and there turn off and continue down the Flåmsbana rail service road for another 20km finishing at the picturesque fjord-end town of Flåm. Despite a total of 57km, the starting elevation was 1222, and destination elevation was 0m, so in my mind this entailed a pleasant pedal-free downhill ride, on what was promising to be a gorgeous, warm sunny day.
So, in another case of historical irony, we were now taking the Bergen railway to Finse in order that we could travel back down the old service road, all for recreation. What the engineers would have made of this, I am unsure.
The train to Finse takes around 2 hours. It is a spectacular journey with the track snaking its way along fjords, lakes, and mountain rivers, gradually climbing up to the mountainous plateau. The scenery is terrific and, as we sat back in the comfy and peacefully quiet electrified train, is serenely therapeutic, particularly if you’ve arisen at 6.30am.
At 10am we arrived at Finse, along with a couple of hundred other cyclists. Situated next to an ice cap, and at 1200m, the area had a cold bite to it. I layered up, suddenly thankful for my last minute decision to bring along my polar fleece and gloves.
We picked up our bikes from a lovely Norwegian local, who could have been mistaken for Judith’s twin sister from Taumaruanui Blazing Paddle’s Kayak Hire.
We were ready to begin our journey. We started out amongst numerous other cyclists, and unsurprisingly there was considerable clumping, making it a challenging ride, particularly for the more novice cyclist such as myself. However, much like running a marathon, within half an hour the people density thinned out, as everyone found their own pace, and we mostly had the track to ourselves.
Unlike the Otago Rail Trail, this track here is rough, and not well maintained. Despite being continuously downhill, it’s a tricky and curiously exhausting ride. My arms and hands soon began to ache after continuous application of breaks. In addition to this, there are steep drop-offs, loose scree and rocks to negotiate. More than once did I dismount my bike and walk, in fear of skidding off the mountain.
Nonetheless it is spectacular, and exhilarating. The trail starts on the plateau, with patches of snow amongst the mountain lakes and vast boldourous terrain. As it descends, the landscape slowly changes. The rocky expanse starts becoming covered by green shrubbery, and eventually trees of bright shades of autumn yellow. After several hours we reached Myrdal, where we then turned off and began the steep descent into the Flåm valley.
Some six hours and 57km later, we finally arrived at our destination, at Flåm Kai (wharf), situated at the end of Aurlandsfjorden. I released the breaks, and we dismounted our bikes. We were both exhausted. After relinquishing our bikes back to the bike hire people, we then turned to our next point of action, dinner.
We popped in at the local supermarket for some crackers, cheese, chocolate, Ostepops (Norwegian Twisties), and some covert cider. Drinking in public is technically not allowed, but it was a fine day, and as we sat down at the lonely wharf for our picnic dinner, the cold cider was the perfect rewarding end to what had been a fantastic day.
The journey home involved taking the 8pm Flåmsbana train back out of the valley up to Myrdal. There, we caught the main trunk line to Bergen by which time the area was enveloped in darkness, a stark reminder that summer is now very much over.
As the train quietly took us back to Bergen, the soothing motion, soft lighting and comfy seats was all too much.
We both awoke some two hours later at our destination back home.
Norway. Still awesome.
All photos below.