With its reputation for persistent precipitation, Norway is often overlooked as a summer holiday destination; particularly by Brits who are in urgent need of vitamin D by the time the warmer months roll back around. It is, however, home to some spectacular scenery and the snow-melt and lingering light of long summer days make August the perfect time to visit.
Norway is also notoriously expensive, making cycle touring perhaps one of the most economical ways to visit.
As well as their Norwegian food provisions and bottle of whiskey, Kyle and Jesse took a tent and spent some of their six nights wild camping. When the weather was particularly bad and a warm shower was in order they found plenty of hostels or old ski resorts that would rent out a cheap room.
Having cycled the length of California (Kyle) and with some high intensity training under their belts, the American buddies blasted through this route in six days. However, with plenty of towns and villages along the way, or the freedom of a tent, it's very easy to break up into much shorter sections.
With some forward planning it's also possible to book (limited) spaces for bikes between villages on the Oslo to Bergen train line and cycle select segments, or just the Rallarvegen stretch, if that takes your fancy.
Kyle took his own road bike over for the journey and would absolutely not recommend road bike tyres to anyone attempting the route! While some stretches are on the hard shoulder of tarmac roads, large sections follow gravel tracks and, after three flat tyres, Kyle wished that he had taken small mountain bike tyres - 28mm with knobbly bits would have been infinitely superior.
The only other essential? Some really good wet (and cold) weather gear.
Setting off from the Norwegian capital, the first section of the route is on the hard shoulder of the motorway. Once they had left the motorway, Kyle and Jesse decided to give their first night of camping a go and had one of their funniest experiences of the trip. Having spotted a campsite on the map, the guys arrived their as dusk began to settle to find it completely deserted.
Low cloud, fading light, a dark lake and no sign of anyone all combined to give it a very eerie atmosphere and Kyle and Jesse were thoroughly creeped out by a clanking noise that approached them as they bedded down for the night. Knocked out by the exhaustion of a day's cycling, they decided to send messages to their loved ones in case they didn't make it through the night and drifted off to sleep. It was only when they awoke the following morning that they discovered that their would-be assassin was in fact a fluffy brown cow who was nonchalantly munching on grass blissfully unaware at the terror that came in his wake.
The cycling is easy along flat, well-paved roads for the first day or two but that 'goes out the window' once you hit the middle of the route.
At Haugastøl, the route joins Norway's most popular bike path - the 82km Rallarvegen - and the intensity ramps up. The path starts to undulate sharply as it heads across the Scandinavian Mountains and one of Europe's highest mountain plateaus and whips out a few brutal climbs in quick succession. One particular climb between Uvdal and Vasstulan forced Jesse and Kyle along 7 or 8km of track at a 7-9% incline, earning it the nickname 'death climb'. The sense of relief and swig of celebratory whiskey on having made it to the top marked the highlight of the ride (the lowlight was 'everything leading up to that point'). It's the struggle that makes the victory sweeter, right?
Sometime around this point another lowlight came along. After a day of cycling through freezing rain Kyle and Jesse stopped off at a ski village and went on the hunt for some food. The only place they found sold microwaved pizza for $40 USD and the pizza was so terrible that Jesse gave some honest but perhaps overly-strongly-worded feedback and got both of them thrown out! We forgot to ask whether that was with the pizza but at $5 a slice we really hope so.
Pizza-gate behind them, the pair were back in the saddle for some more undulating terrain and spectacular views. Higher ground tended to bring lots of fog and low cloud cover but after breaks in that allowed the world to reappear...and it was often a truly incredible world.
Reaching the other end of the Rallarvegen route, Jesse and Kyle arrived in the tiny town of Finse. Superficially, there isn't anything especially remarkable about Finse, but for those at one with the Force it's a pretty cool place to stay. The ice planet Hoth in 1980 "The Empire Strikes Back" were filmed on the nearby Hardangerjøkulen glacier and Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford stayed at the town's hotel. Not too shabby.
After days of mountain crossing, the final section joins tarmac and flat(ter) roads as it enters fjord territory to approach Bergen on the coast.
Overall verdict? A satisfying challenge with a healthy dose of beautiful nature and stories to laugh about...and some great photo-ops.
If you'll take a bit (or fair amount) of rain on your summer holiday this might just be the adventure for you! Put in a bit of training beforehand to make the hills more bearable, pack some good rain gear, beware of clanking cows and bad pizza, and let the stunning scenery do the rest.