Many months ago, after having decided to go to Denmark for the World Masters, I started researching possible cycling adventures in Norway. At some point I stumbled upon a picture that had me transfixed. It was the little village of Lysebotn, right at the end of Lysefjord. The photos clearly showed a road snaking it’s way up the prodigious slopes of the southern side of the fjord and disappearing into the rolling, rocky hills at the top. What could be more awesome than riding up a lump-in-your-throat climb overlooking one of the most beautiful fjords in the world? Not much I reckon.
From what I could see from the photos, we were talking 31 hairpins, but for all I knew, there could have been more behind the upper hills. There was a segment on Strava which listed the climb as 8.7km @ 10%. I wasn’t surprised, there was some serious altitude gain required to get out of that fjord. One thing I couldn’t work out in the photo was where the road went after the first few corners. It looked like it just disappeared. I assumed it just tucked around behind the trees, out of sight from the angle the photo was taken. I thought no more of it.
Every year there is a bike race from Lysebotn to Sandnes, 20km short of Stavanger and about 150km in length overall. No problems with riders abusing neutralised zones in that race I thought. It’s a natural 8.7km neutralised zone!
To get to Lysebotn and back to Stavanger by dark, There was only one way – catch the 6:05am ferry from Lauvvik, a 40km ride from Stavanger, which would then drop me to Lysebotn at about 7:15am. I would then climb the road up out of the fjord and from there I had two choices – ride on back to Stavanger, about 170km, or ride around the top for a bit and then back down into Lysebotn where I would catch a ferry back to Lauvvik at 3:20pm.
Given that Lauvvik was about 42km from Stavanger, I thought it would be a good warm up for my legs before tackling the climb. What wasn’t sounding so good was the time I was going to have to leave Stavanger in order to be in Lauvvik before 6:05am. I guessed I could easily average 25km/hr without going too hard, possibly 30 depending on the terrain. This meant a departure time from Stavanger at about 4:15 to be safe. If I didn’t make the ferry at Lauvvik, the whole day was off. I had no other way of getting there.
I had bought my ferry tickets the afternoon before and after studying the map and getting a local SIM card for my phone so I could use google maps, I was ready. My alarm went at 4:00am and in a stupor, I pulled on my gear. The bike was ready, I just needed to fill my bottles and get out there. I didn’t have a lot of data included in my SIM card plan so I couldn’t use it for the whole journey to Lauvvik, but I doubted I’d need to use it, it was just a precaution. I walked out the front door and into the night.
I needed to ride a kilometre or so to get onto route 40 to Sandnes. It was a cobblestoned road that I really didn’t appreciate at that time of the morning, with my cold muscles and foggy head. I tried to be all ‘Paris-Roubaix’ about it but it was just bloody unpleasant. So unpleasant in fact, that I missed the turn off to route 40. I’d probably gone a total of 800m from my hotel and already I had my phone out and google maps running. I had underestimated the difficulty of navigating a strange city in the dark after just having woken up. Seeing where I went wrong, I backtracked and headed towards route 40. Phew. Shaky start!
The ride to Sandnes was pretty uneventful and I made good time. The road was smooth and free from debris, even on the wide shoulder. Here though, things got interesting as I needed to weave around a bit and make sure I got on route 13 to Lauvvik. I didn’t muck around, I got my phone out and made sure I didn’t mess up.
The road from Sandnes to Lauvvik was a very different experience compared to the first half of the journey. It was hilly and apart from the first k’s out of Sandnes, devoid of street lights. I hadn’t thought about that. I had my lights going but on descents, it became downright scary at times. In the small valleys, a cold fog sat there waiting to envelop me and basically make it impossible to know what was two metres ahead. I had to slow down dramatically. There were a number of times I’ll admit that I wondered what the hell I was doing out there. It was not normal behaviour really.
At about 5:45am, I arrived in Lauvvik which is basically just a ferry terminal. There were cars and trucks lined up ready to get on the ferry and a few people waiting around. One guy saw me and asked where I was going and I proudly told him what I planned to do. He didn’t seem overly impressed but wished me luck. The ferry came and on I got. I’d gotten cold standing there for 15 minutes and the cabin of the ferry, while not heated, was a least five degrees warmer than outside.
As we sped along the Lysefjord, a young fellow came up and offered me coffee. “Do you have any tea?” I enquired. “No sir, only coffee”. I thought about it for a moment as I am not a coffee drinker and was worried what that stuff might do to me before my big climb. The need to feel warm inside won out and I accepted a cup of coffee. It was black and bitter, but hot, so I drank it down and prayed my body didn’t freak out.
As dawn broke, the cliffs either side of the fjord appeared and it was a magnificent sight. I thought about the Viking ships that would have sailed along here hundreds of years ago. It was hard to imagine while sitting in this modern form of water transport, but I mentally grew a beard, tattooed my head and gripped my spear and shield in preparation for battle. I had cracked it lucky with the weather again, today was going to be a beautiful sunny day of around 20 degrees.
We arrived in Lysebotn and I braced myself for the cold air. Not to worry I thought, you’re going to be warm very soon. There is only one road in and out of Lysebotn so given it was impossible to get lost, I could concentrate fully on what lay ahead of me. I spun the pedals quickly to get my heart rate up and warm up my legs. The road turned back towards the village and started to rise. I pictured where I was on the photo and reminded myself to take it easy and not rush. I also thought about that missing piece of road in the photo and that I should be getting to that part any minute. The gradient pitched up some more and I rounded the second corner pedalling along easily and enjoying the surroundings. What happened next caught me completely off guard. The road curved to the right and simply disappeared into the rock.
A tunnel. Doh! Of course. There is only one thing Norwegians like more than building a tunnel – building a road to go through it. I got off my bike and photographed it which in hindsight was an odd thing to do. It’s not like it was going to make a nice photo. I popped my phone back into my pocket and set off into the mountain. I could see quite a way into the tunnel as it was lit both sides every 30 metres or so. A motorcycle came roaring down and it was then that I realised in didn’t have my lights on. The road was about one and a half lanes wide so two cars or buses could squeeze by each other. I swung over to the right and it passed safely. The tunnel went dead straight for some distance and a look at my Garmin showed an 11% gradient. After a few hundred metres, it turned right and again, continued straight ahead for some distance. It was pretty depressing riding in a tunnel and I looked ahead for signs of light. Finally a short bend to the left showed the end and I rode out into the world again.
Now the real fun began. One hairpin after another with the Garmin rarely dipping under 11% and often visiting 13 and 14%. It was really quite an enjoyable climb and I just let it unfold ahead of me and concentrated on my pedalling. The sun was shining down on the cliffs on the northern side of the fjord while the south side I was climbing was in the shade, keeping things nice and cool. As I got near the top, herds of sheep wandered along the road and in the grassy patches nearby. I had to baa at them a few times to get out of the way, they’re a bit thick, sheep. The hairpins had stopped by now but the road still went skyward at a nasty angle and now I was getting tired. Still 14% for extended stretches and as you do when you’re getting tired on a climb, I wondered where the hell the top was. I could still see plenty of rolling hills above where I was. After a sweeping left hander, I could see the top and yelled out a big, ‘Made it!” kind of yell, scaring a number of sheep and prompting much baaaa’ing.
I dismounted and took in where I was. To the east ahead and to the south were just endless undulating hills and rocky outcrops. It was wild, beautiful country and I felt like I was part of it. I was completely alone and like yesterday at Preikestolen, it was very quiet with just a gentle breeze blowing. I had gotten extremely lucky with the weather. My two days here on the Lysefjord would have been very different had Norway delivered its usual salad of crappy, wet weather.
Now, to ride over all these hills and all the way back to Stavanger or, go up the road for a bit, then turn round, go tearing back down the hill and have a nice hot breakfast in Lysebotn…. Hmmm.
I took some photos of myself and prepped my new Sony action cam that I’d bought just before leaving home. It was mounted under my handlebars and from the few tests I’d done on it, it took great video. I hit record and set off through the hills, sweeping round the bends, enjoying the speed and the excellent roads. It wasn’t long however before I hit a steep hill and the legs complained loudly as I noticed 15% on the Garmin. This wasn’t going to do at all. I’d made the decision not to ride 100+ km of this stuff and I saw no point in doing any more of it while my breakfast was getting cold at the bottom of the climb. I turned and headed back towards Lysebotn.
My woolly friends were again strewn across the road as I began the descent only this time I was going 50km/hr, and bleating a warning wasn’t going to solve the problem. Luckily, my freewheel is a particularly noisy one and they heard it coming in enough to time to scatter. I shot down the road, enjoying every curve and corner. I never got too much speed going as the corners came up quickly and I had to brake hard each time.
Near the bottom, I came round a hairpin and straight into the tunnel. I’d forgotten about it, and again, didn’t have my lights on. There didn’t seem to be anyone coming so I relaxed. Suddenly the lights that lined the tunnel sides disappeared and everything went black. The corner. I didn’t notice it had no lights as I was ascending but I sure as hell noticed it going down at even a modest 30km/hr. I desperately veered left, hoping I was still on the road and with a sigh of relief, saw that I was and that the lights were back. Why would they not have lights in the very section where you most needed them? That wasn’t very Norwegian.
I shot out the end of the tunnel and around the last few corners. What a ride! I coasted down into the village and turned into a small building advertising food. It was just what the doctor ordered, cozy, a few quiet customers and hot, delicious-smelling plates of food coming out of the kitchen. It was great to have a hearty breakfast like this after the morning I’d had and while I ate, I watched the video I’d recorded on the way down. It looked great and I couldn’t wait to get home where I could get it up onto the computer where I could see it properly. Now all I had to do was kill about five and a half hours until the ferry arrived to take me back to Lauvvik.
There was a great deal of excavation work going on on the north side of the village and there were fenced-off areas the whole way along that side. The problem was, now outside, I was cold and the village was still in shadow. I rode back up the road, looking for a sunny spot to sit. I finally found one at the entrance to one of the fenced-off areas and as I contemplated where to sit, I noticed a worker had left his hi-vis jacket draped over a wooden sign. I looked around and seeing nobody, put it on and noted with satisfaction that it was long enough to protect my rear end from the stones as I sat down. Suitably attired and warmed, I tried to relax and find a position that would do me for five hours.
After about five minutes, the sun had moved and I was in the shade again. Bugger. I got on my bike and after looking nearby for another sunny spot and finding none, I headed back down to the water’s edge to see if the sun was out there yet. Thankfully it was and I lay down on one of the picnic benches in the warming glow of the sun’s warming glow.
I did sleep for a while, but a wooden bench is not a bed and my body was unaccustomed to such a firm sleeping platform, so awake and a bit bored already, I took to watching the comings and goings of the workmen. There was a fairly simple chain of events happening – a truck would pull up from somewhere further up the village with a load of rocks and it would dump them near the shore where a large digger would scoop up the rocks and dump them on a large, flat barge. When the barge was filled up with rocks and almost underwater from the weight, a small tug boat would pull the barge away and head out into the fjord. I wondered where the boat was taking the rocks and noted that the barge was extremely inefficient moving through the water with it’s square leading edge and weighing god knows how many tonnes. Wherever it was going, it wasn’t going to get there fast.
I lost interest in it and pulled out my phone to look at my photos again. Suddenly I noticed that the boat and barge were back at the shore. I wondered what had happened. The digger loaded the barge up again and this time I watched where it went. The boat pulled it out about 50 metres into the fjord and a man on the barge hit a lever, opening the bottom of the barge and letting the rocks fall to the bottom. Now unladen, the barge sat up high in the water and the boat towed it back to shore. This went on all day. I wondered if they were potentially messing up the fjord by raising the bed with the rocks. I had gotten protective over it and the seeds of outrage germinated within me. I was seeing the arse end of the relentless Norwegian digging obsession and I didn’t like it. Doubtful I was going to have the authority or presence to be able to stop this process however, dressed in lycra and wearing cycling shoes, I let it go.
All during the lead up to my trip, I had dreamed of having large blocks of time where I had nothing to do except relax or sleep. Now it was here, on a magnificent day, in a beautiful location, I was restless and was impatient for the ferry to arrive and get me back to Lauvvik. Maybe it was because I still had the ride home from Lauvvik to Stavanger to come and I wanted to get into it.
The ferry arrived on schedule and on the way back, I remembered to look out for Preikestolen. I thought I’d be able to spot it easily after having been there the day before. On this ferry, they had a map on the TV screen and about forty minutes into the trip, Preikestolen appeared on the map. I looked out at the sheer cliffs for it. I didn’t see it at first but after a few moments, I recognised its shape. It looked tiny from down here on the water and I remembered how small the ferries and boats looked from up there yesterday.
We docked in Lauvvik and I rode off, on my way back to Stavanger. I got to see the landscape that I’d missed, riding in the dark that morning. After a while I noticed two cyclists ahead and gradually I caught up with them. I sat on for a while and then went to the front in a display of good will between our two countries and general group cycling etiquette. Later, we started chatting and it was nice to have some company. One of the riders turned off the main road at Sandnes and the other was going to Stavanger like me. Nice. Talking with someone while you ride helps to pass the time, you get to meet new people, learning new things and experiencing new things. All good!
I got back to my hotel at around 6:30pm and noticed that I’d clocked up 106km. I showered and headed out for dinner, thinking about the final leg of my trip, meeting up with my friend Harald tomorrow in Oslo.