Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Geiranger

Norway is the land of the Fjords. The most well known fjord is the Geiranger and for a good reason! The Geiranger is so incredibly beautiful that every cruise ship that visits Norway docks here. While a cruise through the fjord must be unbelievable, so is the road through it. The road into the Geiranger is pure heaven, for a motorcyclist that is. Looking at the scared-shitless faces of some of the motorhome dwellers, they didn't seem to be so happy or enjoy it :-) 

As soon as Mike sees signs that warn him for twisty roads and 10% or more climbs or descends, he gets excited. Add a gravel road and he's in heaven. The road into the Geiranger isn't gravel but so incredible that he's still more than happy. Coming from the south-west you can ride bitumen all the way, but a much better alternative is the little known '258' road. There is snow there right up to the middle of summer, as we were there in August most if it had melted but the scenery was still breathtaking. Part of it is still gravel as well. It's one of those roads that just amaze you at every corner. The cameras were busy, that's for sure. But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself…

We had stayed at a campground near Sande and took a narrow winding road into the mountains to the Kjendalsbreen glacier. The last part of the road is gravel and a privately owned toll road. The landscape around us seemed strange. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, possibly because we had left early and not all the grey cells had woken up properly before being confronted, again, with stunning beauty. There was something strange about one of the mountains though… It looked like a part of it was missing. It is! In the 1930s a big part of the mountain collapsed into the lake below and caused a huge wave that virtually wiped out all settlements around it. Quite a lot of people lost their lives. The amount of rock debris in the lake is now so enormous that the rest of the mountain can collapse into the lake without significant problems for the people living around it.

Getting close to a glacier gives me a special feeling. Glaciers are impressive, mighty, seriously old and yet seem alive as they are moving. Somehow it's always quiet there too. No noisy tourists, none of the 21st century noise that seem to be around you almost everywhere. Just you in the middle of this awe-inspiring landscape. It almost makes me feel bad for starting my engine and disturbing the magic. We took a lot of photographs again! Riding back from the dead-end road we passed the campground again, had another look at the tranquil lake and then headed north.

As we rode higher and higher into the mountains the temperature dropped dramatically and the rain set in. We didn't mind. Nothing could dampen our spirits today. Being able to experience this landscape, which has been carved by nature over centuries is overwhelming. Rain is just part of that experience, it enhances it even. We stopped at one of the many waterfalls and met a Greek couple on a 16 year old Honda Africa Twin. I'm sure Valentino Rossi has a brother that lives in Greece, and we were talking to him. His body language, accent… everything was just so pure Valentino Rossi. Amazing! Great guy, doing a great trip together with his girlfriend. 

Shortly after came the last tunnel before the turn-off to the Geiranger. We didn't ride through that but veered off to the right onto the '258', a narrow steep winding road through the most rugged landscape imaginable. Riding here makes me wonder why we need to go all the way around the world at all. I mean, it's all here isn't it? There is so much to see in Norway, so much variety and it's so pure and rugged. No wonder the Norwegians don't travel much overseas. We took some more photos at the ski-piste and its weird machinery and slowly continued on the gravel. There is so much to see that simply racing through it would be a shame. 

The road into the actual Geiranger is as good as it gets. Make sure you don't have any motorhomes in front of you though as they tend to crawl down… Must be big fun riding one of those little wobbly vans with their rattly supercharged mini-diesels on roads like this. We call them wheelie bins… and wheelie bins don't steer that well on narrow 10% declines :-) The campgrounds around the Geiranger fetch premium prices and are usually full too. We opted for a much higher situated farm-type campground, quiet and affordable… sort of. 

Walking into the reception area gave me a bit of a shock. The receptionist seemed dead... She had been there for a while too by the looks of it. Her face greyish white, almost colourless hair and absolutely no movement at all. I was stunned. I was even more stunned when she raised her head and looked at me… she was still alive! Her face completely expressionless, like a zombie. We've met quite a few different people during our trip but this was new to me, this wasn't human. I tried to make a joke but she didn't smile, probably didn't know how. She asked how many people and gave me the fee in an almost computerlike voice… Of course I paid, who knows what a zombie does when you don't do as you're told… :-) We made sure there were plenty of campers between us and the office though… you never know what she might do at night! We didn't sleep well… :-) The next day there were two girls in the office, the white faced zombie and a friend… who was the absolute opposite and a bundle of joy!

Having survived the first night we decided to stay another and have a lazy day in the Geiranger, well… sort of! We rode the length of the Geiranger again, took lots of photos, saw a huge Holland America Line cruiseship anchored in the fjord with all the activity that goes with it and then decided to ride the whole road again :-)
I've said it before, but it's worth mentioning again. Before riding any stretch of road here, make sure there are no motorhomes in your way, especially when going up as these things come with crawler gears. A special mention also for the local bus company that seems to employ a couple of very 'couldn't care less' drivers that park their bus just after a hairpin in the middle of the road to let their passengers out… who then walk everywhere in that same hairpin! Most of the drivers are pretty good but there are a couple that just seriously don't care about anyone.

Plenty of motorcyclists were passing the Geiranger, mostly on adventure type bikes. Say what you want about BMW GS but the people owning them do seem to travel. The new KTM Adventure is also quite popular in Norway, or at least with motorcyclists riding in Norway. I quite like the look of them too! Back at the campground a motorcyclist turned up. A sportsbike and camping, I like that. My opinion quickly changed however. His Givi topbox would have had a note on it explaining a maximum weight of 5 kg… he must have had at least 30 as the whole lot was strapped on top of it, including a portable BBQ…! It wobbled alarmingly… and made me remember the motorcyclist who died at the top of the world highway in Alaska, earlier on our trip, because his mate in front of him lost part of his luggage…

The next post is quite possibly Norway's most famous road: The Trollstigen!