The bus driver is helping us unloading bikes, bike bags and sleeping bags out of the baggage room of the red and white bus of HSD Bus Company. Other passengers are looking surprised at us through the windows. Location ? In the middle of nowhere, near the summit of the main highway (similar to Interstate highways in the US) between Oslo and Bergen. The altitude is 1239 metres above sea level. In Norway this altitude is similar to an arctic climate. The bus driver says very sceptically: Have a nice trip.....
The date is August 25, and the year is 1989. From this desolate point with no trees and nearly no other vegetation, a small unpaved road is leading southwards. Niels Kristian Overgaard from Thisted in Denmark - plus the undersigned - have just started a little crazy project. We will - without any sponsors except ourselves - test the applicablity of using bicycles as baggage vans at hiking trails. The bus is disappearing at West on its way to the Hardanger fjord and the village Odda.
Immediately change of clothes ! Down jackets, scarves, knit caps and gloves. The air temperature makes this operation very necessary. There are spots with old snow covering the ground, the wind is bad, and it is raining lightly. Some cars pass rapidly on the highway without stopping. We are really in the middle of nowhere !
We follow the narrow unpaved road to the South. It was built during World War 2 for construction of a barrage or dam at the small lake Tinnhølen, 13 km to the South. Here is nearly no vegetation, and no cars. The road is only used for dam inspection and maintenance, and as a transport road to a few tourist accomodation hostels - and some private cabins. Traffic density: May be 3-5 cars a day !
There are big snowdrifts alongside the road. The ground is topographically easy. There are no steap hills up or down. We pass the small house- and cabinless valleys Larsbudalen and Loftstovedalen. (dal = valley, dalen = the valley) The road is soft after some rain the last days. We use offroad bikes, and the bad condition of the gravel road causes no problems at all. We pass the Bjoreidalshytta lodge after 5 km, and a narrow bridge over the small and wild river Bjoreio. I do not think this river is suitable for rafting.
We enjoy a very good dinner supplied by very good frothing golden & brown stuff from Hansa Bryggeri. The host couple looks some skeptic to our plans for using bicycles across the mountain table-land soutwards to Møsvann in Telemark. Nobody had done it before, as known. Some fellows made an attempt some years before, but they had to return after some kilometres due to bad weather with a summer (!) snowstorm ! Until now we have used a relatively good road usable for all types of cars. Now the road ends, and the pure landscape begins. The bus driver earlier this day said the same: Only town residents can do something as cracked as this. He told he was living in Eidfjord at Hardanger, with very good knowledge of local geography at the mountain table-land, as a hunter and fisher on his spare time. The other guests at Trondsbu too say we will reach about halfway to Sandhaug turisthytte - before ground condition, topography and weather will force us to return. The host couple promises to reserve beds for us next night too......
In the morning: Sunshine with some clouds. Good ! We check out and use the bikes a few hundred metres south to the Tinnhølen Dam. End of road. We cross the river at a narrow bridge for hikers, fishers and hunters. We follow the hiking trail. It seems impossible to use the bikes as bikes. There are millions of stones and thousands of wet and muddy ponds. We walk with our bikes. The hiking trails in Norway mountain areas are paintmarked with a red "T". All interchange points at the enormous hiking trail network are marked with small signs too, with distances (km) to the next "turisthytte" or other important points.
There is also another network at the Hardangervidda mountain table-land: Very bad roads used for tractors with big-wheeled trailers. Most of the Hardangervidda is now a national park, other parts are classified as a nature protection area. Use of motorized vehicles are strictly prohibited, unless for emergency use. Landowners can use the tractor paths some times during the year for necessary transports during the raindeer hunting season in the autumn. The staffed tourist accomodation hostels are also permitted to use the tractor paths for necessary transports of food, beer, wine, soft drinks, equipment etc. The tractor roads are so bad, that use of cars are physically impossible, even by offroad cars.
After half an hour the hiking trail is crossing one of the tractor paths. We know that the tractor path is leading to Sandhaug, our next overnight lodge. The distance is about 12 km, about the same as the hiking trail. Maybe the tractor path is better for us ? We make an attempt. No success ! The wheeltracks of the big special tractors are up to half-a-metre deep ! Water and mud everywhere ! It seem to be physically impossible to use bicycles at the tractor paths. After one hour we reach a point where the trail and tractor path go close to each other, and we countinue our expedition at the hiking trail. These tractor tracks are not very beautiful ! Some places there are up to 10 tracks beside each other - where the ground is wet and muddy.
The plains are enormous ! The trail follows
the low ridge Hellehalsen, 1281 metres above sea level. We pass the tourist
lodge with the same name. It is closed for the season.
We meet the tractor path again, and follow it through the old shalets just
south of Hellehalsen. The picture is showing the road condition. We have
not met any people since we left Trondsbu some hours ago.
There is still a long way to Sandhaug !
Unexpected - we can bike for about half a kilometre. The tractor path leads over sandy ground alongside the river Snero. For this short distance the road is pretty good. It crosses the river on a newly built bridge, common for hikers and tractors. At the other side of the bridge we follow the hiking trail again. Now we will not see the bad road before Sandhaug. Good !
Map and landscape are two very different things, however. At the ground there are millions of round stones with diameter varying from a few centimetres to 1-2 metres. They are not indicated at the map. There are numberous holes with cold water and dirt. There are millions of small bushwood trees, most of them only as low as the diameter of the bicycle wheels. They have a very bad tendency to wrap into crank, pedals, chain and spokes - as well as between bikes and bike bags. Often we have to make a long detour outside the trail - to avoid the most troublesome spots. There are many of them !
We pass the low hill Eriksbueggi, and down into the Eriksbudalen valley. No people, no houses, no vegetation except the bushwood. After crossing a small creek, upwards again to another view point. There are very long views at the mountain table-land Hardangervidda. In the middle of nowhere - in all directions ! The high mountain Hårteigen is visible far in the west. This characteristic top has very steep mountain sides, but the summit is flat.
For centuries this mountain table-land has been used for transport between the east and the western part of Norway. There are still a large networks of very old footpaths. Some of them are "T"-marked as hiking trails today. Here farmers and cattle-sellers went with big flocks of sheep, cattle or horses on their way to new markets. Some shelters build up of rock are still visible some places. To cross the mountain plateau by own feet (or by horses) the minimum time was 4-7 days.
Near the small lake Reinsmyrtjern we get some weather trouble. The trail crosses a long snowdrift. It is nearly one kilometre long. Steel poles mark the exactly position of the trail. We also see footprints in the snow - from other hikers. May be yesterday ? Suddenly, without any warning - it is snowstorm ! The sight is maximum 5-10 metres ahead. A mad experience at a bicycle trip ! The snowdrift ends, and we have the bare ground again, but is it now covered by very wet snow.
We can relatively easy see the trail, in spite of the wet snowy weather. The red-painted "T"'s are visible. The bad weather ends just as suddenly as it began half an hour before.
Sandhaug turisthytte ! After 6 hours of walking
with our bikes - we are there. We use the bikes the last 50 metres. We
have still some honour ideas intact..! But nobody have seen us. The bikes
are parked near the entrance, and we check in.
The reception lady looks at us and our luggage that consists of bike bags and sleeping bags, asking: Have you carried all this the long way to this place ? Hikers always carry their goods on their backs.
We explain diplomatically that we also are hikers, but we use bicycles as baggage vans. Some other of the guests hear the conversation and walk outside to ensure that there really are two bikes there...
Wet clothes and boots are placed at the drying room. After a good shower and new clothes we enter the dining room.
The main dish is fried mountain trout, fished the same day in the lake Nordmannslågen close to the lodge. Very good ! Hansa beer - served here in the middle of the wilderness.
We enjoy the sunset over the lake Nordmannslågen, first from the windows in the dining room, later from outside the house. There is no wind now, and there are very few clouds on the sky. The Hardangervidda is well known for its suddenly change in weather conditions, often during a few minutes. Ocean air from the west meet inland air from the east, and often there are a big fight between the weather categories. As usual the bad weather wins the fight.
Early in the morning: We are looking carefully out of the window. Some clouds can be seen on the sky, but most of it is blue. At 0800 hours we enjoy a good breakfast in the dining room. Some plastic bottles of Coke and other soft drinks are purchased. We check out at 0900 hours. Everybody - lodge staff inclusive - says "Have a nice trip" - with a little skeptic accent.
The weather is good, but it is cold. It is a couple of degrees over the freezing point of water. The wind is weak, but piercing. Today we have the longest trip - 22 km. Absolutely free of any wheel road category - only footpaths. And it is absolute free of lodging facilities. Wilderness only !
The first 2 km section is easy, but biking is physically impossible. The path is well-used, during the centuries. This was a part of the old horse and foot "roads" between eastern and western Norway. A sign tell us about the history of the road. There were many of them. Most of them are used as hiking trails now, others are forgotten and overgrown by grass and bushwood.
We make a short stop at the stone hut Bremafotbua. This is one of several stone-built shelters for travellers in ancient days. Now it is privately owned, restored - and locked. Originally the stone shelters were open to all, for overnight stay. Often also for emergency use. Some stone shelters are still open for the public. Very primitive, but suitable for emergency stay. They contain always a fireplace, and something that can be used as beds.
We pass the small lake Lakjen, 1243 metres above sea level. It is a part of the Lågen river system. The ground condition is being worse. The bikes must often be carried over big stones, or we have to make long detours in the bushwood to avoid wet and stony parts of the trail. We also pass the small lake Olsenhølen, and very soon we arrive one of the "horror points" from the evening discussion: The bridge over the river Lågen.
The bridge construction is studied. Passing is possible, but it will take some time. Due to periodical big overflows, the bridge has been elevated about 3 metres. There are wooden ladders at both ends of the suspension bridge. Golden Gate light ! Not the ideal thing for bicycles and heavy baggage...
A short time later we see the great lake Bjornesfjorden - still far in the South. We leave Hordaland county and enter Buskerud. The county line is only visible at the map. The weather is now good: Blue sky with some clouds. Sunshine too - quite seldom in this wet part of Norway. We take a 30 minutes lunch at a place named Riavad at the map. Coke and sandwiches ! This site was the original crossing point of the river before the bridge was built about 50 years ago. The river is very wide at this spot, but extremely shallow. Probably the river could be crossed by jumping from stone to stone, without getting wet shoes, but hardly not with bikes..
The path is being worse. The small bushwood makes trouble all the time. The trail is very narrow, may be one foot. The two alternatives are tested with thoroughness: (1) Walking at the path, rolling the bike in the bushwood. (2) Walking in the bushwood, rolling the bike at the trail. We do not agree of what the best solution is. We agree that both alternatives cause problems.
Next bridge: It is a suspension bridge too, crossing the small river (read: rapids) Langebuåna. The construction is the same as the first bridge, but it is lower - and considerable narrower. The lithing is extreme ! The bridge is too narrow for the bikes, even without the bike bags. To protect the people from falling into the rapids, there are mounted netting fences. During the passage there is constantly a metallic conflict between the netting and the pedals ! The bridge is really so narrow ! Not the ideal bridge for cyclists. The operation takes about 10 minutes.
The negative thoughts are there again: Shall we return to the good dinner and beer at Sandhaug lodge ? We have a short discussion: Both of us agree: We have just passed the "point of no return". Not the two bridges again ! We pass a nameless lake 1239 metres above sea level. We are now in the geographical centre area of the Hardangervidda - 25 km (16 miles) from the nearest road usable for cars.
Plane roaring ! We see a small plane, far away. It will not pass over us, if the pilot do not change his direction. But he does ! The pilot may have seen us. He makes a big curve over us, and the height is considerably reduced. Probably the pilot will check if he really see two bicycles here in the middle of nowhere.
We see a flock of 50-100 wild reindeer, but no hunters. The animals run rapidly away when they see, hear or smell us.
The small valley Elsjådalen and lake Elsjåen are being passed in a very slow tempo. The map says that the landscape is flat and easy. From ground level we see that ground is very different from the map. The number of wet sumps, big stones and long detours are increasing. Often the bikes must be carried over the rugged rocks. We have now walked for 6 hours.
Humans ! Not trolls, reindeer, hallusinations or humanoids. We meet two hikers.
We present ourselves. The two young men, maybe 20 years of age, look a little fearing at us. They do not speak Norwegian. In English they tell us that they are going to Sandhaug, and that they are German students. They hurry in their direction. Niels and I may have been a frightening sight, with dirty bikes, boots and clothes. Perhaps we looked like ghosts or just escaped mass murders.
Trail interchange, marked with small signs. The trail right ahead is a direct shortcut to Mogen. The left alternative is marked with "Lågaros". That is our destination today. We change direction without reaching our left hands out as a signal to other road travellers, according to traffic laws. Now there is about 24 hours since we were sitting at our bike saddles, and it will probably be 24 hours until we can try it again.
The ground is very swampy. We sink in the mud to our knees at some spots. The boots are wet outside as well as inside. We pass the small lake Sørtjern, and the now the Lågaros lodge is visible 3 kilometres ahead - and about 60 metres higher. We groan ! Our last bottles of soft drinks are now empty, but we fill up ice-cold water from a creek. In the mountain areas of Norway lake, river and creek water is drinkable. Good. We see some reindeer again, but they disappear quickly when we arrive.
My physical condition is not very good now. Biscuits and chocolate taste like sawspoon or eraser gum. Only liquids are accepted by the body. One hour later we are there: Lågaros mountain lodge, 1288 metres above sea level. We have been walking for more than 10 hours since we left Sandhaug lodge. It is about 1930 hours.
We park the bikes unlocked at the wall, and totter inside, like drunks. The lodge is unstaffed, and we find a four-bed room. Totally there are 32 beds at the lodge. There are only 2 guests, a couple from Stavanger - at a late summer hiking trip. The story from Sandhaug yesterday has to be repeated: The guests have to go outside to ensure that there really are two bikes parked there. Some photos of us and our "baggage vans" are shot.
In Norwegian mountain areas there is a remarkable system based on confidence: Members of Den Norske Turistforening (The Norwegian Mountain Touring Organization) have rights to loan keys to about 300 unstaffed lodges - all over the mountain parts of the country. Most of the lodges have provisions for sale. The stuff is canned food, soup packs, raisins, corn flakes, biscuits etc. Not bottles with soft drinks or fresh food like bread. All goods (including firewood) are brought to the "nowhere" places in winter by snowmobiles, or sometimes in summer by helicopter. The touring organization has an exemption from the strict prohibition of using motorized transportation inside limits of national parks and other nature protection areas.
The self-service system is based on honesty: Guests fill in an "invoice" form with lodging fee and food purchase (grand total sum), and name, address and membership number. The invoice is put into an envelope together with a check or cash, and posted into a very heavy and well-locked metal box. It is emptied about once a week, by authorized staff of the organization. Non-members are allowed to stay, if they are accompanied by a member. Lodging fee for non-members is about 50 % higher.
The body washing facilities are a little primitive, but after a "cat wash" with soap and cold water - and a change to clean clothes, we make a good evening dinner. The kitchen is based on a big wood-burning stove. Some tourists also use boxes with propane gas for cooking.
The sunset is about 2100 hours, with a fantastic view over the lake Bjornesfjorden some kilometres north of Lågaros. The weather is very good now. We go to bed about 2300 hours, with immediate sleeping.
Good weather again ! There is some wind today, but the temperature is higher than the last days. We make a breakfast with corn flakes, raisins - and pure mountain water. We check out at 1000 hours, after having put our invoice & money envelopes into the metal box.
But first we have to follow the trail upwards and over a small hill. Soon we meet the Big Problem. Enormous stones, some of them several metres high. The path is leading between stones, over stones, down agein and over the next stone. The trail is some places half-a-foot wide ! Very difficult to walk - and something like impossible with bikes. Return ? Absolutely no ! We brood over the situation for some minutes.
We strip the bikes for all baggage, and carry it for the next 100 metres or so. Return to bikes, that now also have to be carried over the rocks. After about 90 minutes we reach the top, 1330 metres above sea level. The highest point of our trip. There is a big view in most directions, and we see mountains far away. In northern direction we see the glacier Hallingskarvet.
The path descends. It is well-used and easy to walk, but still impossible to be used as a bike road. We pass a small lake, Storhellertjern, 1274 metres above sea level. An old stone-built shelter can be seen in a hillside. It seems to be open, but we do not climb up to it. These old shelters were also used by hunters already some centuries ago.
The Telemark county line is passed. The trail is now wide and good. We bike for some short sections. Fantastic to feel the bike saddle again ! We take an hour lunch at the northern end of the lake Gjuvsjåen. See photo below.
The "red T"-marked trail follows a few metres inside the sandy lake shore for the next 2 kilometres. We roll the bikes at the shore. The sand is too soft for biking. With using the shore, we avoid the bushwood at the path. Others do it too, we see some human and reindeer footprints in the sand. The water is very cold. Bathing is not an attractive activity, but the sand is perfect.
Downwards ! The trail is now very wide, but luckily free of tractor wheel tracks. Too many stones for biking, and we are still rolling the bikes downside a small valley. The trail is now considerably steaper. It is really hard to hold again with the bike brakes, even when we walk aside. Our bikes have hand brakes on all wheels. Bikes with footbrake only are not suitable for operations like this ! We are passing the edge of the Hellegjuvet gorge. The rock ground is very slippery, and we have some problems with the balance.
We are in a small valley surrounded by high mountain sides. The path is good, but biking is still impossible. Maybe others would have done it. The biggest obstacles are now mainly birch roots - and mud. The trail ascends through the birchwood. Some places the forest has a jungle-like character . There are some billions of mosquitos, too - having a very good dinner at our expense. No wind here in the bottom of a valley, and the temperature is relatively high.
Finally - the civilization ! We use this word ironically, but we now see a small unpaved road, a local electricity power line - and the houses at Mogen lodge. Some private cabins too, at the lake Møsvann.
When biking into the yard, we nearly cause a sensation among the other guests. There are plenty of questions to us. We enter the reception. First of all we ask for some cold beer. Good ! We get a four-bed room - alone. There are plenty of beds available.
Warm shower. Very good. The body washing facilities at Trondsbu, Sandhaug and Lågaros were a little primitive. Here they are perfect. Dinner: Fried trout again, plus cold beer. Very good again.
The bike trip (read: hiking trip) at Hardangervidda has ended. We made it at about the estimated time. Tomorrow we shall go by the local public transportation boat across the big lake Møsvann, followed by a bike trip down to the industry town Rjukan.
We get up at 0630 next morning, and enjoy a good sandwich breakfast in the dining room. The time moment has been agreed with the hosts. As usual hikers eat their breakfast half an hour later - or more. The boat "Fjellvåken" departs at 0800 (once a day), but first we want to take a short bicycle trip up to Argehovd. When leaving at 0700 hours, the host couple takes some photos of us. Bike tourists are obviously very seldom here !
The "Fjellvåken" is ready for departure. We roll the bikes on board. The boat is single staffed: The same man is captain, chief and ticket seller. No questions from the captain. It is not the first time he has bikes on board. Some cottage or cabin owners in the Mogen area use their cars to Møsvannsdammen and take the boat to Mogen. They often use bikes as local transportation at the isolated road at Mogen. But the captain has never heard about anybody coming down from the mountains - with bikes...
The trip across the Møsvann lake takes about 2.5 hours. The boat makes local stops as required, if possible to land. We make 4-5 intermediate stops for passengers and goods.
The easiest is using the main road down to Rjukan. The traffic intensity is very small. However - we choose the old construction road for the first 10 km. This was a road used for transportation when the big Møsvann Dam was built during the years 1905-1910. About 1925 a new (and not so steap) road was built - and the old road was forgotten. Parts of it are used as connection road to some private cabins, but most of the old road is used only by sheep and hikers. We pass an old boarding house at Frøystul. I recognize it from some visits there together with my parents in 1963-1965. Now the lodge is closed down, but the house seem to be unchanged.
The old and the new road meet each other again at the hotel Fjellstua. We enjoy a good dinner in the restaurant. A beer to each of us too.
Between Fjellstua and Vemork there is no alternative to the main road. The landscape is very steap, with high mountain sides. The road leads through a tunnel. At the other end of the tunnel there is a fantastic view of the valley - and the Rjukan town far away and deep below. The road goes in some serpentines down the hillside. Car traffic is very small now outside the off-peak season for tourists. At the other side of the gorge we see the Vemork power station. The water from the big Møsvann magazine made electricity here. The heavy water factory was situated in front of the power plant, but it was demolished in 1972. The power plant is closed now. The building contains a museum for the local technical, industrial and war history of the Rjukan area. The water from Møsvann is now lead to another power plant some hundred metres lower, making considerably more megawatts.
We find an alternative road from Vemork down to Rjukan. It is an old power- and pipeline roadbed. It looks like an abandoned railway line. The infrastructure was removed about 1972. Now the roadbed is used as a recreation path for the inhabitants of Rjukan. We can keep a relatively high speed downwards. At Krossobanen cable railway we join the main road again. We are now in the outskirts of Rjukan city.
Shortly after we see the house of Erling Zapffe. It is 1659 hours. We wait one minute, and knock at the door. Well-timed !
Erling has made his guest room ready for us. Erling and his wife are serving us an enormous evening meal. Beer too !
Erling works at the Rjukan Railway, owned by the Norsk Hydro Industries. The company also operate the inland railway ferry across the lake Tinnsjøen. Erling has talked to his boss some time before, and we have got our permissions to travel by freight train and ferry. The ordinary passenger traffic has been ceased several years ago. We have to sign a form regarding "transportation at own risk" .
The bikes are fastened by elastic straps to a tank wagon filled up with ammonia from the heavy chemical industry at Rjukan. We take place at the locomotive.
The trip down to Mæl takes about 20 minutes. We says goodbye to the engineer, and walk on board the ferry "Storegut". The ferry staff has been informed about us. The freight cars are handled on board by a shunting locomotive. Normally - passengers are not allowed, due to security and insurance reasons. We are invited up to the bridge. The captain Ole Johnny Aas is well-known at the Hardangervidda, having walked there with his fishing equipment several times.
We arrive Tinnoset, the southern end of lake Tinnsjøen. The local train (NSB, Norwegian state railways) is departing about 6 hours later, but captain Aas says something to the NSB engineer, pointing at us. Just after we take our places in the rear driver cabin of a very big electric locomotive. The front cabin is filled up with other travellers, mainly railway staff . The ammonia tank wagon - and other freight cars - are coupled to the engine, and we start the 1.5 hour trip down to Notodden and Nordagutu. The train destination is Skien.
We leave the train at Nordagutu junction. This station is an important intermediate point at the mainline between Stavanger and Oslo. Tickets to Oslo are purchased, and our bikes are sent as registered baggage. The trip to Oslo takes about 2.5 hours.
This trip was made in 1989. It is possible today (1998) too, but from Rjukan other mode of transportation (e.g. bus) must be chosen. The Rjukan Railway and the Tinnsjøen ferry were closed down in 1991. At the NSB track between Tinnoset and Notodden there are no regular passenger or freight trains. There are plans for reopening of the Rjukan Railway and the Tinnsjøen ferry - for tourist purpose in the summer season.
I will not recommend bike trips like this. Firstly: It is extremely hard work; secondly:It is to import unfamilar technical elements into a relatively unaffected nature.
Have a nice trip at Hardangervidda - as a hiker !
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