06 Sep Nordkapp, part 1: the dreaded tunnel, steep climbs, and a lonely hike
For the last few days, I’ve had a really hard time figuring out what time it is… because no matter what time it is, the sun is up!
It is already making its way across the horizon early in the morning when I first open my eyes, it follows us all day while riding our bikes, it shines when I get hungry and when I get tired, it even still puts a spotlight on me when I sneak out of the tent to go pee in the middle of the night. Even since before we have ever entered the Arctic Circle in Finland, we caught ourselves riding until close to midnight without a worry in the world: we do not have to worry to find a camp spot before it gets dark and we do not have to worry about breaking up camp before sunrise; we don’t have to worry about taking a too long break during the day, because we could theoretically ride all night to make up for the lost time; and we definitely do not have to worry about where we have misplaced our headlights again, while setting up our tent late at night…actually we have not needed our headlights for so long, that I do not even know anymore which pannier bottom it is calling home lately.
For now, we pretty much just wake up when it is getting uncomfortably hot inside the tent, which is sometime between 5:00 and 6:00 in the morning, the rest of the day we pretty much follow our gut-feelings. We eat when we are hungry, take a break when we are hungry, and stop riding at night when we are hungry once again and finally realize that it is already close to midnight again.
This morning I wake up again to the sun beaming on our tent early in the morning. It is unbelievable! Here we are inside the Arctic Circle and we have to keep both tent entrances open and have only the screen part of the inner tent zipped up to stay cool. It is only 6:00 am and I am already sweating my butt off! I slip out of our sleeping bag and take a quick peek into the vestibule area. Since I do not see any mosquitoes waiting for their bloody meal, I unzip the screen door to get a little bit more ventilation, before dozing off again…after all, we did not go to bed until after 2:00 am!
A couple of hours later, we finally drag our sore bodies out of bed. We set up our chairs, make coffee and enjoy the scenery while having breakfast.
Across the water, the sea-fog has lifted and we can finally see that there was a whole town, Honningsvag, hiding under what looked like a sea-fog-waterfall yesterday. We also spot several cruise boats anchored near the small town.
By the time we get done packing and jump back on our bikes, it is already late morning.
From our campsite, it is only a few miles of mostly downhill cruising and a short pedal around another bay to reach the dreaded tunnel, aka Nordkapptunnelen. We have already ridden through two tunnels yesterday, one about 3 km long and the other one much shorter, which were cold and wet even during the warm daytime hours.
However, I call this one the ‘dreaded tunnel’, because it is almost 7km long: precisely 6,870 meters (22,556 ft) and reaches a depth of 212 meters (696 ft) below sea level. Like that is not enough to marvel over, it has a 3 km 9% decline on one end, levels out for a short distance, and then has a 3km 10% climb back out on the other side.
As we approach the tunnel, we see Alessandro standing near the entrance. He stopped to put on some extra clothes, because rumor has it that it gets very cold down there under the sea. We stop as well, say hi, don our windbreakers, and gloves and pull our buffs over our head. Then we make sure our lights are on. Alessandro seems relieved to have met us before entering the tunnel and is happy to ride with us to the other end.
As we enter the tunnel, it does not take long for the dark, rough walls to suck up every bit of daylight. There are plenty of lights in regular intervals illuminating the wet and almost icy looking road surface. Not sure whether the road is slippery, I gently squeeze my breaks often to slow down. Not only because I do not like blasting downhill too fast with a fully loaded bike on a wet road, but also because I can see my breath down here and my fingers are stiff and frozen within no time.
Suddenly, I can hear what sounds like a convoy of tanks behind me… or was it in front of me…or maybe even overhead?! Ahead of me, I can only see Ron and Alessandro, who are also turning their heads to check where the ruckus is coming from. I check my rear-view mirror and see a couple of headlights approaching us from far away. The loud roar is deafening and disorienting at the same time. Every little sound seems to bounce off the walls in the cave-like tunnel. It echoes in all kinds of directions back and forth and gets multiplied in the process. A small motorcycle or car sounds like a freight train down here, the ventilation system overhead is not much quieter and adds to the disorienting roar under the sea. We can not tell, whether the sound comes from cars coming at us or approaching us from the rear.
Finally, cold and frozen we reach the bottom of the tunnel and start pedaling along the short straight away before hitting the long 10% climb.
It does not take long to warm up again! I downshift one gear after another; soon I find myself spinning in granny gear. There are several emergency phone booths nestled in alcoves along the way, each adorned with a sign that lets us know how much further it is until we reach the end of the tunnel. Also, there are several handwritten numbers on the rough tunnel walls, daunting me with how much further I still have to climb to get out of this hell hole.
Before even finishing the first km of climbing, I am already unzipping my wind breaker, a few more meters of elevation and I am ready to rip off my buff. Since I have a hard time holding a straight line when I am climbing this slowly and with a steady flow of cars passing by on the narrow road, I do not dare to fidget with my gloves.. so they stay on.
Ron of course, does not seem to have any trouble climbing. He removes his buff, gloves, and unzips his jacket while spinning up the steep slope. He sings, and yells out to hear his echo and if it wasn’t for the disorienting roar ripping through the big tube throwing off his equilibrium every once in a while, he was having a grand ole time.
After what seemed an eternity of climbing, we notice that the overhead lights are placed closer together…maybe to get people’s eyesight used to the daylight again. Shortly afterward we pass the freeze gates and we finally escape the dark gateway to Nordkapp. We’ve made it! The warm air hits our face, and the sun is blinding us as we exit the tunnel. The sun feels so good! We stop near the exit, take our jackets and gloves off and eat a banana and a handfull of trail-mix before heading toward Honningsvag.
The ride to the small town on Nordkapp, leads through another shorter tunnel, which seemed like a piece of cake at this point. Since, there will not be anymore towns or stores further up on the island, we stop at the only grocery store in town to restock our food supply for the next few days. We still can not get over the ridiculous prices up here, but what can we do, we have to eat.
After Alessandro comes back out of the store with a small bag of groceries and an unhappy look on his face, he also announces that it is time to go on a diet and lose a few pounds up here.
While eating another boring Salami and cheese sandwich next to the store, Alessandro ponders different options on how to leave the island again after he has seen the most northern point. He really did not care for the Nordkapptunnelen and is wondering how much a ferry, bus, or a cruise would be to take him off Nordkapp. Considering, that a bed in a dorm-room at the youth hostel already would cost around 50,00 $, and anywhere else in the world we could get a gyros for the price of our salami sandwich here, we figure that any transportation off this island would cost a pretty penny. We suggest finding a trucker, who is willing to stow his bike away and hitch a ride.
Although, we did not particularly enjoy the ride through the tunnel; we figure, we’ll chance it again when it is time to leave the island.
After our lunch break, we decide to look for the tourist info office, to check e-mails, and say our good byes to Alessandro, who wants to check on buses and ferries. Unfortunately, we cycle the extra miles for nothing, since the office has no internet available.
So off, we go, toward Nordkapp.
The island is anything but flat, we cycle over several rollers, before hitting another long 9% climb. The road is fairly narrow, and most vehicles passing us are either touring buses or RV’s on their way to see the midnight sun.
As we finally make it to the top of the long steep climb, we spot several small patches of snow. Finally a sign that we really are way up north! Although, we are sweating up every hill in our short sleeved shirts!
There are also several reindeer standing or laying on the snow, like they are missing the cold, freezing season.
We ride up and down several more rollers, before hitting another long, curvy climb. Several buses pass us while coming and going off the island. A lot of the passengers look at us and point at us, smile and wave.
We keep riding past another small fjord, up and down more hills, while admiring the views around every turn. It is truly a stunningly, beautiful place to cycle up here.
We decided beforehand, that we did not really care to see the “touristy, most northern point of Europe”, where loads and loads of touring buses unleash their passengers to flock to the Big Globe Monument on the steep cliff of the Nordkapp plateau. Instead, we wanted to see the real most northern point, located on the neighboring Knivskjellodden point, just to the west, which actually extends 1,457 meters (4,780 ft) farther to the north but involves a long 5.6 mile hike.
To get there, we stop at a parking lot about 4 miles south of Nordkapp. Knivskjellodden is supposed to be a much quieter and enjoyable experience, because not many tourists venture to take the long hike.
As we reach the parking lot late in the evening, we see a couple of RVs parked. We push our bikes off the pavement, over a large area of rocky terrain, and find a spot near the hiking path to pitch our tent, while several sets of curious eyes are watching us.
Once set up, we fix a quick meal and then Ron decides he wants to hike out to Knivskjellodden point. I, on the other hand, feel exhausted and believe it may not be a good idea for me to stumble over the rocky hills, twisting my ankle, just because I am too tired and fatigued. That does not seem to faze Ron at all, and he heads out in hopes to get a few nice pictures of the midnight sun over Nordkapp. Since the sky is clear at the moment, he might get lucky. However, the weather can change quickly out here…and off he goes, while I get comfy with a book.
As Ron tells me later, the weather was great initially: clear, bright, blue skies. Yet, the further he hiked and the closer he got to the water, the more sea-fog was rolling in. Although, he met a few other hikers along the way, who told him, that they were barely able to see anything and had a difficult time navigating due to the dense fog, he still kept going, hoping the fog would lift again by the time he reached the most northern point.
When he finally reached the monument, he was surrounded by sea-fog, and was unable to see much. In deed, the steep cliff and Nordkapp plateau were nowhere to be seen.
On the way back, while trying to orient himself along the stone markers, he lost the path several times, but finally managed to find his way back to the tent by 2:00 in the morning.
Hopefully, the weather will be more agreeable tomorrow.
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