The Mega Transect proper
Backing out of my mum’s driveway in Dorking was nowhere near the heart-thumping-in-my-throat, tear-jerker as it was on our motorcycles, destined for the Americas in 2014. Sliding back into the reclinable passenger seat – coffee cup holder on my left, Jase on my right – a heartfelt goodbye was exchanged before releasing the handbrake. The same 35-minute ride permitted quick passage through the Channel Tunnel but this time on four wheels, not two. A hot-as-blazes zip through Germany’s Black Forest later, we were on the trip proper.
OutDoor by ISPO, Munich
Invited by Dometic to attend OutDoor, Europe’s biggest tradeshow, White Rhino took front and centre on their flagship store quality stand. Four intense days saw us yap non-stop about the upcoming trip, showcase the rig in its shining glory and quietly gush over every conceivable outdoor adventure brand known in the outdoor arena. A record influx of nine Ikea-size halls’ worth of people represented the passing footfall, which meant flapping the gums until spitting feathers. That said, the opportunity to network with a plethora of industry pros was second to none. Somewhat overwhelmed by it all but warmly welcomed into the fold by the Dometic team, we had a ball embracing it all.
Scooting out of Germany via a forested region south of Hamburg, took us near Hjørring and the northern beaches of Denmark.
Perhaps not your average view of the country, the wind blew sea-salted and strong. It seemed forever gusty during our passing through but well worth a rendezvous with the setting sun.
Jason’s 50th – celebrated over an overpriced breakfast from the ferry canteen as we sailed out of Denmark – may have been the least inspiring way known to man to mark the occasion. Sorry, fella. Narrowly saved by a self-invited visit to the bridge, whereupon the captain steered us to public showers on the Norwegian mainland (the very thing Jason actually wanted that day), which serendiptiously, led to meeting Espen and Malin.
Coincidentally, the local couple had only travelled from Argentina to Alaska like we had, and then conquered the length of Africa in a 4WD as we were about to! (Check out their stories on unurban.no.) Common ground in abundance, they welcomed us into their home like old pals.
It was a reno-in-progress in Porsgrunn, a grand Scandinavian design bound to make even Kevin McCloud gush. An unexpected week’s wondrous hospitality bestowed on us, thank you guys.
Eclectic first impressions
With as many tolls as there are tunnels, most are as steep as the sheer cliffs through which they’re built – although not as tall as the country’s car parking fees. Ouch. Hah! – there’s no such thing as salt and vinegar flavoured crisps nor a Norwegian word for “please” but conversely, there are passing places for people on some of the boardwalks. What could be more civilized when taking a evening stroll?
More surprising things up the country’s sleeve awaited us. Moose and reindeer I hoped residing in the north but in the south, we clocked nothing bigger than an otter and purpoise in the crystal blue waters and a stoat, mink and shrew on land. Oh, and there’s the world’s longest road tunnel home to roundabouts, partially lit in tungsten intersections: it took over 20 minutes to drive just shy of 15-miles cut through solid rock.
Norway is at least twice the length of the UK but with only 8 per cent of Great Britain’s population, this Scandinavian spot boasts more broccoli florets of forest than people. The trees are so dense in huge thickets, you’ll often think you’re in the Yukon. Forests lace the foothills over a remarkable range of mountains – some big lumps of granite iced in glaciers.
The terrain is sliced by fjords, the rain and snowfall of millennia having helped to create some of the world’s most impressive waterfalls. Although I wonder if we should have waited for the shoulder season. Typically, July is when the Norwegians take their holiday, which coupled with the month that most magnetizes tourists – attracts the international masses on a serious scale.
In true redheaded style, I’m so pale that I’m almost blue, and burn like a vampire at the mere suggestion of sunlight. Bizarrely, I’ve slapped on the suncream in an unseasonably warm patch for Norway. Altogether, not what I was expecting from this Nordic country (not even in summer) – portions of which lie well above the Arctic circle and Iceland’s latitude. Fjords and tunnels galore, yes. Mountainsides shrouded in deep fog that once they decide to lift, reveal jagged peaks and enormous glaciers cascading down into deep turquoise meltwater, yes.
The week stretched ahead, warm and empty. Lucky for us, our hosts had barely begun their month’s holiday. Cautiously revealing to these hiking-ready Norwegians our goal to share the same fitness status, began with a hoof up Gaustatoppen. Slowly more than surely, the 1,883-metre stomp led to a large slab of concrete home to a huge antenna. The sun dissolving into panoramic views giving rise to a sixth of southern Norway, made up for the eyesore. As did lashings of jam oozing onto hot fluffy waffles the morning after. Good call, Espen.
In training: Mogen
Far from finding my stride, the 48-hour agony after Gaustatoppen – induced by a pounding to various unknown muscle groups – took its toll. No time to waste, all four of us cobbled together our gear like headless hens to catch a 1.5-hour cruise and continue our wander around a lake in Mogen for a few days.
Situated at the west end of Møsvatn, we hiked the hillside draped in a green crushed velvet throw of forest and waterfalls on the plateau. To plunge in just our underwear into the gin-clear pool, the water thundering off into infinity behind us, was utterly invigorating. And we managed to lose a layer of suncreamy sweat.
Inevitably, we had some good chuckles too; the puckered up expressions (mostly mine) and the less than manly sound effects (just Jason’s) when making the plunge into the chilly water will stay with me forever. No question: although sticky sweet-hot, Mogen was pretty. Even if Espen did relay with solid conviction the best was yet to come.
Bands of noseeums and fountains of twin-engine mosquitoes around us later on, their Scottish counterparts seemed almost apathetic by comparison. Crazed, each one became intoxicated by our steady stream of carbon dioxide before many were lured into meeting their eternal fate, courtesy of our stove. The mosquitoes, no longer a ubiquitous plague saw us back in Porsgrunn for some respite, if not a rest from the bites.
Much as we started out in Norway’s stomping ground with gusto, neither Jason or I could keep up with Malin; she seemed to have unending energy and stamina. She was as strong as any man, and her physical expectations on herself were high.
Espen, meanwhile, oozed a gentle soul whose technical nous complemented Malin’s pragmatic approach and physicality. A real treat to have bumped into them the moment we stepped foot in Norway. Local knowledge is king and the pair royally furnished us with the must-sees, must-dos and don’ts. On my previous trips, I studied and picked up some of the language to hold a basic conversation, but this time round I didn’t even have a few basic words of pidgin. Fortunate for the laziest part of myself, everyone spoke perfect English.
While my first impressions didn’t match all my pre-conceptions – when do they ever? – to the depths of my belly, to the tips of my fingertips: it’s the easiest thing in the world to be a human doing in Norway, not just a human being. @fourwheelednomad