Bree: The rain was back at it again this morning when Ben set out on his unloaded bike. Today, he had determined to visit Stegastein, a scenic overlook over the town of Aurland, 14 kilometers and a 600 meter climb away from where our tent stood.
Once again, I’d decided to sit this one out. Hip pain has plagued me for days, bothering me even when at rest and so I sent him on is way, hoping he’d wear himself out and bring back an adventure on my behalf. I hate not being able to participate, but I have to keep reminding myself that with an injury this serioius, I’m doing well just to be here. While he was gone, I tucked myself into the train station across the street, plugged in our gadgetry, and got to sorting the hundreds of photos we took yesterday.
Ben: The ride to Stegastein was quick and even though my legs ached every so slightly, I made pretty good time through the cool, rainy weather. The town of Aurland was a breath of fresh air. It is actually a town as opposed to the transport hub of Flam – which meant it had grocery stores with real food and normal (Norwegian) prices. There were churches and people working on roads and other amazing, normal city things. Most of all it was quiet – the blasting of train horns, cruise ships and thousands of people shuffling between dock, bus station, and train platform were nowhere to be found.
The quiet town quickly faded away as I began to climb steeply past green farms set precariously onto the side of the steep mountain. As I climbed I saw the cloudline approaching quickly, and knowing that I probably wouldn’t get good views yet again felt the pangs of a repeat of my hike two days prior. With one last glimpse of the fjord, I ascended into the clouds at an elevation of 800 feet.
The switchbacks continued and I passed only a handful of farmhouses as I continued into the wet, soppy mess. Our guidebook makes the road out to be one that is particularly frightening to drive on. Quite frankly, though, it was no worse than any of the roads we have ridden on so far. Maybe it was just that I couldn’t see what was over the edge in the fog, but without seeing any cars the entire way up it was no problem for my trusty steed.
After some steady prodding of my bike up the misty hill, I poked out of the clouds (around 1700 feet). The views certainly weren’t what I expected, but they were phenomenal. Instead of looking thousands of feet down into the blue of the Sognefjord, I was looking into a sea of clouds spread neatly between the mountain peaks. I continued to climb another 450 or so feet until I reached the Stegastein lookout.
The lookout is a wooden structure that juts out of the mountain and boasts a glass edge for an unobstructed view that is particularly terrifying for those afraid of heights. I was lucky to get there when I did as I had the whole thing to myself. I stood atop, gazing at the blanket of clouds for not more than 10 minutes before a massive tour bus full of Asian tourists pulled up. Shortly after they arrived, more tour buses pulled onto the side of the road and people crawled out, pushing their way tentatively toward the edge of the lookout.
Once the crowd came I deemed it time to head back so that I could make a bus which left an hour later. A quick jaunt down the hill, an even quicker stop for a custard-topped pastry that Bree really has taken to here, and I was back in 50 minutes.
Bree: When Ben returned, rushed over to the campsite and hurriedly packed up. We had a bus to catch.
With tunnels once again in nearly every direction and also a required ferry to be able to head north, we needed to make a crossing somewhere. Additionally, I was hoping to pick a route that would be kind to my injury, avoiding a 4,000 foot climb in the process. We opted for the bus after the boat ticket guy told us it would be cheaper and that bikes would be allowed on the bus. It didn’t hurt our cause that the heavy rain clouds had settled into the water, making a ferry seem less than desirable. It took a little while milling about the insanely busy bus station before we figured out what bus to get on and loaded all our stuff underneath the bus. I can’t fathom the tickets were in actuality any cheaper than the ferry, but we may never know. We resigned ourselves to the expense of public transport and settled in.
I was feeling a little glum to be riding on a big tourist bus, but there was a small upside. The bus took us directly through the longest tunnel in the world, a spectacle not accessible by bike. For 26 kilometers we were underground, colorful lights lighting the way every so often just to break up the monotony for drivers. It was indeed a long time to be in the dark.
As it turned out the bus ride was pretty much just a long series of tunnels broken up by the bus driving on to a car ferry to get shuttled across the fjord. No wonder transit is so expensive here. The bus driver did concede to let us get off the bus on the boat and walk around for a few minutes. We even saw some porpoises in the water!
Soon, we’d arrived in Sogndal, our bikes and bags pile