It Ain’t Over Till You Catch the Ferry: Bremangerlandet
This is one of my favorite stories from my trip. It neatly captures how enjoyable the landscape could be along the east coast of Norway, in the region north of Bergen, but how there always seemed to be an unimaginable bicycling challenge just when I began to relax.
Late one afternoon I got off the ferry on the gorgeous island of Bremangerlandet. As it began, the road was relatively flat and passed through some eye-catching rocky marshland. The weather was good with a slight tailwind. I had already decided to push it late that day and cover as much distance as possible before dark. I wanted to cross to the other side of the island and catch the ferry to the town of Måløy after which I hoped to find a secluded place along the route to pitch my tent.
It was only 14 miles across the island to the next ferry and I felt strong, so I was confident about the day’s plan. Other than a few pauses for photos of the scenery, I rode at a good clip, slowing down for only one or two of the typical, short, 22%-grade(!) Norwegian hills.
Soon, I reached the crossroads for the main settlement on the island, Bremanger. Grocery stores generally close around 5pm and this would probably be the best chance for me to get fresh food for the next two to three meals. I like my salad greens. I also wanted to see a bit more of this quaint and attractive island. So, I decided to ride off the main road to look for a grocery, use the bathroom, refill my water bladder, etc.
The town’s grocery store ended up being three miles off the main road (with the wind) which added six miles to my route. Still, I got my dinner, breakfast and snacks, and used the bathroom and refilled my water bladder. So, I was happy.
As the owner was locking up the store (I had guessed right about the early closure) I asked if she happened to know the ferry schedule. She didn’t but, without hesitating, she called her husband who, in turn, looked it up. I was pleased to hear that the ferry departed every two hours and the next one was in an hour and a half at 7pm. I thought I had plenty of time to eat dinner; ride the 10 miles (mostly with the wind); catch the ferry; and find a place to sleep before dark.
I sat down at a picnic table outside the now-closed grocery and enjoyed the view and my salad, crackers, salami, cheese and cookies. I was looking at the map to identify the telltale signs of areas that were likely to have good options for wild camping: small roads far from towns. There was nothing promising on either Bremangerlandet or, for quite some distance, on the next. That created a concern. Ferries were running till late at night so I’d have no trouble getting onto the next island. However, if I missed the next ferry, the two hours of waiting for the following one could leave me searching for a camping spot in the dark in an area where it looked like that’d be difficult even in the daylight.
I decided to pack up my half-eaten dinner, catch the ferry, and then eat at the next natural pause – while waiting for the ferry, or on the ferry, or after crossing to the next island. With an hour to spare, I headed out, looking forward to the slight tail wind once I was back on the relatively flat main road. The three miles of headwind on the return to the main road slowed me, but I felt good and decided to ride full-out to the ferry to make sure I caught it.
I made good time until I hit mile 17. With only three miles to go, I found myself on a steep incline I hadn’t anticipated. With 30 minutes before the ferry left, the remaining three miles would normally present no problem, but now I was riding in my lowest gear, at about 3 mph. I couldn’t believe it. I might miss the ferry!
After inputting this particular route into Ride with GPS, I learned that the pass I hit, with only 3 miles to go, gained 553’ over 1.2 miles with grades up to 25%. The other side consisted of a steep 477’ drop over half a mile with a moment at a -29% grade, then a short steep climb of 130’ over a tenth of a mile, before plunging through hairpin turns to the ferry dock parking lot at sea level.
During the trip, these sorts of downhills would become common but I would never become comfortable trying to make up lost time on them. So, while going down was faster than going up, it wasn’t the sort of high-speed descent that pays you back for all the uphill work. Often, to maintain control and because I never knew what hazard may lay beyond the next turn, I was rarely descending faster than 20 mph.
I didn’t mention that, on this particular road, there were hazard signs on the downhill section, warning that it was a high-wind zone. That would be an example of the sort of hazard that I could never anticipate. It could also be an approaching car or truck on roads that were often barely more than one car’s width, or a patch of manure, or gravel, or who knows what. This road was definitely not one on which to risk a high-speed descent.
I also didn’t mention the stunning view of the fjord as I crested the mountain pass. The view made it worth every bit of effort.
Ultimately, I did make it to the ferry with a few minutes to spare. I was relieved but made myself a promise that, from then on, I’d prioritize catching ferries over stopping to enjoy a meal. That night, my camping spot was perfectly imperfect: I enjoyed a beautiful view of the fjord but I got eaten alive by midges as long as I was outside my tent. Typical.