Rallarvegen: Day 3 – Mjølfjell to Voss

Cycled Mjølfjell Vandrerhjem to Voss

Voss is only about 40 km from the hostel and 68 metres above sea level, so this was always going to be a short day with a lot of downhill. There is no offroad bike path this side of the train tunnel, and the route follows a sealed road all the way to Voss. There wasn’t much traffic until near Voss, and what traffic there was treated us with respect.The road mostly follows the train line and the path of a small river all the way into Voss. The scenery is beautiful green forest and farmland, with small villages along the way. There are some climbs, but as it is a drop in altitude of over 1000 metres it is mostly downhill. Some of it is steep and windy and very fun. At one point we stopped to pick wild blueberries and pretty much gorged ourselves.

A bemused cow, unsure what to make of my attention.

A bemused cow, unsure what to make of my attention.

Forest from the floor

Forest from the floor

We arrived in Voss early enough to check in to the hostel and explore before we had to hand in the bikes. Voss tries to sell itself as an adventure tourism destination, but didn’t give us the impression of being as busy as some other such places. Although it was a nice enough place Norway has so many “must see” destinations that it could easily be overlooked. Its only advantage is that it is accessible by train. We were staying at the Voss Youth Hostel which had an interesting photography exhibition with a bunch of views on freedom.

Initially I’d intended to go further, but Voss was the last place that you could drop the hire bikes off. There is no bike hire office like at the other stations between Haugastøl and Flåm, so you have to be at the train station for a particular train late in the afternoon, and give it to a guard to return for you.

One problem with hiring bikes is that they don’t supply helmets. We were lucky to find a couple of helmets in the hostel in Flåm which had been left by previous cyclists who had no further need for them. We kept the note that had accompanied them, and left them in the same fashion with the same note in the hostel in Voss. After a night in Voss we took the train to Bergen to meet some friends, then flew out of there.

Overall, this was a fantastic bike ride. Riding through the arctic tundra is a trip that large numbers of people repeat year after year, just because it’s awesome. Either route is very worthwhile, one ending at the beautiful Flåm and one giving a bit more variety in scenery. The Rallarvegen bike route is only open from mid July to late October. You may have to deal with partial closures due to snow if you are riding very early in the season.

Rallarvegen: Day 2 – Finse to Mjølfjell Vandrerhjem (Mjølfjell Hostel)

Cycled Finse to Myrdal
Train Myrdal to Upsete
Cycled Upsete to Mjølfjell Vandrerhjem

Date: September 3rd 2011

I awoke on a mattress on the floor of the dining room surrounded by waking Norwegians. There were mattresses covering every available bit of floor space. Through the glass doors was a wide angle view of low fog covered mountains and glaciers.

After breakfast we set out with hordes of other cyclists, who obviously expected the weather and looked more dressed for skiing than cycling. It was 6°C and raining lightly. We donned the hoods of our hoodies under our helmets and managed to fend off the cold OK. We were going uphill for the first 10km or so, and it seemed to get windier and colder as the morning went on. After that it warmed up though.

The highest point of the ride is 1343m above sea level, around 10km from Finse. There is another waffle cafe nearby called Fagernut Vokterbolig, and we were very glad to have the opportunity to get out of the cold and have a hot drink. There is a little history museum in the cafe as well.

The terrain is very rocky and hilly, but beautiful. There is water every step of the way; creeks, lakes, waterfalls and cascades. It was almost overkill, but I never tire of water features. The path itself is a gravel road wide enough for a car, but there is no traffic apart from many bicycles. It can be quite rough in places, and is definitely not suitable for a road bike or anything that can’t take a bit of a beating. There was snow on the hills surrounding us, but not much, and none on the path. It really does make for a spectacular day of cycling. The only issue we had was that it was overcast, and the lack of light did not make for great photos.

After the initial uphill the road rolls along another 25km or so to Myrdal. It is just before Myrdal that the decision point comes for which path to take. Most people continue downhill to Flåm. There is a very steep winding road for a short while, then a gradual downhill all the way into Flåm, where there is a wonderful microbrewery, a beautiful fjord and a range of accommodation including a hostel. If you haven’t been to Flåm then it is definitely recommended. There is also an office where you can drop your bikes off if you have hired them. To continue your journey you can either catch the train back to the main line at Myrdal and go towards Oslo or Bergen, or catch a ferry towards Bergen.

Waterfall by the steep winding road down towards Flåm.

The steep winding road down towards Flåm.

As we had already been to Flåm we opted to go to Voss. There is no direct road between Myrdal and where the bike route continues at Upsete, so you have to catch a train through the tunnel from Myrdal to Upsete. There is no problem taking bikes on the train, and you can buy tickets on the train.

The ride from Upsete to Mjølfjell Hostel was basically a short few km through a sheep paddock with a great view, and was mostly an exercise in avoiding sheep poo. Although not the beautifully stark tundra of the earlier part of the ride, it was welcome to have the contrast in scenery. We stayed the night in the hostel, which was comfortable and in a rural/wilderness setting. It looked as though there might be some nice walks along the creek outside, and it could be a good destination in itself even if you aren’t cycling through. It is also accessible by car and train.

Rallarvegen: Day 1 – Haugastøl to Finse

Train Oslo to Haugastøl
Cycled Haugastøl to Finse

Date: September 2nd 2011

Rallarvegen is a famous cycling route along an old rail service track about halfway between Oslo and Bergen in Norway. You can rent bikes from the rail company, and they’ll take the bikes off you at the other end. The most popular route is to head from Finse down to Flåm, but we spent a couple of nights in Flåm before starting the trip, so we decided to take the alternative route to Voss. Bikes can be hired from the train stations at either Haugastøl or 27km further on at Finse. We chose to start at Haugastøl and stay overnight at Finse. It’s about a six hour train trip from Oslo so you have to stay overnight somewhere, and Finsehytta in Finse is the place to stay.

The bikes they gave us were 8 speed commuters with fat tyres. Initially I laughed at the pedal brakes, but I was very thankful for them later on the steep and rough downhills (for which a mountain bike with hydraulic brakes would be preferable) and when the hand brakes began to get soft after a couple of days. You can hire mountain bikes for a higher price. They are probably the better option, but the commuters handled the trip surprisingly well.

The ride to Finse is mostly a gentle uphill through tundra. It was overcast and quite cool, but there’s a cafe along the way to warm yourself over waffles and hot chocolate. At this elevation it’s often quite cold. The season only lasts from mid July to September, as it’s snowed under the rest of the time. Even though it’s well and truly below the arctic circle it’s apparently an arctic climate, so be prepared for chilly weather.

Cascades on Rallarvegen

Cascades beside the path.

Me with the bikes on Rallarvegen, not far from Finse.

Finse itself has a couple of accommodation options. There’s the very expensive hotel Finse 1222, or the much less expensive but not really cheap camping hut where we stayed, Finsehytta. You can’t book at Finsehytta, but they don’t turn people away. By the time we arrived all the beds were taken and they offered us a mattress on the floor for about 150 NOK. You can’t cook your own food, but the three course meal they provide, although expensive, is amazing. The bar sells beer from a local brewery and is quite busy, and it’s only when it quietens down that they move the chairs and tables and set up the mattresses. Millerine was suffering the tail end of quite a bad fever, so not being able to get to bed early was a bit of a problem. I spoke to a bunch of older women at dinner who did the ride every year. The previous year they had only found sleeping space on the stairs, so, thinking themselves too old for that sort of thing, had finally given in and this year were staying at the comfortable hotel. The hut was still the place to go for dinner though.

Finsehytta

Finsehytta, the full service “hut” where we stayed in Finse.