Where: Modalen and Voss municipalities, West Norway.
When: July 2017
What: A short trip, two nights, three days, seeing mountains not too far from home.
The bus came, and the bus left. And I stood on the platform thinking—that wasn’t planned!
Actually, what I thought contained somewhat stronger language but no need to get into the details.
Cycling out of Bergen Norway, where I live, may or may not be a successful task. Depending on where you want to go you might just end up on a platform, watching the bus’ ass as it drives away towards the horizon. If there aren’t any no–cycling tunnels on your way you should be fine though. If there are—and there are plenty of them—you still might be fine, but you’d have to rely on a bus or a train and it would be up to the train conductor or bus driver to decide whether or not there’s room for you. Or rather, your bike, because the bus is rarely full of people. In my opinion there was plenty space on the bus, for me and the bike. The driver, who is boss, seems to have disagreed.
For some reason this seems to be considered ok. Except perhaps by a few eccentrics on two wheels.
The next bus was due in about five hours. It gave me time to think some.
Eventually I got through the damn tunnel and could start pedalling. Upon return, three days and two nights later, the obligatory Instagram post went something like this:
They weren’t all great, the photographs, just to get that out of the way, but some made it to the internet..
The map of Modalen (Mo valley) and the mountains and lakes nearby has been tempting me for a long time now. To finally see the area with my own eyes was long overdue.
Actually, there was a sketch of a plan for this trip. To ride to the aforementioned tunnel and take the bus through, then continue along the E39 up to where a service road into the mountains begins. Continue the approx. 18km into the mountains, up to lake Svartavatnet (Black lake), perhaps spend the night, depending on how early or late I would get there. Then hike—a–bike over the top of the mountain using a hiking trail and connect to another service road that leads up to the same area, but from the other side of the mountain. From there I could ride down to the Modalen valley and pedal on to the next mountain.
To be honest, waiting for bus number two that day wasn’t excactly an encouraging experience. In fact it was the second thing to put a dent in the initial plan, the little I had ridden on the E39 until then being the first. The number of nasty passes by seemingly ignorant drivers of everything from the smallest Fiats to a full–length trailer had exceeded my most pessimistic expectations. Getting off the bus I had had it with the E39, and decided to ride straight to the village Mo in Modalen instead. It turned out to be hardly any traffic along the way, and none of it mean.
Actually, comparing my experience with some of the stuff I read about online suggests that I’m a gutless chicken when riding on the local main roads. The traffic descriptions from a number of places around the world indicate that what I have to face is a safe and quiet walk in the park. But being gutless and all I complain about it anyway. Ok, enough traffic tales.
Wikipedia tells me that Modalen is Norways second smallest municipality when it comes to number of inhabitants. Within its boundaries are parts of the Stølsheimen nature reserve, which seems to have a certain gravity effect on me.
Stølsheimen is home to a great number of lakes and I’m under the impression that most if not all the larger lakes up there are reservoirs for hydro–electric power plants. In order to build and maintain the dams, service roads have been built far up into the mountains. This makes the area somewhat accessible by bike, although more often than not the road is a dead end, one would have to ride it back to the starting point or try to connect two or more of the roads by the use of hiking trails. Although planned for this trip, the hike–a–bike part got left out this time.
Skjerjavatnet, by service road
According to the initial the plan the first reservoir along the way would have been the lake Svartavatnet. Sitting right beside it one finds lake Skerjavatnet, the two practically touching at the top; Skjerjavatnet at some 800 meters above sea level and Svartavatnet about twenty meters lower, each accessible via its own service road. Although the plan wasn’t realized, by the time I got up to Skjerjavatnet at a little over 800m, I was quite reliefed that I hadn’t attempted to go hiking with a fully loaded touring bike on this particular day. The thermometer crept under 4°C, the gusts of wind were getting increasingly powerful and as the rain got more intense I came to understand that my rain jacket was, perhaps, just a jacket, sans rain. Besides, the fog was becoming so dense that I couldn’t see much of the landscape anyway.
The app tells me the first climb of the trip was about 800 meters. For me, with a fairly heavy bike and not the strongest set of legs, that’s quite a bit and although the distance from the bottom of the valley to the top was no more than 10km it took me a couple of hours to get all the way up. With a few stops along the way of course, for nutrition and photographic purposes.
I won’t lie, I do think half empty reservoirs are like wounds in the landscape. That said I also feel they have a strange and strong attraction. And hadn’t it been for them I wouldn’t have been there cycling. Still might have hiked some in there area. But hardly touring with a a bicycle.
After a brief stop next to the half–empty lake, the reservoir, the wound, quickly pointing the camera in various directions while trying to shield it from the rain as best as I could, it was time to find a place to sleep. I opted for less altitude, less wind, but less rain wasn’t on the menu.
And when the so called rain jacket had become soaking wet, and the thermometer at just over four degrees and I had finally pitched the tent and crept in there—how grateful I was then for the wool sweater my sister knitted for me a while ago. Turned out that extra drybag of clothes I had brought wasn’t excessive at all.
Much to my surprise this turned out to be the best night sleep I’ve had in a tent for as long as I can remember. Just barely woke up a few times to register the music of raindrops on the rainfly and the waterfall beside me.
Stølsvatnet, also by service road
Waking up I was reminded that I should try to dig up some advice on how–to–dry–stuff–when–camping. That said, it was nowhere near as bad as I had expected it to be.
Down in Modalen valley, at the same juncton as the day before, I turned east this time and continued on my way to more mountains, more reservoirs.
With Modalens low number of inhabitants and no drive–through traffic I had the roads practically to myself.
Another name from the map that had repeatedly caught my interest is lake Stølsvatnet, yet another reservoir. 25km and just under 600 vertical meters later and I would be there.
Just above Stølsvatnet there is parking space for hikers and some info signs for the area.
And view,.. I guess the view was tolerable.
The road continued, not terribly steep but steep enough to give me the opportunity to pat myself on the back for money well spent on lower gearing. By the time the road came to a dead end the altitude meter showed some 950 meters. The landscape looked the part, there isn’t much vegetation at this elevation and there was quite a bit of snow left in the mountains.
I do wonder sometimes what it is about places like this that appeals to me. Afer all, they can hardly be described as hospitable.
It would have been nice to camp up here, but the status of the food supply wasn’t great, to understate. Nine hundred meters below (and some thirty five kilometers away) the grocery store would be closing in just over two hours. And all the photos I suspected to be waiting to be taken along the way.
It wasn’t just the poor condition of my food supply that got me down from the mountains in Stølsheimen and to Mo again. I had one more night to camp and one more day of riding before I had to get back home and knowing me I would have to find something to keep me occupied. Restless it’s called, I believe. And as with the aforementioned service roads I knew about one more I very much wanted to see. It was a bit of a ride to get there, so I figured I had to get going if I wanted to make it and still have time to catch a train back home. The place was lake Stora Volavatnet, in Voss, one of the neighbour municipalities, yet another reservoir for another hydro power plant and yet another service road leading all the way up to it.
Getting there meant riding down to Mo again, panic shop for an instant dinner, then up Eksingedalen valley and find some place to camp for the night before taking on the ascent to my destination the day after.
The views along the road in Eksingedalen were terribly alright:
And by the time I finally found a spot to spend the night; never has a cheap, pre–cooked dinner tasted this good! Kilometers, a heavy bike and vertical meters certainly help when it comes to appreciate what’s on the menu.
The bed, although next to the road, was pretty decent too. In fact good enough that I overslept and wasn’t on my way again until 10:30 the next day.
Stora Volavatnet, by yet another service road
At the start of the third and last service road the power company has installed the usual warning signs. They also supply some info on the power plants in the area, although somewhat weathered.
The road continued, I made good use of the lower gears and experienced yet another opportunity to feel good about myself for having swapped out the original crankset. It was certainly much warmer than on day one and I wondered if anyone migh be offended by the sight of a middle aged man cycling up a mountain in his underwear. Perhaps just as well there weren’t many around.
As the altitude increased the vegetation got thinner and the scenery whiter.
Up by the lake, Stora Volavatnet, my water supply was empty. The cold mountain stream running into it offered the best tasting water I’ve had in years.
It became obvious that this area needed to be added to the growing list of places to get better acquainted with.
Right now though I had a train to catch. But first—the descent..
At the train station in Evanger. Time to go home.