Brown bears, sunset slacklining, ‘bum-squeaking’ moments, and much more. This 6-month Nordic overland adventure shows what you’re missing if you skip out on these stunning northern destinations.
With Jason on one side and coffee on the other, we were finally situated in White Rhino, our trusty 2015 Hilux 2.5L turbo diesel. After a fond farewell to family in my mum’s driveway, we set our English sights on a Nordic overland adventure.
Before making our way to Norway, we stopped briefly in Denmark — a gateway for Nordic exploration. Here, we made the most out of experiencing the country’s world-renowned happiness, quintessential natural grandeur, and much-envied hygge.
We chose to spend this time on the soul-singing northern beaches near the ferry port at Hirtshals. It was July 2019 — pre-pandemic bliss.
Permitted to drive onto the beach, we found snug, little enclaves from the fervent wind to make ourselves cozy and content. We gave into hours of Danish splendor on the soft sandy shores before moving on to our big adventure.
Norway: An Adventure Tourism Destination
Norway is at least double the U.K. in length, with just 8% of its populace. Lush trees carpeted the steep-sided, fjord-gashing coastline, studded with big chunks of granite iced in glaciers.
The first week stretched ahead, warm and empty.
“If your Nerve, deny you, go above your Nerve” — Emily Dickinson
You can’t visit Norway and not roam the hills, much less forgo Kjeragbolten. It’d be like going to Mount Rushmore and saying, “Oh, we didn’t trouble ourselves with the big carved mountainside thing. But we took a good look in the gift shop.”
Kjeragbolten — the “Bolt” — is a glacier-deposited boulder wedged neatly into Kjerag’s crevasse in Rogaland County, southwestern Norway.
A moderately challenging 5.5-mile hike without climbing equipment led us to this climactic end bestowing towering views of the Lysefjord 3,228 feet below. There was nothing to lose. Except perhaps your footing, Norwegian friends cautiously advised.
After the last ice age, global warming triggered the sea level to rise, flooding the fjords. Around 50,000 BC, the glacier melted, accompanied by a rebound in rock formations as the ice disappeared.
In the Bolt’s case, the rising sea level couldn’t keep up with the rebound’s speed, which sandwiched the 5-cubic-meter rock into its current position, flanked on both sides by Kjerag. As natural features go, it was astounding.
We arrived with the clamor and excitement of the circus coming into town. Up there facing the rock jammed into its seemingly solid position for the first time, there was only so much room in my stomach. Nausea grew as I scrambled for a bracing vote of confidence from someone.
I was startled out of my worry about going over the edge by a guy who did just that. My hidden gem was when we witnessed this chap with balls as big as church bells slacklining across the void. It was about 600 feet long and elevated 3,000 feet over the fjord.
I lost count of the number of times he lost his balance, surrendering to free-falling while I endured another ‘squeaky bum’ moment. The only thing saving him from death was a harness connecting him to what looked like a string of dental floss. At dusk, he glowed with the giddy lightness of solitude.
My stomach lurched. Without further ado, I decided, right, I’ll jump onto the rock now before I take leave of my crazy and return to my senses. I’d bided my time for hours in a taut knot of nervous suspense.
Things could go irreparably wrong in the blink of an eye. Not only was stepping onto the rock made dicey by its spherical shape, but the thing was coated in silky smooth dust, to boot. More slippy than grippy. Despite the high-risk strategy, my what-the-heck thrill-seeking tendencies kicked in and won over.
To me, experiencing the Bolt was a difficult operation anyone could perform — the equivalent of a pianist playing Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” — except that one dare not miss a note.
A nape-tingling buzz followed. I jumped on and off the rock without fluffing any notes.
A 3-hour drive on the Fv450 from Kjeragbolten to Songesand brought us to a leviathan cubic-shaped mass, sheer on three of its four sides with a flat tabletop.
Known locally as Preikestolen, Pulpit Rock saw 65,000 people visit in June 2019 alone. Featured on the Tourist Board’s social media, the mountain plateau became more attractive with its debut in Mission: Impossible – Fallout.
Starting at Preikestolen Fjellstue, a mountain lodge in Geirangerhe, a moderately easy 4.5-mile stomp ensued. Based on our research, we allowed 4 hours for the round-trip trek, which was about right.
Free from the confines of the forest, we caught a sudden glimpse of the imposing flat rock. This view soon revitalized and sharpened the senses.
An impressive 2,130-foot drop stood between us and the fjord below. I kept my eye on the edge like a kestrel watching a vole. The massive dive down to the water world reopened a distinct feeling of fright in my stomach. With my face pursed in concentration, I edged to the vertical wall with gut-plunging clarity.
The Pulpit towered above the fjord, its near-perfect sides jutting out against the moon-washed sky.
“Get a load of that!” I barked above the roar of tourists around me. I tried to blot them out and zoned in on the thinning blade of rock jutting out over Hardangerfjord.
Trolltunga’s a sight, alright. The trek in was a 143-mile drive from Songesand to Røldal and a 15.3-mile footslog with a 3,630-foot elevation gain. This was the most spectacular Norwegian destination to date.
The first steps of the yomp into the unknown, carrying the world on my back, were exhilarating. I felt as if I could keep going for 100 miles. It was the ultimate existential joy as far as starting out goes.
The reality: progress became stultifyingly slow. I registered my dubious grasp of the business at hand while acknowledging the moxie it’d taken to make it this far. Less than a mile. I contented myself with smiling vaguely and avoiding eye contact with anyone making it look easy.
A 5 a.m. start the following morning rewarded Jason and me with access to an unoccupied vantage point of the fjord, alongside an unearthly stillness.
Just us and our vertiginous surroundings, adrenaline-zinging, triumphant. Neither of us dared speak, so great was our reverence for what we were experiencing. That, or we didn’t want to risk awakening the sleeping masses.
A tissue of mist lingered over the slither of rock before the sun slowly burned it away. There permeated in my soul an exhilaration — a settled expectancy to the long haul back and bulldog spirit clothed in peace.
Slowly en route to the top, 255 miles from Trolltunga on the E16, we pulled into Måløy.
Here, the sea had been beating against Kannesteinen Rock for thousands of years. This was nature’s most exquisite sculpted masterpiece you’ll likely ever see. Utterly sublime, it’s been shaped into the mushroom-like appearance it bestows today.
Looking out at the formation, I couldn’t think of a better way to go insane or become realized.
Big Skies, Big Country
Driving for 28 hours via the Europaväg 45 and E45 brought home the vast distances in Norway.
Admittedly, the last 500 miles northbound to Nordkapp were a mixed bag of what felt like burning through Krone on diesel. This was tempered at least when we descended on the country’s bleak but beautiful roads to the North Cape.
Hurrah, some drama in the skies at last!
Be careful of what you wish for. Norway, it seemed, had one final hand to play before she’d let us leave.
A heavy drizzle with gusting winds set in. It meant a night hunkered down in the double cab, battening down the hatches.
A landscape of blind-wrapped fog engulfed our surroundings, swallowing us whole. Getting to the globe involved pinning our location and activating the offline GPS to pick our way over the obscured few hundred yards, so bad was the fog.
Comical really, getting practically lost during what should have been us making a quick beeline to a landmark that’s impossible to miss.
The North Cape seemed so close, yet we were clawing through the thick fog in who knows which direction. Laughter rolled leisurely out of my mouth like the great banks of mist that spilled opaquely over the landscape.
But it wasn’t exactly the momentous milestone I thought it’d be when the globe emerged. Jason stood there brewing like a coffeepot. I recall him showing no sadness when we left.
High winds prevailed, and driving rain lashed down. Cobwebs more than the mind were blown. A low-voltage moment like: “Oh good, let’s go and get the bloody kettle on!”
Finland: Call of the Wild
Like Norway, Finland’s mix of pristine wilderness, abundant wildlife, and explosive burst of greenery made a beguiling fusion.
Equally, there was something about the Finnish summer air, fresh and invigorating. The forests were so expansive I pinched myself that it wasn’t the Yukon.
Dense woodlands sprinkled with picturesque lakes encompassed an astonishing network of national parkland. There, we observed the fantastic beasts deep in the thicket of the trees.
European Brown Bears
On the edge of the Finnish-Russian border, Karhu-Kuusamo Oy comprised a bear-watching husband-and-wife outfit out of Kuusamo in the far north of Finland.
A forest in Kuntilampi is home to a protected dwelling place for bears. I had no idea these awesome creatures could be found in Europe. Wolverines, too!
After a nervous detachment with 240 euros and a 4-hour diversion from our route back to the ferry, we set aside an afternoon. We kept everything crossed to encounter a sleuth of bears.
That is, after coming to a family’s rescue whose rental car got stuck in a muddy ditch. For the ongoing support we accumulated on a previous motorcycle trip, the debt of paying it forward was getting settled.
Late to the Teddy Bears’ Picnic
Our winch-saving intervention put us 10 minutes behind schedule for the bear viewing. Consequently delayed, the bear-whispering husband zipped around on his four-wheeler, throwing sizeable fish pieces all over the forested viewing area.
Like bears to a honey pot, a couple of lone males rocked up moments later. We’d won the jackpot. Growling, though, the bears seemed disgruntled. Later, the couple revealed that they take umbrage when their lunch is late — our fault!
Next up, an ever-cautious mother crested the hilly path with four cubs sidling alongside. More older males followed and some bolder juveniles as well.
Mesmerized, we feasted on watching the bears bathe, practice their tree-climbing skills, and chow down their fish fillet.
With unfaltering ease, a huge male stood up on his powerful hind legs to become the size of a house. He’d spotted a salmon piece speared on a branch. Its shoulder blades glided like pistons under its fur while the bear’s unblinking eyes were locked on its entrée.
Barely believing our luck, we saw 16 big browns altogether. They were like flies around overripe mangoes.
When nature becomes limitless, joy is my constant companion. It rounded off the proceedings of our Nordic adventure with the flourish of a final curtain.
Nordic Overland Adventures: It’s Never Goodbye, Only See You Later
Not wishing to waste a drop of this wild and precious summer, we wrung out every undiluted pleasure at our fingertips. Down to the depths of my belly, my first impressions didn’t match any of my preconceptions. All I know is that it was the easiest thing in the world to be a human doing in the Nordics, not just a human being.
During our quick passing through Denmark, it wasn’t a typical view of the country where we overnighted. It did, however, seem forever gusty as the wind blew sea-salted and strong on the northern beaches. Well worth a rendezvous with the setting sun, too.
Then, as we navigated through Norwegian territory, hot weather was thrown unexpectedly into the mix — portions of which lie well above the Arctic Circle. Tunnels and fjords in abundance, yes. Mountains veiled in thick fog uncovered jagged peaks, and when that cleared, gigantic glaciers cascaded down into emerald meltwater.
The fantastic beasts roaming the forests in Finland put the frosting on the wilderness cake. These were the sweet memories of pleasure-drenched times before the deep-rooted darkness of winter hit.