North Cape 4000:
Published: July 2023
We fast forward to Viggo Vea’s final leg of the North Cape 4000 in 2022, where he discovers new sides of himself. Will he like what he finds?
The following is a recap of his own words, translated to English by us. It's a long one, but so is the ride, and we guarantee you'll enjoy it. So grab some coffee and enjoy! Part 2 of 2. If you haven't read pt1 it can be found here.
I get a good night’s sleep and don’t get up until 06:30 after 7-8 hours. An unmistakable sound is coming from the window; can it be rain? The weather forecast didn’t say anything about that, but it’s pouring down. The forecast has been updated and it should ease up further north, something Bjørn Sverre can confirm when I message him, as he is currently 60 kilometers up the road. It takes some time to get going as I have to dig up rain wear and shoe covers. I also opt for winter gloves. According to the tracker I’ve lost six places since last night. It’s the quartet with the two women, Sergio that left two hours ago and the German Gerhard Emhofer that I’ve yet to meet. All of them have passed me. The quartet is 40 km in front with Sergio just behind, while Gerhard has just passed. I also notice that Daniel has left Rovaniemi and will catch me unless I get going. When I pass the cabin next to mine I notice a couple of floor pumps so I’m able to inflate my tires. Everything is in order for a good pace to the North Cape. 8 degrees and rain is something I’m good at in Bergen, but here I’m messing about on the cycle path to get going.
And while I’m messing about, Daniel appears and we tag along together.
Since I’ve got fenders on the bike I choose to mostly stay in the front to avoid the spray from his rear wheel. We find a good pace and quickly catch up to Gerhard. He seems tired, but insists that we take turns pulling. It works out for a while and the road has little traffic. Then a funny phenomenon: the road suddenly widens up alot and is used as a reserve airstrip. Funny, and something I’ve never seen before.
Anyway, I think the pace drops too much with Gerhard in front, so I take over and up the pace a bit. After 15 minutes in the aero bars I turn around only to see both Gerhard and Daniel gone. I’m alone, at least for a while.
After about 100 kilometers I arrive in Sodenkylä where there’s a gas station and a café. That’ll do for a 20 minute stop and already before I’ve sat down, Daniel shows up. He spends quite a while discussing mosquito repellents with the locals. So I leave before him. The weather is starting to clear and after another 15 kilometers, the road is pretty dry. The route takes me away from the main road alongside a lake. That allows me to stop and pack my rain gear in peace.
Daniel is back soon enough. That’s nice and the nature is also nicer than yesterday. Despite us being further north, it’s also less desolate. It seems it’s possible to find stuff to eat about every 100 kilometers here, so I can carry less backup food. That means a lighter bike, which is nice as the terrain is getting more hilly. I’m trying to convince Daniel to go to the finish with any more sleep. He doubts it, but will give it a go. When I met him in Germany he had just opened a pack of caffeine tablets, and he’s now well into that pack, so he’s got some tricks up his sleeve.
We ride together, but not all the time. Sometimes I pull away; most often on the straights. In the climbs he pedals harder than me. We don’t wait for each other, but end up having the same average pace. We have stuff to talk about, so the day passes quickly.
Daniel also likes to take photos. His phone is never far away and he manages to capture the mood, much better than I do. These last few days I’ve had a small ticking noise coming from my crankset. After discussing it on phone with my local bike shop, we’ve narrowed it down to coming from one of the pedals.
After discussing with my local bike shop in Bergen, we isolated the issue to be with one of the pedals. It would take a lot for it to cause any trouble, but I found a sports store in Ivalo (268 km) where we’re going to stop anyway to buy food. However, after visiting the store, it turns out that they only deal with hunting and fishing equipment. They would like to help, but it’s a small town and no pedals can be found here. I’m in the mood to buy a proper dinner, but Daniel would rather just buy everything at the K-Market. So, I do that too. I fill up enough food to drive non-stop until we’re in Norway. When I come out, it turns out that Daniel has fallen for the temptation to order a vegan burger at the restaurant. He’s vegan and it’s rare to find such luxury on the menu out here in the wilderness. I’m not there myself. We’ve seen hundreds of reindeer now, so I ordered a reindeer pizza. I don’t tell that to the reindeer that are 300 meters away.
There are several stores along the way, but we can’t rely on them being open, so it’s good to know that we have enough food even though the bike is heavy again. After eating dinner, the body is drowsy. Daniel knows the solution; a cup of coffee, a caffeine tablet, and a gel. Then he wakes up.
Now it’s time to move quietly but steadily through the evening. It’s funny that in Ivalo there is a sign indicating 300km to Murmansk while it’s 400 to the North Cape. We didn’t turn right to put it that way.
Further on, there are long straight stretches ahead again. But nature is a bit more open and it’s quite beautiful now as the evening comes. The reindeer got scared when I told them I had reindeer pizza.
We talk a little about music, he plays guitar in a band. And then he wonders what I listen to when I cycle at night. I reply with “a lot of different things”; not too simple but not too advanced. He retorts with either it’s Black Metal or Anton Bruckner’s ninth symphony as his favorite. Personally, I prefer Bruckner’s seventh, even though I haven’t found myself listening to that on a bike ride. He promises me he’ll check out number 7. The drummer in the band he plays with actually works in the symphony orchestra in the city, but he almost never has time to practice with the band. Since he is a bicycle messenger in Freiburg, I ask him if he knows a music store called Bertram. He does, he’s heard it’s good. I say that it’s one of the best music stores for brass instruments in all of Europe and I know several people who have gone there to buy trombones. That’s the kind of things a culture school teacher/freelance trombonist and a bicycle messenger/student can discuss while cycling together in the polar north of Finland.
At every stop, I’ve checked the tracking to see if I/we are closing in on the quartet and Bjorn Sverre. But the distance has mostly remained pretty constant. Maybe we’ve gained a few kilometers on the quartet, but otherwise, there’s little difference. Sergio is also consistently at the same distance. But I’m prepared for this. The order for the North Cape won’t be decided in the evening sun when it’s dry and pleasant. It will be decided on the graveyard shift when the day is at its darkest and everone is at their weakest. The plan is to just keep going. Then we’ll see who breaks first.
After 335 km we reach a milestone. Here, we turn left towards the Norwegian border and Karasjok. It’s 65 km to the border and 15 km from there to Karasjok. This road has a lower standard than the one we came from, but in return, we have it almost to ourselves. It’s getting a bit dark, but never completely dark. Daniel notices that Johannes’ tracker has stopped, and the other three continue. And we’ve picked up the pace. Sergio has taken the night in a cabin/hotel. So now it starts. But the next to give up is Daniel himself. It’s more hilly here and when it starts to go down, he gets terribly tired, so I pull away. Then I stop to take a break and put on some more clothes. He comes along but he stumbles his way to an open door into some kind of public hall and takes the night there. So I continue the chase alone. After a while, I take a break and stop at a rest stop where there’s a motorhome parked. Then I check the tracking and see that Johannes’ tracker is supposed to be inside that motorhome. Weird… It has Norwegian license plates.
Alex and the women are now only a few kilometers ahead. So I get on my bike pretty inspired. Down to Finnish Karigasniemi on the border, it’s downhill, and as I roll down there, I pass the three who are just wandering around and seem completely done. We exchange some words, they tell me that Johannes had a crash, broke his rear wheel and had to give up. That explains why he was in the motorhome. I respond little to the conversation but say that they will probably find a place to sleep in Karasjok.
It’s said that you discover new sides of yourself when you push yourself hard enough. And that’s true. But in retrospect; whether you like these new sides is a completely different matter. Normally I would ask a lot about what went wrong with Johannes, what it was like to have a crash in such a desolate place with a passing car in half an hour, and how they solved it. And then I should brag about how well they handled it and say something encouraging, perhaps suggest that they could cycle with me further. Instead, I mumble something like “you’ll probably find a bench in Karasjok.” Bye! And then I speed up the hill to make sure they don’t manage to keep up. So the “new sides” of myself are just that I can behave like a cynical jerk. Hurray… Thank you, great!
Anyway, it’s nice to be in Norway and understand what’s written on the signs again. I get to Karasjok and stop at a bench outside a gas station. Eat some more proper food without being eaten by the mosquitoes myself.
While I’m sitting there, the trio arrive. Katarina swings by me and asks if I know where they can sleep. I suggest the bench I’m sitting on, but it doesn’t seem to be an option. They want a roof over their heads and wander around in the center. There are actually some people here, so it’s not just a matter of lying down. It’s light even though it’s 3-4 in the morning, so there’s life here. One disadvantage of cycling several together is that everyone needs “facilities” when stopping. Katarina seems relatively awake; it’s Alex and Bettina who are completely exhausted. I could have suggested that she cycle along with me so that Alex and Bettina could get some sleep. They would then have the company of Daniel tomorrow, and I would probably benefit from having Katarina with me, as it would be challenging to stay awake for me too. But that’s hindsight again. I find a water tap so I can refill my drinking bladder. Then I set off over the Karasjok Mountain, which isn’t very high but feels like high mountains due to the landscape and wind. The tailwind and good times are over. Up there the wind is against me, but it’s not strong enough to blow away the mosquitoes, so if I stop for more than 20 seconds, I’ll get into trouble. I frequently check my tracking to see if I get a gap to the three of them. I do, but they don’t stop for very long.
Up there it’s not really that great. Headwind and variable fog. When I see that the gap to the three of them is becoming significant, I struggle with the willpower to push on. I start to feel pain; sore here, itching there, damp and cold in one place, hot and sweaty in another. Numb both here and there. Perhaps a bit of a calorie deficit too. So I need something to lift my morale. There are small rest areas in some places and these sometimes have a toilet. This is a low moment and I need to do something to lift my morale. So it happens that at a toilet on the moor I sit and watch a video of singer Lara Fabian. She goes all in and uses 5 minutes to give it her all and is exhausted afterwards. I need to do the same, just distribute my energy over the remaining 230 km which can take between 8 and 14 hours.
After 6 minutes the video is finished and the mosquitoes start to find their way in through the crack around the door. I get “inspired” on my bike. But after half an hour only, the fatigue returns. There’s no way around it, on the way down towards Porsanger there’s a bus shelter in an area with fewer mosquitoes. I lie down on the bench and rest for a bit. I don’t know how long it takes, but I guess I set off about 40 minutes later. Now I’m riding steadily down to Lakselv where I hope to find a cola or something like that.
But I don’t… Nothing is open. Not even the Circle K station. Bad stuff.
It’s too early in the day. So I’m eating candy and drinking water. But still using some time. Now it’s 180 km left and Bjørn Sverre is 5 miles ahead. So there’s really nothing to push for. The distance to Alex and those behind is safe. Same with Sergio and Daniel. So I’m in a way in a vacuum. It’s safe to say I’m a little uninspired at this point.
According to the elevation profile, it looks flat to the North Cape Tunnel, but of course it’s very contracted, so it turns out that it’s a little hilly further out. In addition, there’s headwind from the sea and the weather is gray. I had imagined that it would be sunny and glorious weather, but it’s taking a while. According to my planning sheet, there should be 33 km to a Coop in Billefjord. Of course, it’s also closed. Need a Coke now!
Then it’s 30 km further to Olderfjord where there’s also something to buy. The store there is a combination of gas station, convenience store, fast food, and café. So there’s hope!
When I have 20 km left, despite the good weather forecast, it starts to rain. First a little, so I try to ignore it. Then it gradually becomes more and more. When I’ve ignored it long enough that it’s too late, I capitulate and find my rain jacket. Cold and miserable… My hands are sore with nerve damage that’s kept in check by lying in the handlebars as much as possible, but there are too many hills here. They turn completely white. I can’t be bothered to look for winter gloves and let it be. The store/café/gas station etc. is not exactly a beautiful building. Just a square from the 60s without any roof sticking out. It’s not possible to put the bike under cover. A completely soaked cyclist who has been on the road for 26 hours, with some clothes not washed for 12 days, doesn’t smell exactly fresh… So I keep a low profile. It’s a bit dumb that I don’t drink coffee, because I feel that right now it would have been smart. I buy two sausages in bread, two cokes, and two baguettes for the journey ahead. It’s now 13 km to NC and about 10 to Honningsvåg. I take my time, there’s a queue to the village’s only toilet that smells bad when I go in and even worse when I get out. Good luck, lady after me. When I finally get out, everything on the bike is wet and I have to fish out my winter gloves. Of course, the rain stops pretty quickly and it becomes warm with subsequent clothing change again. This is tough.
Just after Olderfjord, a lot of the traffic turns left towards places like Hammerfest or Alta. That’s great, because then there’s less heavy traffic further out. And there’s a lot of road work further in pretty bad tunnels. But since the weather gets better, the landscape becomes much nicer. This is something else than Finland! But now, the fatigue is also creeping in. I’m losing a little track of where I am, but at some point I come across a rest stop with a bathroom. And on the side of the road, there’s a slope down to a beach where the sun is perfectly positioned, creating good heat. I lay down for a bit and disappear for 30 minutes. I wake up because my face is very warm.
Then it’s off again. A little encouragement comes when I see a cyclist in front of me. Not a tourist with a 35kg bike, but with a proper, light bikepacking setup like mine. Surprisingly, I quickly catch up. This was probably the only time I felt strong that day. He notices me when I’m 50m behind him; he pulls out his camera, takes a picture and cheers when I pass. So he probably knew what I was doing there. Fun and good for morale. And I needed that now, because suddenly the North Cape Tunnel appears much earlier than I expected. I’m thinking that this is going to be unpleasant. So I do a quick a stop for a picture and a sandwich before I make my way into the dark.
It’s really cold and damp inside the tunnel. My hands get cold right away and it’s far down. The asphalt is average, so I slow down a lot on the way down. Fortunately, my poor hands obey. I have semi-hydraulic brakes on my bike, not the recommended solution, but that was what I could get when the bike was being built. Therefore, I have to press quite hard before they respond, but there’s plenty of braking power when I do. For the first time, they start to whine. It’s probably a combination of heat, dirt and moisture. Regardless, I get down safely and the climb up can begin. I’m passed by cars, buses, and RVs. It’s a 10% grade and it takes a long time. But the air quality is surprisingly tolerable. I get warm in my body, but not in my hands. Regardless, it’s a relief to get out. I’m glad I’m not on a traditional touring bike with 4 side panniers and a tent. That would have taken a very long time, and I encounter several of those further on now. NC is a popular starting point for many cyclists.
Anyway, I believe that the tunnels are done for today, but I’m disappointed. There’s a another one just after, and it’s not exactly flat either. Oh well… Later, I pass Honningsvåg. There’s a huge cruise ship there. And a whole bunch of shuttle buses are driving almost all the passengers to and from the North Cape. Some of them get the “pleasure” of seeing a dirty cyclist pounding the roadside outside Honningsvåg. In one of the buses, Bjørn Sverre and Chris, who arrived three hours before me, are sitting. Bjørn Sverre got to sit on one of the shuttle buses down again when the city buses were done for the day. They follow the road and manage to take a picture of me from the bus.
The hills towards the North Cape start. You might think that this is nothing compared to the Alps, for example, but you’d be wrong. And the weather changes all the time. Down in Honningsvåg it is nice while further up there are variations of fog and wind. So this part is tough, with a lot of headwind and only occasional good views. It turns out that the five who are 3 hours behind me get much better weather. But there are glimpses to get a little view.
As I approach the actual North Cape, the fog becomes so dense that I can only see 5 meters in front of me. So it becomes impossible to use the speed during the downhills. But when the media vehicle from the organizer arrives with a photographer hanging out of the window, I understand that it is only a few hundred meters left.
So how was it to get there? Completely average. It was fun to greet the organizer and get the diploma (which I immediately forgot at the café).
But a little disappointing that it was just me. It would have been nicer to finish with some of the others. But I placed myself in “no man’s land” by having three hours to the front and about the same to the back. Alex, Bettina, Katarina, Sergio, and Daniel arrived about the same time. It would have been nice to have someone there and then to share it with.
So it really was mixed feelings when I was standing there, and my brain was already thinking about where I was going to sleep and how in the world I was going to get home.
On the plateau itself, it was just cold and filled with tourists. The shops were about to close for the day, and the café didn’t serve hot food. So, I grabbed a bun, some cake, and noticed that all the tourist buses were gone. Then, I had to get up on my bike once again and cycle 35 km to Honningsvåg. Chris and Bjørn Sverre had booked themselves into a hotel there. I then sent a message to Daniel, who promptly replied. As a bike messenger, he’s used to keeping an eye on his phone while cycling. He had already booked an Airbnb in Honningsvåg, so I got the guy’s number and booked myself into the same place.
The trip down was scary, as the wind picked up significantly, and the fog became even denser. In one of the descents, I had to get off the bike because I was in danger of blowing off the road. But eventually, I made it down; it probably took about an hour and a half. In the last descent, I first met Alex, Bettina, and Katarina. They were very cheerful. A few hundred meters below, I met Sergio. We stopped to chat. While we were talking, Daniel also joined us. I warned them about the weather, but Daniel insisted that the weather forecast said it would be great in the next hour. When I looked through his pictures, I saw that they had had a completely different and better weather than me all day. But that’s how it is up there; the weather changes incredibly fast. All in all, I had no reason to complain. Honningsvåg is a typical unpretentious, Northern Norwegian “town”. So, I found a kebab shop where they had “all types of food” and ordered myself a pizza.
So, I went to the Airbnb where there was a washing machine. I took off all my clothes, emptied my bags, put everything in the washing machine, and went to bed. I set an alarm clock for two hours later, so I could put them in the dryer. At 5:30, I got up again to meet Bjørn S and Chris to catch a bus to Alta. Outside the neighboring apartment, Daniel’s bike was standing. I have no idea when he arrived. He was planning to stay in Honningsvåg for a day and then take the Hurtigruten to Tromsø, while I was hoping to find a flight from Alta.
Chris is quite cunning. He insists that we should cycle out of the city to a former bus stop. There’s only space for three bikes on the bus, and by doing this, we avoid a lottery for the spots if more people are traveling. It works, because when we arrive at the city center, Alex and the two ladies are there, but the driver refuses to let them on. Life is tough… Anyway, there was a good atmosphere on the bus. We had amusing things to talk about. Bjørn Sverre had a very eventful trip with some serious punches in the face.
On the next bus, we meet Johannes, who had a broken rear wheel. He’s a very funny guy. He got off before us, straight to the airport, but he forgot his seat bag. So, we had a challenge to get the bag sent to Austria. In Alta, we went straight to Peppes’ pizza buffet. It probably wasn’t a smart move by Peppes to offer an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet to three cyclists who have been cycling for the past 12 days. We stayed there for a long time. For Johannes’ bag, Chris managed to get in touch with Daniel Gottschalk, who is also from Austria. He was the fastest cyclist and “won” the whole thing. Incredibly fun guy. He had been in Alta for a couple of days and even managed to go on a training ride with the local cycling club.
The rest of the day was spent buying enough moving boxes and tape to create a bike box for the flight back home.
It was a bit melancholic at the airport when I realized that I have made many new friends whom I’ll probably never meet again. There were several participants on the flight to Oslo, and we all had different connections. So, we parted ways by saying, “back to our boring, normal life”…