With a slight cliff hanger on the last blog and with you expecting weeks and weeks between blogs I thought I'd blind side you with a double whammy!
I left you as we emerged from the Traumatic Tunnel Terror #1, there are a more Triple Ts to come later in the Norway Chapter, and so we can continue.......
A few more minutes and then the signpost for route 63 on the left appeared and I turned off noting that actually the road didn’t look too ‘little’ altho it was un-edged and slightly narrower than the E road.
The post adrenalin euphoria was stoked by the complete head rush of seeing such incredible scenery stretching out before me. Pockets of unmelted snow and snow covered peaks surrounded us and the lake to my left was the most amazing cobalt blue colour. An almost maniacal laugh, possibly of hysteria, bubbled up as I urged Tabitha to take photos.
As we continued along R63 we saw the turn off for the private road to the peak of Mount Dalsnibba – from here you can see down into Geraingerfjord from the highest point. I’d heard it was a pay to play road and had yet more twists and turns – needless to say I did not turn off.
However, as the rush of surviving Triple T #1 and being stunned by scenery my thoughts turned to What Next…….
Oh yes, as surely as we had labored our way up and out of the valley on the Stryn side we were going to have to make our way down on the Gerainger side.
The descent started a few minutes later and my knuckles whitened as I gripped the steering wheel my stomach was in knots – before the road dropped away steeply and curved sharply to my left. The signpost told me it was a 1:10 and as soon as I had made the first bend the road again dropped away with a sharp curve this time to right.
A longer period before the next curve gave me time to look out across the enormous valley, I could actually see the Eagles Road that was the only road out of Gerainger on the other side – the air is clear this high up!
Remembering all that I had read and been told about descents like this I stuck to a low gear and tried my best NOT to ride the brakes for fear of boiling them.
Eileen’s coachbuilt habitation area felt so very heavy as we went nose down the steep, short stretches. I nearly came to a halt hauling her around the bends and I could fairly feel the wrath of smaller vehicles, and bigger, as they were held up by my terrified descent.
I could only keep remembering the intermittent loss of braking incidents that I’d experienced 3 times in the 21 months I’d had Eileen and prayed that replacing the master cylinder, in spite of the garage saying it wasn’t necessary, had cured the problem.
My fear of heights came crashing to the fore and desperately tried not to look down, or out and focus simply on the next 100 meters of blacktop.
As a pull out approached I gratefully pulled over and turned off the engine. Only 5 miles to go but the Sat Nav was helpfully telling me how many more hairpin bends I had ahead.
I messaged a few friends for a bit of moral support. A guy who’d driven this road previously and a guy who has vast experience of driving coach tours across the alps and other challenging roads – in the snow even!
No way up, the only way was down and forever going forward and with their encouragement after half an hour so to let everything (and everyone (me)) cool down I set off again.
At least I had another 10 minutes or so before I built up my little Irate & Annoyed following of vehicles with much more confident (reckless?) drivers tailgating me.
Now, I know that I have a few fears and phobias that come into play in these scenarios. Several months further down the line I have a much keener understanding of how my fear of heights impacts in these situations – which isn’t to say I know what to do about it.
Others seem to tackle these roads without a second thought and whilst I’d like to be less terrified I’m not sure I want to be so blasé either.
As we finally pulled into the campsite at the bottom of the descent I didn’t feel anything but complete exhaustion. There was no relief or euphoria or sense of achievement of any kind.
As I witnessed motorhome after motorhome pull up outside reception and get checked in the stench of burnt rubber and over heating brakes got stronger and stronger. How many of those drivers had come close to boiling their brakes without necessarily realizing I wondered – especially the rentals……
Caught between two extremely steep and twisty roads it didn’t matter which direction you arrived from, you’d had a hairy descent.
Geraingerfjord itself was beautiful in it’s way but the enormous cruise ship docked in the harbor overpowered the natural spectacular of the fjord itself.
The village was simply set up for cruise ship tourists and it was insanely expensive even by Norwegian standards.
I’d planned a BBQ but see above (there was a piece of steak in the shop for £44 !!!!). I can’t now remember what we ate but it was likely to be something pretty uninspiring, I may have had a beer but probably not.
I fell into bed that night absolutely sure in the knowledge that I was not driving out via Eagles Road and I was not doing Trollstigen. Despite a few people telling me it was no worse, easier in fact, than what I’d already done that day.
It took a long time to get to sleep as the drive down was on a repeat movie reel every time I closed my eyes.
The only shred of relief I felt was that I wasn’t going to do that again – we would take the ferry out in a day or two.
No sense of achievement prevailed, just a dread knowledge that I could do it if I had to but I had no intention of seeking out anything like that again!
Addendum: several months down the line and I am no longer quite so petrified by roads like these. My fear of heights still kicks in on occasion but my confidence in myself and Eileen prevail. I still don't actively seek out difficult roads but I am less thrown when they present themselves :-)
OK so today it is November 22nd and we are on the Costa Blanca in Spain. It’s a slightly grey day and it’s been a bit wet, for all that we are still in shorts and flip-flops but including a jumper.
It feels like a long time ago that, in early August, we left Melkevoll Bretun in Oldendalen for our next destination of Geraingerfjord.
Norway presented me with the most challenge any country has since, it was our first country so perhaps that’s to be expected. Perhaps later, more recent challenges haven’t seemed so monumental because of the baptism of fire Norway was.
I was in a permanent state of agitation during that first month, I found the roads altho well made were narrow and often ran alongside steep drop offs or the deep waters of an icy fjord.
As we entered tunnel after poorly lit tunnel capturing glimpses of roughly hewn rock it felt like entering Mordor itself. We neither of us would have been surprised had Gandalf materialized in the road ahead! Listening to The Hobbit on audiobook fuelled our imaginations of course.
At times like this, on the road from Stryn to Geraingerfjord, I truly felt Bilbo’s reluctant adventuring despite this being the culmination of two years of dreaming and planning.
For the first time in my life I experienced a split second almost irresistible deep need to just stop – fight, flight or freeze – but it simply wasn’t an option to stop mid-tunnel with articulated lorries thundering towards me and Norwegian drivers tailgating itching to pull out and zoom past as soon as there was a sliver of room – yep overtaking IN the tunnel was quite usual!
I have felt this ‘freeze’ lurch a few times since, mostly in Norway but also more recently in Italy.
Let me backtrack a little and explain how we ended up in this predicament……..
We had met a variety of people in Melkovell, one such group being a Scottish lady with her husband and their Beagle dog called Whoopee who were on a retirement tour in their MoHo (slang for motorhome, I was getting used to it slowly!). They also had her sister along for a few weeks. Lovely people who were the first native English speakers we’d met in Norway, they gave us lots of info about sourcing LPG (gas for cooking, heating and water) and tips on where to go and what to see.
I had been having my usual obsessive ponderings on how to travel to Geraingerfjord and whether to do the infamous Trollstigen and with their having come from the north I was able to ask a few questions.
They urged me to take the E15 to Stryn and then towards Otta and pick up route 63 at Skjak.
This road I now know to be The Gerainger Road. Constructed in 1889 for horse and carriage it is basically the same road today as it was then altho widening has taken place to accommodate cars, busses and motorhomes of course!
Emboldened by my successful foray off the main drag onto smaller roads in order to get to Melkevoll, which I had traced via Google Earth, I thought ‘hell yes I can do this’ and I deliberately did NOT look at Google Earth, it was time to put my big girl knickers on and get on with it!
So we set off in high spirits and had a spectacular drive back to Olden where we turned right for Stryn. Another lovely run to the small and vibrant town, I would regret not pulling over to stock up later but for now I wanted to push on.
The day was gorgeous and the scenery stunning and as we stayed on the valley floor I was able, for once, to enjoy the views of the lakes and soaring mountains to either side of the valley.
At the tiny village of Hjelle the road swung away from Oppstrynsvatnet and we began to climb out of the valley. Dropping down gears and hauling Eileen around hairpin bends I was able to glance out to my left and see the most amazing views of the valley we had just come from.
Whilst the Gamle Strynesfjellsveg, one of Norway’s famous Tourist Routes, continued on with even more twistiness the newer E15 took a wider sweep towards the new tunnel.
To this point I’d been enjoying the ride, going up has never bothered me or Eileen and I knew there was a tunnel coming up – thanks to the Sat Nav – so yeh, I felt pretty good about this one. I also have a feeling I knew this was a new road and tunnel so what was the worst that could happen right?
Entering tunnels is always a bit of an adjustment as you are plunged into darkness from the bright alpine clear sunshine and this was no different. As my eyes adjusted it quickly became apparent that this was a tunnel built with economy in mind – mostly of scale which I suppose translates to financial in the end.
The narrowest of tunnels yet and not far off the most dimly lit – a Norwegian friend (via the wonderful connection of FB) told me later that even he didn’t understand why they made this tunnel so narrow.
We continued to climb, not as steeply, and I hugged the right hand side as coaches and lorries thundered past on my left. As soon the oncoming lane was clear a car would overtake me and I would instinctively slow down to give them more room to cut back in. This then led to me losing momentum and ending up going even slower thus annoying the people behind even more so they became even keener to get past – vicious circle.
It was in the middle of this tunnel that I had that first fleeting irresistible feeling that I could not go on, I had to just stop right there that instant. It passed in a nano-second but it was unnerving to say the least.
Eventually we burst out of the tunnel into super bright sunshine and I was nearly blinded whilst my eyes adjusted but the relief was palpable!
Stay tuned for the next exciting instalment, cleverly entitled Must Come Down.........
Driver & Author