A tour around the southern part of Norway




July 1993
650 km



I did not have a camera back then, I am afraid. So no pictures from that tour. But click on the button below to open up Google Maps.
Enter "Oslo" in the search field & Google Earth for xtra pictures






Background



I was flat broke the summer of 1993 again, being a student. But I still wanted to do a cycling tour after the previous four summers on the bike. I also wanted to visit one of the big valleys in Norway; Setesdalen + do the southern coast down to Kristiandsand. So I got a donation from my dear mother who knew too well what such cycling tours meant to me. I did some training and went for a three and a half day tour. On this tour, I had tent, sleeping bag and two cycle bags in the back full of stuff. I was using a good helmet and a cycle short. I was not wearing a cycle shirt. The latter one is a vital part of clothing on a cycle tour. Normal t-shirts, as I was wearing then, is no good because they do not breathe as well as a good cycle shirt. Besides of that, my gear was good.

The week before the tour.



I had developed an infection in the groin area and was taken in for a minor surgery a week before the tour started. I was promised an easy surgery so I did not bother to call of the tour. Well, the surgery was not easy and I was in considerable discomfort until the day before I started out on the tour.

Day 1
100 km



Day 1 was meant to be half a day of cycling so I set off from my parents house at around 1600 in the sunny afternoon down Lierbakkene towards Drammen. I crossed the river at the mouth of Drammenselva and continued up Kobbervikdalen Kobbervikdalen, a small valley, on a good cycle path. This road took me over a small hill past Skoger to Sande.

I left the main road coastal road here for a short cut over the hills. The first hill is called Hanekleivene and was vertical for two kilometres. In the evening sun, it was a nice climb. I was taking it easy already being well ahead of schedule after a surprising good, easy run from Drammen to Sande. I felt great and in excellent shape. From the top of Hanekleivene, the road dropped down to a crossroad where I took the road to the left over HofHof to the bottom of the hill leading over to Hvittinfoss. This hill-climb was not too difficult, but I took it easy and was saving my efforts for the hills around Siljan which I suspected would be challenging.
I reached Hvittingfoss in Laagendalen. Numedalslågen is a big river running for about 400 km from Larvik to Hardangervidda. It is one of longest running rivers in Norway. I followed this big river downstream for 20 kilometres before I reached the crossroads at Steinsholt where I left the river. I was heading up the hill towards Siljan. The first hill was the longest with a four kilometres medium steep long climb which took me up to around 500 metres above sea level. In the evening sun, this was quite a big climb.
I thought I was on the top of the hill and Siljan was within easy reach. I was wrong. The road dropped down again to a canyon and the bottom of a new climb. Siljan was not in sight when I climbed up this very steep two kilometres long climb which was not on my map. I was sweating profusely through the forest. Finally, I arrived at the top of this hill and had a good view to the bottom of the valley......... and Siljan at the other end of another steep hill-climb. The descent was pretty hairy and the hill climb very steep up past Siljan. The climb ended up in a forest where it then dropped down towards Skien with a small hill-climb before entering this small town. I reached Skien around 2200 in the evening and I chose to cross the town and the river before I continued down the dead flat west side of the river past some shopping centres and industrial areas to the small town Porsgrunn which passed through in a search for a tentsite. I found a reasonable good piece of grass a couple of kilometres past Porsgrunn just outside the heavy industrial area of Herøya. I put up my tent at around midnight with the sound of heavy industry in the background.

Day 2
130 km



I woke up after some hours of sleep around 0500 the day after and I was not feeling particular good. But the tour had to go on. I took down the tent and left for Brevik and the bridge over the fjord. Just before Brevik, I rejoined the main coastal road which I had left the night before at Sande. The short cut over Siljan is highly recommended for all cyclists although it is very hilly. The benefit is almost no traffic, far more interesting cycling and a saving of 80 kilometres.
There was a drizzle in the air and the cycling was both wet and boring down the peninsula towards Brevik and the bridge. I crossed the bridge and had to take a 7 kilometres long detour around a another peninsula through a small village before I cycled through Bamble. I spent some of my meagre fund on a breakfast at a petrol station before I continued down the very busy coastal road for 10 kilometres.

I took of from the coastal road and followed some very old and narrow roads along the sea towards Kragerø. This road was once the major coastal road.........50 years ago. It was pretty hilly and uneventful. I was a bit bored, but I cracked on. The rain did not help too. I reached the crossroad towards Kragerø. I had previously visited this town with my parents and I could not be bothered to take the detour this time. I was cracking on towards Risør on the main coastal road instead of taking the minor and more scenic roads along the coast. Which in hindsight was a mistake.
The road I followed down the coast contained two minor hill-climbs and was pretty boring. The rain and the heavy traffic did not help my situation too. For me, this was just a transport part of the tour I had to endure to get down the coast as soon as possible to Arendal. I also got some problems with the back wheel again (the same as the year before) and it needed a repair. I bypassed the small scenic Risør and cycled pretty fast down to Tvedestrand. I left the major coastal road at this small town and went for the much more scenic and small road towards Arendal. This road was a revelation after the boring cycling at the major coastal road. Nice technical cycling with good scenery too. I soon passed the bridge over to Tromøya and entered the town of Arendal. The sun had made an appearance now and there was no more rain. After a break in Arendal, I continued on some smaller roads and pretty flat terrain towards the small town of Grimstad. After a small break, I rejoined the main coastal road again on my way towards Kristiandsand. The road was winding up and down some small hills and the cycling was quite technical and funny. This road has now been made into a cycling road and it is recommended. I pitched up my tent some kilometres before the Zoo in a dingy piece of grass. This was not the funniest days I have ever had on a bike. But I survived and I was ready for the next, more funny days.

Day 3
65 km



I woke up to a sunny morning and I got the tent down pretty quick. The first kilometres of the day took me over some small hills to the foot of a hill-climb taking me up to Kristiandsand Dyrepark (Zoo). This is a major amusement park and one of Norway's most popular tourist attractions. Well, among Norwegians at least. I had been there when I was a very small child. I was heading for the major town of Kristiandsand which I reached after crossing some bridges and on cycle paths along the very busy coastal road. I located a cycle shop which was able to do the repair and I took a walk through this town and it's harbour. I observed the ferry from Denmark unloading it's cargo of cars before I went back to the cycle shop to collect my bike. I then bid my farewell to the sea and the coastal road. The next two days would take me straight north.
The first ten kilometres out of Kristiandsand was pretty flat to Mosby. This small village is the foot of a major hill-climb over a hill. The next 40 kilometres over hills and through forests past Hægeland to Evje was very hilly with two major hill-climbs and some minor hills thrown in to. I was surprised by these hills because my research into this route had missed out on them. This was before the age of internet and online maps, remember. I was pretty happy when I reached the flat road at Evje and the quiet cycling alongside the Otra riverup to the small village at Byglandsfjord next to the lake of Byglandsfjorden. The cycle repair done in Kristiandsand was not sufficient and the back wheel developed another fault. I therefore decided to take a look at it overnight and therefore pitched up my tent at a camp-site just outside Byglandsfjord. I also had a wash in the showers there. The views was great and I was anticipating the next day up the Setesdalen valley.

Day 4
120 km



I had a good sleep and woke up refreshed to a sunny day. Despite of the small problem with the back wheel, I decided to carry on with the tour. In reality, I did not have much of a choice, having next to no money.
Byglandsfjord is the beginning of my main reason to do this tour: The valley called Setesdalen. This is one of the major valleys in Norway and a major cultural and spiritual home of all Norwegians. I was really, really looking forward to this day. The first part of the day was spent on the east side of Byglandsfjorden. A small tunnel at the end was a nice surprise. At the end of this lake, there was a bridge which crossed over to the western side at Storestraum. I could and should had continued to follow the less traffic on the eastern side, but I chose the good main road instead. I met a father and his son here which was planning to cycle to Hardanger. Rather them than me..... They took of ahead of me because they were faster than me in the short run. I knew from experience that if I followed my normal pace, I would end up being faster than them in the long run and I was proven right. I ended the day 50 kilometres ahead of them.
The road alongside the lake was pretty flat and the scenery great. I left the lake behind at Ose. The road was pretty flat alongside the Otra river for the next 20 kilometres and I concentrated on maintaining a good speed while I was enjoying the scenery. I also knew I had altogether 600 metres of hill-climbs ahead of me before the end of the day and that in pretty hot sun. I paced myself.
The end of the flat road came just after Brokke at Uppstad. A pretty steep one kilometre long climb took me up past a water fall into a narrow part of the valley. It was canyon like. The road flattened out along some small lakes. The valley then opened up again just before the small village of Valle. This is one of the more famous places in Norway and the heartland of Norway's farming and folk music scene. So I was pretty pleased to reach this village. I stopped for ten minutes before I headed up the valley again.
The valley and the road was dead flat after Valle. The valley and the Otra river also went into some large lazy S turns on it's way north. The cycling was not that interesting. But the scenery was very nice and worthy all the trouble to get to Kristiandsand. I passed Flateland and the more direct road back to Oslo I briefly had considered due to the problems with the bike. But I wanted to complete the intended tour in the knowledge that I probably would never return to this valley. I therefore continued up the valley towards Byklestigen.
The road was now climbing steady through some zig-zag river bends before it left the Otra river altogether for a pretty steep climb up a tributary river before it became more flat. The climb from Valle to this point was good fun.
I was eagerly awaiting the famous tourist attraction Byklestigen because I did not really know what to expect. What I found was nothing like what I expected. Just a small descent into a small tunnel and that was it. That was my biggest disappointment of the tour. But I have later done some research and discovered that Byklestigen is a pretty dangerous path outside the tunnel which was the lifeline between Bykle the village and the rest of the world. But there and then, I was left deflated. But I was soon at the foot of the climb up to and past Bykle.
The village of Bykle and the surrounding area is very beautiful indeed and worthy the whole tour alone. The same can be said about the local stave church I visited. I also bought some food at a local petrol station for the last money I had and continued up this approx altogether 4 kilometres long, steep climb up the valley. The road was becoming a bit more flat one kilometre past the village and I had some excellent cycling up the pretty steep valley towards Hovden. I was stopped by a car which was supporting the father and his son which had passed me ( and I had passed again when they took a break) down at the end of Byglandsfjorden. They were down at Valle, 50 km behind me. They gave me a big piece of cake and I am forever grateful for that nice thought. It is a case of the turtle outrunning the hare here because this pair of cyclists were clearly faster than me in the short run. But my style is to trundle on, slow or fast, for hours until I reach my objectives. This is in a nutshell the way to do long distance tours over several days. I soon reached the Hovden ski resort after some cycling along a big lake and after crossing some small rivers and then the final climb up to the Setesdalsheiene mountain at 917 meters above sea level. I was pretty pleased with doing Setesdalen from bottom to the top in one day so I pitched up my tent again on this bare mountain next to some big lakes.

Day 5
80 km



The sun was still there the next day. I took down my tent and started cycling over this moor with excellent views towards the glaciers in the north and back again towards Setesdalen in the south. Being a turtle and taking it easy, I was overtaken by a cyclist from the Czech Republic. We had a chat and did the hairy and vertical descent down to Haukeligrend. I was pretty glad at the end of this descent because it was a bit hairy. One of the three main roads between Oslo and Bergen runs through Haukeligrend. Me and my newfound Czech friend split up here. I took the road down the valley towards Oslo for a couple of hundred meters before I took the first road to the left and up a vertical 5 kilometres hill-climb again. The first part of this climb was on the verge of a deep canyon and then up to a small lake. The steepest part of the climb was from this lake and up to the top of this mountain at around 900 meters above sea level again. The views from the top of this mountain was breathtaking in all directions. The descent down to Arabygda at the large Totak lake was not too bad. It went down through the biggest boulder area in Northern Europe. Which was a pretty spectacular sight.
The road followed the northern shore of this lake for the next 35 kilometres. Almost at the end of this lake, I punctured. It was soon repaired and I continued. Then I punctured again and the problem seemed to be bit bigger than that. I worked for one and a half hour to repair the tyre. But it was damaged beyond repair by some tiny glass chars. Thankfully, I had a spare tyre. But it was damaged from the two days before and pretty dubious. It was barely holding together and I was praying like mad to God to help me get to Drammen again on these very thin threads. My newfound Czech friend passed me and I assured him I was OK. After almost three hours of repairs, I was ready to start cycling again.
I arrived at Rauland and took the road to the left at this crossroad over the mountain to Rjukan. It was starting to get late in the evening and I was climbing like mad up this mountain to a height of 1000 meters above sea level. The road went up and down over this moor past the big lake of Møsvatn. A small fox run over the road in the front of my bike and it seriously scared me there I was half a sleep during the descent to a small river. The 360 degrees views from the top of this moor, Hardangervidda, was very impressive. Although it was a sunny night, it was also a cold night and I was behind my schedule. I went for the the valley towards the vertical descent past Vemork towards Rjukan. There was sun on the top of the mountain, but freezing fog down in Rjukan. I was seriously cold during the descent to Rjukan. But I survived as usual. I was speeding through this village because it was almost midnight and I needed to find a piece of grass where I could pitch up a tent. I was also pretty sick and exhausted.
Any idea of taking the more scenic detour around the northern shore of the Tinnsjå lake was rejected and I went for the new main-road at the crossroads. I found a bench at the water's edge, took my sleeping bag and went for a sleep. I did not bother about the tent because I was too tired.

Day 6
135 km



I had altogether 2 hours sleep and felt like I was going to die. I noticed pretty soon that this day was going to be sheer hell. So to give me a chance to survive, I started around 0400 in the morning on the flat road along the Tinnsjå lake. I was drinking apple juice. I was soon vomiting apple juice too. Every fifty meters, no less. I felt seriously sick. But I had no money and no phone. My only chance was to continue the 100 + kilometres back to my parent's house again. Mercifully, the first 20 kilometres was flat along this lake. Flat with some tunnels. There was a couple of long hill-climbs at the end of this lake. I soon arrived at the end of this big lake at Tinnoset and at the foot of a five kilometres long climb up to Bolkesjo. A climb I had feared for a long time. At least I had stopped vomiting and I was starting to pick up my speed. But I still have nightmares about the climb up to and past Bolkesjo to the top at around 550 meters above sea level. The last bit of the climb was going on forever. It was sheer grind and took a lot out of me. I was looking forward to the long descent to Kongsberg. But the descent was rather technical where I had to watch the road surface and get my trajectory sorted out in rather heavy traffic. It was not a rest, this descent. I was soon down in Kongsberg and halfway through the day. Thankfully, no more big hill-climbs was a head of me too.
After a small rest, I continued on a good cycle track up the hill towards Hokksund. The cycle track followed the oldest road between Kongsberg and Hokksund with some excellent technical cycling over a rather big hill. My face lit up when met with so much fun. So I gave it all until I came down to the main road again at Eikeren, another big lake. I followed the very busy main road almost to Hokksund. At the place where Eikersenteret is now, I took the old road over a small hill to the village of Mjøndalen. I later discovered that this road passes one of my cousins houses. I was too sick to notice. I was full of adrenaline and had only one goal in life: To complete the tour and thereby survive. If Elvis Presley had jumped in the front of my bike, I would not had noticed. I was not a danger to anyone though. I was just very single minded when I cycled down the valley on the south bank of the large river leading down to Drammen. I crossed the river at Holmen again, six days since I had crossed it going down to Skien and Kristiandsand. I gave it all over Lierstranda and the four kilometres long Lierbakkene climb up to my parents house. I arrived five minutes before my father arrived from work at around 1500 after 11 hours of the most desperate cycling I have ever done. After saying hello and getting the first food of the day and calming down, I passed out. I was sick for several days after that. I have not touched apple juice since that day and I probably need some hours with some psychology before I drink another glass of apple juice again. That day was a hard, harrowing day in the saddle.

Conclusion



This tour is a mix of absolute everything. From the more gentle cycling on flat roads along farm fields to some more technical cycling over small hills to cycling along the seafront and then cycling up a long valley with a day in the mountains at the end. I cannot recommend the two days down to Kristiandsand because most of it was dead boring. I do recommend the short cut over Siljan. But the road to Tvedestrand was very boring along some very heavy traffic. This road can be bypassed by smaller roads further out towards the coast. You then have to add another 50 kilometres to the distance. Setesdalen was excellent cycling though and perhaps the best valley cycling in Norway. The day in the mountain over to Rjukan was good too. From Rjukan and back to Drammen/Oslo was not too bad.
Would I do this tour again ? No. The road down to Kristiandsand was too boring and is not my cup of tea. But I am glad I have done this tour and I am pretty proud of it.

I was pretty proud when my parents suddenly decided to do this tour in their car fourteen days later. They did it over a weekend, bypassing Kristiandsand to the north by driving directly to Evje. They too were raving about the beautiful Setesdalen.