David Whitley gets off his lardy backside for a series of terrifying action challenges in the Norwegian fjords. That means falling into ice-cold rivers, cycling down mountains and high speed boat rides…
I hit the water and immediately go into shock. Even with a thick wetsuit on, it is bone-chillingly cold. And when I emerge, I realise that I’ve already been pulled a fair way downstream from the boat. It requires a desperate swim against the current.
One of my crewmates holds out a paddle. I clutch for the end of it, and they pull me towards the edge, before hauling me up by the shoulder straps.
My heart is pounding, and this is just the practice run. The real rapids and white water plunges are yet to come.
Our guide, Mark, attempts to explain the somewhat sadistic practice of throwing everyone overboard before the rafting begins. “This is the best water in the world. It’s so pure, so clean. And as you may have noticed, we’ve had no rain in the last couple of days. It’s also been a bit warmer, so what we’re on now is mainly snow melt.
ENJOYED THIS POST?Then you may be interested in my book. Sharing the stories via Twitter (I'm @GrumpyTrav) or Facebook is always appreciated too. You can also 'like' the Grumpy Traveller Facebook page to get new story updates.
BOOK YOUR OWN ADVENTUREThe following sites are usually my first port of call when booking a trip - so I recommend them as somewhere to start when booking your own holiday.
HOTELS: Hotels.com (£) or Agoda (£)
FLIGHTS: Skyscanner (£) Kayak or Roundtheworldflights.com
CAR HIRE: Car Rentals (£)
GUIDE BOOKS: Amazon (£)
TOURS AND ACTIVITIES: Viator (£)
“That means it’s reeeeeeeeeeeal cold, and if you’re going to fall in, you need to be expecting it.”
Our hardy crew of six is on the Strandaelva, a rather boisterous river that passes by Voss in Western Norway.
Voss is indisputably Norway’s action sports capital, and it has a fair claim to being Europe’s as well. The town itself is fairly unremarkable, but it’s possible to take on just about any outdoor activity from here. The options range from hiking, skiing and kayaking to BASE jumping, canyoning and Europe’s highest parabungy.
Great train journeys
Rafting on the Strandaelva is the final leg of a ridiculously action-packed day that started with snippets of two of the world’s greatest train journeys. Voss is on the famousto Bergen line that crosses the mountains of central Norway, and it meets the Flåmbana at snow-covered Myrdal. This mountain station has a real wow factor – aside from the small B&B on the other side of the tracks, there is nothing else around but a thick white blanket with the odd bit of rock prodding out.
From Myrdal, the Flåmbana descends 846m over the course of 20km, trundling through rock tunnels and past numerous waterfalls on the way to the fjord at the bottom.
It’s spectacular, but we get out halfway down nonetheless – the bikes are waiting.
On your bike…
To describe the journey from Berekvam to Flåm as cycling would be pushing things a little. Feet don’t push the pedals; they rest on top of them while the bike hurtles down slopes and around tight bends. The hand on the back brake is the only thing that gets a proper work out.
There is a temptation to play the boy racer and charge downhill recklessly in a bid to get to the bottom before anyone else. Let the bike run free and there’s a huge wind-through-the-hair rush.
But it’s better to take it all in at a more relaxed pace. Peer across the valley. Float alongside the streams. Gawp at the pretty wooden buildings. Stop for a picture opposite thundering waterfalls which come right from the top of the mountain ledge. It’s a different kind of rush, and one practically guaranteed to bring a huge grin to the face.
At Flåm, we give the pedals a turn just because it feels like we ought to. And then we don ridiculous hats, bodysuits and visors. Oh, and special gloves used by the army so that they can still pull the trigger on rifles in sub-zero conditions.
Just as we think we’re going to be dispensable henchmen at the end of a Bond film, we see the boat. It’s a little bit smaller than the ferry that most visitors go on, it’s lot closer to the water and it goes a darned sight faster. It’s called a RIB, and it looks like a reinforced dinghy with a big motor whacked onto the back.
In charge of the beast is Linda, and as she kicks it up to full speed it becomes immediately apparent what the warm clothing and idiot goggles are for. The wind rush is bracing, but it’s hard to care when you’re zig-zagging along Aurlandsfjord. It’s a branch of Norway’s longest and deepest fjord; with the steep cliffs punctuated by the occasional picturesque village and boatshed.
Occasionally we stop in order for Linda to point something out – the hamlet where Norway’s most beloved goat’s cheese is made, a hilltop farm house where Russian soldiers were hidden from the Nazis in World War II, a stretch of road that goes from nowhere to nowhere and cost £50,000 to make.
The biggest oohs and aahs are reserved for the seal swimming across as we turn into Nærøyfjord. If Aurlandsfjord is magical, then Nærøyfjord is in a category of its own. Widely regarded as Norway’s (and thus the world’s) most spectacular fjord, here the mountains climb higher, the waterfalls drop further and the reflections in the water are even more mirror-like. The boat goes quiet – even the Norwegian contingent is awed.
To the rafts…
The RIB boat eventually pulls up in Gudvangen, and from there, it’s a short bus journey to the Strandaelva for the rafting.
The first few minutes on the river are spent practicing our responses to Mark’s commands. We go forwards, reverse, jump into the middle of the raft and leap over to the left and right to prevent it capsizing. He quickly assesses our capabilities, and asks me to go at the front. At least I think the decision was based on capability, rather than sheer vindictiveness.
I soon realise that those in front get something of a raw deal. They do the hardest paddling, they get the most water and they have weaker footholds. At the first drop of any size, I meet a wall of foaming spray, end up with a few baths worth up my nose and end up sprawled across fellow frontman Gunnar’s lap in a most undignified manner.
The rapids start off easy – Grade 2 or 3 standard, but after we go around a 12m plunge, things start getting hairier. It’s Grade 4 or 5 territory from here on in. We’re bouncing off rocks, spinning in the wash and going down forwards when we should be going sideways. Towards the end, Ole at the back stays in only because he’s holding the ropes and two quick-thinking crewmates have grabbed his legs. But we survive. Just.
We’re soaked, battered and feel like we’ve gone through a spin cycle, but as the rapids ease, we float back to Voss exuberant. We’ve conquered mountains, fjords and rivers in a day. Who knows, maybe the parabungy tomorrow?
Disclosure: Innovation Norway.was a guest of