Three years ago I did something incredibly stupid.
Like seriously incredibly stupid.
Even for me.
I was reminded of my moronity when I was telling you about my long drive into a remote part of Iceland in my trip report about the Westfjords (I’ll pick up the Iceland trip report this week btw) and I realized I had never shared that full story with you.
The Beginning: a work trip in Copenhagen
My company has a client in Copenhagen and I was visiting them for some training (I work in professional services in the fintech industry). It was a great week with some wonderful people and I even managed to sneak into the library at the University of Copenhagen to take one of my favorite pictures (before being escorted out, since only students were allowed in the library at that time).
The window of opportunity for a side-trip
My work would end on Friday roughly around lunchtime. I had booked my trip back to the USA for Monday morning, as I’m wont to do, so I had some time available for a side trip. But where would I go? I had been looking at flights all week and they were ridiculously expensive (even by Scandinavian standards), so I thought about a driving holiday. I asked my client about some good places to go and they gave me some wonderful suggestions around Denmark.
But then I was reminded of a road I’d always wanted to visit. The problem: it wasn’t in Denmark.
The destination: the Atlanterhavsveien
There’s a road in Norway called the Great Atlantic Road (Atlanterhavsveien in Norwegian). It’s incredibly remote, not really close to any prominent towns (with no offense intended towards the small villages around that part of Norway), and was actually constructed entirely so people would want to visit it. The bridges are very exaggerated and, at certain points, look like cars are just driving off the road into the ocean.
Like I mentioned above, the road is in a remote part of Norway, which is famous for not being in Denmark, where I was. I figured, to myself, that I could rent a car and just make the drive. To a remote part of Norway.
How remote? This remote.
Now a normal person would’ve just flown to Trondheim and still driven quite a few hours. I was much dumber than that. I was starting in the bottom right of the image above, in Copenhagen.
I told my client what I was thinking of doing and he thought it sounded insane, like something a crazy person would do, and it probably wasn’t possible to do by the time I needed to be back in Copenhagen for my flight home, 62 hours later.
I have a good buddy named Richard whose travel experience and general wisdom I respect greatly (in all walks of life, not just travel). I hinted at my plan to him and he said, “listen, I know you’re you but that’s dumb. Stop in Gothenburg, it’s one of my favorite places in Europe and I have friends there.” I negotiated with myself and settled on a middle ground: I would plan for some Turning Back Points during my trip. Basically if I got to Gothenburg and realized I was too tired to safely continue I could stay there and have a good time. The same would be true for Oslo, a town I had been to before and enjoyed.
What actually happened
I went to Copenhagen’s airport and picked up my rental car: a Nissan somethingorother. It wasn’t nice but it had GPS, which was super important in that part of the world (this was before things like Verizon’s TravelPass plan, which I use religiously now when I’m abroad for mobile data).
I drove across the bridge to Malmo, Sweden, and things were going great. I decided to film some videos for my Facebook friends that I’ll use to help illustrate this story.
(yes, it was dumb of me to film while driving but I didn’t edit the videos or anything while driving, that waited until I was at places with free wifi, usually McDonald’s)
The journey started off pretty well, but then the car’s GPS decided to cut out. No matter where I wanted to go, the route calculation would fail. Things were not looking good for my trip to the Atlanterhavsveien. Maybe I truly would have to stop in Gothenburg.
I pushed through and made it into Gothenburg and all of a sudden a stroke of luck hit me: the GPS started working again. Even though I was a sight for sore eyes the GPS fixing itself gave me some incredible motivation. I wouldn’t be stopping in Gothenburg (sorry Richard), I was going to keep going into Norway.
Why haven’t I posted any pictures from the road yet? I seriously didn’t stop except for gas and food until just north of Oslo near a town called Lillehammer (famous for hosting the 1994 Winter Olympics). I had driven about 12 hours so far and needed some sleep. I pulled over at a rest stop, cracked the window, and slept like a brick for about 4 hours. I woke up, feeling refreshed, and, over breakfast, realized just how much I had left to drive. Driving in Norway is incredibly similar to driving in Iceland, you don’t really get anywhere quickly because of the terrain. I realized I’d be driving all day. Fueled by coffee and Red Bull I decided to proceed.
It had been cloudy and dreary for most of the drive so far but finally the clouds broke with the morning sun and I found myself in one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen! I stopped to take some pictures even!
Luckily the GPS was still working and I drove up and down fjords, through small villages, and made good progress through the center of Norway. I ended up on a car ferry across a channel and thought it’d be a good time to put all my videos together for an update. (note: in the update I say I’m 3 hours and an hour away from my destination, that was the only deficient part of the GPS, it assumed I’d be traveling at a much faster speed than I could manage on the winding Norwegian roads).
As the day unfolded the clouds departed and I got a great mid-day shot of the typical Norwegian scenery I was driving through.
By the time I was off the car ferry it was getting into the middle of the afternoon. I was tired, my body was aching from sitting down for so long, but I knew I was close. Well, relatively close. It turned out I had a few hours left, unbeknownst to me.
Finally I arrived. I made preparations for driving the road, not knowing how big of a deal it would be. Well: it was a road. Waaaaay quicker than I thought it was over. It took maybe five minutes for me to drive and felt, well, like any other road. The exaggerated architecture was great in pictures but was far less zany to drive across.
Here’s the thing, though: sometimes it’s about achieving a goal, not necessarily the goal living up to expectations. The views were as epic as I thought but it didn’t really matter to me. Achieving the goal I wanted made the whole trip worth it, as I tried to explain below.
Now, that said, I did end up with an epic picture of the sunset going over the bridge.
I was exhausted. Achieving my goal was exhilerating but I had to come to terms with my situation. Adrenaline had fueled me for most of my journey and that would eventually run out.
The video above paints a really rosy picture but that’s mainly because I knew my mom would be watching it. I was exhausted. It was now Saturday at 7pm. By staying to capture the epic sunset I faced a really scary situation: I had to get on the road back to Copenhagen and realistically most of my trip back would be on remote roads in the dark through the night. After driving all night and all day the night before.
The really beautiful and scary part
My body knew something risky was happening. Thankfully I had energy to pay attention to the road and drive safely. It seemed to come in stretches of about 90 minutes, after which I’d find a parking lot and get some sleep (sleeping on the side of the road is super common in this part of Norway and there were a surprising amount of turnoffs and little parking lots at which I could grab an hour or so nap). The beauty of the area was just how remote it was. There was no light pollution and the night was clear so whenever I stopped for a nap I’d look up at the stars in the frigid night and was just blown away at the sight before me. The Milky Way was staring back at me and I’ve never seen that many stars in my life, it was almost disorienting seeing so many!
But now the scary part.
My trusty GPS, little did I know, was trying to kill me. For whatever reason there were some roads that were miscoded in the software as being highways when in reality they were farm roads. At one point I nervously turned off the main highway, at the suggestion of the GPS, and was happily going down the road when the pavement just kind of stopped and it became a dirt road. My progress slowed to a crawl. I had my bright lights on but could barely see beyond a few feet in front of me. I could feel myself going up a hill…and all of a sudden the road DISAPPEARED. I slammed on the brakes and saw my life flash before my eyes before my car came to a sudden stop. It turns out there was an unmarked 90-degree turn alongside a small cliff. My guess is a bridge used to be there, which is why my GPS sent me that way. Had my brakes failed or my car slid too far I would’ve gone off the cliff. In rural Norway. In the middle of the night.
To be really honest with you I had a little cry. I thought of my mom and how terrible I would’ve felt for her to find out that something like that had happened to me. I didn’t want to drive anymore, I wanted to be home. But I knew I was nowhere close. I didn’t know what to do, whether I should’ve turned around to head back or just keep pushing on the crazy road I was on. I flipped a coin I had in my pocket, made the 90-degree turn and kept going, and seriously less than a kilometer later found the main highway again.
I didn’t have a little cry this time, I ugly-cried for a few minutes. I do not have the words to accurately describe to you the amount of relief I felt. I was (relatively) safe, the road was paved, and my adrenaline levels were way past maximum. I had a drive in front of me and a mom to see back in the USA.
I drove for hours straight through the night and eventually started seeing signs for Lillehammer. Although it was still a ways away, Lillehammer was important for a huge reason: at that point I would no longer be traveling on remote highways barely wider than the width of my car, I would be on major highways all the way back to Copenhagen.
As I ventured further south I started seeing signs of a sunrise and realized my night was almost over. As the sun crept its way higher the fall colors seemed even more vibrant than the day before. I pulled over at a great spot for a quick picture.
Just south (I think) of Lillehammer the clouds broke and there was an incredible sunrise. There was a bridge traversing an expanse of water (I think it was a fjord but it may have been a river) and it made for the perfect subject against the epic sunrise.
A detour on the journey back
Once it was daylight the drive became much easier. I was heading south and remembered a place my client had told me about: Helsingor, in Denmark. It was a coastal village with a famous castle. I had been driving all day but, during a rest stop at McDonald’s, found out that the Swedish town of Helsingborg was just across the Oresund from Helsingor and there were ferries a few times an hour. I found the ferry stop, drove onto the ferry, and during the quick journey across the Oresund made my final video, which I’ll share in a second.
Helsingor was important to me because of the castle there. For hundreds of years the boat traffic between the two countries was highly regulated and highly tolled, making the fortifications in each town critical depending on the ruling crown of the day. The Danish castle, called Kronborg Castle, still stands to this day while the castle on the Swedish side was destroyed many years ago.
Kronborg was significant to me because of a professor I had at university. He was the best professor I ever had. His name is Douglas Brooks, one of the most prominent Shakespeare scholars in the world. I cannot put into words the joy I had from learning about Shakespeare’s works and their impact on culture, the world, and even the very language I speak today. Dr. Brooks’s favorite Shakesperean work was Hamlet. He spoke about it in reverent tones and his lectures about the play were incredible. We all knew we were in the presence of brilliance and an amazing man who was sharing his life’s passion with us.
Kronborg Castle is Elsinore Castle in Hamlet. It’s the castle that Shakespeare had in mind when creating his masterful play. I hadn’t thought about Hamlet in a few years but as soon as I found that out I had to go, for a very important reason: Dr. Brooks had passed away a few years earlier from cancer. He was the only professor I had kept up with after university and we had numerous conversations until his death. I was so glad I got to see his castle, even though it was dark (and the castle closed) by the time I arrived.
So I’ll leave you with the final video I made: from the ferry going across the Oresund to Helsingor and Kronborg Castle, with a tribute to Dr. Brooks at the end.
The end of my journey
Well, from Helsingor I only had a few hours drive until Copenhagen so I decided to push through. I booked a room at the Copenhagen Airport Hilton (didn’t have the points so just paid for a room, I honestly didn’t care what it cost at that point), turned my car in early, and slept hard. The next morning I casually boarded my flight to London and then onward to Dallas, grateful for the crazy idea that I had to drive from Copenhagen to the Atlanterhavsveien, even though it nearly killed me.
I’m sorry it took me this long to share this story with you but I hope it’s been worth it, I’ve loved typing this all out again and reliving it!