As a long-time owner of a 27-foot Albin Vega sailboat, I have always imagined that the opposite of a sailing holiday in a small boat at sea, is a car holiday in a small motorhome on land. Meaning a great feeling of freedom, cramped space, closeness to nature and engine trouble.
Normally, I work as a tour guide in Scandinavia for travel-loving North Americans. It goes without saying that this year’s touring season was quite different from the previous ones, and all planned tours were canceled at the same rate as the virus crossed national borders. Anyway, with a large amount of free time and some savings, I saw the opportunity to spend this time on something useful. Namely to travel in Norway, and explore new places to be better equipped for next year’s guide season.
Looking for a car in Norway? Check out Rentalcars.com
– Or rent a Camper Van at Cabin Campers
The Van – A VW T3 Camper
I was offered by Petter Faye Wevle, my aunt’s husband, to borrow his bright yellow 1987 model T3 Camper. I must admit that I had very limited experience from such “campers”, other than what I have seen of “Van life” videos on YouTube, but I was sure it would meet my needs and give me an unforgettable journey.
On September 6th, I picked up Petter’s car at Strømmen, just north of Oslo. After a quick look, I could see that the car had everything I needed; good sleeping space, enough closet space, standing height with the roof tent up, a refrigerator, two gas burners, 12 volt USB charging and the possibility to connect to “shore” power (boat vocabulary). Petter had also equipped the car with new tires, and inside there were cookware and other things I needed to make some good dinners “on board”. Apologies for the boat terminology, but as an avid sailor, that is how I am used to describing it.
I had imagined that a vintage car would offer somewhat reduced driving comfort, but as I drove north on highway E6 at a comfortable 56 mph, I realized that the driving experience was impeccable. With recently changed springs, it felt well balanced, and with large windows with a good view, and a comfortable driver’s seat, I whizzed off along Lake Mjøsa, the largest lake in Norway. I understood that I was driving a car a little out of the ordinary, as I was often looked at by other drivers and pedestrians, and I quickly realized that it was good etiquette to greet other Camper drivers by waving to them. It is nice to have some unity on the roads.
With about two weeks available, I wanted to see both valleys, mountains, and fjords, and I also toyed with the idea of driving all the way up to the Atlantic Ocean Road. The message from Petter was clear: drive as much as you want, as long as you come back before there is a need for studded tires. As an avid film and hobby photographer, I was looking for magnificent landscapes and iconic buildings and places, and my first stops were along the new Mjøstårnet in Brummundal, the world’s tallest building made out of wood, and then at Lysgårdsbakkene ski jumping hills in Lillehammer built for the Olympics in 1994.
Driving into Gudbrandsdalen
When I am on a bus trip with American tourists and we drive into Gudbrandsdalen, I usually say “now starts the real scenic part”. And it surely does. The camper was going strong up the valley, where we passed by Hunderfossen hydro power plant, and made a stop at the Mammoth sculpture in Fåvang, and the Dragon sculpture in Ringebu. I saved the Stave Church for the way back home.
The big question mark as the day went on, was where to spend the first night. When I sail with my girlfriend, we like to moor in what is called “uthavn” (out harbor). Close to nature, and far away from the hustle and bustle of the conventional harbors. I later learned that “out harbor” in the “camper language” is called free camping (in Norway you are allowed to free camp on public grounds), and that was what I ended up doing the first night. After turning east off the E6, and coming up on Venabygdsfjellet, I drove onto a potholed gravel road, and parked the camper in an idyllic spot right by a small lake. Around me I had colorful autumn colors, and a thick layer of clouds lay over the mountain tops and threatened with rain. And rained it did, a proper shower late in the evening, accompanied by a light gale. By the way, it is much more comfortable to sleep in a car in a gale than it is on a boat I found out. But even though the van was more stable than a boat, the wind came straight in through a vent on the side, so there was still a gentle breeze blowing inside.
From sailing, I know that it is easier to get up in the morning if you can have some heat inside the boat. I had brought a kerosene heater with me, and still lying in the sleeping bag, I stuck a match on the fuse, and a few minutes later the car was nice and warm. One must be careful to ventilate well with such heaters, but even though the wind had abated during the night, fresh mountain air still came in through various ventilation valves.
Hiking at Venabygdsfjellet
After a great hike up to the top of Muen (4600 feet), I fired up the car and drove over Venabygdsfjellet (a mountain pass) eastwards, and down to Sollia church in Stor-Elvdal. Even if you have planned to go north, this is a detour to recommend. The church is fascinating, the guide there was good, and right nearby I visited the new Solliaysteriet (ysteri is a place that makes cheese) and got an introduction to how to make brown cheese the old-fashioned way. It is fun to see old traditions maintained.
The journey from there went via the guest car park at Atnbrufossen Aquaculture Museum, where I and 300 sheep spent the night. From there, I drove the next day up National road 27 with a stop at Sohlberg picnic area to enjoy the view. The famous painter Harald Sohlberg made the painting “Winter night in Rondane” from this area, exhibited in the National Museum in Oslo. I had lunch at a café in Tynset and ended the day in the parking lot at the train station in Røros. Not exactly the type of free camping I had hoped for, but I wanted to spend a lot of time in the town center of Røros, and thought it was best to sleep centrally. Yes, the parking lot works well, and costs nothing after 18:00 until the next morning, but you must endure a little noise and loud bass sounds in the evening from the local kids driving around in their rides.
The mining town of Røros is a fascinating place. It feels as if you take a few steps back in time as you stroll through the streets up to the iconic Røros Church and past the smeltery with large iron mounds behind. There is a historical buzz about the town that seems distant from today’s Norway, but at the same time it is worth remembering that there was copper mining going on in Røros until 1977 (!).
Problems with the engine
I had noticed after arriving in Røros that there was a little diesel smell from the car, and I noticed after a rainy night that there were some “rainbows” on the asphalt behind the left tire. A possible diesel leak? But anyway, without thinking about it any further, and after some great days in Røros with a visit to the Olavs mine, I made a complete U-turn and headed south-west. I left Røros a little late in the afternoon and spent the night at the Tolga Old Bridge car park. A great place for free camping right next to the Glomma river and the old bridge that goes across.
Petter had asked if I could stop by T1 Motor on Tynset to inquire about the price of rust removal on the van. After turning into the parking lot of T1, a guy came out of the workshop. He came over and pointed out that smoke was coming out of the car. Oops! Not good! I looked for myself, and yes, out of the left vent of the engine there was some gray smoke. After a quick look in the engine compartment, we could see that diesel was most likely leaking from some nozzles. After a quick tour inside T1 where they had many older VW cars for renovation, I drove to the Møller car workshop. A little despairing, I explained the problem to them, and was told to hand in the key so they could take a look. An hour later, the car came out of the workshop, and it turned out that cracked return hoses were the cause. A well-known problem, admittedly, and after paying the neat sum of NOK 711 (75 USD), I happily drove off to Hjerkinn and the Dovre National Park.
The plan now was that my girlfriend would take the train up to Hjerkinn and join in for a couple of days. As my personal hygiene had been somewhat poor during free camping the last few days, I went to Snøhetta Camping ground and got a proper shower. The next day my girlfriend was to arrive at 12:30, and at 12:15 I got in the car to start up so I could pick her up at the train station. I heated the glow plugs well, turned the ignition…. but the car did not start! I tried again, the starter motor ran so there was no flat battery, but no hint to start. I tried a few more times, and felt my heart rate rising, but nothing happened… In the end my girlfriend had to walk from the station to the camping ground (15 minute walk), and a couple of hours later we stood on the loading platform of a tow truck from Viking (Norwegian road rescue company) that towed us down to Dombås.
The mood was now at rock bottom, and I was mentally preparing for the trip to be over. After various phone calls to car experts, it turned out that there could be many causes, but I know from the Volvo Penta engine on my boat that if it gets pure diesel and there is no air in the system, well then it usually starts.
So, what could it be? After sitting and staring for a few hours at what looked like a car cemetery by the Viking workshop, a light suddenly appeared in the tunnel. Since it was Saturday we had been told that we had to wait until Monday to get some help, but to our surprise there was a mechanic who had stopped by the workshop to pick up something that day. I talked to him and explained the problem, and he turned out to be a genuinely nice guy, so he said he would take a look. He tried different things, checked that there was a supply of diesel, ignition on the solenoid and so on. He scratched his forehead looking a bit puzzled, and then disappeared into the workshop. He came out again with a spray bottle of start gas. I knew you could use this on lawn mowers and smaller engines, but on a car?
After spraying a good dose of start gas into the air filter, he asked me to go and start the engine. I did as he said, and after some coughing noise from the exhaust system, we started. Fantastic! Although the problem was not fundamentally solved, it was enough to get going, and hopefully continue the trip. After a few more calls, and feedback from Petter that it was OK with start gas to get started in the morning, we picked up a bottle at the gas station in Dombås and drove up to Snøhetta Camping again. It is strange how life can quickly go from dark, to looking quite bright again.
Visiting the Dovre National Park
The next couple of days in the Dovre National Park were fantastic. Both the sun and the muskox were present, and the car started with ease in the morning with a small dab of start gas in the air filter. As soon as it got hot, the starting problem was gone, so we assumed that there could be something wrong with the glow plugs.
We had been looking forward to checking out the Snøhetta Viewpoint. A view pavilion designed by the architectural firm Snøhetta, which also designed the Opera House in Oslo. From this point you have a fantastic view of the mountain peak Snøhetta and the other peaks in the mountain range. This was truly an impressive building. It blends in well with the landscape, has a small warm fireplace inside and a fantastic view through a panoramic window. The last time I was at Hjerkinn was in the year 2000 as a soldier being part of a winter exercise, and I am happy to know that the military has now withdrawn from this beautiful area which also contains wild reindeer.
Looking for a car in Norway? Check out Rentalcars.com
– Or rent a Camper Van at Cabin Campers
The journey now continues west towards fjords and ocean, a well-known “ladder” and other beautiful places. But more on that in a later blog post.
Thanks for reading!
Also read: A Scenic Road Trip from Oslo to Bergen