Guinness record-breaking adventurer and author Dave Cornthwaite is two months and 1000 miles into his latest self-propelled expedition. He is tackling the famous 1500-mile Hurtigruten cruise and cargo route from Kirkenes to Bergen – on a Schiller water bike. Rachel Mills travels to northern Norway to meet Dave and embark on a leg of his ambitious journey.
It’s the start of a gloomy and unpromising sort of day as I help Dave lug his kit through Tromsø, Norway’s largest city north of the Arctic Circle. During the night, a wet and windy cold front had crashed through – there has been no sign of the summer midnight sun I’ve heard so much about.
At the marina, I see Tromsø’s landmark bridge which arches across the Tromsøysundet strait; the backdrop is all bare rock mountains, with snow on the peaks. I push my hands deeper into my coat pocket as I feel the Arctic chill in the air.
Dave manhandles the Schiller onto the icy water and steps lightly onto one stable pontoon (the floats that steady the ride), before settling onto the seat and pedalling towards open water with a big grin and a determined wave.
Once Dave has set off, I hitch a lift with digital nomads Yellow Matilda – they’ve joined Dave on the road for a few weeks – and we drive south to search out a spot with a jetty to catch up with the adventurer again.
Our route is a narrow, winding road that hugs the fjord, but we don’t even glimpse the tiny offshore craft. “On this expedition, I’ve seen more puffins than people,” Dave will later tell me.
The view from my window could be lifted straight from a Scandinavian tourist brochure. It’s all lush, green Norwegian Spruce with glimpses of rocky, mossy higher ground; red timber cabins and boat houses are dotted along grey pebble beaches, often with crude wooden frames to dry fish, or picturesque jetties jutting into the startlingly blue water.
We find a sheltered marina and drop a pin in our location on WhatsApp so Dave can find us. Hours later, we spy him, struggling against the incoming tide. Once landed, he lies down and doesn’t move again for a long while.
He is tanned and slim, and his face is etched with lines like a seafaring fisherman. It’s been a tiring journey so far and from here-on-in he’ll be travelling completely alone. But he has no intention of giving up.
“My Achilles tendon is playing up and my butt is in pieces from the long days – sometimes 15 hours pedalling. My waist has dropped by four inches. It’s shaping up to be one of my most challenging expeditions,” Dave says.
The sun breaks out and the Norwegian landscape looks shiny and brand new. The slack water (the tide hasn’t yet turned) gently ripples, and it’s time for me to try out the Schiller.
I gingerly step off the jetty. There’s little movement. The frame of the spare bike is too big for me, but the seat is adjustable and I lean heavily on the handlebars. Later I learn it has been designed this way to ensure your arms take more of the weight than on a conventional bike.
Sturdier than I imagined, the Schiller has a wide turning circle, but is responsive. If you stop pedalling for a second – you can’t freewheel – the prop (the all-in-one rudder and propeller) raises out of the water.
Out on open water, I keep the momentum of my pedalling going. Worried about slowing Dave’s pace, I remind myself to look around at the jaw-dropping scenery.
It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be silently pedalling in a fjord, Arctic terns wheeling and swooping above, while a seal plays in our gentle wake.
I’m on a Hurtigruten ship heading back to Tromsø the final time I see Dave on his Schiller. The captain has spotted him from the bridge and an announcement has gone out to all the passengers.
As a long blast from the ship’s horn sounds out, the crowd waves flags and shouts encouragement. Everyone is smiling and Dave calls out an emotional hello. This is what he is all about – inspiring and encouraging adventure. I chat to him later to find out what it takes to be a modern-day adventurer.
Q: How do you make a living from adventure?
A: I’ve been working at this for twelve years; I’m an author with two bestsellers under my belt, and I visit five or six continents each year to deliver sixty to seventy keynote speeches. I also organise workshops that are designed to make life count.
I’m more interested in having a positive impact than making a profit (although that definitely doesn’t hurt), and with that in mind, I’ve co-founded a social enterprise called SayYesMore.
Q: What made you choose Norway and the Schiller?
A: I’ve got a long list of non-motorised forms of transport for my Expedition1000 project and I’d been keen to find the right opportunity to try the Schiller water bike, since it was crowdfunded in 2013. When Hurtigruten suggested I might like tackling their Classic Voyage along the Norwegian coast, I knew this was it.
Q: How are you planning your route?
A: I use Google Earth to identify potential jetties and sandy beaches to pull into, but things often look very different on the ground. I’m also aiming for Hurtigruten ports (unless they are way out to sea).
Q: What are you carrying with you?
A: My Tentipi, clothes (including a dryrobe), sleeping mat and bag. I carry enough supplies and water for a week in case I’m stranded. I have a pump and tool kit for repairs on the go, my camera gear, and waterproof bags to stash everything.
Q: What keeps you going?
A: I love living the kind of life that I don’t need a holiday from. As an introvert, I get my energy from being alone, though my fiancée is as much a globetrotter as I am, so I’ve got great support at home.
A natural inclination in thinking that everything will work out that day, even though you don’t know what’s coming. I love the unexpected, the surprise and the joy of an outdoor adventure.
Q: And lastly, what are the highlights of this particular expedition, so far?
A: That Hurtigruten cruise ship slowing down so people could wave was incredibly emotional, I was balling my eyes out. The wildlife I’ve seen out here has been phenomenal… whales, dolphins, seals… and some special unexpected moments when someone helps you out of the kindness of their heart.
Travel and adventure naturally makes you vulnerable and this route along the Norwegian coast has refreshed my belief in humanity, everyday.
Rachel travelled courtesy of Visit Norway and Hurtigruten. Explore more of Norway with The Rough Guide to Norway. Compare flights, find tours, book hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.
Header image: Andy Bartlett. Images top to bottom (left–right): Dave Cornthwaite; Yellow Matilda; Pixabay/CC0; Yellow Matilda; Yellow Matilda; Dave Cornthwaite; Leif Rosas; Dave Cornthwaite.