Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Night train South

Wake from a long uninterrupted sleep, the best form of recovery, breakfast outside in the early morning sun with other guests from the house, some from a few days ago but most, by now, new arrivals passing through on their own travels.
Walk through the town with Thomas and Gunter, now on their way back to Germany returning as Pilgrim's after their long trek north, Oslo to Trondheim. The day passes slowly, backpack already checked, tickets checked, plans for home finalised, wandering thoughts filled with constant reflections of the last few days, that idea about returning to the place you started from to know it for the first time, experiences count for everything, for what you become by them.

Early evening, by now the house falling more silent to the last few travellers and guests, one last strong black coffee, one last look around before leaving to walk through the town to the train station, on the far edge of town close to the harbour, town on one side, facing out to the open sea to the west on the other. One last look back, to remember the moment that was so inviting on arrival a few days before.

Platform 4, Trondheim station, 22.30pm, forty minutes before departure, the last night train south to Oslo, window facing west towards a dark grey sky, heavy rain and an empty lifeless platform. The guard checks everything is in order, bike stowed in the luggage car, night pack issued, blanket, pillow and neck cushion.

Seven hours of constant, rhythmic motion rolling back south, the silhouette of distant horizons always visible through the night, as they have been throughout every moment of every day. Arrive in Oslo, disembark to find the bike returned safely to the platform by the guard, to then retrace every step from just a few days before, it always seems odd, for time to move more slowly when returning, more slowly than time seems to pass when heading out to new horizons.

'Arctic 1000' - 1000 miles, solo, unsupported, 6 days & 1 night, riding from
Oslo to the Arctic Circle 66.33N - always heading north. 

For Aiden Mitchell 'Child of Courage Award' and Action Medical Research for all the good things that have and will continue to come out of their work.

''it's never too late to start something new or to find a different route, your own road, to choose to do the things that make you happy, that make you feel alive, to seek fulfilment and dare to risk, to take a chance in finding your own new horizons...''

 - 2018 exact date to be confirmed - Istanbul heading west, around 3000 miles -

"vend mot vinden og velg å ikke gi inn!"

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Fading into grey

The hardest thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The hardest thing after reaching your destination, 66.33N Arctic Circle, is to carry on to complete the aim of riding 1000 miles, riding through the night from Trondheim to Kristiansund and back, riding through the night, the best way it seemed, to use the otherwise lost time of the night.

Rest at the house, shower, clothes change, bike check, full lunch, slow walk along the river, slow walk around the town, easing the legs back into recovery, a short interval before resuming the final long section of road, heading west for a change. You muster all of your enthusiasm again, to start the first few miles of what would become the end of the road to the Arctic challenge, as it proved, the end of the road swallowed by the sea.

Ride out of Trondheim just after 8pm, fuelled by takeaway food, following the route out of town that had been followed days before, climbing back over the ridge that surrounds the town, gradients that go beyond a warm up, finally cresting the upper levels to see the open valleys and flat planes that head for a short distance west, before dropping down onto the E39 heading out to Orkanger. Less than twenty miles in and the colour of the day already fades to grey, the first colourless grey sky since leaving Oslo, turning to an unfamiliar darkness not seen over the past six days and then the rain comes, unannounced, driving hard onto the road, the first underpass along the road being taken for shelter from the torrent. Standing there alone, no traffic, no movement, nothing other than the sound of the driving rain, thoughts drift to the prospect of riding over two hundred miles away from this already bleak, uninviting departure, caught between thoughts of heading back to the house by the Cathedral or pressing on towards Kirstiansund. Overcoming the low points are the moments you look back on, not the short-lived glory of reaching a destination, but the darker moments when you face into the choices that sit before you, to overcome what the road throws at you, eventually riding on, torrent subsided, but not completely, to ride on under the blanket of a bleak grey sky that smothers the last of the disappearing moon light, this is really bleak, a far cry from the colour and transparency of previous days, decision taken, ride on.

Avoiding the E39, taking the old road, quiet and free of vehicles, free of life, clinging to the coast, near Viggia a group of young people on the beach, a late night gathering that in the rain seems odd, the group seem to shout kind greetings, riding past without any idea of what sits behind the celebrations, a hollow acknowledgement in return, a grim and unapologetic sky clouds any real enthusiasm.

The road follows the edge of town, passing what seems like a ferry port, the only visible activity against the darkening horizon, the road swings right past a late night service station, neon lights, the last in town before riding into the darkness, every trace of the horizon now lost to the night. A high-vis jacket and a failing back light, limited in battery charge, switched on only at the sound of an approaching vehicle, preparation is everything!! The road disappears into darkness, the first darkness in six days on the road, the loss of light adds to the feeling of remoteness and the unsettling sense of being truly alone, the sense of vulnerability and exposure quite real, and quite different to the remoteness of approaching the Arctic Circle the day before. Look for a point in the road ahead, any point that appears through the darkness, fix on the point and ride towards it, a focus almost by default for the mind.

Maybe one or two cars pass in twenty or thirty miles, the sense of surprise in equal measures, another car passes, the instantly recognisable luminescent livery of 'Politi', maybe the moment when the road comes to an end, night ride over, but the police car passes disappearing into the darkness ahead. Ten miles later, same police car, parked on the opposite side of the road headlights beaming forward through the dark haze, the moment of passing without any acknowledgement in either direction, riding on into the darkness. Twenty minutes pass, the same police car approaches again, by now convinced of this to be an act of kindness, a safeguard rather than an inspection of being on such a remote road in the middle of the night, it's the last time the police car appears.

Miles tick slowly by, time ticks more slowly, the road passes through forested mountains, no sign of movement, no sign of life, mile after mile alone. The road reaches a junction, a left turn to continue west, a moment that again provides that same small uplifting feeling, turning a corner, a change in direction, always a change in speed and renewed effort, progress in the smallest of ways. The road continues to head through the darkness heading towards a lighter sky, a different sort of landmark to aim for.

Early hours, around 2am, riding through the small town of Vineora, a group of young people around an open fire pit, seemingly the end of celebrations, maybe this is the end of a school year, an acknowledgement more through surprise offered in both directions. The road descends to sea level, following the most inland stretch of the Friefjorden, the sight of the sea, flat roads, the growing light of morning gives a welcome, uplifting sense of destination.

Normal preparation for long spells on the bike dictates general regimes for nutrition and hydration, nearing one hundred miles through the night seems to ignore of all of these rules, pulling steadily through normal limits of fatigue, a steady constant effort throughout. The road begins to roll again, constantly, tapping into those faltering reserves, to ride even more slowly, more cautiously.

Two junctions, two slight changes in direction, two small uplifting moments, the road drops down to Halsa and the ferry crossing over the Halsfjorden, a two mile stretch of water that swallows the road. 4am, the town is deserted, not even a town, but a small deserted campsite and small cluster of houses. Two boats sit open mouthed at the end of the road, not one single sign of life. The illuminated sign confirms the time of the next crossing, 7am. Three hours to wait, to cross two miles of open water, no other way round, to ride another ten miles to then wait what seemed like another two hours to return, the decision was made, the end of the road as it disappeared into the sea, 4am, sitting alone outside in the deserted café, one last look round for reassurance before retracing every mile east, daybreak being the only real motivation to ride. The timetable of the ferry cuts short the route, fifteen to twenty  of those final few planned miles lost to the ferries that remain open mouthed at the end of the deserted road, there seems an element of humour in the moment, defeated in one small way by time, provoked by the gaping laugh of the lifeless boats, the only means to the road ahead.

The road east is slow, riding on limited resources, the unfolding hours seem not to change the day other than breaking into light, the roads remain deserted of life or support, teased by a number of closed cafes, the road east is a very long slow ride, the added hypnotic monotony of counting the miles on the Garmin.

Riding into Orkanger, edge of town, the sight of the service station from the night before, noticeably open from a distance, a welcome glow in the distance, bike against the window, back-pack on a stool inside, the young assistant brings strong coffees, cheese, ham, bread & chocolate followed by more coffee, only to happy to help, this is heaven in the form of a service station on the edge of town, Sunday morning, still early, not long after day break.

Leaving the service station to re-join the protected road for the last long section back to Trondheim, parallel with the E39, away from the traffic. Hours pass by, the road becomes populated by a steady stream of cyclists, a time trial, a club run, a group ride, its a pleasure to see so many riders on the road, passing through small villages dotted along the coast, the day finally seems have breathed into life, blue sky, sun in your face, the night finally seems to have been left along the road behind.

Dropping down the steep descent into Trondheim, a re-run of the last few miles from days before, the more familiar road now bringing forward more quickly the arrival at the square of the Cathedral, coffee, pastry, sitting in the warmth of the late morning sun, soaking back the warmth that had been lost to the night.  The slow walk back to the house behind the Cathedral is hollow, the beginning of the end, back to the room, warm shower, clothes change, strong coffee, food and then sleep, with one last look out of the window towards the river before falling instantly into sleep, one last diminishing thought to count your good fortune.

Night #7 224 miles 'through the night' 



Thursday, August 3, 2017

Crossing the line

Friday 9th June,

Wake early to another clear blue sky, of all the days, hoping for the weather to be on your side, this was the day, it was always there, in the back of the mind, what if the weather turned, to bring out of otherwise clear view of the road & horizons ahead, all that goes with that special moment of arriving, in reaching your destination.   

The road around the edge of Mo i Rana was, as with most mornings, quiet and free of traffic, still that short time of peace before the world kicked in. Café stop, strong coffee's, bread, cheese, ham and apples, re-fuelled and already reinvigorated by the deep blue sky, sun on your face.

On the other side of town the road starts to rise, steadily at first, but to a more demanding gradient that lasted the entire day, what proved to be as gruelling as day #2 crossing the 'roof of Norway'. I had been warned about the road works, the mid section of the E6 and 40 miles of climbing coming with the added challenge of a road quite literally under topographical re-construction, removing bends and undulations on a great scale, the deafening sound of the old road being dynamited giving an incongruous chorus to such a peaceful & silent place. You press ahead, you just keep moving forward, through the sections of temporary gravel road and through the clouds of dust bellowing from the machinery.

As with every day before, there seems to be a kindness given over by the drivers of every vehicle on the road, making allowances for the one single, solitary bicycle, at no time is there any real feeling of risk or danger, leaving the mind to be drawn again to counting through the miles and growing fatigue, on and on the relentlessness of the gradient takes its toll, you press ahead.

The gradient eventually starts to ease, the landscape begins to change, gone are the trees and colour, replaced with a silver white landscape in every direction, the scale and vastness of this new surrounding taking your thoughts in equally widened directions, unable to quite comprehend or take in such a vast clinical landscape, punctuated only by the clean slice of grey, the road ahead exposed in all of its dull functional glory. The road flattens, the effort becomes less, a chance to regain some control and composure, from nowhere questions appear in your mind, riding the Arctic Circle, it's difficult to remember the original reason why, why not somewhere warmer, why not somewhere less remote. The smile grows, turning a little to uncontrolled private laughter, riding over the Arctic Circle, blue sky, one layer of clothing, isolated, remote, very remote, feel completely exposed & vulnerable but at the same time feeling safe, it's difficult to reconcile the feelings, it seems bizarre.

The sign at the roadside and small 'lunar' building roll forward into view, two German camper vans and a construction vehicle, this most isolated of building's seems to have very few visitors, why expect anything different. Side of the building, carry the bike walking through the deep snow to the monument that marks the invisible line, the line that crosses the Circle, photographs the only mark of the arrival, no one else around to share the occasion. Spend ten minutes soaking up the special landscape, a special place, air so pure you seem to be able to drink it, you float mentally through the widen open surroundings, this place is pure & magical.

The building offers a café, last piece of cake and two bitter coffee's from a thermos flask, the sort you find in cheap hotels or business meetings on a budget, you see the humour, no frills, no sparkling celebration, no grandeur, the landscape & territory is what matters and all that goes with it.

Back on the bike, look back, that one last look back, remembering the café for all of its beautiful lacklustre welcome and recognition, but a landscape that offers the opposite in return and in every special way. You count your good fortune for having this moment of solitude in such a beautiful, natural glory, and then ride away. Four weeks before, the road had been partially closed, freezing temperatures at night and snow storms during the day, you count your good fortune, and then ride away.  

'66.33 degree's North - Arctic Circle'

Distance diminishes small passions and serves to increase great ones, just as the wind can extinguish a small flame yet can also fan a great fire.

Arctic Circle: Highest Point

Arctic Circle: destination accomplished

Arctic Circle - 66.33N


Arctic Circle: the road ahead!

Arctic Circle: the road ahead.

66.33N Arctic Circle: one building for shelter!

66.33N: Arctic Circle

You take your last look back and then face south, over forty miles of descent, effortless descent, catching the wind, returning to colour, leaving the bleached white landscape to the disappearing road behind, you face into the wind and role effortlessly into the descent, it ignores your fatigue and beckons your return.

Cross the bridge, the river crashing underneath, stop at a house and point to the map, enquiring of the Silversmith's house, the man points to the road ahead, 5km on the other side of the road, the white house and workshop by the river.

Oyvind Stjernen came to the door of the white house, the white house along from the workshop, next to the river at the foot of the mountains, it seems idyllic, more so with Oyvind's family providing the warmest of all welcome's, Ronnaug Stjernen had called ahead, I had been made to keep the promise of finding her brother's house, you count your good fortune. Shower in a back room of the house, the window opening to land rolling down to the river and away to the mountains, truly idyllic, clothes change, no bike check, no clothes check, just supper with new found friends.

The workshop is an emporium of tools, pictures and machines, the roof space above opening through glass sections to a clear blue sky above, that will remain clear blue the whole night, eventually sleeping surrounded by Oyvind's artisan workmanship, handmade silverware in abundance, seemingly years of ideas and patience displayed around the loft, the trust is clearly evident.

Wake to the sound of wood being cut outside, the sound of the river and the quiet sound of voices already breaking into the day. Shower and breakfast with the family, bread, cheese, eggs and strong coffee, the window at the end of the table opening to land rolling down to the river and away to the mountains, truly idyllic again.

One last look back, after passing on a deep felt appreciation and a promise to return, a promise to keep in touch, warm embraces and one final last look back, sad to be leaving this place and Oyvind's family, the kindness of strangers is magical, it lights the road ahead and leaves a deep mark of friendship and gratitude.
Bike stop, overnight stay: Silversmith's workshop
Silversmith's workshop: overnight stay!




Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Last town North..

8th June - 5.30am, wake to a clear sky, clear blue, you count your good fortune from the first second of the day, it's not about wishing for the comfort of fair-weather cycling, not about not venturing out when it rains, or snows but in that extra magic that comes from riding such beautiful roads and abstract landscapes in crystal clear clarity, being able to see in the fullest glory those far-off distant horizons, seeing it through every mile that draws you nearer to you destination, mindful that beyond every beautiful horizon there lies another to be discovered.

Shower, clothes change, bike check, phone check and then food from the local supermarket, bread, cheese, apples, nuts two strong black coffee's, hit the road north, always north. The road shadows the Vefsna river which seems to cling to every contour and deviation of the road, a constant companion for most of the day, around fifty miles to the town of Mosjoen, the panoramic views remaining just as incredible as days before, bathed again in sunlight, cloaked again in the deepest blue sky, the road works its magic once again. Miles trip by, not so much effortlessly but without the debilitating fatigue of the headwind and mountain passes. Stop at a service station just north of the town, strong coffees, apples, nuts, bread and cheese, the staple diet of the road.

North of Mosjoen, the 'Korgfjell-tunnelen' approaches, no question about it, non-permissible tunnel for cyclists, no decision to make, 20kms of complete darkness with the exchange off of a mountain climb, expectation set, one last rest at the foot of the climb, ascending immediately and sharply from the E6, a short moment of having that sun on your back, the first ramp heading momentarily south, a strange uplifting moment.

Preparation for the Arctic cycling challenge took in frequent visits to the brutally tough yet beautiful roads of the Lake District, Cumbria UK, roads of similar, relatively short but vertically steep gradients, crossing through a stunningly beautiful landscape on road passes that test courage let along , the Korgfjell pass would be at home there, sitting comfortably amongst Hardknott and Wrynose passes. Thoughts back to the road ahead, the roadside and distant landscape now whiter with every passing & rising mile, sun now on your face, you count your good fortune again, two weeks before the night temperatures below freezing, roads freshly covered with snow, you count your good fortune to be here in such conditions. 

The road edges nearer to the summit, passing frozen lakes that grab the side of the road, just feet away from your passing, still deeply frozen with melt holes forming to reveal hidden depths, the mind plays tricks to imagine yourself riding off the road to be swallowed into the deep water  through one of these gaping apertures, with no one else around. The road changes direction as if to force you to take in ever distant horizon, Gronfjellet peaks rolling into view, out staged by the backdrop of the Rana ice cap in the distance, this 'is the 'monument' promised by the map, views of a 'monument' scale and proportion.

Cresting the summit to reveal the distant 180 degree view of the ice cap, rolling into the wooden cafe, deep burnt red in colour, incongruous with its surroundings, across the gravel drive to a post sign indication the direction & distance to the Tour de France and a large banner pinned to a wood shelter to confirm the forthcoming passing of the Arctic Tour of Norway, the race heading over the Pass in a southern direction, taking the much longer ascent from the north and the steeper shorter descent just climbed. Into the long 20km sweeping descent to Korgen, vehicle free for the entire run, straight into the edge of town, quick rest by the grass verge before heading back onto the main E6 for the short run into Bjorka. Head through town, tcertain this is the road, check the hand-written instruction on the map, doubly certain this is the right road and then the yellow house, the colour of sunflowers.

Ronnaug, her son Alf, her friend from the café welcome me with warmth and hospitality as through a re-union from the distant past, we share family information and photographs, and talk about Norway, Europe and briefly about Britain. It seems that Norwegian people are happy to feel slightly detached, geographically, from so many things happening in Europe and across the world. Throughout the cycling challenge, this limited experience is of a beautiful country, landscape and terrain aside, of people comfortable with themselves and with others, with an overriding strong sense of social responsibility  which was to be envied, there seems to be an empathy and warmth wherever you go whoever you meet or come into contact with. Lunch over, we bid our farewell's with a promise to keep in close contact and to see each other again, riding back along the road one last look back, a lasting impression, a house the colour of sunflowers, you count your good fortune as it comes your way in so many ways, Ronnaug checked that I had her brothers address, I promised to find his house.

The miles roll by, complicated by the by-passes to avoid the more frequent tunnels, north east into the southern edge of Mo i Rana, the last main town before tomorrow's final push to the Arctic Circle, late evening and the temptation of a hotel room overcome for the economy of a campsite and most basic of huts, swelteringly warm from the day-long sun, food from the supermarket on the opposite side of the road, bread, salami, nuts, broccoli and no coffee, shower, bike check, phone check to pick up more nice text from home Bev, Meg & Sarah, my three closest allies that give permission from home to head out north, mum from further north in Yorkshire and Keith &Fleur parents to the brave, and always smiling, Aiden Mitchell, they all seem in good form. Asleep by eleven o'clock, still day light outside, to remain daylight throughout the night, still no real distinction between night and day, still no real sun-fall or sun-rise

These sort of days don't come often, you count your good fortune in being able to pack so many good things into such a few short hours, so many uniquely positive outcomes, you set out with nothing booked, nothing pre-arranged, for good things to unfold to leave lasting impressions, where the magic happened.

Day 5 - 125 miles 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

When good fortune comes your way

7th June - 4.30am, wake into daylight, near silence and solitude, silence other than the sound of the river, open window to the river, open window to the Cathedral, idyllic in every way other than replaying yesterday, the sense of knowing you're soon to leave somewhere special, Eysteinkyrkja the moment of leaving somewhere that already as a hold on you. Five more minutes of solitude and peace, that’s all you need before you kick start the day, five minutes, warm shower, move in silence, other residents, early morning, clothes change, back pack check, smaller back from the day before, around one third of the volume and weight, from here on in virtually free style, no surplus anything.

Trondheim, sun rays over breakfast
Breakfast by the river & route check
Tread quietly downstairs, into the dining room one & half hours before the normal start to the day, bread, cheese, salami, black coffee, bread, jam, more black coffee, taken outside, again in the solitude, of the early morning sun, tables arranged to face the day rising over the river, you count your good fortune. This is a place of tranquility and peace, overlooking the river, no sound from the city, the final hour before the world kicks in.   
Heavy back pack jettisoned to the cloak room until a return in a few days time, not sure exactly when, now more lightly packed, a unplanned purchase the evening before of a lighter back pack, now more lightly loaded than the days before. Leave the house through the garden, back gate to the track through the Cathedral grounds next to the river, right turn across the old bridge to the foot of an impossible 25% short ascent, aided by a slick mechanical lift for every day cyclists, but too early this morning, a heart wakening five minute climb to the ‘summit’ before crossing to the old fort and on to crest the ridge that scarfs the city, and then out into the open road once again, heading out north, always north. 

Before the world kicked in
Back out over the ridge that wraps itself around the city, legs burning heart racing, early morning sun warming the road again, head-wind again in all of its full force. Road out of the city clings to the right of the mighty Trondheimsfjorden and the more immediate Stjordalsfjorden, to the left of white, grey and orange wooden clad houses, red barns, seemingly the rule, white houses and red barns, all moulded into the landscape, without fences, without borders, without gates and without boundaries, the land seems to flow seamlessly through the way people live, without borders, land and roads without borders. 

The miles tick slowly by, passing through Hell, no way to find out why a town set so pleasantly set into the landscape commands such an incongruous title, the road sweeps around the coast to head north and inland roads heading north that will form the day, this is the last of the relative kindness of the cross-wind, from here on, the constant force of the head-wind, you withdrawn your sails and face into the wind.  

Rolling to further north to Levanger and onto the more industrial town of Steinkjer, the headwind seems stronger than ever, debilitating as much in the mind as on the body, you try to remind yourself of good fortune, you press on, no other options to consider. Stop at a service station on the fast descent into the edge of town, the road narrowing to a single fast lane, the gentleman that joins the table points to the side road through town, the old road is your only option, no cycling on the by-pass, the road through town provides a temporary respite from the wind, only to serve a steep climb back to the main road on the north side of town, back in the fast lane!

By now, feel pretty depleted, energy low, provisions low, arrive at a restaurant just before Vegset, premises that have seen better days but another welcome respite from the wind, a welcome array of food, steaming hot dishes, pointing to the two truck drivers in front the lady offers the same, possibly drawn to the added need of the cyclist, the plate is presented with a more generous offering, meat steaks, potatoes, cabbage, strong black coffee, taken at the table in the glass-framed annexe that hangs over the side of Snasvatnet lake.

Hit the road again, refuelled and refreshed, rolling through to Grong by now early-afternoon, into town for
another quick café stop. The ladies opposite are a delight, friendly, caring and truly bothered about my well-being, this is Norway, a social conscience in so many ways.

Open road north
Ronnaug Stjernen and her close friend are returning from Trondheim, two days in the city, they ask questions about my travels, about my family, they tell me about their travels, I learn a lot about Ronnaug and her family, they lived for many years in Northern Spain, in the mountains, she tells me tales of her husband sitting on the roof of the house with other villagers, singing laments to the setting sun. I am invited to call at her home the next day, the town of Bjerka just south of Mo i Rana the last main town before the ascent to the Arctic Circle. I take up the offer promising to visit, Ronnaug and her friend buy me coffee and rossinboller, before I leave Ronnaug confirms that she will call her brother Oyvind, an artisan silversmith near Dunderland, just south of the Arctic Circle, she says that I am to find his house and stay with his family on my way down, she draws directions on the map together with contact details, the beauty of carrying & using a map, something that unfolds to cover your whole journey and something that is easily shared with new found friends, something computer aided gadgets will never achieve, the social and communal benefit of the paper map. We say our goodbyes, until tomorrow, Ronnaug tells me to look for the house painted yellow, like sunflowers.

Hit the road again, slow grinding miles, slow rolling road, early evening before rolling into Tomasvatyn, a cabin on the side of the lake, a repeat of the first day, a small and rather deserted town, food at the café, shower, clothes change, bike check, clothes hung out, scribbled notes about the day, about meeting Ronnaug and her friend, notes about the head-wind, written in bold copy as if to emphasise the suffering! Then head straight to sleep, early evening, blue sky, but straight to sleep, the best & only form of full recovery. You count your good fortune and chance meeting with strangers, the kindest of all people.

Day 4 - 133 miles

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Catching the wind

6am, E6 north from Eysteinkyrkja
6th June – 4.45am, wake to a clear early morning sky, clear because it never seems to go dark, clear because there is no clear distinction between night fall and sun rise. The simple act of stepping outside, every sense seems instantly ignited by the wide angle beauty of the landscape to the south, and strangely awakened by the stillness of the morning air.

Shower, clothes change, bike check, light breakfast, bottle fill and then the difficult task of one last look round, to take it all in one last time, you convince yourself that you will be back but you know how these things tend to work out, one last glance back is probably the last, but you remain convinced that there will be a reason or opportunity to return in the future, such a wonderful place. Door closed, but not locked, the door to the Pilgrim’s cabin remains unlocked, always open, to the next traveller.

Roll down the gravel road to the 1km track that leads back up to the E6, eerily deserted of any movement or sound, solo again, one last final look round, the last.

The road ahead is eased by a tailwind and long gentle descent, twenty-five miles of what feels like freefall, you unfurl your imaginary sails to catch the wind, spin the pedals without the grinding, debilitating effort of yesterday’s headwind punished ascents. The road continues to unfold into wide open valleys, far off mountain horizons cloaked again by the richest blue sky, this is heaven in the form of cycling, the weight of the back-pack seems to be lifted by the ease of forward movement, you count your good fortune as it arrives and as it lasts.
Oppdal came sooner than expected, leaving the E6 into town, a recently modified section of by-pass, not open to cyclists or pedestrians, the old road into town, a modern service station for three strong black coffee’s and rosinboller & chocolate, surprising how service station food seems so much better when your need is greater, map check, bike check, back to the E6.

Fifty, sixty, seventy miles clicked by, the Garmin seeming to also move more effortlessly along gently rolling wide open roads, the odd long climb becoming a welcome interruption to the gentle road, a contrast to yesterday, with the idea of now riding directly north to Trondheim, instead of the original plan to loop out west, direct to Trondheim for the opportunity to reduce the weight of the back-pack for something smaller, and to complete what was now more familiarly understood to be the St Olav Pilgrim Route, Oslo to Trondheim, either walking across country for three weeks, or crossing by road in three days, you make your own roads without comparison, you make your own Pilgrimage. Facing into the challenge ahead, taking whatever support is offered along, the main thing is to just keep moving forward [movemeant !] in whatever way you can, just keep moving forward.     

Another service station, outskirts of Soknedal, bread, salami, apples, nuts, two strong black coffee’s, sitting outside at the bench-table, two young boys on the opposite side of the road lying in the grass verge taking photos of every oncoming passing truck, reciprocated by a blast on the horn from the truck driver, maybe a ritual of what has gone before, the two boys dance high-fives and return their appreciation, there seems a genuine and positive connection. 

You study the details of the road ahead, the peculiarities of the route, you understand the risk of the tunnels, the permissible and non-permissible tunnels, forty miles out of Trondheim the first two tunnels are passed, short in length at 300m, but enough to unsettle and unnerve you, knowing worse may lie ahead, doubt becomes the curse of the road. Five more miles before a secondary road appears, parallel to the E6, there is no decision to make, across the verge to follow whatever route arrives. I ask an elderly lady in front of her house if the road leads to Trondheim, she smiles and gestures kindly, I sense not knowing the question. Good fortune comes in so many ways, the road proves to be a cycle route, what was once, in parts, the old road to Trondheim, over thirty miles of protected road all the way Trondheim, if only other countries and other cities could recognise such simplicity in a fast moving world.
Rolling into the blue, towards Oppdal

Miles tick by with small uplifting moments coming from the 'road junctions' of progress marked out by the short underpasses as the cycle route weaves its way along the E6, the early-afternoon sun warming the remaining miles ever closer to the city, by now, shrouded by the sharp ridge of low lying mountains, one last effort it seems before reaching sea level for the first time.

Fifteen miles from the city the road rears up to a sharp gradient, the sting in the tail to what has been an otherwise long, gently rolling day, starting in remote landscapes, finishing in populated streets. Into the suburbs with many quick stops with passers-by to check, and double check, the route ever closer to the city the general response seems to always be ‘find your best way’ through the cycle paths. It works, past the station, through the hospital complex, the green spire of the Cathedral provides a compass-destination point, one final short stretch of city road before crossing over to ride into the Cathedral Square. Bathed in sunlight, packed with tourists, or residents, or Pilgrims, the entrance is magical, to arrive is also to begin, but the next day can wait, now is to fully appreciate a special moment, to follow the instruction from the kind elderly lady in Eysteinkyrkja, to check in with the people at the café outside the Cathedral, freedom 'ticket' of the Cathedral granted, a strong black coffee, two pastries and a seat in the sun, you take that moment for everything it brings, something magical in just soaking up the atmosphere, a thousand different personal circumstances from everyone in the square, I get asked by several people where I’ve ridden from, with the expectation being another part of the city, I explain the route, which seems lost or mis-understood in translation, I quite like this, Eysteinkyrkja remains the distant place that it is.

The door is opened to the House behind the Cathedral, the warmest of all welcome’s, the lady from Eysteinkyrkja calling ahead as promised to let them know of my arrival, a welcome warmed further by more coffee and more cake, and being asked to pin on a map where I’d come from in the UK, just East of London, and where I’d started in Norway, just north of Oslo, there was a genuine affection and caring in this house, the other guests as welcoming and seemingly as appreciative to be in such an idyllic place.

Shown to the room, soft bed, white sheets, open window to rear looking out to the Cathedral, open window to front looking out to the river, unpack, warm shower, change of clothes, map check, route check, head out into the evening sun, thinking about the experiences of the day, one single beautiful day, the things that provoke the things you value most, and that make you feel truly alive. 

9pm, if there’s a sun rise then there should be a sun fall, but the light remains through the night, this is far north, the day light continues, room lights out to an immediate sleep, losing yourself in an instant to the long day.
Day 3 - 110 miles.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Pilgrim roads...

Towards the roof of Norway

5th June - 5am, wake to a big blue sky, a full & complete blue sky, those days when it feels good to be alive, proper deep down good, the familiar hangover aches and twinges from the day before dissolve in an instant at the sight of that deep blue canopy, can't wait to hit the road, can't wait to get rolling.

Shower, tea, dried crackers (thanks to the previous guests) bike check, clothes check, final pack hit the road, last look round at the mirror-still lake before slowly rolling down to the edge of town, no more than 250 metres, to the start of highway 51, heading directly north with the early morning sun strong enough to share its warmth, edging along a route edged in a green shadow on the map, to denote a route of naturally beautiful distinction, rolling out under that ceiling of a deep blue splendour, this was surely a grande departe of a grand tour, yet of its own, different kind of splendour.

Five miles of winding flat-to-rolling road, clearing the mind and loosening the legs, following the course of the river flowing down from Oyangen, at times widening into still lakes before disappearing to the west as the road continued north. Twenty miles of continuous climbing, the weight of the back pack seeming to pull down heavier with every mile that passed, further on into the blue, edging closer to breakfast in Beitostolen, a small winter resort that hugged either side of the road, beyond this just a beautifully abstract landscape.

You can check everything, you think you can check everything, all the main things, all the things you consider to be the big risks, you can ask advice, you can go prepared, but there are always things to catch you out, things you can't plan for, things you just don't consider, but should. As the road ascended into town the first supermarket appeared on the left, Co Op Prix opening at 9am, now ten minutes past, the second supermarket the same, the penny starts to drop, rolling 1km back down the road to a bakery-cafe, the only place in town seemingly open, to confirm that today is a Public Holiday, Monday 5th June, you can plan everything, but you can forget to check the calendar. Two large strong black coffees and 'rosinboller' Norwegian fruit buns, with cheese and yogurt, with four cheese and ham 'loaves' for the long road ahead, added weight but necessary.

The road continued to climb, into the strong headwinds, climbing continuously without respite, without any forgiveness other than the growing splendour of a vast mountain landscape to the west, the road arcing round for one last panoramic glimpse of the road travelled. You can check Garmin, you can read a map, you can understand a route profile, but sometimes the constant reality of the ascent, the headwinds, the invisible pull of the back pack can drain your resolve in a short time.

Cresting the pass, between two stone monoliths, a gateway that entrances Bygdin, a silver, mountain-top lake that seemed a vast ocean atop the widest most desolate yet beautiful territory. Descending fast into a vast open bowl through swirling crosswinds, bringing back memories of the 'Glass Elevator' descent into the Californian desert on RAAM, swirling crosswinds that seem to take hold of you, descending into the desert bringing confusing thoughts of approaching an ocean, tricked by the hazy green-tinged ripples of the desert, this time approaching the silver clear ocean in the mountains, how can an ocean exist in the mountains, your mind too tired to make sense of it, too focused to think through it. Headwinds can destroy your thoughts, the worst of all feelings on the road, yet crosswinds in the mountains seem worse, playing vicious games, unbalancing and unsettling you, casting uncertainty in the mind and challenging your self-control to remain balanced, you ride with your greatest resolve, and endurance.

Crossing the roof of Norway
50 miles more, 50 miles of relentless headwind, rolling climbs taking you to the edge of perseverance, determination seeming to ebb and drain with every passing mile, positive thoughts become more challenging, you focus on why you're here, who and what you're riding for, serving to remind you to count your good fortune, to press ahead with courage and fortitude, you start to descend, a rapid long descent, as hard as the climb, the swirling wind never giving a moment of letting go until, finally, a junction, highway 15 heading temporarily east, into the valley bottom flanked by another lake, uplifted by the tailwind that sweeps through to the service station on the edge of Vagamo, a service station packed with people on the road on a public holiday. Refuel, regather and head on across the short steep ascent of the 'cut through' from Holungsoyi to Nord-Sel to be re-united with the E6 and onto Dovre, a planned destination for the day, only to find no cabins, possibly the only place in Norway to have no cabins and only a handful of camper vans, instinct alone tells you that there is no offer of alternative assistance here, you don't know what it is, you just know there's a need to press on, mid-afternoon and on towards the last chance of the day, towards late-afternoon across 40 miles of the E6 to Eysteinkyrkja, a place and a moment that was to prove a turning point, a moment so special, a moment that maybe defined the overall outcome.

Leaving the E6, a right turn to roll freely for 1km along road 29, passing under a white church standing guard over the road, overlooking another vast landscape. Left onto the gravel road to the reception of a large white building, fingers crossed, because there are no other options this late in the day, in this vast remote wilderness. Bike outside, back-pack now welded to a tired body, standing behind an American couple quizzing the elderly lady behind the reception table about the cost of accommodation and lack of restaurant facilities, they take their dilemma to the outside and a large four wheel drive.

"I am looking for a room for the night, just to sleep, I take to the road at 5am in the morning, so it's just to sleep" - the kind helpful, elderly lady offers an 'apartment' for 1200 Krona (£120)

"Just a room to sleep" I just need to sleep.

"Are you a Pilgrim"

Not sure about the question here, but there's a reason for it, there must be, can't think through a response so "yes, I may be"

Pilgrim quarters....
"Where have you come from"


"Where are you heading"

"Tomorrow, Trondheim, I am leaving early, 5am on the road north"

"Then you are a Pilgrim, you can take the Pilgrim's cabin, it's open, you can shower and rest, there is a restaurant 4km along the track through the woods over there, pointing to the vast expanse of landscape"

'Aiden's' little green wrist band
The kind elderly lady points to a white parting through the woods, saying there's no need to ride along the E6. The lady knows nothing about the overwhelming touch of her act of her kindness, particularly around what would be the demoralising effect of riding back along the road you've travelled, she continues her kindness by saying that she will call the House behind the Cathedral in Trondheim, that I am to stay there, that I am to go into the cafe by the Cathedral and then straight to the House, she promised to call ahead to arrange matters, everything would be in order, just go to the cafe next to the Cathedral. Twenty minutes later after taking in every sensory effect of the cabin, I return to the white house, the door is locked, the kind, helpful elderly lady gone. Twenty minutes of time that can change everything, twenty minutes later and neither this moment nor what was to follow would have happened. You're reminded to count your good fortune, sometimes it arrives in the most unexpected ways, sometimes in the blink of only the slightest opportunity, it gives you hope and new found determination.

Heading back from dinner
Warm shower, change of clothes, hot tea, sitting in the warmth of the late afternoon sun, light sleep sitting on the deck overlooking 'the roof of Norway'. 4km gravel road through the woods to good food, strong black coffee and supplies for the morning, 4km back, check map, check bike, check clothes, gaze at the landscape view from the window, don't want to leave this place, don't want to sleep, just take in every last second of magic, this is truly a place where the magic lies. Pick up texts from Keith &  Fleur, Aiden's parents; my wife Bev & daughters Meg & Sarah, and my mum, all back home in the UK, good things come together in so many ways.

9pm, lights out, beneath layers of blankets, asleep in seconds, a deep, healthily fatigued sleep.

Day 2 - 137 miles - one of the hardest & most magical days ever on a bike, when you have no idea of what the day really holds or where you will end up, but through the kindness of people and perseverance, good fortune finds its way to you....