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....

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