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 cafĂ©, 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' 



No comments:

Post a Comment