Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Follow that River - Again

Suoloyuopmia – Kautokeino   80kms  1012’ of ascent
Today was going to be a long day and I was under the misapprehension that we had already reached the high point of this particular plateau. The weather was sunny with blue skies with some wind, as ever, blowing in the wrong direction. After some 20 kms we were ready for our morning coffee. Having found the only café between Suoloyuopmia and Kautokeino shut I hunted out the flask while Alan perused an information board.
“Did you know that the river Alta is 200 kms long and runs from Kautokeino to Alta?”
Now I am not a genius but even I could understand the significance of this casual comment i.e. rivers run downhill and we were riding to its source! Not only that, the wind was increasing in strength (gusting 35 knots) and blowing downriver and straight into our faces. It was a long day. Need I say more.

Follow that River

Alta – Suoloyuopmia   62.5 kms  1480 ‘ ascent.
Before I commence today’s narrative, I must explain that we have just dined on reindeer meat and local trout (not on the same plate!) and quaffed a can of ale each. We thought a well deserved indulgence but the alcohol has had quite a numbing effect.  However, onward with the news of the day.
Alta is probably not one of the must see towns of Norway resembling as it does,  something between lego land (all square and coloured) and a building site. However, it has to be one of the most bike friendly places in the universe. Not only are special tracks provided, but where these cross a road, be it very small or very large, the traffic must (and does) give way! How cool is that. Takes a bit of getting used to as every instinct cries out in panic. Mind you it only needs one foreigner who doesn’t know the rules to cause a massacre. Fortunately not too many strangers visit Alta.
Our campsite was some 10 kilometres to the east of Alta, and after traversing the town we headed into the rain and the wind which had been forecast to be a tail wind! (Weather forecasts, it seems, are the same the world over.) Even after we had turned left the wind remained stubbornly ahead.  We were expecting a day of climbing and we were not to be disappointed. At about 30 kms of an unremarkable ride along the valley floor, the first evidence of nature’s fury appeared in the form of a bridge (well a non bridge actually) which had been washed away to be replaced with a somewhat fragile looking substitute.  Still, 10 ton lorries were not having a problem so what the hell. Our next significant encounter was with a sign informing us that the next 6 kms were at 8% and wiggly to boot. Aargh.  The river running the steep sided  gorge was definitely un-canoeable unless you had a death wish, but was stunning in its ferocity. (Not quite stunning enough to take way the pain of burning lungs and legs but some small compensation.)
The plateau, (hmm, that suggest flat- not so) sported several lakes all still partially iced over with just the first signs of spring. A sudden panic of birdsong and buds determined to reproduce in the very short season! Humankind had joined the melee with roofers and chippies repairing the winter damage on small cabins scattered along the lake side A small sea plane moored next to an unremarkable caravan site, brought a whole new meaning to a weekend away in the caravan.
On reaching our overnight destination, there ensued some confusion with my request for accommodation. I thought that I had articulated my request in my best Oxford English but apparently not, as a very confused looking young man informed me that he spoke only English! I began again with more success and secured rooms and food. The latter I have already commented on and the former is as ever spotlessly clean and warm. Bring on tomorrow although with 24 hour daylight identifying tomorrow can be a challenge.

A Change of Gear

Olderfjord – Alta   100kms  2250’ ascent.
We left our nice warm hutte with some trepidation (or I did anyway) as we thought that we would have to wild camp in view of the longer distance.  Not even my optimism ran to 100 kms towing the equivalent of a Sherman tank even though Alan gallantly strapped the rucksack to his trailer thus reducing mine to a smaller Sherman tank!  After a warm up run of 25 kms, we encountered a service station which provided heat, coffee and a calorie filled chocolate bun. A good move as it turned out.
Then we started to climb, fairly gently, but forever! The plateau we crossed has a name. I don’t know it and the one that I would give it is not suitable for a family blog. It was a huge, as far as the eye could see; just  snow, bog and utter desolation. Alan described it as Arctic and I thought tundra was more appropriate so we have agreed to call it ‘tarctic’. And right at the highest , the most exposed and freezing cold point there appeared a scattering of small buildings complete with a church! In the conditions of the moment, they were being used by the local snow mobile enthusiasts who were apparently running races. After all what else do you do? Barbeques are futile! These guys must be hard as nails and I salute them. Talking of which (saluting I mean) we had many a cheery wave from oncoming traffic and even a photo shot from the only British registered  vehicle we have seen north of the Arctic circle.
After a few hours our coffee and cake hit was on the wane and, with little sign of a change in terrain, Alan located a ditch without snow and just deep enough to give us some shelter from the wind which seemed to have arrived straight from somewhere even colder.  Soggy sandwiches and hot coffee never tasted so good and I shouldn’t have left behind my banana skin, but I did. By now we realised that we had no chance of finding and shelter for anything as huge as a tent so we pedalled on and ..on and…. on.
When finally within reach of Alta, the long expected downhill arrived- 7%. Hurrah and whoopee but exhilaration was short lived as the asphalt ran out after a few hundred metres and we found ourselves on dirt track. How mean is that!  But it was, after all, downhill dirt track. Finally back at fjord level we came upon a campsite just 10 kms short of Alta on the shoreline with huts surrounded by trees. It was one of those half open, half closed sites and as we were deliberating our next move Mr. Cheery Chappie appeared out of the trees, made a phone call, “(Idont like these machines – you have to put all the numbers in the right order!!!!”) gave us a key and we found ourselves the thankful inhabitants of a warm hut.
On a serious note, the day has been emotionally satisfying, as I have the confidence which was previously lacking, that my body would respond positively to this challenge in spite of the previous physical setbacks . I’m sure Alan shares my relief!  So look out Europe here we come!

Friday, 27 May 2011

A Bit of a Blip

Repvag to Oldenfjord  48.9kms    353m ascent  -  2 days
The intention was that this journey would take just one day! We left Repvag , climbed out of the village, and hit the straight which led to the main road. This was the point at which, maybe, we should have taken stock. Having to push the bikes against the wind on the flat should have served as a warning.  But ever optimistic, we were sure that once we changed direction onto the main road all would be well and the wind would begin to abate. Ha ha, this was the granddaddy of the infant  breeze we had experienced the day before. Undaunted, except for the fear of being blown into the path of some juggernaut (of which there are many), we soldiered on deciding that even if we had to walk a bit and ride a bit we stood a good chance of achieving our goal. After all it was less than 50kms and it would be daylight all the time. Easy peasy.  If we ever thought we would experience a gentle introduction into this journey, northern Norway was disinclined to oblige. Not only had we to contend with the weather, but also with the local wildlife, in the shape of the reindeer . They make Trefil sheep look like members of Mensa.  Alan played chicken with a mother and her calf who insisted  on trying to outrun the bike following the white line (if indeed there had been one). Plenty of room on either side but no, she obviously preferred to keep tripping over her terrified calf.
After 15 or so kilometres of walk ride we finally ran out of options. The temperatures dropped to around freezing and the wind was growing in strength, easily around force 8+. At one point it lifted the front wheel of my bike into the air with me still attached to the handlebars! The safety flag on the trailer snapped clean in half. When we found ourselves unable even to counter the wind pushing our bikes downhill, something, as they say, had to be done.  Alan was faring little better despite his determination (and greater mass). Then the gods took pity. After 15km of not seeing any form of habitation, an abandoned souvenir hut with front door missing was presented to us as our des res for the night! We had running water cascading down the gully, toilets, courtesy of the local council and the view was spectacular, looking as it did, down a sea of white horses and films of spray whirling into mini tornados. Warm, dry and with food in our bellies, we passed a less than tranquil night. It blew, it snowed and some darn critter wanted to share our shelter and our chocolate. I bravely saw that off, all four inches of furry ball!
Friday- and what a contrast; no wind, (well only the infant ) and no rain or snow. After  a hearty breakfast of muesli and cups of tea we took up the ride with renewed enthusiasm but hoping that  Oldenfjord would offer a nice warm hut and more food. It came up trumps, if not cheap trumps and so, dear reader, I can share our little adventure with you.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

A Better Day

Honningvag to Repvag  - 55.75 kms     2033ft ascent
What a weather change – and for the better. At 4am the sun was shining so brightly that Al thought it was time to make tea. His body convinced him to lie a little longer.  It was still shining when we left  at about ten. This was to be grand tunnel day so for me there existed an element of uneasy anticipation. Underground was no problem but 3.5 km of 1 in 8 was a tad daunting. It was head down and think of something nice – like swimming with dolphins. Not entirely successful – it still hurt a lot. Optimistically I thought that was the hard work done. Nooo. In a car the road would be described as rolling, on a bike free of trailer it would be undulating, with laden trailers it was mountainous! However, cheery motorcyclists who waved enthusiastically, while no doubt thinking daft buggers, encouraged our endeavour and the ice cream van who played his little tune made my day. Why anyone north of the Arctic Circle would want ice cream is another debate altogether.
The views were awesome (an over used word but in this case true).The majesty of the hills speckled with gently roving reindeer, the blue of the fiord and the contrast afforded by the snow was magical. The only tiny downside was the 20 km headwind which seemed less of a tiny downside the longer we cycled.  We are still trying to decide the fate of the owner of an abandoned pair of skis on the other side of the road to an abandoned snowmobile.  Answers on a postcard please.
Tantrum time arrived at about  50km when my rucksack turned into my dire enemy (too heavy and making my neck ache). My hero came to my rescue and tied the offending object to the trailer. Tantrum over, we covered the final six km in fine fettle. Nobody told us Norway is only half open in May, so we were a little dismayed to find a half open hotel. However, after much sighing and head scratching, our hostess found us a cabin (more like a small guest house in its own right), provided breakfast to go in our fridge until the morning. The amount of food was sufficient for our evening meal as well, so we dined like kings. Our cabin hovers over the fiord supported on stilts but thankfully the tide is out, and anyway, tied up nearby are several fishing boats in various stages of dilapidation although I am sure they are all very seaworthy!
Have to report lungs, legs and bum only slightly better than yesterday despite my optimism  for a Lance Armstrong moment. Maybe tomorrow?

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

No More Procrastinating. Aaah!

Nordkapp to Honningvag – 31.9 Kms   -   1341 ft ascent.
This was the day all our support ,both psychological and practical was to desert us.  Dean and Ann were off on their luxury holiday with our car while we convinced ourselves that we would much rather put up with aching bodies, sore bums and exhausted lungs. Hauling 25 plus kilos of extra weight just added to the excitement of it all. However we all thought we would like to see Nordkapp so despite the all encompassing fog, which we were sure would lift (wrong) we all piled in the car for the last time and set off. At the entrance the shock of discovering that the 247 NEK (about £24 ) was to be multiplied by four nearly made us abandon the enterprise.  AND the centre would not open until 11 and it was only 9.48. As we could see nothing anyway it seemed a good idea to take off our long suffering bikes, load trailers and see if I could remember how to ride. A quick whizz round the car park ensured that I could mount, ride and dismount without disaster – one step nearer this mad venture. At 11 Dean took out a mortgage and bought us all a parting hot chocolate. A wander round viewing war time manoeuvres, dead sea birds on a cliff, and a trophy room pertaining to a king of Thailand who had apparently visited Nordkapp, we ventured into the souvenir shop and bought postcards purporting to show the views from Nordkapp which we were unable to verify as visibility was rarely more than 50 metres. Departure now loomed large. Hugs all round and we disappeared into the mist and mizzle. For almost the entire ride we saw only the immediate roadside which may have been a blessing in disguise as we had no idea how awful the ascents would be. Little imagination was required: legs and lungs told the story very eloquently. Tomorrow will tell another story or maybe just the same one.
P.S. from Al
I’ve got to give a passing mention to the gritty determination shown by Mary over the last couple of months and especially today. She has gone through, and is still going through a not inconsiderable amount of pain but, as this was her first ride since the accident, there was also the  mental mountain to climb. Like all the problems she’s encountered, she tackled this one square on.  She’s a one off!
Well done lass.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Many Days of Motoring

Many days of motoring!
These bikes are a tenacious pair. They are still only a few feet from the rear bumper. In for a bit of a shock tomorrow when they will be permanently separated from the mother ship.  Yes, after seven days of sitting with knees up around chin and buttocks stuck to the seat, we shall be free. But what fun we have had. Sweden, it seems, is unable to make up its mind about how fast you may drive your car so signs proliferate indicating anything from 30 to 110 in the space of 100 metres. Someone has made a fortune from road signs.  Accommodation has been everything from outstanding to downright awful. The ‘awful ‘being the first night for Dean and Ann who arrived on time in Stockholm (courtesy of Ryanair and who deserved better in view of the extraordinary favour they are doing us) . There was a room with a view but we weren’t in it! Instead we enjoyed the delights of a bomb site. In mitigation, it was clean and lots of food (even Dean had sufficient!) and the restaurant for dinner was right on the lakeside with excellent fare.
Now we are above the Arctic circle and, for those who know me, they will undoubtedly consider  this  to be something of an achievement in its own right. I REALLY don’t do cold, not that it is very cold. Thankfully only little patches of snow! Competition hotted up to see who would be the first to spot a moose. Dean won; but then in a heightened state of excitement,  spotted another in the distance. No, it was a wooden post box! Then Mr. Moose spotter extraordinaire took to photographing reindeer with limited success. ‘Open the window Al.  No, not yours you plonker! An excellent photo of the passenger window.
  As we seem to be only four of about five people in Finland, today we head for Norway and take-off! Bikes and bodies in for a bit of a shock.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Motorway Madness

This cycling lark is a breeze. The bikes have resolutely  followed the back of the car for some 1000 plus kilometres!  Having dawdled along the French autoroute with hardly a care (except for all those drivers behind you who want to be your friend and get in the boot), today the Germans had a chance to show their metal (mostly Audi).  They don’t want to be your friend, they just want you to get out of the way on their race track. Aside from the driving, our hosts last night were charming and became even more so after we had quaffed some very palatable German wine (white and red). We know it can’t last so we are making the most of the present opportunity.  A great choice of hotel courtesy of Alan’s diligent searching of the net. Beautiful room and excellent local food. What does asparagus do to your wee? Tonight’s hotel is big and impersonal but nonetheless very fine. Must remember not to get too used to all this!

Monday, 16 May 2011

On The Way North

After much deliberation (swearing) the kit is all packed and the hundreds of items on the "to do" list have been ticked off. The next few days will be the easy bit, sitting behind the wheel and driving the couple of thousand miles north. The fun starts in a weeks time when we pack the 23 kgs into each of the trailers and begin cycling south. Temperatures are around 5deg. in Nordkapp at the moment but, by July, we should be able to send most of the winter kit home. Can't say we're looking forward to leaving our 28deg here in France.
Many thanks to all those who have wished us good luck. We're thinking of you.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

"Don't use the bike for another 3 weeks" said the surgeon.

Arms and Legs

We’re back on course. Plaster is off the arm with a “parfait” from the surgeon. Physio continues to work on Mary’s leg with various instruments of pain and pleasure and states that she will be fit  to ride in two weeks. Only negative at the moment  is that our fitness levels are not what we planned but we’re working on the principle that we are not in a hurry and we’ve got 7500km to get fit!

We’re now committed to the start date and I have  booked the hotels for the journey north. Our original plan, some 12 months ago, was to drive to Newcastle, leave the car with relatives, take the ferry to Bergen then a five day ferry along the western coast of Norway  to Hurtigruten.   Although  websites were still offering a booking service for the Newcastle – Bergen  leg of the journey, in reality, the ferry stopped operating  at the end of 2008. That left us with the flight option of Gatwick to  Alta. Logistically this was possible but we were not looking forward to Ryanair transporting our bikes and kit to Stanstead, then transporting it all to Gatwick for the flight north with up to 3 stops and luggage transfers and finally putting the bikes back together in  Alta and cycling to our first accommodation. Hardy souls have done it but we were looking for a more leisurely start. We mentioned our dilemma to good friends Dean and Anne and over a couple of bottles of wine we had our dream start. We’re driving to Stockholm over 4 days, taking the scenic route, and picking up Dean and Anne who are flying out from the UK. A three day drive will take us to Nordkapp, where we’ll don our winter clobber (+2deg at the moment) and start pedalling. D & A are planning to explore the Lofoten Islands and will then take our car back to the UK. An added bonus, Dean’s lad Ev and his partner Sophie will house sit for us while we’re away. What happens when  we reach Malta is a problem for another day.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Support from the Boss (retired)

In a previous life, I worked for a living and was fortunate to have a very good boss. He recently retired after finally achieving the ultimate technical challenge of changing the date on his desktop calendar. I received this from him yesterday and thought you might be amused:
Dear Alan and Mary,
So there I was,about to buy a bike to assist in the fitness/outdoor life campaign,the intention being to cycle the canal trail and the Cwmbran-Blaenafon old railway line (which journey involves going past Trevethin which is replete with German Shepherds,Rottweilers Pit Bulls etc) and then I get into your blog and find myself reading about Mary's accident in gruesome detail.So on both counts ie balance and canines I have now put off the purchase-well at least until the next sale arrives at Halfords.
My sympathies to Mary -it sounded quite unpleasant-but I admire the tenacity in continuing with your European jaunt (which Dean had alerted me to when I saw him and his amazing disintegrating double bass at the Cardiff Garden Show in mid-April).
Your description of the rationale for the cycling mania and the need for the highest-spec bikes on the planet,that is the mental scarring you experienced as a child,perhaps goes some way to explain your increasingly abberant and eccentric behaviour in recent years (only in RECENT years?Ed).Much as I enjoy your account of the planning of the route (as usual,a sideswipe at every mapmaker and journey-planner in Europe 'It was HIM,sir!')and the technicalities of the cycles involved,I do feel that one technical aspect of the planning remains understated.....what about the seats and the devastating effect they will have on the human anatomy on such a long trip?I have referred to this topic in previous correspondence and you had no reluctance on that occasion in describing the technical and anatomical issues involved.So give the world MORE of this,if you will,Sir!!!
My solicitors and my carer have warned me that it might not be in my best interests to continue to ramble on in this vein,but before I finish,I must take issue with a comment made in your email viz 'I can't be rsd (lazy AND sloppy,Wilkinson) to be funny'Well,hold the front page!When did humour play any significant role in your previous missives?Were I still gainfully employed by MCC,I would be beating a path to my colleagues (sorry,colleague) in Trading Standards to ascertain whether such a statement was actionable.I may overlook this misperception on your part on this occasion,since I am sure that the excitement and anticipation involved in your forthcoming opportunity to piss off the populations of most European countries will have affected your judgement.I look forward to the hunt for Bin Laden paling into insignificance compared to the hordes of indignant Europeans who will be pursuing you.I trust that Mary may be a calming influence on the trip,but I wouldn't bet on it.
Finally,may I say that the  moral blackmail implied in your blog will cut no ice with me,'Donate to Medecins sans Frontieres or we'll cycle past your house'.Harrumph.
In spite of this,please accept my best wishes for the forthcoming trip,though it seems an extreme way of preventing people coming to visit you during the summer.
Love,best wishes,regards etc,

Monday, 2 May 2011

Tents and Tendons

First the news on Mary: Her arm is healing well and the plaster is off next week, however there is still concern about the leg. Although she can walk a little easier, it’s far from comfortable and is not helped by the fact that Mary does not know the meaning of “rest”.  The physio has diagnosed muscle, tendon,  and ligament damage and is using all the latest technology and techniques to hasten the healing process. There’ll be a few bags of frozen peas going cheap at the end of the month! The medics are also being positive and so far only one eyebrow has been raised when Mary said she had to be cycling fit by the end of May. A big thanks to everybody and especially to friends, family and previous riders of the EV7 for their support and good wishes.
We’re still working our way through the pages of “to do” lists. Mary’s bike is repaired and serviced and my bike will be taken in for a thorough check next week. That will complete the kit preparations with everything  bar the tent (and our legs) tried and tested. As soon as Mary is up to a night under canvas, we’ll erect the “Wild Country Duolite Tourer  and inflate the “Exped SynMat Pump sleeping mats and spend a night in the garden hoping the wild boar don’t come looking for grubs. We’ve spent nights in some strange places (on glaciers, down caves, in snow holes, and on a little yacht during a gale in Biscay to name just a few) so we’re not too worried about the camping part of the trip but we did have to take care choosing a tent that would be easy to erect, keep the inner dry when packed wet, and have enough room in the flysheet for the trailers. We were also desperate to find comfortable sleeping mats. The old bones won’t take 100 nights of sleeping on hard ground. The Exped mats look good and we’ll find out how good soon enough. With the aid of a cunning add on, the sleeping mats also double up as very comfortable low chairs! Our good friends in “Up and Under” in Cardiff have given us sound advice on this kit and another of their useful recommendations was the  “Primus EtaPower EF” stove which we’ve found to be the most efficient we’ve used. There are lots of other little bits and I’ll list those another day.
Just one last comment - well done to DM who has just taken up cycling in her 50th year and completed her first 25km ride. Come on BP, give the moths an airing and buy her a decent bike.