Friday, June 29, 2001

Fauske, Norway

iFriends: At last, after 630 miles in seven days down from the North Cape I have some rain to contend with. I'm still in the Arctic but its not too cold and its just drizzly so it shouldn't be too bad of a day. The drizzle started last night as I slept. It kept me in my tent until 8:30. When it slightly relented, I quickly broke camp and hit the road. It felt good to get the legs moving and the blood flowing. I was twelve miles from this town of a couple of thousand, my first opportunity for a library or visitor center in a couple of days. So here I am at ten a.m. at the visitor center's free computer until they kick me off.

I thought I would have been able to file a report two days ago in Navrik, a city with multi-story buildings and a population of 20,000, the most of any I've passed through since I crossed in to the Arctic. The library had two computers, but they were all booked up. I had my first ferry ride later that day, 25 minutes, to a fairly unsettled inland stretch of Norway. I spent a lot of time on my small chain ring yesterday with many steep climbs. There were 14 tunnels in one 30-mile stretch, ranging in length from two-and-a-half miles to a couple hundred meters. The first one was the longest and had a sign barring bicycles. I didn't even stop to take a picture of what I was about to defy. It was a mystery why bikes were banned. It had the widest shoulder, at least 18 inches, of any tunnel I had been in. It was all uphill and fairly steep, so that might have been the reason, though it wasn't as steep at the one under the ocean to Nordkapp. Then I began to think perhaps there were gases in this tunnel that made it perilous for cyclists and pedestrians. And then I started feeling faint-headed. But then a motorcycle came along. He had to be breathing the same fumes I was, though not for as long. I survived and then had a nice descent.

I had been warned that there was a series of tunnels ahead, so I had to dread a "No bicycles" sign as I approached each one, but thankfully that was the only one. Tunnels offer a different world and sensory experience. Time passes very slow in tunnels. I in a heightened sense of alert and concentration. My thought does not go astray. The light is dim and occasionally there is a darker stretch where a light bulb has burned out, making it hard to survey the road for debris or potholes. A flat tire in a tunnel wouldn't be a happy occasion. It was a bright, sunny day, so I almost welcomed the occasional respite from its intense rays. I didn't so much enjoy the drastic change in temperature. The tunnels are markedly colder than outside. When I'd exit the longer tunnels, I was almost afraid to touch the naked metal of my brake levers. They can grow so cold that I fear my hands might stick to them and rip off the bare flesh.

In all my tunnel miles I've only had one bozo trucker blast his horn at me as he came alongside. It was extra deafening in the tunnel's echo chamber. It took me back to India where motorists are actually encouraged to honk their at every moving object along the road--pedestrians, bicyclists and animals. That was a true nightmare that I've barely recovered from. Hardly a minute passed in 2,000 miles from Bombay to Calcutta without a lorry truck driver blasting his horn at me, and not a friendly toot, but of rock concert decibels. It was as if they were trying to knock me off my bike. It was the only time in all my travels that as I took down my tent in the morning I discovered I wasn't eager to be back on the road, but was only looking forward to that moment at the end of the day when I could crawl back into the sanctuary of my tent.

It's been two days since I've seen any bicyclists. The worker supervising the loading of the ferry said he'd seen only one all that day and going my direction. I've seen loads of motorcyclists, and a surprising number with sidecars, mostly Germans. The thousand miles up the spine of Norway is a popular route for European motorcyclists who want a long ride without much traffic through spectacular scenery. It is the European version of California's Route One. I will be able to enjoy another 400 miles of this route before I turn off to Sweden. I could turn inland at any time if I wanted milder temperatures and perhaps less rain. If the coastline remains socked in I could well be tempted to do it sooner rather than later. I'm presently at the half way point between Nordkapp and Oslo. There continue to be many turnoffs along the road--rest areas with picnic tables and scenic views for those inclined to picture-taking. When its overcast or too windy, its usually too cold to linger. I have to stuff my face with grub quick and get back to the pedaling before I cool down too much.

But there are times when I actually overheat sitting in the bright sun. The temperature in the shade might not be even 50 degrees, but in the sun it can feel like 80. Sometimes there are mosquitoes. Occasionally someone in an RV will come over for a bit of a chat. I carry a spare tire stuffed between the spokes of my front wheel. It's an odd-shaped loop that often prompts a, "What is that?" It's odd enough that if someone had seen this trick before they would acknowledge it, as I would. But that has never happened. Nor have I ever seen another cyclist using this method other than in the book I first saw it. An older Dutch guy, who goes off on his bike for one-week rides here and there, was particularly fascinated by it. He gave me a good interrogation wondering what else he might learn from me. After several minutes he asked, "What is your work?"

"I'm a bicycle messenger."

"A bicycle messenger!" he exclaimed.

"You must really like to ride your bike."

"I do. I do, I do, I do."

Later, George

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