Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Laksely, Norway

Friends: Greetings from Lekesly, Norway on a bay off the Arctic Sea some sixty miles beyond the Finnish border. I've been flying. Yesterday around noon the Arctic turned balmy. There was nothing but blue sky and I could shed two layers. There was still a hint of a cold wind from the north, but today the wind is blowing from the south. With the sun shining bright it feels close to seventy degrees, though it's probably twenty degrees colder in the shade. Yesterday was easily the nicest day of the trip and today even better. It was such a rare nice day I was tempted to keep riding late into the night to take advantage of the rain free cycling. But I decided to take my chances and quit at 8:30, hoping there had been a break in the weather pattern that would keep the skies clear.

So far that theory is holding. I should rack up 120 miles or more today. I have 75 at 2:30 right now. I am about 125 miles from Nordkapp. If tomorrow turns ugly I'll be close enough to my destination that I should be able to persevere to the end. If the rain resumes I'll at least have five miles of dry cycling through a five-mile tunnel. My timing has been great today. I reached the border with Norway at 8:30 this morning. Rather than immediately crossing I waited for the local grocery store to open at nine, so I could spend the last of my Finnish coins, something banks don't always wish to change. While I was waiting, I replaced a broken spoke on my rear wheel that I discovered as I was wiping the debris from my tires this morning after pushing my bike through the brush from my campsite. Fortunately it was on the side opposite the freewheel. It would have been wise and responsible to replace it on the spot, but I was eager to start biking. With 48 spokes back there, instead of the usual 36, the stress on the remaining spokes was considerably lessened. It'd be nice to bike an hour, rest my legs and eat a bit while I performed the operation in a little more hospitable of a location than along the side of the road. Twelve miles with a broken spoke to the border wasn't too much of a risk.

The first town in Norway was twelve miles further. I went straight to the bank for the dirty business of changing money. I had gained an hour so I had three minutes to wait before the bank opened at nine. I still had fifty of the two hundred dollars of Finnish money I changed sixteen days ago. There was a long climb out of the town, but after less than ten miles, as I was cresting one final climb, I could see snow-streaked mountains inching their way up into my field of vision. And now forty miles later, I am amongst them. It makes the wheels spin even easier with such sites to gaze upon.

I rode for ten miles yesterday with a German cyclist. We met at a road-side cafe that served reindeer stew. It may have been my best meal of the trip. The German had bicycled up from Helsinki as I had. Unfortunately, he was turning back after ten miles. He was a seasoned touring cyclist who had much to share and rode at a pace similar to mine. He hadn't toured outside of Europe though and was most interested in all the places I had biked. It's always interesting to see the reaction I receive when I meet other touring cyclists and start dropping mentions of my tours in Patagonia and the Himalayas and the Outback and Morocco and up the Alaskan Highway and down Baja and so forth.

I'm always careful to wait awhile and ease them in after respectfully and genuinely expressing interest in their travels. Most often they respond with respect and are excited to meet someone who has biked many places they would like to. But sometimes they are visibly deflated, upset at being upstaged. Alfred had done enough touring that he had enough self-respect and confidence, not to feel any the lesser for not having biked as much as I have. I expressed as much interest in his travels as he did in mine. We were both sorry that we hadn't met earlier so we could have enjoyed a couple days of each other's company. Alfred found Finland most enjoyable. He said Finland was the only country in Europe that Germany hadn't invaded in WWII. He felt less antagonism here than elsewhere. He said Denmark is the worst. It is illegal for Germans to even display their flag on their backpacks or their car windows.

I'm on a stretch now with lots of tour buses, all bound for Nordkapp. Arts and crafts shops have begun to appear along the road. They all had carved bears out front. The bears had me a little concerned about camping, especially since I had stocked up on a lot of extra food. I was prepared to pull into a campground, but I came upon a long stretch of road with high fences on either side to keep the reindeer in. I doubted if bears would be meandering around such a corridor, so I pulled off the road at a point where there was a crest and a gully to shield me from what little traffic there was. One more day north and then I can start heading south and hope the wind doesn't always blow from the south.

Later, George

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