Saturday, June 30, 2001

Mo I Rana, Norway

Friends: Out of the Arctic after two-and-a-half weeks and with all digitals in tact. I crossed The Circle last night at eight p.m. Here in Norway, in contrast to Finland, it truly looked like the Arctic up on a high desolate plateau with scattered patches of snow. I'd been on this plateau for a while. It was colder than the coast and desolate, making me more vulnerable to the wind. The camping was less than inviting. Though it was past my usual quitting time, I continued on for a half hour or so until the road began to descend into a canyon with a tree-lined river. I found a spot that caught the sun so I was able to dry the tent, still damp from the rain the night before.

I began the day with a morning rain. Once it stopped, a low lying cloud cover prevented the road from fully drying until the early in the afternoon. Turning inland took me out of tunnel country. The terrain remained relatively flat following a river. For the first time in days I could leave the bike in a higher gear and pedal merrily along. At about five while taking a break at a rest area and taking on some fuel for the day's final push a 27-year old cyclist from Connecticut rolled in, heading the opposite direction unfortunately. He'd been on the road for two weeks, starting his travels in Oslo. He had until the middle of August to explore Scandinavia. He had biked coast-to-coast across the U.S. a couple years ago with two friends. By trip's end they were no longer friends.

This was his second trip and first solo. He said its quite a bit different doing it alone. He's stayed at campgrounds every night, but hasn't had much interaction with anyone. In fact after fifteen minutes or so he said this was the longest conversation he'd had since he left the U.S. Although I only stayed in a campground while I was at the film festival, I too have rarely been approached by others on this trip, in contrast to everywhere I've been except New Zealand, where the touring cyclist is so commonplace no one pays them any attention.

He had a book provided by the tourist office that detailed the dozens and dozens of tunnels of Norway. It gave their length and whether bicycles are allowed in them and, if not, an alternate route. He has a phobia of tunnels and has so far managed to avoid them. It won't be possible the further north he gets with the scarcity of roads. He also wasn't too daring when it came to the food. He'd been subsisting on peanut butter sandwiches and candy bars for his lunches and pasta for his dinners. I offered him a sample of my fish paste. He hesitantly took a bite and wasn't sure if he liked it or not. He was afraid to experiment with the food, lest he not like it. I don't have much variety to my diet either, but I'm always looking for some moderately priced item to vary it a bit. I tried some bargain-priced sausage yesterday that I won't be buying again. I had to force it down, the first food that hasn't been totally agreeable. I was sorry I didn't have any left to try to pass off on this guy.

Earlier in the day I had my first offering of food from a fellow traveler at a rest area. A German frau gave me a cup of cold apple juice. My taste buds greatly appreciated something they hadn't been treated to in quite a while. Now I'll be looking for more the next time I'm in a grocery store. Its not unusual to receive such offerings, even in third world countries. In fact it occurs more frequently in poorer countries as the locals take pity on the touring cyclist, figuring he is so poor that he can't afford a bus ticket. I'm approaching a month on the road and 2,000 miles. Scandinavia is well below the average in food-giving.

The friendliest, most generous people I've encountered by far in all my travels around the world have been the Colombians. Nearly every day, and not simply once, but often twice or more, someone gave me food as I biked through Colombia at the start of my ride down the length of South America twelve years ago. Sometimes it was restaurant owners giving me an extra dish or refusing payment for a meal. Sometimes someone else in the restaurant paid my bill. People in the market would give me food and people along the road would share something they had. Colombians love the bicycle. Bicycle racing ranks with soccer as their favorite sport. I was celebrated the whole time I was there. I was invited on radio and television shows. Good thing I didn't pay any attention to The Lonely Planet guide book's warning not to accept food or drink from anyone because it could be drugged.

I began my first full day out of the Arctic with a delightful 45-mile gradual descent following a river down to the sizable city of Mo I Rana. It required my poncho for the last ten miles, as the misty rain that had been wetting my wool sweater got to be a bit much. I didn't mind at all being out in the elements rolling along, giving all the RVs a smile, letting them know there was no reason to feel sorry for me. And once again it looks like its going to be a clear afternoon and I can romp for another 50 miles or so. I am within 300 miles of Trondheim, where I will head east to northern Sweden, passing through its prime skiing country. I'm all stocked up on food for the next two days, knowing it's not likely to find any groceries tomorrow on Sunday. Less than two weeks to Stockholm and back to Chicago. It'll be an adjustment returning to an urban area. Even these towns of a few thousand make me eager to get back out in to the pristine wilderness.

Later, George

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