Saturday, August 17, 2013

Norway 2013 Oh idyllic day

That is the first time since I can remember that I have had an early night, slept all night and stayed asleep until the sun woke me up. 

It was a nice surprise, seeing the sun, given that the rain fell steadily from my arrival in Norway up until my bedtime at 9:30pm.  I had dressed in full waterproofs last night to walk into town to the supermarket and I had worn wellies since my arrival on the campsite.  Only taking them off to enter the vanu.

My opinion of Norway soared this morning and I was glad of all my preparations.  Still, I didn't get away on my bike ride until 10am as I decided to change onto slightly narrower, slightly more roadie tyres… only slightly.

I ripped along the minor roads to the morning's itinerary of Floresteinen, turning off the main road onto a lane which quickly became a well maintained dirt-road.   I noted a steep footpath, signed to the summit of Floresteinen and vowed not to end up going up or down that.  The new tyres ripped along the hardcore trail easily - although I was cautious with the cornering as I didn't fancy solo-riders' gravel rash - and gravel it would've been.

I climbed over the final steep climb of the road, noticing a footpath off to one side, then descended all the way back down to sea level to a lovely hamlet right on the sea shore.  I minced around down a couple of lanes but they mostly turned out to be driveways so I returned to the "road". 

I found a dotted-line footpath which wasn't signposted but it seemed to go the right way according to the map.  I made a pact with myself not to ride over anything I didn’t want to repeat on the way back and it all seemed to go pretty well as I found myself only occasionally walking steep, wet bouldery sections with tree roots.  The flatter ones I could ride and I was certainly glad that I hadn't opted for completely roadie tyres - only slightly more cyclo-crossey ones.

The light dappled as I hopped my new bike over fallen branches and threaded a single-track path between imposing boulders and cliff faces.  Just as I started to think about retracing my steps I was faced with a junction in the pathway and the reassuring sight of arrows pointing to Floresteinen and Langedal (where I'd been earlier). 

I did attempt to take EmVee along the path to Floresteinen but eventually it just went too much straight up.  I left the bike in the woods for a sec as there had been no-one about all day and jumped up a few boulders to get an idea of what the view was like from the top.  I didn't want to get too far from the bike but for what I could see, it was well worth coming back with a pair of running shoes to do the whole path.

The rest of the trip back to the road was easy, knowing that I was coming back another day to run it.  I threaded a few more lines through the grass and shrubs under the lithe Norwegian pine, still heavy with last night's rain and popped out in an open meadow 200m from the road.  I wouldn't have realised there was a path there on my way up so I made short work of riding along the edges of what felt like someone's field, cruising through the soggy, undrained soil as quickly as my legs would carry me.  I smiled meekly at the owner of the land as I passed him, walking to his mail box with his dog.  He really didn't seem to care.

10 minutes later I was back on the coast road and heading along the shore to the afternoon's entertainment - the trails around Kniben.

At Heldal the coast road acquired a bike lane which quickly passed under the local equivalent of an A road and continued.  Me, I turned off into Heldal and cycled up the hill past a smallholding and under the motorway, it's massive bulk towering above both me and the trail.  

At Belfremey (two new-build houses) the trail was barred and I accidentally went nosing at the new build houses.  Retreating to the barred trail, I noticed my other option was also barred so I opted to go with the option that suited me.  In the UK I would baulk at dipping under gates but it had clearly been circumnavigated by others in the past and seemed to suit the line of the map. 

After a ripping descent, there were clear footpath posts for Sagebakken and Kniben itself.  I arbitrarily chose the left side of the lake and spent the best part of the ride alongside repeating "must fall left" to myself which I repeatedly did, but at least I didn't tumble 20 ft off a cliff into the murky lake below.  At the end of the lake I had come across the most cutest most awesome bit of ancient water control technology I had ever seen so I had to stop for early lunch / second breakfast.

That wasn't the only surprise.  At the next lake crossing was a complete water channel all built from wood and still containing the windings and central shaft of a water wheel.  All close up and come and touch-me.  It was dangerous and it was completely accessible. I was all over it.
I followed it for around 200 m and then it reappeared on the other side of the path, the wood, away from the water had degraded worse - dried, mossed over and cracked over time.  50m later, some less antiquated technology, a 600 diameter wide steel rising main seemingly passed underneath the path - and perhaps the river itself.

Further down, another water mill where there must've been multiple millstones side by side being driven by the water.  The architecture and hardware continued.  Tables made from millstones! It was like being in the peaks.  There was an amphitheatre built from wooden beams and (I assume) a slab of stone milled by the mills.  I made an attempt to reach Kniben again but was still beaten back by an unrelentingly steep and jaggedy footpath.

 I resigned myself to descending to the coast road to pick off a different route.  Then, just when I thought I couldn't take any more historical enginering, , a mill pond with a walkway all the way cross from one side to the other - around 250m - and all wide enough for me to ride EmVee from one side to the other and back up the opposite side of the river on another, far more bike-friendly trail.

As I hauled up the 1/3 gravel trail, I saw the first two walkers of the day.  A man with a white / red bristly Norwegian beard and his wife.  We exchanged pleasantries and I continued up and up.  When I finally met the next road on my "footpath", the route was clearly signed as bike route No 1.  I hammered it, pausing only to laugh with a lady who was attacking a massive hedge with a tiny hand saw (no euphemism intended).

This time I passed over the motorway on a bridge.  I paused to watch the cars 300ft below and also mused at how I was going to get from where I was to the river at the bottom of the gorge that I was staring at from up here (and back up the other side).  With a lot of thrills and a bit of hard work was the answer.

For a while the path was coated with sand.  Clearly this had been done to give the horses hooves a rest as there were clear hoof-marks in the centre of the trail.  However, there was also a struggling cyclist on the edges of the trail.  Although car drivers had compacted it somewhat (cars???), it still sapped the energy and I realised just how much after I set off again after a lunch stop.   A very pleasant lunch stop, perched atop a sheer rock which fell away to a sea-inlet below.

After a few ups and downs, I finally met a road crossing.  I was now off the map. 

I knew full-well that the road ran along the opposite side of the sea inlet and joined up close to my lunch spot as I had seen another vanu pass that way.  I didn't know how far the bike path continued and didn't fancy the idea of the same out and back all over again without the satisfaction of having reached a destination.  I decided to take the early bath option - or at least head back to the campsite for a swim and have enough energy to get out and do it all again tomorrow.

I took the road - if only for just a little respite from the 1-in-3 rollers on gravel.  It did turn off onto another track but thankfully this one was flat - along the shore and over a bridge to return to my lunch spot as predicted.

Of course, when you're on your way home and retracing your steps, time goes much faster and you realise you weren't actually 30 miles off the map but probably about 3 miles away.  Still, I gave some walkers some directions (people going completely the wrong way without a map) and hope I save them a journey or a few hours in the sun.

Instead of retracing all of the bike path, I flopped off onto the coast road again - this time the A road section for a while.  It wasn't too bad.  Everyone passed sensibly and I got to suss out some interesting swim points in what might be a freshwater lake instead of a jelly-fish infested sea.  The ride back down the road was uneventful except for the drop into the campsite which I took at speed and the ramp upto the campervan which I challenged myself to roll through.  Quite successfully as I popped out  of the top with a squidge of the suspension and rolled straight up to the van.

After half an hour of sitting in the sun the wetsuit was on and I waded out into the sea (tide fully in) for a swim.  Unfortunately the beach didn't drop away nearly as much as I'd hoped and my swim for about 15 minutes was a wet walk followed by a short swim followed by some crocodile walking followed by more upright walking and finally I got swimming.

I was already primed for jelly fish and very vigilant this time.  Every weed made me jump.  Every bit of driftwood made me squeal.  Then I saw the edge!  The shallow beach just disappeared into an abyss.  I have no idea how deep it was because I just couldn't look at it.  The slope went from 2% to 60%.  I swam along the edge of the abyss towards the next line of boats moored at some houses along the inlet from the campsite.  I swam as far as I dared as I didn't want to get into boating territory.  Then I turned around and swam back along the edge of the abyss.  At the edge of the shelf my fingers only just cleared the sand.  I didn't dare swim any further over the edge for fear that something would come out of the blackness and eat me, sting me or, worse, drag me in!

I decided to face my fear and swam back along the edge, occasionally allowing myself to glance into the blackness.  All that was there was weeds so I decided I was better off without it.  I continued along the edge and ignored the abyss.

Finally I found a lilac coloured starfish which completely enchanted me.  Each of its tentacles was about the size of my thumb and it had possibly just devoured a clam as it had a clam shell on top of it.  It was beautiful and alive and real and probably the best thing I have ever seen under water myself.  I flopped about in the water and looked at it again, my feet now bobbing out of the water because I had nowhere else to put them.

I looked at the starfish for as long as someone (even as enchanted by things as me) can look at a starfish then started to make my way inshore.  It was bizarrely satisfying watching the earth slip by in front of my face as I made each stroke with my arms and the waves (what there were of waves) gently washed me to shore.   When I lost the ability to crawl, I used breast stroke - keeping my head under water as much as possible to look out for the pesky jelly-fish.  I enjoyed being pushed along by the waves so much, I took another turn at it.  Eventually I decided I looked ridiculous, flopping around in the water and stood up again for the long walk back to the vanu.

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