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Regarding Danger

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Regarding Danger

Now that the last few updates have painted a perfect rosy picture of cycling, it’s a good time to talk about the other side of bicycle touring. You see, I’ve been thinking about the dangers and risks of adventuring lately. And for a reason.

On Leksdalsvatnet south of Steinkjer, I found a fantastic campsite. Probably the best one so far. Right by a lake beach there was a large shelter and barbeque pit, with firewood and a toilet. The water temperature was something like 20C, which felt like a heated swimming pool after the hypothermia-inducing waters of the north. The countryside gravel road that brought me to this place didn’t see too many cars.

There was no need for my rule about great campsites. It was morning and I’d been traveling all night and had already been looking for a place to crash. This was perfect. I pitched my tent on the sand and was almost ready to crawl into the sleeping bag.

And that’s when I found a tick on my leg.

Different shades of mountains disappearing into the distance.

Ticks are a rather disgusting sight. Of all the dangers of bicycle touring, none are as small and insidious as these awful creatures. After biting you, they latch on for days and can spread a variety of nasty diseases.

This one was a nymph tick, which is tiny and hence particularly difficult to spot and remove. I didn’t have a proper tool with me (which I made a note to correct as soon as possible), so I went with the “loop a string around it” method. It was so close to the skin I even had to carefully shave a few hairs around it to stop them from getting in the way of the operation. This was not one of the highlights of my trip so far.

It was finicky business, but the intruder eventually came off. I cleaned up and went to sleep.

Pine tree silhouette at dusk.

When I woke up (at the perfectly normal hour of 7pm), I felt a bit frazzled at the thought of Lyme disease and other possibilities. Not in the mood for continuing yet, I decided to do a small reset. The campsite was excellent after all, and I’d been cycling well above my daily average lately, so I needed rest anyway.

After breakfast I started with the dirty work. I lubed my chain, tightened the breaks and tidied up some mud and dust off the bike. Then I washed my clothes and went for a swim to clean myself.

In the water there was time to think. The sun was setting, bathing the clouds in a deepening orange light. I was gently floating on the surface with my hands behind my head, as I always do. On every exhalation my chest fell below the water, and rose again when I breathed in. Up and down, rise and fall. The tempo gradually slowed down. Floating like this is so relaxing I often wonder if it would be possible to fall asleep on water.

Still water reflecting a sunset.

Okay - yes, many things can happen on a tour. Dangerous animals, accidents and diseases. But a lot can happen at home too. I had to remind myself of the principle behind this trip, which I allude to in my first post from the road, a few hours into the journey:

"Whatever happens from this moment on, the most important thing is that I've chosen to live life my way, without letting fear get in the way of my goals."

A life chained by fear is a life wasted, and that’s the biggest danger of all.

Not to mention the fact that life is fragile, no matter what we do. It can already end any day, so attempting to find safety and security within it is a pointless exercise. Even dying on tour is better than never living at home. Plus the day I decide to forget my dream of a world expedition as too dangerous, can be the day I slip and fall in the shower. Or get hit by a car on my “much safer” home street.

Leksdalsvatnet at night with the moon behind clouds.

By the time I got out of the water, the clouds were dark gray. The lights of farm houses far away on the other side of the lake were reflected off the surface. I made a fire and sat down to watch it.

There is something automatically calming about a campfire. It must be coded in our DNA after aeons of using fire to protect us from the elements and animals. By the flames, our minds stop racing, voices lower, movements slow down. Silence grows.

Yeah. I’d be alright.

 

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The Greatest Feeling in the World

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The Greatest Feeling in the World

Bicycle touring isn’t always easy, but when everything falls into place, it’s pure bliss.

I had been riding completely in the zone for a while, with my mind at ease and generally feeling thrilled about life. I had the priviledge of cycling in some of the most amazing scenery in the world, taking as many photos and time-lapses as I wanted. If I was a millionaire, this is exactly what I would be doing anyway. There is no use for riches when you're already living your dream.

View of the mountains and sea in Norway.

In this mode, even small temporary obstacles don’t matter. If you can call the longest tunnel in Norway’s Nordland small. Or indeed temporary. The Toven tunnel was a 10km feat of modern engineering right through solid rock. And bicycles weren’t allowed.

I had been previously warned of this tunnel, but a quick look at the map had showed an alternative path via Holandsvika and Kviting. It was a long detour, but 40km of scenic views was still preferable to 10km of horrible darkness. But at the nearby village I learned that that road was closed due to a rock slide. Supposedly with little plans to reopen it. The alternative to that was three days of riding.

So I chose to hitchhike. I stopped at the entrance of the tunnel, and the first car I saw was a small van. I put my thumb up and it stopped! This was easier than I thought.

I was greeted by three immigrants in a cleaning service van on the way back from work. Unfortunately the rear turned out to be too full for even just the bicycle, and the front row was already crowded so there was no room for me either. I thanked them anyway, for stopping without hesitation. They drove off and I continued looking for a ride.

Black and white fjord.

The next several drivers with vans, trailers and caravans weren’t as willing to stop. Which gave me time to ponder.

I haven’t really hitchhiked before, but realized it’s a wonderful learning experience. Even besides the obvious benefit of getting to have a cheap adventure and meeting interesting people, the act itself contains valuable life lessons. Every car that passes is a type of rejection, and you need to learn to just forget about it, move on, and focus on the next car and opportunity. Dealing with a “no” becomes easier fast. There is very obvious benefit from this in many aspects of life.

And then at the end, assuming you are persistent, there is a major boost of faith (in humanity, the universe, or whatever you may have faith in) when you do get picked up by someone.

After half an hour a friendly young guy with a van and a trailer stopped. The trailer was empty so I simply rolled my bike in, hopped on board and got a ride through the tunnel. Soon I was back on two wheels again, feeling happier than ever thanks to this complete stranger’s selfless assistance.

Picking up a hitchhiking bicycle tourer.
Hazy orange sunset by the ocean.

In Sandnessjøen I got on a ferry to Dønna at sunset, and eventually found a campsite by a small quiet beach. To my delight, for the first time all summer the water felt warm enough to go swimming. Not just “splash water on myself quickly and get the hell out of there”, but actually enjoyable. I had been waiting a long time for this moment. There’s no better feeling than a cooling swim after long hot day on the saddle.

It was already past midnight, but the summer night was perfectly warm. I was in a sheltered cove with no-one around for miles. No cars were on the road. The whole island seemed to be asleep. So I went skinny dipping.

Now I don’t know if muscles can literally melt, but that’s exactly what it felt like. All the sweat, dust, and dirt washed off, replaced by total relaxation. I just floated on the surface like I was lying on a gigantic waterbed. The only sound came from a curious little [insert bird knowledge here] flapping around above me. The nights weren’t yet fully dark, but a single star shone in the sky. A taste of the millions that would soon again be visible.

It was another moment of sheer ecstasy. Oh boy. If you’ve never gone swimming naked in the middle of the night in a serene Norwegian fjord after cycling 1500 kilometers, I can’t recommend it enough.

A pier at sunset in a Norwegian fishing village.

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