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tunnel

At the Foot of the Alps

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At the Foot of the Alps

So I spent a few days cycling at night with the plan to stop when I reached an interesting area. My hopes were high for Lake Garda, which people had recommended. When I got there, I was severely disappointed.

Perhaps for Italian standards it’s a nice nature holiday destination, but what I experienced was a purgatory of excessive tourism. Almost the entire lake was surrounded by nothing but shops, cafes, bars, restaurants, ice-cream shops, bakeries, night clubs, hotels, trinket stalls, and all the things that tourism attracts. Finding a nice quiet beach for a swim was hopeless. And high season hadn't even begun yet.

The lake itself was quite nice (except for the water smelling bad), and the surrounding mountains were pretty (except for the air pollution that blocked visibility). Once upon a time it must’ve been a great area to visit. Now however, I found very little I liked. Even the 140km “floating bicycle path” above the lake that I had been hearing about didn’t exist yet. “Partially finished” apparently referred to one 200m stretch, with another 1km about to be opened next month.

Overall, the whole place really served as a warning for what happens when construction and development is left unchecked. I shuddered at the thought of Finnish Lapland being equally ruined some day. Even if tourism brings jobs and economic benefits, it might end up destroying everything that’s beautiful on the planet.

At least on the hillier northwest side there was still a bit of nature left. The ground was so uneven I still had to sleep on the old road that had been blocked from cars when they built a new tunnel through the hill.

I do like these old roads, and how calm they are compared to the traffic and noise going through the mountain.

On the north side of the lake there were a couple positive experiences. Outside the grocery store I chatted with a nice lady who had the kind of smile that instantly tells you this is someone with a kind heart and warm attitude. And in Torbole I stopped in a bar and got advice from a friendly local who convinced me to change my route away from Trento. He said a detour further west would be much more beautiful. No problem, I have time. With the lake behind me and some nice mountains and bicycle paths ahead, I wanted to slow down anyway and actually enjoy the views.

This is more like it.

The next day started with a disaster. In a town called Dro I went to get a pizza for breakfast. It was a small bakery with no place to sit, so I started off to look for a bench to eat on. But just as I left I was almost floored by a huge crash a couple meters behind me. A car that had just passed me drove into a stone gate and fell over!

A very confused-looking old man was at the wheel, trying to sit sideways among shattered glass. The pizza maker came in, calmed down the driver and told him to turn off the engine and stay where he is, called 112, made sure none of the gathering crowd would try to do anything stupid like tilt the car back on their own, and then went back to make pizza. Almost like he had to deal with this kind of thing every week.

The fateful pizza.

The ambulance and fire truck were there within minutes to do their thing. The old man seemed outwardly okay as they dug him out, but of course that’s no guarantee that serious injuries were avoided.

I felt vaguely guilty afterwards. The alley was plenty wide for both of us, but maybe my presence as an interesting bicycle traveller was enough to cause a distraction. When everything was over, I ducked into a nearby church just to have a dark quiet place to relax for a moment.

What will be in store next?

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A Day to Forget

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A Day to Forget

On the Atlantic Road I had found a place to camp on a small mound. Surrounded only by weeds and grass, there was no shelter from the sun, which woke me up at noon - earlier than I would’ve liked.

The plan was to stay in the area for two or three days, relaxing and taking pictures. After breakfast and general morning laziness, I went for a cup of tea in a nearby cafe. Or tried to. Inside two construction guys were tearing open a metal plated wall with a circular saw, with the purpose of installing a new fireplace. The noise was hellish, so I aborted the mission. Instead I found a picnic table elsewhere for lunch.

The weather forecast suspected nothing but grey clouds in my near future, so I changed my thoughts of spending another night there. Good photos would be unavailable in those conditions, so may as well keep cycling. I don’t know where all the time went, considering I hadn’t done anything all day, but it was late afternoon or early evening when I hit the road.

Bus stop somewhere west of Trondheim.

On the bike there was a nagging feeling of something being wrong. I felt low on energy. I mentally rounded up the usual suspects: too little food the previous day, not enough sleep the previous night, too much sunshine in the morning, or insufficient rest days lately? Perhaps any or all of them. I decided to go extra slowly and listen to any further messages from my body. After the first 20km it started raining, so I ducked into a store for an hour to recharge batteries and eat ice cream.

By the evening I felt better and found my stride, cycling south towards Molde. Except soon enough, when it was already dark, I somehow got sidetracked off the main road without noticing. Only after several kilometres came the realisation that I’d been headed in the wrong direction. The road I was on added another 30km compared to the direct path. But I’d already started, so I resigned to the detour. Frankly it didn’t really make sense to take a scenic route, because there were no views beyond whatever was within the radius of my headlamp. On the other hand, turning back always seems demoralising, senseless - almost inhuman.

Post-sunset sky by the ocean in Middle-Norway.

I’ve never listened to anything on headphones while cycling. It always seemed better to actually experience my surroundings. But on this particular occasion I felt that a podcast in one ear was warranted. The rest of the night was spent pedalling with the help of Revisionist History, by Malcolm Gladwell. In case you’re not familiar, he’s an excellent storyteller who always finds a fascinating angle to almost any topic. Highly recommended.

In Molde I came across another surprise. What I had assumed to be a bridge towards Røvika actually turned out to be another tunnel where cyclists weren’t welcome. Oops. Sometimes I wish I spent a little time planning my route ahead, instead of just glancing at Google Maps haphazardly. The alternative was a 45km road all around Fannefjord. Having already cycled so many extra kilometres, I wasn’t eager for a second detour on the same day.

The bus was an option again, but it was the night or early morning, so they weren’t running yet. I was tired and not in the mood for.. anything, really. Most of all I didn’t want to stay in Molde, which was a much bigger city than I had anticipated to see in this area.

Village.jpg

Camping and making decisions only after sleeping would’ve been the best choice, but finding a campsite that close to a city isn’t always easy. Especially if you’re planning on sleeping until 4pm and have to deal with daytime traffic. There was a camping ground nearby, but those typically want you out by noon. Paying for a piece of lawn is bad enough, but I draw the line at also setting my alarm to wake up early for it. That would be ridiculous.

I just wanted out of the city. So instead of waiting for the tunnel bus, I called a taxi. On the other side morning was beginning to arrive and I felt exhausted. Soon enough I found a small spruce forest to sleep in.

All in all, this was a rather forgettable day with zero photos taken - all the photos here are previously unused frames from elsewhere in the trip. Since the blog is updated every three days, I could easily just leave out the less interesting parts from these posts (ie. all of the above). But I just wanted to show that some days are not so special - even when living your dream.

4/10 stars - and even that's only thanks to ice cream and Malcolm Gladwell.

Early morning in Norway.
 

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The Atlantic Road

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The Atlantic Road

When trying to leave Kristiansund I came across a 5km tunnel that went below the Atlantic Ocean. A tunnel that long is bad enough in itself, but this one also dove 250 meters under the sea, which of course meant a 250-meter climb back up. Even if cyclists had been allowed inside - which they weren’t - there was no way I would ever go in there.

Fortunately there was a bus connection. I sat down to wait. I missed the approach of the first one, and the driver passed by just waving her hands “nope”. Either there was no room for my bicycle, or the way I was lazily eating my sandwich suggested (correctly) that I would rather wait for another bus than hurry into this one.

One hour and several sandwiches later, the next bus arrived. There was barely enough room for a fully loaded bicycle, but with the help of the driver and a random passenger, I made it to the other side of the tunnel.

Windy stretch of the Atlantic Road.

The Atlantic Road was quite unlike anything I’ve seen before. It's this 8km stretch of road over tiny rocky islands dotted in the ocean between Vevang and Kårvåg. There are eight bridges connecting the islets, and the road has been voted Norway’s "Engineering Feat of the Century”. Which is certainly no small feat in a country with so many astounding bridges and tunnels.

Although holidays are ending, and the peak season with them, there were plenty of four-wheeled tourists around. While waiting for the sunset to begin I saw an older gentleman shooting with a Hasselblad film camera, and went over to strike a conversation. He had been photographing for almost 50 years and showed me a print book of some of his work. It was impressive - he certainly had more skill than I did.

I tend to just walk or cycle around with the camera and try to make discoveries, whereas he was a proper photographer who genuinely thought about light, planned for the best times to take each photo, and came back when conditions were right. With the results to prove it.

One of the Atlantic Road bridges.

Still, he lamented about how difficult it is to gain anyone’s interest with his work. Nowadays everyone thinks they’re a photographer. Without a publisher or an art gallery in your sleeve, it’s challenging to find an audience for printed photos. At least on the internet anyone can publish anything, even if getting noticed can be rather hit or miss. But obviously the online world isn’t for everybody. Sometimes he wondered what the point of all the traveling even was.

I reminded him we shoot largely for our own sake, as the process itself is its own reward. However, I do have to wonder whether photography had originally become this important to me without the benefit of at least a small audience. I certainly think about visibility - probably more than I should. (For example, my interest in updating Instagram dropped quite a bit some months ago when they changed their algorithms in line with Facebook’s, to make it much harder for large crowds to see your posts. With the intention of selling everyone their ads, of course.)

Sunset by some rocks.

The clouds started to look nice, so I went to find a place for a time-lapse. Around the walkway on Eldhusøya there were a number of other people also witnessing the sunset. Almost all of them had cameras. Everyone was pointing some kind of device or lens at everything. One guy was flying a drone. A young couple tried to get their dog to do various poses for a photo, then used a remote to shoot themselves holding hands in front of the landscape. DSLRs, cell phones, tripods, selfie sticks and flying cameras - everyone’s a photographer.

Was anyone really enjoying the beautiful sunset? Was I? Closer to the water, a burly bald guy was sitting on a rock, smoking a cigar and looking at the ocean. He seemed to have the right idea. Except for the cigar, anyway. I followed suit and sat down.

Okay - be present. Inhale. Feel the soft evening air. Exhale. See the oranges and purples in the sky. Scratch your hand. Hear the waves crashing against the shore. Feel the hand itching quite a bit actually. What the hell? I looked down to see a dozen tiny midges on my fingers and a whole cloud of them homing in on me. Far too many for any kind of mindfulness. The burly guy seemed to agree, as he was walking briskly away from his rock while waving his hands in the air.

I guess you can't always have moments of stillness, beauty and perfection. I finished my time-lapse and left.

Sun setting below the horizon at the ocean.
Long exposure of car headlights at the Atlantic Road.
 

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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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Never Thought I’d be Happy to See a Tunnel

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Never Thought I’d be Happy to See a Tunnel

What kind of circumstances does it require to make a 2.5 kilometer tunnel, all of it an uphill climb, look appealing to a cyclist? Cold, rain, and a laptop water damage emergency.

Let me paint a picture to those of you who have never cycled through a tunnel:

Imagine it’s summer. You’re on a bicycle tour. The sun is shining and birds are singing. You couldn’t be happier. Until you turn around a bend and your heart sinks. The road continues into blackness through a mountain.

So far I've also had to "imagine" summer.

All of a sudden, you’re banished from The Shire into the Mines of Moria. The temperature drops 20 degrees to near zero. Drops of icy water fall from the cracks in the rock onto your skin. The floor is wet and slippery. Strange echoes and creepy unidentifiable tunnel sounds, almost like whispers, slither into your ears.

You turn your head to try to light up every nook and crevice with your headlamp to look for monsters. Every two seconds your breath fogs up and hits the beam of light, essentially blinding you.

And then you hear the rumbling. They are coming.

One does not simply pedal into Mordor.

You start to cycle more frantically, trying to figure out if the sound is coming from the front or back. Then you see headlights behind you on the same lane. Shit. The rumbling builds into a deafening cascade of sound. The two bright dots in your rear view mirror fuse into one ball of pure light that burns your retinas. All the while you’re trying to cycle as straight as you can, which is not easy with a heavy bicycle in an uphill tunnel with an icy floor and severely compromised eyesight.

But there’s nowhere else to go. You can only hope the car passes safely.

And that's what tunnels are like.

This one's okay.

I try to avoid going through them whenever possible, but on Senja there usually aren’t alternative routes. So at the very least I make an effort to cycle through tunnels during very low traffic hours.

Hence, I never thought I’d be happy at the sight of the 2.5km Skaland tunnel. It had been raining for a while and I’d realized the rain cover of my backpack was leaking. That’s the one that contains the laptop and other important electronics, so water seeping into it was a huge problem. And there was no shelter anywhere. Until I spotted the tunnel. I could stay there by the side of the gate, safe from rain.

This looks like a fine place to camp!

I stayed there for a few hours until the weather cleared. There was little traffic, and it was split about evenly between drivers with a "best of luck with the weather!" kind of smile and wave, and the "what the hell is this guy doing?" stare.

Luckily no damage was done. But until I can find a more waterproof backpack, I need to figure out a whole new system of protecting my valuables.

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