The Arctic Race of Norway

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I awoke ridiculously early, my legs on fire with itchiness from my mosquito run-in yesterday. The bites were so thick we actually questioned whether a mosquito could have done so much damage. It almost looked like I had a rash, but as the day wore on, it was clear that I’d simply been the victim of an army of bloodsucking bugs.

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We were still retracing our steps from yesterday, and drove slowly into town, the morning brilliantly lit up, boats bobbing in glittering harbors. We stopped briefly at the Viking Museum, which hadn’t yet opened for the morning and took a quick snapshot of the cool structure perched on the top of a radiant green hill.

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The going was as beautiful as it had been yesterday. (Ben’s note: We stopped on a new long stretch of beach with a stony river running  through the middle of the white sand.  It was so cool!) (Bree’s note: The dirty river was the cool part of the perfect beach with the turquoise water? I guess?) We wandered the sand, watching a cute dog play fetch in and out of the chilly water.

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An hour or so later, we reached Svolvaer which was still closed to traffic for the race. We parked a few blocks away and meandered toward the town square. We browsed the souvenir shops for a while and then began a hunt to see if we could find any boxes in which we could pack our bikes for the flight home. The bike shop had just thrown their extras away and no one else seemed to understand what we needed.

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At least we managed to find ourselves some wienerbrod, which we purchased with our leftover Krona from our last visit to Norway. It was good to use up the clanging pile of change from the camera bag. Then, we hit the road again, headed for a spot where we could watch the bike race.

About ten kilometers out of town, our car started dinging and the gas light went on. Annoyed, we bemoaned why it couldn’t have let us know earlier (Ben’s note: The gauge is of the stupid electronic variety. When we left town we had 2 of 6 bars which would have been plenty of fuel. The 2nd bar ticked away just as we left town). The road back to town had just been closed behind us and the next gas station was likely very far away.

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We drove and drove and no petrol stations appeared. We stopped twice to ask about the nearest petrol station, where a couple of worn out looking guys informed me of a pump only 20 kilometers away, but then warned me that yesterday the tank had been empty. I guess i shouldn’t have been surprised that in rugged Norway gas stations are hard to find and sometimes have no gas in them, but I was. We sat around trying to decide whether to pursue the possibility of an empty petrol station or to drive the other way where we might be more likely to find a better supply. We opted for the longer but more sure route, and proceeded to hold our breath for 35 kilometers, including one nearly seven kilometer long tunnel. Getting stuck in the middle of that would have been unfortunate.

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We breathed a huge sigh of relief when the ESSO station came into view. With a full tank and our water supply restocked, we got to looking once again for more packing boxes. The local bike shop was closed due to the race, but next door a toy store provided us with a messy pile of fairly small boxes. They weren’t really what we needed, but we would have to make do.

We added the pile of cardboard to the top of the mess of stuff in our backseat and then headed toward the sidelines of the race. The Arctic Race of Norway is a three day stage race, with long stretches through the islands. It crosses plenty of hills, bridges, tunnels. We even noted that in the long tunnel that cross under the ocean, they were staging a hill climb contest. I can’t imagine riding in a peloton through a steep, dimly lit tunnel trying to win a prize for climbing the fastest.

We found a big parking lot at the edge of the route where tons of people were camping out, ready to watch the race go by. Almost everyone had a Norwegian flag and plenty of people were dressed up. People lined the roads, filled the parking lots, and perched on top of the green roof of a nearby government building. Tiny kids were decked out in cycling garb on two wheeled bikes racing around the parking lot which made us laugh. No one cares about cycling this much at home! The whole crowd cheered every time pretty much anything happened including when race vehicles drove by, the live band played, or a helicopter flew over. It was quite the roadside party (Ben’s note: We weren’t at the only venue for watching the race, either. As we drove along the route we kept seeing clusters of people camped out, having a party while waiting for the riders to race by).

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We dawdled around for nearly an hour, trying to figure out where we wanted to stand. Race officials and police drove by, and then finally, the peloton came blazing around the corner. A huge rush of energy burst through the street. We were near the feed zone, so as the racers zoomed by, they were chucking their garbage and musette bags, still going faster than we would have been comfortable driving on the road. Somehow they were eating while positively flying through the course. They were gone almost as fast as they’d arrived. The wave of support vehicles came next, frantically rushing down the road. It was almost its own race: branded cars with colored bikes perched on top driving dangerously fast, way too close to each other. The whole thing was over in about three seconds, leaving us to stand and look at each other, a bit stunned. It was short lived, but it was terribly impressive.

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With the race gone, the road opened back up, leaving the whole area in complete gridlock. Instead of waiting in traffic, we got to work on our newly acquired boxes, rebuilding them to the proper size for airline travel. They weren’t at all the right size or shape and so we were patching together pieces to make each box. It was a slow, ridiculous process that we were tackling right in the busy parking lot. The old couple in the RV parked next to us was especially fixated with our project. They sat in the front seats of their car, intently watching us as we self-consciously cut the boxes down with our knife and patchworked them back together with and endless string of packing tape.

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We made dinner in the parking lot too, boiling our pasta and eating from our stools while our onlookers in their fancy RV steadfastly gazed on. Then, we broke the bikes down and packed them as tightly as possible, given that we were still missing a necessary tool to get the pedals off my bike.

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Then, we tossed our stuff back in the car, the pile just as unruly as before, and hit the road, back toward Sweden. Our route passed the final phase of the race which would take place tomorrow, and the locals were out decorating their driveways and lawns with signs and painted bikes. A huge group of people installing a gigantic bicycle on the side of the road using a cherry picker to put it in place. We stopped to stare with the rest of the locals, amused to note that the huge contraption was so meticulously made that it had wheels and pedals that actually turned.

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Ninety minutes later, we pulled off the main highway and cruised down a side road until it dumped us out in a dead end dirt track overlooking the ocean. By now it was freezing out so we layered up, pitched our tent and were asleep in minutes.

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2 Responses

  1. Debbie says:

    You certainly are going to have the box making for bikes down to a science! See you soon!

  2. Kim says:

    Okay, I admit it. I had to look up the word “peloton”. I learned something new.

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