Another morning and another drizzling rain was upon us. Our commitment to get up and leave this morning wavered a bit, but eventually we packed up the soaking wet tent and tried to break camp. Unfortunately, our departure kept getting interrupted. First it was a screw coming loose from Ben’s rear rack. Then, we stopped to inflate tires. Then, we nearly forgot to fill our water bottles. Then, the line for the bathroom was abnormally long. And so it went until we finally departed well after 10 AM.
The beginnings of the ride were gorgeous, the world reflected perfectly from the glassy fjord. We pedaled quiet roads in only a misty rain. Still my mood wasn’t keeping up with the pace. So many soggy, chilly days in a row, mixed with concerns about internet access, injury, and even just lack of access to easy snack food in a country that appears to thrive mostly off of expensive seafood all mentally were nagging at my sense of adventure. I sure miss sunny, flat days of riding in abundant Eastern Europe.
Not surprisingly, the road quickly headed up a canyon where we began our first climb of the day. It wasn’t a particularly bad climb either, and we got to work grinding toward the top. Halfway there, the usual ache in my hip started growing and then morphing from a dull ache to a sharp pinch, the same one that plagued me before my cortisone shot in March.
Already feeling worn, the new pain left me feeling additionally panicky. We’re still a long way from having even remotely flat cycling days. What am I supposed to do with a serious injury on a long distance bike tour in hilly Norway? So, I did what I do best, put my head down, and just kept going.
Another half hour, and we’d reached what looked like the top (it wasn’t). We pedaled a few more flat minutes, before we reached a sign that pointed the bike route down the hill through the town of Solvern. Usually these signs show up only when a tunnel is imminent, so a bit hesitantly, we followed it. It only took us a couple of minutes to undo all our day’s climbing and soon, we were standing at the ferry harbor at a dead end.
My gut already knew what the ferry employee confirmed. The only way to go from here was to take the ferry across, ride through three, long, unlit tunnels, and then take the long way around the far end of the fjord to our destination. Otherwise, we had to go back the way we came – up the hill to the main road we’d just come from.
Since our headlamps didn’t serve Ben very well with his unlit tunnel encounter, there was no way I was picking that option. The ferry operator encouraged us, telling us we could always flag down a car and ask it to escort us through the dark tunnels, but the added distance plus the cost of the ferry still just didn’t add up. Pedaling back up the hill in so much pain though, was demoralizing. Back up we went, switchback after switchback, at which point, of course, it began to rain in earnest.
Cursing whoever signed the bike route, I stopped routinely to stretch out my hip until finally we reached the main road, which also was headed uphill. We pedaled uphill until we were pretty thoroughly soaked. No tunnel ever materialized. Then, we coasted down the other side. The slog up the hill wasn’t fun, but the downhill coast was just as bad. Water from my front wheel sprayed my shoes, my dry socks soaking up the muddy water and my hands turned to ice on my brakes. Mercifully, at least descending is faster than climbing.
Back at sea level for the third time today, we noted that this end of the same fjord is a lovely glacial blue color, presumably from the glacier we were headed uphill to visit. We only had 30 more kilometers of climbing up the glacial valley to get there.
Since this climb was slated to be less steep, I’d imagined it to be a cakewalk, but with intermittent rain drenching us, waiting just long enough for us to start to dry out, and then pouring on us all over again, it felt long and miserable. We passed dozens of lovely wild camping options, but our need to get connected pushed us on and on, our moods both pretty sour. Then, we reached an unlit tunnel. We started digging nervously around for our lights, while I thought of the ferry operator’s advice. I attempted to flag down a car to assist us. The first two cars didn’t seem to understand what I was after, they both waved cheerfully back at me, but the third car pulled over and agreed to drive behind us through the short tunnel to make sure we could see and that we wouldn’t be hit.*Note: the following picture is not the tunnel that we were escorted through. That one was about half a kilometer long with a bend in the middle, making it quite dark inside.
After such a discouraging day, to have one thing work out so well left me feeling overwhelmingly thankful. The couple followed us through the short tunnel, lighting our way, making what might have otherwise been ta terrifying ride a non-issue. Then, we got back to cranking uphill in the rain, the baby blue water roaring in the river at our side.
We made only one other stop at a tiny white church set near the river, open for visitors. The painted wooden interior was unlike any church we’ve seen so far both in subject and in mood. It was empty, and so I felt free to take a few pictures.
Finally, soaking wet and cold, we rolled into the campground where I inquired fervently about the internet. There is no way to convey the importance of having wifi to a campground host without sounding like a Facebook absorbed Millennial but I hardly cared. She reported that she thought it would be good enough to let Ben make his call. Then, she informed us that the campground had a community kitchen and room for hanging out as well as hooks in the broiler room for us to dry our clothes. With all of this taking place still standing in the never-ending rain, I could have hugged her.
We set up the soaking wet tent in the soaking wet grass and loaded the soaking wet panniers into it, cringing at how many days it has been since anything has had a chance to dry out. We fished out our supplies for dinner, a pile of drippy clothing for the broiler room, and our laptops and headed into the warm indoors to dry our stuff, make some food, and get connected using yet another laggy internet connection.
Later, as I sat at a communal table, a lovely Dutch lady sat down across from me. “I saw you in Flam!” she declared. Unconvinced that I was that easy to recognize without my helmet or my bike, I asked her if she’d been there two days ago. She confirmed that she was, and that she’d seen us move from terrace 4 down to the bottom to avoid the wind. She had us pegged!
Before long, she’d taken her husband’s cup and gotten me some tea and shared her chocolate with me while she asked all about our trip and told us about their day on the glacier. Her cheeriness and kindness warmed an otherwise challenging day.