Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Jetlag and fjords

The last few days, our first in Norway, brought to memory the sleeplessness of Al Pacino's character in Insomnia.  Incessant, never ending daylight streams through, my circadian clock so utterly confused and refusing to cooperate.  Dead tired in the afternoon, wide awake when the light starts streaming in at 4am.

(Ironically, I just learned that Insomnia was actually a remake of a 1997 Norwegian film of the same name.)

Our arrival was delayed 20 hours courtesy of various British Airways mishaps, followed by a sweaty, sleepless night in Oslo.  Though remarkably modern and design-oriented (I guess I should not be so surprised...this is Scandinavia), our Oslo hotel was ill-equipped for the recent heat wave, and the room was rather tropical to say the least.  As it turned out, the extra day lost to travel delays meant one less day in the sweat box / hot yoga room, which was just fine by us.

Once in Oslo, the travel stress diminished greatly.  Bike and bags appeared in moments, and getting through the sleek airport and into downtown on the high speed train was effortless and efficient.  Dragging a bike bag down cobbled streets is somewhat more challenging.  Feeling thankful for Dan's help already! 

Commencing the long road trip to the Western side of the Norway, we travelled to Mount Gaustatoppen on the second day for some race course recon.  Two hours of driving led us to the base of the mountain -approached from the road below, the summit menacingly looms overhead.  Admittedly my heart dropped into my feet on first sight of the daunting peak, rising sharply to 1883m over the countryside.  It would be the first of several of those moments over the next two days as I began to fully grasp exactly what the Norseman entails.  

Gausta looming over the road below
The peak was shrouded in cloud as we ascended the switchbacks and checked into the hillside chalet at Gaustablikk.  Having driven through all manner of threatening skies, driving rain and lightning on the way from Oslo, my expectation that we could reach the summit was well in check and we set out with our backpacks to check out the hiking trail on a best efforts basis.

A steep section of road links the town of Rjukan at the base to the trailhead at Stavsro.  This section of switchbacks and 8-10% incline paved road is known as "Zombie Hill", and is essentially like ascending Seymour before you even begin the hike.  Daunting?  Yes.

Heading up Zombie Hill...
The hiking trail to the summit is a well marked, rocky incline, about four and a half kilometres in total.  My goal was to get a sense of the terrain in advance of race day.  I am a creature of routine and find great comfort in familiarity.  Knowing this about myself, I wanted to know exactly what I was in for (fingers crossed that I will have the opportunity to ascend for the black t-shirt!).  

The Grouse Grind pales in comparison...
Amazingly, the clouds cleared as we started our climb and we were treated to incredible 360 degree views of the Norwegian countryside from the summit.  Our guidebook told us (and I will trust it on this) that 1/6th of Norway is visible from the peak on a clear day.  Whatever the expanse of the view truly is...it was undoubtedly incredible.
The top!
My takeaways from our hike to Gausta?  Up is definitely better than down, and the Grouse Grind will never seem hard again!  And as for how long it took to summit...I'm not telling :)

The glorious sunshine held over for the next day (omnipresent at 4am, streaming in the hotel window to disturb any possibility of sleeping in).  We justified the early wake up as race day acclimatization and accepted caffeine as the way forward through the day.  Luckily the Norwegians seem to be very fond of strong, strong coffee :)

Our day beheld driving the race course, lunch in Eidfjord, followed by a scenic drive along the fjords to our final stop in the coastal down of Bergen.  In one word:  stunning.  The further west we drove, the more incredible the scenery became.  Norway is expansive and wild (not dissimilar to the west coast of Canada), and is arguably one of the most beautiful countries I have ever been to.

The bike course is simply wild.  I have no words.  The terrain is a study in stark contrasts - from the sublime (lush valleys, bucolic farmland, rustic towns) to the relentless (steep climbs, technical descents, the wild plateaus) to the painstakingly engineered (tunnels and switchbacks galore).  Finding superlatives to describe it all is a challenge in and of itself, never mind contemplating that I am actually going to ride this thing.  Picture the north shore mountains all strung together, and you get pretty close.

There are a few hills here.  This isn't even all of them!
The flattest section of the course is also the highest, winding through the barren and windswept Hardangervidda plateau.  Picture the moon, with some glaciers thrown in.  In the theme of contrasts, the words bleak and stunning come to mind.

The daunting Hardangervidda plateau, with glaciers in the distance.
Bleak did not last long, however.  Following a harrowing descent into sheer cliffs, including several lengthy tunnels (the Norwegians are really into tunnels!), the town of Eidfjord and the Hardangerfjord appeared.  It is like being magically transported into Rivendale.  In fact, I swore to Dan several times that I was absolutely sure that hobbits live here.

The breathtaking Hardangerfjord.
 We enjoyed a lovely patio lunch, and dipped our toes into the water...then continued on our journey along the fjord.  The magical, breathtaking scenery of the fjords simply never stopped.  Rainbows, waterfalls, calm water, sheer cliffs, cute villages.  So real...and unreal.  It is remarkable to have the opportunity to travel to such a place, never mind have the chance to race in this setting.

Next up...a couple days of down time in Bergen.  We have checked into the most lovely little B&B and have plans for a good dose of nothing. Fingers and toes are crossed for a few good nights of sleep before we return to Eidfjord and get ready to race!

Quaint Bergen.

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