Debunking the myth: adventures are always fun
I’ll be staying with a friend (Sophie) in Oslo for the next few days. I anticipated arriving at Soph’s early today, but by the time I was organised to leave she had to go to work. I was so excited about leaving Gothenburg (because it’s shit as I mention here), that I decided I couldn’t wait. I’d leave tonight and meet her at her work to pick up the keys.
▣ Highly recommend ▣ Boring but safe ▣ Shit. Boring, strenuous & dangerous ▣ Incomplete
What I thought would happen
I’d ride off into the sunset and feel freedom for the first time.
What actually happened
I rode through a ferocious thunderstorm in total blackness.
I left at 9pm. It takes 3 and a half hours to get to Oslo from Gothenburg so I aimed to arrive and pick up the keys around midnight. It seemed like a great idea at the time. Mostly because I’m still used to Iceland’s eternal daylight. But it wasn’t.
I set off as the sun set. It was a beautiful night with moist air and a mellow temperature, reminiscent of summer (oh wait it is summer…if that’s a thing in Scandinavia). I flew through the air on the highway – it smelled of freshly cut grass and sea salt. That’s something sadly non-motorcyclists will never understand. You can’t smell life in a car.
The sun set quickly and as I drove through the dark the few cars driving along side me started to disperse one by one into the horizon. Until it was just me. Just me, my engine, the smell of pine needles and a live recording of Led Zeppellin – the only album that had managed to sync to my phone before I left.
A fine mist of rain has now transformed into fairly solid drops. I pull into another service station to put on my weather gear and the fuel light conveniently comes on. Two birds with one stone. Sophie is waiting for me to pick up the keys at 12 from her work. Google says I will now arrive at 1am. All I can think about it is what I’ll do if I arrive so late that Sophie has finished work and goes home. Then I have to find my way to her house in pitch black without any way to contact her. There is no time to wait the storm out, I have to drive through it.
I zip a thin ‘waterproof’ layer into my summer pants and chuck a goretex jacket over the top of my leather jacket. I leave my sleeping bag and tent unprotected. My hands in thin leather gloves.
The rain pounds down. I pull out of the service station and down the road to find the highway turnoff. It is dark. So incredibly dark. Dark like somebody took a sharpie to the world and I’m looking for a tiny two way service lane with no reflective posts and with no sign to turn off. Of course, I miss it.
I realise as I ride past but my helmet’s fogged and it’s raining too hard to open my visor. I ride on down the tiny road. Cars whoosh past with their high beams on, tidal waves of water bucketing into me as I practically ride blind. I wave them down, trying in vain to tell the assholes to turn their lights down. They don’t. Fucking assholes.
I stop my bike in the middle of my lane until every asshole passes me. When the oncoming direction is clear I pull up my visor and squint to judge the road’s width. It’s possible to turn my bike but I’d have to be fast and precise. If I drop it now I’ll have no chance of picking it up in time before somebody hits me. I take the first swing, screaming at myself in the helmet that I could do it. That the consequences would be more than just money if I didn’t. This could cost me my life. It was a very dramatic scene inside my foggy, rain splattered helmet.
Now perpendicular to the road, I squeeze the clutch and slowly walk myself backwards to the edge of the other side of the road. Every single muscle in my body tense, I look away from the incoming car, take the final swerve and speed off.
But I feel no relief. The rain’s gushing in my eyes like a blown faucet and I’m looking for that god damn exit again. Only when I’m on the highway can I balance to wipe the fog from my visor. I find the exit and a car waits patiently for me to turn. It feels like a lifetime making that turn into nothingness. But I make it, and I’m back on the highway.
Water pounds into my body as I whip through the heavy rain. At first it’s pleasant, a prickly massage, but then over and over it lashes, an unrelenting force of needles piercing my body.
It’s a weird sensation. The sound – like rain on a tin roof –is calming, but the situation is violent and confronting. The knowledge that at any moment I might hit something I simply can’t see sends shivers down my spine.
I pass through a small tunnel. Making the most of the light, I glance down to find my hand warmer switch. I look down for half a second at most, but that half a second is enough time to send me whizzing out of the tunnel and into the gravel ditch by the side of the highway. It feels like forever. My mind must be slowing time, because when I look up and realise I’m 20cm away from the edge my blood runs cold, and in that microsecond I make the decision to save myself and pull away. And I make it. I can’t believe it. Back on the slippery wet asphelt again. This time deathly scared and cursing my stupidity.
I’m driving through the worst rain Norweigans have seen in quite some time. That’s saying something. The problem is not the rain though, I can deal with being cold and wet. The problem is the darkness. Between Norway and Sweden there are no lights, some parts don’t even have reflectors marking the roads. And my tiny little lights only dimly light up a couple of meters in front.
I reach the border and I pass through the tolls with no hassle – there’s nobody around and the signs say motorcycles: zero SEK. So I assume that means we pass in for free. Yay.
I roll up to three very unimpressed officers standing under a shelter. I would be too if I was out in icy cold rain at 1am. Oh wait.
They check my plates and wave me through, no issues here – except for 20 kilos of heroine hurtling down a highway.
I’m finally in Oslo city, speeding down a gigantic motorway. Suddenly it’s even darker than I thought possible. The road is large enough for two lanes but there are no white dividing lines. There are no reflectors. Nothing.
The rain pours down onto the road. It’s hard to tell if what I’m looking at is real or a reflection. The black wet surface is smeared with neon oil. I merge into the right lane and suddenly my bike slips. My bike wobbles precariously and I half take a dive to the cold hard pavement on my right.
I’m lucky I spent the money on a great bike with fucking fantastic new tires. Oh my beautiful BMW650. I love you so. So so so much. She corrects herself at the last minute and somehow, I have no idea how, I end upright again. I don’t even know what I hit.
And then I’m crying again. I’m cold and tired and scared and I’m naive and stressed and inexperienced. One day I’ll realise crying gets me nothing but a foggy helmet.
I’m an hour and a half late. The anxiety of trying to make it to a deadline, in a foreign place in darkness and in the rain – is simply a fucked combination. Don’t do it.
I take a turn off too early and end up on a ring road to another highway. This is my first glimpse at the ever sprawling network of motorways that define Oslo.
Experience has told me if you make a wrong turn off a highway, take the first exit and continue to take exits until you are back on the first one. After my 4th ring road, I’m back to where I started and onwards again. I’m an expert at remedying mistakes.
I’m now driving through the dead of night in suburban Oslo. I approach a roundabout and practically wade my bike through the flooded road to the other side. It’s dead silent aside from the patter of rain.
I pull into where I think Sophie works, only to find myself at a dead end of an alley with two parking spaces at the end. The end is fenced off with barbed wire. Where the fuck have I got myself. I squeeze out a 3 point turn and splutter down to the main road.
I arrive at the right place. The security guard from Sophie’s work meets me in the rain and shows me into the building.
Upstairs is calm and warm with soft chatter. And then there’s me. A dripping wet, chattering wilderbeast. When I walk, my textile pants go ‘whoosh whoosh’ and my leather boots overflow with water, like two tiny bubbling water features. I’m like a snail, sludging my way across the floor, leaving a large trail of water as I go.
Sophie needs to wait for her friend to finish work but see’s my trembling face and instead takes me home.
I have never appreciated a shower as much as I did that night. I melted out the old Jess and re-built Jess 2.0. Jess 2.0 doesn’t ride in the dark by the way. Nor in a thunderstorm.
Sophie went back to pick up her friend. I collapsed at 3am on the softest bed known to mankind.
What I learned today:
- Don’t ride in the dark
- Don’t ride through a thunderstorm