I woke up at 5am to an email from mum. Along with all the usual jibber-jabber and rainbow winky face emoticons she sent, was a bombshell. I owe a few thousand dollars to the Australian tax department – even though yeh, I already paid my taxes.
The reason I bring this up is because it’s funny to contrast my reaction to yesterday. Yesterday, I was calm and used reason to solve my problem. My bike battery went flat, I shrugged away the stress and dealt with the issue. This morning I felt like I’d been thrown into a black hole. I drowned in panic.
“Yesterday, I was calm and used reason to solve my problem… I shrugged away the stress and dealt with the issue. This morning I felt like I’d been thrown into a black hole.”
It’s topsy turvy that something so alien, so far away to me right now, could set me on a path of self doubt and panic, and yet, the idea that I might actually die, or be lost somewhere without shelter doesn’t frighten me at all. I don’t react, I just get to work and fix the problem. I never worry that I won’t have a place to sleep at night – I’d just keep on going until I did. Things always work out. Maybe it has something to do with things that are out of my control, like money. Which I have very very little of right now. Or that paying the tax man is such an abstract, intangible concept – something I can’t physically solve with my hands (by supergluing, punching etc).
What I thought’d happen
Oh, you know – the usual.
What actually happened
Had a meltdown. Got lost. Ran out of fuel. Lead me to unexpected places with unbelievable views. You know – the usual.
I stumbled out of my tent and began organising things for the day. I charged up my equipment in the campsite kitchen whilst I slurped down my cereal like a wild pig. It seems I’ve become accustomed to being alone — and being extremely hungry.
After a short while a fellow camper walked in. Probably after seeing me vacuum down my food, the cereal crumbs and milk still stuck to my lip like an iced cookie moustache, and my forlorn look as I peered up at him like a lost basset hound, he took pity on me and kindly offered a biscuit. It seems I can’t go forever (exactly one day) without pining for human contact. Pitiful.
Aurland – Geirenger
There’s two ways you can drive from Aurlandsvangen north. You can take the 24 km Laerdal tunnel — the world’s longest tunnel. Or you can take Bjørgavegen, otherwise known as ‘the snow road’, which twists and twirls up the mountain with spectacular views at Stegastein viewpoint. Both have their advantages, the tunnel for its four beautifully lit caves, and the old road for its views. The choice is yours, but I opted for the latter. I can’t think of anything worse than 24km of cold, damp tunnel on a motorbike.
Is an incredibly steep road — but extremely fun if you love tight corners. Every segment of road provides an amazing view. Ride one segment, turn a corner and ride up another, just when you think the view can’t get any better, turn and ride again… *cries. Besides, it takes you past Stegastein. No words needed. Just this picture:
Onwards I drove from Stegastein, passing a deserted landscape, save for a few sheep and green moss, until I reached Ovre Ardal. At Ovre Ardal I turned onto Tindevegen, a small road skirting the west of Jotunheimen national park.
A biker I met at Aurlandsvangen campsite mentioned Tindevegen was an unknown but unmissable road. Turns out he was right. Spiraling up the mountain and then breaking out onto a snowy plateau, ice melt ran into rivers that trickled by the road and pooled in the large craters, crystal clear and shimmering in the sunlight. Everything was a tint of blue. The cyan sky, the sapphire water, the blue steel road. The air was sharp and clear. It burnt like ice.
I whizzed up to the end of Tindevegen and made a hasty left onto highway 55. I then wound downhill around what seemed like a million switchbacks. Engine braking in 1st gear, I shoved my left hand in between my thighs and squeezed my glove off, leaving it jammed in between my legs and the seat. I whipped my hand back to the handlebars just in time as I reached the next corner. I made the turn, then on the next straight, relished the precious seconds to simultaneously dodge traffic and finger bash my GPS to find my location. On and on this went until I realised. I was going the wrong way.
Unable to turn around on such a narrow road, I followed it for what seemed an eternity. Of course as soon as I reached the bottom. Right on cue. Fuel light. Ding.
It’s not easy to find fuel in Norway. I already learned this the hard way. Today would not be another one of those days. I continued on to the next town, Fortun, where I fueled up. Then I headed back through the town and laboriously made my way up the mountain to that bloody fork in the road.
I guess it’s not all that bad though. Look at this view.
What an amazing world
If I hadn’t been so determined to ride through Fossbergom I could have taken the FV332 north from Fortun. But I had good reason. Riding to the west, the colossal snowcapped mountains of Jotunheimen national park (literally translated as ‘home of the giants’) loomed overhead. The hills prickled with pines like soldiers standing to attention. The trees scattered along the shores of a milky river that flowed within inches of the road. Pale and translucent turquoise, I could see the grey pebbles beneath its rushing surface as it danced with the road across the landscape before widening into a deep lake at Fossbergom.
I rolled into town and it was bigger than I expected. Campsites with huge wooden signs ‘5 stars’, ‘wifi’, ‘restaurant’, lined the main street. Each a gateway to row upon row of black wooden cabins, their awnings iced white, their panes warmed from the merriment inside. I pitied my inability to afford such luxury.
Blinded by hunger, my decision making ability faded. On my second lap through town I noticed a wooden building with burned panels contrasting the ornamental timber roof. I swerved into the carpark, turned off my bike and grabbed a bunch of carrots to snack on whilst I walked through to the garden surrounding the weathered building.
It was a church and it stood grandly amongst rows of neatly curated gravestones, eerily cheerful with their candy flowers on a bed of bright green grass. Nearby an old lady bent down with a picnic basket and re-arranged the flowers on a stone. I padded over the soft grass to the church and read — Lom Stave Church.
Finding a campsite
I followed that lovely turquoise river out of town, catching occasional glimpses of its shimmering surface through the thick fir trees. The sound of the water mingling with the purr of my bike as I rode toward the low sun. It’s fiery orb blazing through my tinted visor, searing my vision. I held my left hand up to provide some relief, but it was tiring, so I pulled over to rest.
On the side of the road, to my right, rose a steep hill with a smattering of trees — logging widows. I hiked up the hill a little and sat on a lone rock, eating chicken and watching semi-trailers roar past below. I stood up, yawned and sauntered back down the hillside, scouting for a place to pitch my tent. Small prickly bushes, a burnt orange colour, occupied the space between fallen trees and roots. It was no use. I’d have to keep going.
I continued on in a weary daze until suddenly, momentarily, a bright blob of red smeared my peripheral vision. It took a moment to register as I whizzed past, but once I made sense of it I knew I should turn back. I found a rest area further on and, careful not to slip on the sandy gravel, swung into a wide U-turn. I hastily sped back to where I had seen the red smudge moments earlier.
As the thick barrier of trees parted a small clearing became visible and I sighed with relief — I’d found a home for the night (even if I was taking somebody else’s spot). I turned off the road and slowly idled across the grass and dirt, weaving through the trees into the open space. Stand down, turn key, engine off. Three satisfying sounds to a tired traveller.
I waved at the thick, burly man tending to his obscene red and yellow tent. He waved back and walked over. “It’s not a good idea to camp here I think, because of the trucks, better over there” he said kindly, and pointed further into the woods away from the road. I agreed but there was no way I’d get my motorcycle through thick forest with everything on it — 400kgs is hard to balance on two wheels. I untied my luggage, leaving it sprawled defenseless in the bushes, and rode down to the back of the clearing, following faintly pressed tracks in the undergrowth. Then I saw it. The river.
The sun had now sunk below the horizon, leaving a pink and mauve sky with pulled wool clouds reflected on the rushing water. The river was shallow and translucent at the edges before deepening into a milky dark blue in the middle. The gorgeous pebbly banks, smoothed by the unrelenting torrent, sparkled with the last remaining light. I walked up to the waters edge, where erosion stopped the forest in its tracks, and found a perfect patch of flat grass overlooking the stunning scene.
I smiled and hugged myself. Some people are so poor all they have is money.
What I learned today:
- Be proud to be poor. Luxury does not equal authenticity.
- Having nothing means experiencing everything