(Photo: Joe Newton on duck boards.)
We bend left where Runar kept descending. He’ll scale that ridge ahead wending a way to a rural rail station, take the train to stop in and visit his father and then head back to Denmark to return to his surgical residency. When he parted we all shook hands and nodded that we’d reconnect on some future trip. Wordless interlocking harmony, there are people you can travel with and people you can’t. These things aren’t the same as friendship, but there is that, too.
Mikkel and I have a couple of days of traverse southwest to meet up with Joe Newton who’s coming from his home in Bergen. We’d always meant for us to be a quartet, but limited holiday time and then Joe’s recovery from respiratory sickness conspired to yield this handoff. A shame, those guys would have liked traveling with one another.
Easy, the pedaling of familiar company in a kind of intermission between sections. Behind us, rippled high elevations with their push and post hole, ahead bogs and crowding woods until the bare wet openscape above treeline. Learning to read closer these textures, ones that from the height of a saddletop haze might seem monotonously the same, but looked at closer reveal time, intervention, glaciers, wear. Camp close to a bellowing wide river, before bed dip our bottles and drink straight. Ants along laticework paths, spongy ground so I hardly need a camp mattress. We’ll ride through tomorrow and stop in at an historical church that looks like a Dr. Seuss drawing, pressing on up the passes and rise.
Later that day, at a highway turnoff trailhead parking area, Joe N is waiting with two extra Sierra Nevada’s he’s kept cold with snow from a tenacious shadowed field nearby. Laugh and greet—he and Mikkel have adventured a fair bit together, I’m meeting him for the first time—ask after the preceding days over swigs and snacks. Joe’s also brought sundries from civilization, another inner tube, a chainring bolt to replace one that went missing, a replacement chain.
I’ll get to know Newton over these next weeks, easy sense of humor, recollections of the south of England and his life now working with special needs schoolchildren. We establish a ready rapport, the pendulum of light and heavy, talking gear or happiness or about our dads, wisecracking and shared history, racing mountain bikes in the 80’s, now happier with the pace and the far from comforts of this sort of thing.
And we are far. Tug the peak of my hood to pull it forward in my helmet. The little voids and gaps let the rivulets through, chill roars and knifes into me like an erasure for every cheery photograph of going camping on a bike. I rode for months in Asia evading the monsoon, it rained on me twice and snowed once. The rest, dry. Norway answers differently.The locals have been reporting that this is the latest lowest snow anyone can remember, and summertime just won’t come. I can’t hear what my companions are saying unless they’re up close. The hiss and knock on the gore tex whirlpool sucks all of our shouts down, and then the cold slows the light some more so that we achieve perfect density, perfect recurrent satisfaction misery equilibrium.
As I recall, we must have been riding joyously through it on this section, shoved along by a back gale that made us feel like elemental superheroes, spray off our wheels, rocky singletrack calling for muscular, committed inputs, pouring our thirst for warmth into the pedal mashing.
Breaking through to another clime, sometimes for kilometers over the wet ground there are decaying boards. We ride them, relax and sit back, carry some speed, don’t let our heavy-ish front ends do too much waggling. Then woods and loam, I’m starting to get it in a glimmer, the atomic parts of this place are tactile, the wet, the stone, the soft, the wood, the leaning air.
In all that deafness of riding, the new guy fits in just so. We roll on south.