There have been days where we grunt, push, lift, step until between our shoulder blades aches a spike. Long distance walking trails overgrown, forgotten. We meet a nun from Germany trekking in khaki trousers, a cotton duck jacket, rakish hat and with some questions about the route marked in her thumbworn guidebook. She sees us off with a blessing and we heave on.
Other times it’s more loved. We’re pedaling full burn, soaring and slaloming rooty needled granite dolloped singletrack. The soil is tacky and shows our tread like early concrete, wet rocks that present a mix of squared off surfaces that you have to loft over or put the bike sideways around, and rounded slick faces that you can aim for if you anticipate the deflection, it’s useful to know the direction you’ll end up in. Mikkel is on my wheel, I’m clean and press the bars to get a serviceable manual into this tombstone garden, breathing sharp wide gulps. Sunshine through the trees midday harsh, we’re ripping, grinning.
What if I knew that I wouldn’t remember any of the details, if the images and what was said, the clothes and the bike parts disappeared into a precipitate of atonal emotions? I don’t think I would do anything differently now among these leaves and moss and sucking bogs and wind, the grey that cracks to sunshine and then the mosquitoes that figure 8 curve back and again on me, the tannic rivers and the suggestion if not reality of cold, ambient glow at 3am when I’m out of my tent looking up and mumbling in code. I don’t think I’d try somehow to abstract from the facts in light of the guarantee of their evaporation. I’m already there, already in the brilliant void.
It’s a long climb, steep babyhead two track in rushing mist. End of the day. Punchy and silly, so I start singing. I’m singing as loud as I can between lungfuls to keep from spilling over threshold. Later, Joe asks whether we heard music. At the top we don’t just want to but we need to descend, too cold with a wet wind whirling. We’ve been at it heading into twelve hours. When we get to the bottom along a lake dotted with shuttered fishing shacks, there’s little respite. We spread our tents further apart than they’ve ever been, each of us seeking what little protection we can find from the gale but also each of us, I think, tired of the press and grab of each other. All will be healed come morning, but now I’m some mix of ground down tired lonely but especially not wanting anyone around, the tent wall rattles and tugs each gust a firecracker explosion inside. If I sleep—I’m not sure I do—it’s to dream the unusually vivid dreams I’ve been having with spirits of the living and protective familiars and all the Jungian mishmash chaos my consolidating nervous system can boil. Maybe that’s where the specific memories go to be gone.
Past three weeks on the trail. At some point I try helpfully to generate counter examples to the embarrassing thesis that Aha is Norway’s most successful pop culture export. “How about that book where that guy just talks about his ordinary life in a bunch of volumes? Oh, and Stieg Larson. Or is he Swedish?” Mikkel flashes me a dark look.
Later Mikkel’s trying to explain to me, but I’m too befuddled by the claim to really understand him, that 80’s era Volvo 240’s are a favorite “bro” car in Norway, highly coveted to low ride, hang some evergreen air freshener or dice, put a loud system in in order to play some sort of overwrought Norwegian folk music at high volume while cruising the village. “Seriously?” I’m trying to explain to him, but he likewise doesn’t really seem to understand me, that the 240 is a favorite among tweedy spectacled New England academics.
Joe’s rear hub had been making ominous sounds for a day and every so often it wouldn’t freewheel. We indulged in gallows humor against the knowledge that it was only a matter of time before it blows up, and it did. He pushed through the woods and storm, coasting here and there, grateful for downhills, grunting up the unrideable steps alongside us. Just one long day out of Oslo, the thought of putting him on a train was too tough to contemplate.
We get to a valley and are loitering outside a market soothing our woes with ice cream, a guy is eyeing our bikes long enough for us to tell him our predicament. He gets on the phone and arranges for a local bike mechanic to come in the next morning to take a look, but it’s in the next town over so we have to take turns pushing Joe along the cycle path for 10k. We camp in the woods above the residential area and in the AM the cassette hub body replacement takes hardly a half hour before we’re off again.
One more ridge to scale and then we’re in the green hills above the city. We’ll drop down and ride along the river headed for the Opera House.