Thursday, October 31, 2013

Mountain biking Madness: Madeira part 1

It was a Saturday afternoon at Oslo Airport, and I was a giggling fan girl. Ingvild and I had just spotted Aleksander Gamre, famous for his solo South Pole expedition, along with Cecilie Skog, of Seven Summits and pole expedition fame. They were both looking cleaner and more well-fed than in their expedition photos, and we couldn't pass up the opportunity. So here's my real, live celebrity photo!

Lovin' it
We, a group of 5 hopeful Norwegians and an enthusiastic American, were on our way to the resort island of Madeira. As usual, not to relax, but to bike. On the way we had a 5 hour layover in Lisbon, which turned into to a 7 hour layover when our plane was delayed.

Bridge above the streets of Lisbon

Lisbon by night, taken from the top of the bridge in the last picture.

Because of all the delays, it was 4:30 am by the time we rolled into our hotel beds in Funchal. That gave me 6 hours to sleep, unpack and put together my bike, and be a functioning bicycling being. It was going to be a hard day.

I awoke to this:

The view from our hotel. Note the huge cruise ship.
Spurred on by the gorgeous weather, and the threat of rain later in the week, our guide John had a long day of biking planned. We were shuttled to the top of Pico do Arieiro, the third highest peak in Madeira. As I stood on top, drinking in the view of 1800 spectacularly steep meters down to the ocean, I felt so tired it was like being hungover.

The first kilometer on the bike, I felt scared and out of control, and I had no idea how I would be able to keep going for the next 6 or so hours. But somehow, the sunshine loosen my sleepy muscles and I forgot that I was tired, and remembered how much good, unclean fun can be had biking trails.

It was widely agreed among the group that we biked so many trails the first day that we couldn't possibly remember them all. The biking was also so varied - from soft, smooth trails in the forest, to rocky, exposed trails that seemed to traverse down cliff faces.

Our guide, John, and Ap head into the bushes

The day culminated in an extremely steep, loose downhill that was basically unbikable. As we dragged our mountain bikes slowly down the hill, I started to doubt the sanity of the expedition. After all, who carries their mountain bike down a hill?

Luckily, the trail continued out onto a dramatic cliff looking over the sea that rewarded us for our hard work...

Heading out onto the cliff
... and swooped into one of the most enjoyable descents of the day, except for the agressive looking goats standing by the trail.

Towards the end of a long day
Needless to say, I was extremely tired that evening, as exemplified by my rather rude exchange with a Madeiran waiter at dinner. I ordered fish, and the waiter asked me if I would like it with banana, passionfruit, ++. When I replied, "Pick whichever you like best", he countered "I cannot pick for you, what do you want?"

In my tired, sleepless brain, this waiter represented the barrier between me and food, which implicitly was the barrier between me and sleep. So  I said, "I just want food. Can I please have food?" The waiter spent the rest of the meal going on about how he had to kill the monster in my stomach. And I was teased for the remark the rest of the trip.

There are four whole days of biking not yet immortalized - stay tuned for Madeira part 2!

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Friday, October 18, 2013

I went for a run today.

I ran slow. Sometimes I ran a little faster. But mostly I ran slow, through the forest carpeted with leaves and needles. On sharp rocks. Then on smooth, hard asphalt. My sins are all on Strava.

Sometimes I wish I was capable of following a training program. I wish I could faithfully and methodically complete intervals, long runs and rest days. But only my muses are allowed to tell me how I exercise. (If I ever met my muses, I'd give them such a swift kick in the toga...)

Then I bought a pair of shoes. They're pretty ugly, as ugly as only FiveTen can make shoes with Stealth rubber:

...which you may or may not realize means these are mountain biking shoes.

Also Casper got new tires and new break wires. So now even he's realized... we're going on a trip!

Tomorrow I'm jetting off to the island of Madeira, Portugal for a week of enduro biking (who would go somewhere like that to lie on the beach?! :P) It's going to be a repeat on the Morocco trip last year, in new surroundings.

So watch the blog for pictures and a trip report!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Come away with me

As a new citizen of Oslo, I would like to file a complaint. Although, in this city, there is an opera house, hundreds, possibly thousands of kebab places, supermarkets open at every hour of the day, a gigantic ski jump, a complex metro system and tons of interesting research going on, we are so far from the mountains. Norway is such a moutainous country, and four hours driving to the nearest mountains is such a long way!

That is, until you factor in Norfjell. An hour and half from Oslo, you can get your vitamin M. And that's just what Audun and I did last weekend. We decided not to plan too strenuous a hike, as Audun has been having some knee troubles.

When we started from the middle of the ski lift on Saturday, the sun was high in the sky. And it was warm. As we headed up the ski hill, I was sweating hard in a t-shirt and long pants rolled up.

I hated our hike a little at that point. Who wants to hike up a stupid ski hill? I thought, and then realized the irony on me paying money to run up one just two weeks before. I thought about all the things I should have done that week, and generally stressed out. But by the time we reached the crest of the hill and gazed at the rocky, alpine landscape ahead of us, I let it all go.

A veritable trail highway
We followed the highway of a trail inward, farther away from cars, roads and the ski lift. Carrying all you need on your back, your only goal being one step forward, and then another - this is mediation. I don't need anything else.

In four fairly easy hours we reached Høgvarde, one of two DNT huts in these moutains. We hiked up the peak for which the hut is named, the highest in Norefjell, and were treated to a panoramic view often called one of the broadest in Norway. You can see Oslo, Jotunheimen and Handangervidda all from one point.

Sunset on Høgvarde, from Høgvarde hut

In the evening, with no internet to suck us in and no TV to distract us from the impending dark, we talked with the hutkeeper who complained about how Norefjell was too popular. I see his point - we were barely alone all day on the trails. But these are the mountains nearest Oslo, and it only takes a small fraction of the million people living Oslo to fill up one DNT hut.

The next morning I woke as abruptly as if someone had shaken me. I look outside, and the entire sky was a delicious red orange. I shook Audun.

"Wake up! It's sunrise!"


"But it's pretty!"

"It's warm right here."

"But it's pretty!"

And so we ended up on the hill behind the hut at 7:30 in the morning watching a Norwegian fall sunrise.

Unfortunately, I didn't have a real camera (my lens died in August, and Audun's was out of battery), so all our pictures from the weekend are from a cell phone camera.
It was perfect.

Me, the hut and the sunrise
- the Wild Bazilchuk