Monday, November 25, 2013

Thanksgiving and white dreams

 We packed our skis along with our hopes into the tiny rental car and crept out of frosty, barren Oslo. Along 450 km up the E6, the main road that winds and twists through Norway, there was no snow. Only cold.

Five hours later, in the ski town of Oppdal, we saw the first snow. It was a dusting, a teaser at most. The hope prevailed with the snow. After all, a snowstorm was forecast for the weekend.

Snow shouldn't have been the important thing, but it always is. We were there to celebrate Thanksgiving. (I'm perfectly aware that it's not until tomorrow but since Americans in Norway don't get any vacation for Thanksgiving, we always celebrate during a weekend.) For the first time we had decided to host Thanksgiving at a large, comfortable mountain hut called Bårdsgarden, about 20 minutes outside of Oppdal. Part of the motivation, of course was that we might squeeze in a few turns in between turkey and pie.

The next morning grey clouds foreshadowed an impending storm. But the trusty Norwegian weather forecast said the snow wouldn't start till mid-afternoon, so me and Dad headed out for a run in the snow.

Up up up the big hill behind Bårdsgarden we went. At first I kept his tempo, until lactic acid started to build in my legs and I slowed down a tad, watching as he gained first 10, then 50 meters on me. It was OK though, because as we headed down the hill to the next valley over, the going grew tricky and I came into my own. Slippery footing, a weaving trail, slight downhill. I'm a technical runner and I own it.

The intensity of the run slowed as we continued in towards Vassendsætra, another hut at the end of Gjevilvatnet lake. We started talking about the John Muir Trail (which I shall henceforth refer to as the JMT). This 338 km long hiking trail traverses the High Sierras in California, and I've grown up listening to my dad tell stories about its beauty. We're planning a family trip to do the JMT next summer - hopefully all of us (except the faithful hound Sebastian) will be doing it next July. And I shall of course share more on the blog.

Dad and the dog at Vassendsætra
We ran all the way in to Vassendsætra, and the view reminded me why I started to run all those years ago. To be able to cover long distances in the mountains in relatively short time. To traverse the trails with loping tracks and see all the sides of a mountain. Between 2007 and 2011 I worked every summer in these mountains, and explored my obscure and well-known corners of them by running in my time off. But those are stories for another day.

Running in the snow with Gjevilvasskammen looming in the background
It took us nearly two hours to cover the 10.5 km to Vassendsætra and back - including nearly 500 meters of climbing. Running in the snow is slow, but it sure is fun!

I ate a tiny lunch to prepare for the rigours of Thanksgiving consumption. I was not disappointed.

We were an international assortment come together to celebrate this most American holiday. Me, mom and dad; my Norwegian boyfriend Audun; two boys from Vermont on exchange in Norway who know my parents; and some Dutch friends of the family. Our spirit was exactly as it should be: one of friendship, and of overeating.

For once I contributed to dinner, or at least dessert. I have been carefully crafting the perfect lemon meringue pie for the last 3 months, so of course I brought it for Thanksgiving. It was excellent - lemon meringue pie might actually be the ultimate dessert. Light, yet satisfying. Sweet and tangy sour at the same time.

Trying to do the meringue all fancy with a piping bag
As we ate inside, a storm began to rage outside. It was snowing - it was BLIZZING! The next morning we headed up the hill behind the hut again, this time kitted out with skis and our hoods drawn up against the snow and wind. There was at least 30 cm of new snow, and breaking tracks was an anaerobic affair.

Audun breaks trail as Sebastian the dog does not help at all. As usual

This is Mom's idea of FUN!
On the way down there was an almost frustrating amount of snow. It was beautiful, knee-deep powder, but the slope just wasn't steep enough. If you poled as hard as you could, you might just barely be able to do half a turn.
Hansen in the snow storm and pow.
Audun tries to gain some speed.
Sadly, one run was all she wrote. After that we cleaned up the hut and drove home in the snowstorm. Now it's time to pray to the snow gods for a good winter and more POW!

- the Wild Bazilchuk

Monday, November 18, 2013

Monday trail musings

I've always had trouble following anything like an organized training plan. I think it's because I want running and cycling to be fun; I spend so much time doing other stuff that requires a lot of organizing and thinking. When I'm out there, I wanna go as hard as I wanna go.

Yesterday I took a new pair of shoes out for a Sunday spin. After two months feeling the trails getter wetter and wetter, and my Hoka Rapa Nuis slipping more and more, I decided to spring for a pair of more hardcore trail shoes. I bought a pair Icebug Acceleritas. Icebug is a Swedish company that does sort of niche shoes like studded shoes for winter running and orienteering shoes with spikes. All their shoes are in vibrant colors, which I love.

The shoes are significantly lighter than my other runner shoes, and they have really defined tread and almost no damping. I did managed to take a pretty good fall by sliding sideways on a root yesterday, but that was because I wasn't looking at the trail in front of me. Serves me right!

I went for a bit of a trail hunt. The forest around Oslo is huge, and there is a maze of trails between, well, everything. I keep trying new pieces of trail through forest and seeing where they lead, collecting them like pieces of a puzzle. I do have a map and stuff, but many of the trails aren't on it. So I slowly expanding my trail network, like a spider spinning a web further and further out.

I love it when I find a new piece of singletrack through the forest. It feels sort of magical, like it could lead anywhere. Maybe the witch's house in Hansel and Gretel. Or just to the top of another rolling hill, where the houses of a million Oslo inhabitants are suddenly visible. 

Sunset at Linderudseter

The blissful fantasy of my run was broken by the realization that I was blistering - bad. Today my whole heel is open and raw, and I can't run. Guess that's what you get for taking a new, untested pair of shoes out for two hours! Any tips on treating big, raw blisters? I don't want to be stuck inside all week.

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Blood, mud and rain: Madeira part 2

This is my second (and final) blog post about mountain biking in Madeira. You can read my first post here.
The Madeiran landscape is extremely steep, reflected by the fact that the island of only 800 square kilometers has several peaks over 1800 meters.  The vegetation almost King Kong-like, and local weather differences often shroud the tallest peaks in clouds, as if hiding something.

Many times in my life, the saying 'Don't like the weather? Wait a minute!'  has applied. Nowhere has it been more appropriate than in Madeira. Driving for five minutes could be the difference between sun and pouring rain. We were on the receiving end of both during our five days of riding.

Synne and Ap ride out of the mist
Extreme climate requires extreme measures for agriculture. The hillsides all over Madeira are riddled with terraces that host bananas and other crops, as well as grapevines. The terraces looked like they must be incredibly time-consuming to build, but they must be indispensable enough to justify the work.

Madeirans seem to have built stairs with the same enthusiasm they built agricultural terraces. I can safely say I have never biked down as many stairs in my life as I did in Madeira. I have sort of mixed feelings about biking down stairs. Sometimes I felt like the 'Stairmaster' and was (excessively) proud of making it down. Other time I just got sick of being rattled up.

Øyvind is definitely the Stairmaster on these slippery, wet stairs
The wet weather during a few of the days of our trip turned the soft soil into churned mud in many places. This results in slippery biking, and a number of endos and sliding falls.

Synne hit her face like a pro.
Our last day of riding was so muddy we went back to the hotel midday to dry off before heading out for a few more hours.

Synne and AP's muddy bike clothes midday on the last day of riding (Photo: AP)

The microclimates, which lead to the large degree of change between sea level and the highest mountains, also lead to a wide variety of vegetation and landscapes to bike on. From sweeping ridge lines (which we rode without a trail, something I haven't done much before):

Biking down a dramatic ridge. (Photo: John from Freeride Mountain Biking Madeira) forests with trails sprinkled with pine needles (soft to land on!)...

Ingvild leads and I follow through the forest. (Photo AP) exposed cliffs overlooking the ocean.

Ap rounds the corner
Some of the forests in Madeira burn periodically; several times the trails were in bad shape because they had burned recently and hadn't been built up to their former glory. But burnt trees with bright green ferns tinting the stark forests made for dramatic riding.

Øyvind heads down a slippery section of trail
Mats cruises through a regenerating forest
One of the coolest places we biked through was an open grassy field at around 1500 meters with mushroom-shaped trees and cows grazing. I thought the cows look peaceful, but some of the others were sceptical. They don't take the horns off cows in Madeira, so if they got angry it would be scary. The whole scene was rather Lord of the Rings-like.

Lord of the Rings grove, Madeira. (Photo: John from Freeride Mountain Biking Madeira)

Not all of the vegetation was friendly and soft. There is a particular brand of prickly plant that grows on the high plateau in Madeira which we all experienced. Being a lady, I would of course never show you a picture of the state of my ankles. But here's Mats showing off his on day 3 (so two days of shin torture left):

Shin-eating plants are real!
Suffice to same that my shins are in the same state.
Another cool feature of biking in Madeira is the levadas. Levadas are irrigation channels that run from the wet side of the island to the dry side. There are paths along them which are popular among hikers. We would often follow the levadas to connect different bits of trail. Ride along a levada isn't particular technically challenging, as the trails along are quite smooth, but the paths can be quite narrow, and thus require a certain focus.

The levada is the channel next to the trail. The dweebs in the bushes are picking blueberries.
This trip was, like Morocco, a test of biking endurance from day to day. One thing I really learned is how much mind can weigh over matter, how deciding to have fun can really make all the difference. We biked for 4 consecutive days, before having one day off and then a final day of biking. On day four, I was very tired. From the moment I got on the bike I felt shaken and like I couldn't really focus.

I was really ready for a day off to relax my sore muscles, and I regretfully behaved that way. I was biking slowly and balking at the slightest technically difficulties. When we got back to the van in the afternoon, John asked if we wanted to do one more run, from the top of Pico do Arieiro all the way down to Funchal. At first Synne, Ingvild and I all said no, and we agreed to drop the others off before we would be shuttled back to the hotel.

When we reached Pico do Arieiro, Ingvild changed her mind.

"I want to go, I still have energy left", she said. Synne indicated that if Ingvild went, she would go too.

So I would be the only one who chickened out of the last run. A voice in my head was whining, I'm so tired, why is no one else tired? I just want to go lie down. Why can't we just all go lie down?  But the only thing stronger than that voice was my competitive instinct. I couldn't let the other girls go and sit around like some pampered princess. So I decided I would go. And I decided I would damn well have fun doing it.

Heading down from Pico do Arieiro, photo by AP

I had one of my best runs of the trip, but also my hardest crash of the trip (no Wild Bazilchuks were seriously injured during the making of this blog post). Serves me right for biking hard when I was that tired!

The whole gang, included Swiss Thierry who joined us for one day, posin'.
Madeira was rougher and tougher than Morocco, although there's plenty of challenging biking to be done in both places. Thanks for a stunning week of biking - now Norway, time to bring me some snow!

- the Wild Bazilchuk