Jotunheimen and Skarvheimen

2016/03/07-20: Gjendesheim to Finse 234km

March is the prime ski touring month in Norway. The days are getting long enough for relaxed travel from hut to hut, the snowpack has settled, and many of the routes have been marked with birch wands which help with navigation during whiteouts.

Last year, feeling that only a week of skiing wasn’t enough, we signed up for two separate one-week tours. This allowed us to have a week of rest in Oslo between tours, but it also meant more travel time in relation to skiing time. This year, we signed up for the Norwegian Trekking Association’s two week “Long Tour”. From its difficulty rating, we knew it would be more challenging than what we’ve done before, both in terms of daily distances and in terms of consecutive skiing days without a rest day. We committed to the trip before Christmas with great plans to work on our fitness, though we didn’t follow through on these as we should have.

It was tough, but it was wonderful. Conditions early in the trip were perfect, and then temperatures rose to give us a few days is slushy snow and breakable crust. The last few days involved icy conditions, and our conversion to carrying universal klister.

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One of many glorious descents (image courtesy of Knut)

We were eight participants and two volunteer leaders. Albert and Charlotte led in different ways that complemented each other well. I found it reassuring knowing that Albert — with his enormous pack– was behind. The Norwegian contingent included Paul, Knut and Arild; the Seattle contingent was Josh and Tiva, and Per was the indefatigable Dutchman who we knew from our Huldreheimen trip last year. I think that only three of the ten of us were under 60, and our determined Dutchman was past 70. We’ll be proud if we can tour like Per in another decade!

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Norwegian Mountain Weather

Paul tracked our progress with his GPS, and each evening we would try to guess our exact distances and climbs before he announced the precise answer.

km hrs Climb (m)
Gjendesheim-Glitterheim 23 8 1000
Glitterheim-Spiterstulen 17 6 200
Spiterstulen-Olavsbu 24 7.5 800
Olavsbu-Fondsbu 18 5 400
Fondsbu-Sletningsbu 20 6 600
Sletningsbu-Sulebu 23 6.5 600
Sulebu-Bjordalsbu 32 9.25 1176
Bjordalsbu-Iungsdalshytta 23 6 135
Iungsdalshytta rest day 0 0 0
Iungsdalshytta-Storestølen 18 6 620
Storestølen-Geitrygghytta 18.5 6 670
Geitrygghytta-Finse 17.5 5.5 1030
Total 234 71.75 7231

Finse is a small collection of buildings at the highest point on the Oslo to Bergen rail line. There is a hotel, a large DNT hut, and of course a railway station. There is no road access; the village exists to service fjell skiers and hikers. As we emerged from the fog on our final descent, a train sounded its whistle as it shot out of a tunnel into the station. Judicious braking was required before skiing downhill over the tracks to the lake.

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Arrival at Finse

By the end of the tour, we knew each other well and the atmosphere was especially relaxed and friendly when we cheered our leaders with a rousing rendition of “We All Love the Leaders of the Tour”, sung to the tune of Yellow Submarine in the busy lounge area of the Finse Hut.

What’s next? With a system of over 500 huts in Norway, the possibilities are endless.

M&C

(For more images, see our Flickr album)

 

Merry Christmas

“What’s the best ride you have done” is a question we are often asked. Well for those of you thinking of cycle touring as part of your New Year’s resolution, here is my list, to whet your appetite.

Scenic Rides:  
Jasper to Vancouver via Whistler takes a lot of beating, but beware unless you are an Olympic athlete take a tent because accommodation is sparse on this route.

Cultural Rides: 
Seville to Santiago and beyond was a fantastic ride with lots of interesting cities on the way. In May the wild flowers are wonderful. Leave your tent behind; there is lots of accommodation.

Flat rides:
Bordeaux to Arles on the Canal du Midi Completed in 1666, the Canal du Midi is an easy ride. It is  a UNESCO World Heritage site along with Carcassonne, by which it passes. If cycling the entire route is too much then consider renting a boat, and cycle into the local towns for French cuisine.

World Tours:
Bangkok to Paris is our only one completed to date, and if you have a year to spare is well worth the effort. Look into visas before you leave; we needed 11. There are two other World Tours in a similar class: Alaska to Ushuaia and NordKapp to Capetown. We have done parts of both of these, and they are much easier from a visa point of view! Of course you can opt for a round the world trip but that is a 2 to 3 year  30,000km plus undertaking!

Whatever you do, enjoy 2016!

C

 

Vancouver Island and Sunshine Coast

2015/09/19-24: Port Hardy to Vancouver, 420 km and four ferries
The time on the boat went quickly in the company of a like-minded cycle-touring couple we’d met  some time before. By coincidence, they were on the same twenty-two hour ferry journey, with their bikes on the back of their car. Now retired, they’d sold their home and one purpose of their current journey was to explore smaller BC communities in which they might settle.  As we prepared to disembark we also met a former co-worker of Chris’s who has been on a kayak trip with launch and pullout at Klemtu, a mid-coast community accessible only by water. A highlight of their trip had been to see a blonde Kermode bear.

dsc_0417_21613959975_oDisembarking in foul weather, we bit the bullet and rode forty odd kilometres to Port McNeill rather than the shorter hop to Port Hardy.  In Port McNeill, the torrent in the gutter formed standing waves as it rushed downhill. We stood in a motel lobby so drenched  that the woman at the desk had to get out the mop and bucket  after we’d checked in. Our room soon became a steam bath from sodden garments hung to dry, so we opened windows a crack to allow some of the steam to escape. Next day, we rode to Woss, the skeleton of a logging town, and fell into bed at the Rugged Mountain Motel. Luckily there was no one patronizing the Lucky Logger Karaoke Bar on a Sunday night, and the neon lights soon stopped flashing.

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Steam rising from wet road

We’d had long stretches of boreal forest earlier on this ride, but now that we’d moved south I noticed the change to more familiar coastal vegetation. The forest was heavy with western red cedar, and dense thickets of salal lined the roadsides. Logging trucks loaded with the trunks of shaggy cedar passed us. DSC05516 Partly because we were keen to get home, and partly to avoid being overtaken by a group of supported Cops for Cancer cyclists, we rode a longish 130 kilometres to Campbell River.  We contemplated camping just north of town, but every side road seemed to be a gated industrial fortress. The first accommodation we saw was about a half star establishment with a sign that said “No Peddlers.” When I asked the woman at the desk if she accepted our kind, she chuckled and grinned. We don’t mind modest digs if the human face of the establishment is friendly. dsc_0441_21616856956_oWe rode into town for the large breakfast we felt we deserved after the previous day’s ride, then worked our way south on the old highway. A pair of cyclists waved at us, and later we chatted at a beachside rest area. It  turned out they were a Burnaby couple who’d been to our presentation at a bike shop about our 2009 ride . We stopped at the Merville general store for coffee, and rode on to the ferry terminal, arriving just as the ship sounded its whistle and set sail for Powell River without us.  We’d  just missed the mid-afternoon sailing, which meant a few hours rest in the company of some chocolate and some Sudoku puzzles was enforced. We got off the evening ferry to Powell River in the dark, and pushed our bikes in uphill to a hotel. DSC05523

Heading south in a headwind and rain, we crossed Jervis Inlet by ferry from Saltery Bay, and kept on down the Sechelt Peninsula to Sechelt. Our off-highway route took us on some steep climbs and descents, and then on a mountain bike trail for the last stretch to Sechelt, arriving in town  just as another downpour began.  Looking at the forecast, we rose early on our final day, and made the ferry to Horsehoe Bay in good time. I hit an exhilarating speed down the final hill as a large transport truck waited sensibly behind me; I thanked the driver in the ferry lineup.

Disembarking in Horsehoe Bay, we boarded a bus for home. All Vancouver buses are now equipped with racks that carry two bikes. Yes, we could have ridden, but it’s a stretch we’ve done many times, we were weary, and the heavens were threatening to open yet again.  We didn’t need to ride in more rain.

M

The Nass Valley to Terrace

2015/09/15-18: Nass River to Terrace, 160 km
and train to Prince Rupert
We trundled another 30 km or so on good gravel, and arrived at Gitlaxt’aamiks, formerly known as New Aiyansh. Hungry for a change from liverwurst on Ryvita, we turned in to the largest of four Nisga’a villages. Gitlaxt’aamiks sports a modern government building with new totems in front, and three flags flown: Canadian, BC, and Nisga’a. We were in the Nass Valley, home of the Nisga’a people who in 2000 brokered the first treaty with the federal government in over 100 years.

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Inquiring about eateries, we were directed to a small red and white cabin for good burgers. We have no photos of this very modest establishment, but we had to walk carefully around rusting vehicles and litter to enter it. The welcome inside was warm, and as we waited, a lively woman entered and didn’t hesitate to accurately parrot Chris’s English accent. It turned out she was the Nisga’a language teacher for K-6 at the village school, having learned the language during summers spent with grandparents. It was in fact her voice I had heard on the language portion of the Nisga’a web site, and she seemed pleased I’d explored the site and at least attempted a Nisga’a greeting. We were introduced to nieces and grandchildren who traipsed in and out, and to another language teacher who told us of her family’s salmon smoking, and showed us examples of the pine mushrooms she was collecting. They are graded into one of four grades, and the highest grade fetches $12.50 per pound from local buyers who sell them fresh on Granville Island, or dry them for export to Asia.

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Turning south from Gitlaxt’aamiks, we passed the vast lava beds created by an eruption which occurred only some 300 years ago, and whose devastation of two villages lives on in Nisga’a oral tradition. We’ve never seen anything like the expansive jumble of rounded pumice rocks, each covered in pale lichen! The pieces are unstable and the pumice is sharp, so walking any distance is hazardous.

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Still hoping to catch the Friday ferry from Prince Rupert, we pedalled hard to Rosswood and on to a user-maintained provincial campsite on Kitsumkalum Lake. When a local returned from a beach stroll and warned us of “fresh grizzly tracks”, we moved our tent nearer our only fellow campers, and we introduced ourselves to them in case nocturnal disturbances sent us diving into the protective embrace of their camper. Spawned-out salmon carcasses lay on the beach, and these are easy food for bears. We hoped any bears would stick to salmon, and not bother to reach for our food.

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Next morning, after a night of listening for approaching bears, we pedalled to Terrace and dove into Boston Pizza. The young waitress looked at our grey hair and offered us “half portions” of pasta, but we made quick work of full bowls. Still trying to rid my bike of noises, we bought new jockey wheels at a bike shop. We might have pedalled westward along the Skeena to Prince Rupert, but we gave into our bodies’ demands and checked into a hotel for laundry and a good 15 hours sleep.

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The following day we whiled our time in an excellent coffee shop, and come evening we boarded the train for Prince Rupert. We disembarked along with a German tour group who’d travelled in a private observation car, and we pedalled in the dark to a backpackers’ hostel.

M

Wet Weather and Bears

2015/0910-14: Dease Lake to Nass River, 450 km
Setting out from Dease Lakes, we passed broad wetlands.
A local in a truck called “Didja see any moose?”
“No, just tracks” I replied. We could see that the moose use the gravel shoulder of the road to commute.

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The forecast was grim, so we rode against headwinds to the Bear Paw Resort where we were fed a hearty Austrian supper. The following day we rode in headwinds and increasing rain to Kinaskan Lake Provincial Park where we made hot drinks to go with lunch, and then soldiered onward to tuck ourselves amongst spruce for a damp night.

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In the morning, the weather had improved a little, but my feet felt permanently soggy and chilled. My bike began to make irregular clicking sounds when I pedalled hard, and we worried might be signs of incipient bottom bracket failure. We made it to Bell 2 Lodge, a heli-skiing base, and dove into dinner and a comfortable (but extravagant) night, where internet access helped us begin to diagnose the worsening bike issues.

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Next morning we saw a mother black bear with cubs ahead, and I decided to test my bear banger – something that is impossible to do in the city without the police arriving. The bear trio quickly left the road, and I got an idea of the trajectory of my weapon – a successful test all round. The day’s ride brought us to Meziadin Junction, where the road turns off to Stewart, BC, and Hyder in the Alaska panhandle. The aesthetic is very different to Bell 2, but the Atco trailers were warm and dry and the cook was friendly.

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In the morning, we sacrificed a toothbrush to cleaning bike chains, and swapped mine with Chris’s as we reinstalled them. This was to test the theory that grit embedded in what was originally my chain might be the source of the noises. It wasn’t, and my bike continued to complain. A useful diagnostic, however. Heading onward, we stopped to watch salmon spawning. This was a first for me. Many times I’d seen the carcasses of spawned-out fish, but never the actual  upstream mating dance. Soon we saw another black bear, well-fed and unhurried.

At Cranberry Junction we turned south to follow the valley of the Nass River on a gravel forest road, stopping after about 20 km only to cook supper. The concept was to better separate cooking smells from where we’d sleep, as a precaution in an area reportedly filled with “bear action.”

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An SUV pulled up, and two Korean men in camouflage hunters’ garb asked urgently “Have you seen any black bears?”. We guessed a good part of their urgency came from the price paid for a foreigner’s hunting license.
“No” we answered truthfully, “and not much scat either.” I gestured explicitly so as to help in case “scat” was beyond their English vocabulary. They sped off.

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After supper, we cycled a little further and turned up a branch road to an old logging landing to set up camp. Wolves howled nearby as darkness fell.

M