**Uphill battles were not included in the video because we were too tired to take those footages :(
What was I thinking–
–Was exactly what I was thinking the moment we were left to our own in a 13 degree celsius, rainy morning at Utne. I don’t even know what’s at Utne, or where it is on the map, or how far exactly it is from our Airbnb.
I do know then, that we had a bicycle each and 25 kilometres to cover in the blistering cold summer. We also hoped to a god we will come out of this alive, limbs intact, thighs of steel, medal of bravery etc, etc.
Before that, allow me to justify the decision making process when I booked that bicycle tour. Firstly, it says on the booking website “Fjord Cruise and a Bike Ride Along Hardangerfjord“, supplemented with a description: On the trip from Utne, the road swings in towards Samlafjorden, leading you on to a lovely narrow and twisting road that winds through lush orchards and pretty farms.
My interpretation of it was: strolling through scenic landscape with berries and sun and laughter and happy, non-traumatic type things.
I must also stress that I am probably the most un-fit person I know. In the only school marathon I joined unpalatably named Merentas Desa, I came in almost last. The following year, I volunteered to be a pit-stop girl handing out bottled water to sweat drenched runners.
Our first course was an uphill battle that we spent pushing our bikes with fervour. The first part is always the hardest– our hands were red and numb from the cold with the fjord winds planting its razor sharp knife on my cheek. Rain dripped from forehead to chin. By the time the rain stopped, my feet were cold, blistered maybe, and the roads soaked with sweat and glistened like jewels.
Finally, we saw other cyclists. They too, were struggling and to know that we were not alone– that two other people shared the very same journey kind of made it all alright. Al and I gained a little confidence and carried on along the wet and winding road.
At about kilometre 3.5, my body and muscles acclimatised to the rhythm of hard work and in that moment, I finally realised that I was in Norway. I was riding a bicycle, inspecting moss and ferns enclosed by dense, impassable pine trees, with the occasional opening to possibly the most spectacular view I have ever seen. There it was: pain and catharsis intertwined like lovers, and I often confuse one from the other.
I planted myself an image of us living by the salt waters, waking up each morning to the revelations of nothingness and the immensity of it all– the loneliness, the silence, the boredom, us tending crops and cows. Encapsulated in that spectacle, we allowed ourselves to think about this illusory life, and I felt the sort of warmth one does when falling in love, suspended in desire.
Kilometer 10. Al and I minimised our conversations because they took too much effort. We had gone uphill and down and it is time for a second, more heinous uphill battle.
At instances, all my eyes allowed me to see was the grey perimeter I was tasked to overcome: one, two, one two. I counted my breath, as I hummed along to a tune to my head. I was debating if I should focus hard or distract myself from the journey itself, to transport myself elsewhere, but I wasn’t sure which worked better.
We took rests at every 2-minute intervals, sometimes to hug it out, to moan a little or to be quiet as our thighs do the screaming. The revelling in sceneries had gone past us. At kilometre 20, even trees start to fade.
Every bend evokes an anticipation that leaves us sorely defeated– I thought to myself: I will have to call for assistance in the next 15 minutes if we don’t see an opening downhill. I even hailed for a car but they quickly ignored us. WHY?
And there it was. There it really seriously fucking was: the last stretch before the celebratory decline! With my eyes fixated on the peak behind me, it was finally time to wheel our way down the bloody mountain.
The way the wind rushed through my hair, hitting my face, I felt like I was flushed from all worldly anxieties and self loathing. I could only feel relief and a strange child-like sense of happiness, a parent exclaiming to the world: my daughter is the favourite child. A major lottery. A release from the shoe.
Final stop: Herand, at kilometer 25. We parked our bike and rested at the pier as we waited for the boat to pick us up. My mind plays a little flashback reel of pines and fjords and empty roads, and as I questioned the reality of the past 6 gruelling hours, the authenticity of it, Al smiled to me and said “I feel really badass now. Don’t you?”