We waited all day for the rain to stop. It wasn’t even rain, really; more of an annoying drizzle that was coming and going at its leisure. All day, Tieran and I sat around inside our Airbnb- a luxury we viewed as a treat on our journey.
We cooked, we cleaned, we packed, we did laundry, we ate. We even paid a visit to Rema 1000, our grocery store of choice in Norway. Even the five-minute walk there was miserable. We entered the store with water trailing behind us, the damp rubber of our sneakers squeaking as we shopped.
Two cans of mixed fruit and a jar of Nugatti later, we accepted our fate: the rain wasn’t going to cease. This wasn’t a big surprise, honestly, considering how the weather had been on the bulk of our journey. The gist: rain showers every single day. Even on what we considered nice days, a cold drizzle would find us at some point, reminding us that we were indeed in the Arctic Circle.
Eventually, we decided to go. We justified what was probably an unwise decision by planning to only travel about 30km; a much shorter distance than usual. We packed up and left, reluctantly locking the door to our Airbnb paradise.
The first few miles were okay, as they usually are. At the beginning of a ride, in spite of the weather conditions, I’m usually somewhat optimistic. However, on a bad day, those feelings of hope usually fade as the cold and the rain start to penetrate your layers of clothing, and a nasty headwind slashes at your face.
Two and a half hours later, we surrendered to the weather. We stopped a few kilometres short of the town we aimed to reach, completely defeated. The rain had soaked through our waterproof gloves, pants (or trousers for our English readers), hiking boots, and coats. Neither of us had any feeling in our hands or feet. We erected the tent in the woods off the side of the road we’d been cycling on, our numb fingers fumbling with the poles and pegs. When we finally crawled inside, reality hit us: our sleeping bags were wet.
It’s funny how the rain and cold can get to you. On this journey, I hit a physical and emotional wall that I’d never experienced before. I would think, I’m a runner, right? How hard can biking be? It’s still to do with your legs. Wrong. Or I would remember that I’d been worn out before, and figured being a little tired at the end of a day wouldn’t be that bad. Wrong.
Sometimes, all it takes to hit your wall is one thing. It can be cold and windy- fine. Maybe even a little hilly- okay. But it’s a fine line. As soon as the first sprinkles of rain find you, it’s over. Cycling when you’ve hit your wall is truly the hardest thing imaginable. Riding up hills, you grit your teeth and fight back tears. You curse the wind when it tries to slow you down. Everything anyone or anything says or does angers you.
The catch is, you still have to keep going. There might not be a shop or a place to camp when you hit your wall. Maybe your partner wants to keep going. Giving up is not an option, and that’s the worst part of it all. In real life, giving up is usually an option, despite what people say. Sometimes giving up is easy, and sometimes it’s hard. But you can still do it. But you can’t give up in the Northern Norwegian wilderness. You need food. You need water, and maybe even a toilet. You still hit your wall, but you have to keep going.
The worst moments are waking up in a tent, realizing you have no real food left for breakfast. The next shop is 20km away, or maybe even 30. On our first morning camping, Tieran and I ate cold pasta and pesto. There wasn’t even very much pesto, so it was basically just cold noodles. Another morning, we ate cold quinoa mixed with lentils. Tieran ate leftover powdered tomato soup, but it was awful and I couldn’t bear to stomach it. You sit there, spooning cold leftovers into your mouth, still wearing your damp thermals from the day before. Your hair’s dirty, you’re cold, and mosquitos are fighting their way into the tent to attack.
At times, I’ve asked myself why I’m doing this trip. I think about how I could be back home in the warm summer sunshine in Chicago, eating pancakes on a Saturday morning with my family. Sometimes I think about how I could’ve just spent the summer with Tieran at his home in England, sleeping in an actual bed and eating scones at the tea rooms in his village. I’ve been so miserable at times on this trip that I’ve cried at these thoughts, and wonder what I’ve done.
This morning, however, I write this perched on an oversized, plush chair. I’m in a home in Trondheim, Norway, with a floor-to-ceiling window next to me that has views of the entire city. I watch ferries and cruise ships come and go while sipping a cup of chai tea. The bathroom has heated floors. There’s a BMW outside at my disposal. The sun sits in a completely cloudless sky, and it’s so warm that every window and door is cracked open.
Times like this- on breaks- I think about what I’ve done. I remember the cold pasta, and rain, and sleeping on the dirty floors of ferry waiting rooms, and although the memories are slightly raw and painful, I begin to understand how these experiences have shaped me. In my life, I’ve never been without a shower every day. My kitchen at home is always stocked with food, and I make myself run every single day, just to stay healthy and offset inactivity. I’ve only ever camped twice before, and hated it (although honestly, I still kind of do). I’m a person who loves schedules and routine, both of which are non-existent while cycle touring.
But that’s kind of the point. No, this hasn’t always been fun. In fact, I’d say the majority of the trip is pushing past difficulty. Despite what I said the first day of cycling countless times: I can’t, I’m slowly learning that usually, I can. I’m learning that the body truly is a machine, and limits are mostly mental. As miserable and exhausted as you are, your body can still push further. Steep as the mountain may be, you will eventually make it to the top. At the end of the day, it’s worth it.
Turns out, an adventure that manages to turn from brash to boujee and back again in a matter of days is what I needed to learn about myself- even if it means a little bit of cold pasta.
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