“And now the end is near and as we face the final curtain” (Sinatra)
Eight months ago Rod voiced the immortal words “I’ve had a great idea!”
Knowing that I think all his ideas are ridiculous, he wrapped it up in a package of nonchalance and inevitability.
“I thought we could go to Roros”
“Obviously on the bikes”
“Of course if we’re going all that way the only way to do it justice is on a Tandem”
“If you like”
“I mean I’m not really bothered”
In such ways are people laid low and find themselves spending the following months investigating, regretting, planning, begging and trying to convince people it really is a great idea.
Had all my investigation been done before we announced the ride then I might have been on the side of the people saying:
“Darkened tunnels full of spikes and bear-traps? No thanks”
But you can see how cleverly Rod has manipulated us all from the start!
Looking back I’m struck that whenever we’ve told a fellow cyclist they’ve responded by saying “Great, sounds like a real adventure” but whenever we’ve told a professional cyclist they’ve said “Really? Oh, OK”
It makes you wonder if they know something we don’t!!
To inform those who are joining us halfway through the ride, Rod & I travel on Sunday to Røros in Norway, there we will be treated to some exquisite Norwegian hospitality arranged by our great friend Bengt Elmerskog, we may or may not meet Sir Nils Olav, Colonel-in-chief of the Norwegian army, but we will visit the grave of Dr Christian Stengels, who first diagnosed what would become known as Batten Disease. We will also ride 500 miles on a Tandem to the Arctic Circle centre.
This is the reason I’m doing it:
but it’s also the reason you should support because this disease affects more than just Ellie Mae & Caleb and with no cure and little research there is also very little hope for these children.
You can follow our progress each day on this blog. Thanks for all the support so far, we’re looking forward to sharing the journey with you.
Packing the Van:
It’s during this stage of the preparations that my admiration & sympathy for Kim and the rest of Rod’s family really grows.
While he puts the bikes on the back I pack all the luggage inside the van. I’ve asked Rod to put his things in boxes so I can pack them in the van’s cubby holes so I’m somewhat surprised when he gives me six large IKEA bags for life. Each bag is filled with 12-15 carrier bags which are filled with junk.
I ask Rod again to put them into boxes and try to explain that Motorhomes do not come with carrier bag shaped cupboards but it’s clear from his expression that all those years working for WY Police has taught him that you can fit a circle into a square hole as long as the boot you use to stamp it down is big enough.
My frustration with him turns to alarm as I unpack his bags and discover he’s bringing 3 lipseals. It’s not clear whether he thinks he’ll personally need all 3, and what he thinks he’ll be getting up to if that’s the case, or whether he’s keen for me and John to maintain our own soft moist lips and so has thoughtfully packed one for each of us.
Our first night in our new home finds us in Harwich, parked in the International Port car park. This is an International Port in the same way that Horsforth is an International Train Station. Yes, it would be possible to start your day there and finish overseas but there are none of the comforts you associate with International travel and so we bed down in the motorhome for our first sleep.
We have very kindly agreed that John can have the double bed which drops down from above the cab. This is by far the most comfortable option for him but leads to a host of further issues.
John’s case is on one of the benches which will be turned into Rod’s bed so the cases will live on the floor overnight. John is not sure about this, what if he needs something from his case during the night.
He proceeds to empty some clothes, three books, his toiletries and the DVD of Downfall which he’s brought to watch when he gets bored or wants to lighten the mood.
(Personally I think sitting alone in a bus surrounded by the Arctic tundra watching Downfall is a sure way to bring on insanity.)
He then changes his mind and puts some of the clothes back but collects a few more books.
Having nearly emptied the case onto his spacious double bed he changes his mind again and lifts the case up with him. What exactly he’s hiding in his case that may be urgently required in the middle of the night is never clear.
The hard work starts tomorrow. Please continue to share and support.
Many thanks to all our new Norwegian friends who have started following us, we hope you enjoy our trip!!
“You can tell me when it’s over if the high was worth the pain” (Taylor Swift)
We start the day in Roros having spent the night at a lovely hotel organised by our friend Bengt Elmerskog. The hotel have kindly donated the rooms and staying somewhere and not paying is always a treat, this is made even more enjoyable when John tries to hand in his key. The previous evening he had suggested we have a drink n the hotel bar before bed. When we met in the bar he told us how much he had enjoyed the complimentary crisps and water in his room. John has no idea how a mini-bar works!
On checking out he is presented with a bill for 3 beers, one water and one packet of crisps. £40.
We set out from the hotel to find the church where Dr Stengel is buried. This is easy as the church is visible from every street in the town. The graveyard is wonderfully well tended, as are all the cemeteries we pass today, and Dr Stengels grave is easy to find. We go from there to his house for another photo
The road we take from Roros to Trondheim hugs the river and gives us some spectacular scenery as every 200 metres seems to provide another waterfall.
We make reasonable time and arrive in Storen after lunch, where we will turn north and head to Trondheim. Just as we are about to leave I get a message from a Yorkshire online newspaper. Can they do a quick interview over Skype. The life I lead!!
We then move onto a back road which hugs the railway track and avoids the busy E6. After 45 minutes we finally see a train which, since we’ve been following the railway for 7 hours is a bit surprising. It’s also disappointing, no diesel means no interest to Caleb.
We then contact Bengt who has offered to put us up for the evening. He meets us in Klett and guides us to his home in Trondheim.
He offers a short route with one sharp hill followed by a flat section to his house, or a longer flat route. An hour later we are questioning Bengt’s definition of flat as we’re still climbing.
We finally arrive at Bengt’s and enjoy some wonderful Norwegian hospitality. Day 1 done, 4 to go.
Please keep sharing and supporting.
“Life ain’t nothing but a blending up of all the ups and downs” (Drive By Truckers)
A few weeks before we started this ride I specifically remember Rod saying that the benefit of Norwegian daylight hours and having a camper van was that we would be able to stop in comfort and ensure we were well rested for the next section. We spoke of breaking down the day into 20 mile segments followed by along break, comfortable knowing this would mean cycling later in the evenings than we’re used to but knowing lighting wouldn’t be an issue.
Knowing Rod I shouldn’t be surprised that none of this has happened so far. Instead we’ve stopped and said things like “Let’s not sit for longer than 3 minutes” and so at the end of the day we are completely exhausted.
One of the issues with exhaustion is you occasionally make poor decisions. We have been pleased to see that a lot of the main road we are using has a cycle path next to it. The problem with this is that sometimes this path veers away from the road as if to say “Steijnker??? Wouldn’t you rather go to Sweden”
After a brief break this afternoon we set out from Levanger on the last leg of the day. We took the path as the road seemed very busy. 12 miles and 1 hour later we were surprised to arrive back in Levanger. On the plus side the rush hour had now finished but on the negative we still had 30 miles to get to our campsite.
We’ve agreed to stop for regular breaks tomorrow to make the day more manageable. I doubt it will happen!!
“I swear I’ll drive all night” (Bruce Springsteen)
One of the really exciting things about this trip has been the promise of seeing new and interesting wildlife. Obviously it does depend who you speak to. The first Norwegian I spoke to told us we would see bears, the next said no-one has ever seen a bear and Bengt, our host, told us we wouldn’t see the bear until it was too late!
We were also promised Lynx, Golden Eagles, Elk & Musk Bison.
So far I’ve seen a cat and a couple of dogs. I say a couple, one was actually a lady who asked me if I’d seen her dog. I hadn’t so we’ve really only seen the one dog.
We did think we’d seen a bear on day 1 but it turned out to be a man with a rucksack. In our defense he was moving in a very bear-like fashion. Walking upright, carrying a rucksack, like most bears you’ve seen.
“Remember when you hit the brakes too soon?
Twenty stitches in the hospital room” (Taylor Swift)
We spent the whole day today questioning how far we could get to ensure that the final day was as short as possible. This was because we knew we would we tired by day 5 but also because Rod had set his heart on a visit to the Arctic Circle Centre gift shop. This treat seemed to have had more research than where we would stay each night as he was able to tell me the opening hours and quote the sizing guide for an AC T-Shirt. (Now I realise why Rod has worked so hard at losing the weight before the trip, those T-shirts come up small)
We decide early on that we need to hit 110 miles and reach the town of Korgen before finding a campite.
We are supported in this goal by John who begins a rigorous routine of reverse psychology. When we ask for a target town over 100 miles away he suggests Mosjoen. “How far is that?” We ask “92 miles”. When we ask again for somewhere 100 miles away he tells us “I don’t think you’ll do it, it’s really far, it looks very hilly on this map”
Surprisingly this weighs on our minds somewhat and we have a difficult day with lots of breaks.
At the end of the day we know we will reach the Korgen tunnel, 8 kilometres long and officially a no-go route for bikes. Rod is determined that we will still go through it as the other option is to climb over the mountain. Rod doesn’t like climbing!
As the day goes on we realise that we’ll be better off leaving the tunnel for the next day, this means a very long final push to the Circle but we’re knackered so don’t have a choice. We reach Mosjoen and pull into the first campsite we see.
Fortunately this means we’re staying with the annual convention of the Norwegian Honda Goldwing fan club who have a party planned long into the night, so that was nice.
“I’ve got a bike. You can ride it if you like.
It’s got a basket, a bell that rings and
Things to make it look good.” (Pink Floyd)
Bike for sale: One careless owner
We get up and away early, keen to leave behind the devastation of the Honda party. If there is one thing worse than spending the night with a lot of middle-aged Honda riders it’s seeing them the morning after their convention.
Our plan this morning is to get through or over the Korgen tunnel. The road is very clear and the weather fairly good so we make excellent progress early on. The scenery in this part of Norway is particularly wonderful and we pass lots of small cabins and chalets overlooking mountain lakes. We really should be enjoying the views more than we are!!
As we approach the tunnel we find the road which directs cyclists over the top of the mountain. Rod is still keen to go the 2km further to the tunnel and see what it’s like but this is largely due to the fact that he’s an idiot. Common sense prevails and we start the climb over the top.
And it’s wonderful.
We climb and climb and climb, up through the snow line, past a lake and onto the peak of the mountain. I love this sort of cycling but I appreciate that Rod sometimes struggles on the hills so I point out a sign advertising a restaurant at the top and promise we’ll stop there for a cooked breakfast.
If you’re ever in this neck of the woods then avoid the tunnel and go over the top because the restaurant is absolutely wonderful. The rain has started but it’s warm inside, we’re on top of the mountain so the view is magnificent and the menu suggests a cooked breakfast won’t break the bank.
Unfortunately I left my wallet in the camper van so it’s straight down the other side of the mountain and push on to Korgen before we’ll get a chance to warm up and eat!
Having avoided the Korgen tunnel we do later in the day go through a few, the longest being 1.3km. The lighting conditions vary in each one but the one constant is that Norwegian tunnels are terrifying places to be. It’s hard to find a point of reference for the experience so I don’t know if the conditions are particular to Norwegian tunnels or just tunnels in general but the acoustics of the place make the experience something you would only do once in life. As you enter the darkness you become aware of a whining noise. This seems to be coming from behind you although it’s not always certain. The whining builds to a growl and then a rumble. The floor starts moving and the walls appear to be closing in on you. I look over my shoulder and am blinded by a set of floodlights which are undoubtedly about to smash through me. The noise is now deafening and can only be compared to the experience of putting your head inside a jet engine.
The deafening, floodlit monster descends as I look over my shoulder for what I am sure will be the last time in this life I brace for impact as a tiny 3 wheeled-car carrying two pensioners who look like they are visiting from Dusseldorf glides past us. It was absolutely terrifying and the next thing to hit/overtake us was an articulated lorry. (Or it may have been a 747, I had my eyes closed by that point)
When we next meet John it’s as if he has decided for a second career in motivational speaking.
“Do you think you’ll make it? It looks very hard? You know the Centre is very high up? Maybe you should take another day”
We elect instead to spend less time in the van and more on the bike!
This is when the rain starts, in a scene similar to Gandalf and the Fellowship trying to go over the mountains in the Lord of the Rings it seems as though the scenery is clubbing together to beat us. We ignore it and instead Rod starts to count down the last 32 miles. This works surprisingly well but isn’t as motivational as the song I’ve written:
“I’m never riding this stupid bike again,
You can chuck it in the bin”
It’s clear now that we won’t reach our target in time for the gift shop but we will reach it. It’s now 10:30pm and we are the only people on the road. This is an experience that everyone needs to try. For the last ten miles we are the only people around, approaching the Arctic Circle, with a “Tallest Man On Earth” album blasting from my iphone. It really is a beautiful experience.
We climb and climb some more but we really don’t care by this point. It’s very cold and we’re soaked through through but we pull into the Arctic Circle Centre car park at 11:15pm. We’ve done it in 5 days.
We’ve promised to take lots of photos for our various sponsors but at this time of night it’s never going to happen so it’s straight back to a Rangers Hut we passed for a hot shower and bed.
It’s a lovely sense of achievement but more importantly we feel we’ve really got people talking about the condition and helped to improve everyone’s understanding of batten disease.
At the end of the day all we’ve done is ride a bike for a few days and, although it was hard in places, me & Rod really enjoy bikes (not Tandems, I hate Tandems) but the kids we’ve been supporting are facing real struggles. They couldn’t do this challenge if they wanted to, they couldn’t ride a bike to the end of the road unassisted, they can’t see the scenery to appreciate it, they can’t even understand what’s happening to them in many cases. We really appreciate all the kind comments on the blog and all the messages of support, it really has helped us get through it but please remember what the point was.
Kids with Batten Disease need your continuing support. That may mean you sign up for the BDFA newsletter. It may mean you pledge to support them financially. You may attend couple of Batten Disease events each year or you may keep sharing on Social Media. Whatever you are able to do it all helps.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our stupid adventure, we certainly enjoyed parts of it, please think of all those people who made it possible but please keep in mind all those children who made it necessary.
Sadly there was one casualty on our trip. Boris the Bear trusted Rod when he said, “Just sit on this branch overlooking that ravine and I’ll get some really good photos of you”