The last four days have been amongst the most challenging of Expedition1000. Out of 21,498 miles so far, these have been right up there.
This Summer I'm exploring the Norwegian Coast like nobody ever has, by travelling 1500 miles along the Hurtgruten route between Kirkenes and Bergen, using a Schiller Bike. If successful this journey will be a world record distance by bike on water.
If you ever need to break away and give yourself some fresh headspace, travel.
Do something new; jump on a bike or a plane, in a car or a train, hope aboard a ship and take in a coastline from the best possible angle - from the sea.
I'm doing just that. After a year of challenges that have tested me in ways I've never before had to deal with it has taken just a day and a half to (almost) switch off. I left London yesterday morning and touched down briefly in Stockholm before descending three hours later through heavy cloud cover above snow-speckled peaks above Tromsø, Norway.
The coolest man in the world was sitting beside me on the plane, everything about him just screamed rock star - the long hair, wide brimmed hat, necklaces, rings and slow, drawling American accent. He even held his iPad like a dude. Turns out Alice Cooper have a gig in Tromsø this weekend and my plane neighbour is the lead guitarist in the band.
I told him what I was doing and he held out his hand, "You're living the life, man, that is a loooong trip."
This stuff doesn't happen when you stay at home, and if by some freak of chance it does, the story wouldn't have been half as good.
I'm ready to play a part in some new stories. The FlyBuss dropped me on a slick sidewalk a few metres from the water and as if it had been rehearsed there was the MS Finnmarken, looming into port, with little painted nostrils and singular fangs on its bow, as if to say 'this is me, deal with it.'
Hurtigruten, the parent company of this vessel and another eleven that patrol the Norwegian coast between Kirkenes and Bergen, are the reason that I'm here, and their attitude as a company has been exemplified by two people who pushed the idea of this journey and turned it from a throwaway suggestion into reality.
Marcella saw me speak on another (much uglier and larger) cruise ship in the Mediterranean last year and Ant has forced through the proposal, as well as bringing Visit Norway in on the act. These things are always because of the people, and along with Judah and Robyn from Schiller Bikes in San Francisco, and Neal and Tim and Stephanie and Cheese and Carl and David and Jenna and tens of other people who believed in this trip, I'm about to do something bonkersly brilliant.
And while I'll be solo on the water for much of this journey, I won't be alone. As per usual I'll be sharing tales daily on social media, and I'll also have company nearby in the shape of a Yellow VW van named Yellow Matilda, a wise young dog named Angus, and their owners Adam and Laura. Team Yellow Matilda are currently making their way north on the roads between England and Kirkenes, some 2500 miles.
A new challenge
I was ready for something new, a challenge that didn't just extract the rust from the old joints, but provided a real test in the midst of a dramatic, unfolding story.
These characteristics always come with risk and the risk here is the sea, and that's why I find myself boarding the MS Finnmarken, because over the next two days we'll be sailing north and east along the route I'll soon be pedalling.
Fear and danger are always greatest from afar, and from afar is where the thinking and planning is done. On this journey, beyond keeping a beady eye on the weather and keeping my head on my shoulders when wind and sea state will undoubtedly force crucial decisions, the biggest challenge is the unseen. Especially for the first 400km, the current is against me. The wind almost certainly will be, too, but keeping a positive mindset is a matter of balance and expectation - pedalling against the tide and trying to measure gains by the movement of the land to my left, that's going to hurt some days.
Scouting the route gives me a chance to see what's to come (which isn't something I'd usually choose to do - often when you know what's next on a self-propelled journey it would put you right off), to ready my mind, to pick out those few-and-far-between camp spots and safe havens on a notoriously aggravated, difficult shoreline.
The scale up here is other-worldly. The Hurtigruten route is known as The World's Most Beautiful Sea Voyage and while it's easy to brush aside a gorgeous marketing line, the 24 hours I've now spent on board have confirmed three things: yes, this is an utterly gorgeous corner of the planet. Yes, this is going to be a huge challenge, and yes, no matter how many journeys I make my way through, there is always another way to stretch out the comfort zone.
In fact, the only pieces left in the puzzle that makes up the pre-trip conundrum, are Schiller Bike-shaped, in as much as the tracker on the DHL website stopped updating on Tuesday afternoon. I was hoping that my Schiller Bike would be ready and waiting in Kirkenes in time for my arrival tomorrow morning but I haven't yet been sent confirmation of delivery, so this looks unlikely.
No journey on this planet has ever begun with every detail nicely sewn up weeks in advance, and that's all part of the show. Roll with the punches, adapt to your surroundings, be prepared to change a plan when the wind demands and most of all, understand that you can try to plan an adventure as much as you like but when it comes down to it, you're never fully in control.
If you don't love that feeling and all that comes with it, I hope you still enjoy following this journey from the comfort of the familiar. Just don't expect Alice Cooper to sit down next to you.
The best ways to follow Expedition Norway:
- Everything you could possibly need and more on www.davecornthwaite.com/waterbike
- Daily video diaries on www.facebook.com/davecornthwaite
- Images on www.instagram.com/davecorn
- Tiny 140 character thoughts, snippets and snapshots on www.twitter.com/davecorn
And when you finally succumb to the temptations of Norway, please use the excellent resources on Visit Norway to plan your trip, and consider Hurtigruten as the perfect introduction to this wonderful land.
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