Monday, July 18, 2016

Crazy woman

I need to get away for a couple of days and decide on a short bike trip to Korpudalur, which is only about 20 km from Ísafjörður but in that short stretch lies a slight problem: a beautiful mountain pass (push, push) with a 6 km long tunnel at the top. I can think of more pleasant (and safer) things to do than biking through a narrow, mostly one-way tunnel but it’s the only way to get out of town in this direction, as the public bus won’t allow bicycles. To make it more exciting, I travel at peak traffic time on a weekday when a large cruise ship is in town, with numerous busses ferrying the passengers to exciting day trips. Crazy as at sounds, biking through this tunnel is truly on my bucket list, and since nothing is more certain than death and my bucket list is long, I’d better get to it. 

The day is hot and sunny with no wind. I just have a light wind jacket on over my t-shirt. 45 minutes after leaving home, I am standing before the entrance to the tunnel. I actually biked all the way without having to push, but I am soaked with sweat. I turn on all the little lights I have, strapped to my helmet and gear and hope they are sufficient to prevent me from being flattened like a frog under a semi. I never travel by bike at night, so my experience with sufficient lighting is appropriately inadequate. As a newborn biking tunnel baby, I enter the vortex and quickly realize I made a few significant mistakes. 

I still have my sunglasses on and it’s impossible and very unsafe to stop for any length of time. I fumble them from my nose with one hand and shove them in an empty pocket without swerving. By now the first few cars have passed and they are incredibly loud, not to mention the plume of exhaust they leave in my face. My lungs will certainly be black if I make it out alive. At least the tunnel is flat and the road in excellent condition. Since I mainly bike on unpaved roads, I’m not used to travelling at such high speeds. It’s quite fun. Except for the fact that at the halfway point, the tunnel becomes one-way and the oncoming traffic has priority. Every time I see headlights in the distance I have to pull over and wait until it passes, thus increasing the time spent in these gassy fumes. It’s a cheap high at least, if the carbon monoxide doesn’t kill me first. 

The tunnel cuts through the mountain and numerous waterfalls, meaning the walls of the tunnel are dripping with water in spots. Oh, and it’s cold, damn cold. And I’m soaked with cold sweat and wearing nothing but a t-shirt and windbreaker and no gloves and I can see my breath. And slowly, on top of the noxious fumes, I’m freezing to death. But after 30 minutes I finally emerge into the bright sun at the top of the pass, and it’s all downhill from here. I stop to turn off my lights and breeze down the hill, and once I turn off the main road where traffic is instantly non-existent, I stop at the first opportunity and bask in the sun to warm up.
I survived and it’s not something I ever need to do again. Except I need to bike home in a couple of days, and I will then tackle the job as an experienced tunnel traveler.

So here I am in Korpudalur and after checking into the hostel (I’m greeted with “oh you’re the crazy woman alone on your bike!”), I take a first look at the area with my wheels. I had actually planned on doing some hiking, but discover a faint trail leading deep into the valley (Hestdalur) and off I go on my bike. Oh it’s so fun! Mountain biking at its best. Only a faint trail, overgrown with long grass, deep ditches here and there and lots of mud and numerous rivers to cross. I am able to go around 3km into the valley before the trail is just too difficult. I leave my bike and explore a bit on foot, before settling down in the grass for a long nap. This is one of the best rewards after some hard exercise.  

In the evening after an enjoyable dinner in the sun on the porch of the hostel, I head into the other valley (Korpudalur) with my bike. This trail is more difficult and I have to abandon my bike already after just one kilometer. But this trail is well-marked and I follow it a bit. But there is fog rolling in and it’s getting late, so I don’t want to go too far. The low-lying fog was hovering in the fjord all day. Occasionally the wind would blow a few wisps into the valley but for the most part it stayed away. But as the air cools off now at night, it’s certain to sneak into the valley. It’s been a fine day though, and I am content as my head hits the pillow.