Earlier this year, I was accepted to go to a United World College. UWC is an educational movement made up of 15 schools in all corners of the world. I was accepted to UWC Red Cross Nordic, on the western coast of Norway. This school will be my home for the next two years, and I thought; “Why not just ride over there?”
I had planned to take it ‘easy’ and ride it in 7 days, but on the evening before I decided to stay home to spend time with my family. I now had three days less to make it there. More than 650 kilometres in 4 days; it was going to be hard.
Day 1 – 198 kilometres
I said goodbye to my family, and began to roll down the hill. I had ridden this hill hundreds and hundreds of times on my way to school, but it felt different this time. I met some friends in town who would ride with me for the beginning of the day. We rode as we always do, cruising along, talking, and sprinting to speed limit signs. I was pulling a trailer weighing about 15 kilos. I didn’t win any sprints.
Eventually they turned back home. I didn’t.
I kept a steady rhythm, and stopped as little as possible. I bought some chocolate milk and talked to a motorcyclist who was going the same place I was, just four times faster than me.
It was a beautiful Norwegian summer’s day. I bonked a little bit with 30 to go, and pulled over to the side of the road to lie in the grass and stare at the sky. I eventually made it to Scott’s house, where I would spend the night. We’ve been great friends for a decade now, and I really wanted to meet up along the way to UWC. We had a barbeque.
Day 2 – 178 kilometres
The beginning of the day was mostly downhill, and I still suffered. This day was shorter, but had far more climbing. For a few moments that morning, I really felt like it couldn’t be done, and that stopping here would be alright. After a couple hours of forcing my legs around, I got a text from my father; ‘Where are you headed today?’ it read. I went to reply ‘Geilo’, a town I would pass through, but the English keyboard on my phone autocorrected it to:
I zig-zagged my way up every climb that day. 140 kilometres in, I hit the fifth and final climb of the day. It was a steady climb, 40 kilometres long and going above 1000 metres. If you live in the Alps, 1000 metres isn’t much, but in Norway it means no trees, a few patches of snow, and a million sheep. I kept the pace as high as I could. Darkness and rain were inevitable, and I wasn’t equipped to spend the night on the mountain.
All was well a few kilometres from the top. It was getting late and cold, but the sun was still shining. It began to rain out of nowhere, and it worsened and worsened within minutes. I saw some campers by the road. They looked hardcore. I saw three massive pickup trucks, along with three tents, and decided to stick with them.
They were a Russian family. The father ran over and helped me set up my tent in record time, rainstorm still going. Two of his daughters new the word ‘dinner’, and invited me. They were a family of 10. They spoke no English, and had only Russian food with them, and enough to last through an apocalypse. I was given a huge portion of penne with mystery meat; Russian spam I think. It was amazing.
Day 3 – 169 kilometres
I had camped only a kilometre from the top, and had 40 kilometres of descending ahead of me. The dozen tunnels I had to ride made it less fun. The first was straight, flat, under construction, and without light. I saw nothing but a patch my own light projected a few metres ahead of me. I was alone, and met only some sheep in the tunnel. They were scared too.
The tunnels in general were all pitch black, and had terribly sketchy road surfaces. I made it through however, and ended up in a town at sea level, by the first fjord I had seen since home. The longest tunnel in the world starts here, 24 kilometres long, going straight through a mountain. F**k that.
I went for the long road over the mountain, climbing to over 1400 metres. The trailer felt heavier than ever, and it began to rain; hard. Every car that met me gave me wave and laugh, thinking “What a fool”. It was steep (even without a trailer) and was easily one of the hardest climbs I have ever climbed.
Two thirds up the climb, I was passed by three pickup trucks; the Russians. They stuck their heads out of the window, cheered and said “Hellooo!” I laughed, waved back, and continued the grind up the mountain, watching them fly up the hairpins a thousand times faster than me.
The top was a bizarre new environment. I was surrounded by snow sheets. It was flat, and there were lakes with icebergs floating across them. I enjoyed the top more than the hell that was the climb, but knew I must get down before the cold gets to me.
After all that, I would still ride that brutal climb twice before ever riding the world’s longest tunnel.
The descent put a smile on my face. It was full of potholes, but beautiful. Halfway down I passed a gravel parking lot when I heard voices. The Russians had parked for lunch, and were waving for me to join them. I hit the brakes, and rolled over to them. I was offered a folding chair, and we had lunch. They were some of the friendliest, most welcoming people I had ever met. After a few minutes some sheep decided to join, running around and through our gathering, knocking over chairs and things. The Russian father was not having it. He kicked the sheep with all his force, they went flying, and then carried on running around us. For a while he chased, yelled and threw rocks after them. The boys laughed, and the girls worried for the sheep.
Day 4 – 116 kilometres
I got up extra early. I didn’t want to be late for the first day of school, and although there was only one climb today, it was a proper one. I had 20 or so flat kilometres along the fjord first however, foggy morning mist covering the fjord alongside me. School was starting for all of Norway today; every bus stop I rode by had a six year old standing there, anxious for their first day of school, their mothers waiting next to them.
“Shouldn’t he be in school?” they must have thought as I passed by.
The climb was a beautiful one, even though it began to rain again. I pressed on, thinking only about the college, the fact that I would soon be there. I had imagined arriving at the college for many months, but had never thought it would be on a bike.
Time went by slower than ever, and car crash with 15 to go meant a long wait. I talked to a fireman. I no longer needed a map, not that I knew any of these roads. I knew that I was going to a small town, over an unexpectedly big climb to an even smaller town (like 200 inhabitants) and turning right at the sign that read ‘United World College Red Cross Nordic’. It was the finishing straight.
I had talked to a friend who was already at the college, knowing that she would be there to welcome me. The end was a tiny hill followed by a decent into the college. For a moment I felt all four days of riding in my legs, every single road that had brought me here. I was met by a crowd of at least 30, cheering as if it was some sort of race. I was so relieved just to have made it to UWC, finally.
I feel that the bicycle has brought me where I am today. That it actually would bring me to the college was just so fitting.