Glaciers are truly the epitome of the so called “fear of missing out”. Like an near extinct animal they are all seemingly a hairs breadth away from disappearing back up the mountain for good, so you’d better stomp around on it while you can. Today I was completing my little detour to the Jostedal Glacier. This particular glacier is famous for being the largest in continental Europe, which is all well and good, but I should point out that its about 16 times smaller than the largest glaciers in Europe which takes the wind out of its sails a bit.
The storm had passed in the night, and so I found myself left with the glimmer of hope that my soggy belongings would actually dry out as I crammed wet bundles of equipment into my dry bags and my splayed my wet clothes across the back rack. I pushed my bike back out through the field, and as I made it back up to the road and hopped on, a loud honk almost sent me tumbling back off. Was it an angry farmer, laying in wait? Was someone very, very impatient to get to the glacier? No, my trash bag had wriggled itself free from my rack and was sitting on the road. I sheepishly parked my bike and ran back to grab it, and then I was on my way.
The glacier was not far away, and I took a quick gander at the visitors centre before sneaking past the boom gate that led to the main parking lot. The road leading up to the parking lot was a slalom of hikers who opted to park back up the road and hike in rather than paying the fare.
I don’t meet a lot of pedestrians out on the road, and I don’t have a bell, so I often struggle to get the attention of whoever I am about to run down. I learned early on that a “bike on your right” or “excuse me” don’t really get an appropriate reaction from people who don’t speak English, and so I have settled on a more universal, “Hello!”, which at least gets people to twist their heads around before leaping out of the way in surprise. Oh, also incredibly loud squeaky brakes. Nothing gets the attention like an ear splitting screech.
At the glacier parking lot I locked my bike and set off on the rocky hike to the main attraction. The hike would take me along the shores of a large lake and eventually the glacial runoff itself. It was seemingly an easy hike, but clambering up boulders wearing shoes with flat metallic cleats felt treacherous enough that I took it very slowly. After a good half hour or so of tense waddles up and down the large, smooth boulders that made up the last portion of the hike, I was face to face with the glacier. It was by no means the most impressive or largest glacier I’ve seen, but it was very, very close, which made the trip all the more worthwhile. Back in New Zealand I had to use a telephoto lens to take photos of the Franz-Josef glacier due to it being a good 200 metres away from the viewing area, but here the glacier was a stones throw away. I was tempted but did not have any stones in hand.
Having had my fill of the glacier gawping, I retraced my steps back down to the bike with the intention of hoofing it out of here. The weather was turning foul and the forecast for tonight was looking like a repeat of the night before. I wanted to get back down to the fjord where I could at least camp in relative safely. The ride was short and pleasant, save for the occasional gunshot ringing out from the valley every once in a while. The large river running alongside the road had turned from an eerily vibrant green to a muddy brown, and I wondered how long it would take for it to return to its former glory.
Back in civilization, I stopped by the local grocery store for supplies and sparked up a conversation with a group of Polish hitch hikers. They were about to set off in my direction to camp for the night, but were concerned about a tunnel just outside of town. I checked my tunnel map and noticed that it had a supposed alternative route, so I offered to cycle through it and come back if it wasn’t traversable. The alternative route turned out to be the decaying original road, and it had seen better days. Parts had crumbled into the fjord below, roots had torn parts of the paving the shreds, and so overall it was a pretty bumpy ride. As I spotted the exist at long last, my bike suddenly stopped, as if someone had run up and grabbed the back of the bike. If only it had been a mysterious assailant, for it was actually my wet long sleeve top crammed halfway through the rear derailleur. The constant bumps had allowed a sleeve to escape its straps and flop down into the chain, where it immediately got pulled into the derailleur pulleys. With a great deal of effort I managed to reverse the chain and release the sleeve, but the damage was done. Small tears and rips everywhere on my beautiful new Icebreaker top, and more importantly the whole sleeve was now part grease. How the hell was I going to clean this off? To make matters worse, my hands were also slathered in grease to the point where I had to cycle with my wrists to avoid ruining the handlebars.
I spotted a small cluster of homes around the bend and resolved to hunt down someone with enough soap to make this mess right. I saw a man walk into a large home and decided that he was my best bet. It was rather late and I prefer not to disturb anyone if I can help it. I ring the bell and the man appears. He seems to be expecting me and must have seen me roll down the long driveway. I show him my hands and he understands my predicament, inviting me into his house and leading me to his laundry where he throws enough bottles of grease cleaning laundery detergent that I could probably go ahead and degrease the whole bike if I felt the need. After 20 minutes of ceaseless scrubbing my hands and top were clean, and as I pack my things away the man and his wife invite me in for some wine. I graciously accept, but not before offering them my bottle of expensive Polish alcohol as thanks. We spend the evening on the balcony, chatting about life in Norway as night slowly descends upon the fjord. It also starts to rain quite heavily, and the couple suggest that I sleep on the balcony rather than trudge back out in the rain to find a camp. I roll out my sleeping mat and try to get a good nights sleep, for tomorrow I have another large climb waiting for me.