Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Very Merry Norwegian Christmas

December has been a long, dark month with no skiing and lots of school work (I graduate this spring - hurrah!). Now I'm finally on Christmas vacation, but unfortunately for my desperate soul the snow conditions are dismal.

We spent last weekend visiting Audun's grandmother. She lives in a farmhouse on a steep hillside in Norddal, Sunnmøre. The place is everything you've ever imagined a Norwegian farmhouse to be - steep mountains in every direction falling straight down to the fjord. There wasn't enough snow to seriously consider skiing, so we went hiking instead. After all, beggers can't be choosers. On Sunday, Audun, his father and I headed up to Rellingsætra, a small seter (traditional Norwegian summer farm) further up the steep hillside.

An old tractor road snaked up through the twisted, rocky forest. Parts of it had been destroyed by falling rocks or mudslides. On our left side, the hill dropped steeply to the valley bottom. There was more snow than we thought, drifted in between the trees.

Winter hiking (Image: Odd Arild Bugge)
On the way up, we found a tree house on the side of the tractor road, and of course had to test it out. The platform was deemed stable, the ladder less so.

In the tree house. Note the broken ladder! (Image: Odd Arild Bugge)
Up towards Rellingsætra the snow was knee deep. A thin crust on top alternately broke and held for each step, making the going slow. At the seter we stopped to drink coffee and eat Snickers. It was cloudy and snowing, and we could just barely see the flank of Torvløysa, the largest mountain in the region, through the fog. 

Coffee at Rellingsætra (Image: Odd Arild Bugge)

We're celebrating Christmas a bit further north, in Tingvoll, where the ground is also mostly bare. Yesterday Audun and I hiked up Kirkeberget, a loaf of a mountain that towers over the village. We met ankle-deep snow on the way up, but still not really enough for skiing. Couldn't complain about the view, though!

Posing in a winter wonderland

The days are dark now, and the sun that hit our faces on the way up felt like a Christmas gift.
Here comes the sun!
Merry Christmas to everyone waiting for the snow, and everyone skiing on it!

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Joy in the dark and cold

It's the in-between season in Norway to its fullest extent. Cold and dark, but still no sign of snow. In past years I've embraced rock climbing as the sport of choice in the in-between season, but this year I've only been running. In December, a time when my head is filled with exams, and, this year, work on my master's thesis, this is what I've got.

In fact, I don't think I've only run since I started mountain biking three years ago. On Sunday I had my longest run since Pic St Michel. I started at Sognsvann, a lake on the last stop of one of the metro lines here in Oslo. The whole area was crowded with Norwegian hikers out for some fresh air. The Norwegian concept of 'Søndagstur', which literally means Sunday hike, is an institution, and really reflects one of the things I find beautiful in Norwegian culture. It's Sunday, people, let's go be outside!

Obligatory trail selfie

I left the crowds walking along the dirt road around Sognsvann in favour of a small, rootier trail. I joined them againbriefly again at Ullevålseter, a cabin/cafe a few km into the forest where they serve refreshments. After purchasing a delicious cinnamon bun, I ran away again. North. North. Away.

Snow dusted trail and icicles along the trail
The trail lead me across the half frozen landscape, up hills, steeply down, winding and twisting, all the way to the dam at Bjørnholt.

Frozen over bog
Then I turned around and ran the easy dirt road all the way out to have some easier kilometers. By the time I was back, it was almost dark and my cell phone battery was dead. When I arrived at home a half an hour after that, I found a genuinely worried boyfriend, puzzled as to how I could stay out for so long and not answer my calls. Oops. At least I used all the available light.

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Monday, November 25, 2013

Thanksgiving and white dreams

 We packed our skis along with our hopes into the tiny rental car and crept out of frosty, barren Oslo. Along 450 km up the E6, the main road that winds and twists through Norway, there was no snow. Only cold.

Five hours later, in the ski town of Oppdal, we saw the first snow. It was a dusting, a teaser at most. The hope prevailed with the snow. After all, a snowstorm was forecast for the weekend.

Snow shouldn't have been the important thing, but it always is. We were there to celebrate Thanksgiving. (I'm perfectly aware that it's not until tomorrow but since Americans in Norway don't get any vacation for Thanksgiving, we always celebrate during a weekend.) For the first time we had decided to host Thanksgiving at a large, comfortable mountain hut called Bårdsgarden, about 20 minutes outside of Oppdal. Part of the motivation, of course was that we might squeeze in a few turns in between turkey and pie.

The next morning grey clouds foreshadowed an impending storm. But the trusty Norwegian weather forecast said the snow wouldn't start till mid-afternoon, so me and Dad headed out for a run in the snow.

Up up up the big hill behind Bårdsgarden we went. At first I kept his tempo, until lactic acid started to build in my legs and I slowed down a tad, watching as he gained first 10, then 50 meters on me. It was OK though, because as we headed down the hill to the next valley over, the going grew tricky and I came into my own. Slippery footing, a weaving trail, slight downhill. I'm a technical runner and I own it.

The intensity of the run slowed as we continued in towards Vassendsætra, another hut at the end of Gjevilvatnet lake. We started talking about the John Muir Trail (which I shall henceforth refer to as the JMT). This 338 km long hiking trail traverses the High Sierras in California, and I've grown up listening to my dad tell stories about its beauty. We're planning a family trip to do the JMT next summer - hopefully all of us (except the faithful hound Sebastian) will be doing it next July. And I shall of course share more on the blog.

Dad and the dog at Vassendsætra
We ran all the way in to Vassendsætra, and the view reminded me why I started to run all those years ago. To be able to cover long distances in the mountains in relatively short time. To traverse the trails with loping tracks and see all the sides of a mountain. Between 2007 and 2011 I worked every summer in these mountains, and explored my obscure and well-known corners of them by running in my time off. But those are stories for another day.

Running in the snow with Gjevilvasskammen looming in the background
It took us nearly two hours to cover the 10.5 km to Vassendsætra and back - including nearly 500 meters of climbing. Running in the snow is slow, but it sure is fun!

I ate a tiny lunch to prepare for the rigours of Thanksgiving consumption. I was not disappointed.

We were an international assortment come together to celebrate this most American holiday. Me, mom and dad; my Norwegian boyfriend Audun; two boys from Vermont on exchange in Norway who know my parents; and some Dutch friends of the family. Our spirit was exactly as it should be: one of friendship, and of overeating.

For once I contributed to dinner, or at least dessert. I have been carefully crafting the perfect lemon meringue pie for the last 3 months, so of course I brought it for Thanksgiving. It was excellent - lemon meringue pie might actually be the ultimate dessert. Light, yet satisfying. Sweet and tangy sour at the same time.

Trying to do the meringue all fancy with a piping bag
As we ate inside, a storm began to rage outside. It was snowing - it was BLIZZING! The next morning we headed up the hill behind the hut again, this time kitted out with skis and our hoods drawn up against the snow and wind. There was at least 30 cm of new snow, and breaking tracks was an anaerobic affair.

Audun breaks trail as Sebastian the dog does not help at all. As usual

This is Mom's idea of FUN!
On the way down there was an almost frustrating amount of snow. It was beautiful, knee-deep powder, but the slope just wasn't steep enough. If you poled as hard as you could, you might just barely be able to do half a turn.
Hansen in the snow storm and pow.
Audun tries to gain some speed.
Sadly, one run was all she wrote. After that we cleaned up the hut and drove home in the snowstorm. Now it's time to pray to the snow gods for a good winter and more POW!

- the Wild Bazilchuk

Monday, November 18, 2013

Monday trail musings

I've always had trouble following anything like an organized training plan. I think it's because I want running and cycling to be fun; I spend so much time doing other stuff that requires a lot of organizing and thinking. When I'm out there, I wanna go as hard as I wanna go.

Yesterday I took a new pair of shoes out for a Sunday spin. After two months feeling the trails getter wetter and wetter, and my Hoka Rapa Nuis slipping more and more, I decided to spring for a pair of more hardcore trail shoes. I bought a pair Icebug Acceleritas. Icebug is a Swedish company that does sort of niche shoes like studded shoes for winter running and orienteering shoes with spikes. All their shoes are in vibrant colors, which I love.

The shoes are significantly lighter than my other runner shoes, and they have really defined tread and almost no damping. I did managed to take a pretty good fall by sliding sideways on a root yesterday, but that was because I wasn't looking at the trail in front of me. Serves me right!

I went for a bit of a trail hunt. The forest around Oslo is huge, and there is a maze of trails between, well, everything. I keep trying new pieces of trail through forest and seeing where they lead, collecting them like pieces of a puzzle. I do have a map and stuff, but many of the trails aren't on it. So I slowly expanding my trail network, like a spider spinning a web further and further out.

I love it when I find a new piece of singletrack through the forest. It feels sort of magical, like it could lead anywhere. Maybe the witch's house in Hansel and Gretel. Or just to the top of another rolling hill, where the houses of a million Oslo inhabitants are suddenly visible. 

Sunset at Linderudseter

The blissful fantasy of my run was broken by the realization that I was blistering - bad. Today my whole heel is open and raw, and I can't run. Guess that's what you get for taking a new, untested pair of shoes out for two hours! Any tips on treating big, raw blisters? I don't want to be stuck inside all week.

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Blood, mud and rain: Madeira part 2

This is my second (and final) blog post about mountain biking in Madeira. You can read my first post here.
The Madeiran landscape is extremely steep, reflected by the fact that the island of only 800 square kilometers has several peaks over 1800 meters.  The vegetation almost King Kong-like, and local weather differences often shroud the tallest peaks in clouds, as if hiding something.

Many times in my life, the saying 'Don't like the weather? Wait a minute!'  has applied. Nowhere has it been more appropriate than in Madeira. Driving for five minutes could be the difference between sun and pouring rain. We were on the receiving end of both during our five days of riding.

Synne and Ap ride out of the mist
Extreme climate requires extreme measures for agriculture. The hillsides all over Madeira are riddled with terraces that host bananas and other crops, as well as grapevines. The terraces looked like they must be incredibly time-consuming to build, but they must be indispensable enough to justify the work.

Madeirans seem to have built stairs with the same enthusiasm they built agricultural terraces. I can safely say I have never biked down as many stairs in my life as I did in Madeira. I have sort of mixed feelings about biking down stairs. Sometimes I felt like the 'Stairmaster' and was (excessively) proud of making it down. Other time I just got sick of being rattled up.

Øyvind is definitely the Stairmaster on these slippery, wet stairs
The wet weather during a few of the days of our trip turned the soft soil into churned mud in many places. This results in slippery biking, and a number of endos and sliding falls.

Synne hit her face like a pro.
Our last day of riding was so muddy we went back to the hotel midday to dry off before heading out for a few more hours.

Synne and AP's muddy bike clothes midday on the last day of riding (Photo: AP)

The microclimates, which lead to the large degree of change between sea level and the highest mountains, also lead to a wide variety of vegetation and landscapes to bike on. From sweeping ridge lines (which we rode without a trail, something I haven't done much before):

Biking down a dramatic ridge. (Photo: John from Freeride Mountain Biking Madeira)

...to forests with trails sprinkled with pine needles (soft to land on!)...

Ingvild leads and I follow through the forest. (Photo AP)
...to exposed cliffs overlooking the ocean.

Ap rounds the corner
Some of the forests in Madeira burn periodically; several times the trails were in bad shape because they had burned recently and hadn't been built up to their former glory. But burnt trees with bright green ferns tinting the stark forests made for dramatic riding.

Øyvind heads down a slippery section of trail
Mats cruises through a regenerating forest
One of the coolest places we biked through was an open grassy field at around 1500 meters with mushroom-shaped trees and cows grazing. I thought the cows look peaceful, but some of the others were sceptical. They don't take the horns off cows in Madeira, so if they got angry it would be scary. The whole scene was rather Lord of the Rings-like.

Lord of the Rings grove, Madeira. (Photo: John from Freeride Mountain Biking Madeira)

Not all of the vegetation was friendly and soft. There is a particular brand of prickly plant that grows on the high plateau in Madeira which we all experienced. Being a lady, I would of course never show you a picture of the state of my ankles. But here's Mats showing off his on day 3 (so two days of shin torture left):

Shin-eating plants are real!
Suffice to same that my shins are in the same state.
Another cool feature of biking in Madeira is the levadas. Levadas are irrigation channels that run from the wet side of the island to the dry side. There are paths along them which are popular among hikers. We would often follow the levadas to connect different bits of trail. Ride along a levada isn't particular technically challenging, as the trails along are quite smooth, but the paths can be quite narrow, and thus require a certain focus.

The levada is the channel next to the trail. The dweebs in the bushes are picking blueberries.
This trip was, like Morocco, a test of biking endurance from day to day. One thing I really learned is how much mind can weigh over matter, how deciding to have fun can really make all the difference. We biked for 4 consecutive days, before having one day off and then a final day of biking. On day four, I was very tired. From the moment I got on the bike I felt shaken and like I couldn't really focus.

I was really ready for a day off to relax my sore muscles, and I regretfully behaved that way. I was biking slowly and balking at the slightest technically difficulties. When we got back to the van in the afternoon, John asked if we wanted to do one more run, from the top of Pico do Arieiro all the way down to Funchal. At first Synne, Ingvild and I all said no, and we agreed to drop the others off before we would be shuttled back to the hotel.

When we reached Pico do Arieiro, Ingvild changed her mind.

"I want to go, I still have energy left", she said. Synne indicated that if Ingvild went, she would go too.

So I would be the only one who chickened out of the last run. A voice in my head was whining, I'm so tired, why is no one else tired? I just want to go lie down. Why can't we just all go lie down?  But the only thing stronger than that voice was my competitive instinct. I couldn't let the other girls go and sit around like some pampered princess. So I decided I would go. And I decided I would damn well have fun doing it.

Heading down from Pico do Arieiro, photo by AP

I had one of my best runs of the trip, but also my hardest crash of the trip (no Wild Bazilchuks were seriously injured during the making of this blog post). Serves me right for biking hard when I was that tired!

The whole gang, included Swiss Thierry who joined us for one day, posin'.
Madeira was rougher and tougher than Morocco, although there's plenty of challenging biking to be done in both places. Thanks for a stunning week of biking - now Norway, time to bring me some snow!

- the Wild Bazilchuk

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Mountain biking Madness: Madeira part 1

It was a Saturday afternoon at Oslo Airport, and I was a giggling fan girl. Ingvild and I had just spotted Aleksander Gamre, famous for his solo South Pole expedition, along with Cecilie Skog, of Seven Summits and pole expedition fame. They were both looking cleaner and more well-fed than in their expedition photos, and we couldn't pass up the opportunity. So here's my real, live celebrity photo!

Lovin' it
We, a group of 5 hopeful Norwegians and an enthusiastic American, were on our way to the resort island of Madeira. As usual, not to relax, but to bike. On the way we had a 5 hour layover in Lisbon, which turned into to a 7 hour layover when our plane was delayed.

Bridge above the streets of Lisbon

Lisbon by night, taken from the top of the bridge in the last picture.

Because of all the delays, it was 4:30 am by the time we rolled into our hotel beds in Funchal. That gave me 6 hours to sleep, unpack and put together my bike, and be a functioning bicycling being. It was going to be a hard day.

I awoke to this:

The view from our hotel. Note the huge cruise ship.
Spurred on by the gorgeous weather, and the threat of rain later in the week, our guide John had a long day of biking planned. We were shuttled to the top of Pico do Arieiro, the third highest peak in Madeira. As I stood on top, drinking in the view of 1800 spectacularly steep meters down to the ocean, I felt so tired it was like being hungover.

The first kilometer on the bike, I felt scared and out of control, and I had no idea how I would be able to keep going for the next 6 or so hours. But somehow, the sunshine loosen my sleepy muscles and I forgot that I was tired, and remembered how much good, unclean fun can be had biking trails.

It was widely agreed among the group that we biked so many trails the first day that we couldn't possibly remember them all. The biking was also so varied - from soft, smooth trails in the forest, to rocky, exposed trails that seemed to traverse down cliff faces.

Our guide, John, and Ap head into the bushes

The day culminated in an extremely steep, loose downhill that was basically unbikable. As we dragged our mountain bikes slowly down the hill, I started to doubt the sanity of the expedition. After all, who carries their mountain bike down a hill?

Luckily, the trail continued out onto a dramatic cliff looking over the sea that rewarded us for our hard work...

Heading out onto the cliff
... and swooped into one of the most enjoyable descents of the day, except for the agressive looking goats standing by the trail.

Towards the end of a long day
Needless to say, I was extremely tired that evening, as exemplified by my rather rude exchange with a Madeiran waiter at dinner. I ordered fish, and the waiter asked me if I would like it with banana, passionfruit, ++. When I replied, "Pick whichever you like best", he countered "I cannot pick for you, what do you want?"

In my tired, sleepless brain, this waiter represented the barrier between me and food, which implicitly was the barrier between me and sleep. So  I said, "I just want food. Can I please have food?" The waiter spent the rest of the meal going on about how he had to kill the monster in my stomach. And I was teased for the remark the rest of the trip.

There are four whole days of biking not yet immortalized - stay tuned for Madeira part 2!

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Friday, October 18, 2013

I went for a run today.

I ran slow. Sometimes I ran a little faster. But mostly I ran slow, through the forest carpeted with leaves and needles. On sharp rocks. Then on smooth, hard asphalt. My sins are all on Strava.

Sometimes I wish I was capable of following a training program. I wish I could faithfully and methodically complete intervals, long runs and rest days. But only my muses are allowed to tell me how I exercise. (If I ever met my muses, I'd give them such a swift kick in the toga...)

Then I bought a pair of shoes. They're pretty ugly, as ugly as only FiveTen can make shoes with Stealth rubber:

...which you may or may not realize means these are mountain biking shoes.

Also Casper got new tires and new break wires. So now even he's realized... we're going on a trip!

Tomorrow I'm jetting off to the island of Madeira, Portugal for a week of enduro biking (who would go somewhere like that to lie on the beach?! :P) It's going to be a repeat on the Morocco trip last year, in new surroundings.

So watch the blog for pictures and a trip report!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Come away with me

As a new citizen of Oslo, I would like to file a complaint. Although, in this city, there is an opera house, hundreds, possibly thousands of kebab places, supermarkets open at every hour of the day, a gigantic ski jump, a complex metro system and tons of interesting research going on, we are so far from the mountains. Norway is such a moutainous country, and four hours driving to the nearest mountains is such a long way!

That is, until you factor in Norfjell. An hour and half from Oslo, you can get your vitamin M. And that's just what Audun and I did last weekend. We decided not to plan too strenuous a hike, as Audun has been having some knee troubles.

When we started from the middle of the ski lift on Saturday, the sun was high in the sky. And it was warm. As we headed up the ski hill, I was sweating hard in a t-shirt and long pants rolled up.

I hated our hike a little at that point. Who wants to hike up a stupid ski hill? I thought, and then realized the irony on me paying money to run up one just two weeks before. I thought about all the things I should have done that week, and generally stressed out. But by the time we reached the crest of the hill and gazed at the rocky, alpine landscape ahead of us, I let it all go.

A veritable trail highway
We followed the highway of a trail inward, farther away from cars, roads and the ski lift. Carrying all you need on your back, your only goal being one step forward, and then another - this is mediation. I don't need anything else.

In four fairly easy hours we reached Høgvarde, one of two DNT huts in these moutains. We hiked up the peak for which the hut is named, the highest in Norefjell, and were treated to a panoramic view often called one of the broadest in Norway. You can see Oslo, Jotunheimen and Handangervidda all from one point.

Sunset on Høgvarde, from Høgvarde hut

In the evening, with no internet to suck us in and no TV to distract us from the impending dark, we talked with the hutkeeper who complained about how Norefjell was too popular. I see his point - we were barely alone all day on the trails. But these are the mountains nearest Oslo, and it only takes a small fraction of the million people living Oslo to fill up one DNT hut.

The next morning I woke as abruptly as if someone had shaken me. I look outside, and the entire sky was a delicious red orange. I shook Audun.

"Wake up! It's sunrise!"


"But it's pretty!"

"It's warm right here."

"But it's pretty!"

And so we ended up on the hill behind the hut at 7:30 in the morning watching a Norwegian fall sunrise.

Unfortunately, I didn't have a real camera (my lens died in August, and Audun's was out of battery), so all our pictures from the weekend are from a cell phone camera.
It was perfect.

Me, the hut and the sunrise
- the Wild Bazilchuk

Monday, September 30, 2013

Running up a steep hill

On Saturday I decided to run up a big hill. 'The steepest in Oslo', they said. Being new in Oslo (I only moved here after I got home from France), and enjoying steep hills, I decided I would join the race.

Me and every other fit female in the region.

At the starting line five minutes before twelve o'clock, over 400 ponytails bobbed as they jogged in place.
Shamelessly filched from Oslosbratteste.no, the official race website

Past the two RedBull arches was not just a hill. Imagine that you are standing at the bottom of a ski hill. Imagine that it is a black diamond run - very steep. Now imagine that there is no snow on the black diamond run, and that you propose to run straight up it.

This is about the time when I realized this might not have been a brilliant idea.

When the start signal went off, and 400 women began charging up the hill, I also realized I should have started further forward, because I was basically being swept away by a tide of women in tights. But I went with it, and did what I heard was smart - start walking on the steepest part before your legs give out (kudos to this blog, in Norwegian).

When walking is still the most painful thing you've done in a long time (Picture taken by the race organizers)
Somehow, you get to the top of the black diamond slope, and then there's a downhill and flat section before the ultimate hill. I shook out my legs and charged down the downhill part as fast as a could.

The last hills were pretty steep, but much shorter rises than the first big hill. 'I shouldn't relax,' I thought, 'this shouldn't be easy.' So I started running up the hills, and then it wasn't so easy anymore.

By the time I felt like I had to vomit, a sign told me I was only 200 meters from the finish, and my boyfriend was cheering me on. So then I had to run a little faster. I also was passing a lot of people who had clearly overestimated there abilities on the first hill. Passing people is possibly one of my favorite activities.

Up to the finish line
When I crossed the finish line, I saw tens of women in tights lying around. I barely had time to think, 'they look stupid', before my legs gave in and I collapse too.

Two point seven kilometers, four hundred and seven vertical meters in 25:11. All I got was this stupid hat (also not my photo):

People in matching hats. I've got one two!

And I was queasy for the rest of the day. Guess it's time to get off my bike a little more often!

- The Wild Bazilchuk