hi hi from trondheim

We arrived in Oslo, Norway at the start of last week after a surprisingly pleasant red eye flight from JFK. Things got a little less pleasant when one of our bags failed to show up in the baggage claim. While we had our two bikes and half of our stuff, we were missing four bike bags that had all been shoved into two layers of heavy duty garbage bags. Within that missing bag was a sleeping bag, our cook set, our stoves, a mattress pad, and our tent, along with anything else that would allow us to successfully camp. We were told it could be one day, or maybe two, and that they didn’t have a clue where our bag was, but to check back the following day.

Initially we weren’t planning to bike into Oslo proper, as it was 25 miles or so south of the airport and in the opposite direction from where we were planning to head. It was a blessing in disguise though, as I’m glad we were able to see the city. We made it to Lillestrøm the first night, and slept in a tiny hotel room with a bed that the clerk didn’t believe we’d both be able to fit into. We showed him. Breakfast the next morning was an exciting dive into the world of Norwegian processed meats.

We made it to Oslo the second day, after calling the airport and hearing that nope, they had no clue where our stuff was. And then I had my first whoops of the trip when my bike tire was caught in a tram track and I skidded along the pavement and skinned my arm and twisted one of my shifters. As the sticker on my bike warns, “My life is a cautionary tale.” Everything is good.

Found a cheapish place to spend the night. And then it started to rain, and Eli’s rain jacket was sitting in our forgotten bag, likely somewhere back at JFK.


So he bought a stylish poncho and looked really dapper while drinking coffee. Early on day two someone had told him over the phone that our bag was *maybe* on its way and to check back, but when we called back their internet was down and turns out the call center isn’t actually at the airport and so they couldn’t tell us anything. We waited around a while, calling various numbers and likely racking up quite the phone bill, not wanting to go see the sights in town because it was pouring out and I was still working on a mystery illness that promised to turn into pneumonia (again) if I wasn’t careful. Eventually we decided to just chance it and take a train back to the airport. 

The baggage claims dude said that no, our bag was nowhere in the system. Eli worked his magic and the guy let him back into the baggage area, and after checking every carousel they found our sad bag abandoned near the side of Baggage Carousel 5, where it had apparently been for hours, unnoticed. Thankfully.

So that was the changing of our luck, and things have only gotten better from there.

We were able to start camping. We found a very neat wooden troll perched on a large rock in a recent clearcut. We have seen endless forest management, though none actually at work at the present. We’ve eaten some lefse and some shrimp salad.

Things are so beautiful and it is so weird having sunlight so much of the day. I don’t think our bodies have quite known what to make of it, and between all the sun and all of the biking we’ve been sleeping 12 solid hours, pretty much every night. Such is the decadence of vacation and having no destination.

We’ve only been spending around four hours per day on the bike, but after 11 days of it, that’s a lot of effort. We started off following Norwegian Cycle Route 7, which for some time was signed really well. Biking straight from the airport, with nicely paved bike trails and clear signage is not something we would have found back home. The route was lovely, and took us onto some gravel roads and paths about as far from any towns as we could get. We lost the route once we entered Lillehammer, unfortunately. But! We’ve been fortunate enough to speak to some locals who have recommended routes for us to take, which has paid off tremendously.

Leaving the town of Ringebu [apparently Ringebu has one of the largest remaining stave (wooden) churches in Norway, and sadly we missed it. Such is a life without constant Internet], we spent two hours climbing five miles. We made it above tree line and into the beautiful Rondane high mountain area. There was snow, and it was quite cold. After plateauing for part of the day, we descended a steep and winding 12% grade and stopped for cake and coffee at an enticing lodge. It was pouring rain again, and the host recommended a lean-to he knew of a few kilometers down the road. It pays to talk to those locals. The rain stopped long enough for us to take our first bath in days, in the freezing cold stream adjacent to the lean-to.

We left one mountain range, only to come within sight of another: the Dovrefjell range, crowned with the mountain Snøhetta. It was visible and glorious on our slow ascent to it, but upon our arrival to the viewpoint it promptly clouded over. Apparently you can go on a muskox safari nearby. We chose to bike on the freeway instead.
E6, which in Oslo was the busiest stretch of road around, was actually enjoyable to bike on so far north. It was made even better by at least 30 km (and probably closer to 50) of sweet sweet downhill. After all that climbing, my legs needed it. We made it to the town of Oppdal, a mountain village with not one but two bakeries, side by side. We frequented both. In a row. And then went back this morning.


And then we took the train to Trondheim. We’ve biked 560 difficult kilometers in a week and a half, and our legs are begging us for a rest. So with the help of Eli’s mom’s cell phone, we hooked ourselves up with Airbnb and have a place to stay for the next three nights to rest up — thanks Elaine!

More to come soon.

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finding old logging camps: simard, 1924-1925

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It’s early May, and I still had snow slipping into my rubber boots as I hiked up a small unnamed creek leading in to an old logging camp. The camp, designated on one of my old work maps as ‘Simard’ (a common surname in the region), was likely small and only in existence for one winter, 1924-1925. Had it existed longer, it probably would have made it on to other maps with more information, such as date of occupancy.

I love how quickly traces of humanity can disappear up here. I think about it sometimes, and wonder in 90 years how much of the present will have vanished. In some ways, it could be even greater than the past 90 years have been, given that most of our trash is now trucked off-site, and any abandoned buildings are buried, rather than burned or left to rot.

Something about these old camps calls to me. Using a generalized dot or hand-drawn smudge on a map, and topo features such as streams and lakes, I challenge myself to locate these old camps as precisely as I can, without having to trudge around for an hour or two before I find something. All the old camps were located along streams for easy water access, though given that the operations only took place in winter, I’ve found some of the streams to be surprisingly undersized. In-woods engineering in the days of yore was impressive.

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Unexpectedly small.

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There wasn’t much to find at this camp. There was an old moose antler, chewed to shit and looking like it was giving me the finger. And there was an unidentifiable bone from an unknown animal. There were a few old metal tubs, a bunch of disintegrating aluminum cans, a small amount of scrap metal. No glass bottles to be found here.

One of my favorite things to see at these camps are the decadent old spruce trees that grew up adjacent to any clearings. Lateral branches remain from whichever side of the tree was exposed to the extra sunlight of the clearing. This makes it relatively easy to see where buildings and roads were located way back when. It’s not a glass bottle, but it’s still pretty neat. I’ll take it.

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Old lamps are a staple of these camps. If the camp was large, the discard pile of lamps would be in a separate location from other refuse. The bigger the camp, the more outbuildings. This camp had no sign of a blacksmith, for example, and there was only one small trash midden.

In an interesting twist, some harvesting equipment was sent into this area two years ago, so the majority of trees that had grown up in the clearing were recently cut. The trails that the machine traveled on are filled with his brush. So it’s difficult to tell if any more old shit was hidden underneath his tracks or not.

Not much to find here, but it was rewarding nonetheless. Digging up history that very few people will ever see, especially considering that it will continue to decay, is a unique experience.

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april

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The loggers have gone home. There is mud, but there is also knee deep snow in the woods. There is the occasional burst of sunshine. Life in the North Maine Woods in the middle of April is for the most part a desolate affair.

I’m overeager. I see the photos that friends in other parts of the country post, and I see spring creeping north. Buds on the trees in Georgia are first on the list. Next it’s cherry blossoms in DC, and new growth in NYC. I do myself the disservice of traveling down to Connecticut, across to Illinois and back, and see forsythia and daffodils in bloom, green grass, a tick, a mosquito? And then it’s back to this place. I pay too much attention to the weather. But mine is a profession that is dependent on the weather, and we talk about it and over-analyze it every day of our lives, as if it is our chief interest. This is mud season, we have plenty of time to talk.
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Mostly though, I’m overeager because I want to get out into the woods and explore. I’ve made it my mission to discover as many old logging camps as I can. On the land that I manage, there are dozens and dozens to be found. So far, I’ve found three camps, dating back to the 1920s and 1930s; I have at least five more that I’d like to visit and try to find this spring. A few old maps I’ve found are helpful in navigating to these camps, but are also just inaccurate enough to make the search eventful and uncertain.

But it’s going to be weeks still before there is a diminished enough snow pack to make this endeavor a profitable one. And so I wait, and grow grouchier by the day.
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Last week was the perfect weather for ice skating. It was dreamy out on the ice, and things only got more magical when at dusk, I spotted an otter loping along and periodically sliding on its belly. There is no way that otters aren’t one of my spirit animals.

This week, there’s been a lot of rain and warmer temperatures. The ice is turning mealy. Channels are running across the lake, small rivulets and large swaths are bisecting each other, with gusts of wind whipping these periodic stretches of water into a frenzy. I’m guessing that ice out on the lake will happen in two weeks’ time. I’d like it to be sooner, but last year it was around the first of May. This is our sixth month of Ice Season. It’s all too much winter for me.

And so we’re leaving. It’s been over four years since we moved up to this beautiful strange place in the middle of nowhere, and we’re long overdue for a change. This June, we are packing up our bicycles, taking to the skies, and bikepacking across Europe for as long as our funds allow. And I will be here every step of the way, telling you about it in excruciating thoughtful detail.

Up first will be what we plan to take with us, our bikes, and our gear. If you play your cards right, you may even get to hear from the man himself, bike aficionado and my stud of a husband, Eli Shank. That way I can focus on the important stuff (like baguettes and pierogi and weißbier, oh my!), and Eli can teach you everything I wish I could remember about gearing ratios and wheel bearing adjustments.
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