Friday, 16 November 2018
Oh Monday. What an unexpected adventure you’ve been! Today didn’t go as planned, but plan “let’s not have a plan” went brilliantly.
Some new friends I made on my way, and the happiness of crawling back up onto the mountain road as the weather closes in, in hope of hitchhiking the next 60km through the descending fog & rain.
There’s sheep, and there’s Faroe sheep.
They loved a good fuss.
Gone Island Wild
The words of my Faroese friend:
“You are a Viking now”
Weeks of cycling the Faroe Islands & its wild weather does crazy things to a solo adventurer.
So yesterday’s plan was to cycle my next island, Sandoy. I’ve tried to get here once before but was scuppered by the steep mountain road that lay between me & the ferry & didn’t make it in time. I tried again, again I failed. This time using a bus connection to the terminal that drove straight past me..
My plan b was to ride over the middle of Streymoy, over the beautiful but notoriously challenging “scenic route”.
It started out well, it was steep, & it went on, but I felt strong. Although there was something in my gut feeling that wasn’t right, I didn’t know what, but for some reason, cycling there I wasn’t happy. I felt fear for the first time riding here.
Very quickly the weather changed & the fog began to descend quickly. I was certainly unhappy at how busy this road was with huge lorries speeding past. This was not the place to be caught out in the fog & today, it was not a place for me & my bike.
I descended fast, keen to get off the mountain road & into safety. I felt today was not my day & perhaps should admit defeat.
Then, with no real plan, I headed off to explore the north west of Eysturoy, between Eidi & Gjogv.
I wanted to find the famous ‘Giant & the Witch’, sea stacks Risin & Kellingin, measuring 67 & 71 meters tall, that I’d read about.
The winding mountain road curving up along the north coast was as dramatic as the mountains & walls that surrounded it. Looking up to the highest mountain on the islands of Slaettarindur.
I left the road to seek out the stacks, finding myself alone but at ease, between the great north atlantic & the mountains behind. I settled down to recharge my own batteries & using the power of nature to do the same.
Once again the weather turned at speed, & I found myself taking shelter in an old hut perfect for a night’s rest.
Some days the best laid plans aren’t the best, it’s the plans you don’t make that make memories.
This was my happy place.
Today has been all about the rain!
It’s been a long one. Crossing between 3 islands, in constant rain & mist. And the funny thing about it, I was happiest when riding in it, despite the on-bike shower system switched permanently on.
I took a route down towards the remote village of Saksun.
This road was one of the best. Deep in a valley, with high sided mountain walls, I followed the river winding, as it did, further away from any kind of civilisation.
Fully packed, both my bike & I are really feeling it now, both needing a bit of tlc but never taking for granted this incredible landscape I’m riding through.
It only seemed right to take a tea break by the river, to sit and appreciate what is truly Wild Beyond Barriers.
Tomorrow brings a whole different view of the adventure, as I take to the skies.
When the adventure takes flight..
Attempting to reach the furthest & most remote islands in the north east, is not a journey to be taken lightly.
The northern outposts of Fugloy & Svinoy are the furthest away from any kind of modern convenience, shelter & facilities. It is risky business visiting Fugloy in particular, the smallest of the two islands, the only way out, by small passenger boat, far too often unable to make the crossing over from Hvannasund on the island of Vidoy, when the weather rules & a north-easterly gale blows in. Arriving here is said to be a major achievement in itself, whether you get to make the return journey or not.
This kind of adventure was far too intrepid to resist. And the best way to ensure at least a one-way ticket.. by helicopter of course!
My first time in a heli, a cocktail of adrenaline & nerves as we rose quickly verical from the helipad in Tórshavn as a strong westerly wind blew. I was nervous for sure, but there was no way I was saying no to taking to the skies to see the islands from above and soaring meters away from the knife-edge cliff walls as we flew between islands & over the Atlantic.
It’s known I’m not a fan of flying. But I’ve always had a passion for helicopters. This passion has grown exponentially, what a rush! The most exhilarating, heart-pounding, adrenaline pumping, awe-inspiring journey I have done. Feeling like Lara Croft, my 30 minute journey set down in Hattarvik, on the north-eastern side of Fugloy, & while the heli remained poised for re-take-off, blades spinning, I was hastily ushered away before the down draft almost pulled my crutches from underneath me.
Over the next few hours I was to explore Fugloy and it’s unimaginable views of the northern islands.
From here, a small boat was due to pick me up from the only other settlement on the island, Kirkja, or so I hoped..
As this was only half of the adventure...
Thankfully I wasn’t alone on Fugloy. Although I had gone prepared, if I’d had been stuck there I could have done the night, I’d eyed up a couple of sheep huts if needed, & my pack was armed with my trusty Alpkit stove & Firepot vegan chilli; exped meals that have kept me fuelled these last 3 weeks. I had my prima-loft jacket & of course a couple of tea bags for emergencies. My plan was to get off the island, but as I’ve learnt often here, you always need a plan b.
I was joined by 2 other couples, & then a local farmer & his dog. We all waited in anticipation for the boat, wondering if it would show & how this would plan out.
You see, this particular boat journey is infamous in its reputation. As I mentioned already, to make this journey is an achievement in its own, a lot of planning (and hoping and a lot of luck) is needed to find your way to & from the far eastern reaches of the Faroe Islands. A combination of boats, buses, hitchhiking & helicopters, & whether or not it all works out, it’s a journey to remember. It’s not one recommend for those who suffer with sea-sickness. The rolls & swells in this part of the Atlantic, combined with the fact there’s no actual harbour on Fugloy or Svinoy, meant we literally had to take our lives in our hands to board the boat. Just at the right moment, as the boat rises & falls & the skipper works to keep it as close to the jetty as he can, fighting the current & swell, we each had to throw ourselves (or be thrown) onto the deck. Having heard true stories of a couple of fatalities when things here didn’t go to plan, I was both highly nervous & every bit determined to get myself onboard safely any way I could.
Utterly relieved to make it & thankful for good weather, the rest of the journey through the sea was once more totally exhilarating & such a wonderful way to see the sheer cliffs & abundant rich sea bird colonies, along with caves & deep turquoise water.
I’m glad I don’t suffer with sea sickness, but kept my food for back on dry land just in case.
This really was a day of adventure I won’t forget. I was out of my comfort zone, & it felt good.
Barriers officially smashed.
Even the sea-dog nearly gets it wrong.
Shortly after, on another pick up, a tourist very nearly did get it wrong. As he went to step before told & the boat moved away that he’d grabbed onto, he was man-handled back to safety amid shouts. Unfortunately I wasn’t filming at the time!
The Faroe Islands. On the island of Streymoy, Tórshavn, the smallest capital city in the world.
However, on the small and sleepy southern island of Sandoy......
These islands get crazier & crazier.
So let me tell you about yesterday. As seems quite the norm now, what I ‘thought’ my day had in store, was only the beginning..
I set off early to head to the island of Sandoy in the south. This was my third attempt at getting to this island & my only chance left. This time I’d made it to the ferry in Gamlarætt, this was an improvement on both previous attempts.
The crossing was a choppy one, skirting around the southern edge of Hestur, the sea’s characteristics suddenly changed. The rolls became bigger, & I held on a little tighter. I watched the ocean go from rolling to strangely smoothe & un-nerving, just before it hit the choppy waters. This is where the currents meet between the islands, a reminder of the great Atlantic ruling these lands.
Sailing into Skopun in the north, the village was calm, feeling almost empty. Even a village cat was happily snoozing in the rare sunshine. Before making my way south I’d remembered about something I’d read. I had to find it.
The word ‘Posta’ caught my eye high up the hill the other side of the village. One of the most surreal landmarks in the Faroe Islands, the largest mail box in the world. For reasons, I have no idea.
This island is a cyclists dream. Apart from the 10% climb for over a km straight out of the harbour, no warm up for this one. Wide smooth sweeping roads with panoramic views to melt even the biggest strava addict, & next to no cars. Summer had returned today too, showing the island at its best.
I was exhausted however. My body had called time on me at least for today & I admit I wasn’t up to much. I appreciated the views but I was so tired, I definitely need to come back here fresher, to fully explore what else awaits discovery on Sandoy.
I returned on an early afternoon ferry, sleepy, thinking my day had peaked. But we all know that’s never how the story ends..
..And then this happened next..
I board the ferry (slowly), feeling like I couldn’t move another muscle. A Faroese man follows me on & starts conversation with me. “Have a seat” he says, so I do.
I’ve proven many a time on this journey that it’s so much about the people you meet along the way. We talked all sorts, I’m loving learning about the islands people ways of life, I feel more & more a part if that than a visitor, and I love that.
He tells me outside his corporate job, he’s helping out at a friends farm. He then asks if I’d like to go with him straight off the boat to the farm to feed the cattle.
Of course I said yes!
Once in his car & on our way to the farm about an hour later, I learn his name is Jonhedin, & I introduce myself. I can’t help but laugh at how these minor details don’t matter out here.
The weather is so beautiful now, I’d almost say hot!
We both jump aboard the 6-wheeler (I exaggerate at jump for the pair of us), and head up the hills along the spectacular coast of Kirjubøur, an eleventh century viking village, believed to be the oldest settlement on the Faroe Islands, to where the beautiful highland cattle are kept.
As a country girl, having grown up on & around farms, this place feels & smells like home. The unmistakable sweet smell of fermented grass, fresh silage wheeled in by the barrow-load to a much appreciative hungry gathering.
I’m fascinated by Faroese farming practises & the differences between back home. I’m loving learning, listening, & getting involved. It’s part of me.
So my new friend & I ride the tracks along the hills, stopping to try & spot whales & dolphins in the deep blue perfect ocean, without a care for time or the things that don’t matter, we are united by the mountains & the sea & what is special about these far away lands; if not in distance, but by what is important, with new friendships made not by the hands of time, but by now.
The best plans really are the ones you don’t make. The best adventures are the ones you say “yes” to.
Strange how this is so hard to write.
Just over three weeks in these far away lands, and my time had come to say goodbye.. for now.
With just a few hours to spare before my flight, I truly breathed every single second I had left here, filling my soul with a nectar so pure, so wild and so full of emotions.
Back on the island of Vágar, there was somewhere I had to go, out before sunrise to a crisp 5 degrees, and the natural world around me, it felt, awakening, just for me.
Up here alone, where the floating lake meets the great northern Atlantic, where sheer cliffs drop into the ocean below, as the sun rises from the sea, bringing warmth and golden light over the sea stacks and mountains and pouring down the landscape to the west until it meets the waters edge. Tears ran down my face, my heart heavy, my smile so big, my eyes full of happiness, my soul so alive.
It was as though the islands knew. With weeks of battling rain, fog, extreme winds; tested at every chance, pushed so far out of my comfort zone and forced to face my fears. I have always known the islands were in charge, the ocean, and I am thankful for that, for pushing me beyond, and for challenging the perceived impossible. Right now I felt like the islands were offering their thanks. Mutual respect for pushing on, for working with the islands, not against them, for taking nothing but memories and stories, and leaving nothing but a big bit of my heart and a whole lot of friendships.
The sun shon, the sky blue, the wind still. Only the sound of the ocean crashing against the edge of the world below and the morning sea birds filled the air.
I was back to base before 9am and shortly after the weather once again rolled in. I smiled back out to it.
There is so much more to this incredible Faroe Islands story that I will continue to share with you over time, so much I haven’t told. But for now, words are few and emotions are high.
Whilst I really do not ready to finish this adventure, to leave these Nordic lands, I know this is not the end.
I came to the Faroe Islands to discover what was possible within me, a solo adventure. I didn’t know what that possible was, I didn’t even know if I would be able to get past my first island. Many people had told me it wasn’t possible. If you listen to the masses, and quite possibly the only reading out in the ether, I or anyone, would never have boarded the plane. This adventure has been way harder than I imagined, in ways I didn’t imagine, highly frustrating at times, and plenty of tough times. I’ve travelled by land, sea, sub sea and air and cycled mountain roads and mountain tunnels a plenty. I’ve crossed island to island any way I can, I’ve climbed, crawled at times, hauled myself on my crutches, I’ve carried my home with me, I’ve eaten on the sides of busy roads in the pouring rain and on bus stop floors, collapsed with exhaustion, cold but happy. I’ve spent nights in storms, not daring to leave my tent in fear of losing it. I’ve cried, and I’ve laughed and smiled nearly every minute. I have had the most crazy, amazing experiences, a story for every hour I think and often minute. And I have met the most wonderful people and been shown the most kindness I have ever before in my life. From people who I I’d met on the roadside, or boat, or car, or window, or gas station, only seconds before.
I did it. But I have never been alone.
The Faroe Islands are most definitely Wild Beyond Barriers, but they are also the islands with the biggest hearts and the bravest spirits.
I owe so much to so many, every person who was part of my journey on the islands, and everyone part of the team back home. I’ll talk more about this soon, but want to give a massive smile and thank you to some amazing people who helped me make this adventure so incredible and supported me to go Beyond Barriers.
I owe so much to Alpkit for my kit, for keeping me warm and dry and turning Acorn the race bike into a hardcore adventure bike. To VELOGICAL-engineering for keeping me powered up on board with my fantastic dynamo set up, and to Bear Bones Bikepacking for helping with this and the missing piece and for soooo much advice as my bike packing yoda. For keeping me fuelled and healthy on the road, Firepot meals have been a staple of getting great nutrition and a hot meal every day and after nearly a month straight they still taste amazing. Texenergy kept me powered up off grid with my nifty portable wind turbine, this is so cool, and dryrobe helped keep me warm and I was very glad of my buff, cycling through miles of vehicle fumed sub sea tunnels, these are not places you want to be breathing in too heavy. A big thanks to mechanical superman Steve Jones of Velo Vitesse for setting my bike up for the biggest challenge of its life, it held up remarkably well, I’m pleased to report. For ongoing support and now incredibly filthy cycling jerseys, the legends of Ordnance Survey and Cheltenham Cycles. And a huge thank you for advice, support, help and kindness from Nicci and Mark Beaumont back in Edinburgh, making travel logistics run smooth, and feeding me my first real meal after 22 days, and so delicious it was. So many friends made on the islands but to shout out to Øssur, to Tóki & Kristianna, I hope to see you again soon. Lastly but definitely not least, thank you to everyone of you for your messages of support and own words, you don’t know how much this has meant to me. I hope you’ve enjoyed this adventure just as much as me, and I hope you’ll join me on the next.
While many challenged my perhaps somewhat crazy plan to solo handcycle to Faroe Islands, when roads ran out, to explore by any way I could, on an archipelago where cyclists are still very few, and wild weather, mountains and miles of tunnels are around every corner, I didn’t accept the perceived impossible. Where would any of us get if we only ever believed in the ‘impossible’?
“The only real way to find out what is truly possible, is to find out what is possible...”
Wild Beyond Barriers
Will be continued...