A long, slender and red creature is resting beside me. It is an Indian motorcycle ready to be kicked into life, but it is not yet running, and all the odd bits and pieces between front and rear wheel are immobile and powerless. The circumferentially finned cylinders are clearly visible and so is the “Box Brownie” shaped magneto and the shiny carburettor; the digestive tract of this motorcycle. The petrol tank is filled to the brim, ready to deliver the liquid of life to the engine.
I open the petcock, tip the float and watch the discrete overflow from the carburettor bowl. The kick starter receives one sharp kick, I turn the right hand grip towards me and the engine instantly bursts into life. The first combustion stroke is rapidly followed by a succession of explosions. With my left hand throttle I open up a bit and the engine revs up. The individual explosions are no longer possible to discern, being an endless row of sounds, a virtual streak of sound. The entire motorcycle is shivering, eager to get along, but still being on the rear stand its efforts are in vain.
I am sitting in the midst of a maelstrom of noise that muffles the sound of the adjacent river and the voices of the men standing beside me. I slowly engage the clutch, the front wheel is turning and the machine is moving in a northerly direction. On my right side I can see the flickering shadow of me and my motorcycle in the ditch, but the contour of the bike is flattened and my torso is visible only from the breast and down.
And now the engine is really working for a cause. It is fulfilling a meaningful task, at first at a slow pace in first gear, but soon I am in top gear and the explosions beneath come at a slower rate now, a bit strained. I give it some more throttle and gone is the sense of engine fatigue. The machine is no longer pottering along, but hurling forward and now the sound of the engine is an even metallic purr, the monotonous song of the motorcycle, as the shadow of man and motorcycle is silently prowling alongside me.
I am on the back of a big red animal which instantly responds to the very tiniest signs from my hands and feet, mile after mile. We are now riding along the twisty gravel roads of Sør-Aurdal valley, a journey through forests, along streams and under cliffs. It is a journey in sunlight and shadows and the whole world seems to be throwing itself at me. The telegraph poles rush towards me, becoming higher the closer they come. For a split second they stand guard to my right before they disappear behind me while new poles emerge.
The row of guardstones on the curb of the road are passing me single file and the noise from the engine is reflected from them in a syncopated pattern. The shadow of the motorcycle and myself is flickering over the uneven surfaces of the guardstones, constantly changing the outlines of me and my mount. The road is a triple striped banner, car tracks on both sides pale mud grey, while in between them is the green soft middle of the track, and in the ditches high grass and flowers of many colours. And beyond the ditches the fields roll by like rectangular multicoloured carpets. The peasants have started their mornings work in the fields when they hear the clatter of the approaching motorcycle. They straighten their backs to have a view and some cart-pulling horses also look up to check the approaching noise.
I can see smoke from chimneys in the small farmhouses beyond the fields, but whatever I have in view is constantly changing. At some places the river is hurriedly and noisily running in rapids while a bit further along it is just a big black lazy serpent following the road. This morning my Indian is really pulling strongly, performing as precise and sure as a chronometer, as a Singer sewing machine. It is softly sprung and gently moving up and down under me, but when I hit pot holes in the road it jumps like a horny stallion. Before sharp bends in the road I use the Klaxon horn. It seems to be shouting around the corner: “Danger, danger, danger!”
The machine leans over from side to side in perfect balance, moving in a precise line along the twisting road. Over straight stretches of road I increase the speed and the bike eagerly eats up the miles. But suddenly a car is approaching, a huge monster virtually filling the full width of the road. It is filled to the brim with ladies in large hats and the chauffeur is holding on to a huge steering wheel, staring straight ahead. When we eventually meet we share the road the best we can, implying that I as the junior partner in this rapid rendezvous has to do some balance exercises on the shoulder of the road, while I get a short glimpse of the pretty face of a young girl in the rear seat, before I in the next moment rush through a cloud of dust, smoke and the acrid smell of petrol – but seconds after my narrow escape is forgotten.
A motorcycle that urges you to ride it is a motorcycle you will love. A motorcycle that doesn’t start will be exposed to his owners heartfelt anger and rage. Today my redskin is running perfectly and I love it for doing just that. The air from the hills and the forests is streaming past me, lovingly embracing my face – and whipping my ears. The air is mixed up with the perfume of freshly cut grass on the fields. In some places the surface of the road is moist and soft and I can see the serpentine patterns of automobile wheels and the plain pressure marks of cartwheels.
I have now started the ascent upwards from the village of Bagn, a twisty steep road climbing almost vertically to a new altitude half a mile higher than Bagn. I have lost count of all the times I have been nearly killing myself on a bicycle up this hill, sweating litre by litre, while now I am just carried effortlessly up to the top of the hill. The pistons in the engine are maybe working a bit heavier but we are really moving upwards at a fast pace without any effort on my side. On the right side the rocky terrain is rising nearly vertical above me while on the left side I have a view straight into the river Begna running one thousand feet below the road.
There are some really nasty bends on this road, nearly drawing full half circles, where I make quick progress, with rocks on the right side but only air on the left side. But I am lucky in meeting no one apart from a small ermine which quickly disappears into the ditch when it sees me. I come to the top of the hill on a rather deserted stretch of road until I find the railway line going parallel to the road. A train is coming, seemingly hunting for me, puffing and smoking, but I soon outpace the train and hear or see nothing more of it.
The village of Aurdal is a small community with white houses and a mixture of farmers and scholars living there, as this is also the place where the local high school is situated. Here is the very school that gave me my basic education, and while riding past I can smell language, mathematics and biology. One of the fence poles along the road here is for me deeply attached to the Pythagorean law on the geometry of the triangle. Wandering along on my way to school one day, my mind focused on old Pythagoras I accidentally rammed my head into this fence pole and got my self a huge haematoma on my scalp. By the way, I believe the pole managed quite well.
Now I am riding with the wind in my back and this changes the way the engine sound reaches my ears. There is now a deep, somewhat musical tone coming from under the petrol tank, and I really enjoy it as I in the next moment experience the joy of a panoramic view of the Aurdalsfjord with its many beautiful spots along its shores.
I then run over a cat, but exactly where might be just the same, still I am in no doubt that this cat came to a better place, walking with such dignity and clean conscience straight under my front wheel. When I turned around to have a look at it, it was resting in the middle of the road, silent and peacefully.
Now I am passing the county prison where the criminals of the Valdres region are being put through various rehabilitation courses before they might be transferred to larger national prisons. It has occurred that prisoners have dug a hole in the wall of the prison – not to escape, but to get out in the sun……
When passing the village of Leira I retard both throttle and ignition and drive through slowly and carefully, knowing that this is where the local sheriff resides, and if any motorcyclist may have forgotten this I am at your service with the following information: When you pass a sheriffs office you should never ever exceed the speed of twenty miles per hour. Sheriffs are the natural enemies of any motorcyclist! On the other hand where there are no sheriffs or policemen you can drive as fast as you dare, which is a comfort to me when I now get a glimpse of the Strandafjord in front me, shimmering like silver on this sunny day.
The city of Fagernes is the last station on the Valdres railroad, and at this place trains empty their iron and plywood guts of hoards of people from the capital Christiania, who are travelling to the mountains to get themselves some exercise and a tan. A few of them are whimsically walking in middle of the road outside the hotel, so my good old Klaxon must be put into work again. I then drive past a goldsmiths shop whose name quite logically starts with the word “gold”, and past a shop selling women’s clothing, then I pass a Gordon Setter dog and the local bank – and that was Fagernes.
I now start my journey up the road towards East-Slidre. East-Slidre is a valley with lots of rivers collecting in the bottom of it and becoming into the aforementioned fjords. You will pass a couple of old tourist hotels while you travel up along this road, and riding past the Heggefjord I see people out in a small boat rowing while some couples are walking along the road enjoying themselves and passing their time.
Up north almost into the skies I see some white areas on a bluish-black background. That is the Ghost of Winter haunting us in the midst of July! It is the permanently snow clad mountains of Jotunheimen that I see in the far distance.
The road is climbing up and up and up, and the engine is starting to fry my right leg as a red hot oven, and the Fjords in the bottom of the Valley are gradually disappearing out of sight. The forests are slowly disappearing and soon there are no trees at all, only mountains and moors remain.
I ride into Beitostølen, and here there are large herds of both cattle and sheep. The Bitihorn mountain is rising as a huge dark shadow against the sky over Beitostølen. Outside a modest little farmhouse I see two young girls worshipping the bleak afternoon sun. It is becoming colder now, with a definite chill coming down from the snow clad mountains, so I button up my jacket.
I am now up at the height where there is permanent snow when I tip over the top of the last foothill, and I am within the Jotunheimen mountains. I can see the Vinster lakes in the southeast and further north the Synshoedn, coloured copper red by the sun which is now setting. Then I merrily stroll downwards through a number of lazy curves to the mountain lake of Bygdin. Downhill the redskin is travelling along by the power of its own weight, silently and almost without any effort from the engine. At the Bygdin Hotel they have just finished serving supper and I can sense the stale smell of a fish meal now gone cold outside the kitchen, but on the balcony I sense the scent of expensive cigars.
As night comes there is a glowing moon above the Bitihorn. Soon the tourists go to bed and fall asleep and the Jotunheimen mountains are once more alone. The only thing I can hear now is the sound of a small river going downstreams from the green clacier waters of Lake Bygdin. In the silence of the night it is softly humming a song of mountains, peace and the open road.