An unusual weather window opens up just as I am due to cross the mountain pass back to Norway: it’s just below zero, and things are noticeably slushy. My routine disintegrates as things which should be frozen – food, camping gear, clothes – begin to drip and defrost.
It’s a blessing and a curse; granted, I no longer have to worry constantly about my fingers and toes freezing solid, and I can stand around for longer if I feel like it. But at the same time I overheat when climbing mountain roads, my nights under canvas become increasingly soggy – and the roads treacherous with slick ice.
I climb towards the treeline and suddenly there is a pair of reindeer bumbling about in front of me. It should be a fairytale moment, I think, and in some ways it is: finally, here’s Rudolph! But in another way it’s just another couple of half-wild animals caught in the road, unsure what to do.
As I approach, they look up, and then begin trotting away from me like sheep on a Welsh country lane, only more gangly and exotic-looking. Having gained enough distance, they stop, wait for me to catch up, have a little poop, and then begin trotting down the road again.
This pattern repeats itself with comic regularity for about 45 minutes. Until I reach the Arctic Circle and stop for the obligatory photographic evidence to be collected.
Then it’s up above the trees and over the very modest 740-metre pass and on down into Norway. Had the weather been bad, this would likely have been the most risk-laden leg of the journey. But I plunge unscathed back down into cavernous valleys of wet snow and slippery ice, the road like a skating rink, typical Norwegian gradients harsh. I thank my lucky stars I opted to ride through Sweden instead of this, dramatic as it is after days of endless rolling hills and lakes.