– “Sorry, I would have loved to join you in Finnmark, but haven’t got the time for it. Feel free to join me in three weeks for a ride in Femundsmarka.”
This was the response from Mikkel Soya Bølstad, bikepacker and freelance writer to my question if he wants to join me for a 500 km winter excursion in Finnmark.
A day earlier I was crunching through the indoor cycling session, babysitting, while my dearest wife was curving the ski slopes, and my mind was taken by the preparations for the Finnmark 500K ride in March. A thought has crossed my mind: “Wait a minute, there is that guy that loves fatbiking, maybe he would be up for joining me?!” We ping ponged emails for a while, and it turned out it was actually me joining him for a different ride.
The Femund race is a dog sled race that takes place in Sør Trøndelag. If you are not very familiar with the Norwegian geography, that is somewhat close to Trondheim, except more inland where the climate is more continental, with dryer air and cooler temperatures. The race itself is 600 km long, and we got ready to ride the last couple of legs, roughly 200 km. The reason to tie the bicycle ride to the dog sled race is the trail conditions, which are groomed by the snowmobiles and additionally packed by the dog sleds.
I flew from Tromsø to Røros after work, slept in the woods close to town, and after a short train ride arrived to Tynset, that is where we were supposed to meet.
Here was my first surprise. While I was cruising around the train station and waiting for Mikkel (he arrived from Oslo two nights earlier and was already riding the trail), a photographer approached me and asked for an interview. It turned out he saw me from his office which is just across the street. He was wondering what I am doing in their small town and where am I going to ride. Fatbikes are still a rare sight overthere, much less bikepackers! A small article about our ride was published later that day in the small newspaper “Østlendingen”. Later on we met skiers in the mountains, who said like “wait a minute, we know you!” That was pretty funny.
After I have met Mikkel we went for a ressuply in the Tynset supermarket and put our bikepacking rigs for display. Basically every second person stopped to have a look at them.
The riding conditions were great, we started at -7 degrees Celsius, at low winds and not much of the snow drifts on the trail. It allowed us to cover some 30 kilometers before we decided to camp. However earlier, just on the other side of the mountain where Mikkel started his ride, it was not all that good. Lots of soft drift snow has accumulated on the trail and wind was a strong breeze in the head. Definitely not a walk in the park that awaited us around Tynset.
Next day was a combination of everything. We had nice packed trails, we rode uphill on the groomed ski tracks and went in the marshlands which was not entirely frozen. That section required a bit of hiking your bike and postholing through the knee high snow cover.
We had our amusing moments too. Around noon time we rolled into Tolga, another small town on our way to Røros. In the local supermarket there were two girls selling lottery tickets. I was reluctant to buy one until I have learned that they are fundraising for a trip their soccer team would make to a National Championship! I bought two tickets, and sure thing, I won a cake! We had no place whatsoever to put it on our bikes, we are supposed to travel light after all. So we shared the cake with the fundraisers, shop assistants, less lucky lottery buyers and still had three pieces left, which did fit in my framebag, aka “the purse”. We finished those three pieces on top of the mountain when the temps dropped below -15 degree C. The taste was even better then!
Since there the temperatures kept falling. We continued to ride at least untill 11pm and had a very late camp. Next morning it took Mikkel about 30 minutes to get me out of the tent. He actually had to catch the train at 2pm and we still had to go over a mountain, not a long way but we had no idea what riding conditions we might go into. The temperatures dropped at night to -24 deg C, and I was a little bit being an ass not getting out of the tent for so long. Shortly after nine we got ourselves rolling. The climb was Ok, I was riding like a slug for the lack of sleep last night, but we made it to the top around noon. From there we could see Røros in the distance and it was only about 6 – 7 kilometeres of downhill riding. We were going to make it in time!
On the top of the mountain hundreds if not thousands of reindeers were grazing. As soon as we approached the pack leaders started to run away, but the herds were so large that we had to wait for few minutes until the last ones cleared our way.
A quick ride down followed. First on the mountain trail which became tractor roads which turned into groomed ski trail. Few more minutes and we have rolled into Røros and went for the dog sled race finish line.
And that was it. Mikkel got his bike on a train and I stayed one more night to catch the plane at six in the morning next day. Slept just next to the airport to make sure I don’t miss the flight.
It was a great ride in the great conditions. If I was to do it again, I would pack less, get bigger tires which would be firmer with the same pressures (bouncing on soft tires was eating quite a bit of power put on the pedals). And perhaps ride the longer trail, like the 400K version of the race. And again, thanks to Mikkel for the invitation and a great ride!