Monday, 21 April 2014

Sweet Sour

A disproportionate amount of grinding along tarmac roads on the fatbike brought me to the car park at the end of Haudalen. The gravelled road beyond was hot and dusty but it weaved it's way up into thinning trees, increasing rock and snow-capped sentinels in almost every direction. I've camped here once or twice before.

The alignment of Easter weekend and stunning sunshine made for busy progress. Families, runners, hikers and bikers laid claim to the many pretty resting spots along the river's margins. Laughter, grill smoke and a communal relief that we'd made it through another winter.

I pushed on further, to the top where the trail tips downward to the fjord. I cut right and pushed/pulled/swore-at my bike along the narrow, rocky trail at the base of Svenningen. The only sign of man here is a brief glimpse of some power lines to the north. The rest of my quarters was made up of rocky cliffs, ridges and the quiet, dark waters of the lake below, pocked occasionally but waking trout. The carefully wrapped, final, holiday weekend beer was retrieved from the frame-bag and lovingly supped while sweat dried on my skin in the heat.

I waited for the sun to set behind the ridge on the other side of the lake, then I would light my fire. Instead the sun played with me and tripped along the curve of the ridge in a downward arc, prolonging the bright light and delaying the waiting cold.

Once the sun had finished her games I threw sparks at the tinder and rubbed my hands with glee. Party time. I warmed my foil-wrapped pesto chicken and cheese sandwiches and delighted in the simple pleasure of toasting marshmallows. Where's the best toasting spot? Up over the flame? Down near the embers. The white fluffiness bloomed and crusted amongst the heat.

Behind me, the shadow of the ridge I was on crept up over the mountains to the south east of the fjord below. The snow blushed pink then became washed-out grey as the heat of the day was replaced with cold, far more in keeping with the time of year. I snuggled into my sleeping bag and bivy and stared up at the arriving stars. The Big Dipper, tipped up on it's handle, stared down at me, like some giant cosmic question mark.

Sleep was dark and solid. My eyes fluttered open only a couple of times. Once, to witness a mass of stars in a navy blue sky, and then later, to see the purple of dawn. The alarm on my phone had forgotten it was a bank holiday and rudely shook me from my contented rest. I rolled over and smiled as the rusty flanks of Svenningen stared back, still and silent.

Coffee was a priority once out of my cocoon. I pulled my stove, water, food bag and sleeping mat over to the sunny side of the ridge. The breeze was cool but in the moments of stillness the new day's warmth washed over me. I brewed a couple of disappointing coffee bags (and cursed my lack of preparedness on the coffee supply front) and dug into a Justin's chocolate peanut butter fajita and a brownie.

Descending from the ridge to the valley below was cold in places, the sun, as yet, unable to penetrate Hausdalen. The gravel track was empty and fast and passed in the blink of a cold wind-induced teary eye. The banks of the river offered lots of options to stop a while and play, marvelling at the fat tires floating over the rock and sand, splashing through the cold, shallow water. Two other campers, one in a bright red Hilleberg and another, in a more traditional lavvu, waved at my passing. I hoped they too had had a good night and beautiful morning. From their returned smiles, I was sure they had.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Slow Ride

Well, it's back. The blog, the sunshine, the shunning of a perfectly good bed to go sleep outdoors. There's been precious little to write about recently. A tweaked back, shit snow. No skiing this winter, in fact, at all. I've still been riding, wind, rain or shine. Or not shine. More like wind, rain, hail or snow. And I finally bought a fatbike, after several years of admiration, deliberation and eventually, hard saving. 

It was almost as an homage that I picked this hut to spend my first overnighter with the Mukluk. Peter and Toni's blogs have been a constant source of fatbike inspiration for the past couple of years and I've always enjoyed their tales of nights in simple Finnish forest shelters and roaring camp fires.

On arrival I found plenty of dry firewood, which was good because the couple of pieces I had bought from home were not going to last long. We may have worn t-shirts at work during this week of sublime weather, but it was still March, and when the sun dipped, so the the mercury. Sharpish.

With the fire lit it was time for cheese sandwiches, Dutch waffles and hot chocolate, liberally laced with the last of the Christmas Bulleit bourbon. Owls hooted as I pulled on my insulated jacket and curled up on my sleeping mat in front of the fire.

I'd forgotten how utterly captivating the naked flame is. Watching that campfire, fascinated as each log crackled, blackened, glowed then crumbled, the hours of the evening simply melted into darkness.

Frost covered my bivy bag the following morning. Glad of my mid-weight sleeping bag and fleece hat I relished the contrast of the cold air on my face and the smothering warmth inside. Pink tinged the white snow on the distant hills. We had lost an hour during the night but gained another season.

I rode a loop of the lake once I was packed, to ride the 'beaches' and marsh on my strange new bike and to visit a stream I knew to always be fresh and flowing, filling my bottles for the upness ahead. The bike crawled and floated over terrain I had always previously had to dismount and walk around. Sure, it was slower on the road sections than my other bikes but that forces you to immerse yourself in the bright, new day you're travelling through.

Then I continued up the valley, trying to find a way up to the cairns I could see on a fun-looking ridge in the distance. First one track, then another. Comparing map, GPS and the faint recollection of someone's Strava route I'd seen a week ago. 

I never quite made the summit of Livarden, unable to find a suitable trail through the boggy upper slopes, still gushing with snow melt. Still, with around 500m gained on forest trails that morning there was plenty of downhill to play on. 62.3kph down a gravel road, on a fully loaded fatbike, is fun. I think I'm gonna enjoy this ride.

Sunday, 20 October 2013


Instead of heading to the hills last weekend, I headed to the coast. Coasting down the back roads on my bike, along a route I had scouted a few days earlier while out training on my road bike.

Past faded memories...

...and bright concentration...

...across narrow bridges... wide marine views drenched and sparkling in Autumn sunshine.

It was actually hot. Not just warm in the sun, but really hot. I stripped out of my riding clothes, chosen to fend off convective heat loss, and sat with sleeves and legs rolled up. Sunglasses perched on my nose, my hair a sweaty mess, I mindlessly skimmed smooth pebbles across the water's languid surface.

Recuperated, and blinded by the reflected light, I walked around my little haven. Lazy sea trout squirmed in the the glassy shallows. Garfish darted between stands of seaweed. In the absence of insects, a near-by motor launch provided the soundtrack, buzzing out in the fjord.

Kid's voices bounced across the cove and the warm rock I lazed on tried to fuse me to itself. Only the scratch of thirst and need for a bed stirred me from my stupor.

After dinner, and a half-hearted attempt at a fire, I chased the sun around headlands and coves, hoping for a fiery end that never came in the cloudless sky and fearing the creep of cold that failed to materialise.

Too warm in my sleeping bag and on edge at the almost perfect silence I struggled to sleep, so I watched the moon's progress through the tree tops. A heron flapped to it's roost and paced around awkwardly on it's fir tree branch. And then nothing...

I was hoping for a colourful sunrise so when I fumbled in my bag to check the time I got a shock at how late it was and scrambled into the dawn. Still not a cloud in the sky so a curious pinky-blue was the only colour, accented by swirling mists on the water and small sets of ripples that funneled into the shore from unseen passing boats.

The small rockpools cornered my attention as the tide receded slightly. Sea anemones, crabs, shellfish and blennys.

With the sun creeping over the forest the first visitors arrived. With voices approaching I packed up and started pedaling along the serpentine gravel path to the car park.

No coasting home. The ride back required plenty of hard pedaling, interjected with a couple more stops to revel in the utter laziness of the conditions.

Back home the coast was still with me. Sand clung to parts of my bike and clothes and a couple of shells made their way from my pocket to my bookshelf.

Winter may be approaching but for now the coast clings to memories of summer.