Norway. When I hear that name, my mind drifts away over snow-capped mountains, glaciers, harsh coastline and into steep-sided fjords.
These thoughts have been rolling over my mind for the past year, planning, discussing and packing for this expedition into the unknown, and now as I sit in the airport hearing my flight number to Norway being called, I have one last chance to get lost in my subconscious before actually arriving in this ethereal country on our pioneering mountain bike adventure.
I am dragged from my daydream by the seatbelt sign going on and the air steward preparing the plane to land in Molde. As I turn my head to look out of the window I see mountains reaching far into the distance, with deep fjords gouging out the land between the mountain tops and leading out to the sea. It looks even more amazing than I imagined!
As we disembark we enter a very small airport building, must only house ten staff and maybe 100 passengers at a time. We wait by the only luggage belt, and are delighted to see that seven pieces of luggage have arrived, yes, seven! We are not traveling light for this trip, we are filming, taking photographs and riding uncharted territory here in Norway, so we need to be prepared for changeable weather conditions.
Why are we embarking on this expedition? Norway has always held a kind of mystical allure, and when we started delving into it, we learned that the Norwegian fjords are relatively under-explored by mountain bike, despite the fact that it’s a popular destination for ski touring in the winter. So after some further investigation, we decided that the best way to access these ancient trails was by boat. More specifically, an old Scandinavian wooden-hulled minesweeper, which would be our unique accommodation, gourmet restaurant and adventure hub for the week. Each day Gåssten would deliver us to the fjord shores (or as near as she could get) from where we’d ride and hike-a-bike to the tops of some 1000m peaks, then descend into another fjord where the boat would be waiting for our arrival.
As we arrive at the harbor we’re met by our captain Sven, second in charge Tash, and our chef for the week Isabelle. As they show us onboard and our sleeping quarters, we smell coffee wafting through the air from the galley, where Isabelle is preparing lunch and a welcome drink. Quickly we set about loading all of our gear, building bikes on the ship’s deck and settling down to lunch, coffee and a briefing and map perusing session. While we discuss the possibilities of this rugged landscape and set a plan, the ship’s crew buzz around setting us free from our moorings and the harbor, letting us depart unhindered on our fjord mountain biking adventure.
We arrive at our anchorage after dark, pulling up close to a village that is clinging to the foot of a huge rock wall, only visible by the flickering evening lights shining out of the windows. The village looks like it has just enough room to squeeze a handful of houses and a local shop in before the waters of the fjord plunge to the depths of four hundred meters. It’s a mesmerizing place and we are all looking forward to assessing our new playground over a coffee in the morning light.
And sure enough, over breakfast, we marvel at the walls of rock that surround us on three sides, the very pronounced V shape of the fjord and our playground for the day. Breakfast is a noisy and even slightly jittery affair. We’re all keen to hit dry land and explore this region. So, soon after breakfast, the engine of the small landing craft sparks into life as everyone is busying themselves with packing kit, final checks on bikes and saying their goodbyes to the crew.
The crew also has a full day ahead while we’re riding, they’ll be preparing dinner for tonight, catching fish for our starter, moving the boat to its pick-up location and drying all of our laundered riding kit.
Before we know it we’re on dry land putting final adjustments to our ride bags and clipping into our pedals and hearing the noise of the landing craft getting quieter as it buzzes back to the main boat anchored in the bay.
On this ride, we have 1000m of ascent, straight from sea level, so there’s no point hanging around, this hill isn’t going to climb itself! We start with a meandering switchback forest track that leads us through 12, ever-tightening hairpin corners that deliver us to a small mountain meadow with a smattering of wooden houses artistically placed around the perimeter. The meadow affords us our first chance to see the fjord we’ve just left behind, up to this point we’ve been in a beautiful deciduous forest that has now faded out as a result of the altitude.
As we ride out onto the meadow and through the collection of houses, we rest and snack beneath an understated wooden signpost that indicates our mountain top goal, Liahornet. From here we hike our bikes to the summit. This is a particularly liberating thing to do, you’re taking your bike to a place that not many if any bikers have been to. As we look around the vast wilderness spread out before us, the boat is no more than a tiny speck in the water 1000m below, and we’re acutely aware that we have to descend all the way back down there to be picked up and fed before moving on to the next anchorage overnight.
So we don knee pads, tighten helmets, fasten our backpacks and pull on our gloves, before adjusting our glasses and setting off from the summit cairn along a rocky and technical ridge line in a pencil straight line towards our floating goal. The descent is made all the more interesting today as it’s been raining overnight, but we manage to keep it rubber side down!
As we pull off the ridge line and arc towards the thickening forest below, we encounter a natural pump track that cuts across this section of the alpine environment, before dropping us into what is a short hike down section. It is steep and super technical, and all told, not worth the risk. After two minutes’ reprieve from pedalling we’re back on it, now in the forest, weaving down swooping singletrack over roots and around strategically-placed trees. It’s a heart-warming characteristic of the Norwegians that they don't cut trees down to make trails and try not to damage tree roots, so it makes for interesting trail design and some challenging corners, but leaves the wilderness, well, feeling like the wilderness.
It takes us around two and a half hours to finally blast out onto the paved road at the foot of the mountain and onto the shores of the fjord, muddy faces, bikes looking used, arms fully pumped and huge smiles on our faces.
This has been an adventure and an expedition. Call it what you like, it’s been a ride that takes us straight back to what mountain biking is all about, and why mountain bikes were designed in the first place. Getting out into the wilderness with your buddies, new or old. Finding new trails and experiencing views while feeling the adrenaline-induced buzz you get when you rail that corner, drop into a steep section or follow your mates down a trail in a train of laughter and tail whips.
And as we roll up to the awaiting boat, the crew are there with some coffee and cake, and a warm shower is beckoning. After washing the day’s mud off our legs we relive the day’s adventures and wash cake down with coffee, all the while steaming further into another fjord and a new adventure. But that’s tomorrow’s tale…
This mountain bike adventure through the Norwegian fjords was delivered by H+I Adventures
They specialize in the art of hand-crafted mountain bike tours around the world and ‘Norway’ is their latest exciting offering.
Photos by Tim Winterburn / @HI-Adventures