Trondheim to Oslo, Norway, June 2019
It took me less than a second to reply “Yes, Yes” to the open invitation to join London Baroudeurs Steve and Mark in a team to cycle across Norway, in one go, on Midsummer’s Day. If you are reading this you are a cyclist and probably a Baroudeur, so there is no need to discuss “why”. The “how” was less obvious, so I have jotted down some pointers in this account that I hope will make it easier when you do it!
Curiously, there is not a lot to do from a physical preparation perspective. You need to be a strong cyclist and you need to have good endurance. If you can ride 100 miles and walk to the pub afterwards then you can do this. The average times for the 50-55 age group were faster than the 30-35 age group which tells you that age and experience are rewarded here.
Working together as a team is critical but LBCC prepares you for that. One thing to consciously practice is personal maintenance. You might be able to complete 100 miles on a banana and a bottle of water, but if you don’t pro-actively maintain your food and liquid reserves you won’t make 300 miles. That takes discipline, so practice.
I must have looked at the weather once an hour for the ten days leading up to the event. Having since spoken to a Norwegian who was born in Trondheim and moved to Oslo, I could have saved my stress: in Trondheim it is cooler and rains often; the high plain is high, and cold (very, very cold when you are wet) and the long descent to Oslo gets progressively warmer. So, start well wrapped up and properly rain protected and be able to peel off layers as the day goes on.
If you haven’t got a support car (technically not allowed but there were a lot of them) then a pre-paid envelope will allow you to quickly drop off some kit at the Post Office en-route on the outskirts of Lillehammer. My teammates poo-pooed my envelope idea before the race, but I will mention that I have two neat piles of washed clothing waiting to go back to their owners.
Your bike does not need to be special, just well maintained and reliable. It was noticeable that few people used deep section wheels, but we did not encounter a wind issue. There were some “pro-like” teams that glided passed us on stiff bikes with deep section wheels, in skin-suits and in formation. They looked awesome and I think we all wanted to be them.
To be confident you need the usual long trip kit (two tubes each, one chain tool, your gear hanger etc). There is support but you really don’t want to be waiting around for it while you are soaking wet in the 2-4 degree temperatures in the mountains.
It’s really easy, if you do what Steve and Mark did. You fly to Trondheim, drop your luggage and bike box off at the start, pick it up at the end, and then fly out of Oslo. I like hotels, but Steve and Mark crashed out on the mattresses provided at the end. I flew in to Oslo and left my stuff in the hotel before taking the train to Trondheim. If you do that take your bike booking all printed out and prepare to wave it with authority at the guard when he tells you his van is full: I could have done without that stress.
The most critical part of completing this challenge is who you do it with. I had the privilege of doing it with Steve and Mark. We were well matched and had ridden together quite a bit before the event: this was important. Sometimes we joined other riders and groups. This was never comfortable and on occasions it was dangerous. We were involved in two crashes that were precipitated by a cocktail of fatigue, unfamiliarity and inexperience. We reflected after the event that we all found it easiest and most enjoyable when it was just the three of us. Four to six people in a well-practised team, staying away from others, would probably have been optimal.
It’s an endurance race, not a long Sunday club ride. It never goes fully dark, which helps when you have been cycling up-hill for 100 miles in the rain. The journey across the high plain was stunning and, for much of the time, just the three of us (in case you missed this: it was also very cold).
As we started the last 200 miles the endurance element kicked in. We were on a mission, and we were disciplined about it: stop, toilet, eat, bottles, rest, go. However, we did not rush and seemed to be in harmony and so were ready together. The stops are wonderfully run by local groups and become more frequent towards the end, when you need them most. The organisation of the event was generally excellent.
Most of the journey is open roads and at times traffic was an issue: because it was stuck behind groups of cyclists! This meant that there was a real sense of privilege when on the last few kilometres they closed a lane and then a section of the motorway to welcome us into Oslo. Steve took advantage of this to fly up the last hill like a morning on Swains, while we watched in awe. On the other side of the hill we descended together to the finish, acutely aware that this was a team achievement that we would not have done without each other.