It was a toss up between going to Hawaii with Oakley or Norway with my mother. I was wrapping up crit racing season in Milan, and had a week off before racing the NACCC in new york. My preference is always for warm weather and Hawaii is idyllic. But opportunities to travel with family is rare and I’d never been to Norway before. So Norway won. Despite less than ideal temperatures.
My mom was already scheduled to be there for a work thing. She teaches a nursing course at a university there 2x year. So we met up the day after the Red Hook Crit in Milan.
Norway is famous for it’s scenic outdoors. Even though October was not the best time for it, I convinced my mom to do a short bike trip with me. There’s a stretch of road called the Rallarvegen that looked amazing when I googled cycling in Norway so called every bike rental shop I found (there were two) and managed to reserve bikes at one. The other was closed for the season.
After a 4 hour train ride from Oslo, we arrived in Finse, a breathtakingly beautiful little railroad stop (I would hardly dup it a town) where we were to pick up the bikes. We stepped off the train into 40 degree sunshine. Snow crunched under our feet as we walked to the shop. A gorgeous, ridiculously tall, long haired Nordic mechanic wearing a t-shirt and jeans greeted us. “We reserved two bikes to ride to Flam.” “It is not recommended” he responded, with no further explanation. I persisted. It was a beautiful day and this was our only time for cycling. “We’re not novice. We have gear. We’ve done this before” I half-lied. I mean, I’ve ridden through most conditions and was confident that my mom could handle most anything. Besides, when I looked at the google map it looked like the route was almost all downhill.
The viking conceded and gave us two steel touring bikes with fat mountain tires, racks and paniers. From my limited google research, I thought the road was paved but it turned out that it was not. The first stretch was all dirt and rock.
My mom was wary- knowing I was far more willing to fling myself into the snowy wilderness than she. again I persisted. Look at this snow covered mountains! Look at the lake! How often do you get to see this kind of beauty??
And we took off. It wasn’t long before we stopped for pictures. There was some snowy patches on the road so to make my mom comfortable to walk her bike I said I wanted to take a lot of photos anyway. Besides, we had all day to go 30miles— we didn’t need to rush. We rode a bit more and walked a bit more. I slowly realized that this path was more difficult than my sales pitch to mom made it sound.
“When’s the downhill?” My mom asked, huffing as she pushed her 50 ton over a snowbank along a cliff. “It should be soon!” my voice overly cheerful to compensate for my mistake. I had no idea how far we had to go. I never use a Garmin. One hiker had passed us in 90minutes and she’d expressed surprise at our bike tour idea.
“Come on mom, we can ride this part” was a thing I’d begun saying because we were walking so much. The fat tires kept getting stuck in heavy snow banks.
The sky began to turn pink. I had no idea how far we’d traveled but I knew we had about an hour of daylight left. My feet were wet. and numb. The temperature had dropped about 10 degrees. Hold on. I remembered my mom’s phone had some data. I turned it on and checked for signal. One bar. I went to google maps to check our progress. to my complete disbelief I see that we are almost exactly half way to the next town. 10 miles. We had pulled our 50lb bikes through the snow for 10miles and it had taken us 3 hours to do that.
Shit, I thought. Mom and I are gonna freeze to death out here in the middle of the Nordic countryside Way to screw up a nice family vacation, Kym.
If we pushed onward maybe the trail would begin it’s descent and we would arrive at the next town in no time at all. Or maybe the town would be closed. We’d already missed the 2nd and only remaining train that day and our inn for the night was still 25 snowy miles away. Shit.
Attempting to hide my panic I asked my mom if she wanted to continue on or turn around. Since we were on a dirt road with no vehicular traffic, hailing a cab was not an option. We remembered that there was an inn where we rented the bikes. Our fingers and toes now numb- we opted to backtrack.
“At least we don’t have to worry about bears!” It was true. We hadn’t seen any lifeforms at all except that one lone hiker. Not even a bird. The only sounds we heard were our footsteps on the snow, and my mother occasionally cursing under her breath. The sky was now turning a rosy purple.
We made good time backtracking. At this point we’d ploughed a tiny single track through the snow cover and were able to ride a bit more. My mother was exhausted. “Hey! do you still have that mini-wine bottle you took from the plane?” (now y’all know where I get my resourcefulness from) “It should be in your bag” mom said. At this point I’d taken as much of the weight from her bag as possible. Now I know why her bag was so heavy. “You’re a genius, ma” My mother did not smile.
By 6:30 the sun had set but the sky still maintained a touch of color. It was beautiful against the stark white of the landscape. The trail turned left and Ma spotted the red barn. Her face lit up. We made it!! She sounded truly surprised. It was at this point I realized my mother had been seriously contemplating her inevitable fate for the last 2.5 hours. “Let’s toast!” I said digging out the mini bottle of red wine from my pack. We cheersed, drank from the bottle, kissed, and took a victorious photo even though we had epicly failed.
This is a story I will never forget. A beautiful bike tour gone perfectly through the Norwegian country side? totally forgettable. But a death-defying bike-packing journey through a barren wintry tundra? That’s one for the books.