Posted by Miles Arbour
Words by Nina Gässler, Photos by Antti Ollila
Being able to participate in your “own” event is a privilege. Of course it wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for the fantastic team who directs the Fat Viking while I’m racing (thank you!). Fat Viking is organized by seven volunteers: Jiska, Maïkel, Margit, Bjørn, Antti, Matthieu and Nina. We call ourselves the FAT VIKING SOCIETY. It’s a non-commercial sports club event.
Fat Viking is a chance to invite like-minded people to “my playground,” or should I say our Viking realms. Geilo is a small ski resort right at the border of Hardangervidda and Hallingskarvet National Park, Norway. There are highlands and mountains as far as the eye can see.
In my opinion, fatbike racing and winter bikepacking connect people more than anything else. There is a unique vibe to it and a strong common denominator. We like to pack our bikes and go out to face elements that aren’t normally associated with cycling. We ride, we push, we cover distance on surfaces that can change dramatically from one hour to the next. We are driven by our desire for adventure in an unpredictable environment. Against all odds we manage the cold and travel on snow and ice. We want to find out how far we can go, how strong we really are. This makes us family. We are brothers and sisters because we like to do these things. It’s hard to describe, but it is the reason why I need to be out there with all the other “vikings.” I couldn’t be a race director.
It’s been a mild and very windy January in Norway. Freeze-thaw cycles and storms before the race made me nervous and a little upset. You obviously want others to experience your home turf in the nicest possible conditions. Fat Viking has been affected by unusual weather conditions before, so I was convinced that it would be perfect this time. We ran a little training camp in the week before race day. People were nearly blown off their bikes, others slipped on the ice. A British rider broke a collarbone, and didn’t even mention any pain!
Race day was less windy. Snow conditions in the higher areas were good and the temperatures were pleasant – just below freezing. Some stretches through the valleys were very icy, but most riders had studs on their tires, and the others adapted their riding style.
What is home turf for me could be intimidating for others. Fat Viking is a hard nut. Lots of climbing and some exposed areas above treeline (900m). I enjoy creating the course as much as I enjoy riding it. It’s my backyard, I ski and ride most of the trails many times every winter. Race day is special, because I get to ride it all in one go and share it with others.
The uphill riding always pays off. Seeing the sunrise in “Torsrunden” is a treat, no matter how often you have seen it before. At this point I start to relax, despite the fact that I am racing. The accumulated stress of organizing the event vanishes. I just love to ride my bike.
Other racers wouldn’t ever notice, but I can’t help but smile. We got a lot of goodwill from the cross-country skiing groomers, and they were kind enough to hear our wishes. Fatbiking is best on compressed snow that has “settled” over night. Here we are. I smile even more when we reach a section where there normally isn’t a trail at all. A friend of mine drove his snow scooter up and down here to make it rideable for us. Thank you!
The road from Viken to Dagali is icy and fast and marks the end of the first section. The head of the race reaches CP 1 at record speed. Our checkpoint is an old school building that’s no longer in use. Dagali is a small place. There are cheering volunteers and hot oatmeal!
I know what is to come after this short break. The second leg of the Fat Viking is the most demanding one. It’s the part that makes this an Iditarod Trail Invitational qualifier. The powerline climb with more than enough bike pushing, the climb up to the highest point of the race, the exposed track at Løytetjønn. Hopefully everybody will look up and see the beautiful surroundings. The headwind makes it extra tough and my legs feel tired. I make a mental note: coffee at the next checkpoint! The wind invites the kite-skiers to the area, adding some colour to the highlands.
Yes, coffee at Checkpoint 2 (Dagali school again, same as CP1). The last leg starts with a long climb out the valley and above the treeline again. Straight into the wind. Grotdalen is picturesque. When you reach the top you see Høgåsen, a high plateau, and a little further Skurdalen appears in front of your eyes. I’m home here. This is all mine. Nobody can take it away from me. It’s a magical moment and I can’t help but scream out loud. This is Fat Viking.
The track descends into Skurdalen and follows an undulating forest track. It’s another steep climb with some hike-a-bike before the descent into Geilo. When I reach the top of the last climb, I turn around and see a headlight in the distance on the other side of the valley. It’s one of the riders behind me crossing Høgåsen. I really wish and hope they are experiencing a similar magical moment up there. Soak it in. You are stronger than you think.
I get a little too enthusiastic on the steep descend into Geilo and crash hard. No injuries, I got away with it. Some friends come to greet me 2km from the finish line and I stop to talk to them. It seems a little surreal to finish the race so early in the evening. I almost envy the riders who are still out there.
I’m already planning next year’s route, and we, the FAT VIKING SOCIETY, are going to meet next week for a debrief of this year’s event. Thank you to everyone who joined in, thank you for making it possible.
This year, 28 riders finished the 150km event, 4 finished the 100km route, and 8 finished the 50km route. In the 150km event, Stian Ulberg took first place with a time of 11 hours, 7 minutes, 53 seconds. Lutz Yannick finished in second place with a time of 11 hours, 50 minutes, 19 seconds, and Nina Gässler took third place in 12 hours, 9 minutes, 28 seconds. Congrats to everyone who participated in this year’s event, we look forward to hearing about next year’s Fat Viking race!