The Norwegian Expedition

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Ever wonder what it’d be like to ride through Norway in the dead of winter? Tim Wiggins and his riding partners did, and headed there last January to find out. Discover their story of pedaling up icy switchbacks, across frozen lakes, and along deserted fjords here…

Words by Tim Wiggins, photos by Martin Paldan

How far can we ride into the frozen wilderness? Will we experience comfort or despair under a blanket of snow? Will we find grip and traction on ice rink roads? Will we freeze? These are among the many questions that race through our minds as we leave the port of Copenhagen, ­our ferry steaming ahead towards Oslo. Beyond, Norway’s snow-covered forests and fjords await us. An adventure into the unknown for three intrepid—if hesitant—pioneers.

  • Tim Wiggins, Bikepacking Norway, Winter Bikepacking
  • Tim Wiggins, Bikepacking Norway, Winter Bikepacking

The fog is thick as we cruise into the Oslofjord the following morning. The sun rises low in the sky, and we catch glimpses of the wintry landscape on the horizon. This is the land of the Vikings, and riding into the wilderness is sure to be demanding.

Our spiked ice tyres rumble on the tarmac as we head north west out of the city and into the hills. The roads soon empty of cars, and the snow deepens on the verges. We feel like daring adventurers tiptoeing through the majestic landscape, sculpted by ice.

It is not long before we leave the tarmac behind; ducking under a barrier that signals the start of the extensive network of forest roads. Now we are properly alone—tiny dots spinning up empty tracks, alongside cliff faces draped in icicles. When will we see the first wolves?

Tim Wiggins, Bikepacking Norway, Winter Bikepacking
  • Tim Wiggins, Bikepacking Norway, Winter Bikepacking
  • Tim Wiggins, Bikepacking Norway, Winter Bikepacking
  • Tim Wiggins, Bikepacking Norway, Winter Bikepacking

This first day of our three-day adventure was always going to be a test—a massive 120 kilometres through the ice fields to reach our ski resort hotel. We seldom stop, partly through fear of losing the valuable body heat accumulated under our many layers, partly because we know it won’t be long before the snow arrives.

It is 15:00 when the darkness creeps in, and with it the snow starts to fall. We leave the forest trails behind for the day and turn back onto the tarmac, needing to crunch some kilometres beneath our spiked tyres.

We pass through villages full of cosy red cottages, and past closed road-side restaurants offering tempting ‘hot food and drinks’. Just not in early January, it seems.

Our helmet vents fill with snow, and we regularly have to wipe our glasses to see out into the driving flurry of whiteness. Our hard work on the pedals keeps us warm, and we joke about looking like Santa with our cotton-like snow beards; but really, we are gritting our teeth—pushing hard towards the end goal.

  • Tim Wiggins, Bikepacking Norway, Winter Bikepacking
  • Tim Wiggins, Bikepacking Norway, Winter Bikepacking

Finally, with 110 kilometres clocked, we pull up to the gas station in the town of Noresund. Hot chocolates and hot dogs all round—anything with ‘hot’ in the title sounds good. We still have an 11-kilometre climb to reach the ski resort, but we need to refuel the burners.

After defrosting, we head back out into the darkness. As 19:00 passes, we are still climbing the icy switchback road, watching the snowplough on the slopes above us. These are roads we never thought you could climb on a bicycle, at least not at this time of year. Yet here we are, grappling our way to the peak on a path usually reserved for snow chains and skis.

By the time we reach our accommodation for the night, we have left everything on the slopes. We stumble into the hotel reception, snow dripping from reddened faces. Other guests look on, seeming confused. “You guys just rode here? But… it’s January?!” We respond with weary smiles. Time for a warm shower and dinner.

Tim Wiggins, Bikepacking Norway, Winter Bikepacking

Day two will surely be an easier affair. We have a downhill to start, a strong northerly tailwind, and the snow is subsiding. We try to ignore the -14°C wind chill report.

We start with a playful descent of the hairpins that posed such a challenge the night before. We are quickly learning from experience: two thermal base layers, two pairs of gloves, two pairs of winter socks; we are layered up like onions to protect ourselves from the chill.

Once down to the level of the fjords and forests, we are in great spirits. Our confidence in the Nordic conditions is growing, and we are embracing our inner Viking. We even head off the beaten track to explore the deep snow next to the river, which ends in a series of somersaults when we discover that our ice spikes don’t make us invincible against the stopping power of fresh powder.

  • Tim Wiggins, Bikepacking Norway, Winter Bikepacking
  • Tim Wiggins, Bikepacking Norway, Winter Bikepacking
  • Tim Wiggins, Bikepacking Norway, Winter Bikepacking

Singletrack playtime continues as we race south with the tailwind; the sky clearing to show glimpses of blue that cast our previously monotone surroundings in fresh colour.

We call into a Norwegian truckers’ stop for a late lunch, and joke about how you would never find ‘grilled salmon and roasted root vegetables’ on a menu in your typical European road-side café—welcome to Norway.

The sun is setting as we pull up at our lakeside hotel. It has been another long day in the saddle, but we have the energy for fist pumps and beers. We feel like Arctic explorers, finding our feet and embracing our ‘deep winter’ surroundings. We head to bed reminiscing about ice skids and frozen eyebrows.

Tim Wiggins, Bikepacking Norway, Winter Bikepacking

Before the sun has risen, we are on our way for the third and final day of ‘The Norwegian Expedition’.

The road has been ploughed to allow safe passage, but it is near deserted in the early morning darkness. We rumble along, crunching tyres on the frozen path.

As the sun rises on the fjord-side road it reveals a magical scene. The cold, dark waters contrast with the crystal white snow; and in the distance, we can see the high mountains we had ventured into on the first day of our expedition. We take time to stand and stare.

Tim Wiggins, Bikepacking Norway, Winter Bikepacking
  • Tim Wiggins, Bikepacking Norway, Winter Bikepacking
  • Tim Wiggins, Bikepacking Norway, Winter Bikepacking

Climbing the final hill reminds us of the miles we have accumulated and the conditions we have ridden through. Our legs are heavy, and the rumble of tyres is the only conversation in our surroundings. At the summit, we look down on the frozen Oslofjord below. The late afternoon sun glistens off the ice, casting long shadows on a peaceful panorama.

As we coast down the hill and weave along the singletrack at the side of the fjord, we laugh and joke about the experiences of the past three days. What an exploration. What a voyage of discovery. We feel like the Three Musketeers—heading back to civilisation after a pioneering adventure.

Particulars

Total time: Three days
Total distance: 276 kilometers
Elevation gain: 2,200 meters
Route: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3
Ferry service: DFDS
Tim Wiggins

About Tim Wiggins

Tim Wiggins is an avid adventurer—always seeking out new horizons and new landscapes to explore. He began as a mountain biker, but has since raced and toured on all manner of bikes; from cross-continental road tours, to endurance cross country races, and gravel marathons. A marketing consultant and writer by trade, Tim has always enjoyed capturing and telling stories. You can find him on Instagram @tim_wiggins1 or at Life in the Saddle, his personal blog.

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