I crawl out of my tent to find that my thermometer is registering -16°C. I still haven’t found a ‘proper’ thermometer to calibrate it against, so I take the reading with a pinch of salt. If anything, it’s possibly a little high. It’s made a big difference to my camp, in any case.
My pitch is far better than previous nights; the tent has retained its shape with the help of some heavy panniers tied to the corners. (Lucky, since the standard tent pegs are proving entirely useless in the snow.) But the inside of the tent has accumulated a lot of frost from my breath, and the outside cover of my sleeping bag is literally frozen stiff. Unable to dry them out, I am concerned about how this will pan out over multiple days’ camps in the next few weeks.
I begin my day by walking along the roadside for ten minutes or so to restore the feeling in my toes. When I hop on the bike and start riding, I discover that my suspension isn’t quite as supple as it usually is. My gear shifters have also ceased to function in their designed manner. But I still have my brakes, and the pedals are still turning – plus these winter tyres are proving to be a fantastic asset, gobbling up packed snow and solid ice with gusto.
It’s difficult to describe winter cycling, because a winter is not a static thing. In fact, as it’s turning out, this Norwegian winter tour is characterised by the necessity of constant adaptation. Not simply the air temperature, but the wind speed and direction, the cloud cover, the level of sunlight or shade, and the time of day all factor into my decisions. I have to constantly monitor these variables, plus the road conditions and gradient, my level of exertion both current and past, what I’ve eaten and since how long, my water (and coffee) intake, and the clothes I’m wearing now and previously.
All of this is necessary to produce the desired end result: sustainable progress, finishing the day warm and dry whatever the weather has been doing. It’s not a particularly simple task yet.
The day draws on in a happy blur of empty white roads and evergreen forests. But, eager to reach the day’s goal, I have committed a schoolboy error – I’ve pedalled too hard and sweated out more than a manageable amount of moisture. I can feel this and know that it will soon prove to be my undoing.
The temperature, having been up in the single (negative) digits for a few hours, is dropping back to -10°C and looks to be falling further. I have about an hour of usable daylight left, and still 9km away is the town in which I have found a host for the evening.
I press on at the same pace, deciding that to do so will keep me warm for long enough to reach my host’s house before I become too soaked in sweat. I should have removed a top layer a while ago, but I had been too focussed on covering the distance and had sunk back into an ingrained fair-weather pace which I’ve now discovered is too high for these conditions. The road starts to climb and my speed – of course – slows dramatically. My destination drops back another half-hour.
By the time I arrive, it’s almost dark. I’m exhausted by the unexpected long climb, saturated by sweat, hungry because I misjudged the distance, and feeling the chill.
I’ve learnt a lesson today which I won’t forget. Next time I might not be so lucky as to have a warm, welcoming, comfortable home in which to spend the night.