Cycling to Arctic Scandinavia in midwinter was one of the most intensely memorable and rewarding experiences I’ve had on two wheels. Here are five reasons I reckon you too should try cold weather cycle touring or bikepacking in a place like this:
Winter cycle touring throws a lot of new considerations into the mix. After 18 months on the road in more temperate climes, I needed to push myself, broaden my experience and learn some new skills – and I did.
The ethereal sunlight and snow-clad lands of the far north might be as familiar to locals as grey skies and patchwork fields are back home, but for the visitor this harsh spectacle is rarely short of breathtaking.
The countryside in winter is sparsely populated, and the backcountry is all but deserted, save for a few skiers and skidoo enthusiasts. Need a place to unwind and reflect? Head for the Arctic.
“We’re as cold as the weather”, said one Norwegian lady. But, although a world away from the hospitality of the Middle East, I was often taken in from the bitter cold for food and a place to sleep.
If you do get into a pickle, the fact is that you’re still on the road, probably in range of mobile phone signal, and therefore never far from help. You’re not so far from home. It’s not a polar expedition, even though your clothing, camping setup and ice-beard might have a lot in common with one.
Not convinced? Excellent! Here are some handy reasons why it’s a really silly idea:
- It’s cold. Really cold
Frozen toes, cold-aches, numb buttocks, oozing nostrils producing giant snotty icicles, permanently fiddling with zips and hoods and gears and brakes whilst wearing massive mittens — and this is supposed to be fun?!?
- It’s dark. Really dark
Go north at New Year and you’ll notice that the sun doesn’t bother rising at all. A little later and you get only a few hours of pale light in which to accomplish your daily distance. Otherwise you’ll be riding at night at minus goodness-knows-what-temperature, which is fine if you’re a masochist, but not if you aren’t.
- It’s expensive. Really expensive
Norway’s reputation for high prices is well-earned. Expect supermarket food to be twice the price of back home; accommodation three or four times more.
- It’s slow. Really slow
This can’t be overstated. You can’t ride at a clip without getting hot, sweaty, cold, and motionless, in that order. Everything has to be done with painstaking methodology, in acute awareness of temperature, sunlight, wind-chill, gradient, exertion, food intake and caffeine level. It’s exhausting.
- Camping sucks
Sleeping bags suck up body moisture and freeze solid. Stoves, lighters, matches, cameras, laptops, tent-pegs and a host of unpredictable bits and pieces stop working properly. Forget to change into a down jacket immediately and you need half an hour of star-jumps to get warm again. Condensation freezes inside your tent and you get a shower of ice crystals every morning. Your food freezes on it’s way to your mouth, to the sides of the pan, and to your Edwardian-explorer-style moustache.
Like many such endeavours, the memory of an experience like this is far sweeter than the reality from which it draws. But if you detect a rogue thought wandering your mind, craving irrational challenge, and you’re already well-versed in the routines of life on two wheels (or even if you aren’t), I’d highly recommend giving a winter in the outdoors a little consideration.