Day 2: The Learning Curve

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I am woken at some unknown hour of the night by the sound of flapping canvas. The wind has picked up, changed direction and is now blowing side-on at my tent. A poor pitch, admittedly, and now I’m being punished for it. I wedge my boots into the fabric of the awning in a bid to keep the canvas taut. 

Snow road and elk

Meanwhile, I see that the pegs at the rear of the tent have come loose! One sidewall, it appears, would like to be under full sail on a direct course for the other side of the field. The downwind wall, on the other hand, is loose, flapping against the inner tent in the absence of a side stake. 

I can see clearly, the snow-filled air carrying the light of a nearby farm to where I set camp late the previous evening. I’m wide awake, lying in my dampening sleeping bag, waiting for a peg or pole to be blown free and for my hideout to collapse in a flapping heap of ultralight canvas. And the shadow of collecting snow is beginning to pile up ominously.

After what seems like hours, I drift off to sleep again, helped by pulling my hat over my eyes and donning my earphones in an attempt to block out impending doom. When I wake up, it’s 10am and a surprised-looking woman is skiing past with her dog. 

“Hi!” I say with a beaming grin, emerging from my bedraggled excuse for a tent. She replies hurriedly, avoids catching my eye, and promptly departs; a reaction style which seems to be a common theme so far in Norway. Its inhabitants seem unwilling to open up, somehow fearful. They’re probably all really lovely, given an inhibition-loosening drink or two and a gaggle of friends with whom to make merry — just not in the street in the presence of a bearded stranger and his winterized bicycle.

All my camping gear is damp. The temperature in the tent had been too high to freeze my body’s evaporating water, so it has condensed all over the inside walls of the tent in the form of water droplets — which are impossible to avoid brushing onto clothing and kit while packing — and in alarming quantities on the floor beneath my mattress.

I suspect that the floor is not as waterproof as it once was. I add ‘cheap tarpaulin’ to my mental shopping list, along with a plastic spade, a tin of vaseline and a box of matches. 

It’s been a pretty crappy night, and I realise I need to get my camping routine sorted as soon as I can. I will need snow anchors as well as pegs tonight; 3 of my panniers can remain packed while I sleep, and along with the bike itself I will be able to secure all 4 of the necessary corners to heavy objects and bury these objects in the snow.

The day’s riding is short. I stick mainly to the route towards Hamar suggested by the national cycle network signage; a mixture of minor roads and cycleways, all now white and crunchy. The fresh snow during the night has left some roads slippery; hard-pack freshly pressed beneath car tyres giving way easily under sketchily-balanced bike tyres. Spikes are no use in such snow, and I look for patches of ice or tarmac which will give me a steady ride. 

There’s a quick learning curve to riding in such conditions; it’s much slower and more methodical than I’m used to, but I’ll be able to make the distance if I pack enough riding into the daylight hours — and carry on into the darkness if it comes to that.

In the towns, sidewalks are all designated cycle lanes, and kept clear by snowploughs. This is wonderful — I can take my leave of the heavier urban traffic and the salt-spray that will quickly eat my drivetrain. Settlements in these low, forested hills of snow are characterised by large, well-spaced wooden dwellings, compact town centres and the usual scattered prime-positioned supermarkets and petrol stations. Ah, petrol stations — my old friend…

Later, I’m hunting for a patch of concealed snow that won’t require too much knee-deep bike-dragging. An old man walking two dogs — one friendly and one amusingly timid — takes me down a farm track to a drive of a bungalow he says is currently empty. 

“Maybe this is OK for you?” he asks, before pondering the caravan parked outside. The roof is sagging under the pressure of nearly a metre of snow. In a flash, a deal is struck, and does vanish the prospect of the tent — I will climb the ladder and clear the caravan roof, in return for being allowed to sleep within it! 

Such chance events are the hot spice of cycle-touring. I clear the drive as well, in thanks.

A lucky find

Schwalbe bicycle tyres, Extrawheel single-wheel trailers


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5 responses to “Day 2: The Learning Curve”

  1. My husband and I are interested in doing some cycling in Norway next year, I’m keen to leave as soon as possible and intrigued by the challenge of winter riding! The main query though is the number of daylight hours, looming January it seems there are only 6 hours of daylight. How did you find the conditions on your trip, did you cycle at night more, if so where the roads safe enough for this?

  2. Tom,

    Greetings from an equally cold and snowy part of the world (Vermont, USA). You’ve already “met” my better half (Sheila), but both of us love what you’re doing and find your impassioned writing (and especially your attitude) good company. I’m right there with you! 

    Reading this post it stuck me that you might benefit from the following:

    1) Are you using a vapor barrier liner in your sleeping bag? It sounds like you’re having moisture issues and this light and very packable addition to your kit will likely make a huge difference in your quality of life when in the bag. With proper use, a VB liner can stop moisture from leaving your body and getting into the insulation of the bag. Together, this action can make you cold and dehydrated while soaking your bag. Here are two links to North American-made VB liners that provide additonal info:

    While I could have sworn that Snug Pak had a UK-made VB liner, they don’t. So, if all else fails, a human sized plastic bag or, better yet, an emergency sack (those shiny silvery bags used for emergency shelter) will do the trick. I bet someone in Norway manufactures these things — especially given their climate and the number of people who camp outdoors in tents in the winter. If you come upon an outdoor store it might be worthwhile getting one.

    2) You may already know how to do this, but here’s a link to Hilleberg’s instructions on using snow anchors:

    Skip to Page 4 and look about a third of the way down the page for the picture of how to use a snow anchor. As you can see, something like a branch or stick would suffice in lieu of a manufactured snow anchor. This technique should keep your tent firmly staked and prevent the wind for having its way with it.

    Keep up the struggle and the blogging! Sheila and I look forward to maybe one day riding up alongside you in person. Great work! 🙂


    1. Thank you Kai. Your advice is sound; I’m looking for a vapour barrier now, and I’ve solved the snow-anchor issue too 🙂

  3. Thanks for the daily dose of vicarious adventuring! It’s very cool that you manage to update your blog with such frequency. And your writing style is excellent as always. How do you manage to get on the ‘net for updates given where you are and the time spent on the road?

    Happy trails!

    1. I carry a netbook and a 3G phone which I use as a modem — got a Telenor SIM card which covers 99% of the country for about £1 a day, regardless of usage. Amazing what modern technology can enable, really!

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