Day 5: Managing The Cold

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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.

Chilly campsite near Rena

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.

My bike on the snow road

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.

Empty winter road

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.

Schwalbe bicycle tyres, Extrawheel single-wheel trailers


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12 responses to “Day 5: Managing The Cold”

  1. […] Tom Allen and here’s what he had to say about cycling Scandinavia in the winter– Day Five of his Tour: Managing the Cold I crawl out of my tent to find that my thermometer is registering ‑16°C. I […]

  2. […] skills. I’ll let the writing speak for itself.  Here’s an excerpt from his new blog– Day Five of his Tour: Managing the […]

  3. I’m also following your trip!
    Still sorry that I wasnt able to host you in Hamar due to getting the flu.
    — Maiken

    1. No problem Maiken — sounds like it was for the best 🙂 Getting ill on this trip would be no fun at all!

  4. Hmm, too bad you didn’t get some snow-pegs before you started(Hampton Snowfish are rather cheap and worked fine for me).
    Do you have use down-sleeping bag? Don’t you have huge problems to keep it dry(=warm)?

    1. Dry — problem. Warm — no problems as yet! Looking at getting a vapour barrier when I find a town big enough to have a camping shop…

  5. I hope you solve the tent tethering and the condensation problem so that you can enjoy some warm, dry nights outdoors.
    Take care. Enjoy.

  6. As all the above have already mentioned I too am really enjoying following your bike trip via this blog, keep up the great posts and pics, it makes lunch-hour at work so much more bearable!

  7. damn , reading your posts make me feel cold!
    enjoying your posts and photos of the trip though.
    good luck and keep smiling.

  8. I was going to suggest the same thing as Al. Loop with a large log buried horizontal in the snow to act as a snow anchor. That’s what i usually do. Enjoying your latest escapades

  9. Well done!
    I’m enjoying following your trip.
    Nice looking site too.

    I found attaching a large loop like a hangman’s noose of sturdy string to each tent corner was helpful when pegs didn’t work — you can stuff a log or rock or lump of ice or heavy pannier into the loop easily.

    1. Thanks Al — I’ve used my tent’s spare guylines for this purpose and it works like a charm. No more billowing canvas!

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