From sea to pizza – a fat bikepacking adventure

Bzzzzz.

Bzzzzz.

Bzz….

It’s still dark outside as I groggily roll over to turn off the alarm. 4am in fact. In an hour the sky will begin to redden over Hvalebykampen, but for now the stars still shine brightly.

On any other morning, I would hit snooze. But not on this one. Out in the shed sits a heavily laden Cannondale FatCAAD, and I’m excited at the prospect of adventure before us.

Out of bed I go through the motions I carry out daily: Sugoi bike kit on, breakfast eaten, door locked. Wheeling my FatCAAD out of the shed, the clck clck clck of the freehub cutting through the thin morning air, I wonder if a test ride would have been a good idea. The bike feels really heavy, and I wonder if all the bags, tent, sleeping bags and food will make the bike handle differently.

5am. Leaving home.

5am. Leaving home.

Riding to the train station and the sky is brightening. Over the ridge, the first rays of sun appear, and by the time we make it to Jaren we are bathed in the warmth of the morning sun.

*Buss for tog* There’s an electricity problem on the Gjøvikbanen line, so the trains are cancelled. We need to wait for the bus, but when it turns up our hearts sink a little. Barely a minibus (at the early hour on a Saturday it’s no surprise) we hope we can squeeze our bikes on. 2x fatbikes. Fully laden. It’s a push, but they fit. Barely.

Waiting for the train that never came. One moment it was dark. The next, full daylight.

Waiting for the train that never came. One moment it was dark. The next, full daylight.

After catching up on the missed hours of sleep, the bus pulls into Oslo sentralstasjon just shy of 7am. The city is drowsy. People wait at tram stops bleary eyed. Even the pigeons in the square seem half asleep. We receive a few double glances at our bikes. 4.8inch tyres on the paving stones of the square. Regardless, I feel cool in my Sugoi Cannondale Girl kit. Maybe it’s the pop art design attracting the glances?

The first 10km of our route takes us up to Maridalsvannet: the reservoir that provides drinking water for most of Oslo. Riding uphill, mostly on asphalt or hard pack gravel, it was a tough intro to bike packing as the gradient ramped up. Our bikes were cumbersome especially when the speed was low, such as on the climbs. Not for the first time we found ourselves wondering if we had overpacked.

Rooty, wet, slippery, narrow. One look at the first singletrack section told us all we needed to know about the future of this trip. We had a choice to make. Did we want to head onto the singletracks, make slow process with the bikes, fatigue quickly and maybe not even make it the 60km to Hakadal in 4 days? Or did we want to enjoy ourselves, make progress on our northward trip and ride as far as we could?

As if punishing us for choosing enjoyment over singletrack (when a bike weighs over 30kg, singletrack is not so enjoyable!), the puncture gods struck us down as we ate second breakfast in the sun adjacent to a field. Pssssssssssst.

It was immediately clear it was HJ’s rear tyre that had spontaneously punctured. Quick tube change. No probs. Only it wasn’t a quick change. A 0.5cm split in the tube on Tuesday, was fixed by HJ with a tube patch. But tube patches seldom seem to hold for long on a fatbike. No sooner was it fixed and pumped up when ‘psssssssst’ happened again. Out came the spare tubes. Pump pump pump. Hj’s getting a sore arm by now – tiny hand pump plus massive tyres makes for a lot of pumping.

HJ reckons pumping his tube up 13 times is worth two squares of chocolate. I think it's worth a whole bar personally!

HJ reckons pumping his tube up 13 times is worth two squares of chocolate. I think it’s worth a whole bar personally!

‘Whoa whoa whoa. Stop pumping!’ I exclaim. I’ve spotted the tyre has slipped off the rim near the valve. Checking it, we see the tube has inflated massively near the valve, but practically no where else. We are using a 26’er tube in a fatbike tyre so …

Changing tube again, the same problem occurs. We try stretching it first to even out the bulge. By now, HJ’s arm is so full of lactic acid he can hardly pump anymore. Admittedly we are on our 5th inner tube pumping of the morning, and it’s not even 9am.

Eventually, we decide to use the fatbike tube, and try harder to get the patch to seal. We’re in luck. At last we can get pedalling again. Our direction? North.

Dropping down to a lake to cross the river at the dam, we take a moment to refill our bottles. HJ eats some blueberries. I read the map and plan the next few hours of pedalling. I’m riding with a mapboard, so map reading on the move is easy. I decide to stick to the gravel roads that litter the Nordmarka forest rather than head to the singletracks. I’m disappointed as we pedal past them; our route smooth and simple, the singletracks techy and physical. I make a mental note to come back here. We both know we’ve made the best choice, and it’s actually fun riding fatbikes on these gravel roads. If not a bit overkill! We’re both enjoying the nature, the wilderness and the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere, when in reality Oslo is only 20km behind us. A few more people are starting to appear, many on bikes, speeding down the hill we are trudging up. Slowly. Breathless.

Water refill. Blueberries are eaten.

Water refill. Blueberries are eaten. FatCAAD admired.

Pssssst.

It’s happened again. The split in the tube, when pumped up, is only marginally smaller than the patch we’re fixing it with. As it warms in the sun, the glue is slipping.

We give up once we reach 13 attempts at pumping the tube up. We decide to walk for a few km’s (I give up at walking quickly and hop on my bike to scout ahead for a lake). Our plan is now to stop at a nice lake, unload the bikes. HJ will then ride my bike down to Nittedal to the nearest bike shop, buy a fatbike tube or two and come back up the hill. Meanwhile I find a fab camping spot, pitch the tent, and eat some food. We intend to stay here for a few nights, since our original plan is kaput, and sample the singletrack joys Nordmarka has to offer on unladen fatbikes.

At the highest point of our trip!

At the highest point of our trip!

It’s warm in the sun. My small hilltop with the tent is sheltered from the light breeze, but there are no mosquitos. Belly sated from lunch, I pull out my air mattress and lie down. The odd puff of wind brushes over my face,the forest smell carried upon it. Warm, dry pine needles. The scent of mushrooms, and the crispness in the air the lake provides. There’s even a hint of damp soil which triggers memories of wet, slippery rides and splashing through puddles.

Before I know it, HJ returns. He can’t find my camping spot, so he whistles for me – our version of Marco Polo. I whistle back, realising as I do so I’ve got dribble on the side of my face. That was a gooood nap! While dozing I’ve been thinking. I want to carry on with our trip, even if it means gravel roads for most of the way. I wanted an adventure. HJ agrees, and after eating the pasta, we pack up and head on.

By now it’s 4pm, and we’ve only ridden 30km! Setting our sights on Råbjornsjøen we get pedalling. First it’s a long downhill (with a small up in the middle) past Ørfiske to Hakadal. From there we ride up. It’s steep, tough, and the bikes only want to go back down! Out of breath and sweating, we take a moment on the climb to chow down an energy bar, before carrying on up.

The forest is changing. From tall pine trees, with patches of blueberry, to the forest typically found over 500m. It’s less dense. More sunlight makes it to the ground, which is covered in red, yellow, green and purple leaves and a pale turquoise of moss. Patches of marsh with long grass whisper in the wind as we pedal past. In the marshes, cloudberries lurk. Bright orange gems of heaven.

Only Cloudberries are worth abandoning a bike for! I'm in the marsh picking some 'Highland Gold'.

Only Cloudberries are worth abandoning a bike for! I’m in the marsh picking some ‘Highland Gold’.

Our bikes and gravity are fascinating. We marvel at how, HJ’s bike being heavier than mine, goes down hill slower. Heavy. Greater friction. Slower. I zip away on the descents, continuously gaining speed until my eyes water. Maybe it’s the Jumbo Jim tyres I’m sporting? Perfect grip yet fast rolling. Or maybe Gravity is now HJ’s enemy?

Rolling down to the lake, we pass a strange, eerie but beautiful building. It looks like something out of the movies where army units hid during the war, or how I imagine Hannibal Lecter’s childhood home to appear. It looks like a stable complex, a square surrounded on 3 sides by a single storey building, painted in deep brown with red window panes. Centrally sits the front door, above it a beautiful veranda set out from the building. The walls are decorated with the skulls of moose, their impressive antlers ominous in the golden glow of the sunset illuminating the overgrown courtyard. The track runs along the 4th side of the courtyard, but a few metres lower. The holding wall is made from local granite, pulled from the hills and carved into rough blocks. Adjacent to the track, facing the courtyard on the fourth side is another building. Black windows. Peeling paint. Another moose skull watches us forlornly.

I want to explore and run away from this place simultaneously. As we ride over the creepy yet elegant stone bridge, a final chill runs down my spine. I’m glad to be pedalling away from here, but I endeavour to find out more about it when I get home.

The lake is remote, but it appears to have several picnic spots close to the lake. Although the shore is steep and rocky, we’re optimistic to find a camping spot. I spot a peninsula on the map that looks promising. As we arrive we see it’s perfectly placed to gather the last of the setting sun’s rays. Only it’s taken. We move on.

Our spot is perfect. I pitch the tent amongst the blueberry bushes in the saddle between two small hill tops. It’s just the right size for the tent, and after shifting some rocks, wonderfully soft. HJ cooks tonight’s chosen food: asparagus soup and reindeer stew. It’s delicious. Finishing up with some hot chocolate, we head to bed as the last light of day is swallowed by the night.

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We’re not awake early, and by the time we’ve eaten breakfast (porridge with fresh blueberries) and packed, it’s gone ten. We cross the road to Gardermoen at Brovoll, and join the Jotunheimstien for a few km’s. These kilometres remind us why we opted for gravel roads over singletrack. It’s tough going, the weight of the bikes unbalancing us in the rocky, marshy terrain. Surprisingly we ride a lot. As the trail heads downhill, our grins widen. Our brakes scream under the strain, but our whoops and hollers just about cover the noise.

Rounding a corner and we’re face to face with a hiker. He looks at my FatCAAD. Then my kit. Finally asking ‘Are you Emily Benham? The World Champion?’. I guess he recognises the pop art style CG kit I’m wearing. He’s read about me in the newspaper and is a fan, but seemingly is entirely unsurprised to find us riding on this remote trail! It’s a cool moment.

Soon enough we’re faced with a hill. It’s a bitch. It’s only a 30m climb, but I’m hauling my bike up. Out of breath, sweating, with exhausted arms, we make it to the top and admire the view while we recover.

Singletracks - tougher than we expected with heavy bikes

Singletracks – tougher than we expected with heavy bikes

It’s good fun riding this singletrack although we barely cover 4km in an hour. Soon enough we’re back on the gravel roads, this time aiming for Sagvollen. We know there’s a picnic spot there for lunch. As we pedal we decide we’ve overpacked. At Sagvollen we unpack everything, and only repack what we need. Half of our food is ditched, along with many clothes. Home is only 25 mins drive from here, so we tuck our stuff in the woods and ride on with lighter loads. I’m feeling refreshed after my nap in the sun, listening to the water lapping the rocks at the edge of the lake. It was peaceful. Soothing.

We pedal on. The map is somewhat obselete here as we know this area well. We’re riding where we ski in the winter, but it’s unrecognisable. There’s more colour. More smell. I prefer it. As we pedal up the road towards Lygna, I look down the drop to my right. Tall dark pine trees grip the precarious slope. Amongst them, an old rusty car rests, it’s bonnet smashed to pieces. Out of the windows, small trees grow. It’s clear it’s been there for decades. I briefly hope the accident was known about, as I wonder why Norwegians would decide to leave the car there.

Emily Benham

Stopping at Lygna we sit in the sun and eat some big ice creams. It’s only been a couple of hours since lunch, but the ice cream is refreshing. We consider where to camp for the night. Where to aim for. We settle on Gulsjøen, another 20 or so kilometres away.

For a few kilometres we pedal on the road we live on, only 500m vertical metres up from home, on top of the hill. There’s history here. This is the road the Vikings pulled their ships over, as they travel from Randsfjorden to Mjøsa. During the war, the Nazi’s marched over Høgkorsplassen on their way north. It’s a strange feeling to turn off the track and carry on northwards. Our bed beckons, but another night of camping is more enticing. We’ve ridden faster than we expected, so we reevaluate and decide to carry on, aiming for Trevatn instead.

The climb has a gentle gradient, but the descent is epic. It’s little more than a traktorvei, but the corners and stunning nature of the forest here bring a smile to my face. The pale turquoise moss covers the small knolls here. Between them, narrow marshes. The occasional dark lake with a classic yellow long grass border.

A brief photo pause. I turned my phone off for the trip duration, but HJ captured the tour.

A brief photo pause. I turned my phone off for the trip duration, but HJ captured the tour.

Down on the road, and I’m shocked. I expected this place to be quiet, peaceful. Instead a sizeable, newly asphalted road weaves into the evening before us. Fairly heavily trafficked for a road up in the hills – I remind myself it is the main road between Raufoss and Hov. The area here is full of small cabins, but it’s still more populated than I envisaged from the map.

We struggle to find a camp spot, and time is not on our side. Doubling back, we ride on the other side of the lake. There’s an old train station here, right on the edge of lake. It’s disused but still a private property. We can’t camp within 150m of it. Our chosen spot is a top a small hill, between the railway and the lake. A few metres away a small pontoon juts out from the shore. While I’m pitching the tent, HJ is cooking dinner. Tonight: broccoli soup followed by Chicken Tikka Masala and hot chocolate. It’s delicious, but we’re driven in after sunset by the hungry mosquitos.

Trevatn sunset during dinner.

Trevatn sunset during dinner.

The following day we decide to end our trip. We plan to ride north for 3 hours, and then turn east towards Gjøvik. After this point our route would follow more singletrack as it heads into the mountains. It’ll be more remote, and we’ve now only got food for another day. Carrying on also means it’s harder for us to get home. We discuss pizza. That settles it. Head for Gjøvik and for Peppes Pizza. No one can resist Peppes Pizza!

Leaving Trevatn, we ride uphill. It’s less climb and less steep than some of the hills we’ve tackled in recent days. Less out of breath, we manage to chat about utter nonsense. It’s fun. A joy to be out here, relaxing, laughing, no pressure.

The final part of the route looks like gravel road on the map. It begins as a marshy ski track. Our bikes are swallowed almost whole! Soon enough the ‘track’ deteriorates further, leaving us with little more than a sheep path. It’s grassy, overgrown, muddy and really tough going. I start to feel my body bonking. Munching down another energy bar, I recover within minutes and can pedal again.

It’s a long road to Gjøvik. Climbing to begin with, then a long descent that increases it’s gradient as we near the city. We’re dropping around 500m metres, but the gentle gradient and headwind means we’re working hard on the road. I tell HJ that he’d better find the Pizza place first time. It’s part way down the hill in the town, and I point out that once I’m down the hill, I’m not going back up. Even for pizza!

He performs well, finding Peppes straight away. Either his nose for pizza is excellent, or he’s been here before! We make the all-you-can-eat buffet before the cut off, and succeed in demolishing two and half pizzas between us. We’re warm, dry, relaxing on the Ikea outdoor sofas on the tiered veranda. Stomachs full of pizza we hop on our bikes for one last pedal to the train station, where the train will take us almost to home.

Happy sunset

Happy sunset

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One Response to From sea to pizza – a fat bikepacking adventure

  1. Ursula H. SUI says:

    What a great text of a fantastic trip – you’re a real poet, Em! Thanks for this enjoyable read and best wishes, Ursula

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