Riding alone through Rondane, Sognefjellet, Filefjell and Valdres the summer of 2019.
All new everything.
My new bike was ready—I couldn’t say the same about myself. The last month had been spent mostly off the bike for work, travelling around Italy, drinking wine and eating pizza. A couple too many kilos around my waist, far too few kilometres in my legs. The original plan for the week was to ride a new route through Norway with my good friend Ole. Sadly, he caught an infection and had to cancel last minute. That meant going the distance alone—back to the drawing board.
I had done one multi-day trip solo before. In and out of Oslo, one night in a tent. The original route I had planned with my mate felt a little too ambitious to tackle alone. I wasn't sure how I would cope with a week on the road solo, let alone in new and remote places. I quickly scrambled together another route including some familiar roads and mountains, and a loop around Rondane as a new addition. In the moment, I felt like it struck just the right balance of challenging and comfortable. I booked a train ticket for the next day to Dombås (my starting point), and reserved a bunkbed at Turtagrø (320 km in) for a bit of luxury. Apart from that, everything was open. I had a rough plan and a week to spend.
The obligatory packing photos.
Going this kind of distance alone was new. That could be said for my setup and the way I would document this trip, too. I had spent the long, Norwegian winter nerding out over the perfect setup for a trip like this. A custom built steel frame1, custom built dynamo wheels2, all new components3, all new lights4, a new head unit5. Granted, I had ridden this bike around a couple thousand kilometres, but never tested it on a trip like this. Some of my bags6 had never been used out on the road, the same could be said for a lot of what went in them. I was excited to see if my meticulous planning had been worth it.
I also picked up a Contax G1 a week or two prior to the trip. I had never really shot analog before, but the test roll I developed before heading out showed promising results. I decided to bring it along with a flash and 5 rolls of Portra 400. To add to the analog lifestyle, I deleted all social media from my phone, blocked all news sites, and decided to make the most out of this time alone. After some hectic months in a new role at work, I could use the headspace.
I left my apartment with only half a cup of coffee and a dry energy bar in my system. Rolling down to the train station, I tried to make peace with the fact that I had only gotten a couple of hours of sleep. As always, I had twisted and turned all night, in a haze of excitement and trying to remember if I had packed everything.
I strapped my bike to a wall inside the luggage room, driveside out, and prayed no-one would bend my derailleur hanger or scratch my paint. The train from Oslo left 08:02. “Too late to turn back now”, I thought. Little did I know this thought would reoccur many times later in the trip. The four-hour train ride passed by uneventfully: spent reading ‘Helvete’ by Erling Loe, looking up places to eat in Rondane and gulping down coffee. I had about two and a half cups worth, the rest I shared with the train seat, floor and my brand new white socks.
The gate to Rondane.
While getting my bike ready at Dombås train station, a group of fellow bikepackers approached me. They were headed the other direction; towards Åndalsnes, Trollstigen and Valldal. Given that I grew up not far from that area and rode there last year, I shared a few insider tips and shouted “have fun!” as they left. For a moment I felt like a seasoned expert in the bikepacking game. Then I set off on my own adventure, and the feeling quickly faded away.
The first 40 km felt rough. I was sleepy and unfit, it was cold, and the route started straight into a climb up Grimsdalen. In the transition from tarmac to gravel, I rode straight into a giant pothole and went down. As any cyclist with a new bike would do, I checked the bike for damages before checking myself. My bike got out of it with a few scratches here and there, so did I.
After what felt like hours, I eventually made it to Grimsdalshytta, one of the few possible food stops I had managed to locate in Rondane. I ordered an overpriced bowl of ‘rømmegrøt’, moved a luke warm space heater under my table and sat down to eat. All while trying to understand what the middle aged couple next to me were talking about. I concluded that my three years of German classes in lower secondary had been a waste of time. Half an hour passed; I started to feel better. And with that, I also started to notice the beautiful scenery around me.
Infinite gravel bliss.
The next section flew by. The landscape and the soothing sound of plush rubber rolling over gravel kept me company. I think I met two, maybe three cars during this entire gravel section. It was a peaceful hour—so tranquillising I started getting drowsy. Eventually I hit the tarmac again and made my way towards Atnasjøen. I played through some podcasts to combat my ever narrowing eyes; my next mission was finding caffeine.
Back to boring tarmac.
And just like that—in the middle of nowhere—I found a beautiful concrete structure housing a tiny café. Unfortunately, the joy didn't last very long, as I figured out it had closed 9 minutes earlier. In fact, I saw the owner locking herself out of the back door. I waved at her; no response. That half cup I had spilled on the train regretfully came back to mind. I took a few photos, stretched my legs, and kept going. Thankfully I found a place with a soda vending machine half an hour later: “Two cans of coke equals one cup of coffee”, I thought, and paid up.
Ever seen ‘Winter Night in the Mountains’?
Up next was the second climb of the day, this time taking me over Venabygdsfjellet. Those cokes I had chugged 30 minutes earlier did their job. As I approached the top, the sun started setting behind the mountains of Rondane. I felt euphoric! I unplugged my earbuds.
I was so busy looking at the landscape around me that I almost crashed into a sheep with her two lambs. That woke me up a bit, getting me ready for the long descent down to Frya.
As the adrenaline from the descent left my body, I once again felt my eyelids getting heavier. My legs even more so. I had to hit the brakes more than usual on my way down in an effort to feel in control. After half an hour on the flats, I found a supermarket, picked up some dinner and made my way towards Vinstra. I stopped at an intersection and checked the map to find my campsite for the night. Failing to locate a spot to free camp, I rode up to a few rental cabins just around the corner. No-one there, but I found a piece of paper with a phone number taped to a pole.
After a bit of back and forth, I managed to convince her. I pitched my tent along a wall and fired up my gas stove7. On the menu was ‘meksikansk gryte’ (a readymade bag of dry rice and mexican spices) with ‘kylling salatkjøtt’ (pre-cooked chicken). A true classic on these trips. I devoured it, called my girlfriend, and rolled back to sleep.
Strava activity — 157 km, 1811 m, 7:16 moving time
Breakfast part 1.
The alarm rang 08:00 sharp. I didn’t manage to drag myself out of the tent until about 20 minutes later. I had gotten a good 7 hours of sleep, yet it felt like I could have done with 5 more. I had told myself that I wouldn't rush anything on this trip, but I knew I had to get going early to make it to my goal for the day. The kitchen at Turtagrø, where I had a bunkbed waiting for me, closed at 21:00. It was only 160 km away, but judging by the state of my body, I needed some time. I brewed some coffee, packed up my bike and got on the road.
The first hours of the morning were spent cursing over my salty bib shorts. I had no rhythm in my riding at all.
As I was taking my last sip, a lovely young Finnish couple walked up to me. I spent a good 20 minutes chatting with them; one of them had just started building up a titanium bike for similar purposes back home. He pointed and asked about everything on my rig. I kindly replied, getting more and more validation about the decisions I had made during winter. I helped them figure out where to drive to next, zipped up my jersey and slowly pedalled towards Lom. As I made my first turn, I regretted not taking a photo of them.
While waiting for my lunch at Brimibue in Lom—a restaurant owned by the renowned television chef Arne Brimi—I had a peek of my route. I was over halfway in terms of distance, but my head unit told me I had about 1400 meters of climbing left for the day. That didn't excite me that much; I felt sluggish, and my bike had felt particularly heavy the first 800 meters of ascent. While eating my burger, served by the man himself, I tried visualising how beautiful it would be. That helped a bit—the Sognefjell climb is one of my absolute favourites—and the weather was perfect. I filled my bidons with water and stuffed my feedbag chock full of candy at the nearby supermarket. Part 2 was about to begin.
Part 2 was in many ways a perfect sequel to part 1; filled with breaks. I stopped at every photo opportunity I could find; trying to enjoy the view, giving my legs some rest. A swarm of flies and ‘klegg’ acted as a timer; when they got too annoying, I pushed on. Eventually the distance between each stop got longer, and I found some kind of rhythm again.
The Saga Column in Bøverdalen.
Free, fresh water everywhere.
I cheered as I passed the sign marking the top of the climb, 1434 masl, followed by some questioning looks by the owners of a Slovakian car parked up next to it. I felt ecstatic; if I just kept a good flow from this point, I could make my goal of getting a good dinner at the hotel. The two times I have been here before, I have stopped at Sognefjellshytta to grab a bowl of rømmegrøt and stretch my legs. This time I only had time to snap a few photos; I had shot a roll of 36 and then some from Lom to this point.
Sognefjellshytta by Jensen & Skodvin.
The descent down to Turtagrø felt sweet. I could barely see a thing due to the low sun, but that didn't bother me at all. I made it to the hotel 1 minute before the kitchen closed. I got in line to check in, watching the deadline pass.
@!?#. I couldn’t hide my disappointment.
A sigh of relief. I ordered a main and a beer, and while waiting for it the majority of the restaurant left. I wasn't sure if it was because of my salty and sweaty presence, or because it was about to close. I can almost not remember what I ate, but it was some kind of fish with potatoes. The best 350 kr I had spent, I contently thought to myself.
Trying to get rid of some salt.
The view from Turtagrø.
After finding my assigned bunkbed in a neighbouring building and taking a long awaited shower, I grabbed another beer down at the hotel. Enjoying the sparking fireplace next to me, soaking up the scenery, failing to do any more progress on my Kindle book. As I walked back up to sleep, I concluded that this must have been my hardest day on the bike ever.
Strava activity — Distance 159 km, elevation gain 2137 m, moving time 7:35
Day 3—Tindevegen and Filefjell
Starting the day by sleeping in until 09:30 and having a slow hotel breakfast felt like a luxury from another planet. While eating a slice of bread with bacon and eggs, I started pondering about the plan for the day. Given the previous day’s brutality, and the fact that I had not been sleeping very well, I decided to make this a ‘rest day’. As in taking it slower, and shortening the distance.
As I set off for the day, half past noon, I didn't know how long I would go or where I would end up sleeping for the night. While enjoying my third cup of coffee next to the fireplace, I had drawn up a few alternative routes on my phone8. Eventually I defaulted back to the original plan: going over Tindevegen, descending down to Øvre Årdal, making my way up to Filefjell and from there, seeing how long my legs wanted to take me.
Tindevegen absolutely fascinates me. Connecting Øvre Årdal with Turtagrø, it spans 32 km with a high point of 1320 masl and sections up to a 14% grade. I have ridden it two times before, both ways, yet it still leaves me pondering why anyone in their right mind would build a road over here. Approaching the top, I stopped for a second to prepare for the descent.
Toll road at the top of Tindevegen.
I felt infinitely more safe and comfortable this time around; a more stable bike and disc brakes made all the difference. Last year was a balancing act of going down safely on rim brakes while also making it to a grocery store before 20:00, when the beer sales close in Norway (yes, priorities). This time I had no rush.
Three of the tunnels on the climb up to Filefjell.
After letting the foccacia I had for lunch sink for a while, I started pedalling up the climb to Filefjell. I now had to pay for all the fun I had had plummeting down from 1320 m, by gaining 1100 m in roughly 20 km. I stuck to my mantra of taking it slow; the climb went fine. A pleasant surprise bearing the previous day's effort in mind. Just entering the flat section on the top of the mountain, my front derailleur suddenly stopped shifting.
I was stuck in the little ring. That could mean one of two things: either a cable had broken or disconnected somewhere inside my frame, or I was running out of Di2 battery (electronic gearing system). Regardless of the reason, it stressed me out. The cheap AliExpress battery pack I had brought had started acting up, and the next section was all flat and downhill, so a noisy 34/11 wasn't very tempting. On top of that, I was in a bit of a rush all of a sudden. I had checked the map a few minutes earlier, and the only supermarket in a 50 km radius was closing within the hour. I plugged in the charger, found a place to sit along the road; loaded a new roll of film, called my girlfriend for some company and waited... Please.
Roughly 3 km of dead straight road.
Phew. It shifted again. Another pleasant surprise.
As I pushed on towards Tyin, I started thinking about places to sleep for the night. Moving into Valdres, the distances between towns are quite long. I checked my map once again while browsing the grocery store shelves for the lightest dinner I could carry. Vang was only 22 km away; I thought I remembered a nice campsite there from passing through last year. I picked out a bag of ‘italiensk gryte’ and some chorizo and chicken cold cuts, a slight variation from day 1.
Borgund stave church.
Strava activity — Distance 90 km, elevation gain 1822 m, moving time 5:15
Day 4—Valdres and Oslo
I woke up feeling fresh. The rest day had yielded results; sleeping in, taking it slow, cooking a nice dinner by a lake during sunset, a fresh shower, even reading a little bit. With this new boost of energy, I didn't mess around; the bike was all packed up in 15 minutes.
The breakfast was consumed at a gas station across the road. Where would my legs take me today? I was roughly 250 km and 1800 m of climbing from home. As I saw it, I had three options: a long day today + a short one tomorrow, two similar days—or—one long day. While the latter option sounded tempting for the sake of bagging a new personal distance record, I concluded that I would decide later.
30 km into the day, I started to get dizzy. The infamous bonk was about to make an appearance, even after what I would consider a sizeable breakfast. I cranked the pace down. Rolling slowly along on a busy road with no traffic barriers, keeping my balance to not fall off the edge, I spotted something in the woods. An alpaca? I wasn’t sure if I was hallucinating. I stopped abruptly, to the cursing honk of the BMW behind me. Eventually I found a roadside café, downed two donuts and a cup of coffee, and sat in the shade for a while hoping it would pass.
It did. A little later, at another food stop, an ageing man approached me to ask me about my adventure. The equipment was very different back then, he said, and exemplified it by telling me a story about a time he had descended Sognefjellet with a birch log attached behind the bike to save the brakes. Brutal. Again, I regretted not taking a picture.
The next 140 km of the day can briefly be described by this: pushing on in a good pace, stopping to wait the heavy rain out, gambling, getting wet, repeat. Though, through the rain and thunder I had found some kind of soothing mental space. I was in the zone. After being stuck in the big ring for a while due to my failing battery pack and a flat Di2 battery, I stopped at a roadhouse at the end of Valdres. I found an outdoor outlet, plugged my charger in and ordered some dinner. I was torn: on the one side, I couldn't stand the thought of finding a place to pitch my tent and continue in wet clothes the day after—on the other side I was freezing and tired of cycling in the rain.
Gravel cycle path out of Fagernes.
Approaching Høneføss, roughly 60 km away from home, I felt quite certain I wanted to try to reach Oslo for the night. After pulling up to a kebab place—“the biggest kebab you have, please”—I got on the phone with my girlfriend to tell her my plan. She didn't like it at first, but we eventually decided I would give it a go. My legs felt okay, and my mind felt relatively sharp. My biggest worry was the dark: I hadn't cycled a lot during the night before.
A glimpse of sunlight.
I ate half my kebab, stuck the other half in my jersey and headed in a southbound direction. Body full of adrenaline, a little scared. Dodging a few drunk people on their Friday night blowout, stopping at a 7-Eleven for a Skittles and Red Bull top-up. After a few failed attempts through some corn fields and gravel roads, almost running over a fox and chasing a deer off the road, I found a cycle path out. A quick stop at a closed gas station to charge my phone. I continued.
As I passed by Utøya, I started getting more comfortable riding in the dark. Cars are passing me with much greater margin than earlier in the day; those new bike lights are doing their job. I finished my Red Bull as I approached the top of Sollihøgda, what I considered the hardest and most sketchy part between Hønefoss and home. A quick stop to recoup.
Vigeland Museum by night.
The road in to Oslo was a struggle. Roadwork everywhere. My body could use some work, too. My sweet, warm apartment and my sweet, sleeping girlfriend felt like they were halfway around the Earth.
200 meters from home I got a flat. My first flat on these tyres in 2500 km. I got off my bike and walked it home on my socks, with my shoes stuffed in my feedbags. 04:14.
Strava activity — Distance 247 km, elevation gain 1791 m, moving time 10:47
- An ALLROAD steel frame built around a Columbus Futura Gravel fork, by Francesco and Paolo at Fabrica Cycles.↩
- 28 spoke wheels built on a SONdelux 12 dynamo front hub and a DT Swiss 240S rear hub, laced to 6066-T6 alloy rims by DCR.↩
- Full Shimano Ultegra Di2 R8000 hydraulic groupset with a 50/34 11-34 drivetrain. Zipp handlebars, seatpost and stem. Chris King headset and bottom bracket. Fabric saddle. Compass Bon Jon Pass 35mm tyres.↩
- SON Edelux II LED dynamo front light and two Exposure Blaze MK2 rear lights.↩
- Wahoo ELEMNT ROAM.↩
- Specialized Burra Burra handlebar harness system. Frame bag, top tube bag and rear pack by Rapha. Road Runner Auto-pilot feedbags.↩
- MSR PocketRocket 2.↩
- Using a combination of Komoot, Google Maps and Strava.↩