Truly the #UltimateAdventure
When was your last adventure? We recently headed to Norway, cruising the fjords by boat. Doesn´t sound like much of an adventure for a MTB-minded person like yourself? Well, hold on there buddy, there’s a whole lot more to it than that! It´s only been a couple days since our epic bike trip ended. Memories are still fresh and impressions haven´t really had time to sink in yet, but we already know one thing for sure – this was a MTB dream trip that we’ll all remember for years to come.
Bikester and Pinkbike launched the #UltimateAdventure competition together back in May. We were looking for passionate mountain bikers to join us on a boat trip through the majestic fjords of Norway – and to ride some truly wild trails that would have been pretty much impossible to reach any other way. Silvio, Andreas, Jutta and Max were chosen to get on board alongside elite level enduro racer Robin Wallner, his brother Niklas (a master behind the camera lens) and one-man film-making powerhouse Scott Secco, from Canada.
Riding through the fjordic landscape of Norway still has a pioneering vibe to it. Only a small group of enthusiastic local riders frequent the middle-of-nowhere trails we were interested in. We’d seen some images of past trips and we’d heard a couple of stories, but only Robin and Niklas Wallner had a rough idea of what we were really in for.
Our mixed group of riders, light chasers and Bikester staff met for the first time in Ålesund. Introductions were made over dinner and a good amount of joking and laughter helped release the bit of tension that came from our excitement and not quite knowing each other yet. Our love for riding bikes brought us together and over the next couple of days, we’d discover just how fast this shared passion can form a tight-knit group.
Boarding the next day really kicked off our adventure. A sunny afternoon cruise from Ålesund to the small town of Stranda gently marked the first stage of our journey. From there we’d start our first ride in the next day before heading deeper into the fjords.
On the boat we finally met our local mountain bike guide: Ole from H+I Adventures, a former rock climber and mountaineer who fell in love with riding his bike in that area. As Ole laid out our riding plans, our excitement grew and yet, everyone seemed to noticeably relax. For now, we were left to enjoy the cruise, drink some freshly-brewed coffee and check out the beautiful boat that we’d all call home for the next few days.
The HMS Gåssten
What a stunning home we had – the HMS Gåssten is a real beauty. It offered all the space that our small group could possibly need, plus a roomy deck to boot. The boat’s patina gave a glimpse of her history, and quite the history it is. Built in the late 1970s as one of the last wooden war ships, HMS Gåssten did her duty in her majesty’s service as an inshore minesweeper boat, before later serving as a rescue boat in the Baltic Sea. For the last four years, this oak-wood lady has embodied the work and life style of Fjordadventures – carrying small groups of mountain sports lovers to their dream destinations in the fjords of Norway.
Into the Fjords
As we journeyed deeper into the fjords, we slowly passed sheer rock faces that towered either side of us – rising straight out of the water for up to 1000 metres. From the boat we could spot cabins high up on the steep mountain sides and wondered how we’d ever get there. We were about to find out. The trails we were aiming for don´t unfold easily either. Starting at the shore of the fjord means every bit of altitude is well-earned – from sea level up! You earn your right to enter proper alpine terrain after approximately 600 meters of hard climbing.
The next morning some of us had to pinch ourselves. It hadn´t been a dream! We actually had woken up on that cozy boat we’d dreamed of and yes, we were in the middle of the Norwegian fjords, with our bikes set and ready to go. After a delicious breakfast we quickly stuffed tasty packed lunches into our bags and off we went – from the pier of Stranda to the ridgelines above.
Our first day in the saddle set the tone for the next two mountain days to come. We followed a small road up the hill and turned onto a rugged hiking trail. Pushing and carrying our bikes soon became unavoidable. Ole told us that this would be a “there and back again” type of ride. So, while pushing through the woods, over boggy marsh land bristling with boulders and up into the rugged alpine zone, some of us were already looking down for line choices. We all stopped doing that soon enough. Turning around from time to time and soaking up the impressive views was a much better distraction from the intensity of the climb.
On a windy cold ridge, a little less than 1.000 metres above the fjord, our first proper descent began. The first section was merely a trail. We followed gently graded rock slabs onto steeper ones and mixed in small portions of a rocky hiking trail as we made our way down to the lake; all with plenty of technical lines to choose from. It was a ridiculously fun freeride for everyone.
With big smiles we regrouped to tackle the longer, sometimes boggy, but always rocky path that we’d climbed before. There is flow to be found on these raw natural trails. You quickly learn that you have to stay sharp and focused to avoid catching your front wheel between the rocks, but the beauty of riding here lies in its raw and truly adventurous character. Luckily we had a group rolling that wasn´t just fit and skilled enough – but all really seemed to enjoy the challenges that the Norwegian trails threw at us. And we were about to get better playing with these rugged lines along the way.
One boat - one crew
When we arrived back on boat we were presented some cold beers and freshly backed cake before we could even ask for any post-ride treatment. Bikes were stacked on the front deck, backpacks tossed onboard and a pile of sweaty, muddy clothing miraculously found its way into the engine room to dry out on its own. Only 10 minutes after we’d arrived back onboard, ropes were untied and the course was set for the famous Geiranger fjord. A bit tired from the ride and a bit mellow from the welcoming beer, the chilled boat life soon kicked in again. We were more than happy to have nothing else to do except take a shower and enjoy the cruise.
Huge swathes of our instant love for life onboard the HMS Gåssten were down to our skipper Sven, his lovely crew and their open-hearted personalities. Sven owns and runs the boat; a Norwegian by choice with Scottish and Swedish roots, who used to work as an offshore diver. He has a thing for skiing and bike riding and absolutely loves his fjordic world and his boat. His right-hand and business partner Tash is also Scottish, and can be found in charge of the boat equally as often. She is the perfect host, an experienced adventurer on her own and has some mad boat parking skills up her sleeves.
For our trip the two were joined by their long-term chef Emilie. This charming young lady (also from Scotland) won our hearts at least three times a day, and made cooking five-star meals on a tiny boat look pretty easy. Chris, half Canadian, half German and in charge of all things mechanical, completed our crew. All of them visibly enjoyed working and living together on the boat. Thanks to their all-inclusive and ever-generous hospitality we instantly felt like members of their little boat family.
As we tied up the boat alongside Geiranger pier, Sven told us that we’d have a guest tonight. After a luxurious dinner, Gordy (one of the winter ski tour guides) joined us, bringing his guitar and turning our cramped cabin into a tiny private concert. It was a lovely way to end a pretty perfect day.
The sound of the engine woke us up. It wasn’t a disturbing noise, just a sonorous growling we weren´t quite used to. Skipper Sven was right. You do get used to it after five minutes, and most of us snoozed for another hour whilst the boat gently moved out of Geiranger towards our starting point for the second bike ride of the trip.
By the time we landed in Fjora everyone was ready to start our most ambitious day of riding yet. This time we had the chance to gain over 700 meters of elevation in the saddle. Our group of nine had already developed some sort of order up the climb - both on and off the bike. While the racers, ex-racers and our Canadian camera guy (with his approximately 20 kg equipment!) set an ambitious pace, Max, Jutta, our guide Ole and me hung back a little to save energy for when it would really count. Silvio, although more than capable of going at the faster pace, was happy to join our steadier group from time to time. Leaving the tree line behind opened up a spectacular view over the fjord below – adding even more rough alpine peaks to the epic backdrop than we’d seen before. When the gravel road ended we regrouped over a second breakfast, before restarting fresh on our hike to the very top of the peak.
Now to the bit we’d been waiting for. We’d ride down a good portion of the trail we just hiked up. The top section offered a labyrinth of granite rocks and loamy patches just begging us to go wild. Everyone began popping off rocks, styling and getting loose into corners. We truly had a blast ripping down there and the atmospheric light conditions also gave our camera guys everything they’d hoped for. Every once in a while, we stopped and gave Scott and Niklas a couple of minutes to bring their cameras into position before we kept on rolling. Not for a minute did it feel like we had to compromise our riding to get these shots. Scott and Niklas knew exactly when it was time to shoot and when it was time to shred themselves. Despite carrying much heavier backpacks they didn´t seem to hold back on their riding game either.
Ole’s planned route made clever use of the elevation we’d earned. After some traverse riding, we got into descent mode again – following a flowing line over lush alpine meadows into the steepest part of today’s ride – a chute full of technical challenges that spilled us out below the tree line. For the last time that day we climbed up a little further, before flying down another steep, loamy trail through the woods. This forest section was followed by a couple of rocky pinball sections with switchback turns – that perfectly showed exactly who’d honed their front wheel cornering skills in the Alps.
Back down by the boat, a cold brew was handed to the mud-covered band of riders who’d pushed each other to ride their best from trail to trail. We hadn´t stepped foot onboard before someone – I think it was Sven – suggested a swim. Hold on, buddy! We didn´t ride down all this gnarly stuff to then take a little dip from the safety of the pier! There was no time to think twice before everybody was climbing up. Of course, we’d all jump from the rooftop of our boat. What better way to end today’s ride than sending it?
The next morning Tash and Chris brought the bikes and the whole band to the shore in the boat’s small orange dinghy. It´s only a tiny detail, but when was the last time you were shuttled by boat to a bike ride? Never? That’s most of us then! Finally on land, we tackled one more long climb from sea level to the peak before us. About half way in, the hiking game began again, this time from below the tree line. We’d got used it. We knew it´d be worth it for sure. As we left the trees behind us, the sun came out and turned the dew across the high meadows ahead into a magical, shimmering carpet. A mix of rideable sections and steeper alpine hiking completed our final ascent. The wonderful panorama surrounding us, the best weather we’d all week and the excitement of going down again left zero room for sadness. Not yet! The camera guys got busy making the most of the sunlight. We stuck to what we’d learned to love: riding down those raw alpine trails together, smooth and calculated where necessary, wild and playful where possible. Further into the trees a snaking trail section tipped over into what felt like a never-ending series of chutes. With no chance of bailing out (even if I’d wanted to) and Silvio right on my back wheel, this was the ultimate helter-skelter ride. At the bottom of the trail we couldn´t help but ask ourselves if Scott would be able to tackle this steep descent with all his camera equipment and a drone on his back. But how could we have ever doubted it? Of course he rode it out like a mad man!
The final section turned out to be the most flowy part of the whole trip. A natural flow line with plenty of kickers and berms invited everyone to go crazy and led us down to the road, close to the boat. We weren’t a minute too soon. Tash and Chris brought us back on board with the little dinghy and Sven set the course back to Ålesund.
During that last four hour cruise back to Ålesund there must have been a moment of sadness for everyone as we realised that our time on board and whole trip was ending. Life onboard the Gåssten had turned out to be one of the secret ingredients in our trip’s recipe. It’s a quiet way of travelling that gives you enough time to calm down, soak up your surroundings and truly get in touch with your travelling companions. Sven’s boat took us to riding spots that no road would have led to. It had been our shelter and home – full of hospitality in the middle of wild and remote nature. We came prepared for good and bad weather. We’d brought equipment to fix possible damages on our bikes. We knew, we would head into epic scenery. But we’d soon realised that there isn´t much that can prepare you for the raw intensity and breathtaking beauty of the fjords.
Now back home, I’m sure we’d agree that this experience was so special, that the name ‘Ultimate Adventure’ doesn’t really do it justice. There was no freezing our asses off alongside some cold wet mountain ridge or slow starvation after long hours spent in the saddle. Instead we rode awesome trails, we laughed, we enjoyed ourselves, and every one of us made new friends who share the same passion. In a very short time we got to know and like each other. I know we will ride together again. It might not be on a boat in Norway any time soon, but it will happen.