Last month, Ian and Paul (our supported riders), headed out to race the Rovaniemi in northern Finland, pitting themselves and their bikes against the cold of the Arctic Circle. Although not riding Shands, we’ve shared their race and post-race accounts below.
North of the scattered settlement of Rovaniemi, northern Finland, stretches a sparsely inhabited expanse of rolling hills draped with pine and birch forest. Criss-crossed with trails and divided by broad frozen rivers and ice-sealed lakes that extended as far as the eye can see, it was as enticing as it was wondrous. My legs still weary from racing the Rovaniemi 150 the previous day, this enchanted and frozen world of trees, snow & ice was drawing me back out there.
The forecast was for clear and cold. One days rest was going to have to suffice, as there was no other time before my flight home. The conditions were looking better than we’d had for the race, and that provided the extra incentive I needed to draw together all my gear and embark on another ride. The pace was much more relaxed, and I enjoyed the company of Antti and Evan for this short excursion. They’d finished ahead of me in the race, but I was comforted by the extent that their legs ached too.
The sun was bright and low, and the air cold (minus 6 degrees celsius) as we left town. I was prepared for weather a lot colder, and so it was actually quite pleasant to be riding along in these temperatures. Our fat tyres emit a satisfying crunch over the crisp snow as we made our way up the river. Eventually, we turned off the river and embark of less frequented tracks used by snowmobiles. The snow varied in consistency, and reading the lines where the snowmobiles had been was necessary to keep the bike running smoothly through the powdery layer left by the machines.
We climbed gradually for a while, all the time surrounded by pine and birch forest. The trails gradually narrow as we get further away from the more frequently travelled routes. In these parts there was a growing sense of isolation amidst a landscape of sparse trees and flat featureless snow. The sun had disappeared behind clouds, and brief pauses to take photos or shoot some film were a reminder of how cold it really was and how much you needed to keep moving gently forward.
A long and gradual descent brought us to Sinnetajarvi – the lake we crossed on part of the race route. We were heading for a small laavu – a traditional wooden shelter – on the western shore. Off the main route up the lake we ventured onto some very soft snow. Reducing the pressure in my tyres to barely more than more than 2 psi was the only way I could stay afloat, and after some comedic moments of falling off, we finally get across.
Leaving the lake, we entered the woods again, and skirted along parallel to the shore until the laavu emerged through the trees. It was an hour or so before dark, which gave us enough time to get the fire going and start to cook some food. Antti was well equipped with a selection of Finish alcohol – vodka and salmanakki, which Evan supplemented with six cans of beer and a hip flask of Talisker. The heat from the fire was a welcome end to the ride, and provided an opportunity to melt snow and boil water to drink, as well as bake improvised pizza on a make-shift platter that Antti had hewn from a pine log.
We swapped stories late into the night; of trips we’d done or things we aspired to do. For me, this week long trip to Finland had been an amazing experience. The race was my principle focus, but as I reflect back on the week, the social aspects, the environment I was in, the atmosphere afforded by the sense of remoteness seemed to provide a much greater reward.
My personal goal each year is to find at least one event that takes me somewhere different, introduces me to new people and offers a challenge I need to work and prepare for.
A number of years ago I completed the Arrowhead 135 winter race in the US, I rode a single speed non fat wheeled bike 135 miles on snowmobile tracks and it took me over 30 hours. At the time I thought it was an experience I’d no desire to replicate, but the lure of a snowy landscape and the vast expanses of the wild is strong.
Not wanting to repeat an event I had already completed and not quite ready for longer events in the US, I chose to stay within Europe and opted for the only real winter race outside of the US and Canada. The Rovaniemi 150 is in Finland and Rovaniemi being the official home of Santa Claus it was not a hard sell to convince my partner Grace that this was a great opportunity for a winter holiday with a small race thrown in on the deal!
Once at the start and with nerves settled, it was time to go and it was simply a case of turning pedals, drinking and eating … life at its simplest and often happiest. It would be fair to say the start was brisk with the leading 6 putting in a good distance by the first checkpoint, leaving the rest of the field to search for a more sustainable pace. I found company along the first river section, though due to the pace no words were exchanged. Once through the woods and onto the 11km lake section, I was joined by Tom Marvin and we both shared the work along this exposed part of the course. At the far end we parted ways as Tom stopped to adjust his load, leaving me to ride alone.
The whole middle section of the course, some 100km or so I guess, was just ‘management’. Managing temperature, food, mental state of mind. I had no desire to look at my watch or note the distances to checkpoints, aiming not to get distracted or demotivated if progress seemed slow. However, when I came across a discarded route map on the ground I was surprised to discover 60km completed – and all without too much trauma. Then when arriving at the 70km checkpoint within 6 hours, I knew (aside from a disaster) I’d finish on the same day of starting.
In general the riding was slow and steady, but every now and then we were treated to brief but fun flowing descents, the final of which put us directly onto another frozen lake. This would be traversed before the final wooded section and the final push along the same frozen river that started our journey many hours before.
Crossing the final frozen lake I caught and passed the first rider I had seen for hours. Earlier I’d been closing on a flashing red light only to watch it ride away from me and this must have been the rider I had finally caught up with.
As we exited the woods to the river, the effort was increased and I opted for a water refill at the final checkpoint just in case. As I departed another red blinking light could be seen in the distance, but no matter how hard I pushed the pedals it never got any closer. Likewise it felt an age to reach the final bridge that led us away from the river and the short distance towards the hotel that marked the finish.
As I entered the hotel and crossed the official finish line, Grace was there to welcome me in. She’d been following my progress on the SPOT tracker and her welcome was a great finish to the race.
I had covered the course in around 14.5 hours, 10 hours quicker than I had anticipated and an hour quicker than last year’s winner – 4 hours slower than this year’s winner. Although this event for me was never about the numbers, what I came for was an experience and I had certainly had that.
The event in summary was fantastic. The course well marked and the checkpoints staffed with helpful and supportive individuals with just enough resource (water) to keep you going, but not enough to encourage you to linger.
It was a pleasure to socialise with all the people who took part in this event and I hope to see them at many more events in future. Part of me hoped this event would have been excessively hard and finally extinguished my desire for this endurance racing, but as is was such a positive experience my problem is now to decide what to do next.
Thanks to Rovaniemi 150 for the putting on a great race and for some of the images used above.