“It’s a bright June afternoon, it never gets dark!” (Roxette)
A superb video summary from Tor Hovland
The real sense of adventure. To go cycling to the Arctic Circle during the Summer Solstice, in the search of the midnight sun.
I got hooked by the idea the first moment I heard it from Tor H. And here we were, 100 ish riders leaving Umeå by sunset, 23:07, Sunday 19th June.
I was bundled with a strong group from Norway. We went on a relentless pace for the first two controls. Other riders joined us. We hardly had time to eat (salmon) at Lycksele (just 25 min stop, 122 km mark) and soon we were on our way to Storuman. Ah, we had a secret control during the first stage which I would definitely miss if not with other riders.
We would be gaining altitude till the border with Norway, yet very smoothly and, despite the headwind, we were doing 30 km/h. It wouldn’t last long for me at this pace, so at a diversion, the group went ahead when only I and Vesa (a Finnish who would finish 10 hours ahead me) took the right turn. Then I could slow down a bit, even chat! It was nearly 200 km. Eventually the peloton catched us. Once at Storuman (230 km mark) I went for a power nap and Tor H sided with me. I also wasted almost an hour trying to fix my front disc brake and I only got it to stop working completely. Yep, I did the whole ride with just my rear brake. We splitted here. Two Norwegian fellows packed due to illness and the rest hit the road as soon as they could. But the power nap was great! It restored my sanity and relieved my sore muscles. We rode at our pace, with Tor H mostly of the time having me drafting his wheel. Not to say, but this was my fastest 200 in time, just 7h20 to cover the distance.
The roads were simply fantastic but on stage 3 we knew about a long road work stretching over 10 km and a long segment on gravel. And eventually it claimed some souls, unfortunately. Another Norwegian fellow packed after 5 punctures. We heard several others had issues but Tor H and I went fine, just carefully. I was a tad concerned about my tyres because they were well over their half-life. The weather was quite warm and I was running out of water so we stopped at a petrol station and enjoyed an ice cream that just hit the spot. Finally, at the 351 km mark we arrived at the 3rd control at Kittelfjäll for a 40 min break. I was eating fine, but never too much. Food was good, but always cold. Though just the two of us, the pace was still great and I’ve done my fastest 300 as well. Keep in mind that all the stages, done and to come, were long, the shortest was 80 and the longest almost twofold.
In the beginning of stage 4, my Wahoo failed, lost its GPS signal and I had to restart it. We were now on the way to Hattfjelldal, crossing the border to Norway. It was my first time riding across a country’s border. The route was becoming more undulating. The road quality in Norway was not on par with Sweden at the beginning. And the scenario rather changed as well: from sunny meadows in Sweden to mountains, waterfalls and hills covered in snow in Norway. We knew the weather was also turning so we were sort of pushing to get to our cabin for the “night” 15 km before control 5 in Mo i Rana, and before the rain of course. At Hattfjelldal, our first control in Norway (450 km mark, 40 min stop), a great surprise to have a warm fish chowder, exactly what I was dreaming of. However, it was not sensible to eat twice knowing we would have a steady climb just at the beginning of stage 5. Fortunately, all held up well in my stomach. We still could see the fastest guys leaving or about to leave, so we were not doing bad.
We were now roughly 40 min behind the 4 left Norwegian and eventually we regrouped together at a cabin in Bjerka, 530 km covered, we called it a day. It was already Tue 21st Jun, it was like Monday didn’t exist at all! The price I and Tor H paid was less sleeping time, but the 3 hours I got worked wonders for me. We had a 4h20 min break, the longest it ended up being.
It was now a drizzle, wet roads, but with a nice tailwind. As a group again, we left just before 5am, we went quickly to control 5, Mo i Rana, (546 km mark), had a quick breakfast and rode to the long climb up to the Arctic Circle Centre, control 6 at 643 km mark. But half way up the climb, I dropped myself. There they were again riding too fast. I was fine, just needed to take the things on my way. I was fully prepared for the weather as well, so I never felt cold or soaked. Wahoo failed again and I could realise how cold it was getting. I was kind of leapfrogging with a rider (eventually got to meet him, Tobias, from Germany). When I finally arrived at the control, the group had just left but Tor H was waiting for me, probably for a good half hour. I did all I needed to do in 20 min, including buying a souvenir, pictures, etc. Food was a practical wrapped burrito (delicious) that I just put in my bag, I wasn’t hungry.
It was very cold by then but luckily it was a tailwind. That was perhaps my favourite part of the ride, a long smooth descent, despite the heavy traffic. A snowy moonscape it resembled. Hard to believe that that road would continue further north for hundreds of miles. We left the main road and then still one more long climb, to cross the border back into Sweden, until we reach a plateau slightly descending to the next control 7 at Tjaktjaure, 722 km mark. All the way full with spectacular views of waterfalls, gorges, snow covered mountains and almost frozen lakes. I did it mostly alone as I saw Tor H away riding with Marijke, a strong Belgian rider, with no experience in ultra-long randonnés but with 30 marathons and several ultraman triathlons in her palmarès.
Tjaktjaure was a nice control. We could heat our food in microwaves and I put some of my wet garments to dry in a heater. We took a 50 min break. Only days later I got to know they had even a dryer for boots, which would work out for our shoes. But by now I was almost fully dried. Rain has long become a thing of the past.
The next stage to Arjeplog, control 8 at 835 km mark, was a nice one too, with tailwind and a group of 5, having Marijke, and Germans Lukas and Roger joined us. We kept a good rhythm and when some climbs came we took the time to chat. Inspiring to hear a proud Roger talking about his son Paul, doing the same ride, but hours ahead of us. And when you chat, time flies.
Soon we were at Arjeplog but that was not our stop for the “night”. We ate and took a power nap. We spent like 90 min there. And I had hot chocolate! Anyway, we still had another 90 km before we called it a day at control 9 in Sorsele. The route was “easy” but I was tired and sleepy. Tor H was feeling fine and even suggested just an hour stop in Sorsele, but I asked for a 3h sleep. I was a bit disappointed about not having a shower facility. In the end it was too cold and with 2 hours of bad sleep I was awake and we decided to move on so we left before 5am, Wed 22nd, with less than 4 hours of a break. We were well ahead of our schedule but now we eagerly wanted to finish it.
Easier said than done. It was the longest stage, 158 km, with almost no possible stop, no petrol station, no towns, nothing. Just monotonous, beautifully I must say, monotonous landscape. We started strong but we chatted sometimes to pass the time (I’ve got to know about the ‘&’ etymology) and to forgo the sleep. We stopped around the 1000 km mark for a quick break. I was starting to feel dehydrated. Somehow my bottles of water lasted the whole stage.
Once in Åmsele, control 10, 1084 km mark, we had an hour break including power nap. We had the very special local Palt. We left by 12:15 for our last stage. It was plain sunny with a clear sky and headwind that was sapping my body fluids. If my bottles lasted 160 km, they wouldn’t last the final 120 km. We stopped eventually at a grocery to refill bottles and I had a bottle of yogurt. At the beginning of the stage we reached Tobias and we three worked together but he was alternating good with bad moments, probably sleep dripavated. We had a few quick stops, mostly to wee as we were drinking more and more and eventually arrived at the Scandic Hotel, with a tad above 66 hours, almost 6 hours faster than my PBP19, and, apparently within the top 10. For the four other Norwegians, Knut finished first, Tore and Tor S finished together, 3h30 ahead of us. Andrea, an honorary Norseman since he’s Italian, had a longer sleep in Arjeplog and finished 2h30 after us.
That said, a big thanks to Tor H. He could have finished well ahead but instead he not only dragged on the roads but also waited for me most of the time. He also booked the cabin in Bjerka, which proved critical for our performance. Ah, again thanks to him and Anne (from Scotland), they convinced me to take my winter jersey, which proved a game change, if not not a life-saving resolution.
I really enjoyed the whole thing, including the pre and post ride. The acquaintances with other riders, most of them very experienced, but surprisingly, some very new (some in ages, some not) to this game.
A true big thanks to the organisers, in particular Florian, who was riding too! And the volunteers of course, impossible to have such a thing without them.
It was the first edition of MSR and I can’t hardly think what they could improve, perhaps more warm food, soups and dals for example, at controls. There were 101 riders registered but 10 didn’t start.
Some notes. I ate light most of the time, taking veggie or fish options, but I tried the moose and reindeer meat as well. All was quite good, if only cold most of the time. However, we knew this from the beginning. We were also warned about the road works so, if several had issues (and the organisers set a rescues team for that), I tend to believe most went a bit recklessly in these sections. I still vouch for tubeless and once again, my heavy worn Conti GP5000s didn’t let me down. The good thing is that next time they may have even better roads.
I’ve slept for 6h30 in total (more than the 5h in PBP19), with a 3 and 2 hours of deep sleep and 3 half-hours power naps. Just 17 hours in total out of my bike, 2h more efficient than in PBP19 and with more sleeping time!
And for comparisons… Harder than PBP? Yes, despite the lower elevation. We had to cater ourselves for everything essentially. We wouldn’t have midnight cheers giving away coffees and croissants every few kilometres. Tens of miles without a single soul. And it was like a “road closed” event given I hardly saw cars on the secondary roads. So we had not only to bring some food with us, but we should also be prepared for the weather, which could be anything. I, for example, used my winter kit almost all the time, except for the last 50 sunny km. And I wore my shakedry almost half of the time.
As for Miglia Italia, this was still the hardest thing, not only because of the climbing and the distance but also, and essentially, because of the heat. Don’t get me wrong, but I do fare much better in cold places.