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 in the snow on snowmobile tracks and it took me over 30 hours. At the time I imagine I thought it was an experience I had 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 the longer events the US has to offer I chose to stay within Europe and the only real winter race outside of the US and Canada, The Rovaniemi 150 in Finland.
Rovaniemi being the official home of Santa Claus it was not a hard sell to convince Grace this was a great opportunity to have a winter holiday with a small race thrown in on the deal.
Rovaniemi lies just 6km or so south of the Arctic Circle
First stop after arriving in Rovaniemi late the night before was a trip to the Santa Claus village ... just inside the Arctic Circle we all paid a visit to Santa and put in our requests for new bikes and the latest cycling gear for the forthcoming Christmas, never hurts to plan in advance.
A combined petting zoo and public transport stop
After our trip to see Santa the afternoon was filled with race briefings and pre race nerves. In fact I don't remember an event when I have felt so anxious beforehand.
Always good when the bike arrives in the same shape it left home
Bike assembled before loading up the kit and heading out for a quick spin the night before down to the start area on the frozen river just outside the city.
Apprehensively awaiting the start
Once at the start and ready to go the nerves settled and it was simply a case of turning pedals, drinking and eating ... life at its simplest and often most happiest.
Flat out from the off the going was fast up the river
It would be fair to say the start was brisk, the leading 6 had gapped the field by a fair distance by the first checkpoint and we were all then left behind strung out searching for a happier more sustainable pace. I found company along the first river section in the form of a wheel to follow though due to the pace no words were exchanged. As we traversed the woodland section between river and lake my lack of time on the bike slowed me on the descents and as we started the long 11km section along the lake I was caught and joined by Tom Marvin, 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, then I rode alone.
Large bodies of water to be traversed seemingly never ending
Always happy when following heavy snowmobile tracks over frozen water
Finland is not flat
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 anywhere easily accessible the distances to the checkpoints etc so I would not get distracted or demotivated if progress seemed slow. When I found another riders annotated route map on the ground directly after a checkpoint I couldn't help but look and was surprised to see I had already covered the first 60km without too much trauma. Then when I reached the 70km checkpoint in 6 hours I knew that I would disaster aside finish on the same day of starting.
Happy in my own world
The section directly after the 80km checkpoint was the most prolonged push of the course and the frustration of slow progress set in, just being able to turn the smallest gear your bike has to offer feels infinitely better than the slow trudge of humping a loaded fat bike across soft snow.
The long road section promised wasn't as long as hoped though passing through a village gave a taste of civilisation and extra incentive to get the course done.
In general the riding was slow and steady but every now and then we were treated to brief sections of flowing fun descents, the final of which put us out directly on to another frozen lake which would be traversed before the final wooded section and the final push for the finish along the frozen river upon which our journey had begun many hours before.
Crossing the final frozen lake I caught and passed the first rider I had seen for hours. I had a few hours previously closed in on a flashing red light only to watch it ride away from me again though I was content in my own little world and not too fussed about sharing it while out on the trail.
As we exited the last wooded section on to the start/finish river the effort was increased, I was soon back in to the last checkpoint and a quick refill of my water just in case. As I left the checkpoint I could see another blinking red light in the distance though no matter how hard I pushed the pedals it never seemed to get any closer.
It took what seemed an age to get to the final bridge before leaving the river and riding the short distance to the hotel that housed the finish.
As I entered the hotel looking for the official line Grace was waiting for me, having tracked my progress via my SPOT tracker she had decided to welcome me in, a great way to finish the event.
I had covered the course in around 14.5 hours ... 10 hours quicker than I had anticipated ... an hour quicker than last years winner and 4 hours slower than this years winner. Though this event for me was never about the numbers and 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 well staffed with helpful supportive individuals with just enough resource (water) to help you on your way but not encourage you to linger.
It was a pleasure to meet and socialise with all the cool people who came to take part in this event and I hope I will see them at many more events in the future.
As I stated elsewhere I was hoping this event would suck and I would suffer hard to give me the catalyst to finally extinguish the desire to do these events but unfortunately the whole experience was positive and now my only problem is decided where and what next :)
Thanks to Rovaniemi 150 for the event and some of the images used above.