Monday, 2 March 2015

Rovaniemi 150 .. The event

My personal goal for every year is to find at least one event that takes me somewhere new, 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 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.

Rovaniemi 150 ... The gear

There are some riders who love to hear about the emotion, toil and physical exertion endured during an event .. they want to feel how it was to be amongst the landscape and get a taste for the highs and lows.  However, some just simply love the gear !

There was a whole host of equipment choices that needed to be made prior to the Rovaniemi 150 and I have tried to capture some of the major ones here as well as at the same time acknowledging some of the companies that helped me out.

Ari Cycles

Ari was a man I was lucky enough to meet while travelling through Israel last year at another event.  I was given the tour of his work space and it was clear at that point should I ever look to have a frame built he would be the man to build it for me.  The frameset I eventually had made by Ari Cycles embodied so many small details I had carried around in my head for years while riding other brands and it offered me not only the ability to run the fat tyres for Rovaniemi but also to switch out to any other format I saw fit in the future.  Even fully loaded the bike rode and handled beautifully the whole event.

Halo Wheels and Tyres

My association with Halo Wheels came as a by product from working with another brand distributed by the same distribution company, Ison.  Over the last 2 years I have raced on Halo wheels and tyres and to date have never been let down or left disappointed with the product ... From Trans Iowa to Holyland Bikepacking Challenge Halo has always got me round safely.

Prior to the event I was lucky enough to get the Tundra 80mm rims and Nanuk 4" tyres ... a good balance of weight and flotation.

Lake Shoes

It would be fair to say and an odd statement that I like my feet ... they afford me both balance while stationary and propel me forward when I want to move .. without them life would be hugely different.  so I was keen to make sure they were finished the event in a fully serviceable condition.  When choosing a pair of SPD compatible boots that would endure the potentially low temperatures I would face at the event I didn't hold back and contacted Moore and Large to get hold of a pair of Lake MX303 boots.  These boots have some serious heritage and pedigree being used by many cold weather event racers in the past.  My feet were never cold and they remained perfectly intact so that in my mind is a flawless performance by Lake.  Even walking for many kilometres during sections of the route they were comfortable.

Extreme Food - Ultra Fuel

I have never been renowned for my attention to appropriate nutrition during long events simply relying on carrying junk foods I know I will want to eat as they are in my daily life a bit of a treat.  This time around and having carried out a successful bench test in the Cairngorms trip conducted previously to this event I went with a more scientific approach.  Ultra Fuel quite simply allowed me to take on some useful calories quickly in liquid form and importantly as checkpoints were at times boiling water I could get a comforting hot drink.  As the going this year was very quick there was no need for prolonged checkpoint stops so the Ultra Fuel was added to an insulated water bottle (it can be taken straight from the packet with useful fill level indicators inside the packaging) and mixed with hot water then put back in the Alpkit stem cell on my bars and I would carry on riding while it mixed.  The hot chocolate was a particular lift as I had that just as it had just got dark with an associated drop in temperatures.

Supernova Lights

An opportunity to get hold of these lights was presented and while I wasn't able to justify the purchase until not long before I left for Finland I eventually chose to take the plunge and got hold of the E3 Triple 2 front light and associated rear.  Dynamo powered lighting offered me one less thing to worry about in regards to charging of lights and though at walking speeds they were not illuminated I was able to continue with just a head torch, as soon as I was able to ride again the Supernova lights took over and illuminated the way.  Mounted out front beyond my bar roll and low the spread and throw of light was excellent with the reassuring knowledge that any fast approaching snowmobile from the rear could not fail to notice my rear light.

Brooks Saddles

Comfort is king and I had no desire to ride out the saddle for large sections of this course so the Cambium saddle provided one half of my answer to being comfortable at that end of the bike.  The Cambium like other Brooks saddles provides comfort through being very supple and compliant though whereas other Brooks are leather in construction this is synthetic so stands up to a little more abuse in regards to getting it wet.  Again as per my feet my backside was comfortable for the duration of the event so a big thumbs up for the Brooks Cambium.

True Mountain Clothing 

UK made and UK designed I was lucky enough to get some early support from True Mountain and work with the company to come up with some great clothing items that would work in the challenging conditions.  The issue with riding such an event as Rovaniemi 150 is that it can be cold, really cold or extremely cold and you don't know until you are riding there.  Add the complication that not only do you need to stay warm but getting too hot and sweating is a huge problem and choosing clothing becomes very challenging.
True Mountain came up with a number of key items that formed the basis of my clothing. Firstly a great medium weight long sleeved base layer that was the interface between my thin base and a cycling jacket.  Then a tough waterproof jacket that allowed an additional layer to be added when the temperatures dropped but not so much that I would overheat.  Having dispensed with a helmet for the event I used a True Mountain stretch beanie again the perfect balance between warmth and maintaining a good operating temperature.  Finally the other half to my previously mentioned two part backside comfort package, a pair of under shorts with no chamois and just a thin liner in its place.  The undershorts ensured no undue chaffage from bulky chamois pads deforming when riding and the fit and feel was much more comfortable than regular shorts.


Its no secret I have a long standing relationship with Alpkit.  These guys are my go to for so many of the essential items that I need for these events and in this case the luggage I needed to carry all the required equipment and food for the event.  A twin stem cell arrangement with fuel pod allowed me to have all the water and food I needed immediately to hand.  The frame bag housed spares and additional food whilst the seat pack stored my spare clothing and down jacket.  As always I wasn't disappointed and everything performed excellently.  Another event completed under the assistance of Alpkit.

Wildcat Gear

As part of the event minimum kit we had to carry a large winter sleeping bag, mine a bulky 3kg affair in a 35l dry bag.  Enabling me to transport this load on my bars was a Wildcat Gear Fat Lion bar harness.  The harness held on to the bag as though its life depended on it and I was never annoyed by 'bobbing' loads as I moved the bike around.  Not only that but some sneaky additional strap loops allowed me to easily attach my sleeping pad to the front on the harness.  Thanks Wildcat I am suitably impressed by this very well thought out and executed piece of equipment.

The event as it turned out was completed in a much faster time than I had anticipated due to favourable conditions.  The equipment on all fronts was hugely successful and if I had to pack tomorrow to complete the event again I would not alter a single item.

Massive thanks to those who helped me here and again enabled me to gain more life experience within a fantastic landscape being shared with some amazing racers.