Nordic Islands “Valhalla” (Sweden/Norway) 2019 Adventure Race [Race Report]

Pre-Spiel

The first edition of this race last year attracted a large contingent of racers and had excellent coverage giving you insight into an exciting and challenging race. It was clearly very well run – a factor driven by renowned racer/here Race Director Staffan Björklund.

So; a new well-run race.. A real expedition style over 650kms.. And in a great location (this edition focused on Norway – a country as homage to part of my family heritage a bonus!). Sounds good right!?

Teaming up with Kuwaiti mate Ahmed, and first time with experienced racer/PT/Coach and all round good guy Douglas Peres from Sydney. Doug would operate as Navigator and Team Captain as he had 10 years experience on the rest of us. It would be remiss of me to leave our that finding a final teammate was a little bit of a merry go round as usual.. However with a few weeks to go Doug secured Debby Urkins who is also a trainer like Doug/gym owner, and former 2x Eco Challenge competitor. She looked good on paper and turned out to be better than imagined. 

Two weeks out the race logistics and course outline was revealed; ⁃ 667km ⁃ 14 legs and several disciplines – from Åre in Sweden traversing the width of Norway to Ålesund on the coast. A heavily stacked front end of the race with dauntingly large distances – we thought it could be decided early how things would go, particularly with a looong leg 4 cycling 227kms! However we centred around reaching a short course/DNF window at leg 10.. For added pressure.

We all staggered our arrival in Sweden, Doug and I had a few play days in Stockholm, Ahmed direct from Kuwait and Debbie direct from Belgium.

The Race

Åre, the race start town, was clearly in the centre of Swedish (snow/mtb) sports; a 2hr flight north of Stockholm full of ski runs, Chalets and associated infrastructure. Race director Staffan was absent as he was expecting his child (which arrived the night before the start; named Thor!).
His competent crew stepped in and maintained the race flawlessly. We setup at Hotel Club Åre unpacking bikes, checking gear, and making last minute supply purchases (including a derailleur for Doug after China Air baggage mis-handling, and 2 full trolleys of food (our sponsored team food didn’t make it to the start line)). 

Race day had a program of midday map handout and lock-down for a 6pm start. With the sun not really setting until ~10pm and somewhat light through the night, the late start was OK – though it did mean we already had a full day since 6am behind us, whereas usual morning start races see you having woken up just hours prior. 

Leg 1 – Trek – 8kms – minus 1,000m elevation

The 70’s ski shuttle was fired up for us and we were swept up the mountain for the start on top of the nearby peak. A stray dog tried to get into the gondola and I made a joke about it staying with us for the race, but I think everyone was too distracted to find the humour in it (new movie announced out about adventure racers and a dog!). 

Come back to compare this team photo with the ones at the end of this story!

Nervous races adjusted their gear and got ready in the cool air waiting for the start gun. Live feed ready?
Go! Teams raced down the mountain.
A small definitive trail darted through and across rocks and grass tufts, and teams soon spread out. The first obstacle was an abseil where several lines were setup and one team per line forced you to be smart and swift to get you team through one by one. 

1,000m straight down to lake level looks like this!

After a small line twist we were off again as a team, one member split soon later (myself), for a zip line while the 3 others continued down the trail to meet up later. The zip line over a ravine was a small thrill! It picked up speed before abruptly ending – the operator had said where to place my hands but still I ended up inadvertently punching myself in the face when hitting the stopper at full speed. Off the zip there was no defined track, and it was a slip and surprise slide down, a steep lush tropical plant slope that was hiding small streams.

In pursuit down the mountainside

The team reunited, we made it back to town for a few local checkpoints to the amusement of bar goers, before another abseil and a traverse on a ropes setup in the hotel itself (for spectator enjoyment).

A Red Bull truck pumping music from a DJ tower also featured in the foyer, slightly overshadowing the other activity of a day, which was a wedding.

Within the estimated time by over an hour, we were pleased to reach the first TA (the basketball court) and jump on the bikes. 

Leg 2 – Bike – 41kms – 534m gain

Winding out of town there was just 2 checkpoints/few navigational challenges as we took turns drafting with other Aussies “hARd days night” along a mostly bitumen main roads. 

One notable checkpoint; a 1892 Obelisk for a battle held in 1718!
With an overcast sky and lonely road, it meant head down and work.

Leg 3 – Trek – 64kms – 1,926m gain

Starting circa 11pm the cloud cover and cold suggested a cool night ahead. Also given this was the largest trek upfront, I wanted to reduce risks and grabbed my trekking poles as I was sure a bit of early help with my legs and feet would pay dividends at the back end (true story). 

It was off from the TA and into a paddock up a hill. This is where we introduced to “the great soggy shoes marsh patch” that extensively covers either side and across the border of Sweden and Norway. Add high moisture, porous surfaces and a lack of sunlight and you have the mushy ground that was our track for the whole trek and would continue for a good portion of the next bike leg. 

Some of the trek was pretty barren, but there’s beauty in that.. Except when there’s a stiff freezing cold wind ripping across the ground and through your clothes.

Following what would be ski season guide posts, we maintained a trim course, deviating for a cloudy mountain checkpoint which we snagged just after adding many needed clothing layers against the suddenly very brisk conditions. The following CP at an equally windy mountain top!

Sheltered, but only for a very short stop.

The trail continued through the mushy mixed rocks and popped out into a very small ski slope heading under the chair lift lines until we made it to a small village – sadly quiet with nothing open. The trail continued now following red markers on rocks. The red markers on rocks would become very familiar, as a lot of the race was on these trails. Rocks were highlighted by some poor(lucky?) soul who has walked many kilometres of Scandinavia with a bucket of red paint and a brush!
Soon we found the marker designating the border between Sweden and Norway; a small celebration without a soul to be seen. A little bit of a rocky landscape that again turned into marsh; it was very soggy on the feet and we wondered the long term impact since it was going to be a long race – Doug had a wool-between-the-toes thing going on, and why not try something new for the first time during a huge race?! 
After 20hrs on this leg by ourselves, we hiked up a road to be joined by the other Aussie team into the TA.

Ahmed affectionately known as ‘Desert Guy’, but I was definitely cold most of the time!

Leg 4 – Bike – 227kms – 4,923m gain

Hot meal downed, fresh clothes, and now on bikes we were happy to change disciplines to an afternoon cycle.

It started out on a road which was comforting to our now dry feet, and the scenery was beautiful – small burgundy coloured houses dotted the landscape with their impossibly green and lush grass fields.
As soon as we turned off the road the sogginess was back to ruin our fresh socks – you just had to embrace it. Back on a first fire road we found our Aussie friends and a drone filming, but no operator – a cue we might have taken the wrong route.. The correct road had some race volunteers waiting to interview and take snaps while we still felt relatively fresh! It’s worth pointing out that this was a few early (of countless) hike a bike sections on this leg.

“Still fresh”

The trail disappeared into a property and then the real mush started and so did the darkened sky – cloud cover really makes it dark and by this stage late at night lights were required as drizzle eventually turned to serious rain.

The undulating ground mixed with new streams, and gradual but endless up hill in the rain made it all hike a bike and tough going. Doug’s nav bearing kept us on track while the apparent trail (previous racers squishing the ground + red rock marks) came and went. Finding a CP punch after midnight on a tree by a lake seemed like pure luck at the time – by now it was terribly cold from the torrential rain and wind, and we became desperately tired after the CP – adrenaline wore off in search of the next dirt track whilst pushing up yet a another hill with rain blasting into our face.

We called it – we needed rest. We opened the mandatory shelter/bothy bag for a hilarious episode of trying to contain a parachute of lightweight material with 4 people in howling wind and driving rain. It was a pretty unsuccessful and uncomfortable “sleep” amongst the flapping material around us. We lay directly on the moist ground trapping parts of the bothy side under us whilst the untended balance flapped about. However the approximate hour of rest was enough to perk us up. The uncomfortable feeling of being to-the-bone cold had us all grunting and teeth chattering whilst trying to get ourselves back together to start the bike again. So hard.

Soon we found the trail we were looking for on the ridge and happy days again; we were warming up in the morning light that attempted to break through the continued gloomy sky.
Thrilled with some walking track to race down hill, we did call it as dangerous and decided to go easy mostly walking our way on the rutted path until a bitumen road section – the area was just beautiful with the quint houses in and out of fields.

Photo filters are not needed to make Norwegian grass look good.

The relentless road hills started (we’re talking an hour+ for one climb) and pleasingly we were hot enough in the midday sunshine to remove some layers, as bitumen turned to dirt for some whereinthehellarewe endless road in a small part of Norway – for several hours.
And then the dirt road ended, and then the sky got dark, and it was cold, and raining heavily again. Finding the dead end of a the dirt road, a homeowner wandered out to tell us of all the random people (racers) wandering through his back yard, and promptly pointed us to the new track!

This track was a hard slog, it was a skinny walking track and barely wide enough to ride through the hillside ruts, rocks, and undulating soggy ground. It was all slow going in the miserable weather that brought back its strong wind and torrential rain.
Between 2 large lakes, what looked like a well stocked hut after a short hike-a-bike was passed up as a temptation that would be hard to leave…!

Descending to the next CP under a bridge we had hoped to target the bridge on a bearing as we came off the mountain top, but we ended up taking the bikes down an incredibly steep hill for what seemed like forever… Whilst we could hear the river our target bridge crossed, it was just too dense to meet up with the intended path, so back up again it was. Just an incredibly steep back-breaking hike a bike back up, as is was going down !

Out of no where we found a track heading down finally to the bridge, and also out of no where – our Aussie friends again! What a place to see them after no sight for a day or so.
There was supposed to be a cafe around this bridge but everything looked closed and we pushed on. Only to find barely a few hundred meters down the road that Ahmed’s chain was jumping off its lower rear derailleur cog and jamming. There were many following attempts to fix but it seemed the hanger was twisted/widened around the lower cog, so it wasn’t guiding properly and the chain kept jumping off. With a range of limited gears, Ahmed would continue the full race nursing the derailleur.

At some point everyday, it will rain – velkommen to Norway.

It was now absolutely bucketing down rain, we were cold and needed the closest refuge ASAP! Enter the local Co-Op mini supermarket of Budal into our vision – yes we were going to be dry! Our Aussie friends had already found the small cafe section and we joined them huddled around the bar heaters on the wall that we turned up to 30 deg. We stayed for a while (probably a little too long!!) drying out, eating food (p.s. even during a race, nachos made in a co-op’s cafe by a 17yr old Norwegian are no good!), attempting to fix Ahmed’s bike,etc. and eventually we left when they were trying to close the store and literally locking the doors behind us. Doug’s jacket which had long ago given up was assisted with a garbage bag underneath and Debbie used the same technique to keep some warmth in. Onward!

I called this photo ‘the long cooperative lunch’.

The conditions were still terribly cold though the rain was less crazy, we wound along a series of roads for quite some time, eventually heading off track again through villages and forests to the next TA.

Bit sketchy on timing, but this leg I think took some 30+ hrs, phew!

Leg 5 – Trek/Packraft – 51kms – 1,306m gain

We were informed prior, that if the conditions were not good for the first teams to packraft, then no one following would. It was an amazingly clear and perfect day for us when we arrived to the TA at midday, but alas the prior teams had the wind up and so it was just a trek for this whole leg and the packraft was left behind.
After another nice dehydrated meal, we set off and the path wound along the lake edge; it was a picture perfect day in a picture perfect location of tall pines and a nimble almost tourist style walking track over many streams.
Eventually the trees thinned enough that we actually got hot! Too hot! Luckily streams were everywhere; this was a race to have water bottles that you could fill up easily at any point.

Into a ski village and out the other side the country was more barren and there was a bit of rock hopping as we darted around a lake as the afternoon set in. Finding a checkpoint under an natural arch at sunset, the wind was up – cold!! Jackets on, we continued.

This track may or may not be some sort of pilgrimage walk. Either way, there was another opportunity to make an AR dog movie.

Climbing further again, the trail eventually continued for some time along side a torrent of water flowing off the mountain top. I got really tired and felt like I was dragging the chain.. I was sleep walking, waking up mid-collapse and rolling ankles. Seeing the team far in front I would hurriedly catch up and then repeat the process a few times!

Heading down to a huge lake in midnight darkness there was a quaint village of accommodation chalets – this spectacular place “Innerdalen” had the rumble of a waterfall into the lake, the moon reflecting, row boats on the lake,etc.. It was stunning even at night! The checkpoint here was on an island and Doug and I went waist deep to go across to it, whilst Ahmed and Debbie grabbed a row boat. In a haze of sleepiness I worried wasn’t allowed,etc. but gladly accepted a lift back. Back on shore somewhere around 2am I promptly announced I was just too tired and it was definitely dark enough to consider sleep.

A photo of the lake in the daytime – “Norway’s most beautiful mountain valley”

We bunkered down in the entry of a large hillside chalet on top of each other in a tiny area (we thought entering a room would wake people possibly paying to be there..(Turned out we would have woken the other Aussie team who were in beds! They clambered out over us half way through our sleep)) then before long we had to get up donning our soggy gear.

It was just before sunrise that we pushed straight up a very steep hill adjacent to the waterfall, ending up on a spectacular plateau. A lone tent sat in the middle and I thought it was a fantastic place – one of many – that Norway offers.

The media team maybe equalled the number of racers.

This return trek was definitely long, but seemed to go quicker with perhaps the anticipation of the next leg. Before that, we had a cliff-side walk and a very steep mountain decent to contend with; more toe jamming down a zigzag until almost popping out at the next TA.

Leg 6 – Whitewater Rafting – 18kms

Whilst there was a small wait for the safety kayak, we were relaxed and excited as we donned provided wetsuits – and what a thrill it was!

Thankfully the guide was skilful, however somehow he made sure to hit the brunt of waves on the side I was sitting. Nothing quite like a mid-morning assault to the face with freezing cold water!

Whilst there were some stressful parts, the rigidity of the boat was a fairly safe bet and it was a nice chance to break, look at some scenery, and even a short nap!

Leg 7 – Bike – 69kms – 1,427m gain

We rolled out onto the road in the sunshine, and onto a nice/looong winding climb, which is a familiar description..

This was the leg with the mandatory lights and we eventually hit the tunnel which was something a little different, on a lonely road where the occasional tourist car darted past.
It was the beautiful Norway road you picture – the open valleys and barren rocky hillside beside you, plus small lakes and dam walls.

The barren roads of inner Norway.

And then the vista! A CP with a camera crew was in the most magnificent spot where BASE jumping is done (that’s what the info sign says!).. Amazing. The road continuing down was to be reckoned with, a huge winding road as a reward after endless hill climbing (post script – checked my brakes after returning home and the pads were down to the metal, oops!).

Meandering into the town of Innerdalen to the TA, the leg was over before we knew it.

P.S. Innerdalen is incredibly beautiful!!

Leg 8 – Trek – 25kms – 2,004m gain

Before heading off we indulged in a decent afternoon break – Ahmed and Debby were keen to sort out their grieving feet for the upcoming climb.

Debbie recently read some literature in prep for Eco Challenge and was the foot care giver!

Heading out on the road we met a Swedish man and his children who holidays in this random Norwegian town every year for some 5+ years – talk about can’t get enough! His attraction was the hill running, and specifically the huge valley hillside we were about to go up – it sounded daunting.

It was very picturesque and straight up, which required a mid-way up nap however the mosquitoes made it unbearable and so we moved on (note: no real huge comfortable sleep so far! More or less just napping!).
With the light fading as we reached the top we pushed through a rocky field, huge boulders and a roaring glacial 10m wide river presented. Finding ways to sneak around as best we could, sadly (after only really starting this trek) we had no choice but to get wet up to the waist – the force so strong we linked arms to get across, and wet to the waist with soggy feet we continued a boulder scramble up the other side and the long journey across a barren surface-of-Mars rockiness towards another huge valley.

Boulders varying to the size of small cars were a little fun as a rock-hopping expedition, though fraught with danger as a wrong move would be a real race ending inconvenience! They got smaller as we started an ascent up another slope, scrambling our way to the top where a new chill was present. And so was a hut! The CP was conveniently at this refuge where we sat down relying on the warmth of each other and had another nap; which was definitely fulfilling but only 40mins, as we need to keep pushing.
Here we had some options of which route to take, and we opted for a mix of ridge climbing then straying off the peak to take a slightly longer but less elevated/exposed and rocky trek around.

The following part was challenging rocks, and snow/ice covered ground. We would trudge across an ankle deep snow to hear water rushing under us – then dart the rest of the distance to the safety of rocks, hoping what we were standing on wouldn’t cave into the stream below! Repeat this process a few times + a little toboggan down a slope and it was actually quite fun. However running and sliding down a snowy slopes takes perhaps twice as much out of you and we were pretty stuffed by it all.
Coming around an alpine lake which would lead us to the final descent to the CP, it seemed shorter on the map. A lack of trail didn’t help and the stiff scratchy knee-high shrubbery we had to walk around made us wind probably twice the distance vs. a straight line.

Eventually we reached the cliffs edge – you could look across the valley gap below and see up the other side how steep it was (to put into perspective the toe-jamming decent about to come!).
The race organisers had setup additional ropes and chains as it was mountaineering mixed rock climbing/scrambling down; really slow going. With a now beating hot midday sun, it took maybe 2+ hours just to get down the few hundred metres of almost vertical face. Ahmed particularly made note of how he didn’t think this sort of decent should form part of a race, which is funny to reflect on (usual Race Director curses !!).

At the bottom was a relief (coming down that one face would follow us for several months post-race waiting the toe numbness to subside), a swift river in front of us required a short walk to a bridge where the next TA was.

Leg 9 – Packraft – 21km

Before donning wetsuits and inflating our boats, we took a moment to regather in the shade by the river after that huge trek. Then it was time to go.

After the huge sweaty downhill, it was pretty nice to take a seat in shade.

A clever start had you hit rapids pretty quickly! And Debby and I got tossed out, completely unsuspecting/unaware of how the packraft reacts in rapids. Then the same for poor Doug and Ahmed as we watched them get dunked too. We regathered ourselves (and free floating possessions over the next 500m, including MIA paddle.. Lucky!) and made our way down the river to the first of 2 designated portages.

Here flags indicated where to exit, except there were no flags! We took a guess, did about 30mins of unnecessary boat-wielding walking, and eventually made our way onto the river again past the unsafe spots.

A nice day to gently row your boat down the stream.

Soon again we were out at the next portage. Here there was way too much confusion (and walking). We went through a walking camp to be told at the exit (by the caretaker) to return via the road back all the way around where we had come (+1hr?). Considering the volunteers (bless them) mentioned we could go to the camp for the toilet we assumed it was OK, in addition to it not being marked out of bounds. Walking alllll the way back, and then out to the road around it was a huge chunk of time and energy as we didn’t deflate the boats until we realised it was actually a big slog.

To our RD’s credit, along the roadside we trudged, stopped a Volvo with Staffan who had tracked us to that point. He came to apologise; which was really nice and personal, considering we weren’t a top team and basically nobodies. There apparently had been some issues with the camp caretaker who was possibly responsible for the missing flags earlier,etc. Staffan parked and followed us to the next drop in point and off we paddled, though some vigorous rapids again to which we survived this time.

Before we knew it, the sun was setting, the paddle was over, and we jumped out to find the crews waiting with our bike boxes at the TA, along with the all girls team setting up for the ride.

Leg 10 – Bike – 53km – 1,145m gain

Delightfully fed, we needed to push off for this crucial ride – at the end was a cutoff to short course or DNF.. Time to go!

Together with the girls we cycled on as the night set in, and before long it was a dark night of riding endless switch backs. With more switch backs, and more, and more.. It was steep and numbing; we had come upon Norway’s version of the Stelvio Pass! Thundering water falling off the cliff top high above creating a real mood and intrigue in the darkness.
We discussed the murals and decorations on the corners as we zigzagged up the hillside, each corner a different theme. Lovely! (To be later verified by Google Street View as a complete fabrication of our sleep deprived minds; they were actually just plain old rock walls. Sigh!).

As an indication of how long this hill was, we arrived at the top as the sun started to lighten the sky. We were shattered! So tired since our last sleep at the hut who-knows-how-long ago.. But there was a CP and we intended to get that first. One benefit of first light was the stunning valley views! This Stigfossen was prime tourist territory and they put our marker right on the end of the viewing platform – a real “I love AR” moment!

Somewhere in the car park, exhausted and CP adrenlin gone, we collapsed, cold and willing to take a nap in whatever was the least windy part. Yes, just 30mins later, we had to get moving. It was “via ferrata” time.

Via Ferrata is a thing – a Euro thing, or maybe a climbing thing – I had no idea but it turns out to be a climbing route, and for us was a high ropes course over chasms of rushing water that led to the aforementioned waterfall. This was excellent scrambling, abseiling, zip lining, balancing and all sorts of things. What a real treat, it was loads of fun.

Adrenline gone again, we were onto the bikes for our dash to the TA. We understood you had to arrive at the TA by 7am to beat the cutoff/short course, and we thundered down the opposite hillside of our all night climbing road. Fun? Well, if you exclude that we were all so tired still, and downhill roads don’t have you working and concentrating. Your mind drifts, it thinks, it day dreams, day dreams turn into lucid dreams, lucid turns into closing eyelids, THOR WAKE UP!!! Doug is screaming at me as I’m in the grassy ditch off the road at some 40+km/hr on a 10% downhill road nearing death! Oh gees that was close (still had to get out of the ditch safely at speed!).

We proceeded to yell at each other for 20mins downhill as the long road continued.
Cruising into town at 6:45am “with time to spare”.

Arriving before the 7am cut off we were happy; it was 6:45am. The TA crews had a different look on their face, happy for us but then saying we had to leave the TA by 7am to avoid the short course. What about arrive by? Huh! Crap! No time to question let’s get moving.!!

Beautiful TA again, but no time to enjoy it!!

Leg 11 – Packraft – 17km

Anyone familiar with AR will know that TA’s take time; packing up a bike takes time, inflating a raft take time, ones at the tail end of a race take longer again. We had 15mins! It was going to be a new record.

We did it, ourselves and the girls team; we jumped into half inflated rafts, half thinking we forgot crucial things, half warm freeze dried meals, and half warm/dressed ourselves. Drifting from the dock we did a little celebration having checked out, and then paddled to the nearest boat ramp to finish getting ourselves together.

Desperately inflating the boats enough to float, and beat the clock!

Pinch yourself for this paddle, Norway in a word – stunning! We were in the centre of all fjord chaos and action, and it was truly magical. A clear sky, water as flat as glass, visibility to the end of the earth.

The day actually got warmer and the only thing to detract was that it was just a really long way in a packraft. Once that sunk in it was ‘please save me’ and ‘please save my arms’!! Hilariously Ahmed in the front of Doug’s packraft was unconscious-sleeping. We may have made a few jokes at his expense yelling them to him as he caught flies, mouth open straight up to the sky.

The calm before the storm.

At this point 1/3 the way through, Debby and I started losing the other guys a bit as Doug couldn’t keep up. We were hopping ‘bays’ along the shore, and eventually staying out wide to bypass them altogether. And then snap; out of no where – dark skies, thundering rain, a huge wind and even more huge waves whipped up and crashing over the boat. Yikes and what the hell! The weather just turned in about 5 minutes without warning, and there was no shore salvation – the shore a distance away was a pure straight up and down rocky face into the water, and we were flooded and low on air in the boat. Bugger! So far from the rock wall we need to hide from these North Shore Hawaii waves ASAP.

Enter a salmon farm up ahead. We madly paddled to it. Yes it said stay back, trespassers prosecuted blah blah but who cares about that when the boat is about to go under!!
There was so much relief in that moment we clung onto a ladder off the floating farm. Before long we had a visit from a farm employee, slightly over half intrigued and half begrudgingly telling us we had to move on. Doug arrived to stall the guy and both of our boats were re-inflated, bailed and back ready to go. Farewell and thank you salmon man!

Did I mention this felt like a really long way? Tell us about it. There’s fun then there’s ‘alright that’s enough’ fun (type 2). We hit that point just over halfway as the sun came back out and everything turned fairly normal again, our probable landing point a mere speck in the distance between several shipping channels and the many cruise boats and ferries.

Suffice to say, with the bay in front of us, we were very happy to see a flag – or was it.. OK wrong bay. Short detour to the next bay – right flag! Alright get us out of these things!

Leg 12 – Trek – 31km – 1,575m gain

Genuine oops at the TA here, we took forever. We had no real time pressure (except you know, the finish) and we acted like it! We may have had quite a few TA volunteer-provided hot chocolates and stuffed around enormously..

Casually hanging out at the TA, chatting, having drinks, nibbling on the bar snacks,etc.!

Eventually we trekked onwards, and given we were in fjord land, the only option was up. Up and until we were much higher than the surrounding fjord network with impressive views in the afternoon light.

After a classic case of AR ‘didn’t go far enough’ and circle work, some big beer drinking locals nimbly jogged passed us and said to follow them, of which we had no chance; they were fast – but met them at the top of the hill to get the first CP. Right, let’s go!

Back down we were hitting a forest to go back up, and we were just plain tired again. We setup for a park bench nap and this one was the usual short – maybe 40 mins? It was hard to start in the cold dimming evening light and I did the first few kms up the hill with my sleeping back still wrapped around me.

Eventually we left the dirt and possible civilisation into single track trekking mecca. It was technical undulating rocks, streams and required a good bit of nav from Doug’s part too as visibility was low in the dark of night.

A photo of the challenging terrain on this hike..

Unfortunately Ahmed’s race was unravelling. The poor guy had lack of sleep catch up on him and it was a fact: we had just ticked over 7 straight days of racing – back at Friday night again, a week later! His pace was slowing just as we were realising we had less than 24hrs to finish the race and get to Ålesund. Ahmed’s race turned into single words as his condition deteriorated. In our desperation to keep moving, his single word of ‘light’ would have us scrambling to swap our head torch for his or whatever was required to keep him moving.

A large mountain hut appeared as morning broke, and we stepped into the small foyer to reassess options. Ahmed needed rest (we all did), that was a given. We took a small nap and tried to straighten out a plan with our twisted and tumbled minds. The facts laid out said that we were not going to make the balance of the trek at our overnight pace. If we made it to the next TA however we could be short coursed and stay ranked. If we made it faster to the TA we could start the kayak to the finish. When you have a bunch of people that don’t/want to give up, even the silly seems possible. The honest part of us knew we needed to take the absolute shortest bail-out route off the mountain and end our race.

Wandering out of the hut to continue, we made progress for an hour or so before I asked Doug about the amount of decent. Doug looking harder at the map then threw to to the ground. Cursed and looking defeated, I was sure he was about to cry. We had instinctively taken the bail-out route when intending to try and finish the trek. It was a monumental idea to think we could back-track up the hour of down hill. The race was indeed over.

We pulled out the phone and called Saffan, agreeing to meet at the town down the bottom of the mountain range that we were coming off. Arriving some hours later we sat in the impossibly green field on a hillside overlooking the town, amongst the colourful daisies. We reflected on the race that was, and our highs and our lows.. it was a really quiet and a sombre moment.

Eventually down the bottom the organisation met us within a short time to whisk our crushed bodies and souls to Ålesund.

Broken, and, all over!

P.S

We were taken straight to the finish line for a 5pm team photo after about 4 ferry boat trips and several hours of round-about driving due to islands. We were very appreciative. After presentations at 8pm over a Mexican buffet dinner it was a 1am hustle to clean and pack gear for an early 7am flight home the next day! The race doesn’t end at the finish line..!!

On reflection.. the lower derailleur issue Ahmed had could have finished our race not even half way thorough. A credit to him for nursing it, and because of that we did some 95% of the course and saw everything except the final 7hr/40k fjord kayak – the roller coaster hours in the packraft through fjords made me feel like I had a very good taste of them, so I’m not too disappointed about the kayak. Yes it’s nice to finish the full course, but in this case, better to have got as far as we did. I’m happy with that!

And my teammates – Doug unstoppable, Debbie strong beyond comprehension, and Ahmed a real soldier to push on. An awesome team.

The end.
Image credits: Ahmed GoPro, NIAR, Kirsten Oliver, Goran R. 

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