Norway Part 2: The North & the Skaidi Xtreme

Landing in Alta in Northern Norway wednesday afernoon, Anderl and I headed over to the docks, hopped on a boat for a 1.5 hour scenic ride through the fjords, and were soon docking in the community of Hammerfest, the last big community before the North Pole!  From here we were in the hands of Odd-Peder, his wife Suzanne, and the rest of the Skaidi Xtreme team.    They felt like family from the get go as they took us up to there house overlooking the ocean for coffee and treats to kick off the Skaidi Xtreme adventures!  

The agenda around the Skaidi Xtreme was chalk full, as we ran around building bikes up, checking into the Scandic hotel and then heading up to a plateau overlooking the ocean to host a bike training camp for the local kids.  It was great to see over 30 local cyclists come for the training session with the 8 of us pro riders.  The kids were very polite, outgoing and easy to teach. After the training camp we headed to the opening ceremonies for a feed of fresh Halibut and to meet some of the community members and the other riders that were going to be involved with us in the adventure filled days to come.  

Thursday, was the “Different Experience” day.  Each year the organizers of the Skaidi Xtreme set up a day to explore the Norwegian culture up north.  This year we road our bikes 2 hours to a highpoint above Hammerfest and then down a pretty gnarly descent to the ocean for a beach side picnic.  There was a Mexican type beach right beside us but with the polar temperatures of the water and climate I’m sure it’s one of the least used beachs in the World!   Following a feed of Norwegian cheeses and meats, it was off to catch a old boat for a 2 hour ride down the fjords to the race site in Skaidi.   This boat ride was rad as a small storm blew in, making it feel like a real expedition in a far off land. Again more food was served on board, lots of fruits, cheeses and waffles.  We were beginning to wonder if they were trying to fatten us up so the local heros would have a chance at winning the Skaidi Xtreme on the weekend.  

Landing in Skaidi we road 6 km through the rain to the hotel setup, ate more food, then headed out to a local river for some Salmon Fishing. Then back for more food, fresh Salmon (which we didn’t catch), and off to catch a bit of rest.  Friday morning we were invited up to visit with a Sapmi family.  The Sapmi people inhabit the Northern parts of Norway, Sweden and Finland and live a semi nomadic lifestyle living of catching fish, fur trapping and reindeer herding.  They live in rounded tent like structures and teepees, and reminded me quite a bit of the Mongolians living Nomadically across the steppe.  We sat by the fire, drank some cowboy coffee, ate fresh reindeer meat, had a las0oing competition and then it was off to pre-ride parts of the Skaid Xtreme course.

This night nearly turned into a real Xtreme adventure as I was to move into a Sampi tent for race weekend as the race hotel was booked up.  I was keen on this until I found out it meant sleeping with 7 other riders just inches apart.  From past history I know it’s never a good idea to sleep with a bunch of middle age bike racers as the snoring and the middle of the night bladder control issues means there’s usually not much peace or quiet.  Thus I became a gypsy for the weekend moving my cot to small cabin nearby, which was also the HQ for race supplies so was pretty busy in the daytime but peaceful at night.  My luggage was in luggage storage in the hotel and the bike followed wherever I went.  Being on the road most the year it’s important to keep sleep at a premium or else the tank can run dry really quick! 

Skaidi Xtreme.

The Skaidi Xtreme is a 41 km race across the rough arctic tundra surrounding the village of Skaidi.  It’s a mixture of quad trails, reindeer routes and a few purpose built singletracks. This year there was a strong international field with top riders from Denmark, Great Britain, Iceland, Norway and even one Canadian 😉   It was a fast start as few of us tried to make it hard for everyone else in the 5 km start loop.  This blew the race apart and 8 of us were left going into the 6 km lap two which was full of steep rocky climbs and some fast, techy decents.  Unfortunately I flatted in this loop, requiring a couple stops to plug the tire and re-inflate it, costing over a minute.  From here it was  into chase mode for the next 30 km of the race as we entered the final lap,which took us 30 km across the tundra, up to a radio antena and down a rad, purpose built, technical descent.  I moved back up to 5th pretty quickly and could see the 4 riders ahead as the vistas were huge and the course often looped back on itself.  It was good motivation, but I also had to be careful too keep an eye on the trail as there were lots of wet marshy spots, big rocks, and holes in the ground that required proper line choosing. 

One section we entered a small birch forest and were treated to some sweet riding maneuvering in and out of the trees, going over small rock ledges and trying to stay out of the surrounding mud bogs.  It was the total opposite of the road race style Birken the week before in which we averaged over 32 km/hr on smooth gravel roads! 

With 10km to the finish,I caught Icelands National champion, Ingvar and we had a nice battle with myself pulling away on a rugged, overgrown descent.  Ben Thomas from the UK was in 3rd and was all of a sudden in sight, with the gap narrowing to around 20 seconds at one point.  I ran out of trail to catch him and would cross the finish line in 4th.  This was one of the most entertaining and gruelling 40 km I’ve done outside of Canada in recent memory as the competition was great and the course was very dynamic.  It was great to have the good legs again and I’ll be looking to keep them fired up as the Canadian Marathon Champs and WEMBO World Solo 24HR Champs are just around the corner! 

Post race things kept wound up at the race venue with a big BBQ, onsite music and a beer gardens.  My Norwegian buddy Thomas and I would take a break from the party for a bit and biked 1 hour up to the highest point of land we could see.  It was a stunning 360 view from the top with the Ocean in sight, a herd of 30 reindeer running across the tundra in front of us, and alpine vistas which stretched as far as the eye could see.  In the far off distance we could even see the NorthCape, what people often think is the northern most point of mainland Europe, just over  2100 km from the North Pole.  There are actually a couple other pieces of land nearby which are a tiny bit closer but not as dramatic so the North Cape is the touristy one.  Following our little cool down it was back to the festivities and on to the race banquet which was full of fresh reindeer, copius amounts of wine and some locals that wanted to get rowdy.  

Sunday morning my  Luxembourg friend Soren Nissen, local rider Ingen and I opted to ride our bikes the 86 km back to the airport in Alta.  The rolling terrain was great to ride as we crossed a couple bushy river gullies, across a moon like landscape then down past a beautiful lake to the area’s headquaters of Alta.  Racing is always fun but riding the day after and exploring new areas is often the icing on the cake. With the pressure off, the body being primed from the race, and a few friends to enjoy the ride with it is always a highlight of these trips. 

Next year the Skaidi Xtreme will be Sept 7th, with registration opening Feb 1st.  Stay up to date and see the race video on there Facebook page  and look for an updated website soon at www.skaidixtreme.no

Picture Credit:  Skaidi Xtreme and Frank Rune Isaksen (except the top 2)

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