Hello from Norway!
Yesterday I successfully completed the goal of 14 Worldloppet ski races and had my final ski until we are back in Australia in June.
It was great to be back skiing in Norway as the skiing above Lillehammer, where the 1994 Winter Olympics were held, reminds me of the terrain around the Bogong High Plains and even parts of the Snowy Mountains- there’s rolling hills above the tree line with views in all directions. Most of the other ski areas we’ve skied at has either been in valleys looking up at the mountains or in wooded/trees areas.
Malcolm and I skied with other friend Aussie John Plaice and American Brian Bennett, each day catching the bus up high above Lillehammer to ski some of the 330km of groomed trails and at the end of the day would ski the 12km return trail to Lillehammer. Once the skiing finished we then had the hardest part of the day negotiating the very icy footpaths along the 2km back to our accommodation.
Because of the ice it was tricky for Bruce to get out much but we did manage a shopping trip so he now has new skis and ski boots in case we can’t manage to find an affordable way of getting his skis and boots back from America in time for the start of the Aussie ski season. Despite being in Norway and nearly everything being very very expensive there were some end of season sales of ski gear, at much cheaper prices than Australia. The day before the race we woke to fresh snowfalls and big flakes of snow falling which fortunately covered the ice. So Bruce managed to walk with crutches on now snowy roads as we had to change from the hostel which was extremely well located above the train station to a luxury traditional style B & B on the lakeside 2 kms from the town centre. It was a real contrast in accommodations. Bruce is also walking short distances inside without crutches. He visited the local doctor to have his leg checked out and found good value in the $24 doctor fee. Amazing value considering getting a take away pizza is $40 and a bus trip 1km is $6.
My 16 year old classic skis had developed a bulge near one of the ski tips so at the last minute concern for whether my ski would break or not in the race, I decided to wear Bruce’s new skis which have a new special ‘nanogirp’ coating requiring at least 30kms to wear them in, so for the first 40km or 50km of the yesterday’s race the skis were slow. But the last few kilometres, the downhill section, I had good glide.
The Norwegian marathon ski race, the ‘Birkebeinerrennet’ has the reputation of being the toughest race. It is a 54 kilometre traverse across the mountains simulating a traditional story of how baby Prince Hakon was carried across the mountains hundreds of years ago by freedom fighters to save his life from invading troops.
The course starts in Rena in a valley and then for 14kms the trail climbs, I was so hot I had to stop and take my thermal off and skied the rest of the race in just a bra and light wind top and one thin layer of ski tights. On the reaching the top of the first climb you break out of the trees on top of the rolling hills with magnificent views for seemingly hundreds of kilometres. A short 1km descent is followed by another climb, then another short descent and another climb and on and on until Sjusjøen where the final 12km descent to Lillehammer begins. B y then the track was totally destroyed as 16 thousand people skiing over the same bit of snow really chops it up. A few days earlier the steepest downhill hills were a joy to fly down but not in the race they were a survival test, trying to stay right between the channels of deep sugar snow and out of the way of the more skillful Norwegians who were hurtling down the hill at breakneck speed. I just skied on hoping they stayed away from me and didn’t take me out. I was very pleased to reach the bottom of the steepest sections still upright and with my body and Bruce’s skis intact. The last few kilometres my skis (Bruce’s skis) were running well and I even managed to overtake a few people who were obviously more tired than me. This certainly was one of the toughest races for me, taking me 5 hours and 45 minutes to complete the 54kms. Fortunately we had brilliant weather and the wave start meant skiers were more spread out than last week’s Swiss race.
Despite the Norwegian race being one of the hardest and most remote, it is will also stick in my memory as one of the most memorable. It was the amazing number of spectators lining the track for kilometre after kilometre, even though the nearest road was afar. Many had skied in with dogs, children, BBQ and beer. It was a party atmosphere with people yelling “Heiai, Heiai “(sounded like higher! Higher!) to encourage you to ski faster and harder. Incredible cheering and when they worked out I was an Aussie, the cheering was louder and more enthusiastic. It certainly helped me to keep on skiing. Some spectators also gave out chocolate, coke, bananas and oranges, so food was aplenty as there was also the well stocked race food and drink stations.
Today we head to Oslo via train and say goodbye to Malcolm who heads home to Eurobin, Victoria. We’ve certainly had a good couple of months travelling and skiing together. In Oslo we are leaving our ski gear with Sarah Beney, an Aussie, then we are flying to Dublin, Ireland tomorrow, a change of our plans. Only recently we learnt that because Australians are only allowed to spend 90days in a 180 day period in the Schenegen area of Europe so our initial plan of ski touring in Norway and cycling in Switzerland/ Austria/ Germany would have meant an overstay in our 90 days. Applying for a visa is very difficult so we have decided to leave the Schenegan area and have booked a cheap flight to Ireland. Once Bruce’s ankle heals we’ll commence cycle touring slowly.