Fat biking in Santas Land

By Scott Swalling

Long before I finished my last 24hr race (for the present) I had decided that I needed to do something new and I had penciled in theRovaniemi 150. After waiting on a few other things to be resolved and Boom, I entered!

A few months of smashing around on the fatty in Surrey and a weekend of pushing my bike through the Cairngorms, and catching a chest and head cold two weeks before the race (as I write this I am still full of cold) and we were on a plane bound for Rovaniemi.

Rovaniemi is marginally below the Arctic Circle itself, so it is cold, utilitarian, due to its location and being leveled by the retreating Germans at the end of WWII. But it and the Finns are welcoming and warm and there is a great array of restaurants, little bars and of course tours to go on. There is also Santas Village, which we visited on the Friday before the race with many of the other racers and organisers Alex and Maria.

After arriving I had a few days t sort the bike, meet some of the other racers (a great bunch of people).

On the Friday after visiting Santa we had mandatory equipment check-in and then race briefing. Which covered the rules, safety and rescue for the North 66, Rovaniemi 150 and Roavve 300 (only two guys had entered this). Now the only thing left to do was final bike check and pack and head out for some carbs with Nik, Paul E, Grace, Dan P, Paul H and Ian B.

The next morning was game time, a big breakfast, final bike check and it was off to the start line on the frozen Kemijoki and Ounasjoki rivers. After signing in, there was time to wish friends many of the them new good luck. A few photos and then we lined up.

Alpkiteers ready to roll, Paul and I.

As we lined up with only a minute or so to go I noticed that my front tyre had lost pressure from checking it back in the hotel to the start line. I made a decision to start, get clear of the other racers and then sort it out. Shortly we were off and as soon as we passed under the main bridge I stopped and calmly inflated the tyre to a better pressure.

The start and racers going for the shot hole at the end of the 14km of frozen river.

I had a plan before I started to finish in under 13hrs and I knew this meant I needed to be mid bunch at least, so I now made a decision to make up some time on the river as it was frozen and fast. So I set about doing so and by the time I reached the 1st Check Point I had made up some time on the bunch, but not the 4 leaders that had got together and clearly worked well until the end of the race together (Congrats and hats off to you guys).

I pushed on, at my own pace, a little higher than planned. I knew I would pay a little for this later as my race prep had not been the best and I was still full of cold. But until then, I pushed on. I was also on a learning curve as sections of the trails needed a calm and well paced approach and not a trail riding approach or you found yourself wrestling with your bike to wade out of ball deep snow. (This I did a few times, until I learnt the skills).

At CP 2 I had caught a few more places and Ian B, I had passed Paul E earlier on the soft snow section. Ian and I joined another guy with a suspiciously light looking amount of mandatory gear and sped across the 11kms of Sinettajarvi lake. After this the course undulated all the way to CP 3 and I slipped away from the others and as I neared CP 3, passed another two racers (but they would join me at the Check Point as we learnt I was 6th the other two 7th and 8th. I was quite surprised by this, but was feeling my cold a little as the climbs made me breathe heavier than normal. A few km's of technical trail to a road allowed me to slip away again without much effort.

Once on the road however, I started to suffer and for a while I could either eat and breathe whilst I stopped or ride and breathe, so the next 10kms was going to be very slow and the two guys just behind me soon caught me, they road with me for a bit, but I had to ease up a little more and they moved away. I wouldn't see them again.

I pushed on through the next few CPs without seeing another racer until I arrived at CP 6, Kuusilapi, a little wooden hut and the furthest point north and the point at a which a 35km stretch to the next CP 7. I needed a rest here to clear my lungs and nose and take water, in all I was probably stopped for 10 minutes as I did what I needed to and chatted to the marshal (a member of the local walking club). The rider behind me, came through as I made ready to head off. So I followed his tyre marks until a couple of sharp climbs where he faltered and I managed to ride away. This though would last about 15 minutes as we trudged up on to a plateau in soft snow and across its expanse, the rider behind also pushing seemly floated on the snow as he walked pass at speed. I said "Hi" but he looked broken and focused and moved away quickly.

Soon there was a little down hill, we both remounted, and as I wandered into the soft snow and flew over the bars, right in front of Vice one of the marshals on his snowmobile. The Dutch guy went out of sight. I quick feed and chat with Vice and I was on my way again. As I got onto the double track and soon the road, I started to feel really good and ate and drunk lots as I pushed on. The light was finally starting to go. But I had only about 60km to go from here. At the next major road crossing Maria yelled "Go Scott, Go!" as she had done at CP 1. A little further along the next road section, she and another marshal drove past and gave me a wave and a grin and I would see them again quite soon as they made sure riders made the turn off the road to head to CP 7.

By now I had turned my lights on and even put my beanie back on. The double track meandered on and on. It undulated and at times was steep and cut up by the riders ahead foot prints. I had found my mojo and rode all these sections and even found loads of speed on the descents and soon I saw a flashing light in front of me. Slowly and calmly I closed in until at CP 7 we were together and 50km, lay in front of us. I sorted some food and warm drink as he headed off, but by the time we reached a long section of road that started with a sharp climb, I was on his wheel.

I wheel sucked, to short of the crest and found the speed to attack and gap him. With the aid of the dark, I could see I was pulling away steadily as his light grew dim and then disappeared. I pushed on and came to the some great single track that led me on to the final lake, Norvajarvi. As I turned down the lake, I was hit by the worse block headwind I have every experienced and I have met some nasty ones in my time. I buried my head the best I could, found a gear that stopped the searing thigh pain and got down to business at a massive 6.9kph. After much pain, I turned right and had some relief, I soon left the lake, found some road, only long enough to refuel before turning off it again, for the last section of trail. Then more fast moving road and finally back onto the river, after 2kms, I was at the last CP and through it, but I had 11kms of headwind to deal with on the river return to the finish.

I pushed on and tried to raise the pace, but I was drained by now. I had to stop a couple of times to feed and drink as I couldn't breathe, ride and refuel once again (stupid head cold). I pushed on and soon was in Rovaniemi again and soon wheeled my bike into the lobby of the Pohjanhovi hotel and to finish line in 8th and in 12hrs-16mins-58sec. I was so happy with this result considering I could have had better prep. However, I was soon promoted to 7th as one rider was DQed.

But what a race, it was amazing out there racing in this environment. Alex and all his helpers had laid out a great course, through amazing wilderness and I will certainly be back again and couldn't recommend this race enough. Even if you take it as just a fun and exciting adventure. Don't question, just do it! Ask me nicely and I might even loan you some kit.

Firstly, a big thanks to Alex, Maria, the walking club marshals and all the helpers and the locals of Rovaniemi making us all so welcome. The staff at the Cumulus for not just putting up with us all, but being amazing in doing so with a no wuckers can do attitude.

Next, a massive thanks to:

Alpkit - for the wicked bike packing kit and winter woolies. Filo, Filoment, buff and beanie.
Wolf Tooth Components - for the brilliant drive train upgrade.
Cycleworks - for the service, the pedals, sourcing my boots and just being legends.
Weldtite - for the TF2 All weather that works great in the snow.

Additional thanks to:

Endura - for providing some great support at short notice and the stealth pants and windtex pro (Cycleworks) jersey were great.
FortyBelow - for shipping my over boots so quick.
Shaggy - for information about the race from a racers view.

And as usual thanks to Nik for supporting a hair brained idea.

I am still stoked and smile when I think of this race.

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