Biking & Skiing Norway: What I learned, and What’s Next?
In the spring of 2016 I traveled to Tromsø, Norway with two friends, Brody Leven & Joey Schusler to bike along the fjords of Lofoten, to the town of Å at the end of the peninsula, skiing whatever looked good along the way. I was a bit nervous going into the trip as I have done very little road biking, and am not a huge fan of pavement, cars, and loud noises in general.
Photo: Brody Leven
The last few years I’ve really become a nature nerd— finding the most joy in wild places and adventures that take me far from roads, people, and civilization. However I figured biking with ski gear would be a fun challenge, and I typically like things that challenge me and push the boundaries of what I think I’m physically capable of. I also figured Arctic Norway wouldn’t be that populated. I envisioned having rural roads all to ourselves, with a plethora of couloirs jutting up from the ocean.
I quickly realized that this trip was going to be much more of a biking trip than a ski trip, and that biking with a trailer full of ski gear caused terrifying speed wobbles, especially for someone who is already uncomfortable on a road bike. I also realized that the road we planned to bike on was a trucking route, supplying the entire peninsula, with no alternative route in winter… “Great,” I thought to myself when that realization hit. For people who road bike a lot, especially in cities, cars are normal, but I had a hard time trusting that these cars were not going to come around a blind corner and slam into me or my trailer, nor that I might get the speed wobbles and eat it right in front of a semi-trailer full of lays potato chips. It’s fair to say that I took a deep breath every time I mounted my not-so-trusty-rented-in-Tromsø-bicycle-steed. My only solace was a goal zero speaker mounted to my handlebars, blasting hip-hop, and slightly calming my nerves.
After 5 days of biking we finally found a spot to ski. Snow was sparse, beta hard to find on the fly, and obvious ski lines along the road scarce. I was beyond the edge of my comfort zone. While biking I felt like I was in avalanche terrain all day, i.e. in the firing zone at all times. I realized nothing about the trip was going to be easy or comfortable. I suppose that was the challenge— the essence of the trip, but by the end of each day on the bicycle I was zapped physically and emotionally. Skiing avalanche terrain on top of that, was too much for me. It was too much time in the firing zone, too much for my senses and my body to handle reasonably, too much for me to handle in good style, and with grace. After giving one day of skiing a go I knew the trip was not for me. I wanted to bail. I didn’t want to ski. I didn’t want to bike. I was scared and uncomfortable. I wanted to go home. The next morning we woke up to 3” of slush on the road.
Making the decision to stay or go was one of the hardest professional decisions I’ve ever had to make. I knew it would be hard on the group, I knew it would be hard on the story after-the-fact, I knew it would impact my long-time close friendship with Brody. But everything inside me was screaming, “go home.”
So, I listened.
I’m glad I made the decision I did. It was the right decision for me at the time. I’ve always felt that it’s best to let intuition guide. In retrospect I had some fears and concerns coming into the trip, and perhaps I should have paid them more heed. It was unfair to my partners not to. I’m disappointed in myself for letting my partners down. Perhaps I could have prepared more, or had a bit better idea of what I was signing up for. Perhaps I could have spent more time looking at maps & gathering beta ahead of time. Perhaps…
But, it is what it is. Now I can only look back and reflect. I suppose one of the biggest things I learned, is that if I am not planning a trip, but joining someone else’s plan I need to do my own research and make sure I have a thorough understanding of what I am getting myself into. And not only do I need to rationally understand what I’m signing up for, I need to check back in with my heart and make sure my soul is on board too.
Since that trip I’ve really taken a step back. It’s caused me to question my intentions and desires as a skier and media presence in such a fast-paced world. My projects since have been closer to home and I’ve been really focusing on “re-filling the spirit sponge,” as Conrad Anker would say.
I’m feeling my mojo coming back now, my psych is returning, and passion for skiing budding again, but it’s taken almost a year. I’m looking at projects with more intention now, and really thinking about the quality of experience. I want to immerse myself in experiences that enrich and inspire me, and even test me, but leave a comfortable (to me) margin for safety. That line is different for everyone, and one of the most complex challenges an adventure athlete faces in our risk-and-reward world.
I look forward to continuing to pursue projects that are meaningful to me (like the 140 mile run we did across Yellowstone last summer). I also decided it was time to work on my mountain education again by beginning the AMGA Ski Guide certification process, and moving forward in the avalanche education track. I currently feel a bit intimidated by the weight of managing avalanche terrain, and find myself questioning a lot. I’ve decided the best way to work with and through that fear is not only through experience, but also by getting back in the classroom.
Most importantly I’m trying to let curiosity lead. I’m sort of exhausted by passion right now. In the words of Elizabeth Gilbert,
“Curiosity is our friend that teaches us how to become ourselves. It is a very gentle friend, a very forgiving friend, a very constant one. Passion is not so constant, not so gentle, not so forgiving, and sometimes not so available. When we live in a world that has come to fetishize passion above all else, there’s a great deal of pressure around that.”
With that in mind, right now I’m curious about fast and light traverses on foot and on skis. I’m curious about the wild and remote regions of the greater Yellowstone. I’m curious about bison. I’m curious about the history of backcountry skiing, and the different styles and spectrums within the sport. I’m curious about Peru. I’m curious about trees. So, that’s what I’m focused on and thinking about, and I’m working on ways to develop that curiosity into meaningful projects that I can share.