The weight-to-safety balance is my primary concern in the mountains. I almost always carry an inReach satellite communication device and iPhone, both used to communicate in dire mountain situations. Modern batteries, though, can be fickle. A spare, lightweight, small Flip 10 goes with me everywhere I’m afraid of not returning from.
By Brody Leven, Photography by Joey Schusler
There was barely any snow in Tromso, Norway when the plane abandoned us with 200 pounds of gear. It mistakenly carried the other 200 pounds as it continued north…to the North Pole.
A few days later, we rolled our gear-laden bicycles onto the seven-story Hurtigruten MS Kong Harald and sailed south overnight, skipping the terrain we had wanted to bike and ski in order to acclimate to our setups and surroundings. Instead, we’d waited for delayed luggage to arrive, rode to a ferry, and watched the landscape sail past in the early-morning sunrise as our unfamiliar bicycles waited below deck.
There was a little snow on the summits, but it didn’t look like winter, in the town of Harstad as we stepped out of the elevator rising from the vehicle storage beneath sea level, where we’d retrieved our bicycles. We pedaled them, wobbly beneath hundreds of pounds of gear, in search of better—any, really—snow. We expected to find it within a few hours.
Adventure cinematographer Joey Schusler, photographer Kt Miller, and I were pedaling the length of Norway’s Lofoten, an archipelago entirely above the Arctic Circle. Our bicycles were customized to carry ski, bike, film, photography, cooking, production, and winter camping gear. Our fitness was not.
As we slowly crept through the chain of islands, snow was minimal and rarely stretched from summits to the peninsula’s only road, snaking between the coastline on one side and toothy peaks on the other. Folks had told us that our only problem with this trip—aside from its presumed absurd difficulty—would be too much snow. “If it’s anything like last year, the roads will be icy, if not covered in snow, and there will be ten-foot snowbanks along the length of it,” a local told me before we arrived.
But it wasn’t anything like last year. Instead, we found ourselves setting up our tent on dry ground for five days, still having not skied. I’d asked Joey and Kt to join me on a bike-and-ski trip, a “pedal to peaks.” It was quickly turning into a “pedal to…pedal.”
Underwater tunnels connected islands where bridges didn’t, and a constant barrage of semi-trucks, locals, and tourists reminded us that we were traveling the only road on this inhabited part of the country. It became too much for Kt, and she left after only one day of skiing, but nearly one week of pedaling. That day, though, we skied the highest peak in the region—4,140-foot Moysalen, in a national park straddling Sortland and Lodingen.
Joey and I continued south, determined to contrive what skiing we could. As we neared our destination—the end of the archipelago—we realized that we were, quite simply, traveling too late in the low-snow season. Empty and defeated, the road ended in a the monosyllabic town of Å. We sit beside our bicycles and stared into the island-riddled ocean, wearing t-shirts in front of grassy mountains while our skis remained lonely.
But we dug deeper, and realized that, with a few days before our flights departed from the north, we could search for more snow.
We turned around and started pedaling back, this time with a different eye for what we considered ski-worthy.
We skied each of the following days. A side road led to a snowy cirque. An hour of walking on dirt took us to snowline on a mountain on the ocean’s edge. Spring encroached, and the sun stayed above the horizon nearly all day and night, and our spirits mirrored it.
Was it a failure? Does five days of skiing and two weeks of biking mean that it’s not even a ski trip? Do hours spent staring at maps and trying to find mountainous aspects that might hold sufficient snow indicate a poorly planned trip?
Watch the film and decide for yourself.