Rondane Rundt: Discovering Norway's best gravel trails
Henna and Coco take on the great Norwegian outdoors on a bike-packing adventure with Fara Bikes
Wild reindeer, elk, wolverines, lynxes, the occasional bear and maybe, if you’re really unlucky – or lucky, depending on your at-oneness with nature – a wolf or two. It’s a list of wild critters designed to strike fear into the hearts of committed urban dwellers whose only experience of The Great Outdoors is glamping at a festival, or petting a sheep at the local city farm. These are serious beasts. They might trash your tent and nibble your food supplies, should you be foolish enough to camp on their turf. Heck, they may even nibble you too...
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Thankfully, Henna Palosaari is from Finland, so is well versed in dealing with the copious wilds of her home country. Nothing fazes her. It’s all one big adventure. So when she suggested to her good friend Constanze “Coco” Maier, that they go bikepacking for three days in Rondane National Park in Norway, the fact that her pal had zero experience of cycling bar riding to school in Germany as a kid, was a mere sidenote. How difficult could it be? With Henna at the helm, her years of experience in the saddle would see Coco through the tough three days ahead. So, Henna, how long have you been riding, exactly?With wild reindeer, elk, wolverines and lynxes populating the Norwegian outdoors, a bike-packing trip in Scandinavia can be quite adventurous. Photo: Emily Nyeng.
“I started last summer” is her bombshell reply. Rather than dip her toe in the water, she went all in with a 5,000km trip around Finland lasting 41 days. Covid restricted her usual work in the tourism trade in Iceland and Scotland. The summer stretched ahead, suddenly freed up and available for exploring. So that’s what Henna did.
“I bought a bike. I have spent a lot of time outside, I know how camping works, but then what about bikepacking? I just googled the stuff I needed to get, and off I went and learnt on the go. With 41 days in a row, you get the hang of it fast.”
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Coco will also need to learn quickly. Rondane, first designated a National Park in 1962, covers an area of 963 square kilometres in the heart of Norway. It is decidedly mountainous, with ten peaks reaching over 2,000 metres. This will be no walk in the park, national or otherwise. Waterfalls, lakes and forests abound, and let’s not forget the bears and wolves...Henna and Coco heading towards the Rondane Rundt, a 225-km loop in Norway. Photo: Emily Nyeng.
Henna’s route covers a 225km loop spread over three days. Norwegian specialists Fara provided their F/Gravel-R model for Henna, and F/AR for Coco, both with full sets of luggage. That’s the equipment well sorted. As for fuelling strategy, it’s predominantly dehydrated goods topped up with copious snacks along the way.
Find out more about Fara bikes at Fara Cycling
“We had rice bags that you basically add water to and heat up,” says Henna. “We also had soy crumble, and pasta bags – it’s like camping food but from the grocery store. Whatever food I get in the wild after a day in the saddle, I am happy.”
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Sounds delicious... Now the only hurdle to overcome for Henna’s Big Adventure is getting Coco round the 225km and back to base despite a complete lack of riding experience, road or gravel. It’s a big ask, isn’t it?
“She’s not a cyclist at all, no. This was my idea! She knows the stuff I do, so knew she was probably going to be suffering. I was like: no, I’ve made it really easy, it’s going to be fine. She’s only really ridden a city bike before. But with her snowboarding experience, she’s used to speed. She does a lot of sports usually, but she had been partying the whole summer... She is very stubborn, though.”Coco had a very limited experience on the bike, but she surely had grit. Photo: Emily Nyeng.
Each evening, Henna and Coco would mull over the day’s events round the fire whilst ‘enjoying’ a sumptuous meal of dried something-or-other. Wild animals were, thankfully, absent from their chosen overnight pitches, sensibly staying up in the mountains. Sheep were plentiful; wolves, not so much. But it was a tough three days nonetheless. Here is the Rondane Rundt, in their own words.
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THE CAMPFIRE TAPES – DAY 1 – 66.5km
In the evenings, Henna and Coco would mull over the day’s events around the fire whilst enjoying a sumptuous meal of dried food. Photo: FARA Bikes.
Henna: I think there is going to be climbing tomorrow as well, but not as much. You have done the worst parts first. It will only get better.
Coco: And the views got better. In the beginning, it was only forest. Now we are more on the wildside. But to be honest, I thought I would swear at you more.
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Henna: Yeah, you were behaving well!
Coco: I was basically focusing on surviving. I didn’t even have energy to blast out any swear words. I was just like, God, when is this ever gonna end?
Henna: I couldn’t just bring anyone on this though. I mean, you haven’t cycled at all, right? Most people would think it was too much.
Coco: You don’t go out of your comfort zone yourself, but having someone who pushes your limits makes the difference. The legs hurt, the bum is on fire! But I completely trust you. As long as I am smiling, then everything is fine.Henna and Coco pushing hard on TT mode. Photo: FARA Bikes.
Henna: If I say you can do it, you can do it When you go quiet, then I know you are suffering, but you were still joking around.
Coco: Let me mention that I started out not even knowing how to shift gears, or how to clip in the shoes, or put my hands on the handlebar.
Henna: Being on a gravel bike or a road bike for the first time, it’s way lighter than the normal city bikes. And then you put on fully-loaded bags and everything changes.
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Coco: On the downhill, that’s when my shoulders started to cramp, because I was always holding on so tight. Like, keep it straight. Don’t fall over, not now. Not at 50 kilometres an hour. No, no!
Henna: I was surprised at how well you went on the downhills.
Coco: I went fast but still felt in control. I felt like I was always holding back. But it was good. And the cinnamon buns when we stopped, helped.
THE CAMPFIRE TAPES – DAY 2 – 55.8km
It's not a proper outdoor adventure if you don't read an information panel. Photo: Emily Nyeng.
Coco: When I woke up, I couldn’t feel my legs. No, no, I felt them, but it was like someone had been stepping on them for 24 hours. I was almost falling down to the river. After ten minutes, I got my balance back. I thought I had to quit. And I never think about quitting. Never. But the thought of just one more pedal stroke on that bike...
Henna: These legs are going to tear apart!
Coco: These legs will just separate from my body. I don’t know where they’re going, but they’re not going my way. That was the first time I was really thinking: how can I tell Henna that I’m quitting? And you wanted to get me into the ice-cold river this morning.
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Henna: Yeah, it would have helped your legs.
Coco: No way! The only water I would take is a spa, a whirlpool.
The best hydration option: fresh water from a Norwegian river. Photo: Emily Nyeng.
Henna: Yoga helps a lot in the morning, too.
Coco: Adjusting the saddle helped too. My butt still hurt, though.
Henna: I think that last adjustment, bringing it closer to the bars, that really helped.
Coco: I was leaning forward so much, no matter how I tried to engage my core, I would always have some pressure on my arms and my shoulders. So yeah, it was an interesting morning. An insightful morning into my limits.
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Henna: Yeah, the first 20 of the day were hard, but then the next 20 was pretty easy. Then the last ten was when there was that one steep climb. You were still joking on that one, so it made me feel better.
Coco: Bad jokes and swearing from the back, she’s fine! As long as there’s always a downhill, then it makes uphill so much easier, like something to look forward to. That middle part was super nice landscape, in the valley. The entire afternoon was really pretty.
Henna and Coco had some quite long and hard days in the saddle, but they were also blessed with some great scenery and good weather. Photo: Emily Nyeng.
Henna: The gravel road made it so much nicer, with no cars passing, riding side by side, and babbling away.
Coco: You saved me with those energy bites, but they only kicked in at the top.
Henna: I think they were pretty good at that point of the day, even compared to having chocolate or something. I think those were better. I hate the gels. I throw up every time I try to use them, but those candies are super nice.
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Coco: Can I have more peanut butter please? Readers will just think I’m eating all the time...
Henna: First stop tomorrow is the grocery store. Then we are at least stocked up on food. We still have oats left, so we can make one portion of oats for lunch, but that’s literally it, apart from some snacks.
Coco: You are the best at food planning.
In rides this long, it's important to maintain a good nutrition plan, and it doesn't really matter how many cookies you eat. Photo: Emily Nyeng.
Henna: Nothing extra, just the right amount. Tomorrow we break up the riding into 20km sections, then a little snack. Have a break, but not longer than ten minutes, usually five. Or do shorter sections, because I think your bum and shoulders will still hurt like hell.
Coco: I really never would have thought that my shoulders would hurt from biking. Never.
THE CAMPFIRE TAPES – DAY 3 – 106km
To break the big ride in smaller chunks help to 'digest' it a little better. Photo: Emily Nyeng.
Coco: My legs are still sore, but not that bad. The second day was the worst.
Henna: So, what do you think? Would you do it again?
Coco: Haha! Let me think about that... Um, I would say, I’d do anything with you! But maybe a bit easier next time. Or train for a month beforehand.
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Henna: A flatter part at the beginning would have been good. With all the elevation and a full bike, that was tough. Our plans changed and we had to fit in the whole loop in one less day.
Coco: I was so close to just getting picked up by the photographer. Or catching a ride, or hitchhiking, or... I don’t know. But I wanted to finish it. I did not think I would make it. I didn’t even think I would make it through the second day. And I definitely did not think I would make it through the third day.
The weather was nice, but they surely didn't get hot conditions. Photo: Emily Nyeng.
Henna: Yeah, that was a tough one, the 100km on the last day. I really don’t know how you managed to do it.
Coco: Around lunchtime, I think I was just in a zone-out mode. My legs were spinning and I didn’t even notice they were spinning anymore. But I have to say you really motivated me. Once I knew we had done 60km by lunchtime, then I thought, we can do 40 more.
Henna: They somehow run down fast on the last day.
Coco: You also planned the food, snack breaks and drinks breaks really well. That was super important. We did not drink enough at the beginning. You damn near killed me on the last bit, though...
Henna: Yeah, because we had to finish the loop!
The camp life and more fuelling and stories around the fire. Photo: Emily Nyeng.
Coco: And you were doing these motivational speeches, like ten metres ahead of me: “Come on, you can do it! Push it! You’re so close to the end!” And I was just like, “Shut the FUCK up!”
Henna: On that last climb, you were like: “I’m about to vomit!” There is some joy in that pain as well – when everything is hurting. It was fun for me to see it from a different perspective, and share it with you. That’s the thing with bikepacking. It’s the whole experience. It’s just us out there. You get into this completely different mindset. It’s like meditating.
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Coco: I knew what I was getting myself into. Because I know you, and the fact that for the last three months I have basically been doing nothing, so I was aware it would be a very hard trip.
Henna: To be honest, I am really proud of you, your attitude. Seeing your face on the first morning was like, oh my God, what have I done to her? But you pulled through after being that shattered after the first day. Where did you get that energy?
Coco was expecting a very hard trip, but after the second day she started to feel much better. Photo: Emily Nyeng.
Coco: I have no idea. From that whole pack of chocolate perhaps. And your motivational speeches! And from fun, I think. Breaking it up into parts: maybe another ten, then maybe another ten. Then all of a sudden, wow, 100! We are breaking records!
Henna: I am really proud that you survived it that well. I would say that most people would probably have given up with that amount of pain.
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Coco: I’m a stubborn German, yeah. I would do it again. If you like camping already, and know what to pack and how to organise yourself, then it’s great to reach a little bit further than only hiking, because you see so much more of the landscape changing, especially in Norway.
Henna: Thank you for joining me. And being fearless.
Coco: Yes, the mind is the strongest muscle. Thank you.
About the bike: The Fara F/AR
Much of Norway’s incredible landscape is formed by the sea. Among the world’s most northern countries and one of Europe’s most mountainous, its vast and rugged coastline is never far away. Eaten into by fjords and dowsed by rain, it’s a spectacular and testing place to ride a bike. Norway’s unique landscape and climate provides both a challenge and an inspiration to Oslo-based brand Fara, a bikemaker dedicated to producing machines adapt- ed to exploring the wild and remote bits of an already very wild and re- mote country. To this end, it’s created the F/AR, a fast-rolling bike for multi-surface adventures. Designed to be both light and forgiving, its carbon frameset can be built up to around 8.1kg. At the same time, clearance for tyres up to 38mm allows it to reach locations well beyond those connected by tarmac alone.
Capable of transporting significant amounts of cargo comfortably, the bike is studded with carrying points. These include three sets of bottle mounts to ensure you never run dry. Supplementing fender fixings that can also support a rear rack, the bike is equally designed to work well with bikepacking bags, including those Fara has created in collaboration with Roswheel. Able to be requested alongside the bike, it’s not just the luggage that can be customised. When ordering, each bike can be built with a choice of Shimano, Sram or Campagnolo groupsets, alongside its 700c roll- ing stock. Stem length and handlebar type can also be specified to match the rider. Designed to make life easy for its owner, simple semi-internal cable routing, a threaded bot- tom bracket, and a 27.2mm seatpost are all durable and easy to service. Useful when both the terrain and weather combine to make life hard.