An excellent preparation for this excursion is to visit the website of the Norwegian Forest and Landscape Institute (skogoglandskap.no), which has aerial photos as well as maps that show all the trails and forest roads. However, these won’t tell you the quality of the various trails, and even from the contour maps it is difficult to evaluate the steepness of the trails. Moreover, even on the same trail, hiking and off-road cycling are very different experiences. Past a certain point, hiking is often easier than ascending on two wheels.
Puffing and panting
We set out on a wet morning. After arriving the island of Handnesøya by ferry, we rode to Stokka farm and continued into the mountains on a farm road. After last night’s rain, it was as though the fragrant forest were breathing a sigh of relief and drinking up the moisture. Like most forest roads this one was overgrown; it was quite steep in places, and meltwater from the receding winter had taken its toll. I admit we walked our bikes a lot and that our legs were soon soaking wet. Someone who is in better shape might well manage to cycle most of the way.
We rode to the end of the road, and then continued on a narrow path that we had seen on the map. Unfortunately, while enjoying a downhill stretch we became distracted and lost the trail. Deer and sheep paths can be quite mysterious: they might seem almost as well defined as a highway, only to disappear on the far side of a boulder. We pushed our bikes upward and finally found the right path. From the fork near Storvatnet lake we could see our goal, and the whole ridge up to the summit cairn of Stokkatind.
From this point we could enjoy great cycling and a good climb, mostly on trails and bare rock. We were once again able to make good progress, and the challenges were quite manageable. The view was magnificent, especially towards the island of Tomma, as well as down the steep cliffs and lakes below us. The elevation and expansive view was invigorating! We were lucky enough to peer down on raptors circling below us.
At almost 600 metres, the summit cairn of Stokkatind is the perfect place for a break and a snack. You have an unobstructed view in almost every direction. Like many other summit hikers before us, and especially those who cycle or ski up, we are eagerly looking forward to the descent. The suspension of our off-road bicycles will come in really handy.
Getting into the flow
Whatever equipment your bike has, you need impeccable concentration to be alert for sharp rocks, holes and sudden drops. You may feel a persistent fear of flying over your steering wheel, but generally you’re better off daring a greater speed, but standing on your pedals so as to more easily absorb the bumpy ride. There are lots of different sounds: air hisses in your shock absorbers, the rough tire treads kiss the rock, and wet brakes howl, as we turn this way and that on our descent. You have to be careful to prevent the pedals from slamming the ground, to avoid letting rocks or branches catch between your spokes, or to lean too far forward on your bike.
All in all, it was a spectacular descent down to Hinesskaret pass. Our speed and flow made it our most enjoyable downhill ride in Nesna so far. The setting was magnificent, and our bikes performed flawlessly! Granted, while our climb to the summit had taken a good half hour, our exhilarating descent took only a few minutes – but that’s the nature of off-road cycling.
From Hinesskaret we rode the regular hiking trail, rather than returning by the route we came. As a result we soon found ourselves in technically difficult terrain: narrow trails, undergrowth, large rocks, wet roots and sharp narrow turns. These are the sorts of challenges that separate experienced off-road bikers from beginners. While I frequently climbed off and walked my bike, my companion seemed to be in full control, with two fingers on the brake handle, constantly shifting his weight, even leaning far back behind his seat. Soon the terrain improved, and together we rode the forest road down to the gate by the main road.
We gave each other high fives, removed our gloves, took off our sweaty helmets, hung them on our backpacks, and celebrated with a big drink of water. Our calves and thighs were still trembling from the challenging ride. Our faces were spotted with sweat and mud. We had intended to cruise back to the ferry at a far more relaxed pace – but a glance at our watches told us we’d be racing to catch it. And that we did, arriving at the ferry quay with our pulses racing, tired legs and faces red from the exertion. But catch it we did, and we could finally relax as the ferry carried us back to the mainland.
Text and photo: Halvor Hilmersen, Nesna