Norway has been a country that has long sat in the depths of my mind. Enchanted by daydreams of towering snow-capped mountains separated by ribbons of blue water, unspoiled singletrack snaking through the shrub and silver-birches… oh, and the abundance of attractive natives. I’ll let you decide which of the above fantasies played out.

With the broken-up crackle from the radio, we cast off from our moorings in Molde Harbour and begin steaming towards the maze of peaks filling the skyline. Dappled light flutters across the nautical charts until the sun sinks behind the hills and the eternal summer evening twilight takes hold. We were in Norway and our home and companion for the voyage would be Gaasten – a retired minesweeping ship now living out her days patrolling the labyrinth of fjords in pursuit of singletrack heaven and the finest chutes of virgin snow around. With her military days behind her, the four-strong crew of captain Sven, skipper Tash, guide Ole, and chef Izzy were anything but regimental, making the nautical life that bit sweeter.

Setting sail into the eternal twilight

The gentle hum of the engine and the lapping of waves against the hull is one of the most pleasant alarms clocks I’ve experienced. After four days afloat, with no windows in the cabin, each morning there is a ‘child at Christmas’ excitement stepping up on deck to discover the scenery towering over the boat. Gaasten’s sonar blipped closer to her destination of Åndalsnes thanks to the guidance of Sven and Tash; meanwhile the smell of bacon drifting from the kitchen was the only persuasion I needed to leave them to it. This was to be the penultimate day’s riding on a weeklong trip that had taken us past glacial lakes, through sweeping fjords, over the Troll Road, and through some of the most majestic singletrack I had ever seen.

Popping out of the hatch, I have to double take and rub my eyes at the apparent blue, cloudless sky. It was like waking up in a different country with the shimmering water glinting in the morning light. Thankfully, the toasty engine room had dried out the sodden shoes from yesterday, so we ditched our raincoats and dug our short sleeve jerseys out from the kitbags. Our target is in full view above us as we rope up in Stranda harbour with the help from the whole crew. I say whole, but after fumbling the rope through my hands for a few minutes Euan puts me out of my misery, snatching it from my grasp and scoffing through laughter: “Give me it! You couldn’t tie a knot if your life depended on it!” After a plod on road and doubletrack to get the legs going, we soon find our bikes lofted upon our shoulders once again as we sidestep through a herd of speculative cows we’d disturbed from their morning’s munch. Leaving the treeline, we enter the open hillside, revealing views into the deep fjords and up to the snow-capped mountains above. A tall, rocky cairn signals our final crest on the rolling hills – it’s quite literally all downhill from here.

On the trails of Trolls

A quick hit of Izzy’s homebaking offering (peanut brownie for those concerned) truly lit the fuse for the gravity-assisted dash to the boat.

Over the heathland upon a twine of trail, we slot through a handful of grass-roofed cabins clinging to the hillside before becoming immersed in the pines and silver birches; this is where things start to get technical. Pick a line. Point and shoot. Hope for the best. The gradient, lingering slop, and jigsaw-like rock gardens were a potent mix that would bite back. Skimming the side of a cascading river, the trail dunks into some thick and towering pines where the trail becomes wide and vast, yet still retains its fun (but somewhat fierce) character. With everyone riding blind, there’s a whole host of questionable line choices being made… as I can make out the blur of someone a few metres to the left in my periphery. The woods chew us up and spit us out on the outskirts of Stranda, giving us as a short blast between the wooden-clad houses as we head back to the boat waiting patiently by the harbour..

Everyone seems content to be sprawled out on deck soaking up the sun with a cold beer in one hand as we cruise into Geiranger Fjord. The engine’s drop in revs and Sven’s appearance from the wheelhouse with a rather tongue-in-cheek “This’ll do!” signals that he’s decided upon the afternoon’s swimspot… right underneath the Seven Sisters Waterfall. Plunging into the icy waters was enough to take your breath away, but felt good on the body after a day of riding. Whilst dinner is simmering away and the sun falls into the neighboring fjord, it seems like the perfect time to dig out the paddleboard and explore the coastline in greater detail.

Apres riding ice bath, Norwegian style

“Don’t skimp out on breakfast!”, Ole urges us, pointing to our imposing target on the skyline, standing over 1000m.

Saving the biggest – and best – for last. Loading the skiff Tetris-style, we departed from Gaasten and blasted to our drop-off point by a row of red boathouses. No one is in the mood for racing ahead today as we plod round switchback after switchback, mashing at the pedals. Passing through an old farmstead complete with rustic machinery, we pull up by another hamlet of thatched cabins for lunch before the hike-a-bike begins. On the way up I was almost envious of the walkers who leapt from rock to rock unhindered by an unwieldy lump of plastic and metal on their backs, although I knew I’d soon get redemption!

Doubling our altitude by foot, it was an ascent where you felt every meter towards the end. Sodden in sweat and red in the face thanks to the baking sun, I scale the final rise with the boat a pixel in the ribbon of water. Our bodies were feeling the fact that it was the end of the week, but who really cared when all you could see around you was towering peaks separated by turquoise waters and your trail leading off through the middle of it all? I ‘recovered’ from the climb in record time, mainly due to the fact I was drooling at the prospect of tackling the rock slabs and hero dirt we’d just scaled. Setting our wheels in the direction of the boat, I flirt with gravity and its fight with my howling brake rotors, our smiles widening as we pick and pop off the rock slabs, which were quite the contradiction to the soft soil in between (adding that little extra spice to the gravity battle).

Grappling with gravity

As ever, you wish it could go on just that little bit longer…. We departed the fond company of the open mountaintop and rejoined the treeline for one final Norwegian climax on a trail called Blowjob. Now I should have seen what was coming next, having had to scoop the front wheel and deploy my foot as a stabilizer a couple of times already that day; maybe I got over-excited at the prospects, ran out of talent, or a combination of both. Just saying, the hole that got me was conveniently sized at 29”. An hour later we are all back on deck and savoring the final evening of cruising the fjords, beers in hand. We drop anchor on the fringes of Alesund and gather in the cosy galley for the last meal with a hive of good vibes before we each fly home in the morning to various spots around the globe.

This part of Norway is just beginning to find its feet in two-wheeled potential. We never saw another rider or tire track all week, although the area is beginning to sprout and will bloom before too long. The deep fjords and their steep sides are far from the most accessible place on the earth, but they are stashing some trail gold, making the extra effort of finding them all the more worth it. The good ship Gaasten has swapped mine-sweeping for trail-scouting, and is the perfect companion for entering Norway’s labyrinth of fjords.

This story is an excerpt from H+I Adventures’ week-long foray into the Norwegian fjords aboard Gaasten, an ex-military minesweeper now tasked to hunt out trails and terrain for bikes, boards, and skis.

Where to book:

Full details and itinerary of the trip can be found on the H+I Adventures website.

How to get there:

The trip begins in Molde and ends in Ålesund, both of which have airports. Although it is unlikely you’ll get direct flights, this is certainly the easiest and most efficient way of travelling to and from this trip.

What to bring:

H+I Adventures list this as an Advanced+ tour, meaning you’ll need to be an experienced rider with good fitness and bike handling. The riding is steep and technical, with a 150 mm full suspension bike being a good starting point; don’t skimp out on protective gear, and be prepared for any weather conditions. We experienced everything from driving rain in single figure temperatures to bluebird, clear skies, and 20°C.

Best Time to Travel:

The best time to ride in this region is the peak summer months, with tours running from June into September.

This article is from ENDURO issue #031

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Words & Photos: Ross Bell