stories • happenings • adventures

January 16, 2024

Elliott’s Winter Ride

Posted by in Adventures Ambassadors

Winter riding can be daunting even for the most seasoned riders. And when your first winter ride is also your first group ride, the stakes are even higher. Throw in the fact that the uninitiated is a young teenage boy, and the strength of character needed to complete such a ride becomes inspirational.

Taking a quick break while fatbiking on the ice

Tuesday, 2nd January, 2024.

“Hej Michael, I just got winter tyres for our fat bikes. Are you thinking of riding any tours soon?”

“Hej Kev, about time! I was thinking of riding the Marvikarna Lakes tomorrow. Interested?”

“Sounds like a great adventure. Can my son Elliott join?”

“Sure, but just so you know it’s snowed a bit so the going might be a bit heavy. Half a foot fell last night, but the ice underneath is good. We’ll bring all the ice safety gear but I don’t think we’ll have any problems. It’s a long tour but it’s really scenic.”

“Ok, we’re in. It’ll be Elliott’s first winter tour. He’ll be excited.”

“See you in Mariefred at 10am. By the way, how old is Elliott?”



Getting ready for a day of fat biking

Their train was delayed, but they finally rolled in on that bitterly cold but brilliantly bright morning. Although visually pleasant, it was the kind of day that made you want to climb into your fridge just to keep warm. Kevin introduced me to Elliott. Immediately I realized he wasn’t like other teenage boys. There was no blurriness from too much gaming; instead his eyes looked sharp and steely. He was polite, focused and absorbed every bit of advice thrown at him. This guy was looking for an adventure.

The three of us, wrapped up in our finest winter clothing, headed along the unplowed cycle lane towards Åkers style-bruk. The conversation was easy, as Kevin was American and had raised Elliott speaking both English and Swedish. We were thankful that some sort of a vehicle had driven along the cycle lane, allowing us to follow in its tracks and conserve energy. We would need it later on that day.

Fatbiking out onto the ice

When we reached the ice, Kev and Elliott followed me down onto the frozen surface. They were nervous at first. Caution in the face of uncertainty is what the human race has relied on throughout history to survive. Venturing into the unknown is always a leap of faith. I had checked the ice while waiting for them to arrive, so I knew it’s condition – but I wanted an opportunity to share my knowledge, and for them to learn how to judge it’s safety for themselves.

In my late teens and early 20’s I began training to become a mountain guide. Obsessed with climbing and mountaineering, all I wanted to do was spend my time in the hills. I even had the privilege of living and training in the Ecole Nationale de Ski et d’Alpinisme in Chamonix, France, for part of a summer. Although I never continued the training, I always kept the love for guiding and outdoor education. On the ice I cleared some snow and showed the boys how I used my safety ice picks, which I usually wear around my neck, to smash through the ice. We slammed the picks into the ice several times, digging deeper each time. After creating a five inch hole, it was clear we weren’t going to break through to the water. So with high confidence we jumped on our bikes and began.

Biking into the light on a snowy day

Riding towards the low sun in perfect blue skies was dazzling. The snow was pure white and uninterrupted in every direction. Once we built up momentum, our fat bikes felt like they were floating on the snowy surface. The riding felt effortless. Before long, we got to the end of the first of the Marvikerna chain of lakes. We had spoken along the way about dangers on the ice and when they would be obvious. Large bodies of water usually have an inflow and an outflow. Moving water doesn’t freeze as easily as static water, so when approaching the lake edge you should always look for these features. For us, there was obvious drainage flowing to the left into the lake, so avoiding the open water we took the short portage trail on the right and began on the second lake.

The near static waters of Nedre Marviken combined with the next lake, Mellan Marviken, create the perfect base for a multitude of sports. These waters are a famous open canoe summer trail, and in winter they make the perfect ice route whether on skates, skis or studded fatbike tyres. Steep walls flanking either side of the passage give an adventurous feeling. In several places, the valley is squeezed so close together, it narrows the view to the distant waters. We sought to reveal the mystery of what lay beyond the next headland as we rode along the frozen surface on our over-exaggerated wheels.

Hike a bike on snowy trails

After exiting Nedre Marviken via the marked canoeing trail, we were disappointed to see pockets of open water in the beginning of Mellan Marviken. It wasn’t too surprising as this narrow end of the lake had an outlet, and the water was full of reeds and the remnants of summer plant life. This vegetation can create air pockets in the ice, weakening it. We didn’t want to risk this section so instead opted to continue on the uncleared snowy portage trail. As the gradient began to steepen we had to get off our bikes to push. Kev is an old biking friend of mine. We’ve been on many bikepacking trips together. He has endless amounts of energy reserves, climbs like a mountain goat and has no fear when tackling steep technical descents. So when the going got tough and I saw Elliot jump off his bike to start the grueling push, I knew he was his father’s son. No complaints, he just got on with it. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. He was one of us.

Fatbiking past ice falls

When the ice looked more secure we tested it again and decided to rejoin the canoe trail, so we could ride past the beautiful ice falls at the northern end of the lake. Multitudes of frozen steps were formed on the north faces of the steep valley walls. The ice displayed varying shades of blues and greens, like a winter homage to an unbashful peacock. The effigy would only last as long as the temperature remained minus, which was not going to be a problem on this particular day. The wind had picked up and the -10c temperatures were beginning to feel a hell of a lot colder. The changing conditions made us reassess our situation as the wind stripped the warmth from our bodies. The light would soon fade and decisions needed to be made. To get back to our starting point, we could cycle into the biting wind, reversing our route and hoping our resolve would be stronger than the elements. Or take an easier gravel road back through the forest, where we would be more sheltered. I suggested the latter as I didn’t want the headwind to ruin the positive feeling Elliott had gathered to get to this point.

Pedaling on snowy trails

The road was more hilly than I remembered but the smile never left Elliott’s freezing face. Fat biking is one the slowest forms of cycling. With tyres over 4 inches wide, the surface connection is vastly wider than a regular mountain bike. The added friction slows you down quite a bit, so at our pace the short section of gravel road seemed to go on forever. The day turned into the longest bike ride Elliott had ever done. But finally, in the last of the fading light, we made it back to the train station. Amazingly, Elliott still had the energy to give me a high five and a cheeky teenage smile. His initiation was complete.

Riding bikes out on the ice

Fatbiking over the ice using a Hopper bag