Basemile Snowdown is the brainchild of Pas Normal Studios ambassador Hagen Bender, consisting of riding 300km over a weekend in the middle of the Swedish winter, a forum for getting some long hours of riding in the legs in conditions that would otherwise have you looking out the window and saying ‘neh’.
It was -8˚C outside and still pitch black as the alarm went off at 06.50. At this time of year in Stockholm, that is normal – temperatures do not often reach zero. Most small roads are akin to one long ice rink and minimal amounts of daylight make road cycling treacherous at best. During these long winters the norm is to hole up in your pain cave and sweat it out on the home trainer, or to try your hand at something much more suited to the conditions, like skiing. To attempt to gain a base of riding up here would be brutal, crazy even, but that weekend it was Basemile Snowdown, giving us a reason to slap on studded tyres, double-base layer up, and get out there.
Riding out from the meeting point of Östertälje train station we were twenty-five cyclists, and we were all eager to get off the car tyre tracks cutting through the snow. There was not enough space in the track to ride two-abreast, so we rode in single file form, cutting a long winding snake of flashing red lights through the dark early morning hues. We turned off and the road shone like freshly polished glass; the low light filtering through the trees and warming our faces as we rode towards it. The light is always low here in January, and so the roads would glisten like this all day, casting long shadows over the ice and making you feel like you are forever chasing the last light of the day. With such short days up here, to be honest, you basically are anyways.
As we rolled and meandered through the forest we tried to stay hydrated, but our water had already frozen to blocks in our bidons, making the difficult task of focusing on staying upright even harder. Every corner was a potential cause for a crash, with even the slightest camber, enough to tip our studded tyres beyond their gripping point. We had several crashes that first day, fortunately none too severe. At the halfway pizzeria we thawed out our toes on the warm floor, and wrapped our frozen fingers around mugs of burnt filter coffee. It doesn’t sound like much, but looking around everyone is smiling and laughing from the happiness of being warm again. You barely notice the basic human needs of warmth and fuel on a day-to-day basis, it feels like a given, something taken for granted and not something you have to struggle to satisfy. We were feeling the satisfaction then.
In drips and drabs, and as the light was fading, we arrived at Rockelstad Castle. Beards full of icicles, and extremities frozen again from the afternoon’s efforts, we de-robed and headed straight to the showers to warm up. As the evening rolled in we ate, we talked, we took a sauna, then we slept.
Over the next two days we tackled those conditions again and again, refusing to give up to the elements. There were more crashes, but nobody wanted to say ‘that is enough’ as we battled through the wild Scandinavian landscape. Forced to go slower over such terrain, the training you get is more mental than physical – out here you are teaching the body to handle stress, strain and discomfort over a long period of time, rather than the pure body strengthening that we usually associate with basemile riding. On the last day I kept getting nosebleeds, and I had not hit my nose. It was the cold; hours and hours of it. We detoured over a frozen lake to bypass some of the more challenging and dangerous ice on the roads. That we thought and felt it safer at one point to ride over a frozen lake was testament to the mental energy that was being zapped from us.