Christianssands 1200 – The first loop

After months of waiting and preparing for the Christianssands 1200, the ride was ready to be launched Wednesday 31st of May at 8AM. The starting location was at the University of Agder in Kristiansand. This first edition of the ride had 4 participants: Vernon Smith (USA), Jos Verstegen (Holland), Stein Andre «Kengu» Høgeli (Norway) and Bjørn Olav Sviund (Norway). All riders were present at 8AM, the brevet cards were handed out and after a short chat and some pictures, we took off towards the first control at Saltrød near Arendal. It’s always a little feeling of «how am I going to be able to accomplish this» of the sheer distance of a ride like 1200 kilometers, but that feeling does go away after just a few kilometers. You focus on here-and-now and the distance to the next control. To be thinking of the whole distance is not any use.

The weather was sunny and warm when heading out of Kristiansand, but a little bit of headwind. Not enough to make any difference, though. Stein Andre had to stop after just 14 kilometers with a puncture, but that was also the only puncture and severe technical problem during the whole ride. After changing the tube and the tire, we were off again, soon dividing into two single riders (Bjørn Olav and Jos), while Vernon and Kengu paired up.

This part of Southern Norway, also known as «Sørlandet» did really show itself from the best side this Wednesday morning. The blue sky, the sun reflecting in the ocean with all the small islands and white houses, all gave a good display of what a nice day at «Sørlandet» can look like. The ride to the first control is not challenging. We passed through the towns of Lillesand, Grimstad and Arendal on our way to the first control at Saltrød (78 km). Vernon and Kengu almost missed the control, chatting while they passed it. After a short stop, we continued towards the second control at Valle (169 km). The ride slowly transformed from the quite flat coastal terrain to a more hilly ride in lush green forests and small lakes on the way to Valle. A short stop at Brokelandsheia secured filled bottles as the day grew warm. It is important to drink and eat enough or else you slowly gets dehydrated and then you inevitably lose your power. At the checkpoint at Valle, we stopped for food and a rest. The plan was to reach the checkpoint at Horten (284 km) before the shop serving as a checkpoint closed, so we could not rest for long.

At Åby the course was heading onto a cycle road to avoid the densely traficated E18. Here we met gravel for a couple of kilometers. It is better to ride gravel for a short while than riding with Lorries.  Safety and secure ride is important to us, but it is impossible to avoid the E18 completely and eventually we had to hit it for a few kilometers until the road to Langesund emerged. This is a quieter road to the Brevik Bridge, but a little more hilly than continuing on the E18. On the way to Sandefjord we also passed Langangen. Here we rode the old road containing a 360 degree turn, the «corkscrew» built in 1859. A nice display of how they built roads in Norway a century or two ago.

Continuing on the E18 and not turning towards Langesund was what Kengu and Vernon did. This was noticed by Jos riding behind them and at the next control at Sandefjord (241 km); he made me aware of the fact as he made an official complaint on this matter. To make the story short, national coordinator Jens Glad Balchen was contacted and a time penalty of 1 hour was applied to Kengu and Vernon for the advantage they might have had for not riding the course for these kilometers. Though not done intentionally by Kengu and Vernon, we are obliged to respect and follow the rules of the ride as stated on the brevet cards. Both riders accepted the penalty without any hesitation.

From Sandefjord, we started to be in a hurry to reach the checkpoint at Horten (284 km) before midnight. The control did not close before 3AM, but the REMA 1000 shop was the last possibility for buying food before the night. Kengu, being the strongest rider, was put in front and he worked hard to get us to Horten. He did it with a gap of just 4 minutes. Phew….

The leg from Horten to Skien (371 km) meant night-riding, but night-riding in Norway at summer does not come with the usual darkness as seen further south. Darkness usually comes at around 1030-11PM at this time of the year, but it does not get pitch black. The latitude of the town of Horten equals the latitude of Skagway, Alaska if compared to the American continent. That means dark shades of blue, purple and orange/red colors lasting for only a few hours. At 0230AM the daylight was back around us and at 0430AM the sun could be seen in the horizon. The temperature became quite cold, though, dropping down towards 0 degrees Celsius (or 32 Fahrenheit) just south of Hvittingfoss. Several roe deers were spotted along the road in the early hours of the morning. Leaving Horten also meant leaving the coast and heading into more rugged terrain. At first not too bad, but when closing in on Skien, the climbs started to get a little bit steeper and longer. A taste of what was to come later that day.

After breakfast at the Skien checkpoint, we headed out to meet the road to Treungen. I went first, followed by Jos some 20 minutes later ond then finally Kengu and Vernon 10 minutes behind him again. This road crosses through Telemark, a county (or in Norwegian: “fylke”) notoriously known for its hilly roads. The hilly sections often stretch relentlessly on for long distances, providing few possibilities for rest and food. In this case for about 50 kms to Drangedal and then 11kms on to Bostrak. After Bostrak, a 16 km, 400hm climb brought us to the ski resort of Gautefall at 540 meters above sea level. The 12km descent from the top down to the checkpoint at Treungen (469 km) felt well deserved and so did the food and rest at the check point.

At this point, we realize we had not seen Jos for a long time. Kengu and Vernon stated he had started before them from Skien. I had started first, and I knew he had not overtaken me enroute. Riding alone is no unknown activity to randonneurs, and from knowing Jos from earlier, we knew he had a lot of experience, having completed a lot of brevets over the last 8 years. On the other side accidents can happen, and as an organizer the “what if…”-thought might cross your mind at times. Anyway we decided to wait for a bit to see if he would catch up with us.

From Treungen to the check point at Justvik near Kristiansand the distance is almost 120kms. The road follows the river in the valley bed south through Topdalen, passing the small communities of Åmli, Dølemo, Hynnekleiv and Herefoss before reaching the small town of Birkeland just 30kms north of Justvik (591 km). The ride here means long, straight plains and few hills. At Åmli we stopped for a bit and at that point Jos passed us again, so we at least knew he was ok. We did reach the check point at Justvik at around 7PM on Thursday 1st of June. The Christianssands 1200 then reached its half way mark. It was time for a break. We had pedaled for around 35 hours straight, earning the right to a few hours of deserved sleep. We arranged for meeting again around midnight in downtown Kristiansand in order to pass the check point at Sjøsanden, Mandal (654 km) before it closed at 04:49AM.