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The first Tromsø Enduro

words: Juha Tolvanen, Tromsø Enduro organizer
pictures: Jaakko Posti

The birth of Tromsø Enduro

The idea of Tromsø Enduro was born around a year ago as I was hike-and-biking on my home mountain, Kvaløy. Catching my breath, I pulled out my lunch sandwiches out of my bag. Sweat was dropping down my forehead; it was a particularly warm fall day. I sat on a rock and marveled at the beauty of the fjord as the bright fall colors on the faces of the mountain created a superb contrast to the sea. I had seen this view so many times – it never grows old. I had been missing the steepness of the mountain for trail riding already when I lived back in Finland. Such altitude differences cannot be found in Finland, even though the trails are good in other respects.

There was one thing about Norwegian landscapes that had been bugging me for a while: why hasn’t anyone organized an enduro race here? This mountain is simply made for one. Enduro is the heart of mountain biking, and a part of that heart belongs in Tromsø, too.

I remembered Fred Glon’s words: “Enduro is the heart of mountain biking – the link between technical and fitness riding. It is the only bike you need in your garage. Maybe it’s not the best bike to ride XC, but you can; maybe it’s not the best bike to ride downhill or the bikepark, but you can.”

I had already discussed an enduro race with Tromsø locals earlier in the spring and asked many of them if they would join me in the task. I always got the same answers: “What enduro?”, “I don’t have the time” or, “It’s hard to do one with no lifts around.”

“Bullshit” – that’s what I thought. Organizing an enduro does not take that much time. I also remembered Franco Monchiero’s enduro philosophy: “Probably all of us, when we bought our first bike, didn’t think to do races or know much about international-level mountain biking. The first thing we did with our mountain bikes was climb up hills so we could have fun going down them. That is the philosophy of enduro.”

Well, the latter was true. You don’t need lifts for an enduro event. But, it certainly does take some time. A lot of time.

I kept chewing on my bread, sipping on a sports drink from a camelback, and I kept on dreaming. Dangit, it’s for the enduro exactly that we have the most awesome terrain. Not to forget the beauty of the nature: the fjords, countless mountains, the midnight sun, coupled with the northern immaculateness and purity. There aren’t many places in the world where you can cruise down to the bottom of a fjord and have a sea view in front of you – and, before your next run, you can watch the hungry whales jumping after all the herring. Well, it’s that sort of stuff that people do here already – except it happens in wintertime or on board. There’s a few excited bikers here, but just a few.

We should make this enduro happen somehow, but how? I kept working my brain cells. Damn, it’s so great in Finland to gather with all other riders to compete and enjoy the laid-back atmosphere. Everybody supported and pushed one another, and we had a lot of fun together. And as you did it, you could compete and work on your skills, some seriously, some less. There was room for everyone, though. It’s almost like if everybody lived on the same street. Guys from the same block.

There had been some talk in Tromsø about organizing an event, but no-one had initiated any plans. And, when there’s no race, there simply is no race. And, when there’s no race, there’s no culture – and in lack of culture, things won’t progress.
We should spread the message. But how? And who would do it? I was repeating myself in my head.
In my mind, I went back to reminisce how it all started back in Finland. My first enduro race must have been around 2005. Back then I thought, “Enduro what?” but being curious and brave, I gave it a shot. I sucked at the race and I must have fallen ten times but I got hooked. If I remember correctly, I flew three times over my handlebar at a certain stage as the skills I had acquired at XC weren’t up to par. But I had so much fun!

I thought back to my earlier phone conversation with a biking buddy in Finland. He had just been to an enduro event and he said the lift capacity in Finland is barely enough now. Then, my brain started working: could it be me who…that’s it – I’ll be the one who’ll set up a race here! In Tromsø! What should I call it? Well, heck, Tromsø Enduro was the result of my wild imagination. With a smile on my face, I biked home with a great new idea in my mind. I might have lost that smile if I had known at that point how much work it would take. Glad I didn’t!

Forging iron

And that’s how it started. Countless hours of studying maps and having cranky negotiations with landowners, sometimes laughing, sometimes almost crying. Acquiring sponsors, updating Facebook pages, calming down my girlfriend’s nerves (as well as my own), testing trails, building, safety measures, logistics, sleepless nights, and a myriad of emails. After 4–5 months I realized not even Chuck Norris would be able to handle it all on his own, and I asked Samuel Geiseler for some help. The German is made of iron, and the majority of the things left to do we tackled together. What a great, unconditional man – the kind of person we value in Finland: works a hell of a lot without whining. There would be no Tromsø Enduro without him. Period. I also must mention all the help provided by all the volunteers, Samuel’s spouse, and my girlfriend.

In the end, the race was much like its makers. All the time, I had Fred Glon’s words in my mind (as he’s the man who organized the first-ever enduro in the world): “I just wanted to organize a race I would like to participate in. I wanted more riding in a weekend, more fun and good trails.”
And that’s how we did it with Samuel – in our own style, never losing faith in our vision. And it was fun!

Race time!

Simply manhandling the final tasks in our hands, we finally made it to the weekend of the race. And there it was: the first-ever enduro race in Tromsø history. The trails used in the race were marked on Thursday, which was when they were opened for practice. Saturday was the day of the race that finally included three legs and took around five and a half hours. The first leg was a little more technical but not too demanding to scare off the newcomers. Due to rain, a short stretch of the first leg had to be closed. The second leg was fast and physically demanding, which asked for proper enduro spirit, technique, and fitness. The last leg allowed everybody to go full throttle on a beautifully winding trail that was lightning quick. Everybody had so much fun!
All in all, the race went smoothly, without complications and injuries – actually surprisingly painlessly. So painlessly, in fact, that I happened to tell the biggest Norwegian newspaper that the race would happen again next year. Busted – so there we go again! Perhaps the champagne and muddy faces made me forget all the trouble before the race extraordinarily quickly?

Feedback time after the race

After the race was over, I was eager to hear what sort of feedback we’d receive. It was very supportive! We received some constructive criticism, and that’s just what we want. Most of the comments were like the following, though: “We must come back next year”, “Mountain biking has never been this amazing”, and “Thank you for organizing the event”. Even bikers from Helsinki and Trondheim said they’d be coming back next year. There were things we should improve on, and due to lack of time, not everything worked as planned. Both of us organizers worked and studied at the same time so there were moments when we really didn’t have enough time.

The best feedback, though, was seeing all the faces in the finish area after the race. These faces – these muddy faces – resembled those I saw as a kid when I was riding bikes with my neighbors on the trails of the nearby woods. Just riding for the fun of it, nothing else.

Tromsø Enduro 2014

It’s been a week since the race now, and I’m still feeling great, and we feel that we achieved what we set out to achieve: to spread the genuine mountain biking culture in Tromsø area and have genuine fun in a healthy and competitive racing spirit.

We’re already planning next year’s race. Having just finished a trail of 1,000 vertical meters and having tested a panorama sauna, it’s all looking pretty good to me already. Maybe two days, two 1,000-meter tops, and then sauna. Maybe…
Let’s aim at making it all even better next year but, above all, in the same fashion. Let’s be the same guys from the same block and keep up the great spirit. Isn’t that why we’re all here, after all? To have fun – oh, and to ride a bike!

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