This story featured in the 2012 Buyer’s Guide issue.
Mission: Bag Norway’s best whitewater from the seat of a bike
Team: Olaf Obsommer, Jens Klatt, and Philip Baues
By Joe Jackson
German paddlers Olaf Obsommer, Jens Klatt, and Philip Baues have racked up an impressive list of whitewater expeditions in exotic locations from Chile to Nepal. Then a friend called them out. “That’s pretty cool,” he said. “But what about the environment?” The question inspired the trio to take a more ecological approach, traveling by bicycle to some of the most remote and pristine rivers in Norway. They spent the month of July pedaling nearly 500 hilly miles with their boats and about 90 pounds of gear in tow. Their reward was the satisfaction of earning every vertical foot of whitewater on some 20 world-class rivers.
“We just went slow,” says Baues. They only experienced one really savage day on July 20, when the team climbed Geiranger Pass, which rises nearly 2,000 feet in a mile and a quarter. The evening before the big day, the boys accepted an invite to a local bar and the party spiraled out of control. Baues woke to a horn blast from a massive cruise ship moored next to a boathouse he had no recollection of falling asleep in. The 29-year-old editor of the German-language magazine Kanu jumped into the freezing fjord to shake out the cobwebs, hopped on his bike, and made the climb.
The River: The team used the lightest boats and gear they thought would survive a month of creeking and hucking waterfalls. The prototype Wavesport Habitat 80 that Baues used weighed 42 pounds (about 8 less than a production Habitat). His Kober Scorpion paddle is no lightweight, which was fine by Baues: “With a paddle, my focus is on durability,” the veteran boater says. Originally the crew planned to use their kayaking helmets on the bikes, but thought better of it. Baues’s lid, a full-face Sweet Rocker, would have been hot and heavy for biking, and provide less crash protection than a bike helmet.
The Road: The team rode cross-country-style mountain bikes, and hauled their kayaks on Carry Freedom Y-Frame trailers. They carried food and camping gear inside the boats and TKbrand [waterproof?] panniers. “We were really happy with our waterproof equipment because it rained a lot,” says Baues. Even on clear days, wet boating gear added 10 or more pounds to the load. The bikes and trailers took the weight like mules, minus the attitude. “There was not a single accident,” says Baues. “Not even a flat tire—which is amazing with three bikes and three trailers.
Camping: The team’s Primus TK stove pulled its weight, and more. The pedal-paddlers needed to cook massive quantities of noodles and rice to replace the calories burned on the road and in the rivers. The Primus also proved its worth when Baues swam on the trip’s first park-and-huck, punching in the Habitat’s nose like a bad prizefighter’s. The team boiled water, poured it into the boat to soften the plastic, and knocked out the dents with pieces of driftwood.