Long Way Up

Before making a career out of snowboarding, Aimee Fuller’s first love was racing motorbikes – and even as she started racking up the slopestyle wins, that passion never left her. Last June she rounded up friends and fellow pros Cheryl Maas and Sarka Pancochova, got back on two wheels and embarked on the road trip of a lifetime…

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At the end of 2013, Cheryl Maas and I were in Stubai. It was blizzarding out, and we were stuck in the hotel all day. Before long we had started to discuss going on a trip to somewhere warm, where we could combine our passions of riding motorbikes and snowboarding. We looked into a few places, including California, but Norway seemed like the best option. It had everything we needed: good weather, long days, quiet roads and, of course, a glacier for summer shredding. Plus Cheryl had just moved there, and she had her own bike as well as a trailer. I had wanted to go on another trip with Cheryl ever since I first rode with her in the backcountry; she is a super progressive rider with loads of experience, who gets things done and knows how to have fun with it. Sarka Pancochova had her bike license too and was up for an adventure, so when she came on board at the last minute we had the perfect crew.

We had looked into various ways of carrying our boards on the trip, including surf racks and bungee cords, but we found the easiest way was to just slip them through the straps of our backpacks

We arrived in Oslo and missioned it out to Cheryl’s pad in the country to get set up. Finally, the trip we had been dreaming of for the past nine months was actually happening. Also along for the ride were Brazilian filmer Loïc Wirth, and Vernon Deck – wielder of cameras and sarcasm, who also served as mechanic when things really went wrong!

Getting the bikes was a little harder than first expected. Cheryl had hers there already – an old 1972 Honda with a French number plate, which was illegal and not insured for Norway. [Hmm, this doesn’t bode well – Ed] Sarka had found a mutual friend through Facebook who needed to bring his bike to Norway but didn’t have the money, so she paid for his ferry ride. The bike arrived from Prague with a 900-mile journey under its belt, and was by no means in the best of shape. Sarka picked up her new steed and hopped on, only for the kick-starter to come off on the first use. Great start; before I’d even got on my bike, we had to take Sarka’s to a Norwegian welder. Luckily the chap had it fixed within the hour, and loaded on the trailer next to Cheryl’s. Oh, and it turned out that this one had been registered in France too, so was also illegal! [Getting worried now – Ed]

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Getting my bike came about quite randomly – let’s just say social media has its uses... sometimes! I looked everywhere online and asked every Norwegian snowboarder I could think of if they knew someone with a bike, or somewhere I could rent one, but had no luck. As a last resort I thought I would ask on my Facebook page, and a really nice chap let me rent his brand new motor for the week. This one, however, was slightly on the large side for me, both physically – my feet couldn’t touch the ground – and also in terms of power. It was a 690cc, and having just done my license in the UK I was only legal for a 600cc. [Right, in the immortal words of Theo Paphitis… I’m out – Ed] Plus this thing was jacked up on steroids, with all the latest decals and modifications.

It was too good an offer to pass up, though: I actually had a bike, and the trip was a go, so there was no choice but to hop on board and deal with it! After we picked up my bike, I hopped on and rode down the street in my shorts, with the owner looking slightly concerned… We pulled up with the trailer, unloaded the bikes, got the gear on and the open road was ours.

Folgefonna was to be our first stop; five minutes into the first leg of the 6.5-hour drive, I think we were all in shock as to quite how beautiful Norway is. Every turn graced us with breathtaking views of lakes and waterfalls. It really is true what they say about Norway, and it’s actually ridiculous how gorgeous it is up there – not only the landscape, but the people too. 390km later we arrived in Jondal, a town located on the banks of the Hardangerfjord and just 45 minutes from the ski resort. Taking in the views on the bike and having the ability to just pull up at the side of the road and fully appreciate it had been insane, however it wasn’t the warmest or most comfortable of rides. We were tired and windswept, but completely buzzing. Even though it was 11pm, it was still so light – given that we’d been on the road for hours, it felt like we’d time travelled or something.

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The next day the sun began beaming through the windows of our little Norwegian barn at 3am, so we woke early. It was the best feeling ever to put the kicks on, strap the snowboard to the back and hop on the bike in search of some breakfast before heading up the mountain. We had looked into various ways of carrying our boards on the trip, including surf racks and bungee cords, but we found the easiest way was to just slip them through the straps of our backpacks. The wind did tend to catch the boards a bit, and it also meant that we had to navigate our way around obstacles a little more carefully on the road, but we made do.

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“While Grandma Maas stayed suitably clothed, I got the shorts on – being British and all that, I was making the most of the fact that it was summer, there was water and it was sunny!"

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Being a Sunday, the two shops in town were closed. There was a small hotel that looked like it had some signs of life, so we headed in there. Just as we were expecting to be rejected, the Czech waitress recognised Sarka and hooked us up with a feast! We had a chuckle about Cheryl’s bike over breakfast – if one of ours was going to break down, it would surely be her ’70s steed… Back in business and all fuelled up, we began our trek up to Folegfonna. The drive up to the glacier is seriously gnarly: super steep and narrow, with severe drop-offs and no road barriers. Half way up, Sarka broke down. At that point It soon became quite clear who the tomboys were on this trip; the minute there was a problem with a bike, Sarka and Cheryl were straight in there tinkering with the engine. They had the toolbox out and the side panels off the bike faster than I could turn around and come back down the hill for them! The bike had a broken fuel tape – to be honest, I’m still not sure what that is – but the girls got it sorted. Coming from a motocross background, riding the bike wasn’t too much of a problem for me – even if it was too big – but when it came to the mechanical side of things I’d take a back seat and the so-called “dumb blonde" role. I was happy enough with that, though, and I’d rather not get my fingers covered in engine grease if I can help it! The other girls were a little more hands-on, so I took on a new role of team coordinator, and focused on sorting the accommodation and route. It actually worked super well, with everyone bringing something to the table.

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We were soon meandering our way up to the snow line once again, stopping at one point to look back at the road we’d just climbed, and its breathtaking backdrop. The clear blue glacier water was like a mirror, perfectly reflecting the mountains. By the time we were popping the straps on our helmets there were huge smiles on our faces – we had arrived at our first port of call, and the shred was on.

Off with the motorbike gear and on with the shred clothes. Hot-lapping the resort’s mini park was all time: methods, side hits and backflips. Nothing better than that on a hot day in the park with your buddies. Having cruised past a glacier lake on the way up, we had to go and see if it was suitable for a pond skim. Being our resident test dummy – and because she didn’t help at all with the organization of the trip! – Sarka was ‘nominated’ to go first. She took it at full speed and blitzed her way through it, and soon the session was going off. While “Grandma" Maas stayed suitably clothed, I got the shorts on – being British and all that, I was making the most of the fact that it was summer, there was water and it was sunny!

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We spoke to the park guys, and they ended up working through the night to prepare a beast of a kicker for the following day. It turned out a little different to what we expected, and the landing was pretty hard, but the stoke was there and the session warm-up was on. Still, there was something I didn’t like about the jump. We had a break for dinner, firing up the BBQ and the tunes as we waited for the sun to set. With good vibes flowing, we relaxed and got ready for the night shoot. As we arrived back up at the kicker, it had changed quite drastically, and was definitely not as friendly as before; the soft run-in had iced over, the landing was even firmer, and the sunny takeoff was dark. The backdrop however, was easily the best I have ever witnessed.

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It all happened quite quickly: Sarka was feeling good after the break, so she dropped in first. I followed her to the kicker to check the speed, and watched as she slightly overshot the landing and took a heavy impact. She collapsed as she tried to get up and ride way – I won’t repeat the language she was using, but it was obvious that her knee and shoulder were in agony, and her arm was hanging down her leg like a saggy sack of potatoes. Man down. “Pop it back in! Pop it back in!" Cheryl, being the grandma, took control of the situation and tried to get the shoulder relocated – it was well and truly out. Being an absolute trooper, Sarka powered through it; as Cheryl would later say, “I’ve never met a chick so tough." we were on top of a glacier at 10pm, and the closest hospital was a painful, bumpy hour-and-a-half away. Sarka returned to us at 2am with her shoulder in a sling and a torn ACL – which, unfortunately, hadn’t been detected at that point. With Sarka going down hard, I felt physically sick and so my session was over. Cheryl took one for the team, making use of the insane backdrop to get some banger shots. The next day, with one rider down, Cheryl and I were on a mission. Folegfonna has so much natural terrain; we found a handplant bank, a mini halfpipe and a rock slide. It was a power session, and a lot of fun, but with one of us out of action so soon it wasn’t quite the same.

After a long winter of competing, including riding at the Olympics, this trip had offered a refreshing sense of freedom.

That was it for the snowboarding, so it was time to hop back on the bikes. Having travelled from the city to the mountains and through the fjords, we were on our way to the coast – bound for Stavanger in search of waves. For the Norwegians, ferries are just a part of everyday life, but for us it was pretty cool to jump on one with the bikes. We stayed in Kleppe, a village close to Stavanger, in these tiny little beach huts. The weather wasn’t the best for surfing, with plenty of rain and wind, but we went for it and made the best of the brutal conditions. The swell was pretty much non-existent, but just getting in the Baltic Sea was an experience for all of us – not least Cheryl, who used to live in Biarritz and definitely struggled with the ‘minor’ temperature difference…

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Camping was next on the agenda, and our initial attempt went drastically wrong. As well as dealing with persistent horsefly attacks, Vernon fell into some gooey sand at the edge of the lake and crawled out absolutely stinking. Loïc was laughing so hard that he fell over and landed on top of an ant’s nest, and literally ended up with ants in his pants. We drove further south and begun looking for a fresh spot near Arendal. Eventually we found a little bit of paradise by another lake, with water so fresh you could drink it as you swam. We parked up for the night and Sarka was in the water before we could even unload, making her way out to the island. Still crippled, and using just the one arm and leg to doggy paddle, she looked like she might drown… Meanwhile we set up camp, fired up the BBQ and enjoyed a few beverages long into the morning sunrise at around 3am. It was definitely a great way to wrap up the trip – and jumping into the lake at 7am was the best wake-up I could ask for before my flight!

After a long winter of competing, including riding at the Olympics, this trip had offered a refreshing sense of freedom. No contests to prepare for – just us, our snowboards and the open road. It definitely ticked all the boxes. Compared to motocross, my first long-distance adventure had been very different, but I’d definitely do it again; maybe across California next time!

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BIKE CURIOUS

While few have used motorcycles to access the shred before, it’s long been the transport of choice for those in search of high adventure – from proto-revolutionaries on rickety pre-war steeds to actors on modern machines. Here are four journeys of note:

Riders: Theresa Wallach & Florence Blenkiron

Distance: c. 7,500 miles (12,070km)

Bike: Panther Redwing 600cc with sidecar and trailer

Journey: These two women had already made a name for themselves in 1930s London thanks to their enthusiasm and proficiency for motorbikes. In 1935 they headed for South Africa, becoming the first people to cross the entire continent on two wheels. There was high drama along the way, including arguments with the French Foreign Legion and a complete engine rebuild, but they made it. Incredibly, Theresa was still riding her bike in 1996 at the age of 88. She died two years later while working on a book about the journey, which was edited and published posthumously.

Story: The Rugged Road by Theresa Wallach (2001)

Riders: Che Guevara & Alberto Grando

Bike: 1939 Norton 500cc

Distance: c. 5,000 miles (8,046km)

Journey: In 1952, 23-year old Argentinian Ernesto Guevara and his friend left Buenos Aires on a bike they called La Poderosa (‘The Mighty One’), bound for a Peruvian leper colony. The journey opened the relatively privileged medical student’s eyes to the poverty and injustice ingrained in Latin American life. He would go on to play a pivotal role in the Cuban Revolution in the 1950s, and in 1967 was captured and executed in Bolivia. Despite apparently not wanting his diaries from the trip to be published, they eventually appeared in Cuba 26 years after his death.

Story: The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara (1993)

Rider: Ted Simon

Bike: Triumph Tiger 100 500cc

Distance: c. 78,000 miles (125,528km)

Journey: A clear winner in terms of distance, Simon’s four-year odyssey took him literally around the world. With support from The Sunday Times, he left the UK in 1973 and traced a perilous route through 45 countries and across every continent (except Antarctica). His journey inspired thousands of would-be adventurers, including the two gents below – and he went and did the whole thing again in 2001 at the age of 70.

Story: Jupiter’s Travels by Ted Simon (1979)

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Riders: Ewan McGregor & Charley Boorman

Bikes: BMW R1150GS Adventure

Distance: 18,887 miles (30,396km)

Journey: The Scottish actor took a break from Hollywood to travel from London to New York City with his equally bike-daft pal. Between April and July 2004 they passed through central and eastern Europe, then flew from Russia to Alaska before making a beeline for the Big Apple. Hard work, but probably less so than making Star Wars prequels – and far more rewarding. They followed it up with 2007’s Long Way Down, a trip from John O’ Groats to Cape Town.

Story: Long Way Round by Ewan McGregor & Charley Boorman (2005)