When setting off on an adventure, you are often told to embrace both the highs and the lows that are likely to come with it.
Until a few days ago – I was coming to the conclusion it is not always that simple. Yes, there are lots of high points, but often they are so tangled up in the lows that you almost fail to notice them until given the gift of hindsight.
Forgive me, because that sounds terribly pessimistic (again) but it is kind of true. Each and every day I find I have 4 main focuses; to pack up my stuff as efficiently as possible, to cover an expected distance, to find enough food/water to keep me going, and to find somewhere safe to camp the following night. Four fairly achievable goals, but nevertheless, four essential goals – which if not completed could result in the rest of the adventure being compromised.
As such, some of the little snippets of joy – the moments where the breathtaking scenery removes any inkling of pain in your legs, when an encounter with local wildlife transports your mind away from the challenge and into the surroundings, when you meet people who both inspire and motivate you – increasing your determination and filling you with pride etc. etc. All these golden moments – which in time are recognised as the moments which shaped the journey – can be forgotten in the midst of routine, fatigue and an overwhelming obsession with progress. This isn’t (of course) to say they aren’t appreciated – these are the things which keep you going each day – but that the appreciation often only materialises in hindsight – once the four main priorities have been safely achieved and progressing to the next day is secured.
However, a few days ago I found myself venturing out of the wide, flat river valley south of Rognan, and into Saltfjellet-Svartisen National Park, and all this went out the window. Those little snippets of joy – the scenery, the wildlife, the people, the colours, the weather, the clouds, the snowy peaks, the climbs, the raw natural environment etc. – became much more frequent, causing these snippets of joy to overwhelm routine and fatigue, pushing it to an instinctive process, happening because it had to carry on happening, but doing so in the background, whilst I allowed myself to fully enjoy my surroundings.
As a result, days 42-47 have become, in my head, termed the glory days. They will definitely be a section of the trip I remember fondly – having reminded me exactly why it is I came out here, and why it is so important to see it through to the end.
Day 42 – Tuesday 13th September- Røkland to Longstua (DNT Cabin)…
Though day 42 marks the entrance to the national park – and hence has to be included in the glory days bundle – it actually started off fairly unremarkably.
A wet start to the day is becoming the norm (the nights are now so cold the condensation is a nihhtmare) and so the drizzle on day 42 didn’t bother me too much as I packed up the tent (affectionately named Norbert by yours truly recently) and set off for the day. I have also become accustomed to not being able to move properly in the mornings – often stumbling away from my campspot like a careless drunk – and so as I hobbled to the road that morning all was going to routine as normal, no shocks or surprises, and just another day on the road ahead.
For the first 20km I continued to follow what has so far been a very flat river valley – though taking the time to notice that ahead the wide U-shaped valley that I had been following since arriving in Rognan the previous day was coming to an end, and the dramatic tree-lined interlocking spurs in the near distance acted as a warning that far more interesting things would be just around the corner.
I stopped at Storjord – there is a national park information centre (with a cafe and free wifi) – examined the map and then set off for my last 11km, which I now knew would be predominantly uphill.
This final 11km, though uphill, was pretty exciting as all around me the landscape was changing as I moved up amongst the hills. I arrived into Longstua pretty late – and after checking out a bridge over the river I’d been following for two days – I set about finding the mountain hut – which to my surprise, was already occupied.
Being shy (yes really) I went to let myself into the cabin which was not currently occupied, only to find myself being enthusiastically invited into the other cabin as I struggled with the padlock. Having decided in that split second that this guy was probably not a murderer, I agreed, actually quite happy to have some company for the evening. I was a little taken aback to find two shot guns and a rather unfortunate grouse in the porch, but then again this is Norway, and this really wasn’t unusual.
After quick change (I really was starting to stink and it wouldn’t have been fair on the others) and the usual debagging and hanging out of kit, I went back into the main room to discover I was sharing with two Norwegian hunters, their two beautiful dogs, and another solo hiker, this time from Belgium, who had reached the end of a two week getaway.
The company was fine, we talked, listened to music, drank beer, drank Jaeger, I tried Snus (sorry mom and dad I’m a good person honest) and to top it all off had a good ol’ game of Yahtzee… which I lost quite terribly – something which still irritates me and further fuels a dislike of games where the outcome is based solely on luck (I’m not that competitive honest…). Either way, it was a beautiful evening and after a quick – are the northern lights going to show (nope it was cloudy) trip outside, it was time to hit the hay. The next day was, after all a walking day, and I had ambitious plans of a 48km push to the next mountain cabin.
Day 43 – Wednesday 14th September – Longstua to Bolnastua (Via Polarsirkelsenteret)…
This day started as beautifully as the last one ended, with about 5km of climbing, followed by 20km of plateau (which I convinced myself was mainly downhill and ran – later to find it was actually still a climb – leaving me a little impressed at my ability to trick myself into running uphill), followed shortly after by the promise of crossing the Arctic Circle and descending the other side of the pass.
Words can’t do this mountain pass justice – so I will describe it in photos. In addition to the landscape, there were reindeer, birds, hares, and even what looked like a mouse, none of which were close enough to take a good picture, but each of which I was thankful to for making an appearance.
Having sat in the Polarsirkelsenteret for longer than is probably socially acceptable for someone who looks homeless and smells even worse, I was delighted to be offered somewhere to stay and a shower by the couple who worked there, a bit shy at first but so happy to accept this offer of both company and cleanliness! They also gave me waffles. That’s a sure way to friendship for life if ever I’ve seen one.
The stay in the centre also threw up an interesting conversation amongst a Chinese couple who spoke no English, a German, a Russian and a Swede. As I sat back and marveled at the fact we had been brought together in this remote part of the world, I also marvelled at technology, with almost all of the conversation happening through an app which converted between Chinese and English. It was a slow progression but it worked- the Chinese man explaining they had driven across Russia (from China) and we’re doing a tour of Europe. Wow.
It also made me feel a little ashamed at the fact I was the least able linguist in the room – making me more determined to learn at least one other language in the future.
After another half hour or so – my soon to be hosts explained they were shutting up the centre and offered me a lift to their house, just over 7km away. Looking at the rain the offer was tempting, but I explained I needed to run it, agreeing to meet them at the house in an hour or so.
Amazingly, when I arrived and had showered, they offered to wash my clothes and fed me with more food than I could possibly have eaten, and insisted I drank the last of their wine. These were two of the sweetest people I have met on my travels so far and I really hope to meet them again in the future.
Again it wasn’t long before bed called, and once again I settled down for the evening, feeling incredibly grateful for the roof over my head and a warm place to sleep.
Day 44 – Thursday 15th September – Bolnastua to N of Storforshei…
Like I said at the start – all adventures have ups and downs – and the glory days was no different. Day 44 was to turn out to be the lowest of the glory days – though it was still not without its highlights!
An early ish start was inevitable – with my hosts needing to head off to work by 8.30 – and as usual I managed to overslept a little – leading to a bit of a rush on the packing front. Even still, at 8.30 we left the house, and after a quick thank you and good bye (and the usual exchange of fb details) I left the house in search of the DNT cabin, with the intention of finding somewhere warm and dry to eat my over indulgent waffle breakfast.
The Hut was just a 10 minutes walk from the house and I was again impressed at the quality, though a little upset to find noone staying here. I wrote in the guest book and saw that Joanna Lumley had visited previously – something which I had not expected in the slightest but which made me smile!
I stayed just long enough to eat my waffles, clear up and take a picture to support the paracanoe team – we had 6 English boats in Paralympic finals today and I wanted to wish them well. And then, slightly unfortunately for my already aching muscles, it was time to hit the road again.
As I left the hut I felt a little better and decided a run was the best way to get going, flying for about 3km and smiling to myself as I thought, ‘I’m a waffle powered speed demon’. Needless to say about 15 minutes later this good feeling had gone and I was thinking more along the lines of, ‘I’m a waffle induced vomiting risk’, and slowing back to a walk. Luckily, I stumbled across this ingenious way to reach a house on the other side of the river and soon forgot about my chunder risk.
The rest of the day was fairly uneventful – and my habits of eating more food than is humanly possible got back at me when I found that by the end of the day, extremely achey and tired, all I had left for dinner was a protein shake. This was bad in general, but when you consider this particular shake seemed to have the consistency of bile… it wasn’t particularly great.
Day 45 – Friday 16th September – N of Storforshei to N of Masi…
On day 45 I was feeling super sore in the morning and as I hobbled from my tent, I really looked forwards to the rest coming up in Mo, with just 35km left between me and the hotel.
Conscious that I could not check in til Saturday at 3, and that camping in the city would be near impossible, I agreed to only cover about 25km today, to leave a 10km run in on Saturday. Needless to say, given how ruined I felt I knew this wouldn’t be easy as such, but at least it was some consolation.
10km in to the day I stopped in Storforshei, grateful to find food and electricity, and for somewhere to dry out the tent. The weather had turned once again and the sun was shining, giving me something to feel grateful for as I would be getting into a dry tent this evening.
Not long after I had stopped, I was jokingly complemented for my Norwegian skills by an Irish man at the till. We exchanged a few pleasantries before he explained why he was here – he and his team were riding, on what I think it is fair to call pretty ancient mopeds (1970’s), to the Arctic Circle. I noted that they had nearly finished and congratulated them on that.
They then asked all about my challenge, questioning where my support team were and generally making me feel great about what I was doing. This for me was amazing – you can forget the scale of what your doing out here – and when they clapped for me I genuinely had to gulp down a lump that was forming in my throat.
Needless to say soon they were gone too and I was left to march on down the road, albeit now with an added skip in my step and a massive smile on my face. I even ran for a good while, getting a little further than I hoped and pitching up early, allowing me to have a good rest.
Day 46/47 – Saturday/Sunday 17/18th September – N of Masi to Masi (and a rest day)…
To mark the end of the ‘glory days’ I had a short pootle into Mo I Rana on the Saturday morning, and in the usual rest day style have spent my weekend eating as much food as I could afford and sleeping lots. I also made a much more successful cinema visit – a little treat for myself – actually watching a film in English this time.
I have wrapped this up rather quickly as I was aware that this was rapidly (although ironically not rapidly at all) turning into a short novel. But all in all the past few days have shown me that this really is the trip of a lifetime, that it is possible to enjoy being out here, and that even when you get a little bit grumpy… keep going, because something good will always be waiting round the corner.
1284km down, 1597km to go.
Hope you’ve all had a great weekend…
FYI The Arctic Challenge team also have a Facebook account which I would advise you check out – pretty awesome story and a great bunch of guys…