La Raison d’Être

I have a confession: when I left the US for Europe, Norway and Sweden were lumped together and only given a cursory spot on my list of places to visit. There was a chance, my manager told me, that I could support testing, and Bosch has a thriving winter testing facility in Sweden. “Norway is like Sweden,” I thought, “so it doesn’t really matter if I don’t go to one or the other. Besides, there’s plenty to do on the mainland.”

 

This changed about two weeks after I arrived in Germany, and the reason was an until-then unknown mountain called “Reinebringen.” The hike, I was told, was very steep but doable, and I agreed with the consensus that the view at the top would make it entirely worth it. I set out the morning after my Aurora Fiasco in search of the trailhead. Cue my thanks for staying in a hostel — one Swiss woman who had recently hiked it drew out a map for me.

 

The hike really… wasn’t a “hike.” I was expecting steep and rugged walking, not rugged crawling. There were a few places that I had to scramble up, and in other places I was actually using bush roots to pull myself up steep sections. I even had to tramp through some blueberry bushes, though I admit this was because I had wandered off the trail. Even so, the trail wasn’t quite as I imagined: it wasn’t as strenuous as I though, but the dropoffs were far more exposed than I had made them out to be in my mind. (I later saw a description in another trail description that the hike was only for experienced mountaineers — a bit of an exaggeration, but it was the only warning of its kind I had seen.) Even so, as promised, the view at the top was quite astounding. The mountain looks down at the fishing village of Reine, roughly 400 m straight down. I grabbed a few shots with dirty hands, signed the trail register, and headed back down after about 20 minutes at the ridge at the top. The water, even from this high up, was startlingly clear. I can’t see that the blue waters of Lake Michigan are quite this calming.

     

 

I’m scared of heights — or rather, of the falling sensation which I associate with heights — and decided not to do the bouldering route up a 20′ pinnacle for the true summit of Reinebringen. Even so, this — in a few ways — was the high point of what I envisioned my trip would be and of the trip as it played out. From the parking lot near the trailhead, the village of Reine suddenly seemed more compact.

The whole experience was over in about two and a half hours, and I drove back to Stamsund quietly, thinking about how much I had seen the past six days. A couple of hours after I arrived back in Stamsund, it began to rain quietly.

The morning of the final full day I’d spend in Lofoten started out pleasantly. I decided to chance going on a five hour hike of a nearby mountain — Justatind — and drove to the trailhead with an amicable retired teacher who also happened to be an excellent fisherman. (I never told him this, but he personified the man in “The Old Man and the Sea.”) There were all sorts of fresh berries along the trail, and he helped himself. Out of curiosity, I joined in and ate the freshest blueberries I have ever had in my life. First we had fish right out of the sea for dinner, and now ripe fruit… it was incredible. (I didn’t look forward to returning to Bosch cafeteria fish and “fresh” fruit at the supermarket, that’s for sure.) My hiking partner had a hip transplant not too long ago, so while we didn’t make it to the top of Justatind, the scenery and the snacks along the way were nevertheless awesome.

     

Back at the hostel, I went fishing with an Australian couple and quickly learned that a) I’m a terrible rower and b) that I’m a terrible fisherman. To be fair, a Swedish couple had gone out earlier and returned later and had poles and a net and only caught one fish, so I didn’t feel too badly about our lack of a prize. Borrowing fish from the freezer (still only a whopping three days old), we made fish and chips that night. It was the best night I experienced in the hostel. There were three groups cooking their own thing — our fish and chips, another one doing a fish pie, and another doing pasta — and we had a wood stove going for warmth; the weather had turned sour and temperatures had dropped probably 5 °C from the time I left Justatind, and the entire hostel smelled amazing. I chauffeured the two Australians to the Hurtigrute, took some night pictures I didn’t like, and returned to the hostel for my final night.

Guess who the more talented artist is.

 

 

August 27. I drove to Moskenes with two Italians also on their way to Trondheim airport. On the ferry from Moskenes to Bodø, we didn’t get much rain, but it was cloudy and raining near us. Something with boats and rain…

They dropped me off at the Bodø train station (I had booked a night train from Bodø to Trondheim) while they continued driving through the night; one flight and several hours later, I left Norway after 200 hours in her magical clutches.

6 minutes until the light

For a trip conceived, researched, constructed, and executed in about seven weeks, I was rather impressed. I could have spent less money, lived more like a Norwegian, relaxed more, ate traditional food more, or any number of acts that’d be more culturally, financially, and artistically immersive, but my senses were overwhelmed as it was in the eight days I spent north of the Arctic Circle. I was hardly a pioneer given the sheer number of tourists (myself included, let me point out again), but I enjoyed the time off to be on my own schedule. All this *points to these three posts and an anemic bank account* for a mountain. Perhaps now the significance of my infatuation with Mt. Rainier and Zermatt is cast in a stronger light.

 

In the spirit of the Lord of the Rings, this post is not over. Here’s ending number two. Some of you may be thinking that few of the pictures I’ve posted really show anything… breathtaking. (For the record, in my opinion the rest of you should be thinking this, too, at least now!) I didn’t see the Northern Lights (let alone get pictures of them), nothing here is surprising or attention-grabbing, there are no super-duper colors, no immense waterfalls, no glaciers, no polar bears. What exactly was it that caused me drone on about for 4000 words and 33 pictures?

The single picture that got my attention I commented on in a Pacific Northwest hiking forum in July. That was July 10, 2011. My biggest regret of this trip can be summarized in the difference between that photo and the one I took above: this trip, I forced myself to wake up early or stay up late for photography precisely once, the morning after my first night in Tromsø. This meant that during the most photogenic light of the day, I was fast asleep. That one photograph from July wasn’t enough to convince me that Norway would be worth the effort, but in digging deeper I found all sorts of inspiration at the site of Cody Duncan, who has visited Lofoten several times since he first landed there by chance a few years ago. If you want to know what made me suddenly change my demeanor about Norway, his is the site to visit. I mentioned in my first Norway post that there were two people who helped persuade me to visit: Cody was the first of these two. Via several email exchanges, during which he provided suggestions for how to travel cheaper while still experiencing the glory, I began to formulate how I’d tackle my first Nordic adventure. It was with Cody’s recommendations for taking the Hurtigrute and night train and staying in the Stamsund hostel that this trip happened. Had I decided to fly between my locations and stay in hotels, you would be reading very different blog posts — post undoubtedly unrelated to Scandinavia. A fellow trainee at Bosch wrote one sentence that made me laugh but also helped put the initial sticker shock into perspective: “Travel is always worth the cost.” This was the second person who helped me pull the trigger.

Along the way, others stepped in to answer my questions. The other hostelers on Stamsund gave me plenty of advice for what to see and where to go, and even before that several people on nwhikers.net and Photography-on-the.net were helpful in pointing out improvements to my itinerary. And, finally, if this blog seems like I’m doing a whirlwind of traveling, I beg to differ. While researching Reinebringen, I came across the blog of someone who apparently spent a year in Finland — though I never got the chance to hear about her experiences in Norway, clearly she had far more ambitious goals than I do for an impressively complete conquest of Europe.

The point of this second ending is to say that, once again, I don’t feel like my pictures have fully done the area justice. I’d say I generally did my best when I was awake, but it’s when most people are sleeping that I think magic happens. The proliferation of cameras today means that it’s possible for just about every feature of the Earth to be photographed, and sometimes the incredible pops out only either immediately (i.e. seeing it with your own eyes) or when most people aren’t pushing shutter buttons (i.e. early in the morning or late at night). Just because my photos happen to be rather quotidian doesn’t mean Norway is; Cody’s and others’ photographs attest to this. I’m not disappointed with what I’ve done — but when my bank account recovers in a few decades, I’ll push myself to witness the nuances of what makes this area so exhilarating. This trip was not in vain, however. I can tell you with resolute certainty that what makes it tick is not the sheep poo that lines hiking trails along the coast.

La Raison d’Être

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