My first 48-ish hours in Norway were a whirlwind of making my way from place to place and winging it at every corner. After arriving at the airport, around 10pm, I caught a train and excitedly observed my first glimpses of Europe (brightly lit, thanks to the high latitude in Norway!) through the window as it made it's way to the Oslo train terminal. From there, I bumbled my way to the nearby subway station and caught the underground to the outskirts of the city where my friend, Håvard lives. Him, his roommate, and I stayed up until around 3am drinking his excellent homemade beer and chatting about TV shows, hair-brained adventure ideas, and fatalism. I had a 6:30am train to catch from the main Oslo train terminal to my workaway in Nesbyen, so I got an hour or two of sleep before waking up to catch a bus (the underground wasn't running yet) back to the train terminal. Soon enough, I was aboard a train snaking it's way through the Norwegian countryside.
On the train I stared out the window, wondering at how different Europe was from everything I was used to. I've lived in the USA my whole life, and, in all of my adult life, only traveled abroad in Latin America. My experience in Oslo and looking at the countryside creeping by made me realize that one of the biggest differences I noticed between Norway and Latin America is that Latin America is grungy. It has a veneer of unplanned, dirty realness to it that I adore. In Latin America, more often than not, traffic laws are optional, one is wise to keep strong situational awareness to stay out of sticky situations, and evidence of decay and the never-ending battle against it are everpresent. In contrast, my brief glimpse thus far of Norway was without this grunginess. On the subway I didn't feel the need to tuck my phone into my waistband and wear my backpack over my chest. I'm finding it hard to come up with more examples now, over a month later, but it had a feeling of whitewashed humanity, where everything is tamed, controlled, and organized.
Eventually the train dumped me out in Flå, where I would wait for a few hours until Eve could pick me up, take me up to her house to drop off my things, then return to Flå for the local village party! I lugged my bags to the main drag of Flå, a pretty small town, and got some much needed food at a supermarket. Running a bit of a sleep deficit, I set about finding a place to string up my hammock to have my snacks and take a nap.
Norway has right to roam laws such that it is totally legal to trek across people's property while exploring the wilderness, and you are allowed to camp anywhere as long as it's not on actively cultivated land or within a certain distance of a building. I couldn't find anywhere like that to pitch my tent, so I eventually made do with a small thicket of trees near a traffic circle and hoped nobody bothered me.
Eventually Eve picked me up, and we were away to her place where I got a quick tour, dropped my stuff in my new room, then away we went again back to Flå! While I had no ideas or expectations for what a village party would be, it certainly wouldn't have been what it became! There were three tables full of tapas, which I've never had but now love, lots of drinks, and A NORWEGIAN BAND EXCLUSIVELY PLAYING VERY AMERICAN COUNTRY MUSIC. I'm sorry for shouting but when they started playing I pretty much had to pick my jaw up off the floor it was so unexpected. Apparently, especially in this region of Norway, people are nuts about American country music, who knew?
After people got sufficiently tipsy, more than the two couples who were good at dancing started to hit the floor, and I followed suit. After dancing until perhaps 11pm or midnight, we headed to one of Eve's friends houses for an after party. Since Eve had joined in the festivities and wasn't fit to drive, we got a ride from another of her friends to their home where I conked out on the couch in my sleeping bag, and finally the conclusion to my first couple days in Norway.
The workaway has been such a great spot to relax and enjoy the slow life for a while before diving back into adventure. Eve has 14 sled dogs, and our deal was that I get room and board for free in exchange for dog sitting while she goes away on two different excursions during my month long stay. I ended up feeding them breakfast every day, letting them out to stretch their legs most days, and (mostly out of boredom) building a set of stone stairs into a steep hillside that must be overcome to get to the kennels.
Most of my days followed this heavenly schedule:
Wake up when I want (preferrably around 8am)
Eat breakfast and feed the dogs
Throw some snacks in my pockets and go for a hike to explore the valley
Return to the house and let the dogs out to stretch their legs
Read a book? Go for another hike?
Hang out with Eve when she get's back from work, maybe watch Stranger Things
And that's literally it. All I had to do every day was tend to the dogs, then beyond that the world was my oyster. The workaway being fairly remote, there wasn't much more than forest available to me, but man it was such a forest. There are trails and logging roads that spiderweb the valley, but it's also just as easy to go cross country and simply pick your way aimlessly between the trees on the spongy ground.
It almost couldn't get any better, BUT IT DOES. No need for a water bottle out here, you can just stick your head into a creek and slurp it up as you pass by (but I usually used my hands). AND the latitude is high enough that it never truly gets dark, and the night only gets noticably darker between 1am and 4am, so you can totally forget about needing a headlamp if you go for an evening tromp.
Most of my hikes centered around exploring and discovering the valley, so I would pick out a point that I thought might be pretty or yield rocks I could scramble about on. I found a long scramble, but from the top so I only ever down-climbed it, and a stunning waterfall where I camped one night for fun! Across the valley there's a plateau of relatively flat tundra a quick but steep 45 to 60 minute hike away which was stunning. While up there I felt like I had boundless reserves of energy and like I could just go on forever. On my longest hike up there, I bumped into a Norwegian couple with a few dogs. Since my boots had disintegrated (more on that in the images below), I was wearing my Xero sandals and no shirt because it was a bright and sunny day. I forgot the paper map that had all the trails marked at the house, but had my phone with a GPS app, but I wasn't worried about getting lost as the terrain and navigation was straight forward. However, this couple thought I was the dumbest tourist they'd seen there in ages, I'm sure! I asked them if they knew of any cool trails I should hit, and the woman politely told me about a pretty loop that circles the plateau, but recommended against it because of my sandals and lack of food. I'll have you know I had two granola bars in my pocket!
After taking my leave from them, I cruised back along the trail whence I came, as they had informed me going the way I had been would take me down into a neighboring valley. I set my sights on the tallest hill in the area and picked my way there. I had to briefly abandon any trail and hop and wade my way through a bog before picking up another trail that could take me to the summit! The wind was about strong enough to blow my socks off had I been wearing them, so I didn't wait around before heading down the other side of the peak in the direction of the workaway, making my way through two more bogs, sneaking up on a fox, then back to the bike I had dragged up to the trailhead and ripping it (slowly, I'm not a big fan of mountain biking it turns out) down the mountain!
Taking care of the dogs was also a huge highlight of the workaway. They all had unique personalities and interacted with each other in really fun ways. My first couple of weeks they tested my boundaries to see what they could get away with, but after that we came to an agreement. The dogs would give out lots and lots of hugs, they know to jump up and put their front paws on your chest so you can pet them without getting a crick in your back!
The last week of my stay Eve went on a week long holiday, which just so happened to coincide exactly with when one of her girl dogs went into high heat. Oh. My. God. These dogs went crazy and it took me a while to adjust my routine to accomodate for the fact that they had all turned into horny sex machines overnight! I'd let them out in waves to keep the girls and guys separated, and the guys would be split up into two waves to keep rivals apart and prevent any fights. They even became less interested in food in favor of escaping to flirt! I had to carefully guard the kennel doors as I doled out their food or they would sprint out and have to be fetched back in, and sometimes they would ignore the food alltogether. Anyone who's taken care of a dog for more than a week knows that a dog not caring about food is almost unheard of, so I was a bit worried until Eve told me that's normal for such times. Wild.
Eve and I became pretty good friends during my time here as well! She's just my kind of person: A free thinker, go-getter, nature lover, and badass adventurer. Check out her sick adventures here! She works a day job, so most of my day was spent alone with the pups, but after work we would often go for hikes, and even went climbing at nearby crags a few times! Eve is the best kind of adventure pal. The first crag we went to was new ground for both of us, and far from what we expected (described below). What we had expected to be a mellow day of cragging turned into somewhat of an ordeal. As we hiked down to the car after making it out, we confided in each other that, at separate points, we had both been internally wigging out a bit, completely unbeknownst to the other. That's an insanely valuable trate for an adventure pal: They can get wigged out and keep it under wraps when they need to and bring it up when they know it needs to be addressed!
I've added another item to my mental running list of adventure ideas to return to Norway in the winter or spring to try mushing with Eve; it would be so exciting to see the dogs doing their thing!
Anyway, here are some pictures from the month I spent at the workaway!
One day I decided to hike a loop from the house, to the top of a mountain (Beia), down the other side into the town of Nesbyen, then back up the other side of the mountain to the house again. It took about 7 hours, even with a stop in town for lunch at a coffee shop and a visit to the local museum!
I spent a weekend with one of my best friends from High School, Jenna, and her fiancé (and my friend) Håvard! Interestingly, my initial spur to visit Norway was to visit Jenna, and it gave rise to this whole adventure and I only ended up spending one weekend with her! I'll have to come visit again though, so I'll be back!
We spent a weekend in Håvards family cabin eating, drinking, and exploring the nearby trails. I tried aquavit for the first time and holy crap I almost had a repeat of my first experience drinking whiskey, aquavit is dangerous stuff!
The week before the visit, my boots started to disintegrate. The soles were just peeling apart, so I had to hike with my sandals until I could get them looked at. The nearest cobbler was in Fagernes, not far from Håvards cabin, so we decided to stop by there on our way.
The cobbler firmly pronounced them deceased, and seemed somewhat affronted that I would even attempt to repair them, but she was a little hard to read through the language barrier. Shit.
We visited two outdoors stores while making our way to the grocery store, and once again my high luck stat came in handy! One of the stores had a pair of crampon compatible Scarpa mountaineering boots in my size(or close enough, I'll lace 'em tight) on sale from $250 down to $100! Not money I had anticipated spending and perhaps money I didn't have to spend, but in another way it is money I have to spend if I'm going to walk across a glacier in a months time!
Of course, I pulled the trigger and walked out with some brand new boots. Credit cards are great.
Wowee, what an experience. I tried to put this crag into words, but I failed to find words to accurately describe the feeling of incredulity I had at the sheer determination and creativity the developers had to have in order to develop there. Between bolted wrungs, fixed ropes, and bolted exposed traverses to simply get to the base of a climb, just the approach to a climb was an adventure! This crag brought to life a kind of climbing that had never even occurred to me: Single pitch adventure climbing.
A few days later we went to a different crag that was actually normal: You parked, walked a trail for about 3 minutes (best approach ever), then hucked your rope on the ground at the base of a climb and set to it!
And now I'm getting ready to begin the second half of my Norway experience! I'll be hitchhiking north and am going to try my hand at dumpster diving for food to shore up my funds as much as possible. First stop is Jotunheimen national park to summit Galdhøpiggen, the highest peak in Northern Europe, which includes a very easy glacier crossing. After that I'll book it waaay north to Lofoten where I'll stay until it's time to go to Germany for the music festival! I'll only be able to update again after I return to North Carolina, so stay tuned for a new post sometime in late August :)
I spend a bit over a month near Nesbyen, Norway with Eve De Boeck, helping take care of her 14 sled dogs during their off-season. I do a bunch of hikes from her home nestled in the mountains, go to events nearby with her friends, and generally relax before I begin a scrappier month in northern Norway!