By Dorothea Arnold
The night sky in Norway gives way to insurmountable numbers of stars, so many that once the day turns to night, you may begin to experience the realization of how small we really are. It is a place of peaceful moments, which can be as simple as being able to close your eyes for a second just to feel alone in the silence of being away from it all.
For one week during the month of March I participated in a cross-country ski tour in Norway with eight fellow Master’s students and two outstanding professors and teachers in the field of outdoor education. Before this trip, I knew relatively nothing about Norway, or Scandinavian culture. To (what I assume) every Norwegian, the word Friluftsliv is not just a word, but a way of life. I remember when I saw the word Friluftsliv in an article before I even knew how to say it. I spent many moments trying to think of how it would be pronounced, almost spending more time on its pronunciation that what it actually meant. If I was to write out how this word is pronounced for those who may be struggling as I did, it would be: free-looft-sleef. Needless to say, once I learned how to pronounce this word its meaning unraveled before my very eyes.
If I were to sum up this word in one short statement it would be ‘nature is life’, as portrayed in Bob Henderson and Nils Vikander’s book Nature
First. I had the privilege of having Bob on this trip to Norway as one of our instructors, along with my programme’s director Simon Beames. Much can be learned on a trip such as this when you are surrounded by such sources of never ending knowledge and wisdom. Norway delivered a glowing experience through its effervescent sun rays that perpetually burnt our skin, to the moments that we all will never forget. Here is a little story I wrote about our ski tour in Norway:
Surreal it seems just sitting here, in a valley full of snow. As huts are perched and sun rays reach all the way to my toes. Snowy mountains in the distance, ungulate soft and gently. As my skin soaks up the happiness, so real these thatched roofs grow. Friends make this experience real, as we laugh and smile and sing songstrue.Norway’strailslinethelandscape, with a skye so very blue.
Packs on, skis on, sun cream double on, and as the Norwegians say, “God Tur!” To the trail we went and as the snow slowly began to thaw from its original icy condition, the bodies stopped falling and sliding off the trail. Falling was one of the things that happened most on this trip, other than eating endless cans of peaches at the end of each day. Luckily, falling in snow doesn’t hurt that bad, unless you fall on your face or into really soft snow, in that case you sort of flail about like a confused penguin. Needless to say, I was that penguin many a time. Besides the comedic moments of each day, our group was traveling through the Norwegian hut- to-hut system, of which there are over 200 huts throughout the country. Some of these huts are self-service huts, which are fully stocked with the necessities of food, drink, and cosy beds, and of course, a wood burning stove. They emanate the smell of wood and candle wax, a setting for reflection and moments of bonding with your fellows. After a long day of tough skiing these huts and the people I knew waiting inside getting the fire started and the snow melting for water, is what tugged at my heartstrings the most.
Our nights were spent by candlelight, telling stories and learning more about each other. It was these moments that I keep in ‘my bottle’ of Norway along with the breath- taking views of snow capped mountains luminously standing far in the distance, the sun shining through the day, and the moments of weakness supported by an incredible group. These moments of weakness during many of the expeditionary trips I have taken are always great sources of bonding afterwards; I even find this in everyday life as well. A recent visit from my family reminded me of this as we were all stuck driving on the opposite side of the road to Invernesshire, Scotland and knocking off peoples side view mirrors with our car. Needless to say we learned that day to never let Americans drive rental cars overseas, especially in the UK. These experiences can possibly provide the opportunity for the bonding of participants in these situations. Just as my family and I were able to laugh about it after, expedition groups may become stronger in challenging times because they must work together to make through them.
I think that the ‘icing on the cake’ of this experience was the group and the way we all were able to work together and make it through over 70K of cross country skiing, blistered ankles and all. Through this experience in Norway, I have learned many things that I will never forget. One of those things is that everyone, and yes I mean you as well, should travel to Norway and experience what they mean by ‘nature is life’. For, it wasn’t until I went to Norway that I truly knew what they mean when they say the word Friluftsliv. Oh, and one last thing. When you make it to Norway and you are skiing along the trails remember the names of the huts and trail signs you see, because if you ski past a person or a group and you turn to your friend and combine the trail/hut names and say, “Ohh Jaaa, Storholiseter Oskampen Skrirusten, God Tur!” They will basically think your Norwegian, which is pretty cool if you ask me. Cheers for now, until next time…!