A Million Forks

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0316.JPGIt’s dead winter. Eight degrees Fahrenheit tonight, but the numbers mean little. It’s been cold for two weeks, the kind of cold we haven’t seen in Colorado in about a decade. When we ski, the snow crunches. No, make that squeaks. While the lowlanders and recent transplants are bitching about how they miss spring and warm weather, our little winter tribe of two is in absolute heaven. At night, coyote howls echo across the valley and the full snow moon turns the land into a brilliant, beautiful, haunting white glow.

Elaine and I are deep in Expedition Amundsen training. We alternate between pulling 120 pound sleds into the alpine, and then recovering with easy skis, with no weight, to stretch the legs and remember what it feels like to move at something faster than two miles per hour. Like today, day 87 on skis for the winter, an easy classic ski around the Eldora trails, where a light coat of Guru Green kick wax was all that was needed for a simple evening glide around the perfectly groomed trails.

I honestly have no idea how well prepared we are for the event. I suspect we’re prepared well enough, but until you put yourself on the line and go, it’s all a bit of a mystery. We’ve been putting in the time and doing the work, but there are so many variables to the event. Honestly, my main concern right now is just being mentally tough enough and getting enough rest before the shotgun blast kicks things off on March 8. Life has been chaos the past two weeks, but we’re finally getting to a place where a stoke and calm is taking over.

IMG_5919Tonight, after our ski, I was hanging out at my at wife’s parent’s home, spinning an old globe they have on the table. And while spinning it, running my fingers over raised mountain ranges and gazing at plateaus and river valleys, I got to thinking – my God it’s a massive world, and there is so much to do. The little problems of our daily lives – the things we put so much emphasis on – block us from doing what we really want to do. Of particular interest to me was the top of the globe, the land to the north. There is so much unexplored territory there, from Canada to Siberia to Greenland to Baffin Island. It gets me giddy just thinking how much there is to do up there. It makes me want to do it all, drink the wine of the north country, pack in as much as I can in my time here.

Did you know that the coldest town in the world is Oymyakon, Siberia? I didn’t know that till I found it on the globe tonight and looked up what it was all about. The average winter temperature in Oymyakon is -50° C. That’s average – the lowest temperature ever recorded was -89.9° C. I want to experience what that’s like. I want to see if I’m tough enough to stand it. I want to hear the sap from trees explode, I want to know what gliding on snow in that kind of cold feels like. But who in their right mind goes to Oymyakon? People seeking real adventure, that’s who, modern day Indiana Jones’, Magellans and Nansens. Adventure is still out there, but if it’s a place on the tip of the tongue for most, or a place that sounds cool on social media, it’s probably not real adventure anymore. If you want real adventure, go to Oymyakon, Siberia, or Nome or someplace that has no guidebook, no hype, just unexplored potential.

Oymyakon, Siberia

I must admit, like this blog entry, my mind these days is all over the place. That’s the problem with a world of unlimited opportunity in front of you – it’s hard to know where to start. When there are a million paths to choose, it’s hard to pick one. For the last eight years of our lives, Elaine and I have been on a pretty consistent work path. It was a relatively comfortable path, not really going anywhere, and getting more rocky by the day, but still, it was a chosen path of employment. And then, we grew a conscience, tired of moral and ethical injustice, of people just getting treated wrong, of getting treated wrong ourselves, exploded the situation and chose a new path. So now here we are, and there are a million paths leading away from this fork. Some paths seem safer than others, but are safer paths really the right path for ultimate happiness? That’s really the goal of life in my opinion – the quest for ultimate happiness.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0314.JPGToday, on our ski, my mind was in a million places (like this blog), some on the ski, but mostly in other places. And then, frustrated by this lack of focus, I forced myself to slow down. I forced myself to stay in the moment, the exact moment, to focus on the breathe, to focus on a perfect stride and glide, perfect balance, perfect synchronicity with the snow on this cold winter day.

Rapidly, the world became clear. The woods shifted from a blur of chaos to a distinct outline of each tree. I was back in the moment, feeling that skier’s high, and once again, calm and a sense of confidence reigned. Maybe that’s the key to navigating these new waters. Less focus on everything, and all the focus on what can be managed in the here and now – this exact moment in time. I’m no expert, but that feels like the right path to me.

trust

Harteigån to Liseth: Day 3 Hike Across Norway

August 29, 2016 – Nedsta Soltjørni to Liseth – 23 miles, 2,867 feet of climbing

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There was a noticeable change in the weather overnight. The wind picked up and by the time we woke there was a light drizzle pitter-pattering on the tarp. Survival instinct said curl deeper into the sleeping bag, while our ambitious itinerary said get up and go. Motivation was still high, so we did the latter, despite the grey day.

A deep fog had moved over the valley of moss, and it was bone chilling. This was a morning for all layers, including rain top and pants. As the trail descended for most of the first part of the day, it required more layers than normal since exercise induced warming wouldn’t happen for some time.

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After the chilled ritual of pulling camp and shaking out the near frozen tarp, we made our way down a narrow trail on the side of a lush canyon. Waterfalls roared to our right, while sheep on the hillside wandered above us to the left. The sheep looked completely unfazed by the weather and I was glad that two of my layers were indeed wool so I could at least pretend to be as warm as they were.

There is something about hiking on a rainy morning with your hood up that lets you isolate into your own mind. I rather enjoy this state of being, simply following Elaine through the narrow path, as fog, rivers and mountains surround. Sometimes it’s good to be quiet and just enjoy the sound of footsteps on trail and rain drizzle on hood. We talk to much in our society…it’s better to listen.

The trail made its way down the valley to a more lush land, filled with blueberries and thicker brush. After indulging in a short berry feast, we crossed an ice cold river. On the other side was a tiny hamlet of three dark wooden cabins, complete with a sod roof. An elderly woman with a bucket was heading into the brush near one of the cabins, no doubt on the hunt for blueberries. A lucky, rare life she had. Of course, who knows what tragedies she has lived through – we all have some – but at least from the external appearance this was an ideal life.

dsc07009dsc07010We continued descending. We had been in this country before, last winter, on a ski between Hadlaskard and Torrehytten. Free of snow, it was drastically different. Travel would indeed be easier in the winter, for in the summer a dense brush and bog replaces a perfect winter cross country skiing surface. Fortunately a trail cut through the brush, making for quick going. We soon were crossing an elaborate suspension bridge right to Hadlaskard Hytte.

dsc07011dsc07014dsc07016-recoveredHadlaskard is one of our very favorite huts – remote, well equipped and located in a spectacular valley. Upon arriving, a couple from the Netherlands was leaving, and we shared stories from the trail and plans for the future. They were heading to Trolltunga…we were simply heading north to somewhere in the Jotenheim Mountains.

We stopped at Hadlaskard, dried some of our clothes, ate some Raman, and made a navigational choice. We had the option of heading up and over the central Hardangervidda on an exact route we skied earlier in the year. It would be straight forward and likely boggy. We also had the option of taking a trail on the west side of the plateau that dropped into the town Liseth before heading back up and circling the remote Hardangerjokul ice cap. Given that we have a penchant for new adventures, we chose the latter.

dsc07017dsc07018The trail worked its way down valley before rising onto some smooth rocky terrain that provided outstanding travel. We passed through a few remnant hamlets from the stone ages, and the combination of that and sheep on the hillside made for a medieval feel to the afternoon. Clouds raged below us, billowing down the glacier carved valley. We finally left Hardangervidda National Park and made our way down to the creek bed.

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dsc07029The trail turned heinous here. Rocky as can be, deep mud trenches and trick brush slowed our pace down to a crawl. Fortunately the berries were good at this low, birch forest elevation, and we feasted between struggling through the tricky terrain. We passed a shelter with a roof made of a section of rock that must have weighed many, many tons. If the weather was bad, this place would hold up.

dsc07026dsc07027As we continued down valley the trail got more and more muddy, to the point where it was quite comical. We would sink to our knees in the mud, the black muck pulling us down. Streams were a respite to clean the feet, and then it was back into the mud to repeat the process.

Before the trip began Elaine and I had a scheme to hike nine days to this spot from the north and then compete in the Hardangervidda Marathon which started in the nearby town of Eidfjord. After figuring out that the logistics to do this would be challenging at best, we decided to scrap the marathon plan. Nevertheless, we were now on a portion of the course, evidenced by the copious flagging the race organizer or a volunteer had placed a few days earlier.

What a course it was – a muddy trench with thick, thick brush all around. When it wasn’t a muddy trench, it was super slick rocks and sheep poop. (We checked times of the marathon upon getting home…winning time was five hours…not exactly the Boston Marathon smooth travel). We climbed yet another pass and it began to rain. The descent to the hamlet of Liseth was perhaps the slickest trail I’ve ever been on, and both Elaine and I took numerous crashes on our way down the steep gully. There are popular trails in Norway, and there was this one…it looked like nobody had used it in months.

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dsc07031As the light rain came down and the fog re-rolled in, we were not sure what to do for the night. The map made it clear that once we hit the valley we were in for 5-7 kilometers of bog before the trail eventually made its way back up onto the Hardangervidda. We hit the river at the bottom – absolutely raging in power and volume – crossed a bridge and just relaxed for a few minutes. As we stopped, the sun peaked through the clouds and a rainbow arced over the northern horizon.

We enjoyed some leisurely road walking before heading up a dirt road to the town of Liseth. According to the map, there was a “hikers pension” there. After a long day, a warm shower and bed seemed like the right call. Our goal for this trip was to spend frugally, but this seemed like a luxury too good to pass up. Besides, everything was soaked and it would be nice to dry out a little bit. We passed two horses, and the scene of the rainbow arcing over them made the whole thing look like a real-life Lisa Frank painting. And at the very end of the rainbow was our lodging for the night, the Liseth Hostel.

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dsc07040We were soaked to the bone and I imagine quite the sight to see, but the hostess was extremely friendly and for some reason charged us an inordinately cheap fare for the night. We went to our room, pulled out items to dry and quickly made a mess of the place! We were hungry, so we took our chances that we might be able to get some dinner. No problem whatsoever – tonight’s meal was salmon, potatoes and hot cocoa – to which we happily obliged. It was fantastic fish, no doubt caught in the Norwegian Sea about 10 miles west of where we were. We enjoyed the warmth and luxury of civilization for one night. It was a brief respite, for the next day would test our mettle to the hilt.