Steve Casimiro Preface – I DID NORWAY –
“I have the key,” said Didrick Ose, fresh out
of Norwegian Navy special forces, his blue eyes sparkling eagerness as he
nodded at the bikes in back of his rig, “to the Molde town ski lift.”
Didrick was dangling temptation for which we
had no time, and he knew it. We were less than 24 hours in northern climes and
had already been mountain biking, sea kayaking, and sea kayaking again. There
were boats to be put away, gear to be sorted, the week’s adventures to be
planned, and, who knows, maybe even an hour or two of sleep to be grabbed. So
we exercised what proved to be a rare moment of discretion in the face of
unlimited possibilities and chose instead to hunker down with maps and plot out
the coming days, rather than chase adventure like a chocolate Lab following
every alluring scent.
Not such an easy thing to do. Norway is too
big, too topographically complex to put the pedal to the floor. There is beauty
waiting behind every bend of the road, trailheads every other kilometer. And
there’s way too much going on—Norway is fairly crackling with action sports
energy. Long known for fjords, cruise ships, and not much else, Norway is
changing fast, flipping nearly overnight from sedentary tourism to shred-ready
active-ism. There’s a new-school mountain bike scene inspired by Vancouver’s
North Shore. The Troll Wall south of Molde has become a world-famous BASE
jumping destination. The backcountry skiing community is exploding with movies,
magazines, and festivals. If you see a blue hair these days, it’s just as
likely to be a mohawked skateboarder as an octogenarian shuffleboard refugee.
But despite a growing reputation as Europe’s
new adventure capital, Norway has no Chamonix or Moab—no single location that’s
a rare-earth magnet drawing outsiders. Not yet, anyway. But Molde in the south
and Tromsø in the Arctic north are making a run at developing into multi-sport
epicenters based upon their ridiculously vast natural riches, in Molde’s case
the famous western fjords and in Tromsø’s the 24-hour summer sunlight,
mountains to rival the Alps, and a paucity of living creatures besides
reindeer, salmon, and eagles. I’d spent a week sailing with Ose the previous
winter, cruising the western fjords in search of the best snow for backcountry
ski assaults, and liked him instantly and trusted his local knowledge nearly as
fast. (Americans are loathe to hire guides, but in Norway you’re wasting your
time without one.) It made sense, then, to start in Molde, Ose’s home town,
play for a couple of days, and from there chart south on a fishhook-shaped tour
of the fjords before flying north to Tromsø.
Fresh off the plane from Oslo, we picked up
right where we’d left off last spring: Before I’d even changed my watch to
Norway time, Didrick had us on the water, paddling through quicksilver that
mirrored the soft pastel of the far northern sky. We paralleled the Atlantic
Road, a 5.5-mile stretch of highway connecting tiny islands like a necklace
with more string than pearls, before stopping for lunch at an islet owned by
Ragnar Thorseth, famous for rowing a small boat from Norway to the Shetland
Islands, 200 miles away. A strip of low barrier islands blocked the tiny breeze
and becalmed the channels, but conditions weren’t always benign—this section of
coast, called Hustadvika, is so dangerous and dotted with shipwreck reefs that
the Vikings made special note of it in their sagas.
Thorseth has been called Norway’s last Viking,
but Didrick is no slouch, either. He spent seven years as the Norwegian
equivalent of a Navy SEAL and did two tours of Afghanistan. He created an
adventure race for reality TV that sends contestants the length of Norway on
foot. There’s his new outfitting business that turns clients onto backcountry
skiing, kayaking, cycling, and more. And there’s even the little incident, only
slightly exaggerated, in which the bear-like blond mounted three pairs of
telemark bindings to extra-long skis and convinced two friends to help set a
ski-jumping record. They hucked themselves from Molde’s town jump, flew
hundreds of feet, and claimed the prize, but when they landed Didrick’s head
hit the noggin in front of him, then the one in back, and he woke up in the
Those were his wilder days. Today, Ose is
building his company, starting a family, renovating a 200-year-old farm along
the shore of Moldefjorden. It’s good time to launch a startup: Despite the
global recession, business in Norway is booming. The country is the world’s
third largest exporter of oil, but rather than squander its petroleum riches on
dividends or spending sprees, it’s reinvested its sovereign wealth and made a
tidy profit as markets have bounced back. Across Norway, the already high standard
of living has gotten even higher and Norwegians now have more money and time on
their hands than ever. One commentator even complained that Nords have gone too far and become a nation of recreationalists, obsessing about their cabins in the mountains.
I’m still trying to figure out how that’s a bad thing.
If Didrick had his way, we never would have left Molde, but Norway is twice the size of California and the fjords run deeper and narrower just to the south—there was much to see. On paper, though, the next day’s itinerary didn’t sound like much: Navigate past the gigantic cruise ships that ply Geiranger, Norway’s premier and most popular fjord, find your little tourist boat, cruise fjord for 15 minutes, step off boat, hike to abandoned farm. But in reality, well, paper is flat.
Geiranger is by any measure one of the most beautiful places on Earth, 15 kilometers of narrow, twisting, glass-green waters, walled by near-vertical cliffs and freshened by at least a dozen massive waterfalls. Our white and blue sightseeing boat motored along the left side of the fjord for a mile or two and then aimed purposefully for the bottom of sheer hillside. My eyes searched for a dock, but we nosed into a pile of greenery, overhanging branches sweeping the bow, and our guide Katrin Schirmer jumped onto the dirt slope. All I could see was a wall of vegetation with a peek of crag. No kiosk. No Starbucks. Hmm. Maybe this cheesy tourist walk wouldn’t be quite so cheesy after all.
The trail led straight up the side of the fjord. Straight up. It was a zigzag traverse up a climbing gym wall, with occasional cables for security but a lot of exposure, too. All the more impressive: This was how the farmers got to and from their farm. They hauled their supplies up and their goods down—livestock, timber, milk, eggs, children, ladies in their long dresses, it all went through this Norwegian via ferrata. And every Sunday, the entire crew climbed down, jumped in tiny boats, and rowed two miles to church.
Forty-five minutes of sweaty scrambling gained us 250 meters of vertical and then we crested to the most improbably sight: A relatively flat patch of the brightest green grass perched on the side of a cliff, barely more than an acre, and a handful of old buildings. This was Skageflå, where the first structure went up in 1850 and the land was farmed continuously until 1916. Across the fjord, another abandoned farm clung precariously to a shelf next to the Seven Sisters waterfall; when the two settlements were inhabited, they signaled one another each night with candles and a red flag to show that everyone was okay.
Skageflå is a source of Norwegian pride. It speaks directly to their sense of hardiness and ability to thrive in seemingly improbable places, and the story is often told that Norway’s Queen Sonja celebrated her silver anniversary at Skageflå—and hiked the trail herself. Indeed, the spot is a good place from which to view Norway’s past, present, and future. Katrin was talking about the increasing number of hikers who, like us, climb to Skageflå and then trek along the top of the cliffs for a couple hours back to town when there was a honking blast from the fjord a thousand feet below. “Even the ship passengers are changing,” she said. “They are younger, more active. The ships have climbing walls now. It’s not always the way it used to be.”
The massive cruise liner moved into our vision and steamed past the base of the Seven Sisters, looking as big and foreign as an alien space ship in a sci-fi movie. Soon enough, though, even its wake was gone and we contentedly viewed a scene unchanged since 1850. There were mountains, water, sky, but no sign of man save a few tiny wooden structures. Katrin pointed to trails first trod many generations before. The only thing missing was the flash of candlelight across the way and a red flag to say, “All’s well.”
Crossing Norway requires both art and science. The relationship between fjord, mountain, and road must age civil engineers before their time. For the traveler, who is dependent on ferries to avoid the endless boomerangs of fjord-side roads, it requires the attention of the logistics expert and the discipline of schedule keeper. The goal is to arrive in time to make the ferry, but not so early that you waste time waiting to get on. Lacking confidence in his visitors, Didrick shepherded us most of the way from Molde to Geiranger, his gentle nudges becoming a shove. “Okay, no more stopping for photos,” he said. “You have to go.”
Your descriptions of DID playground are as colorful as I never could have written them myself. You are telling a lot in your preface and I hope the pictures in DID gallery will give the readers a good impression of the unlimited possibilities we have in Molde. You are bringing a lot of good insights to adventure business with your www.adventure-journal.com
and positive attitude. I am ready for your next visit and have a lot of new trips waiting for you.