Into the Wild

Mountains reflected in Store Skålbrekkvatnet

Preparing for the next trip, in rush, again. I have just a couple of days left to take care of some remaining stuff before heading north. This time I am going nearly straight from Israeli desert to far north of Norway. It takes about 3000 km get to northern coast of Scandinavia. Every night is getting colder, days are getting longer, the nature becomes wilder and traces of the civilization are barely visible. Passing through Sweden, the lakes are covered with floes and entering into Finland, the lakes are already completely frozen. Green grass becomes yellow and that one is gradually covered with snow. Horses, cows and deer have long ago turned into reindeers, elk, foxes and snow-white rabbits, completely invisible on early May snow. The journey north is indeed a journey in time.

The spring has reached Poland, unbearably hot sun burns in Israel and here it is winter. It is cold again, the fjords’ outlines are still covered with snow, even in May you can go skiing. In the middle of the night it is not getting dark and in ten days from now the sun will not set anymore, shining all day, continuously, non-stop for two months.

On a day to day basis it should be getting warmer and clearer, it happens that the sun shining lets you to wear a t-shirt, but the weather can also be very capricious. A rain, windstorm, hail and snow, all at the same time are not uncommon, even in the middle of summer. This is my own “Into the Wild” adventure.

Almost totally off the beaten track in the northern province of Troms, at the north-western tip of Senja island there is a little fishing village Mefjordvær, exactly at the end of the road. In addition to negligible local traffic, there are occasional tourists who come here to fish, some lost travelers or off-piste skiers looking for spots not described in guidebooks. Thanks to the fjords and the wildlife this area is fantastic and I am going to explore it in detail over the next few months.

Mefjord, just like the end of the world

Each trip has a goal – or at least should have one. This time, in my case, it is to build up some budget for more traveling, also to study Norwegian language and above all, experience the nature by running, walking, hiking, cycling and longboarding as much as possible.

One of my theories about working says that if you keep yourself occupied with something various and interesting enough it is not impossible to get tired. I’m doing a bit of everything: bartending, waiting, hiring boats, signing contracts with tourists, checking-in and out, providing instructions on how to use boats, giving advice where to fish, arranging pick-ups and drop-offs to the airport, doing some outside work, taking pictures of infrastructure and guiding visitors around the area. When there is nothing else to do, I disappear in the wilderness and it happens very often.

Summer sets in, however despite the warm days, the water is extremely cold. On such days in Ersfjord, which is the fjord with a sandy beach a few kilometers away, Norwegian children do not mind to swim. This is one of a few places in the world where you can enjoy seeing snow capped mountains, the beach, the ocean and children bathing in it with pleasure. With time you can also get used to it and I admit that on some of the more crazy local parties I happened to jump into the 9°C water!

As weeks pass I try to entirely enjoy the charms of Senja. Almost every day I run uphill on one of the surrounding peaks Kyle, Knuten or simply run along the Mefjord, pass the neighboring village Senjahopen and on a good day continue to the first tunnel (making a total of 2×13 km for the return trip). With time the capricious weather also starts to be less disturbing.

Someone once said, “Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass – it’s about learning how to dance in the rain”. Norwegian children are aware of the case from a young age already, so instead of sitting home and playing Playstation, kids usually spend the day out in the fresh air, sometimes even in the rain, riding their bicycles. One can easily catch this attitude.

Breidtinden (1017m), the top of Senja island

Living in such a small community there is no way not to know almost all of the local inhabitants. I experience here lots of hospitality and openness of the people living in the two neighboring villages: Mefjordvær and Senjahopen. Going to the store, running around, serving drinks at a party, you always meet the same familiar faces. Something quite opposite to the anonymous big cities. Just as with local weather, you can also completely get used to it.

Sometimes planning a longer route I move towards the inside of the island. The mountains I climb I usually reach on my bike, leave it on a road and hike to the top. The big advantage of all the mountains is that they are quite steep and challenging right from the beginning. It is also worth to mention that the climbing starts at the level of 0 meters above sea. My favorite routes are Grytetippen (895m), Keipen (938m), Husfjellet (635m) and above all Breidtinden (1017m), the highest mountain on the island, which offers panoramic views of fjords cutting into the island from all sides. An interesting observation is the color of water, which is quite different in each of the fjords. Climbing the mountain itself is not easy, you can even get quite scared (as in my case, when I took a wrong route by mistake and went on stuck between the deep precipice and the way back beyond my reach, having no idea how to turn back for a few stressful minutes). The vast space and the unusual silence at the top makes up for every single drop of sweat and moments of stress I had to get here. I recommend it to all adventure-seeking visitors to Senja island.

The undoubted advantage of living on a spacious and sparsely inhabited island is that within ten minutes walk I am able to reach a place where all I can see is the fjords, mountains, valleys, lakes, forests and brooks, with no trace of civilization. I love the feeling of freedom, space and silence. I achieve through setting on trips planned earlier with a topographic map.

A man, after all, is a social being, luckily there are also party people around. Depending on your mood, you may contemplate alone the beauty of nature or simply join some crazy locals, go to a party and almost always end up at someone’s place at nattspill and stay there until eight o’clock in the morning, trying hard and with a great effort to understand anything of the crazy Norwegian Senja dialect.

You cannot be indifferent to the far north of Norway. You can either dislike it, or just like me, love and enjoy it. After all, eating halibut or cod five times a week, the sun shining round the clock, living in the fjord just by the ocean, where there is no shopping malls, harsh climate and the minimal infrastructure for tourists, all of these appeal to me.

August 2011

nord