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Chasing

Daylight

Norway is a land both


beautiful and terrifying,
wild and beckoning, and
just waiting to be
explored.

By Rachel sayers

The harbor, Bergen, Norway.


The waterfall poured over
the one-lane highway, enveloping
the pavement and the structures
beneath in a frosty mist. A faint
rainbow could be seen where the
evening sun hit the rising vapor,
appearing gracefully above the
shockingly cold water. The streams
of melted snow, brilliantly white as
they rushed over the dark granite
rock, spread elegantly into a 50-foot
wide arc as it made its inevitable
descent from the melting high
country into the emerald valley below. There were no signs, no people,
nothing but a small gravel turnoff
enticing me to stop. It was the right
decision..

On one of the worlds densest continents, Norway remains as
one of Europes last, true wildernesses. Second only to Greenland
as Europes least densely populated
country, and well within the lowest 10% of the world, Norway is a
nation of unspoiled wilderness in a

world that is becoming increasingly civilized. It is a land of icy


highlands, roaming herds of
reindeer, and forests so dense that
to step inside is to feel as if you
have stepped inside a fairytale
though more reminiscent of the
Grimm Brothers variety than any
movie produced by Disney.

Straddling the same
latitude line as Alaska and Greenland, Norway is a nation used to
the severe. With 37,000 square
miles of its land above the Arctic
Circle, the Scandinavian country
can see more than 39 feet of snow
a year, fewer than three hours
of daylight at its darkest, and
temperatures that dip well below
zero. Summer is a fleeting thing,
but what a thing it is.

In the short window from
late May to late July, the sun never truly sets on the hundreds of
fjords, steep cliffs, and imposingly
deep lakes that define the land-

scape. Midnight sun reigns above


the Arctic Circle, casting its light
onto the land unceasingly. Further
south, the sun descends into a sort
of twilight for a few hours a day before rising again, giving inhabitants
the illusion of a single, continuous
day. Dates run into one another,
time seems to stop, and you find
yourself forgetting to sleep, perhaps
adding to the ethereal effect of this
rugged land.

My brother and I arrived
in Bergen in mid-June, just as the
summer solstice reached its peak.
The second largest city with a
population of 238,000, Bergen lies
on the southwestern coast and, due
to its position relative to the Gulf
Stream and prevailing westerlies,
enjoys a milder climate than much
of the country. Unfortunately, these
conditions also bestow more than
88 inches of precipitation upon
the city each year, more than twice
that of Seattle. Luck was with us,

I found, as the customs officer


informed me they were currently in the midst of a dry spell, and
sunshine and unseasonable temperatures, reaching upwards of 70
degrees fahrenheit, were expected.

Picking up a rental car at
the airport, we made our way into
the city in search of a grocery store,
though as we neared the center of
town, a surge of people forced us to
abandon our car and continue on
foot. A few minutes into our journey the sound of seagulls cawing
began to reach our ears, accompanied by the dimmed roar of a
traditionally reserved culture in the
midst of celebration.

The cobblestone square was
filled; a small stage was erected in
the corner, whereupon a small child
sung a Norwegian folk song in a
voice as pure as her white-blonde
hair. Her audience, a mixture of old
and young, perched upon red picnic tables as they chowed down on
shrimp sandwiches, sunshine and
the strong smell of brine washing
over them. At the heart of it, fenced
in on three sides by stone, streets,
and vendors were the wooden sailboats that provided the feast, gently
rocking in the navy blue waters of
the North Atlantic and tied close
together to allow the party to spill
onto their decks.

The pungent smell of rakfisk
(fermented trout) rose from wooden wagons, where its pink flesh lay
beside salmon filets, mussels, and
unpeeled shrimp the size of a toddlers fist. A large green wagon in
the heart of the square brought the
sweet smell of sun-ripening berries,
the strawberries so small and delicate they dissolved on my tongue.
Reindeer pelts hung from several
stands, their grayish, ombre fur sur-

Norwegian National Road 7.

Norwegian National Road 13 near Rdl.

Norwegian National Road 13.

Norwegian National Road 7.

prisingly thick and soft, along with


an assortment of hand-woven wool
garments, proudly proclaiming its
local origin. As it soon became apparent, Norway is a country in love
with the natural world.

The peoples love of wilderness is emphatically acknowledged.
The nations open air act, or allemansretten, passed in 1957, giving
the public access to all wilderness,
even that which resides on private
land. The countrys outdoor club,
Den Norske Turistfirening (Norwegian Mountain Touring Association) counts more than 240,000
members, or 5% of the population. By contrast, the Appalachian
Mountain Club boasts just 100,000
and the American Hiking Society just 7,500, accounting for just
.0003% of the U.S. population.

Founded in 1868, the Den
Norske Turistfirening (DNT) now

maintains more than 12,500 miles


of trails through most of Norways
national parks and wilderness
areas. Marked by the DNTs signature, blood-red T, painted on the
rocks and trees that define much
of the landscape, these trails form
a vast spiderweb of routes reaching
most wild regions of the country,
which is, to say, the large majority
of it. Open to hiking, mountain
biking, and cross-country skiers,
it is an all-season network connecting outdoor-oriented people
to the wilderness they crave. Interspersed along these trails are more
than 450 mountain cabins, run by
the DNT and ranging in luxury
from full-service lodges, complete
with restaurants and hotel-quality
rooms, to no-service cabins devoid
of electricity.

We left Bergen in the early
evening with a vague plan of find-

ing one of these cabins by nightfall,


not yet grasping there would be no
nightfall this far north. The route
leading out from the city was a
narrow, two-lane road barely wide
enough to pass the oncoming traffic
in most spots, and all but impossible at others. It wound roughly
southeast, skirting fjords, tunneling
through mountains, and requiring
two ferry crossings just to maintain
the same route. The fjords were a
brilliant sapphire blue, clear and
shimmering in the sunlight, affording us glimpses of translucent
jellyfish as we crossed on the large
ferries. They looked as if they were
raked into land by the fingers of a
god and, in a way, they were.

Glaciers once blanketed the
entire country during the last ice
age, as well as in many previous ice
ages, slowly carving out the deep
valleys that have since been taken

over by the sea, filling with salt water and creating the brilliant fjords
that define the countrys western
landscape. It is a land forged by ice,
but best appreciated in the warmth
of summer, when the snow and ice
begins to retreat and the steep cliffs,
cloaked in dense forest and cascading waterfalls, finally make an
appearance.

Just past the small town of
Rdl we entered one of the many
rugged tunnels that cut through
the mountains, this one measuring
almost seven miles, and emerged
above timberline to find a strange,
desolate landscape of highlands,
boulder-strewn fields, ice-covered lakes and hard-packed snow
that refused to acknowledge that
summer had arrived. As twilight
descended, casting a pinkish glow
upon the icy lakes that lined the
road, the lunar-like beauty of the
place became apparent. It had a
fierce type of beauty to it, a beauty
of terror and awe.

It was in this barren place
that we found our cabin, a random
dot on a pixeled map we had circled in a fit of impetuous thinking
before leaving Bergen. Haukellseter
Fjellstue, a large DNT lodge, was
built in the late 19th century and
was made up of three buildings:
dining, dorms, and private rooms.
Built in the old-style, it featured
dark wooden logs, white trim,
and a layer of thick grass upon the
roof, which, we were informed by
the young DNT staff working the
counter, is a traditional touch, but
serves no real purpose. It rested on
the shores of a lake, with nothing
but small mountains and a gushing
waterfall, half frozen, to serve as a
backdrop.

It was nearing midnight

Above timberlline near Haukellseter Fjellstue.

Wooden hotub at Haukellseter Fjellstue.

Haukellseter Fjellstue.

The view from Preikestolen .

as we checked in. Unable to find


our exhaustion, even after a long
red-eye flight from JFK, we made
ourselves a sandwich and headed
outside, eager to explore. On the
rocky shore of a lake we found others who held the same idea. A lone
Norwegian man pulled in a trout
on his pole, slipping it from the
hook before releasing it with a gen-

tle toss back into the frigid water.


Two young Germans came running
from the lodge at full speed, fueled
by nothing but alcohol, hitting the
icy water at full-speed and swimming out to touch the floating ice
before returning to shore.

My brother and I chose,
instead, to climb into the warm
embrace of a wooden hot tub,

fueled by logs that couldnt have


come from anywhere in the immediate vicinity, high as we were
above treeline. It felt like the end of
a multi-day journey, or perhaps the
beginning. The sun was both falling
and rising, leaving my body at a
loss to decipher the signals, alternating between a hit of adrenaline
in preparation for the day ahead

and shutting down for a coming


night. We finally crawled into bed a
little after two, shutting the curtains
against the sun that was already
permeating the wooden interior
of our small room, finally earning
the dark that allowed us to drift to
sleep.

The next morning we drove
south through the county of Ro-

galand, descending below timberline once again as we followed the


same winding road through the
valleys and dense forests of western Norway, occasionally passing
through a small village nestled
along the shores of a fjord. Here
the houses were old, wooden, and
painted a brilliant shade of red,
white, or yellow, a subtle nod to

status symbols of the past. Red was


the cheapest to produce, mixing
ochre with cod liver oil, making it
the popular choice for farming and
fishing villages, where the average income was low. Yellow was
made in a similar fashion, though
a bit more expensive to produce.
White was reserved for the wealthy,
requiring the mineral zinc to reach

Boulder staircase to Preikestolen.

Climbing up to Priekestolen.

its opaque shade. So ingrained was


this tradition that some went as far
as to paint only the outward facing
wall white, reserving the cheaper
colors for all non-dominant walls.

Apart from these gentle
reminders of humankind, Norway
is a wholly solitary endeavor. Many
of the winding roads seldom travelled, due mostly to the popularity
of high-speed highways connecting the major cities, and the space

Waterfall off Norwegian National Hwy 13.

in-between even less so. It provokes


that innate sense in humankind
that craves to explore the unknown;
the need to see around the next
bend, over the next mountain. It
is a land that feels both ancient
and new, seeped in history but still
draped in mystery. Purposely left
wild, yet attainable, it provides adventure in all the best senses of the
word.

By evening we pulled into

Preikestolen Fjellstue, a DNT lodge,


situated on a hill overlooking a
small sandy beach on the shores
of Revsvatnet lake, whose deceptively small proportions conceal
its impressive 300-foot depths.The
real draw to this area, though, is
more than 2,000 feet above, where
Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock) juts out
over Lysefjordend. The freezing and
eventual thawing of glaciers in this
region slowly chipped away at the

granite cliffs, which broke off in


angular chunks,. The most spectactular example is now towering over
us, a a large pulpit-shaped ledge, 80
x 80 with near vertical 2,000 foot
drops on all sides.

Reaching the ledge requires
climbing more than 1,000-feet on
large boulders vaguely resembling
a giant staircase, bypassing a few
mountain lakes, and skirting along
a narrow ridge as you follow the
hastily painted red Ts of a DNT
trail as they make their way up the
mountain. We left around nine in
the evening, hoping to avoid the
crowds that have turned this natural wonder into an international
sensation. It worked; we passed
more than fifteen groups coming
down the trail as we made the
hour-and-a-half trek to the top,
where there resided just one other
couple, barefoot and dangling their
feet off the ledge.

At the top of the world
there are no safety rails. Unlike
the fenced-in vistas of Americas
natural wonders, Norway leaves
their stunning scenery how it was
intendednatural. As I sat on the
edge, with the ability to look down
as the birds flew far below, at the
ships that look like mere specks
against a bluebird sky, the view
suddenly dwarfed every dizzying
height Id ever experienced. Nothing was stopping me from falling
off, and nothing was stopping me
from full immersion.

Rachel Sayers is a freelance writer


from Athens, Ohio. She plans to visit
every continent by the time shes 30.
Atop Preikestolen.