Hiking in Bergen, Norway: A Lesson In Perseverance in Paradise
“Happy Birthday!” my husband says in my ear. “Wakey Wakey!”
I open my eyes to see his coarse red beard and big blue eyes in my face. I groan and roll over on the stiff futon mattress, feeling my back release the stiffness in several little pops. I stretch groping the floor for my phone. “It can’t be time yet. Did it even get dark outside?” I look at my phone and sure enough, it’s 6 am.
“Nope. It never got fully dark” He beams and scooches his way to the edge of the bed. “Let’s get dressed and go find a place to eat before finding the shuttle”.
It’s spring in Norway and my husband and I are in Bergen, a small town settled along the water, surrounded by mountains. It is the first of five cities we plan to visit over the course of ten days. Today’s hike from Mt. Ulriken to Mt. Floyen is our most anticipated adventure of the trip. We arm ourselves with determination to keep the jet lag and sleep deprivation from dampening our spirits.
Our journey begins with a shuttle to the base of the mountain. There, we shuffle inside a tiny red gondola along with families and athletic types in running gear. We pack ourselves in, forced against the window like sardines and hope the ride isn’t long. As we slowly ascend the mountain, more of Bergen comes into view. Little grey and salmon shingled roofs cluster together, peppering the hillside.
From the top, we see ant-sized ships and ferries tow cargo and tourists out of the wharf and into the surrounding fjords. Behind us, the mountain fog swirls and shifts delicately like rhythmic breathing, obscuring and revealing our fate.
There is no path, only seven foot stone cairns placed every quarter mile to mark the right direction. I touch the first one, letting my hands brush over rough, uneven slate rocks covered in soft yellow moss and wonder how long it took to make each one and how many people helped in the process.
We set off at a comfortable pace, eager to get away from the small group we are walking with. Soon enough, we all spread out and wander alone. We stomp and squish through grass and mud, over boulders and streams, climbing up and down steep mountainsides. Each cairn we pass becomes another personal achievement.
The further we explore, the more my feet and knees begin to protest. A thought pushes its way from the back of my mind and stops me dead in my tracks:
You are not prepared for what is to come.
Up and down and up again; The hike feels endless.
As more hikers pass me, I feel their silent judgment and begin to panic. I watch in awe as runners, the elderly, and even small children bound down steep mountainsides, skipping on boulders like goats. I am no match for these goat people.
“Babe,” I huff, “the website said this hike was ‘family friendly’ right?” I look at my husband a few yards ahead sending him the signal with my eyes that I’m anxious and tired already. He turns around smiling, completely clueless, showing no trace of exhaustion on his face.
“Yeah, it did…” He scratches his head and shrugs. “but I guess they meant Norwegian family friendly. Did you see their calves? These people probably hike these mountains all the time.”
I was right. Goat people.
Though this hike demands endurance, it gives back tenfold in wild, untamed beauty. Nowhere else have I seen such glassy lakes of silver pools, perfectly reflecting the heavens above, or wandered so high nearly touching the clouds. I strengthen my resolve, leaning into the pain, and focusing on veins of white quartz in every boulder and the countless hues of green in every patch of grass.
I take many breaks, but the throbbing is relentless. My husband nudges me on, giving me pep talks, which only fuel my anger and resentment. I feel tricked and lied to, but I have mixed feelings about blaming my well-meaning husband. There is no calling a car to come get me and there is no going back now that we’ve come so far. It’s just me, my pain, and the wilderness. These realizations of our isolation leave me feeling vulnerable and raw. On the last few miles, I’ve lost my ability to make coherent sentences. I’m a jumble of raw emotions, and tears are visibly streaming down my face. My husband tries to console me, but I just want it to be over.
At the end of our seven-hour ordeal, I hobble to the tram, where crowds of people sit eating late lunches, shop for souvenirs, and bask in the afternoon sun. No one knows what I’ve just endured. I crumple to the ground, unable to stand and take in the golden sun sinking over the sparkling fjords, a view I worked so hard for. All I feel, aside from constant unescapable throbbing, is disappointment. I hate that I let my pain get the best of me and that I didn’t work harder to savor every moment.
We limp back into town, dirty and smelly, and stagger into the nicest restaurant we can find. As soon as we sit, I unapologetically kick off my mud-encrusted boots under the table, hoping no one notices my dirt-smudged mismatched socks. That night we reward ourselves with thick cuts of steak, savory scallops, and several glasses of champagne. I sit humbled, unable to process my gratitude toward my husband for pushing me through it, and resorting to flat out lying about how much farther we had to go to keep me from having a meltdown. Now that the pain and memory of the hardship have faded, I’m left with a sense of pride for what we accomplished. I now know myself better and I know I can test my limits farther and come out the other side stronger.