Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Walk on the Way of St. Olav: Oslo to Trondheim, Summer 2009

Welcome to the log of my Olavsleden Pilgrim trek. I walked the 669 kilometer "Way of St. Olaf" across Norway between July 1st and 28th of the 2009 summer. Re-established with continuous waymarks in 1997, the Way commemorates a route walked in Medieval times by the faithful seeking the aid and comfort of Scandinavian patron Saint Olav Haraldsson, Norway's King Olav II. I embarked on the Pilgrim trek, my second in Europe after the Camino de Santiago which I completed in 2007, having just been left unemployed by the disassembling of the "Conserve School", a private boarding school where I had taught history for the six prior years. You’ll see that I began the odyssey somewhat preoccupied by a conviction that my next adventure would be a “thru-hike” of the "Pacific Crest Trail" along the western American Rocky Mountain cordillera crossing California, Oregon, and Washington states. It took me days to begin writing, difficult days during which I was adapting to very warm temperatures, the overnight shelter conditions, and foreign land. With a few exceptions (identified by calendar date asterisk **), the log is the text of postcards that I wrote to family, friends, former students (and their parents) during my walk. I have hundreds of digital images that complement this record and more than a thousand similar postcards from previous travel adventures. Why Sly? "Buffalo Jump Sly", Sly for short, was my trail name when in 2002 I successfully "thru hiked" the 3,450 kilometer grandfather of all American trails, the "Appalachian Trail. Enjoy the Sly tale.

Hilsen fra Norge! Setting Forth

July 5, 2009

Hilsen fra Norge! That one should attempt in these times to replicate a medieval pilgrim walk in heathen Scandinavia might be rightly considered Quixotic, ala the Grand Spanish countryside conquistador “Don”. After all, the many pastoral parish churches I pass trekking the emerald Norwegian landscape are mostly locked, even today, a Sunday.
I must be some kind of sinner. Temperatures in my first five days in Norway, three of which I have walked, have been record breaking hot as Haedes—easily mid 30s daily. Early this morning, lethal lightning and crisply crackling thunder heralded the arrival of a chilling cooling trend. Pilgrimage, apparently, is about penance. Heat induces blisters and it will be a week before my pilgrim feet harden up. Every Chink in my weather proofed armor has been mercilessly laid bare. This may earn me an indulgence yet.
I am beginning to realize that if I am to walk the 4,250 kilometer Pacific Crest Trail Mexico to Canada, I should probably spend a month trekking trail with loaded rucksack and trail clad feet before leaving the Mexican border at Campo. But fragrant roses flower the pilgrim’s way. Yesterday, an attractive, appealing woman braked her car to a halt beside me as I walked at roadside. On learning I spoke English, she said (quote): “Where was it you would like me to give you a ride to?” Only later did I realize the only possible rejoinder: “Anywhere … Anywhere.”
Where my pedestrian feet took me was down on Norwegian earth—the Bønsnes Church. Built by Saint Olav himself in the 11th century after his storm tossed ship came safely ashore there.

Fridtjof Nansen: Getting a Grip on the World

July 5, 2009

I bet you haven’t thought much about the “Armenian Genocide”. My estimate of the moral dimension of this modern diplomatic dance has firmed since my arrival in Norway. Fridtjof Nansen, who gained world fame for almost “sailing” an ice locked ship, the Fram (Forward in Norwegian), across the ice of Arctic Ocean to the North Pole between 1893-95 also won Norway’s only Nobel Peace Prize. He garnered his gold Nobel for successfully negotiating for the resettlement of thousands of Armenian refugees saving them from Turkish persecution. I learned this at the Fram Museum in Oslo where you can today walk the decks of the splendidly preserved Fram. With admirable objectivity the exhibit notes that the Western WWI allies, ours, incited the Armenians to revolt against their enemies, the Turks of the dying Ottoman Empire. The Turks retaliated with lethal effect.
Nansen was my idea of an Explorer—one who manages to come to grips with the whole of the world. He was also the first to ski across the Greenland Icecap. The Fram took Roald Amundsen to Antarctica where he became the first to reach the South Pole—on skis.
Four days out from Oslo, I’ve reached Sløvika tonight on the shore of the Randsfjorden. Lightning, the sharp crack of thunder, and rain drove me under the shelter of the Hole Kirke (church) doorway arch just an hour after I got underway at 6:30 a.m. this morning. I hope to reach Gjøvik in a few days from where I can sail across Lake Mjøsa to Hamar. A heat wave driving temperatures to records well into the 30s in recent days has given way to cool T-storms today.

Tested at Gjøvik

July 7, 2009**

I won't say that Norwegian Pilgrim walking is easy. First hot, now cold and wet. I remember Olavsleden Pilgrim Coordinator Eiler Prytz telling me of a pilgrim walk he attempted that just didn't work out as he'd hoped. I took his comments as a way of delivering to me a few wise words of caution and encouragement. Meditating, I've recognized the importance and even spiritual growth to be obtained from finishing what one has started. The key for me will have to be to adapt. I'm learning to ¨eat Scandinavian¨, to ask for the help that I need the language difficulties notwithstanding, and to book ahead for overnight rest to spare myself more wild camping than necessary. Where am I? Hamar. I reached Gjøvik yesterday in pouring rain, enjoyed the vandrehjem, and sailed the Skibladner across the lake this morning. I hope to be in Lillehammer in three days and should be meeting my Danish cousin Peer there or shortly after that. He is in Vinstra with his Norwegian girlfriend Kirsten on holiday. I love the ceramic (?) pilgrim medalions that Eiler left for me at the Ronningen Hostel in Oslo. The smaller of them can be threaded onto the lanyard with my Pilgrim scallop shell and now I can wear it around my neck!

Why Pilgrim's Tell Tales

July 9, 2009

So I’ve performed this peculiar exercise of reading five Pacific Crest Trail memoirs consecu- tively in the weeks prior to my departure from Wisconsin for my Norwegian pilgrimage. My favorite, “Zero Days”, recounts the adventures of 10 year old “Scrambler” and her 50s something parents “the Captain” and “Nellie Bly” as they trek the 4,250 kilometers of Mexico to Canada trail. It occurs to me that these memoirs fall squarely within a tradition that can be traced back through Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods” and past into Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”, Cervantes “Don Quixote”, and even into Homer’s “Iliad”. Their tales are variously hilarious, bawdy, seemingly magical … always concealing something: This pilgrim trekking is hard work. Anyone at all no matter how idiosyncratic is an ally and a friend in the face of inherent adversity. Roiling Heat, cold rain, blisters, and bone wearying fatigue are the cup from which the pilgrim drinks. And the pilgrim must discover within himself the resolve that will carry him forward. The face you will present to the world is that of the entertaining minstrel bard with a rucksack full of stories. I’m working on my line. I’m in Hamar on Lake Mjøsa tonight and should reach Lillehammer in three days. I see roller skiers as I walk!

Smithing Medieval Gold

July 9, 2009

Imagine you are a medieval master smithing gold and precious metals for manor Lords. You have a strong box for keeping your materials. Anxious carrying his wealth on his person, your Lord asks if you will store gold coin for him. This becomes a service you provide. Eventually merchants begin to accept the receipts you issue for deposited gold in place of the coin itself as “legal tender” and paper money is born. Next, a merchant asks you to issue him a receipt for gold he cannot yet deliver. He hopes for a good year and gives you a note promising to deposit the gold coin later. You the Smith then recognize that you can count on your depositors to leave a substantial portion of their gold on deposit with you at any given time unclaimed. You ask the merchant to pay you interest on his note and you give him a receipt for his promise to deposit gold later. The receipt goes into circulation as “money”. Actually this is the simple story told to explain how since medieval times money has been “created” within a banking system. Walking a medieval pilgrim’s way amidst a crisis in global banking systems unparalleled in modern times, I’m prompted to meditate seeking the mechanics behind it all. Too simply perhaps, modern bankers were creating money based on promises much too weak. I’ve reached Hamar today sailing the “Skibladner” across Lake Mjøsa from Gjøvik. Built in 1856, it’s the oldest paddle wheeled steamship still in operation in Europe. Lake Mjøsa is a long thin natural reservoir with an up valley river inflow, a down valley river outflow, and no actual dam. In spring, mountain snow melt can leave towns along its banks facing flood threats. I was told that with a church once flooded, a determined couple had themselves rowed into its sacristy to be married.

Angel at the Hamar Domen Kirke

July 12, 2009

Allow this to serve as your weather report from Norway: I’ve discovered it makes eminently good sense to carry my wallet in a Ziploc bag in my hip pocket. One likes to keeps one’s proverbial tinder dry. Actually I suspect that enterprising Norwegian shopkeepers will take kroner dry or wet. Swedish Nobel Literature Prize laureate Selma Lagerlof describes the divine character of Abbot Hans’ herb garden at Ovid Cloister in her story “The Christmas Rose”. In one of the few textual references that can be found describing medieval pilgrims enroute to the St. Olav’s Cathedral in Nidaros/Trondheim, almost lyrical mention is made of the magical aroma of an herb garden then grown near the Domen Kirke at Hamar. Its fragrances were described as so divine that they were enjoyed by pilgrims in boats on Lake Mjøsa waters arriving at the city. The herbs were collected by pilgrims returning from pilgrimages to Rome and Jerusalem for transplant/nurturing in their Norwegian homelands. In that spirit, an herb garden is maintained today near the Domen in Hamar. The cathedral ruins are today preserved from further weathering under a large glass shelter. Buttress foundations, remnant walls, and several intact arches suggest the majestic cathedral that once graced the spot. Beautiful modern Scandinavian wooden chairs are arranged in its interior to allow the visitor to rest and contemplate former architectural splendor. Kristin, my medievally dressed girl guide, offered to sing me a hymn, a moving description of the heavenly palace awaiting the faithful. The acoustics under glass were superb and Kristin’s musically trained voice angelic.

Skype and Creative Capitalist Destruction

July 12, 2009

I am, courtesy of the creatively destructive capitalist forces of educational infrastructure adjustment, now unemployed and, of “necessity”, the purchaser of a powerful Hewlitt-Packard laptop. It has an on board web camera and I could visit you on tele-audio-vision any time via “Skype” for free--Ah! Our global world at fingertip command.
I was enjoying the comfort and shelter of the Hamar Vandrehjem Hostel three days ago drinking coffee in its cafeteria when I realized the man communing with his wife via Skype two tables away was doing so speaking Spanish. When he concluded, I struck up a conversation with him and discovered he was from Uruguay. His wife also at work in Europe wasn’t in South America either. His vehicle suggested he was “in elevators”.
I’m about 250 kilometers into my pilgrim trek across Norway in Lillehammer tonight. It is beautiful country I am walking through. I’m getting into Sigrid Undset country now, she of Nobel Literature Laureate fame for her Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy. I suspect I will cross the route of a Norway traversing bicycle trip I made with my younger sister Lisa in the early 1990s at Sel, a town where a statute of Kristin graces a local church yard.

Treacherous Trettsvea

July 12, 2009**

I had been forewarned of a route change north of Hamar. It must have been the stretch that gave me difficulty yesterday. I had climbed the Lundehagen and was descending by (wet) forest path to Trettsvea. At a critical point I reached signing that seemed very confusing and chose to descend losing distance to the Route 213 which I walked to Samuelstue Camping. The man there dropped his hytte/cabin price for me from 400 to 200 NOK with no explanation so I foreswore a tent site. A hot shower soon left me a happy man. Given as wet as it generally has been, I've concluded that one should look for indoor overnight shelter as often as practical. It does make the pilgrim walking more pleasant.

Posting Mark's Way

July 15, 2009

So there was this way mark post—centered in the middle of the tangled slash of a small clear cut five meters off my well trodden footpath. It was inviting me to cross the acre or two of debris ahead. Anywhere else I would have ignored it but Norwegians place a premium on hardy self reliance. This was where my pilgrim’s way would surely go. A few tentative steps persuaded me that I wasn’t actually going to cross the tree clippings jungle. Setting out skirting the cut margins, by their far side there it was—my pilgrim way re-appearing entering uncut woods. I got lost—a half hour later on.
I lose my way for a while at least some part of nearly every day. The mountain valley landscape is easy enough to read so it’s never that I’m at a loss for where to go. I’m just freelancing until the next way mark shows up. Yesterday I found … Peer Rosing-Schow (my Danish cousin). We had dinner together at a Chinese Restaurant near Ringebu. Very pleasant. I slept over night in the loft of the Gildevollen, or medieval guild hall, just down slope from the Ringebu Stavkirke. A master craftsman still does wood carving work in the hall today. Peer tells me he was named for Gynt.

Stig's Recommendation

July 15, 2009

“I recom- mend it to you” is what Stig Grytting was saying. I’d reached Sygard’s Grytting, a mountain slope farm boasting the only medieval pilgrim’s loft still in existence on my St. Olav’s Pilgrim Way. Since my arrival in later afternoon, I’d observed Stig variously clad and well decked out as the German tour bus greeter, farm handyman that he is, and our white shirt, black slacked farm tour guide/dinner host. I had expected to be content merely sleeping in the pilgrim loft built before 1350 but instead I had accepted Stig’s “recommendation”: Dinner in the big house with the less bohemian guests. Audible pride, untainted by any aggressive salesmanship, told me it would be something special--three courses including lamb, farm produce, two wines, and a coffee social afterwards. The other eight dinner guests were all Norwegian. The 800 Kroner (>$100 US) that ended up covering my simple loft bed, dinner, and breakfast was well spent. I’m nearing the half way point of my pilgrim trek today, about 325 kilometers to go. It’s encouraging that I feel pretty good. I go above tree line in coming days which has me nervously anticipating. I passed the Octagonal Sor-Frøn Kirke (circa 1792) today. The largest in this Gudbrandsdal valley, it can seat 1,000 people.

Black Death, Demand, and Supply

July 16, 2009

A result of the Black Death in Norway, which left half the population dead, was a housing over supply that lasted for 200 years. It left a lag in new historical architecture that persisted until what was to become the Renaissance began in Italy. I slept last night in the loft of the only period authentic Pilgrim’s farmstead refuge still in existence along the Olav’s Leden/Way. Its heavy timbers have been carbon dated to 1350 and there are only three similar structures remaining in central Norway. This was “Sygard’s Grytting”. I dropped a small fortune in this place to share wine, a delicious three course meal, and Kaffe with eight Norwegian guests. Breakfast in the morning was equally spectacular starting with fresh pan fried trout. Stig Grytting, the owner had wisely counseled me, “I recommend that you save your money somewhere else.” Bodvar Schjelderup, a Norwegian pilgrim sage says, “A pilgrim wanders in service of memory.” I’ve wandered 24 more kilometers today to “Øvre Kjæstad”. Its owner Ole Kristian Rudland told me, “You are our first pilgrim.” He has given me the use of the beautiful, just refurbished main farm house for free. As I write, I’m overlooking the big bend in the Gudbrandsdal Valley where Nazi force broke heroic resistance at Kvam. Olav Haraldsson, who became the saint, was born on the neighboring property below me.

Games of Chance on the Olav's Leden

July 16, 2009

By any analysis I’ve passed the midpoint of my summer pilgrim trek in Norway. I’m walking “coast-to-coast” by some reckonings—south (Oslo) to west (Trondheim). The sun, above the horizon almost 20 hours daily, would be always at my back if I could see it as I am walking due North. It has rained in the landscape around me for 15 straight days. It’s showers, usually light ones, though every now and then I get a skin soaker. I keep warm by working hard and I keep my essentials safely dry in my backpack. Blisters that dogged me in early days have hardened up and I’ve been walking stronger, longer days of late. The countryside is almost continuously spectacular. Wayfinding, the deciphering of a variety of symbols cleverly left to suggest the pilgrim route, is a tricky game … of chance. I’m briefly lost for stretches almost every day. I head into the “Oppland” or high mountain country in coming days. It’s a daunting prospect. Towns with shops and markets disappear. I have the momentum to go the distance. St. Olav, pray for me.

Andreas the Pilgrim Dane

July 17, 2009

I met my first fellow pilgrim yesterday, a Dane, Andreas. He caught me at breakfast at Sygard’s Grytting where I was having trouble tearing myself away from the hospitality of hosts Stig and Hilde. Andreas was about my vintage and impressed me as better prepared and adapted to the rigors of Norwegian pilgrim life. At any rate, it was raining and he was better dressed than me for wet. Also, while I’d slept indoors in the warm comfort of the Grytting pilgrim loft, Andreas had toughed it out sleeping in his tent. Several things struck me as we two started walking together. First, while I had walked the rough mountain track in to the Grytting farm, Andreas had walked the lower, paved road. And second, when we left the farm, Andreas took his cue from me that we needed rain covers on our packs—so I was apparently impressing Andreas. In the end, though I offered him the lead to set a comfortable pace, we walked together for less than 20 minutes. With a pack a third larger than my own, Andreas did have all the wet weather gear I thought I sorely missed. But he also had a sore back from carrying the pack. He admitted he couldn’t keep up and suggested that I go on ahead. Word from Stig is that I am one day behind an Irish pilgrim woman. More amazing, I know from pilgrim hostel guest books that I am a week behind Jeroom Coenen, a Belgium pilgrim I knew well walking the Santiago Camino in Spain in 2007. The sun is shining this afternoon in Sjøa!

Civilized Life at Sjøa

July 17, 2009

The Olavsleden, not precisely wilderness, is still a rugged natural path. It makes for an interesting Pilgrim trek. Take today. I have never been more than two or three kilometers from the “E6”, a substantial Scandinavian arterial highway. I also walked across sheep and cattle pastures (among the grazing animals) and over numerous fence stiles. And I spent a lot of time traversing brutally steep, often stony, densely forested slope. The views, when they could be had, were spectacularly beautiful walled in Gudsbrandsdal Valley with the Lågen River below that carves it deeper. I was in sight of civilization—farms, lumber mills, small communities—most of the day. But a frustrating challenge of the Olavsleden is that its track carries you into few towns (an added difficulty: Towns conveniences are often widely dispersed). When you are re-supplying as you walk, your only option is often to drop down from your lofty ridge top vista in search of a supermarket losing elevation that you will be obliged to regain. I’ve wimped out in such fashion this evening, if anything on the Olavsleden can be described as wimpy. At any rate, I’m at the Youth Hostel at Sjøa at river level. I was obliged to walk 3 or 4 kilometers of heavy E6 traffic to get here. For that I’m enjoying a shower, clean sheets on a comfortable bed, some internet time, dinner, and breakfast—and my clothes are washing machine clean. Lance is third momentarily in the Tour de France, Leipheimer is out with a broken wrist. I’ve had only my second largely (not entirely) dry day in seventeen today. The locals say the weather here (and forecast) has been mostly fair in recent days. Good thing. I go onto the sparsely populated, above tree line “Oppland” this coming week. Tough country!

Pilgrim Loft Refuge at Jar

July 18, 2009

My first visit to Nord Sel Kommune in 1991 was memorable. Bicycle traveling with my younger sister Lisa from Kristiansand to Trondheim, quite by chance we rolled down a gravel mountain road into the town. It was amazing to me but as we reached the town’s outskirts, I turned to Lisa and said, “This reminds me of the setting of ‘Kristin Lavransdatter’”, Denmark born Sigrid Undset’s Nobel literature prize winning trilogy. Sure enough there in front of the soberly Christian Sel Kirke was a statute of fictional Kristin. Between 1885 and 1917, Undset had paid many visits to this upper Gudbrandsdal community and her Kristin’s saga is set here. In 1996 a syndicate reconstructed Kristin’s Sel farm “Jar” here for use in the filming of “The Bridal Wreath”, the first of the trilogy stories. The compound's 15 buildings include a church which is spectacularly burned in a climactic scene. The now rebuilt church and farm buildings are today part of the permanent Jørundgard Middelaldersenter living museum. The Olav’s Way pilgrim route walks right in among them. When the museum closes for the day at 5 p.m. and staff and visitors leave, pilgrims like me (!) can remain on the grounds the sole overnight occupants of an early 14th century village. I had the Spartan comfort of its “Langeloftet” all to myself. Alas, familiarity with the surroundings didn’t help this morning as I set out in light rain. It took me 45 minutes to find the way marks out of town.

Deep Survival and Decisions on the Dovrefjell

July 19, 2009

In fact I’ve seen snow on North facing slopes of high ridge lines twice in the past three days. I climb up to those elevations—above tree line—early in my day tomorrow. I’m used to this by now: Every long walk has its supreme challenge. In Spain, on the Camino, it’s the hot, arid “Meseta”. On the Appalachian Trail, it’s the successive “Presidential Range” peaks of Franconia Ridge in the White Mountains. You spend days worrying about the prospects that these challenges present. Early tomorrow morning, in just three short kilometers, I climb hundreds of meters on top of those I’ve already scaled to go above tree line for the first time on the Dovrefjell. It’s unnerving. What is fording cold Norwegian mountain streams like? Boots on, you get your feet wet. I can’t see how it will matter. With rain seventeen of my now nineteen pilgrim days, my feet have been wet more often than not. Will rock cairn way marks be dependably sufficient? One hopes so—I have no compass. Cloud down on the ground is likely. “Deep Survival”, a book about common elements of survival feats has this pithy advice: “Be here now!” As in be alive in the very moment. Decisions made keenly attuned to circumstances succeed. Life on that edge is rich. I’m at Budsjord Gard tonight, a classic 14th century mountain farm. I have a clean, cozy, well furnished log cabin six bunk pilgrims’ “hytte” all to myself. Henry David Thoreau scarcely had more on Walden Pond. I have a fire crackling in my own wood stove drying wet gear for tomorrow’s certain showers. I’m fortified by a late afternoon “middag” meal eaten in the same serving room with the merrily conversing farm family and help—seven of nine of them women. I have no idea what the main course was—something made with sour milk and looking like a cross between mashed potatoes and whale blubber. “Just what you need,” said the cook, “Lot’s of fat!”

A Rubicon Crossed on the Dovrefjell

July 20, 2009

I had ever so succulent trout for breakfast at Sygard’s Grytting some days back. I seem to be vulnerable lingering over “Frokost” cuisine as delicious as that. At the Gryttings, I was overtaken while at table by Andreas, a Danish pilgrim. This morning my breakfast at Budsjord was interrupted by Sverre, a Young Norwegian and only my second pilgrim met to date. Faced with the grim prospect of falling rain and down on the ground cloud visible out the dining room window, over hot coffee and light pastries Sverre and I elected to go to work. Misery loves company. Wet within minutes of starting out, a couple of up mountain kilometers found us fully exposed to the elements above tree line on the Dovrefjell. Together with the adjacent “Rondane”, it’s high mountain national park land—on a sunny day said to be the most beautiful of landscapes in central Norway. Its regular inhabitants include Musk Ox and reindeer. For us it was treadway rivulets of foot soaking frigid water and, in high mountain saddles, to-the-bone chilling wind. “Be here now!”—this axiom said to be good survival advice. Two heads are better than one. Carefully surveying its raging torrents, we had no sooner boots-on-waded one upland stream (I tossing trekking poles back to Sverre for balance needed to get him across) than we discovered the real challenge—the full stem of the Hundyrju River. No turning back we braved knees topping snow melt water struggling onward. Twelve kilometers into the Opplands by high noon, I elect to make my first wet high mountain day a short one stopping at Fokstugu, said to be the highest mountain farm in Norway. Sverre, out for only a week, dries clothes and moves on finding road to walk for safety. Hypothermia is the issue now. Fokstugu, is both a working farm and a two story 15 bed “herberge” refuge for pilgrims. I’ve counted four wood stoves in all, including one in my personal sleeping quarters. I’ve got one fired up and crackling right now.

Hagesæter Hospitality

July 21, 2009**

Yesterday, leaving Budsjord to tackle my first day in the (for an American pilgrim) "great unknown"--the Dovrefjell, it rained 50 mm. I don't know what the record might be but the kind caretaker woman at the Fokstugu Fjellstugu said that such a total was a substantial fraction of all the rainfall they normally get in an entire year. And she keeps a rain gauge. As you know, I take the risk of carrying light weight gear. Rainfall in these amounts soaks me right through to the skin and staying warm is a challenge. Sverre, a Norwegian I walked with yesterday, wisely counselled me that "one must respect the mountains". He elected to walk the E6 on from Fokstugu as he had no food. I told him I wanted to walk every kilometer of mountain track and so would foreswear the road. The Hundyru River had been raging as we waded its ford with boots on coming down to the Fjellstue. Later I learned that a Norwegian family had walked considerably higher up stream to cross the river on a "snowbridge" they found. I'm impressed by the friendly hospitality that greets me everywhere. On my way to Hjerkinn today, I stopped in the kro at Hagesæter – again pretty wet. I do fine staying warm until I stop. On arrival, I soon started in shivering. This tends to earn me a lot of sympathy. The woman soon offered me a hot shower and helped me put my wet clothing in her clothes dryer. She did it all as if it were routine. Caring for mountain people clearly still is an honored tradition on the Dovrefjell. Warming up, I enjoyed coffee and a karbonade sandwich with a fried egg as she recommended. It stopped raining as I ate leaving me an easy hours walk on to Hjerkinn. Walking planks in marshes today were sometimes 2–4 cm under water and the treadway was running rivulets overtopping footgear. Water was over the top of some footbridges. The weather forecast is improving tomorrow (only 5.4 mm of rain in the later afternoon...) and I intend to get back to my more "normal" kilometers – 34 to Rypusan herberge. Once I leave Kongsvold, I've committed to that. St. Olav, pray for your pilgrim... P.S. Yes Hjerkinn costs a king's ransom but kings have probably stayed here not to mention Viking peoples hunting reindeer. The evening buffet has been worth the price...

Swedish Princesses at the Kongsvold Fjellstue

July 22, 2009

It's empty, open alpine tundra above tree line on the central Norwegian Dovrefjell “Oppland”. I was dropping down mountain mid day to visit “Kongsvold Fjellstue”, since medieval times a mountain refuge with a history of royal patrons. There they suddenly were: Two beautiful Scandinavian maidens resting on either side of my steep track. 20 and 21, a blond and a brunette, and quite charming. Faye and Maine were Swedes and sisters working for the summer at the Fjellstue, the latter christened for our New England state which her parents thought was beautifully named. These young lasses cheerfully reported that they had just finished 10 sprints up the near vertical track just below them. I was awestruck and the panoramic view from our mountain aerie was the least of it. Not skiers, the girls said they just liked to use their free time off from work to come up on the mountain and get some exercise. Eventually they showed me a “secret” shortcut down to Kongsvold, today an expensive high mountain destination. Its lunch buffet wasn’t served till 1 p.m.--still an hour away. Not to worry. Ducking discretely into the kitchen, the girls emerged with two sandwiches and coffee served on china for me. “Don’t tell anyone”, they smiled. I felt like a king. 34 km took me over the mountain top today!

Building Character on the Dovrefjell

July 23, 2009

Yesterday on the Dovrefjell well above tree line I passed a scrap of a pond with snow banking its northern shore and a “growler” bit of an iceberg floating in its icy waters. Permafrost underlies this haunting, yes, forbiddingly empty landscape. What seemed benign, beautiful in calm air under briefly sunny skies in the morning leaving Hjerrkinn Fjellstue was harsh and threatening under gray skies in cold wind ten hours and 34 kilometers of walking later. I felt invigorated but in need of refuge. A cluster of tiny mountain cabins visible kilometers below deep in Vinstradal Valley was the answer. One of them, looking almost like a long, ramshackle cowshed announced that it was the Pilgrim "Refugium”. It was shuttered up but unlocked. Opening the largest doorway shutters, I discover a fine wood inner door giving access to the spotless varnished pine, fully furnished Ryphusan hostel. Propane heater and stove, equipped kitchen, spring water, and eight comfortable bunk beds. Remember “Lapskaus”?[—a beef stew like dish my Danish father used to make.] Thirty more kilometers has brought me through the town of “Oppdal” today where I enjoyed some in a cafeteria/restaurant. I inadvertently fueled my Dovrefjell mountain transit on “Liverpostei”—bought in tins I mistook for “Makrell i Tomat”. Real character building stuff.

Norwegian Bachelor Farmers?

July 24, 2009

They had the appearance of bachelor farmers and this was Norway. I found them in a large shed obscured by brush from my Pilgrim way by triangulating on the sound of their voices. The shed contained a bit of sawmilling equipment and stacked, fresh cut lumber but these three, two old men and one younger, were solving world problems at a leisurely pace. They eyed me appraisingly as I approached. I was on a mission: Dry overnight shelter at the Muklia Ungdomsenter Og Leirskole. “Did they know where it was?” I asked. An extended, animated discussion in Norwegian erupted which I suspect included discussion of whether this grubby American Pilgrim was worthy of help. I inferred from the tone that they knew where the senter was. With only the younger man speaking English, the real issue was how to explain the complicated details. The oldest of them finally said something conclusive and the other two laughed. The old man, the young one explained, would drive me there. Off route and done for the day, I accepted. Shoving tools and bachelor detritus aside to make room for my pack, we set off in his wagon. He spoke Norwegian the whole way. I learned that he had a daughter in New York City and loved President Obama.

Rekindled Youth

July 24, 2009

I had just snapped wide awake from deep sleep. It was disorienting. Looking at my watch … 9:15 … I thought at first it was morning. In the sub-Arctic the window light would give no clue. How had I possibly slept so late? I wondered. (I’m usually awake by 5 a.m.) Then I came to. I have comfortable quarters here at the Muklia Ungdomsenter og Leirskole and I was just awakening from a mid evening power nap. It would be accurate to say that the Pilgrim life is a wearying one. My feet are sore at the end of a day if the surfaces have been too rough or hard. Still, I’m invigorated, even energized. A month on the Olavsleden Pilgrim Way and I can count the days till I reach my Nidaros Cathedral goal on one hand’s fingers. I have the legs of a mountain goat in tough terrain. “Ungdom” signifies youth. There are choir singers—teenagers—here at the “senter” tonight. Perhaps I’m too tired to listen to them practice at 9:30 p.m.? Then the slight tap comes on my door. She is there, the young choir leader, come to invite me to the small musical performance. And I rouse myself from Pilgrim slumber for what? About 30 kids are assembled in an informal chapel room. One adult other than me. We live in a secular world—most evidently so in Lutheran Scandinavia. But I watch the thirty teenagers, boys and girls, conduct themselves through a simple, spiritual, religious ceremony with lit candles, readings, and song. They’ve slipped one English reading in, I have to imagine for me. A young girl reads it expressively. Their singing is peaceful. Next week they will travel to Trondheim to sing at the cathedral as part of the St. Olav’s Festival days. They will be 90 strong by then. With a little luck, I’ll be able to catch them there.