As many of you know, I was able to travel in Norway and Iceland for just over a month this January. To give you a background, I am half Norwegian and a lot of my favorite childhood memories involve aspects of my Norwegian heritage. My grandparents (Alf and Olaug) grew up in Stavanger, Norway which is the third or fourth largest city, depending on what parameters you are talking about. In Norway they speak Norwegian (Ja, jeg snakker litt norsk) and start learning English very early in school, so most Norwegians are fluent in English. They use the Norwegian Krone for money, most of their industry comes from oil, and the country is just over 5 million people. Over the next few weeks I'll be sharing with you various lessons I learned while traveling.
I realized on this trip that there are many things I don’t do because I am afraid of the outcome and not being able to control it. I always knew I was extra-cautious but I had a few experiences where I was pushed outside my comfort zone and these became the best moments of my trip.
Climbing. I have been climbing indoors for over a year now, but after one hard painful fall from bouldering a year ago I wrote off bouldering completely. When bouldering, I am always afraid of falling and never take risks- if you go for something you cant reach or you slip, it feels like you can’t control your fall or how you land, and taking a risk or a dyno doesn't seem as appealing when you have a small chance of making it and a high chance of falling flat on your face.
My cousin, who is an amazing rock climber, took me to huge facility in Stavanger but after top roping on a few routes, it was either really boring and easy or wicked hard to the point where I couldn’t get even halfway up a route. We ended up bouldering, and after watching me climb only halfway up and then climb all the way down multiple times, he encouraged me to just go for it and embrace the falls. He started by spotting me, and yelling at me to keep going for a first few attempts. Sure enough at the end of about three hours, I was reaching the top of the problems and jumping down gracefully. My heart was pounding by the time I got to the top and I had tunnel vision, but I did it. I also realized that it wasn’t as scary as it had been in my head and actually kind of fun. The thrill adds a different challenge than just the physical one, and has opened up a whole new area of climbing for me. If you're in the Boston area- my recommendation is to go to Brooklyn Boulders. This is also an exceptional way to burn off some energy with all this snow on the ground!
Night Hike. My second experience was with the same cousin and his younger sister. We wanted to hike to a lookout point called Dalsnuten, but I have been there atleast once, maybe twice before. We decided to mix it up and go on a hike in the middle of the night to see a different view. I’m actually wildly afraid of the dark, and when you are hiking in the dark in Norway, its about 10x more dark than you’ve experienced in metropolitan USA. We had headlamps and flashlights, but Norwegians don’t pigeon hole themselves to following a path. You kind of just go with a general idea of where you are going and how to get back- which means I was terrified of getting lost, having to camp for the night, or being attacked by wolves (all slightly silly fears, but I was still scared).
Getting to the top was fine, and this is one of those views that gets your heart pumping and takes your breath away. It’s truly amazing, as you are looking across the fjord to the city of Stavanger and surrounding towns. You’re looking at 180 degrees of city lights and it’s AMAZING- the photo is only a quarter of the view. That being said, our photos sucked and after a few tries we gave up on those. After taking in the view for a while we decided to head back, though our best headlamp didn’t work. I had the one working headlamp and we used our iphone flashlights. We took a longer route on the way back by accident which led us to a frozen over river, where we all slipped and fell a dozen times. After laughing hysterically, and realizing that we were no match for this frozen river, we sat down and slid on our butts down the river to get to the "path" that was really just a couple of 2 x 4's so you could safely walk across the river we just scooted down. We did take a slightly longer route back, butgot back to the car safely (aside from our behinds being a little frozen), and now I just laugh at how scared I was the whole time.
Looking back I find it even more funny because we were completely safe the whole time, yet I was panicking on the inside, and my heart rate and blood pressure were through the roof every time I almost slipped. In the end we fell a million times, though didn't get hurt, and we got to experience one of my favorite views of the trip. It is impossible to convey how beautiful the view was, and how weird it was hiking without knowing where you'll end up, or how much fun we actually had slipping and sliding on all of that ice. Nevertheless, I am grateful my cousins suggested it, and that I kept my silly fears to myself. I'll have that memory forever and the view ingrained in my mind.
Skiing. I’ve never been good at even biking down a hill, so you can imagine that skiing was even more terrifying. There are videos of me skiing when I was a toddler, and I went skiing once with my mom about 10 years ago after snowboarding all day. I'm pretty sure I went down the bunny slope twice and called it a day, so I knew that skiing in Norway would be an experience before we even got to the mountain. My cousin said he would teach me, but usually in Norway that means they'll take you to the top of the mountain and you either sink or swim. In preparation, I looked up on YouTube how to do parallel turns (I know that seems ridiculous).
When we arrived, it was snowing so hard you could barely see 20 feet in front of you, but that didn't stop my cousin from bringing me to the top of the mountain and telling me to go (I was right about the sink or swim thing). We went down the first run and I thought I was seriously going to have a heart attack. Every time I went in to turn my skis in the other direction I thought I was going to faint because it was either turn, or go off a cliff. Even though there was the constant fear of skiing off the cliff, I was busting out some pretty good beginner parallel turns. I was so nervous and anxious that at the end of the first run I sat down on the benches at the bottom and made my cousin go on a run without me. I took my boots and skis off and was ready to tell him I was happy we went but I was finished for the day.
He flew back down in about 5 minutes and I had prepared my speech- I knew that I had the ability to ski, and that was enough, and I'd rather go back to the cabin and have hot chocolate. I thought there was no way I'd stand up and get on the lift again, but he didn't exactly take no for an answer. So we continued for hours. We went up ski lift after ski lift, working our way to another mountain, and then worked our way back. Luckily it was off and on snowing and there was a lot of fresh powder because I fell a ton. There were so many times I stopped at the top of the mountain and yelled to my cousin that I was too afraid, that I wouldn’t be able to stop, that I was going to die if I went down the hill, etc. Every time he laughed and told me I just had to take my time and enjoy it instead of worrying.
By the end of the day, I realized that even after falling many times, there was never a time where I had a bad fall, and every time I took a chance and made it down the mountain or a tough patch without falling, it was SO AWESOME. Our theme song for the day was Everything is Awesome from the Lego Movie and every time I finished a run smiling my cousin would just laugh, and then turn around and keep going. Now that I conquered skiing, I'm excited to go back and try it again!
Driving in Iceland. My last experience that pushed me to the edge was driving along the Golden Circle in Iceland. I was traveling alone so I rented a mini car to drive around to all of these awesome places in the country, and without realizing it I would be driving in the snow. The weather wasn't terrible, aside from being windy, but most people in Iceland have four wheel drive and are used to driving on unplowed streets. My true California girl came out because I've never really driven in snow, especially without chains, and let's just say I really am thankful I was alone- because at least I knew if anything happened nobody would be there to yell, judge, or get hurt besides myself.
I was never in any truly dangerous situations, but not being used to a car swerving going through snow was absolutely terrifying, especially when huge tourbusses came barreling past me. The entire 6 hour drive I had my eyes peeled and was paying hard attention at the road to be prepared for snowy and icy spots. Every time I hit a long patch of unplowed street I considered turning around, but I REALLY wanted to see the waterfall (in the photo above). Needless to say after a day of driving for about 6 hours, I saw all the sights I wanted to see and I had no real issues, just my heart beating out of my chest for a long period of time. I got to see the most amazing scenery, that even photos wouldn't really do justice. I've included a few.
All of these experiences pushed me to do things that really scared me and seemed unattainable. After looking back, even though I remember all of the fear and panic going through my body, I laugh at how insurmountable these things seemed before, and how I would easily do them again now that I've conquered them. I know these may not seem like that extreme of experiences, but my point is that being pushed to do things that make you uncomfortable, and when you can't control the outcome, makes you realize a lot about yourself. I came back from this trip empowered and feeling like I can do so many things!
This reminds me of one of my favorite books, Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. If there is anything in this post that spoke to you, or made you think about your own life, or made you wonder how you'd do facing things that scare you, I highly recommend you read it. I'll leave you with a quote from Theodore Roosevelt, featured in Dr. Brene Brown's book:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” -Theodore Roosevelt