Monday, September 19, 2011

Hiking in the Rain

On top of Ulriken: sopping wet

Sunday some friends and I, buoyed by the favorable weather report, decided to try to hike Ulriken, Bergen’s tallest mountain. We planned to hike up Ulriken, around to Rundemanen, and down Fløyen. It’s a hike that has been described to us as taking variously 3 hours, 5 hours, or 8 hours, so we packed lunches and a little extra food, and set off. Of course, as we began the ascent, the drizzle turned into an all-out downpour. It turns out that when there’s only a 30% chance of rain in Bergen, the weather website calls that merely “cloudy,” because without shifting the values somewhat it would probably never get to use the sunny icon.

Mimi, who’s done Ulriken before, led us up the steep path. We clambered over the rocks that made the path, between which ran the rivulets of a steadily growing stream. Towards the top, the path became sheer rock, decorated by a slippery railing that had broken free of the ground in some places to sway dangerously when grabbed. Below us spread the valley, with Gamlehausen and Fantoft, and beyond the mountain across the way, Løvstakken, we could see the fjord spreading between islands and fingers of land.

The top of the mountain felt possessed. Rain gusted in my face so strongly it felt like pebbles blowing against my cheeks. The wind pushed against us as though it had some personal investment in our loss of balance. Yet even so, Bergen shimmered beautifully through the rain beneath us as though the weather was merely an accessory.

We ran to the café at the peak, gratefully shedding our sopping gear and warming hands around hot chocolate and stomachs with real chocolate. I have a sneaking suspicion that as the dark rises (we’re losing 20 minutes of sunlight a week, now), Norwegian diets will incline steadily more and more to the chocolate variety. I’m a fan. After waiting for the rain to die down, we conferred and decided to descend Ulriken by a different path, leaving the hike to Fløyen for another day.

Happy even in the rain
As we skipped from rock to rock, those in hiking boots quickly outstripping the poor souls slogging down in sneakers, we passed quaint red huts, and mountain lakes that were filled to over-brimming with rain runoff. We speculated about our friends back home. It is properly characteristic of each country that on a rainy Sunday, Americans will hole up on the sofa watching sports with snacks in front of them, while Norwegians all bundle up and march up mountains. It exemplifies the poverty gap in American: the poor eat fatty food and watch the wealthy stay fit, while in Norway everyone’s pretty equal and hikes regardless of class. There is an upside to the American propensity to huddle warmly indoors like cattle. One of the reasons I love hiking in the States is the solitude that it brings. When I trudge up a mountain, I don’t want to see anyone, not even adorable Norwegian babies staring solemnly down at me as they bounce in their father’s backpacks, nor hot French guys that attach themselves to our group for the hike down. But Norway is nowhere near as spacious as the US, and trails are crowded.

Making lunch today, I realized that my diet has adapted itself completely to Norwegian food. For breakfast, I eat muesli and yogurt (much of the Norwegian diet is hiking food). My matpakke at lunch usually consists of sandwiches with Norwegian salmon and Norwegian cucumber inside. Dinner, for the past fortnight, has generally meant soup. Usually lentil, for its protein and heartiness, or leek-carrot-potato, for yumminess and the cheaper Norwegian-grown vegetables. I’m going through tea at such an alarming rate that, at this pace, I’ll have to start placing bulk orders with Twinings. 

Even with the Norwegian food, my body has declared war on Norway. In much the same way that I, when entering a new country, like to sample the local cuisine, upon realizing it was in Norway my immune system hit the floor to allow my body a chance to sample the local germs. Translation: miserably sniffly, a headache to beat Virginia Woolf’s, and throat so scratchy that I sound like a bad joke of someone imitating a sexy voice. Worst of all, I have to teach Emily Dickinson tomorrow. Hermit ladies who wrote riddle-poetry deserve no place in the let’s-make-America-interesting-to-foreigners curriculum. I think I will go drown my sorrows in more tea.  


  1. I think you are doing sweet Miss Emily injustice, but then again I'm an old fossil, not knowing much about in vogue poetry.
    The Norwegian poet Inger Hagerup has written a touching homage to E.D.
    You might like to read it.

    If you go the most popular hike in Bergen on the pike hike day, Sunday, you sure will meet lots of people. Try Monday morning, and you'll find peace and tranquillity.
    I have read your blogs with escalating joy the last month. It seems to me you have the heart, mind and passion of a true pedagogue.
    I don't know if that's your goal, but young people so need teachers with empathy and burning hearts.
    I'm glad on the students' behalf, that they get to meet you.

    Try Tulsy tea or yogi tea with ginger&lemon for your cold.Norwegian heather honey will also do you good. Keep your hands, feet and neck warm all the time and you'll hopefully survive.
    From Felisol

  2. I found the Inger Hagerup poem.
    Here it is.

    Meget spinkel, Dikt av Inger Hagerup

    Meget spinkel

    Meget spinkel. Meget liten.
    Alltid sirlig kledd i hvitt.
    Gjennom huset trippet hennes
    veloppdragne pikeskritt.

    Tørket støv og vannet blomster
    med små travle husmorhender.
    Bakte brød. Gikk tur i parken
    og skrev brev til slekt og venner

    Kjærlig søster. Lydig datter
    Slik var dagens dukkelek.
    Men den skjulte ilden herjet.
    Og det stumme skriket skrek.

    Og bak jomfruburets låste dør
    og lette blondekapper l
    å en fremmed ingen kjente.
    Altfor ensom. Altfor tapper.

    Lå en kald kirurg og lyttet
    til sin egen nakne smerte.
    Og mens puten kvalte skriket
    obduserte hun sitt hjerte.

    Inger Hagerup

  3. This is brilliant!!! Thank you so much, I'm going to open with this poem tomorrow! It's the perfect thing to bridge the American-Norwegian gap-- I particularly love that bit where she says "so the doll's house days went by" --it's a nice shout-out to Ibsen. THIS is why I love teaching, there's always such interesting ways to trick the students into thinking on an entirely new level. Thanks a ton! And also for the tea recommendations; I've been doing lots of lemon, but the ginger is a good idea.