When you’re just about ok at being outdoorsy
Many moons ago (around March 2018) I found myself targeted with ads for travel companies offering kayaking adventures in Norway. There was one company in particular that kept popping up: Much Better Adventures. Eventually, I gave in and tapped on the link and within minutes I knew I was going to go. So there you go, algorithms do work.
I saw myself, a person who had up until that point never been in a kayak, out on the glossy fjords, dipping my oar to paddle with ease and grace. I found myself desperately wanting to camp by the water’s edge, spending the evenings sat on a log by a camp fire, drinking hot chocolate out of a tin mug, breathing in the smells of smoke and nature.
I messaged my friend Helen: we had drunkenly discussed going on a trip together. Something that involved a bit of adventure, we had said, something active. ‘I’m thinking about doing this…’ I wrote, sending her the link. ‘I’m in’ came the reply. I’ll say right now, I’m so glad she said yes – it would have been a very different experience without a pal by my side (and I say that as someone who likes travelling alone).
We booked to go in September 2019, catching a plane from Manchester to Oslo and then changing to go on to Bergen. Lovely Bergen with its beautiful streets and harbour (of course we didn’t see any of it until we got back from camping). For now, it was straight on a train to Voss. Apparently the train ride from Bergen to Voss is one of the most scenic journeys on the planet, and it was unfortunate that by the time we arrived in Bergen, it was already dark and so we couldn’t see anything out of the window. Note for next time!
We stayed the night in a hostel and woke up to birds swooping across the surface of the water outside our window as the sun came up. We met our fellow campers (a small group and a mix of solo travellers, couples, friends), and we set off to the base point where we would collect our kayaks and the adventure would begin.
The plan was: kayak to our campsite on Friday and have a short walk around; then Saturday would be a hike up to the summit of the fjord and back; and Sunday would be another paddle. I can do this, I thought. I’m reasonably fit and I have been known to go on a long walk at the weekend. The website assured me that beginner kayakers would be fine.
Well, I didn’t drown. I wasn’t the duck to water I had imagined I would be. Graceful? Certainly not. I was in a double-kayak with Helen steering us like a champ (thank goodness, I dread to think what I would have been like on my own).
It rained quite heavily on our first kayak outing and my hand almost instantly blistered from where the oar rubbed. I peered out from under the hood of the rain jacket provided by the company, the one that kept slipping down allowing water that I was somehow flicking up from the fjord with my oar to run down my back, and wondered if this had been a terrible idea.
To be honest, I was amazed that the kayaks could still float. When we had arrived at the base point the tops of the kayaks were taken off at either end and in the middle to reveal impressively large storage holes (my technical kayak knowledge didn’t improve much on this trip). Reader, this may not be news to you that a kayak has a lot of storage room, but to me it was pretty wondrous. We filled each kayak with all the pots and pans we would need, food for the trip, drinks (beers, hello) as well as our belongings placed in dry bags and stuffed and punched into the kayak, our hiking boots slotted in beside the sleeping bags. The tents and sleeping mats were slid under the elastic on outside. But there we were, still floating.
The camp site was pretty incredible. It had been sold to me as ‘wild’ camping and it certainly did feel remote. We perched our tent just up from the pebbled shore of the fjord and listened. You’d be surprised how loud a fjord can be!
The thing that surprised me the most about the trip was the food. I had imagined that it would be standard barbeque stuff: burgers, white bread buns and bright yellow cheese, maybe a weirdly textured porridge for breakfast. Oh no, my friend. The food was fabulous and plentiful. We had the choice of pork chops, hot dogs or salmon the first night, with baked potatoes and selection of vegetables. We had picnic lunches made up of three different kinds of meat, cheeses, spreads, soups and condiments. Smoked salmon was everywhere. Also a copious amount of carrot cake and chocolate. Maybe not quite ‘wild’ camping, then. On the last morning, we had pancakes. Real thick, fluffy, American-style pancakes with a selection of toppings. It was a gourmet experience and I don’t remember having the chance to feel hungry before the next snack was offered.
The hike on Saturday was the hardest day, I was right to have been nervous about it. I soon discovered that my legs go a lot slower than everyone else’s. They seemed, like springboks, to bounce up the side of the valley to the top. Oh, and my boots were falling to bits. My loyal walking boots that had been around the globe with me, chose that weekend to come apart at the soles.
The incline at the start was manageable, I was at the back but not too far behind, and I was distracted by the beautiful views around me, the greenness and the clear blue skies. I was also powered by blueberries, collected from the side of the path on our walks. It was the final push up the ‘hill’ that got me and put the greatest distance between me and the main group. In the end I cheated and stuck my headphones in and blasted out some Adele (whose albums, it turns out, are the only ones I have downloaded to my phone) as motivation.
The view from the top was incredible and I’ve never felt prouder of my little legs for getting me somewhere (even if I did feel guilty about being the last one to the top). And hey, there was yet more carrot cake and hot chocolate to enjoy whilst looking out over the fjord.
The way back down was a killer: so hard on my knees. But somehow, I managed to get myself in the middle of the pack and in front of a couple who were using the trip as a warm up for trekking across the Himalayas. They were powering me on telling me stories about previous travel adventures and plans for the future. I love hearing people’s stories about travelling and will happily sit with you while you go through hundreds of hours of photos. Tell me everything! So that was fun for the way back.
It was tough, though, my legs by the end of the day were in pain. My feet and knees hurt so much. On the last little bit back to camp, where it was in sight (and so was everyone else because they were already back) but were still so far away, I could barely pick my legs up to get my feet to move. I finally crashed into the tent to unsucker my boots from my feet and peel away the socks to inspect the damage. No lost toenails, really? Helen brought me bacon flavoured crisps to the tent to help aid my recovery.
That night the guide made us a coconut curry packed full of chicken and vegetables that was better than any curry I have tried to make at home. It almost, but didn’t quite, manage to keep me warm that night in the tent – I wish I had packed extra layers! Who knew Norway in September would be chilly? And despite all the fresh air and my aching legs, the sounds of the fjord also kept me awake: but there is something about lying in a tent and listening to the weather on the outside that is a magical experience.
The kayak back to base the next morning was much smoother (ha, no it wasn’t, I was just more determined to get back to use a flushing toilet). We stopped on the way to climb up a waterfall (hadn’t my legs experienced enough!) and have a cup of tomato soup, followed by a full picnic lunch. As I say, food really was plentiful and a highlight of the trip.
There was also a really lovely moment where we stopped while we were out on the water to just enjoy being there. I felt the kayak bobbing on the water and tilted my face up to the sun, the sides of the fjord rising up so dramatically around me. The blues and greens of the water, the wondrous depths, up the hillside to the sky. I was there: in Norway and I had camped, paddled, hiked to the top and back down again, I had eaten, I had laughed and I had enjoyed it.
It was an amazing trip, one that I never thought I would do, until one day I spontaneously asked my friend and, together, we did it.