"Difficulties are just things to overcome, after all"
- Ernest Shackleton
I've always found that when choosing to undertake a period of imminent strenuous exercise, there is one particular part of the preparation phase that is most enjoyable.
So, as I sat in one of Edinburgh airport’s dining joints with a steaming mountain of porridge, a plate of layered pancakes and two bulbous muffins (fruit based and therefore counting as 2 of my 5 a day) I commended myself on making quite the sterling effort during the latter stages of this preparation phase of the trip to Norway.
All other aspects of planning had gone relatively smoothly too and I had been planning this trip in my head for years. I had studied maps and photos of potential routes that would maximize my time spent in the area and had made every effort to prepare for all eventualities. I had spent months pouring over the equipment lists of previous solo cold weather training trips of others, making sure that the right decisions were being made over potentially life-saving sources of warmth, nutrition and equipment. I felt I had packed well.
Stumbling 4 bags full onto the tram and into the airport therefore, I discovered how much I could stretch both my weight bearing capabilities as a human being and also the luggage restrictions of Norwegian Air. Crucial items could not be left behind, as questions surrounding my choice of equipment were still to be answered: Would wearing two brand new pairs of specialised underwear prevent frostbite? Would I remember which colour the pee bottle was this time round?
Within one hour of arriving in Oslo I had sourced and retrieved detailed maps of the area I was to travel to, had my specialist bindings mounted by the helpful Andreas at Sportsnett in (having been unable to locate anywhere in Scotland to carry this out) and had picked up some last minute repair equipment. I had also located a supermarket where I gathered a fine looking mixture of ingredients: cooking oil, cheese, salami and chocolate. This would form the basis for my diet over the coming fortnight, just as they had done 10 years previously during my student days.
I departed Oslo on a crisp March morning. As the train began winding it’s way along the Bergensbanen line, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief. I was now only a few short hours away from somewhere that a year before I could only have dreamed of.
Thanks to the captivating and undulating scenery on the journey between Oslo and Bergen, this train journey is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful in the world. The shallow hills and the bright bluebird skies above the city’s fringes soon yielded to a thick, milky blanket of cloud interrupted only intermittently by sharp shafts of sunlight. A light dusting of snow hid the green baize of fertile land as we continued North West of the capital. The layering of the snow continued to build and the carriages slowed as the gradient steepened and the shimmering low winter sun settled behind the hills to the South of Hordaland County.
As we chugged through the last few hamlets, the combination of rocky outcrops, and colorfully painted houses, which had thus far provided such a contrast to the dazzling whiteness of the surroundings, now succumbed completely to this white wonderland. The last few stations were unrecognizable as such, their use as strategic stops only acknowledged with a simple sign. Neither building nor platform could be seen.
Arriving in Finse felt very, very special. It was both the culmination of a two-year journey and what I hoped would be the beginning of something much bigger later this year. A small gathering of half a dozen or so buildings lined the South side of the railway tracks, with a solitary snowmobile – easily the most efficient means of transport here – the only immediate clue to any human habitation. No one else alighted the train and I couldn’t help but notice the flash of cameras fleetingly light up the dark tinted carriage windows. As well as taking photos of the station building and sign, they appeared to be taking photos of me. Was it that unusual for someone to disembark here in early March?
I watched as the carriages creaked and groaned back into motion, eventual disappearing through the Finse Tunnel, giving a playful blast of its horn as it continued its route westward and onto Bergen. A rapidly setting pale low hanging sun and chilling temperature hastened my actions, however, and I set out to explore this hamlet. From the hustle and bustle of cosmopolitan Oslo, this felt like the Wild West of Norway. It did not quite seem like a one-horse one town, but at that point, it did feel a little lonely. And this is why it was perfect.