Then I got an email from Helgard. Of all people, SHE wouldn’t be there! That was a disappointment. She’s among the first I would come down for! It would be so great to take the good old Subaru (that’s hers now) and go skiing with the three of us (or more). But no!
There were people around, though. Rafael and Rike, having been parents for five weeks at the time, would not be going anywhere. Neither would Knut, with his brand new daughter. Tjarda was around, and Mats and Anna-Lisa would be there, but have friends around. Eeva would be there part of the time. Dierk and Steffen would be there too! So a big loss to miss Helgard and Carsten, but reason enough to go anyway. And even if there wouldn’t have been anybody it would still have been great. All these mountains, all that snow, waiting for me! And if the weather would suck I could just go to town or read a book or work. I brought enough...
So I got onto the train, and by the time I arrived at Gatwick Airport I had read many articles and acquired a sore bum. And that was before the 3.5 hour flight! But all was forgotten when the taxi drove through town. It feels like home! These wooden houses, these struggling birch trees, these icy roads...
The view from Helgard's when I got there
I arrived at Helgard’s place (I wanted to stay there, as nobody would get disturbed when I would arrive at 1.30 or so at night), and I saw that she had prepared for me! I felt very welcome. And tired. Off to bed.
And the next morning!
I woke up to blazing sunshine! Beautiful beautiful beautiful! I got up, changed the bicycle tires (Helgard has the strange habit of walking places), checked what Tjarda was up to, heaved my skis onto my shoulder and started walking in the direction of the nearest ski possibility, which is Tromsdalen lysløype. What was I thinking? I turned back, strapped my skis onto the bike, and went.
The Tromsdalen lysløype
My first meters on ski were very clumsy. The last time I had had carving telemark skis with plastic boots! And now I was back onto my fjellski with leather boots. Man that makes a difference. But I got back into the feeling, and with a sustained grin I was on my way. I was happy! I love Norway.
The løype has the shape of an 8, and I wanted to do the big round, so I kept to the right. And after quite a while it dawned on my infatuated brain I had already left the figure of 8. I had ended up on the route to Skarvassbu! And had not noticed. Typical. I decided to go on until folkehjelphytta, on the flank of Tromsdalstinden, and turn there. I had never been that far! It was beautiful.
Here it's no longer a lysløype (no more lys), but it's even prettier
It was windy at the folkehjelphytte!
In the last curve I unexpectedly met Anders, one of the university PhD students, and his son on his mini-skis. That’s what you get in such a small town! At the hut I had some coffee and turned. I was reminded of why I never did that part of the loype before; I had to plough hard to maintain an acceptable speed. But I managed! Back on the 8 I was overtaken by Ole Anders, an NP oceanographer. Nice to see all these people! Later I would also meet Ivar the Librarian while biking through town. Pretty much landed in Tromsø again I got back to the bike, and went home for a shower.
It had been a late night, and I had gone much further than anticipated, so it was now late; too late to see other people between now and the evening, which I would spend at Rafael and Rike’s. And Max’! They have a child now. I fought the temptation to fall asleep, had a shower, and was on my way. Lovely to see them again! Mats and Anna-Lisa and Tjarda were also there, as well as Megan, a new girl, and some friends of Mats and Anna-Lisa. We caught up, had excellent dinner, played with the cat, were impressed by the little kiddie, and watched a movie. After that I slouched down on the bike and somehow made it home.
The next morning Tjarda, Megan and I would go on a ski trip together. The Anglo-Saxon connection! Megan is American. And in a way we were many more people; Sanja’s and Carstens skis came along, Mats' skins, and Helgards house keys, and several other objects linking us to those not there.
The view from the Kvaløya lysløype was amazing too!
We would start on the Kvaløya lysløype, and from there on improvise. We ended up on one of the flanks of Kjolen, near Greietuva. It was another beautiful day! It was great. And after the easy part (the coming up) we managed well coming down. We are all evident foreigners who fumble down, but we did it! I challenged myself to only makle proper turns. No cowardly zig-zagging! And I managed! I was quite proud. None of my turns were telemark, and towards the end quite a few were fairly ugly, but they were real turns. One day I may learn!
Tjarda and Megan
At this level we decided the snow was difficult enough. No need to go higher!
Megan (front) and Tjarda
After the trip I would have dinner with Knut, but he called it off, and Tjarda lovingly took care of me. I first had to drop by at Rafael’s, as I had forgotten all my maps there, but after that we had a shower (extra necessary after having to bike to the top of the hill again), pasta, tyttebaer-gin, fire, and thoughts on life in general and in Tromsø in specific, and it was all good.
I slithered home again to Helgard. She sometimes complains about the state of the road she needs to take to get basically anywhere, and I now know why. Everywhere the roads are questionable around this time; there tends to be a 10 cm thick layer of ice on all of them, and in times like these it starts melting in erratic patches and slushing up and being driven to ridges and freezing up again and all sorts of misery. And this one is among the worst! However, I got there.
The next day I was still tired. Not terribly early I ended up on my (Helgards!) bike. I went to Movik for a short trip, which meant some more ridge-dodging and meltwater sliding and splashing through lakes with ice chunks and all that. And again, you leave the main road and within minutes it’s so stomach-wringingly beautiful! This day, however, there were menacing clouds on the horizon and I went back fairly early. Maybe this day was meant for less sport and more socialising! So I phoned Steffen, and he agreed. He has reached a very stressy part of the PhD trajectory, and was glad to come out for a beer. Good old times! And he spoke of a whole bunch of university folk going to try out a new restaurant. We decided to join. Among the people was, as I thought, Noortje (see the blogposts on the Lance cruise), who just moved to Tromsø for a PhD job! I’m jealous. But I’ve had two years of fun. Now it’s her turn.
Is it getting boring already? Snow and sun!
The cloudy view as it looked through my sunglasses
I was excited at the thought that I would be real avant garde with visiting brand new restaurants. Unfortunately it was closed, so we retreated to a nearby, fairly common, pizzeria. Ah well. And during an after dinner beer in Verdensteatret we heard of northern lights, and ran out. Some of us were visitors for whom this would be the only chance... and even from town they were amazing. Bonus! Who would have thought to get such good ones as late as Easter.
I had forgotten all about the shops closing for Easter, and I didn’t have much food, so Saturday would be my real resting day, interspersed with some shopping. I managed the food shopping, and also got me some books in Norwegian, but the rope I wanted to buy for SRT purposes fell through due to all sports shops being closed. Will I manage to buy a short piece of rope in England before I need it for a caving trip? Stay tuned! And while shopping I managed my social life as well. I teamed up with Rafael and Rike again, surrounded by three more generations. A chance to speak torsk! I think they thought it was rather funny how I completely failed to make conversation in German because the Norwegian came through all the time. And I had a beer with Noortje. And got a coffee rendez-vous with Audun! I did not know he would be in town. That was another bonus.
In the evening I prepared for a rather early bus the next day. I would head for Oldervik! See Dierk again, and Fred Inge the dangerous librarian too. I was not entirely sure if the bus would go, it being Easter, but more people streaming towards the bus stop as if it was a bloke from an Axe (or Lynx) commercial reassured me. It would! And did. Not all the way, though; Dierk would have to pick me up. Which he did, wild-eyed and sweating, as the roads out there were even much worse than they were in town. Plenty of opportunity to get stuck, or to get water in your engine! But none of that. He made it, and after a few litres of tea we went back, to go for a ski. Fred Inge in his low Porsche, on the roads that cost Dierk a year of his life every time he needs to drive them! But man, can that guy kick his precious steed right though all the ice and the water and the slosh. I think higher of sports cars now. Provided they come with a ruthless driver, that is. And the day brought more ruthlessness!
The skibuss deliveres, well, bussloads of people to the løypes that have been prepared through the surroundings of Tromsø
I had to go to the toilet first, and Dierk's indoor toilet does not work anymore, so I had to make do with the beach. What a sacrifice!
We went up a nice easy slope. For a bit. And then it got steep. So steep I did not make it on my short skins, and had to zig-zag, which after half the mountain I was so fed up with I changed to long skins. Bring it on! And I needed them; it just stayed steep. I started shitting my pants harder and harder, knowing I would also have to get down. But I also realised this was one of the charms of Tromsø life. Scary stuff! The only scary thing I do in England is driving, and after these few months the only thing I still think I scary is picking up Neil from his impossibly narrow dead end. So I did what I basically always do: just go on, and worry about it later.
On the way up we met Dierk's housemate
Fred Inge and his beautiful suspenders
We had some more tea, not on the top, but as far as we dared. And then there was no more escape. Given the steepness and the very hard snow both Dierk and I, both sissy foreigners, decided to leave our skins on our skis. Fred Inge didn’t, of course, and clearly displaying the level of our respective skills to all others present on that mountain we went down. And lived to tell the tale! A little below the tree line we had another break, as there we would not be blown out of our clothes. And there was no hurry. We enjoyed the quiet and the view for a while. Sometimes life is just good!
Break at the top
And the more relaxed break lower on the slope
We also managed to negotiate the part of the flank with the trees on, which always provide a challenge for weak skiers that can prove hilarious to more experienced specimens. And then it was goodbye to Dierk, and Fred Inge showing me again what he can do with his old car, on the way home. And then it was time for a shower, and blogging in the sun, on the balcony, with a beer! Life still was just good.
Almost back; low light, wet snow.
Martha greeted me at the door with Siri, the little one, in her arms. Time for catching up with these ladies and Knut! He happened to be sweating away in the kitchen making waffles. Waffles! Another trip down memory lane.
I got some disproving comments regarding my plan to helmetlessly bike home on the already described roads, and a hug, and I was on my way again. The next day would be a grand final day on skis! I had wanted to do either the trip from Tønsvik back to town, or from Snarby, taking the skibuss out. Fred Inge was interested in joining, on the conditions that it would be Tønsvik (that’s shorter), and that we would take the late buss. Megan wanted to come along as well, not having any further demands. So I could smear my rolls in ease and make my way to the buss stop. Where there was nobody else! Disconcerting. When nothing appeared I started texting and phoning the others; maybe we had better take a cab. Or drive, but then we of course had to get back to the same place. Confusion! And it didn’t help that some of that was discussed while Fred Inge was standing at a a road that, for Tromsø standard, had heavy traffic, and that I was standing beside a chiming cathedral. But in the end the bus showed up after all. The bus company seemed to have forgotten about it...
That way it was noon when we got ready. At the bus stop I had managed to accidentally deliver the mercy blow to my already ailing ski pole. Not good! And Norwegians take such things seriously. So Fred Inge turned McGyver; he drew his Sami knife and repaired my pole with a euthanized small birch tree. Ready!
McGyver mends a ski pole
Amazing weather with Easter is fairly rare in Tromsø, so everybody wanted to enjoy it, and it was crowded on the track. And warm. I skied almost all the way in my T-shirt. But it also meant the track was icy, and the going was not that easy. I used my short skins again, but Megan, who only had long, broad, ill-fitting skins was struggling a bit with finding a balance between having no skins and no grip at all, or these skins and hardly being able to move. But we moved on!
We came across the Beauty and the Beast!
When we reached a local high we sat down for lunch. What a day! Not for everybody though; we watched the rescue helicopter faffing around near a steep slope...
On and on we went through the white nothing. Megan had done this trip before, and knew what she was up to, but Fred Inge had evidently thrown himself into it without much further thought. Some north-Norwegian vernacular escaped his mouth when he saw the map and realised how far it actually was...
Fred Inge and Megan tenaciously going up
We reached Skarvassbu close to 5PM, and needed another break. Some last tea, chocolate and whatnot before Fred Inge would get happy and Megan and I would start shitting out pants; soon after the hut the way would be down, down, down. And I had gotten impatient; I would meet Eeva that evening, and she had texted me Sanja would be there too! I had not expected she would already be back from her mega-skitrip from Bergen to Trondheim. But she was.
So we went. I nervously took my skins off; I should be able to pull this off! Megan did the same. And then we snowploughed down, thinking about the afterlife we might very well reach soon. But we didn’t! I made it down quite well on the first stretch. And then came a steep bit. This late in the day the track had been ploughed to bits, and even though the snow outside the track was much worse, I decided to use that anyway. Then you can decide the steepness of the slope yourself! And it does not take that much imagination to guess what steepness I went for.
By the time I had zig-zagged all the way to Fred Inge he proclaimed he had been standing there for 20 minutes already. And then we had to wait for Megan, who didn’t like either snow conditions, and was walking down. That repeated itself at a treacherous little slope just below folkehjelphytta. But soon after that we were all back on skis again. Going fast! The loype in the vally really was ice. Too fast going down, too slow coming up, but of course we made it.
I had guessed we would need 4, 5 hours for this trip. We took 7.5. Ah well! It was a worthy and challenging last day of snowy Easter. And now I just carried my skis back to Helgards. I came in, all sweaty and tired, and 10 minutes later I came out clean, dressed in civilian clothes, and still tired. And a while later I was sitting in Eeva’s living room, still a bit off this world, chatting away with the Finnish ladies! What an evening. A day spent to the max. Eeva had cooked dinner, and I had brought some English specialties that go well with after dinner tea, and after a while Eeva’s boyfriend showed up and poured beer, and it was all good.
When Sanja left so did I. Time to go home, pack, clean, and sleep. The next morning Sanja would show up for breakfast! This week was packed with bonuses. So I laid the table (Vuxenpoäng, indeed, Helgard!), boiled water, packed the last things, and had a real Easter breakfast. And then it was time for Sanja to drive me to the airport in her grown-up’s car, and give me a last hug. In the plane I just spent my time looking out of the window over the snowy isles, and dreaming. I’ll be back!