There are few experiences more immersive than walking the length of a country in one go. After weeks on the trail the little things become the big things, and the things you thought were important suddenly don’t seem to matter so much. In this issue of Notes from Outside, Renée takes us along on just such an experience, as she crosses Norway on foot from south to north. If you’ve ever wondered how it feels to thru-hike, this story might just answer some of your questions. Enjoy!
Editor, Notes from Outside
I'm standing in front of this damn signpost crying my eyes out. How the hell did I think I could walk over 2,500 kilometers across Norway? Self-doubt eats away at me and I feel powerless and miserable. Not how I imagined this moment.
I am standing above the tree line for the first time on this route. Around me, as far as the eye can see, stretch the gentle forested mountains of the Austheiane. It would be a picturesque view if it weren’t for this dark cloud front which has just surprised me with a hailstorm, leaving barely enough time for me to throw on my rain gear. Earlier in the day, I sat out a thunderstorm with no shelter. And between these showers of cold rain, lies a tiring day of countless climbs and descents. In short, it’s been a long, wet, crap day!
The Norwegian Trekking Association gives 21 kilometers and seven hours hiking time for today's stage. My watch tells me I've been walking for seven hours now. A look at the signpost tells me that I’ve covered 13 kilometers. I calculate how long it will take me to cover the remaining eight kilometers, and that’s when I start to cry.
If I can't even make it from one hut to the next in one day, how am I supposed to get to the North Cape in five months?
I start plotting an exit plan: I imagine hiking to the next road, hitchhiking from there to the next town, and continuing on to Oslo airport, flying home and pretending this never happened. Then I pull myself together and defiantly walk on.
Finally, I make it to the long-awaited hut at the end of today’s stage. My legs are tired and my shoulders are tense, but I now have a grim determination to keep going. When I shoulder my backpack the next morning, the world already looks a lot friendlier.
Over the next few weeks, I consciously take the pressure off myself, paying attention to my body's limits and accepting that I'm going slowly. Little by little my body adapts, and I start to feel truly present in this experience. Meanwhile, the landscape is changing every day. The last remnants of snow in the mountains are melting, making way for the first spring flowers.
After a brief last flush of winter with sub-zero temperatures and snow at the beginning of July, summer is suddenly around the corner. It proves to be just as merciless. Within a couple of days, the temperature climbs to over 30 degrees. Unpleasant temperatures in everyday life become hell on earth with no shade and 25 kilograms on my back. The swarms of horseflies that now accompany me all day don’t help either.
The compensation for these daily challenges follows in the evening, when I sit in front of my tent watching the sun slowly sink into the horizon.
Reaching the latitude of Trondheim on this south-to-north journey, I’m now at the point where I leave the comparatively densely populated southern Norway behind me. It's now rare to encounter another soul all day, but I discover there is a difference between being alone and being lonely. I’ve been traveling alone for months now, but instead of loneliness I feel a growing anticipation for the wild north, and the beginning of my favorite season – autumn.
In late summer, I tackle one of the most challenging sections of the route – the Blåfjella-Skjækerfjella National Park. It’s the longest section without supply stops so far, and my backpack is accordingly heavy. In this remote area there aren’t even trails, only a wide, untouched landscape home to many reindeer and even brown bears. It’s in the middle of this wilderness that I meet Andrea and Olli. They’re also hiking to the North Cape, and with this shared goal looming over us all, a short encounter between strangers quickly turns into a tight-knit group hike northwards.
Soon we can see the first harbingers of autumn everywhere. I find them in the first leaves turning yellow, orange and red, and in the shortening days and ever colder nights. In the evenings, we now wrap up in our thick down jackets while we prepare our dinner on the gas cooker. And then there are the tentative auroras, a magnificent light show dancing across the sky. Then, with the change of season, our little hiking family has changed too. Marius has joined us, once again showing how quickly strangers become friends out here.
Together we join the Nordlandsruta long-distance trail, following it northwards, crossing the Arctic Circle, and soon after, the Swedish border. Here a new sight awaits us: It snowed last night and the mountain peaks around us are powdered white. A beautiful sight, but also a clear sign that we need to hurry to beat the winter.
For a little more than 300 kilometers, our route takes us through Sweden – through Padjelanta and along the northern Kungsleden to Abisko – before crossing back into Norway, where winter finally catches up with us. Thigh-high snow, half-frozen rivers and poor visibility make hiking not only uncomfortable, but increasingly dangerous. It's now a race against time.
After more than two months of traveling together, the time comes to say goodbye to Andrea, Olli, and Marius, as our chosen routes to the North Cape diverge. I spend my last eight days on the trail in the same way I started: alone. I recall these past months – the self-doubt, the beauty of the changing seasons, and the challenges this hike has thrown at me, knowing that the biggest challenge of all is still ahead of me – the end.
When I put my hand on the huge steel globe at the North Cape on 12 October, I feel no joy at having reached my destination, no pride in the distance I have covered. In front of me, the cliffs drop into the sea and it feels like I'm standing at the end of the world. Behind me lurks winter, which has shown me very clearly in recent weeks that the time for hiking is now over. So all that remains for me is to return to my everyday life. To the everyday life that I have been only too happy to leave behind over the last five months in order to live my dream. But fulfilling a long-cherished dream also means dealing with the gap it leaves behind when it's over. And trying to answer the question: What comes next?
As it turns out, everyday life catches up with me at record speed, but it still takes months until I’m even halfway acclimated to normal life. What remains are memories of the small moments on the trail. The simplicity of the daily routine, the silence that I’ve yet to find anywhere else, and the freedom and vast landscapes of northern Norway.
Words and photos by Renée Quost
Renée grew up amidst Portugal’s nature. In her twenties, she rediscovered her love for the outdoors and after many day trips and not enough multi-day trips, she dove into a six-month hike through Norway in 2019. No matter the length of her adventure, she never sets off without her camera, and when not walking her way across countries, she works on komoot's editorial team as a Managing Editor. Follow her on komoot here or check out her Collection for this adventure.