I don't think we're quite to the top of the globe (you know, the part that starts to flatten out that I used as a starting point for my Barbie's slide at my Granny & Papa's house when I was little) - but we are darn close to it! We had to figure out how to get up here, and this - as well as the next few steps - took some considerable planning, as it's getting a bit more remote, which is what we've wanted! Train is typically the preferred mode of transportation for all of us. We love being able to settle in, see the scenery, eat, drink, write, listen to music, and just relax. But, it was a 20+ hour train ride and we are hustling to tonight's stop, so we've booked a night train in Sweden and entrusted a plane to get us north. As we were flying into Tromsø, the pilot assured us that if we thought he was was a bit too close to the very large mountains (that the plane wings were scraping across), we shouldn't worry. That is a "perfectly normal feeling" up here where we are weaving in and out of the towering fjords like fighter pilots in a Star Wars movie. (Or Luke Skywalkers and Princess Leias). Apologies in advance to my husband, son, and brother who will have my head when they read this. (No, I don't really know if they are called "fighter pilots" or not. I know that I should have this knowledge after 800 times of watching these movies, but they should have thought to make them in the right order. You don't produce 3 bedroom-theming-magnitude-movies and then 30 years later let people know that you're going to tell them how the story REALLLLLY started. Secrets don't make friends. Too late. Too confusing). In my world, people who fly planes are called 'pilots' and when they do it with anger they are 'fighters'. I can already hear the boys, so I'll clarify that it's anger OR vengeance! (Angry / Vengenance) + (Plane flyers) = Fighter Pilots.
Now to the ground and my point...
In our trip planning, we came across a photo of a single tent resting quietly in a snowy valley up against a backdrop of deep mountains and all topped with the startling green aurora borealis. The question wasn't how to make this reservation, it was simply WHEN to make it for. In northern Norway, we found one of these tents available via a tour, which we weren't interested in - Luke is our wilderness guide! We found another offered by a young "Viking family" that was in the general direction that we wanted to head, which meant we needed fighter pilots to get us to the deep mountains by the water. The young Viking, Tomas, was waiting for us and took us by the local market when we arrived just before 8 pm., so that we could pick up our food for dinner and breakfast. My understanding was that we had a heated tented, stocked with cooking supplies, sleeping bags and yep, reindeer skins!! (Note to all: if your thinking is similar to mine in any way and the idea of 'Nordic Nirvana' is real to you - stop reading. If sleeping above the Arctic Circle in a tent during winter on reindeer skins sounds like something out of a sexy Beverly Clearly fantasy book (Sorry, I stopped reading for pleasure at Ramona B. Quimby: Age 8. Academics always overruled leisure!) - don't read more. If this is your mind, like mine, skip this blog. I'm not a dream crusher).
Tomas drove toward the mountains - just enough to allow the lights of the town to fade. He hopped out of the van and quickly pulled out his sled and started strapping our backpacks in. We didn't yet have hats, gloves, or even an extra layer on for the 20+ minute hike into the snow, but he had already started heading out into the pitch black and so we were going too! Oh no! I was missing a survival tool! My near death experience off the cliffs and across the high tide river, at night, in Hawaii, on our 16 mile spontaneous hike (in flip flops) is why I swore I'd NEVER leave home without the head lamp that is in my backpack hanging in the garage at home. I realllllly could have used it as we trekked through the snow. Instead, I tried to borrow beams from from cross country skiers as they zoomed by periodically. As Luke and Tomas chatted along about wilderenessy things, I grabbed J and pointed at a small whimsy cloud teasing the mountain top... "Hey! That's GREEN!" Barely, but it sure was! The northern lights! Finally! As we continued our hike in, other forms of green mist danced lightly across the sky - staying long enough for us to catch a glimpse but briefly enough to keep us walking. The lower clouds at the base of the mountains that had been promising snow had opened for just a few moments to give us an enticing welcome with stars and the northern lights and they were now rising and closing to cover the sky.
Tomas opened up the tent and gave Luke a Winter Camping tutorial. He was like a Norwegian version of Luke, with both gentlemen (and Jaden) attending to every detail of the tent, fire, wilderness, weather, trash disposal, and even predators. Such a match. They started a fire in our little stove, he wished us well, and in we went!
SNOW! Hmmm. A snow floor. I like surprises! And a snow bed! Literally. Wow, good thing I like the cold too. The floor was carved out to hold our fireplace and a step up was made for our sleeping area, which was covered by a layer of tarp and then reindeer skins! Nothing like a romantic night by the fire on the reindeer skins. PS: the fireplace has to be completely out when you head to bed so you don't suffocate. I tried to convince Luke that dying in my sleep from suffocation while warm (and happy) on my reindeer skins in north Norway is far better than dying from hypothermia (and tears of sadness) because I despise the cold. Lieutenant Gearhard wouldn't have it. We made a delightful dinner, tucked our breakfast in the snow bank by our front door (inside the tent!), put out the fire, and crawled in our sleeping bags to create a pile of Gearhards.
It was a little funny at first to turn on the headlamps (that Tomas provided) as we were trying to get situated in our sleeping bags and find that the reindeer skins were shedding. It tickled. It was sightly annoying. At first. I'm twitching as I write - just thinking about it. In preparation for the cold, I think I slept in every item of clothing I own PLUS I snuck this amazing little sleeping bag into my backpack that Luke's parents gave me for emergency cold situations and I shoved that in my sleeping bag and wrapped up Qdoba burrito style in that too. The sleeping bags that we were given were about 6" wide and a foot thick, so once you got yourself wedged in - there was NO moving. Pause with me and all my layers here as I'm stuck down in my sleeping bag. As for Luke, he sleeps warm, so he was fine as he sleeps at home, but he did decide he'd better wear socks (rough life). Now imagine him wedged in his 6" wide bag. Unpause me frozen still in my bag and here comes the problem. REINDEER FUR!! Luke yelled first. He had it in his mouth, but couldn't get his arms up to his mouth to get out of his bag. He was wedged in and squealed as he fumbled for the zipper to uncage himself! Hilarious!! That is, until I'm laughing and realize I can't move either. I'm crazy claustrophobic and lost it and climbed out of everything as fast as a kid coming up the stairs from a dark basement - which made me a mega-static magnet for more fur and left me out in the open, non-heated tent! Train wreck - with fur flying! The kids had a bit more flexibility in their bags and could laugh - while periodically inhaling single thick pieces of fur and spitting - from the comfort of their own bag.
Jaden and I awoke early, both tapped politely on the shoulder by the King of Cold and given a piece of reindeer fur to suck on by Satan himself. Jaden made us a fire so we could thaw, clear our teeth, and sleep a little longer with the warm and peacefully resting Luke and Justice. When he awoke, Luke did describe his sleep as "laying on six Keigans" (100 lb German Shepherd that awaits us at home). Well-spoken!
We hiked out with smiles on our faces and reindeer fur strands blowing off us in the wind like leaves in the morning autumn sunshine. That's a true Nordic Nirvana night if I've ever had one!