Once we've climbed out of the Spitsertulen valley, the Glittertind looms grey and chipped in the distance. The fickle sky shows Jotunheimen's alternating faces: dauntingly resigned underneath great grey clouds, arrogantly resplendent when basked in sun. Concentrated, we cross the levelled floodplain, a vast stretch of dumped boulders. Rivulets of water rustle underneath the blanket of rock. We lose the green; nothing seems to be alive in this landscape. Far across, the tail of a glacier glints between two mighty peaks. Nothing moves but the wind.
We start to pick our way up; the trail quickly climbing, meandering up a rock-face I first had deemed inaccessible. I quickly feel lost in the routine of the climb that gradually allows us to look down on the encroaching mountains. The first patches of snow appear. Then, the crest. Except it really isn't - it's more like a platform, but the grade towards the top lessens only a trifle. There is a lot more snow. Temperatures are dropping as the wind is able to pick up. Many people roam here, families even, sometimes a dog carrying its own little backpack and enthusiastically clambering around. Respect. Moving up.
Fields of snow now. I swear to myself that I'll buy galoches the next time; chunks of snow keep on slipping into my shoes. Then the peak. A fat fingernail of snow over slick rock with a vertiginous precipice to the west. Suddenly there is no one but us, except for the footsteps trailing ahead. The spurring clouds break, the released sun turns snow a white so glaring that purple sparks flicker before our eyesight. The magnificent view around us would've been glory, were it not that our conquest has not finished: the official peak lies a few hundred meters further north. We don't really care about that triviality; we made it to the top in spirit and that's the truest challenge - but without any proper equipment the gouged out trail through the snow leaves us little choice in picking our bearings. And so we do reach the official peak, second highest in Scandinavia. The views are just as glorious, but here there are children sitting in the snow, and sturdy men in jeans looking stoically at the splendour stretched around us.
Five minutes into our descent the Glittertind throws a nasty little surprise - with an alarming celerity. The streamers of cloud ripping along the mountainside are a momentary vanguard for only a few seconds; the next we're in thick fog spewing icy rain at us. Even tracking the well-marked trail becomes strenuous work; suddenly the path through the snow becomes a blessing in disguise - only my soggy, chilled feet are protesting. The rain is lashing, clothes flapping. We struggle on for a while; I can't help thinking about the smaller children on the peak of the Glittertind. Slowly the fog recedes, then the rain. Turning around, I see the Glittertind still clothed in cloud.
Wet and slightly miserable, we cheer on the sun cracking through the cover, bringing a rudiment of warmth. The trail down, like the way up, snakes across boulders; it demands constant attention, or one risks the health of an ankle, and I'm getting fed up with it. Fantasizing out loud I picture how all the sudden the hut will emerge before us, ensconced in a pool of sunlight, with in the door-opening a doughty Norwegian hostess (with two fat, blond braids) holding a ladle dripping with the steaming broth ready to be served. It takes another hour to reach, it is sitting in a pool of sunlight in the river vale, but the Glitterheim hut is a slightly commercial affair: a complex of three large huts, capable of housing over sixty people. It hosts plenty of doughty women, though.
We've lost the empty roads; the amount of Dutch number plates is getting off-putting. This is the Sorfjorden, piercing south like a rapier's blade and bracketing the west rim of the Hardangervidda plateau. Across the water, we spot Utne, a hamlet that draws my attention because it is another strategic crossroad. Behind the town climb steep walls up into racing clouds. After two days of soaking sun, the weather has imploded to rain (again). We pass Kinsarvik, which was today's destination but the place looks terrible and industrial. Once we leave it behind us, we move into a virtual Walhalla of fruit - cherries, raspberries, the occasional famous strawberries. The slim coastal strip fill with orchards.
When the mountain cliffs recede into a slight embayment, we find the orchards and houses of Lofthus village dotting the valley. There is no campsite at the fjord's shore; we settle for the camping in Lofthus, in the centre of a pear orchard, the trees burdened with heavy fruit. So far, the harvest of 2009 has been astoundingly rich, and Lofthus' trees are promises for more. We pitch the tent, compete in cherry pip spitting and watch amusedly a busload of Japanese occupying three opposite cabins. When the weather is refusing to let up we take a stroll through Lofthus. Our visit includes the first (and only) church during our trip - a massive wooden affair with fat walls and dark interior. The churchyard with neat rows of tombs is prettier. We're fascinated by the wooden sheds balancing 40 cm above the ground on stacks of rock. After a dinner of Pyttipanna, it gets noticeable we've been moving south - dusk is setting in, and a faint drizzle sabotages my inspirations for staying outside any longer. Settle for another very hot shower, my great weakness. Lucky for me, not one camping in Norway is stingy with hot water.
Awakened by rain. Everything feels sticky and moist; the air smells of clay. We surmise people are packing outside. I grunt and brave the hesitant downpour and the gusty wind for a weather report at reception. Luck has come to an end: a mother-in-law of a depression has ensconced above Sweden's heartland and, like every unwanted visitor, has decided to stick around for a while. The forecast for the entire week: rain, and no letting up. Any pleasant hike across the Hardangervidda will have to be arranged another summer. The return journey sets in.
For a city founded in the 17th century and famous for its silver mines, Kongsberg is an utter deception. The façade of the town's centre eyes grim and worn-down. Tucked deep inside the city, the city camping furthers this impression. I can't decide what's worse: the deserted, rotting flat with its broken windows on the one side, the muddy river clucking away on the other side, or the dishevelled neo-hippy in mauve shirt and slippers slouching between the three tents that provide some desperate colour. I flatly refuse. What a waste of a town. Onwards.
We pause in Copenhagen; our hasty retreat from cloudy Norway now provides us with time for an extended stop. Purchase fruit from an Arabic couple behind a market stall; when S. thanks them in Arabic wide smiles break through the weathered faces. At the crossroads the traffic rushes and pauses with the indifferent rhythm of the traffic lights; a woman on crutches, her leg deformed, laboriously hops forward, and no one is staring. A little further, a dishevelled woman is talking to the window pane of the liquor store, stroking it with a dirty hand. And I still remember yesterday's image of the two gritty homeless men on the wooden bench, busy decanting their liquor into their flask. This is the happiest country in the world? Where did we go wrong?
And yet. Despite frequent scenes of human grimness, Copenhagen is a city of light and sea-breeze and orderliness. It also has the bearings of a historical conquistador; the grandeur of its colonising past still sticks to Copenhagen. Well dressed commuters and fashionably hip students on bicycles reflect the modern trendiness of the city. We cross Rosenborg Have, admiring the false note from a military parade practicing next door and are charmed by Nyboden neighbourhood and the pleasantness of the houses with their hidden squares and little nooks. I frequently hop inside through the archways to peek at the inner squares, until even I start noticing that my behaviour draws looks. This is a city where I could live in peace.
Visit and lunch in the Museum of Art & Design, housed inside an imposing building, and hosting one of the largest collections of Japanese samurai artefacts outside Japan. I remember the thesis of my family: a museum with a respectable collection will have a respectable kitchen. It holds. When serving our dishes, our hostess, a strapping blond, shows off the latest fashion: a sloppy pink T-shirt, ultra-short pants and a pair of glorious, bronzed legs. The pyjama look. It's widespread in both Copenhagen and Oslo. May it live long and prosper.
The final drive. A deep summer sun and the empty road ahead. Esjberg on the road-signs. Five years ago, I drove this same road. A different car, a different love, a new life. Circles gyrating into each other.
And like the journey started, my thoughts return to the future, tap into the restlessness of the mind that is moving. Just when one has re-arranged order in one's life, it whispers back, like the shadow on the wind rushing by. The feeling of stagnation, the urge to go further, to toss order to the wind and just move.
Perhaps it is because, even while Norway relaxed me, I've not been touched, or challenged, these past weeks, not like I've been before. Perhaps it has become impossible. Perhaps travelling is like experiencing love. That first time of finding love, when the skies of your mind are moved beyond its boundaries, cannot be seconded; the rest is just sorry attempts to relive that first experience, a residue of reality. Again, there also is the sense of death in the distance, as a long shadow cast across the road. The circle biting itself. This, here, S. beside me, the landscape blurring by, a dream from which everyone awakes. I must be turning Goth.
Formulas of forget. I know, have known for a while, how easy it is to forget oneself in the present; Norway was in many ways just that. Not that it is not enjoyable. Not that there was no purpose. But there are plenty of formulas of forget, liquor, drugs, sleep, books, ignorance, Norway. The short term pushes away the long term, but the circle will still close, the mad bus will come, the sheltering sky will crack. What do we want to dream before we wake?
Hamburg in the dark. Empty tunnels and fast German cars. To the horizon, in the distance, a first flash, then again. A summer storm; we're moving straight at it and nothing blinks but the lightning on wet tar.