It is a beautiful morning in late July. Last night I got roughly a full night's sleep, at roughly the hours I usually set aside for sleeping, so I've decided that once again I've beat jet lag to its knees.
I've spent the morning reading emails, sorting bills, and trying to figure out how to pay a parking ticket I got in Alesund, Norway.
I'm open to input on that one, by the way.
I'm thinking hot dogs for lunch, a dramatic change from reindeer pizza and the five types of fish soup I had in Norway. I also had a bacon-wrapped hot dog in a gas station there, an innovation I could get behind.
We went to Norway for several reasons. I'm working on a story about the Nordic Seed Vault - a hole in the permafrost that currently stores about one million varieties of seed for no better reason than that sometimes things go very wrong and it's best to be prepared. Living as I do in 'Worst Case Scenario World,' it seemed like a perfectly reasonable project and well worth a column or two. It took three airplanes to get us from our home on the prairie to Svalbard, but when you're going to a place 720 miles from the North Pole, you should expect it to be a little bit of a bother.
It was worth the trip, though.
It almost felt like another world. No trees, no vegetation to speak of other than the moss and wildflowers, populated by more polar bears than people, waterfalls and glaciers, reindeer and eider ducks ... actually, it's pretty hard to explain.
What's funny is that the people who live there are the sort of people who don't mind polar bears and six months of darkness, but the only way these people who relish solitude can make a living is to welcome huge cruise ships into the harbor. They sail in every few days and disgorge hordes of clueless tourists to maraud through the only town, clogging the aisles in the grocery store and getting fingerprints on the stuffed polar bear. It seems a little like being a vegetarian whose day job is a butcher.
I yearned to go to Svalbard, but it seemed like a long, expensive journey to go only there. No worries - Norway to the rescue. In Norway, the government has designated what they call National Tourist Routes, sections of roads set apart as particularly scenic. To make the cut in a country as uniformly scenic as Norway is a ringing endorsement. Last winter, we spent a couple evenings with an atlas and a few websites and decided we could drive four of these routes in one week, covering 600 miles.
Because I come from a place where I regularly drive 70 miles just to see a movie, 600 miles didn't seem too daunting. That was before I really understood I wouldn't be driving 80 mph on an Interstate system; I'd be going 30 mph on a death road, dodging goats.
In truth, it wasn't so much dodging them as stopping the car so my wife could photograph them.
How did I hear about the Norwegian National Tourist Routes? Well, I saw a picture of a tall, curved bridge, carving the waves of a stormy North Atlantic. Under the image were the words, 'Best Road Trip Ever.' That was the beginning.
The middle was fish soup, the codfish museum, glaciers, the midnight sun, reindeer outside our room, and a tour of a fort that held off the German navy despite never having fired a shot since 1648. It was sitting next to an Olympic skier as he told a hilarious story about competing in Japan and having to carry his skis through a Tokyo subway, and it was the jolt to my self-esteem provided by an impatient carpenter passing me on a switchback while he was driving a minivan and pulling a trailer full of lumber.
The end was jet lag, 738 pictures, and memories.
And a parking ticket.
Copyright 2017 Brent Olson