You never quite know what you’re going to get with Couchsurfing, but the cards really fell in my favour in Bodø. I wound up staying with a lovely couple, and rather than trudging around the streets in the rain to occupy my time, I helped them to move house.
Andreas had spent many years living abroad, including 3 years living on a boat, which he sailed from Norway to Australia. Kjerstie had come on board as the medic, and that was how they’d got together. He’d moved away from his previous line of work to spend more time on more worthwhile projects of his own. So we had plenty to chat about.
But the time soon came to depart, with many conversations left unfinished. Such was the short nature of my stay in this little town. Goodbyes were said and reunions tentatively planned as I boarded the night train that would undo in a few short hours those weeks of incessant graft at the bars of my bicycle.
Arriving in Oslo the following afternoon, I rode up to the suburbs to meet Erlend, a fellow cycle traveller with whom I had stayed and prepared the trip back at the end of January. By chance, I had returned to the capital during the cross-country skiing World Championships, held for 2011 in and around Oslo itself. We took the metro up to the area on the edge of town that had been hosting the races. The train was packed, atmosphere electric; Norway had earlier in the day taken two medals in the women’s competition, and things were gearing up for the men’s final the following day.
I was totally unprepared for what I found as we walked down from the station and into the competition zone. Erlend had said he wanted to camp in the woods in order to watch the race go past. But emerging from the trees now were hundreds upon hundreds upon endless hundreds of tents! Thousands of people walking, sledging, skiing past down the wide trails, shovelling snow to clear spaces in the one-and-a-half-metre-deep snow on the forest floor where they would pitch yet more tents of every shape and size.
Already there were campfires burning — people sitting in circles, heads popping up comically above the snow as they sat on seats dug from the snow and lined with pine branches and animal furs, sausages being cooked and inevitably burnt to a crisp, beer bottles and cowbells — unconstrained merry-making amongst the trees and pistes in every direction, with the city of Oslo basking in the afternoon sunlight down the hillside.
I had completely misinterpreted my host’s brief mention of camping. If it hadn’t been clear before, it was now: Norwegians took their ski races very, very seriously, and an event of this magnitude was cause for equally serious celebration, resulting in this deep-frozen version of Glastonbury in the hills and forests outside the capital. (Not a single health-and-safety officer to be seen, I might add.)
All of this reminded me that my weeks snow-camping had not been particularly hardcore by local standards. It seemed everyone here knew how to do it and they were sure as hell going to enjoy it. Tens of thousands of people, not one batting an eyelid to the prospect of a few nights under canvas at sub-zero temperatures.
But it also frustrated me intensely: I had a bus to catch at 7am the following morning. While Oslo was partying in the forest under a starry sky, I would be packing my bags, preparing 36 hours’ worth of packed meals, and trying to snatch a few hours of sleep before the long trundle home through a significant wedge of Europe.
This, unfortunately, was the luck of the draw; a consequence of bus reservations made many weeks previously, with no thought for what festivities might be taking place in distant, unknown Oslo…