There’s a signpost at Lindesnes lighthouse. It’s a bit crooked, but perfectly legible. It says: North Cape 2,518 kilometres. Here, at Norway’s southernmost tip the weather is cold and it’s raining. As the taillights of the last cars disappear into the mist, Simon stands at the beginning of his adventure into the High North. He still remembers it as if it were yesterday, “I felt completely helpless, like an abandoned dog.” His epic trek will see him walk the length of Norway, to the northernmost point in Europe – the North Cape.
Only a few people have completed the “Norge på langs” trekking route. In fact, it’s almost like a well-kept secret. Search the Internet and it will take you a while to find the first links, blog entries or information about it. Maybe this is what makes it so special. “Norge på langs” means literally “Norway lengthwise” and is more of a rough description than an actual trekking route. “The idea is to trek from the southernmost point to the North Cape without a guidebook. There is no fixed route to follow,” explains Simon, who has always had a thing about trekking in Scandinavia. “You follow your own route. And it goes without saying that a map and compass are essential.” Simon was inspired by a book by Bjoern Klauer, a German, who emigrated to Norway many years ago. Bjoern also trekked the length of Norway and took part in numerous expeditions. Today, he runs a husky farm in Innset. This is how the idea started.
A clear goal, conviction and respect for nature
What kind of person sets himself or herself such a tough goal? Over 2,500 kilometres on foot through often-strenuous terrain. Simon answers this question in his blog, which he wrote during his trek, “I’m no extreme adventurer. My map and compass skills are not that good, and I have been known to pitch my tent in completely the wrong place. However, your skills improve with experience. I set myself a clear goal and I’m convinced that I can achieve it. It also helps if you have humility and respect for nature.”
Simon’s attitude helped him to keep going for nearly six months. He did mention that it was a good idea to go on a multi-week test run. “After a couple of days, it became clear that I was capable of spending long periods of time on my own – otherwise I would have abandoned the plan. It was important to test this out first.”
On May 27, 2013 Simon sets out from Lindesnes. His journey takes him ever northwards and he often finds himself in the middle of nowhere in the Norwegian wilderness with no one to rely on but himself. Simon does have plenty of experience. He used to work in an outdoor shop – so he knows exactly what to pack and what to leave at home. In addition, he organised pick-up points for his supplies in advance.
His care packages were sent to post offices, youth hostels and tourist information centres along the route. This meant that he had his (packet) food and equipment requirements covered. “There was no way I was going to be able to carry all the maps or my food from the start – my pack would have been too heavy.”
When one of his packages got lost in the post on the way from a friend in south Norway he found out the hard way just how important a good map is. “It meant I had to walk 80 kilometres from Reisa National Park to Alta without a map to navigate with. This was pretty intimidating.”
Learning from the Norwegians
Simon found that the relaxed manner in which the Norwegians deal with problems helpful. He learnt lots of useful things from the people of Norway that he met on the way. In fact, a Norwegian saying became the motto of his trip – “det ordner seg”. Roughly translated, it means, “it will all work out”. On a trip of this kind, it’s highly unlikely that everything will go according to plan. But, then it doesn’t have to because – “det ordner seg”. As one road closes, so another road opens.
Ask Simon about his most memorable experience on the journey and he talks of the Northern Lights. He was lucky enough to witness the majestic natural display a couple of times when he was up in the far north. “I sat for hours outside my tent watching the skies until the cold forced me back into my sleeping bag,” he recalls. “I still don’t really know how to describe how I felt, but it was an amazing experience. It lights up the whole night sky and is completely hypnotising,”
After some 140 days en route, Simon had nearly reached his final destination in October 2013. He only had a few kilometres to go to the North Cape. He was slowly entering back into reality. As expected, the North Cape itself was overrun with tourists and far removed from any notion of Scandinavian wilderness romanticism. The final highpoint took place amongst crowds of visitors, who came pouring out of their tour buses. This didn’t really bother Simon. He had experienced his own personal highpoint in the middle of nowhere many days ago, as he crossed over into the Arctic Circle. And anyway, it was the journey, not the destination that was his actual goal. But now suddenly it was all over. Simon travelled the first stage of his trip back home onboard a ship from the Hurtigruten line, where he gave a spontaneous lecture about his trip to an enthusiastic audience.
How does it feel to spend six months far from civilisation?
Looking back Simon Michalowicz says, “At first, I thought that the experience hadn’t really changed me much, but my friends, colleagues and other people I spoke to said that it had. I suppose it has made me more relaxed. In fact, so relaxed that close friends some times find my attitude a bit confusing. Life outdoors is very different; things move at a much slower pace. You focus more on what is really important. Your basic requirements come first. Everyday activities, such as eating, drinking and sleeping require initiative and often involve making compromises.”
Back in everyday life, Simon found that many things no longer seemed to be as big a problem as they used to be. He realised that certain problems, were in fact not problems at all. “You’ve got to have a good plan. But it also makes sense to have a Plan B and a Plan C.” He learnt a lot during his time away: “It’s interesting to see how you change, to see your self-confidence grow and to come back home a different person.” Settling down again takes its time. You can’t simply arrive back home and then carry on as if you had never been away. Simon says that he doesn’t find it easy to fit back in to everyday life or to accept its hectic pace. The contrast is just too great. Half a year of “friluftsliv” (a Norwegian word loosely translated as “open air or outdoor life”) is bound to rub off on you. However, Simon has a relaxed attitude to this. After all, it’s something he learnt in Norway –“det ordner seg”.