“Should I turn back or risk calling out Norway’s search and rescue service?” I asked myself. I’d been hiking for over an hour, my knees aching from the relentless climb up Stedjåsen Mountain. I had seen no one in my search for a better view of Sondefjord, Norway’s longest fjord. With sunset at 3:30 p.m., lingering past 4 p.m. meant returning through rocks and cow poop with nothing but a flashlight for illumination.
I was investigating the Norway concept of friluftsliv, loosely translated at open-air life and a point of pride for Norwegians. Learning outdoor skills is enshrined in the school curriculum and law guarantees people rights of access across open land.
Stores close mid-afternoon in small town Norway on Saturday and do not open again until Monday. Weekends are for exploring the outdoors with family – hiking in the summer, skiing in winter, or gathering berries if your knees are shot. I remember in Grade 12 being told Canadians needed to do more physical activity as a 60-year-old Swede could outrun us. After spending a week in Norway, I’m pretty sure the Norwegians could take us too.
I was in western Norway to speak at the International Adventure Conference – a gathering of academics, business owners and experts interested in the latest adventure research.
At the conference we debated whether friluftsliv could be exported to other countries, and we experienced the philosophy first-hand with two days of outdoor adventures. I paddled the fjord in heavy rain, glad for spray skirts and Gore-Tex. Dinner at a 1760 farmhouse started with cocktails in a garage-like structure; the only warmth from a small fire and cider made from local apples.
I welcomed mornings with fresh air and exercise including outdoor yoga. That meant triangle pose in the cold, in the rain, and in the dark – sunrise in November is after 8:30 a.m. I felt like I was in a Druid ceremony as twenty people from around the world did their best warrior pose, surrounded by flaming torches in a forest clearing. Water dripped down our faces and smoke tickled our noses. A rare Norwegian dog out for his morning walk barked in surprise and a TV crew appeared. Proof perhaps, it was possible to go too far with the quest for outdoor life?
As I realized my final outing was not leading to a viewpoint of the fjord but to the top of a mountain, I decided the only safe outdoor activity in the dark for me was yoga. Picking my way down a mountain by flashlight was more friluftsliv than I wanted. I turned around but vowed to bring home the philosophy of getting outdoors no matter what the weather or amount of daylight. Have you considered whether more frilutfsiv would enhance your life?
Learning outdoor skills is enshrined in the school curriculum in Norway. Learn more about why it is important: Click to Tweet.