Text and Photo: Nikolai Schirmer
In the USA, the elites living on the continent’s extremities have long described the interior as “flyover country” — somewhere you only see from the airplane window. It’s a bit harder to describe yourself as elite when you’re just a ski bum from Northern Norway, but when I first made excursions to the south of my country as a teenager, I felt the same about the Norwegian landscape between Narvik and Jessheim.
Why go to Hemsedal when it takes the same amount of time to get to St. Anton? Why drive to Stad when it’s quicker to fly to Biarritz? By 2010, it was obvious to me that Norway would always be flyover country. I went surfing in the ice-cold waters of the north, and skiing in mountains where the snowfall was sporadic at best, not because it was cool, but because I lived there.
Then Chris Burkard started to publish photos of Lofoten. Surfing beside snow-covered pebble beaches with mountains like Fenriskjeften rising up out of the sea in the background. On my own channels, photos and videos from Norway suddenly had more impact than those from more exotic destinations further south. I got a record number of likes for a photo in which the sun wasn’t even peeping over the horizon—and wasn’t going to any time soon—in the middle of our wretched dark season.
If this was the case, it wouldn’t be the first time I had managed to overlook the fact that I had the dream woman in my arms but was still on the lookout for a better one. And then my flight shame kicked in. Like the ringing in your ears on New Year’s Day — merciless, relentless, omnipresent. As a skier, I was running my little Schirmer Film [and Shred] company, and with all the flying I did, I was the absolute king of greenhouse gas emissions. I was going to have to cut down on jet fuel, and I saw no other way to do so than to get to grips with flyover country, just like Kerouac and Britney Spears did (just watch Crossroads! Go on, watch it!); I was going on a road trip!
Although electric cars were selling faster than toasters, I went for a classic converted VW van. The diesel engine ran on biofuel (HVO 100 or 2G polar), which you can now find at most gas stations. The van had been converted into a campervan by a surfer I had met in Bali before my flight shame gripped me. It had heating, solar power, water, and ventilation. Apart from the fact that the van got me reported for illegal surfing at Jæren—which had presumably happened before I took it over—it was everything I could have dreamed of. Well okay, so it didn’t have a toilet — but who dreams of toilets anyway?
MY PACKING LIST
Packing for a road trip is so easy compared with packing for a flight. Just take everything!
I packed my surfboard, Norwegian-weight wetsuit, continental-weight wetsuit, six pairs of skis, two pairs of ski boots, three pairs of poles, far too many snares, sport-category climbing equipment, Alpine-category climbing equipment, climbing equipment for skiing trips, skateboard, photography equipment, video equipment, drones, a small library, lofoten Gore-Tex jacket for mountaineering trips, lyngen Gore-Tex jacket for longer mountaineering trips, tamok Gore-Tex jacket for resort skiing, wool underwear, technical underwear, lyngen fleece for the mountains, røldal warmwool for the towns, bitihorn superlight down jacket for normal hikes, lyngen shakedry down jacket for cold hikes, bitihorn hiking pants (ultralight), tamok down jacket for walking around in, sleeping bag for warm nights, sleeping bag for cold nights, sleeping pad, all the relevant hard disks for work and — yeah, you might have gathered that my van is pretty big.
BE ZEN – BE SEATED
It’s not about the destination — it’s all about the journey. That sounds fine before you set off, but the journey can also be stupefyingly boring. Flyover country is stunningly beautiful from ground level, but also very long. In April, I had from Friday evening to Sunday morning to cover the 1537 km from Volda to Nord-Lenangen in time for a photoshoot.
Each actual moment in the driver’s seat was comfortable enough, as long as I didn’t think about how long I would be sitting there. I adapted some meditation techniques for life on the road, and instead of focusing on my breathing, I focused on how the road curved through the landscape and allowed my thoughts to travel.
Since I didn’t have a passenger to entertain me, I used a mix of podcasts and music. Very Bad Wizards, a philosopher and psychiatrist who discusses literature, ethics and science, but in a really down-to-earth way, became my favorite. The tone was the same as the standard fluff that you hear on the radio, but it had substance as well. 1.5 hour podcast — 20 minutes of music. Either heavy ambient electronica like Jon Hopkins, or karaoke with Sigrid. Go baby! Let it out. Keep driving. There’s no end to the road.
What made the most impression on me was how destinations grew when I approached them at a slower speed. My schedule and appointments dictated that I had to stay in Volda for a week, waiting for a talk I was going to give there. Suddenly I had time to get to know the local population, like Jane Goodall did with the gorillas. It wasn’t until day three that Petter, who had been living there in his camper van all year, told me about the best spot to park, beside the abandoned jetty just outside the town center. By day seven, I had been formally welcomed into the inner circle and presented with the sweater that the local artist gave to friends and friends of friends. Wearing the local uniform (under a good Norrøna jacket), I could stroll about knowing that the pack had accepted me and that I was talking to like-minded people in a place that, from the air, looks like a collection of chapels sandwiched between mountains with no snow and the sea.