What's this all about?

A new adventure beckons, and this is once again about my personal journey to make it happen.

It might make you laugh; it might make you cry, but by 'eck lads and lasses, it will be worth a quick skeg every now and then, tha's for sure.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Bambi 'does' Norway with several firsts for me

I'm going to start this blog entry with an apology.

For those of you who have arrived here courtesy of a Google search for "1970's soft porn" or something similar, this blog title isn't about soft porn. So, if you're like the person who (a couple of months ago) Google'd "big black Yorkshire special" and found this blog popping up in the top ten search list, I'm afraid you're either going to be VERY disappointed or somewhat relieved if you have to explain to your girlfriend (or Mum I guess) that you are in fact looking at something truly educational.

What this blog entry DOES do is summarise my challenging training week in Norway. I was Bambi in oh so many ways and none of them involved semi-nakedness or baby oil. Well, actually maybe semi-nakedness does constitute a VERY small part of my experience, but you'll have to read the whole darn thing before you find out what that refers to.

I'd also like to say a big thank you to my fellow trekkers (who I'll introduce in a moment), with a huge great massive gynormous thank you to David and Douglas in particular. Their experience, patience and support was invaluable. We'll discuss the 'dolphin' kicks separately guys.

(l - r) Seni, Sara, me, Douglas, Rowley, Rob and David

Anyway back to the tale of Norway. Saturday 10th March saw me fly out to Oslo from Manchester International Airport and, after some of the worst turbulence I've encountered, I landed at Oslo Gardemoen airport. David and Douglas were travelling together and we arrived almost simultaneously at the hotel in the city centre.

After checking in, we agreed to sample the local beer and try some traditional Norwegian food. Cue a bottle of Corona each, a large plate of Tex Mex nachos to share, followed by a 3-person portion (evidently) of chicken fajitas, all for the princely sum of £120 !!! Hey come on, who really wants to try roll-mop herrings?!?!

The next day we had breakfast and guess what was one of the optional side dishes; yep, portions of herring. David sneered at my reluctance to try them and he decided to have bacon, eggs and ..... caviar fish paste. You know what, the expense of the whole trip was worth it just to see David's facial expression as heaven met hell in his mouth. He cringed, probably swallowed some of his own vomit, shook his head and calmly said "I can't see that catching on".

We subsequently checked out of the hotel and, on a mild Olso morning, caught a coach to the next station (again the lines were temporarily closed for maintenance) on our journey to the training base at Haugastol. As we travelled some of the scenery was simply breathtaking, including this partially frozen fjord.

Two miles further down people were on the ice fishing through holes, couples were taking their children onto a frozen lake in their buggies, and a small plane was parked on the ice.

As we disembarked the coach, we heard that our connecting train was going to be 40 minutes late, so we piled our baggage on the platform and waited in the sunshine. To pass the time Douglas told us how to have a 'model' smile and so, for 14 minutes, we took photos and almost wet ourselves laughing as we found each other secretly trying to perfect this darn 'smiling' technique.

Some might say Douglas (right) has perfected the camera smile; others might suggest he simply had trapped wind.

When it finally started, the train journey began predictably with David and Douglas stating it would be rude not to have a beer; thus continued the theme of the previous night, that alcohol should be a feature of EVERY day.

Clearly it has different effects on different people .....

I was posing, honest. I didn't actually drink any.
After several hours we finally arrived and were taken by mini-bus to the hostel where it was two bunk-beds per room. Rob and Rowley arrived shortly afterwards, but two of the ladies wouldn't be arriving until Monday afternoon (and one, Deb, wasn't coming at all), so Geoff Somers (the trek lead) took us through some equipment; the 3-person tents we'd be using and the cooking equipment .....

You may notice a subtle re-arrangement of the furniture in the room
That's why it's a 3-person tent
Yes Andrew, this one WORKED
After that practical session we went for a walk to get some fresh air and re-acquaint ourselves with each other, as Dartmoor was the first time and the last time most of us had seen each other.

(l - r) Rowley and Rob decided they wanted to be snow-surfing ninjas.
Monday arrived and it was time for a first; cross-country skis. This is where the reference to Bambi comes to the fore; WHAT a shock it was after 3 short ski lessons to put these on and try to co-ordinate leg movement without ending up on my bum (which I did twice that morning). The more observant of you may notice a slightly awkward smile as I'd realised ANY sudden movements (facial or otherwise) were dangerous. I was also ALWAYS several yards behind everyone else.

Perhaps the strangest part of this first 3 miles was that we were skiing across a frozen lake and, at one point, the way ahead looked very wet. One might almost say thawed. "Oh you'll be fine" said Geoff Somers, the hugely experienced trek lead; "Your ski's will probably just sink 2-3 inches into the ice" .... and so they did. Most disconcerting!

After returning to the hostel for lunch the guys grew impatient whilst waiting for Geoff S to return from the train station with Seni and Sara so we decided we could go for a ski trek alone. Hah, we didn't need anyone to guide us or ensure we were prepped for the trip, so we set off with pulks attached and the intention of setting up a tent, making 'fire', and brewing a cuppa ..... but once we stopped and unloaded we realised we'd actually forgotten to bring the tent. Oh crap.

Thanks primarily to David though, we did get to have a cuppa.

On the journey back I found out I had a new nickname ('General', but no Emma/Ben, nothing to do with 'Dora the Explorer') and I was also given the chance to lead the team back thanks to Rob. He added spice to the need for the more experienced skiers to be patient by saying anyone who went in front of me would have a forfeit (although how much of a forfeit drinking extra alcohol was, I was unsure). Fair play to them though, the guys played along and I led most of the way back.

When we arrived back all 8 people sat down for drinks, toasted Peter Huntley, ate dinner, had a game of 'Pigs' and then a game called 'Mafia' which turned out to be good fun ... that is when the right people actually opened their eyes on cue (Rowley and David). And so it was time to rest before the 2-night trek began.

Tuesday morning was mild (again) but the mini-bus was loaded and we set off to the drop-off point. A bleak windy hilltop location. After a brief early stop to re-tie knots, secure bags and check things we completed over 5 miles and it was great to be out, ski-trekking.

At this point it's only right to say hats-off to Seni and Sara who, whilst both experienced adventurers, had NEVER worn skis before Monday afternoon. Like .. EVER!!

Surprisingly soon it was time to stop and set up camp for the first night and another first for me; sleeping in a tent for the first time in my life. David was chef (aka made 'fire', boiled water and filled foil food pouches with hot water) which was far more than I could do. It was a true eye-opener how experienced and disciplined both he and Douglas were; something I have to replicate when we get out to the polar ice cap for sure. I was still trying to find my bloody spoon to eat with as they prepped everything and had their bedding laid out.

I looked everywhere for the in-built shower and heating system; what a disappointment
First-night camp; an eye-opening experience for me but not as much of an eye-opener as the next morning
Wednesday morning arrived quicker than a few of us hoped for, as sleep hadn't come easy. It wasn't the noise of the wind rattling the tent or any worries, but it had taken a few hours to get comfortable in the down sleeping bags that were thick, hot and difficult to regulate. The view was breathtaking though.

Things were not great for me that morning as I was dehydrated, having not drunk enough water the previous day; the result of my lack of organisation when it came to our regular 5-minute drink breaks. Breakfast was hot muesli followed by Cup-a-Soup mixed with Smash potato, and it simply didn't cut it for my stomach, so, it was time for another first for me; going to the loo outside (and I don't mean for a wee). David had warned me that the only danger was NOT missing your clothing and so, armed with a shovel and loo roll, I headed away from the tents.

(Oh yes, for those of you looking for the 'semi-nakedness' bit of the blog, that's it. Sorry to disappoint but give yourself a pat on the back for sticking it out this long).

Suffice to say the 'experience' was easier than I expected, I realise it was only -2 not -35 so the weather impact was minimal on my bodily functions and exposed skin, but the complication of not having enough loo roll meant I needed to ... err freshen up the Sean Chapple/Jay Neale way .... by washing myself with fist fulls of snow. Ooh, ouch, that's cold. And so the next day of trekking began.

I finally skied down a long steep slope without my pulk catching up and knocking my legs from under me, and we set up camp (I actually felt I helped this time). What didn't help was that whilst everyone in our tent (including Sara, our guest diner that evening) were tucking into their freeze-dried rations, I seemed to be struggling with mine. It was 'claggy', tasted nothing like beef stew, and was lining the roof of my mouth as well as sticking to my teeth.

David noticed I was struggling and took the pouch from me with a sceptical "It can't be that bad?" glint in his eye; oh boy did he agree when he tried the first mouthful. I think he'd have preferred his caviar fish paste as an attractive alternative. It was at that point Douglas or Sara noticed the 'best before' date was one month short of 3 years out of date.

After a replacement chilli con carne was made, it was lights out at the ridiculously early time of 8pm. I snored loudly around 3am and woke everyone up in ALL the tents (thus the 'dolphin' kicks from David and Douglas to shut me up).

The next days were pretty similar in terms of activities, so I'll just post some atmospheric photos to keep you up to speed with the journey all the way from Wednesday morning through to our return to the hostel on Thursday morning ......

"We may be some time"

The 'General' briefly leads the way again

Seni manages to deal with several key business emails, drink her tea, look stylish and athletic, remains articulate and charming whilst I cuss as I try to remember which side of my pulk I put my flask. Dammit.
Dawn creeps over the horizon on Thursday (another EXCELLENT photograph by Douglas)

Two dog sleds raced across our path
And so we arrived back at the hostel mid-morning. De-brief with Geoff Somers, unpack and re-pack, make a note of a considerable amount of lessons I need to learn (such as tying 2 particular knots) and we were taken back to the station. Again the train was delayed and again some of the group took to drink to keep spirits high in the cold.

The train arrived, I had a great chat with Douglas and then returned to my seat to think about the upcoming return home to see Lucia and then my girls (they meet for the first time this Tuesday; fingers crossed folks).

We arrived in Oslo, saw Seni and Sara to their train for the airport and headed back to the hotel in the city centre. One more chance to have something authentic to eat before we returned to the hotel to sleep on our final night; my Chicken Korma and Peshwari naan were excellent thank you. Oh well, we thought about going traditional but the aroma of the restaurant called us as we passed by. What can I say.

I got back to Manchester Friday morning to be greeted at the airport by Lucia, and then returned home to my girls. Now it's Sunday evening and I'm starting the process of getting myself ready for work as well as seeing the excellent design from Rushfirth Creative for my stand at the Yorkshire Mafia Conference I'm exhibiting at on Wednesday and Thursday of the coming week. 

Howard, you are nothing short of bloody brilliant (as well as philanthropic)

 Amongst all of this though, strong in my mind are the memories and lessons of Norway last week and (I'll say it one more time) the excellent support from David and Douglas. I promise to try to sort out some of the snoring guys but, Douglas, I'm still not sure how practising pelvic thrusts will help?

And tonight I must return the email to Jenny, Peter Huntley's partner, which I found in one of my in-boxes on Saturday morning. It remains a poignant reminder that Peter will be with us as we set back off to Norway in just over 2 weeks time, albeit not as we would have wished.

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