On the paved road back to Moskenes, I spotted a solo traveler ahead of me. We walked in synchronization, wedged between the mountain and the sea, our footfalls a hundred meters apart, our boots brushing by countless flutes of large-leaved lupine growing wild along the guardrail. I was content with my long-distance companion, and had already begun crafting a persona for this hiking Viking when he turned his head, spotted me, halted, and waited.
“Reine as well?” came the question as I finally caught up to him. As a matter of fact, I was headed there. With a whopping population of 300, Reine was the metropolis of Moskenesøya. I had almost run out of food and needed to restock at the supermarket. We resumed our journey, and I was secretly digging it, speaking to someone else again. Tomáš came up from the Vega Islands just south of the Arctic Circle, where his brother was working as a carpenter for the summer. He had already spent a couple of weeks there and was going to spend a couple more exploring Lofoten before returning home to the Czech Republic. I spoke a little bit about myself, and the places in Lofoten I wanted to see.
There is a sheltered bay on the northwestern side of Moskenesøya called Horseid, or Horseidvika, inaccessible by car and public transportation. Three to four times per day, a small ferry chugs from the docks of Reine, traversing the long arm of the Kirkefjord to an abandoned village of the same name. From there, a two-hour hike over a mountain pass and down a wide, curving valley awaits. I was set on spending a night on that beach: it was the reason I had come to Moskenesøya.
I suggested that perhaps we could travel to Horseid together. I don’t know if Tomáš saw through my ploy to get him to stay with me a little longer, but it wouldn’t have mattered even if he did. Ego and pride didn’t belong out here in Lofoten. The only things that were important were already in my backpack; everything else was extra baggage—literally. We boarded the ferry for Kirkefjord and it began to drizzle.
On the boat, I prepared myself for the rain: rain jacket with ventilating pockets, rain pants that went over my boots, and a rain cover for the backpack. Tomáš took out a massive, frog-colored poncho. We stepped onto the docks of the village and were immediately set upon by torrents of water from all directions. The sun was nowhere to be found, and for the first time since arriving in Lofoten, I felt true darkness. Below us, streams gushed out of nowhere and formed spiraling rivulets down the slippery slates of rock. I lowered my head, protecting my face from the stinging droplets, and fixed on the singular task of following Tomáš’s dripping poncho uphill.
The veil lifted from Kirkefjord as we neared the top of the pass, and our eyes fell on a misty landscape befitting of the most eloquent sagas. On the other side, I could see the wide expanse of Horseid: a natural wonderland of inviting beige and blue ocean.
Two other backpackers were already on the strandflat at the end of the mile-long beach. We bonded over the crazy Norwegian weather while I laid my clothes out to dry. One of the campers, Marco, was fascinated by the size and lightness of my tent, and I proudly showed him how easily I could clip the canopy onto the freestanding poles. But it was Tomáš who took home the prize of ultimate functionality, having transformed his poncho into a makeshift tarp. We spent the next hours casually shooting the breeze, just the four of us, with the whole beach to ourselves. I blabbered a bit about my previous life in Norway, exploring the ethos of friluftsliv, and ice swimming.
“Anyone up for a summertime dip in the Arctic Ocean?”
Despite it being August, the water was piercing, and we howled out in shock. I filled my lungs and dove forward, submerging myself completely underneath the rolling waves, letting the full force of nature wash over me. The current was stronger than any I’ve ever swum in, and I imagined myself being sucked out by some riptide into the Norwegian Sea. I was treading on the edge of life, and it was exhilarating. I took a mental snapshot of everything around me in that instant—the mountains and the pass in the distance, the two cheering backpackers on the strandflat, Tomáš splashing in the deep end—and frolicked toward shore, head rushing and entire body tingling with that familiar feeling of invincibility after an icy plunge.
Back on dry land, we began to prepare for dinner. I had tucked away something special in my bag, reserved for an occasion like this: dehydrated chicken, sweet corn, beans, and wild rice. After days of surviving off rosinboller and lefser, a hot meal was going to be a real luxury.
Dinner conversation revolved around the following day’s plans. The two backpackers were taking the first ferry back to Reine, which meant getting up at seven and leaving by eight. Tomáš intended to travel north, and, producing a small journal out of thin air, flipped to a sketch of the Lofoten archipelago and traced his finger to a place called Ramberg. I studied the map, embellished with small doodles of compasses, anchors, and a bashful-looking octopus. “You’re a real, modern-day Tom Sawyer,” I quipped, incredulous and amazed by his resourceful and venturous nature. I don’t think any of us had actually read Mark Twain, but we chuckled at the idea of Tomáš Sawyer and his vagabond antics up in the Arctic.
Over a shared dessert of canned fruit salad, Marco mentioned that it was possible to hike to Ramberg without taking the ferry back to Reine and retracing all the way: there was another mountain pass that led east to a cottage by Selfjord, from where it was possible to continue north to Fredvang and then cross some bridges to reach Ramberg. I grew tender at the thought of saying goodbye to Tom—I was thoroughly enjoying this experience with another traveler—but I didn’t have enough time to venture north before returning down to Moskenes. Real life, something I had almost completely forgotten about, rewound itself and began to tick again.
Right on cue, the winds began to pick up. From the mountains came a warm and steamy breeze, but behind us, a bone-chilling Boreas blew angrily at our backs. In the distance, the tranquil sky above the horizon had completely disappeared, enveloped by violet storm clouds. We were caught between a convergence, and rain was coming fast. I barely had time to explain the famous Norwegian proverb I learned, that “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes” before we had to scramble into our shelters. It was the last time that I saw any of them.
Det finnes ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlig klær. —Norwegian proverb
I woke up at ten in the morning to a completely deserted beach. The guys were gone, with no trace of them having ever been there. I walked over to the area where Tom had made his lean-to, and for the second time in Lofoten, I felt the sensation of true solitude settle at pit of my stomach. ‘Was this the freedom that I had been searching for?’ I wondered, stepping down to the sand and stripping out of my fleece jacket and merino underwear. I ran into the breaking crests and surrendered to the raw and immense beauty of Horseidvika—alone.
Back at abandoned Kirkefjord, patches of sunlight streamed through the clouds, and I could now see that the village was actually quite charming, if not a tad dilapidated. While strolling down the only street, I was surprised to also see that it wasn’t abandoned as I had previously thought. An old man with a head full of white was walking out of what appeared to be a shed.
“Unnskyld meg,” I interrupted, “bor du her hele året?” I wanted to know if he lived here the whole year round. In a thick nordnorsk dialect, he told me he was born in Kirkefjord and went to school a couple of buildings down the road. But now he lives together with his son and daughter-in-law on Hamnøy, an island close to Reine. They maintain the old family house as a vacation home and spend some time in Kirkefjord during the summer, but he didn’t think that anybody lived here permanently anymore. I thanked him, and, catching the ferry gliding closer out of the corner of my eye, bade my farewell. I wondered if he’s ever made the trek across the mountain pass to Horseid and its beach; I’m sure he must have.
Back in Reine, I filled my bag once more with boller and lefser, although I had to admit that after a week of eating them almost exclusively I was beginning to grow tired of them. I was in need of some real comfort food. At a tavern by the inner harbor, I treated myself to a piping bowl of kremet fiskesuppe—hearty salmon and pollock chowder—a Norwegian favorite. I settled for a while at Bringen Kaffebar, a cozy café with a typically Scandi-chic interior, and, over a cup of the blackest joe, wrote my postcards to send home to Switzerland and California.