Part 9 – I Became a Ski Racer, Not a Teacher

FasterSkierJanuary 12, 2003

Training — more than sweat and hard work

It is early on a clear and clean early summer’s morning in 1997. As usual I am out on a training run in the woods. I have run about an hour, on my way over to Fjellsjœkampen, which at 812 meters elevation it’s the highest point in the county. I know that there are game birds in the area. Tiri, my bird dog, essentially told me this when I had her with me up here a few days ago. In a little bog area she caught the scent and pointed her nose right towards a tight cluster of trees. So it is not exactly a coincidence that I am doing my workout in this particular area. Even when I am training, I am on the hunt for experiences within nature. Imagine if I get to see a flock of game birds today! I back off my running pace and open my senses.

And there they are: a hen and six or seven younger birds. The hen notices me and runs away from her brood, pretending to have a broken wing. At the same time the young birds flee in all directions. The hen thinks I am a fox and would prefer that I follow her and let her offspring escape. It is as if she attempts to get the fox to think it would be easy to capture a hen that is injured and so helpless. But when the fox nears her, she will take wing and fly: quickly and to safety. Hopefully the maneuver has taken enough time that her young have had a chance to get safely away.

After this little common-day drama, I continue running up to the top of Fjellsjœkampen. There I sit myself down on a stone and let the stillness come over me. I can see over large portions of the county in which I live, and I think about all the people who are sitting in their cars in the morning traffic—while I get to experience this! And not just get to experience it, but I am paid for it as well (really well paid). It is on such mornings that I understand how privileged I am. Cross-country skiing is more than just gold medals.

The Little Boy at the Summer Cabin and by the Campfire

This experience is not unique. I am constantly experiencing new things during my workouts out in nature. For me, nature and sport have always belonged together I was very lucky to grow up with two parents who had a close relationship to nature. As long as I can remember, nature has been a natural part of my everyday life. I have many memories of nature from my childhood.

Every summer from when I was nine until I turned 17, I spent a week or two of our summer vacation at our cabin in an area called Einunndalen, which is part of a larger area known as Østerdalen. It is a place many have called the most beautiful part of the country. There I would stay with my second cousin, Gerd, who I called Aunt Gerd because she grew up with my father. Gerd let me be a part of almost everything. I would milk goats and help with making the cheese, which would often stretch over two days.

But I also got around a lot on my own—often taking my bamboo fishing pole, which I bought for about three dollars from my Uncle Nils’ store. I was clearly systematic in those days, too. Just like I have later documented my training in training logs, every day I would write in the cabin’s book about how many fish I caught and what kind they were. One week I caught 82 small trout. Here, “small trout” means really small trout. Often they were no more than 10 centimeters long. That didn’t make any difference, though. they would be cleaned and fried. For a period I would eat trout at every single meal for an entire week. However, we would not skip Aunt Gerd’s sour cream waffles. There was nothing that could measure up to them.

It was cool to catch fish, but the fishing trips were something more. Even when the fish were not biting, it was great to wander along the still shoreline and marvel at all the exciting details: the flowers, the stones and a strange decomposing mass that I could only imagine what it may have been. I always found something new here, something I had not noticed before. To look around and see the landscape provided me with something new as well. The flora was much different from the plants around Nannestad, where I lived. Here I could sneak around, and maybe even scare up, a group of grouse.

I enjoyed myself here from the first moment. Gradually I had a more reflective attitude about nature and everything that happened within it. The spontaneous enthusiasm and joy I had as a nine year old is something I haven’t lost. After a while, though, there was also time for wonderment and quiet contemplation as I sat out there. I understood that nature is something more than a place where you can have fun during one’s free time. I understood that it was in nature that I would come to find peace and energy. It is something I have never doubted.

It was primitive at our cabin. There was no thought of electricity, but we still needed a way to keep the cows’ milk cold until the driver came to pick it up. My Aunt Gerd solved this by funneling a natural spring past the milk containers. The deliveryman was probably not too enthusiastic about my having dumped the fish I caught in that little pool. It must have come as quite a shock when he stuck his hand down in the pool for a milk container. But for a little boy it was pretty cool to see live trout swimming around in the pool in the middle of the cabin area. The time I spent in Einunndalen was a high point, but it was not the only one.

All year I would dream about the rabbit hunts with my Uncle Nils and Uncle Olav. Even as an eight year-old I was able to join them. But then I only carried a bow and arrow. There was no real danger for the rabbits, but that little boy strutted around with great pride nonetheless. He was able to go out with the big, real hunters. Around 10 or 11 I got my own rifle. My father’s older sister did not like this one bit. She called him over and let him have it: I was too small. But I was able to go, and I had a respect for weapons right away. I knew that the rules were absolute: even the smallest mistake would mean losing privileges to go hunting. I couldn’t imagine a worse punishment.

I can especially remember a trip when I was 13. The alarm clock went off at 4:30, but it wasn’t difficult to get out of bed when one is going out with the grown ups. Out to hunt, with my own rifle! What a responsibility! I had received my father’s first rifle. The dog was let loose, and I could feel the excitement in the air. Like the others, I stood at a post, at the crossing of two dirt roads. I heard a noise come towards me. The rabbit is running about 500 to 1000 meters ahead of our dog. I think about what the others have said again and again: stand completely still. Wait. Wait until it comes near enough. I wait, with just one shot in the rifle. I know that I only get one chance. When the rabbit is about 20 meters away, I close my eyes and shoot. And I hit it! I have shot my first rabbit! It’s a large one, and it is still the largest rabbit that I have ever shot.

The adults come over and nod appreciatively. We take out the heart and lungs, and feed them to the dog—praising him for a job well done. Afterwards, the mood around the campfire was fantastic. There was a smell of coffee and fried meat, and the sound of sizzling in the pan, a crow’s cry in the distance and the experienced hunters’ stories through the campfire smoke. I was a 13 year-old who felt like a man.


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