Back in 2018 I decided I would do Stakeout with my son who was then almost 2 years old. Solo. Here are some lessons learned that might help other desparate parents out there:
When travelling solo with a toddler – just realise that you are TOTALLY on your own schedule. Other people might get together for beers, overnight playboating trips, sunset – and sunrise session – for you, as the single travelling parent – forget about all that. As soon as you let go of all expectations of doing anything except from normal daytime sessions on the water, IF you are lucky enough to have a babysitter or another family sharing the kids – Stakeout is AWESOME even when you miss out on most of the social times.
If you are a parent having a hard time letting others help you out with your child – forget about travelling solo. If there is EVER a small promise of babysitting – grab it, with no guilty feelings. A happy mother is a happy child, and vice versa.
Be efficient. There is no time to faff around in parking lots, gear up for hours, or spend endless times organizing everybody to paddle with you. I tried a few times, and only ended up getting frustrated when things did not work out. When you have the chance to get out – you go, no matter if it is alone, or with a few also efficient people.
There is nothing like a big-ass wave to take your thoughts off a late-night fever, a diaper rash, or a certain worrying behaviour from your offspring. Some glorious faceplants, half-whiplashes and big volume lines are like yoga to the paddler-parent´s mind. Take my word for it.
Have some core people around you with more or less the same schedule. I could have never gone to Canada and enjoyed it so much if it wasn´t for the fact that Matt Hamilton opened up his home (and especially the front yard) for us, letting us throw endless rocks in his backyard creek, play with his dogs and use his bath-tub. Also – Leif and Natalie Andersen with their son were keen to share babysitting chors – which was a win-win. I got to paddle a lot with both of them, and they definitely did more babysitting than me – I guess that is a direct consequence of them being two parents and me flying solo…
With a brief window of sun over the Svartisen area we decided to head out on the three-day roundtrip to the Glomåga river in Nordland, Norway. This time we did not only go for the adventure – we also carried with us the ashes from our friend Louise Jull who passed away in a kayaking accident in 2015. The mesmerizing lake half-way down the river, at the base of the stunning Flatisen glaciar and waterfall Bjørnefallet, was where we wanted to put Lulu to rest.
The drive to Glomåga is best done along the coast, as this section of Norway is among one of the most stunning. You cross the Arctic Cicle on the long ferry ride from Kilboghamn to Jektvik, and pulling into this old port the scenery is nothing short of stunning. This is also where I am lucky enough to have a piece of property. It has turned into a ritual – every time we go up to Glomåga we need to spend a night at my place, fishing, picking sea shells, drinking some good wine and beer and simply enjoy the spectacular view from the property. This we also did with Lulu in 2014, and she basked in the midnight sun, swimming in the fjord, and being all so exited for the coming adventure. In this regard, not much has changed.
The next day we picked up supplies, and headed to the lake Storglomvatnet. It is actually a man-made lake, as the resevoir is among Norway´s biggest hydro projects ever. Paddling across the lake takes about two hours, and with a strong wind we were definitely battling big waves and a side-current that constantly wanted to push us off course. However, with the stunning views of the cascading glaciars descending from Svartisen, the paddle seemed short and sweet. Hiking up the first little hill to reach the Terskaldsvatnet, we found a beautiful camp spot even with a fire pit and some good fire wood. As we stretched out and made dinner, I felt again that this was exactly the point where I had to be – out on an adventure, surrounded by beauty and good people – carrying Lulu into the magic of nature.
The next morning we concluded the short hike over the pass and into the headwaters of the Glomåga river. Glaciars were sparkling in the summer sun, birds flying and streams flowing – crossing lakes and making our way to the lakes Terskaldvatnene. The first lake is being diverted over to the reservoir, so the river is small and shallow in the first kilometer. As one descends the valley the glaicars fall in from both sides of the valley edge making this upper section into one of the most specacular ones on earth.
The kayaking is mainly class three and four, with a sweet granite gorge class four thrown in towards the end of the section. At the end of this gorge lies Sven´s drop, made famous by Swiss paddler Sven Lammler in 2015 when he successfully pulled off an insane line on this twisting beauty. The drop just above and below have been paddled by various groups as well. The last kilometer or so down to the big portage around unrunnable Bear Watefall (Bjørnefallet) is very steep and some of the rapids could get paddled – but dont really get paddled due to being very unclean.
As we hiked our boats down to the lake it was again hard to stop staring at the spectacle called nature. The glaicars across the lake are stunning, the waterfall impressive, and the color of the lake itself is nothing but mesmerizing. It is indeed the most beautiful place on Earth.
I also started looking down the valley to see if I could spot some hikers – the second half of our crew had circumnavigated the glaicar with the shuttle vehicle the night before, and were now supposed to hike in to meet us for a night of quiet celebration and enjoyment by the lake. With them they carried my son, Benjamin. He turns two in september, and usually loves the outdoor adventures – but the seven hour hike could also be too tough for him – would they make it?
They did! A while after we had set up camp, Fidel came running. They were on the other side of the lake and wanted kayaks to cross – so we sent out Basti and Ron to pick them up. What amazingness to have all of them make it into the heart of the river – and to have our son run around being in paradise. Litterally.
That evening I picked a quiet time and paddled out onto the lake with Lulus remains. Ron had picked flowers, and as I said my last fare-well I emptied her ashes into the sacred waters of Glomåga. I sent the flowers after her, and finally felt a burden lift off my shoulders. It was done.
The next morning the real river adventure was about to begin. The paddle from the lake to take-out is as much negotiating the river, as it is kayaking the river. Having a bit higher water than the previous time we portaged the two first big rapids, and continued downstream. A tight rapid under a foot bridge woke us up, and from here down the river was flowing full and swirly through beautifull class four rapids.
After a while big boulders start blocking the river bed, and soon we were just above the main portage of the run. Picking eddies down to the last one we were all on toes – no mistakes allowed. Due to the rain we had to use a good amount of rope to get one by one out on the seal launch rock – and I found myself being the first one to get back in the current, focusing on the must make moves to do above certain death. It sounds dramatic – but it wasnt. The move is quite managable for a good kayaker – but it is of course a bit spooky to be so close to disaster. In the end – that is maybe why I like kayaking so much…
Being on the left side of river we had to crawl over a siphon and start the 500 meter long portage through the bush. It is not too bad at all, and five hours after we had left the camp that morning we had done the major portage and was putting back into the river. From here the canyon is still tight, and most people portage at least three times before heading into the marble section. Espcially one move makes me nervous in this section – pulling out from an eddy on the river right one has to ride a swirly and changing spine of whitewater up and around a funky wave/hole – it always looks worse than it is though, and once again I came out of the move giggling of joy. The final portage before this section is a mandatory one, with the whole river dissappearing under a rock. The hardships of negotiating the river is quickly forgotten as the river bed is formed by beautiful marble rock.
One quick portage is left, namely around the tourist attraction nick named Marble Castle – a mandatory portage around amazing marble formations in the river bed. Putting back on a fun roller coaster rapid guides you into the final stretch of the river. As the canyon opens up, one last big drop awaits for the adrenaline junkie – and from here down it is pleasant class three/four all the way to take-out.
The journey down one of the world´s most amazing rivers was once again a spectacular adventure, and I find peace in thinking about Lulu who is now resting in such a spot of beauty.
I will tell you what is wrong. Wrong is when I do not know which of my dead friend´s profile photo I should upload as my Facebook profile photo. Horror is when I have to count multiple times to make sure I have accounted for all my dead friends. Wrong is when I do not know what to do with a friend´s ashes, beacuse I have more of them on my shelf. How messed up is that?
It has been a few bad years, to say the least. In six years I have lost seven friends, and among them my best friend. It has simply felt like one blow after another. One death after another. Meaningless – of course. Death is where we are all heading, but it is not something most of us seek.
Some of my friends, still alive that is, are reacting in different ways. Going harder, slowing down, creating ways of celebrating life, but also digging deep in the dark personal cellars…. My way has been to feel a bit numb – shell shocked perhaps – because after organizing a memorial for the third one to die in two years I was done for – my feelings were too raw to even take in the fact that another one died. Then another one. And another one.
At this point I need to spread the ashes of the one, to be able to grieve the other. That is severe. Even I realise that.
Some of my friends have stopped kayaking. It is their way of telling their loved ones that they will not die on the river. They will save them that pain. Others have like me, gone into silence. Others again find their way in the chaos of grief in organizing memorials, memorial funds, races and so on. We all deal with death differently.
For me it is all about time. Space. And silence. I find that I mainly need to re-align myself in this world of ours – find my focus point and keep my center of gravity where it needs to be.
Then I can properly grieve… move on.. forgive life and death… and spread the ashes of my friends to the river, where they belong.
But most importantly – I will never abandon the river. Its water is the blood of the Earths´veins – it is where we belong and what makes me feel the most at peace.
I see it everywhere: “Girls only biking weekend” – “Girls only skiing weekend” – and they are always together with yoga. Nothing wrong with yoga, I stretch every other day myself, but it seems to be always an activity included in girls only initiatives. I find it interesting how tight these two are linked together.
For years I ran a few “girls only” clinics on the river, and it seemed like a good gig. Girls were happy to get on the water together, without any male interference. Today I am not so sure about this concept anymore.
Are we really in need of surrounding ourselves with only females to be able to lower the shoulders and do our thing? Infact, I think that we are opening up for more gender equity by submitting ourselves to these confined boxes consisting only of one gender.
It is not often I see “Boys-only kayaking trip”, or “Boys-only ski weekend”. This must be because of the anger many would feel if women would get actively excluded. But is it ok that we do the same toward men?
I believe we have a long way to go when it comes to gender equity. It dawned on me after my dispute with the organizers at the Adidas Sickline World Championships last fall, where they would only give out wild-cards to the men, and not to the women.
The top 3 men from the year before did not have to qualify on the flatwater stretch, but could go straight into semi-finals where you run the whole course, not just the flat-water. The same rule did not apply to the women though, not even for the winner of the year before. Which was me.
Apparently I was being difficult for even asking, and when I created a fuzz about it, I was promptly told that I was showing bad sportmanship. This because I narrowingly missed out on the semi-final, and complained about the different treatments of the classes after my run. Yes, I definitely should have caught on to this before my run. But still. It had to be pointed out, and since nobody else but me would gain anything by pointing it out, I made sure I shouted it out loud and clear.
Do we feel threatened by the men since we want to join these kind of initiatives where only women are allowed? Why do we actively separate ourselves from men? Is it because of the nature of the sports we do, where it can be very hard (physically) for us to get as good as the men? Though, I do not really see much “Men-only ballet classes” either. Or “Men-only synchronized swimming weekends”.
As I grow older, and somewhat more mature, I have realised how much wisdom is required to simply love oneself. To understand when to reach for full potential, and when enough is enough. Some rapids are not for me to paddle, but others are. Some lines I know I run better than most men, but other lines I know I tend to not do so well on.
It has taken me a lot of time to understand my limits, but also my potentials. I, like most others, used to be very insecure. About the choice of life, about lines to run, about what I was doing, how I look and how I interact with other people. Now, at 36 at least I have learnt some lessons about myself.
I can always get better at kayaking. I can most definitely get better at being a good human being. I can get better at brushing my hair and putting on make-up. (though that freaking waterproof mascara is never waterfall-proof!) I can get better at socialising, and I can get better at skiing. I can get better at losing, and I can get better at not letting things get to me.
But I did get a lot better. At all of the above. And I have learned that if I chose to not run a rapid, but my male counterpart does, I do not feel bad about it. It is just what it is.
I think we should stop having “girls-only” initiatives. Really.