Friday, July 15, 2011

The End of the Adventure... For Now

So, at last, we're at the final leg of the journey. Pa and I packed up on Friday morning and hopped a flight to Tromsø, Norway, the northern-most University town in the world at 350 km north of the Arctic Circle. We were both really excited because being inside the Arctic Circle in summertime means one thing: midnight sun!! I'd been to southern Alaska before and experienced some pretty long days (sun setting at 1 and rising at 4), and our summer solstice in Lappeenranta had been pretty close (the sun was definitely up at midnight when we went to bed), but I'd never experienced the real deal and was very excited. The race I as entered in, the Midnight Sun Half Marathon, took advantage of this phenomenon by not starting until 10:30 at night! So we were definitely going to get our share of some midnight sun, whether we wanted it or not.

(First up: The Norwegian Airlines magazine is called 'Scanorama' - I like Norway already!)

We arrived into Tromsø in the mid-afternoon and, after dropping our bags at the hotel, set off through into the town. The marathon was hosting a night-before dinner for all contestants in a restaurant up on top of one of the mountains surrounding the fjord in which the island Tromsø is situated is located. These dinners, as I've researched (as I would hardly call myself an expert on marathon scheduling protocol), seem to be pretty standard, and usually involve spaghetti or some other carb-loading activity. The MSM, being Norwegian, decided to go a slightly different route by serving balacao. Now what, you may ask, is balacao? Surely it's some sort of carb-heavy dish, right? Well, it turns out that balacao is… salt cod. Only a Norwegian marathon would serve salted fish the night before a big race.

(Such beauty!)

Anyway, we decided to ride the cable car up to the restaurant anyway so we could get some better views of the totally unreal and stunning scenery around the town. It was so worth it! The sun was brilliant and shone down on an improbable landscape of steep snow-capped mountains, sparkling blue water, the pretty-as-a-postcard town, and the lush greenness of the shoreline. The mountain we were on still had active snowpack on it, which we had a fun time climbing around on and having an impromptu snowball fight with. I can very honestly say that that was the first snowball fight I've ever had in late June!!

(double eyes closed FTW)

(Jokin around on the snow pack)

(Unreal view)

(Like I said: un. real.)

(There were cairns all over the top of the mountain - here, Pa photographs one with the nice camera)

(So crazy!!! ...Actually, kind of fun looking.)

Afterwards, we explored the town a little further and found a Thai place to have dinner. I was pretty nervous about Norwegian Thai food (those cuisines don't seem to naturally come together in my mind), but it was excellent. There may have been 6 pages of seafood on the menu, but the three vegetarian options (srsly) all looked tasty and the curry I ended up getting was one of the best I've had recently… it might even give Thaiphoon, my favorite place back at Palo Alto, a run for its money! We were feeling very clever about our decision (as every other restaurant we passed looked fish heavy… to put it mildly) until Pa ended up leaving his phone in the restaurant, requiring an 11pm jog back to the restaurant when the owners found it as they were cleaning up. When we went back at 11pm the sun looked EXACTLY as it had when we'd been up on the mountain, which was unnerving to say the least. We went to bed after that, but I'm fairly certain that, had we stayed up all night, the sun would not have moved an inch further down the horizon.


The next day we had completely free before the race that evening. We went to the town hall in the morning to pick up my packet and get Pa registered for the 2.6 mile 'mini-marathon' that he had decided to run. It felt very official, getting my electronic timing chip checked out and seeing my name pop up on the screen. I was getting pretty excited… and nervous!

(Sub on the way to the town hall)

After that, we headed over to Polaria, the city's arctic museum/aquarium. They had a cool movie about life in the Arctic Circle, some hokey but rather amusing interactive exhibits about icebergs and the tundra (including a 'fake tundra' that you could walk on to feel how weirdly springy the ground is in summer when it partially thaws), and a very small aquarium with some arctic fish, crustaceans, and--most awesomely--seals. Pa and I loved watching the seals and chilled out for a good half hour just watching them gambol around.

(fishies at Polaria)

Next we went on the scout for a good carb-loading lunch for me. This ended up being nearly impossible to achieve - we literally walked around the city for two hours and found not one place that sold pasta without meat or fish in it. The one Italian restaurant in town appeared to be have gone out of business from lack of use. No wonder all the Norwegians are skinny - they only eat fish and no carbs! Finally we went to the 'American Pizzeria' where I was able to find spaghetti with meatballs. They wouldn't give me just spaghetti (only god knows why), so I ended up ordering the meatballs and then picking them off to the side of my plate. After all the effort, it hardly seemed worth it, but god damn it we got it done.

I was starting to get pretty nervous, so we just sort of chilled out from there until the race. We went to a supermarket (something I LOVE doing in foreign countries - what does the packaging look like? What gets put in the front? How are the aisles arranged? What sort of wacky canned foods can I find? (I've also found that some of a nation's weirdest cuisine will almost always appear in the canned food aisle: take canned herring in Norway, mushy peas in Britain, and pickled trotters in the US as just a few examples)) loaded up on soda water and fruit.

We also stopped at a candy shop and bought an enormous feedbag of candy to be saved as a post-race celebration (actually, if I remember correctly, I wrote a post just as I was leaving Norway that mentioned said triumphant Candy Breakfast… it was sweeeeet). Finally, I just ended up laying in bed, half-asleep and totally lethargic like I always get when I'm super nervous.

Pa ran in the 'mini-marathon' (2.6 miles; a tenth of a true marathon) at 6:30, and did great. He may have gotten smoked by more than a few ten year olds (but dude, they were FAST) but finished strong in the top third of the field. I had a good example to follow! After he was done it was still another 3+ hours before I even wanted to be at the start line for my race, so we went back to the hotel to watch Mythbusters (which, inexplicably, seemed to be on ALL THE TIME). I lay as inertly as possible, trying to keep my nerves in check.

(Pa with his competition... notice the many small children)

Finally 10pm rolled around and I changed, put my timing chip on my sneaker, and headed down to the start line. There was an aerobics warmup led by the happiest looking ice-blond Norwegians I'd ever seen, that looked so peppy I was worried I'd completely zap myself of energy if I tried to partake. Instead I stood on the sidelines and tried to do the yoga warmup I'd always done during my high school xc days.


Finally, after six months of preparing and waiting, the gun went off to start! All in all the race took me two and a half hours, and I had a blast every single step of the way. The weather was beautiful (when I finished at 2am the sun was still as bright as ever, blocked by clouds that shone a pearly pinkish-purple light down on the town) and the scenery absolutely stunning. The race went through town and then wound around the backside of the island and back. The backside was very rural, meaning that we ran past little farms with horses and cows on one side and the breathtakingly gorgeous fjord on the other. The water was perfectly still and stood as a bottomless mirror to the little fishing boats out in harbor, the heather-green reeds growing on the shoreline, the ice-blue mountains, and the quilted pink and purple sky.

I wish I'd brought my phone to take some photos, as many people around me in the 'tourist' section of the race were doing, but alas you'll just have to take my word for it. I even got passed (yes, passed… sigh) by an old Japanese man PAINTING A WATERCOLOR of the scene as he ran by. Impressive.

My legs got pretty tired by the end because I'd had to do most of my training in the pool since I injured my foot earlier this spring, but I had a lot of wind left over and felt very good cardiovascularly. I finished strong and passed like 15 people in the last mile. At the end I was rewarded with a cool medal, as much free soda and bananas as I could tolerate, and… alcohol-free beer? Whatever. I was thrilled and was abuzz with the excitement for hours after I finished, making sleep pretty much impossible. I can't wait to do another!


The next morning, before we knew it, our bags were packed and we were heading back to the airport. I still can't really believe that a lot of stuff that I got to experience this spring actually happened. It seems a lot more like a wonderful dream.

I don't know when I'll be in Europe next, but I've got some ideas for this blog yet. So, to my (possibly 2?) readers, fear not! We need not part just yet.

As they say in Germany, Tschüss!

1 comment:

  1. As apparently 50% of your readership, please keep posting. I read your eventing blog too, you're a great writer. And even things that may seem mundane to you are interesting to me! I'm sure you'll travel more soon. You could write about your train commutes, and I'd read it.

    Keep on with the traveling and running, and school and writing!