Sat 5th of August.
Yesterday we arrived in Norway. To our, and almost all international passengers surprise, there were huge, freeform lines snaking around the insides of the relatively small passport control hall. It took us a good two hours in the end with a mix of camaraderie and complaining from those waiting with us. When we made it to the front, the man seated in the booth – twenty-something, blonde long hair tied back in a pony tail, clear face – asked why we were visiting Norway, and we gave our reply “Tourism …. Trolltunga”. To our surprise, while doing the various checks he had to do with our passports, he proceeded to give us an update on recent conditions at Trolltunga. The hike had been closed because of torrential rain, however, it looked like weather conditions would improve. Having finished with our passports he added some further information hurriedly: the police had been waving people away from the start of the track, we should be careful not to get lost, and, apparently, Tom Cruise was looking to film the next Mission Impossible movie at the site some time this season. Surprised, a little worried, and generally in awe of his friendly demeanour, we were waved through.
The forecast on Google showed rain all week. “What if we can’t go?” I lay in bed thinking after my jetlagged 5 am start, morning light just starting to squeak through the cracks of the blinds in our AirBnB room. C’est la vie, Shoga nai, No worries, mate. If it were too rainy, too muddy, too dangerous, or Tom Cruise was occupying the site with wires, stunt coordinators, a film crew and catering, then we couldn’t go. That’s all. It was our explicit mission for this trip, travelling a long way, at considerable expense. But even without the same end point, the effort remains the same. We have prepared to visit Trolltunga: planned, packed, researched, trained, strategized, imagined and anticipated our experience there. We’ve tried on and purchased hiking boots, prepared photographic equipment and data storage, climbed a small but challenging mountain close to our house in the morning light to prepare our legs. Virtually, we have climbed the mountain with two middle aged American men over a time span of about 7 minutes on a YouTube clip: started in the car, paid parking, done the ascent, been advised of walking conditions and come down. We’ve ambled (or, depending on how tough you consider negotiating the results of Google Search to be, hiked) through various tutorials, weather reports and periphery information. Had anticipatory chats with friends and loved ones describing our destination, shown photos of it on our smartphones many times. Booked accommodation. Created contingency plans. Speculated on necessary and unnecessary items. We, or at least I, have visualised the experience, imagining arriving, starting, the pain of the uphill, savouring the researcher role I am to play in observing the actions of other tourists at the top, the well-earned rest in our beds that night. So, what if we are not actually able to live it? Will the university request for me to give my funding money back?
Not all tourist experiences are “successful”. The unplanned, unexpected deviations, whilst perhaps little appreciated in tourist literature, are as significant as those processes that work from start to finish as expected. The emotional experience of living the trip makes it so. If we don’t climb those stairs, see the view, take a photo, we can’t say that we were on top of the rock, but we can still say we have been to Trolltunga. Why? Because that is the contours which our trip followed. We packed, planned, anticipated. We will still go to the head of the trail, observe the peripheral structure around the site, breath the air, see the mountains, feel the ground, imagine what it would be like to go up. Thus, we may not get the money shot, but we have still had a version of the Trolltunga experience as best we could. And in this unpredictable world we all share, even the Tom Cruises, the plan b is always a possibility. One you can make your own, be proud of. Who knows, not hiking Trolltunga could be more enlightening than hiking it!
So, even while whether the hike is possible remains to be seen (it could in fact be do-able but conditions adverse, which will make us think about how bad we want it), we will have our Trolltunga experience. The internet will prove part of this (checking for recent info, like on TripAdvisor) and our instincts also. We might start and turn back. Such tough emotional experiences likely make for deeper connection and experience. The journey is, after all, as important as the destination (even in fieldwork).
[Note: As it turns out, the location for Mission Impossible is another Norwegian clifftop: Pulpit Rock, meaning the immigration officer perhaps had this location in mind rather than Trolltunga]