|Posted by Tara Mulvany on June 25, 2016 at 2:35 PM|
Bleak, barren, and beautiful. It's hard to sum up the past few weeks and paint a picture of the landscapes that I have travelled through.
Headland after headland, one fjord crossing and then the next - the wild and windswept northern coast of Norway has not disappointed. Day after day I've been soaking wet, cold, tired and sometimes hungry, but it has been awesome. Here is a little insight into my journey so far.
After catching the Hurtigruten for 36 hours to its eastern most, and turn around port of Kirkenes, I found myself huddling behind a small building, trying to get some shelter from gale force winds. Two giant bags were beside me, and I'd weighed down my beautiful kayak with another big bag so it wouldn't get blown away. Waves were smashing onto the rocky sea wall, sea spray blew in the wind, and my colder than usual toes turned pink.
I'd considered starting my journey from Kirkenes - but it just didn't feel right - I had to begin at the border, and the true beginning of Norway's coast, at a place called Grense Jakobselv. The question then was how to get myself, and my kayak there. Fortunately, the legendary James Baxter came to the rescue, and that was in the form of a tall friendly Norwegian called Ole. A few years back James skied the length of Norway in winter, and then paddled back down the coast - and Ole was a friend of his. He agreed to drive me and my kayak the 40 or so kms to the border so I could start where Norway did.
We skirted lakes and drove through small patches of forest, which Ole told me were the western most roaming grounds of the Siberian tiger. It wasn't reassuring that I was going to be camping not far away! As we neared the end of the road, a small river separated us from Russia. Two young soldiers huddled under a tarp marked a border well guarded, and we continued on, crossing over paddocks before the road met the sea in a small sandy bay. Whitecaps covered the ocean and gusts of wind blew raindrops sideways across the windscreen.
Ole told me about a guy he knew, who in the 1980's, as a 15 year old, had been kayaking close by. The wind came up and he was blown slightly out to sea, then a current pushed him into Russian waters. He spent three days in a Russian jail before they let him go.
I could see the yellow buoy off the river, marking the separation between countries, and I really didn't want to get blown past it. But, despite the wind blowing in that direction, I was eager to get going and make a start, even if it was only a few kms. So in the gale I packed my boat, faffing a bit with a huge pile of gear and then eventually failing and strapping my drybag backpack to the top deck. Ole waited until I was ready, took some pictures of me (I wonder if he thought they might be the last of me..) and then helped push my boat off the beach. I wobbled, paddled, turned and waved goodbye before paddling out into rough water and the wind.
It wasn't an ideal start, I was feeling a little uneasy about being back in such a narrow boat, and quickly realised that this was actually the roughest conditions I'd ever paddled the boat in. I cut across the bay, working slowly into the wind and towards a headland not far away. If I could get around it, and keep my distance out to sea, it was only a few kms of exposed water before I could tuck back into a small inlet. The sky was grey and waves smashed on the rocks, and the tops of waves occasionally surged, sending a small amount of tumbling whitewash towards me. I wasn't relaxed but I wasn't uncomfortable, so I pushed on, happily making calm waters a few hours later. I pulled up outside a small wooden hut that belonged to a friend of Ole's.
I love huts. Especially unlocked ones beside the ocean, and this one became my home for the next day, as the winds continued to blow. Sea eagles danced in the wind, the feathers on their ginormous wings flapping wildly. They were the first of many of these incredible creatures that I would see in the weeks ahead.