On the train, the sun burns through the window, but when we get off, the wind blows around our ears. Willem and Margien have never done a winter adventure before and they are not given a quiet start. In all weathers the skis go under the sledge, the harness around the waist and the jackets are pulled up high. We wonder what goes through their heads. We know what it is, that fierce wind, but how will they deal with it? We walk the first 600 meters out of town and then finally change shoes for skis. We begin the climb. To get to the plateau, we have to go up for the first few kilometers. Written on their faces is the exertion and strong wind. Again we wonder what is going through their heads. We say nothing, this is part of it, it is hard work, but in the end they are richly rewarded for it. They just don't know it yet.
The first day is immediately a serious test. Everything is new for Willem and Margien. Cross-country skiing, pulling the pulkas, wearing the right clothes at the right time and of course the first time winter camping. We have some camp rules and tricks for comfortably spending an evening in low winter temperatures. We teach them setting up the tent in the snow, making trails and a winter toilet. We don't get much time for a leisurely start, however. Just when Margien and Willem are in the tent, a blizzard starts. Liters of snow fall from the sky with strong winds. We throw sleeping bags, mats and garment bags into the tent so they can prepare their sleeping place. We tighten all the guy lines and then dive into the tent as well. It is the first time in all our winter adventures that we have had to cook inside the tent. All evening, we sit together in the tent. Nice and cozy. Olivier in the front tent preparing a delicious pasta and we with our legs in the sleeping bag. Inside the tent there is only optimism. "Actually, it's not cold at all," says Margien. The thermometer reads 6 degrees, not surprising with four human heaters and one fuel stove relentlessly melting snow. Outside, the blizzard rages on and only in the morning do we see the results.
With the tent flapping, a first night in winter sleeping bags and new "roommates", it is no surprise that everyone slept a little lightly. Fortunately, packing up camp goes smoothly. At 9 a.m. we push our legs forward again. Onward uphill and with a long day ahead of us. We are already behind schedule due to the heavy snow and strong winds. We do not worry, we will catch up. But when we have barely done four kilometers by lunch, we know otherwise. This distance is too far for this team in this weather. The wind scrapes across the plain. Horizontally, the snow passes our clothing. Immediately it brings us back to the "polar explorers" chapter in our book. We encourage Margien and Willem. But fair is fair, they are having a tough time. Every now and then they fall in the deep snow, only to get up with a positive note a moment later. "So there I am again." Navigating also takes a lot of time. Trails have become invisible because of the wind and old tracks have disappeared. We have to inform the team that we are going to change the route, but the mood remains optimistic.
"It doesn't matter! We are skiing all day and that's what matters," says Margien.
Willem also has with a satisfied look. "I have to admit that a few times I wondered what on earth I had gotten myself into, but wow hey! Nobody takes this experience away from me anymore." This evening we get to cook outside. We build a snow kitchen with benches in the snow and enjoy the first stars in the sky.
Margien's biggest fear was being cold, but pleasantly surprised, she says she's hasn't been cold so far. The temperatures are also not too bad the first few days. The thermometer ticks -10 degrees on the second night and during the day it stays just below zero. Packing, changing clothes and going to the toilet all succeed without frozen fingers. It is nice to see how quickly Willem and Margien learn and how easily they get into the rhythm of winter outdoor life. We give Margien the map and compass. With pleasure she leads us through the mountains. Before the trip we taught them the theory of navigation and now they get to put it into practice. The sun shows itself and we get a beautiful view of the mountains. The one we worked so hard for!
We plan our lunch in a hut. There we will see how we can reschedule our route. We have several emergency routes worked out, but those are for emergencies and so not a new ski route. Now we have to figure that out in the middle of the mountains. Our team opens up to each other and so we can listen to each other's needs. Some tears come, but that is actually beautiful. A rewarding lesson for us in our pioneering expedition. Finally, we stay in the hut during the night. A gift for the hard work!
Incredible limits were pushed by Willem and Margien over the last few days. Both mentally and physically, but today they will be repaid. The sun shines in a bright blue sky and in front of us is a large frozen lake that we cross along its entire length. Slowly as a strongly grown team, we move forward across the plain. Small as ants in this immense landscape. Willem skis in front. He stops for a moment and looks around. "I have to pinch myself in my arm for a moment that I am experiencing all this." Margien also doesn't have her gaze on her skis. She moves fluidly and has the cross-country skiing technique down after three days. With disbelief she looks around her. A tremendous sense of pride fills us.
At lunch we are treated. In the sun, wearing nothing more than a thin jacket, we enjoy a hot soup in a dug-out snowbank. Before us, the mountains rise. With sunglasses, we take in the sun. Pure happiness. Our new route allows us an early stop and we find a magical spot among the trees. Our little camp is pitched in no time. We build the fire pit in the snow where we spend the whole evening around a fire melting snow, staying warm and roasting marshmallows. Meanwhile, the thermometer sinks to -19 degrees, but next to the fire in the thick expedition jackets, we hold on for a long time.
For a trip like this, mental preparation is more important than physical. We gave Willem and Margien mental exercises to do in preparation. Margien imagined it would be -20 degrees every night. She tried to get ahead of her fear, being cold, with mental exercise. So far our evenings have been between -5 and -10, so as the thermometer slowly ticks further down Margien says, "Now let those minus 20 degrees come." When we crawl into the tent it is -19.5. The next day Zoë proudly sums up.
"Look what you all are doing! You have never been on skis and never camped in the snow. Now you have been living outside for hours at a stretch, you endure cold temperatures, you trek for a week on skis through the Norwegian mountains, you sleep outside and you eat from the same bowl that hasn't been washed for a week! How proud you should be of yourselves!" One of our mantras is: 10% physical and 90% mental. If we are willing to learn, suffer, stand up and be flexible, we can meet almost any physical challenge.
Our mission and our pioneering journey is a succes. We have learned an incredible amount and with Willem and Margien we have two happy persons who are going home with an experience they will never forget. They have suffered, they have wondered what they started, they have learned personal lessons and had tears, but they go home with unique experience. One they will never forget and even one they would like to repeat, in their own way. The four of us got to experience again in pure freedom to be incredibly happy and grateful in the simplicity of the outdoors. "I felt incredibly rich last week," sums up Willem.
There is only one question left: "Who will join us next year?"