A Stuffed Monkey Goes to Norway

To get to Norway, it took flights from Kansas City to Detroit, a flight from Detroit to Amsterdam (with depart time of 4:20pm… heh heh), and a flight from Amsterdam to Bergen.

Bergen welcomed me with a question.

I certainly hope this is Bergen! Why are you asking?

The question did not make sense at first.  It wasn’t until I was leaving 9 days later that I understood what it was asking.  Bergen? translates to “Why are you leaving? Wouldn’t you rather stay here in Bergen?”

Although I would have a total of 4 days in Bergen, 3 of them would come at the end of the trip. Initially, this was only a quick 1 day stop to get acclimated to the time change before I went on the major hikes of the week.

A view that was a small walk from my first AirBnB stay.

The next morning after my first night in Bergen was May 17th, which is their national holiday (similar to our July 4th).

Gentlemen were in suits, and ladies were in traditional dresses.  The crowds were hard to deal with as I dragged my luggage to the bus station for my trip to Odda. Everyone was making their way to the city center for parades and celebration from the bus station.

A stuffed monkey going upstream like this was very difficult.

Odda and the Trolltunga

When I first arrived in Odda, I was hypnotized by the beauty.  Since there was a pub and eatery right there at the bus station called the Smeltehuset, I ordered a beer and let myself be mesmerized by my surroundings.

My host at the AirBnB offered to take me for a drive south to see some more of the beauty that Odda had to offer.  On this drive, I was able to take in Buerdalen Valley and Glacier, Eidesfossen, and Låtefossen.  It was a very kind gesture of which I was truly thankful.


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The Trolltunga hike was scheduled for the next day.  However, since it was still early (about a month from the regular hiking season), there were no shuttles operating. A taxi would have cost a LOT of money.  Again, my host was gracious enough to carve time out of his day to give me a ride up to the start.

This hike began with nearly 4 km of switchbacks up the mountain.  After another 3 km (about the halfway point), the hike turned to snow that never stopped. As I got closer to the end, passing the 10 km, 11 km, and 12 km marks, it really started to sink in how demanding this hike was.  Every step further was yet another step I would have to make on the way back.  It was very tough.


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If you ever plan to do the Trolltunga hike, I would suggest doing it in season, which is June 15 – September 15.

If I ever do the Trolltunga again, I will probably do the following:

  • Backpack a tent and gear in to break up the hike into two parts, allowing a sunset and sunrise photo.
  • Put in extra time hiking beforehand to get those miles up.
  • Bring and inevitably consume some ibuprofen.
  • Borrow or purchase a drone to take some seemingly impossible footage and videos.
  • Make sure the current date is somewhere in the June 15-September 15 range.

This hike will provide anyone who makes it to the end an amazing sense of accomplishment.

Stavanger and Pulpit Rock

Odda was probably my favorite place in Norway that I visited.  The small community with stunning views and hikes all around captured a piece of my soul. I will most definitely return.

The bus ride to Stavanger was full of waterfalls and tunnels.  They were everywhere!  The bus I was on also had to drive onto a ferry at one point, which offered a nice break to let wind blow the stink off of my fur.

In Stavanger, I visited the Norwegian Petroleum Museum (Norsk Oljemuseum) which was much more informative and cooler than I had expected.  Most of the hiking I did there was urban hiking. I spent the most money on a dinner at Skagen Restaurant where I also enjoyed some high quality Aquavit.

Originally, I planned to hike the Preikestolen on a Monday, thinking that I could avoid the crowds.  On the particular Monday I chose, it was the day after Pentecost, which is referred to as Whit Monday.  This is yet another day that many Norwegians take off, so I met many of them on the trail.

To get there, I rode a ferry from Stavanger to a place called Tau, where I then hopped on a bus that took me to the base of the 4 km trail to Pulpit Rock.  Although without snow, and 10 km shorter than the Trolltunga, I would not call the Pulpit Rock trail easy.  You wouldn’t know it from all the people I saw on the trail.

Once again, the reward was gorgeous.  I took along a coaster from Pulpit Rock Brewery in Decorah, IA.  I sent them some of my snapshots which they used on their Instagram feed here and here.


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Back to Bergen

To get back to Bergen, I had to get up before 5 am and walk several kilometers to the bus station that would then take me to the ferry. For the first hour on the ferry, I slept on the floor since I was too cheap to purchase a comfortable seat during my journey.  I wasn’t alone.

Although a very beautiful ride, it wasn’t as awe inspiring as I thought it would be after I woke up and took in the views.

For my 3 remaining nights in Bergen, I really fell in love with the city and did not want to leave.  I walked all over the place, including to the high points of Fløyen and Ulriken (on two separate days).

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Bergen is definitely a place to enjoy for at least 4 days and 3 nights, if not many, many more.  Since I am getting really good at traveling, I was able to pack in quite a bit in the 4 days I was there, but I was definitely thirsty for more and would have enjoyed more time to hike the 13 km trail from Fløyen to Ulriken.  That is on my next to-do list.


Stepping Away from Your Comfort Zone

Leaving one’s comfort zone can be, well, uncomfortable.  Humans have a basic necessity of feeling competent at what they do in order to be content (Junger, Tribe).  Stemming from this need is a fear that taking on something new and different will lead to feeling incompetent.

This is The Resistance (Pressfield, The War of Art), and the more that you fight and overcome The Resistance, the easier it becomes.

The goal should be to step away from your comfort zone enough that the concept morphs into an oxymoron.

Do you know of a place outside my comfort zone?  There are plenty of such places, but as an insatiable experimenter and neophile, I continually pursue the eradication of these places.

I’m not convinced that I have found all of my potential passions in life. This is why I believe one should fight the resistance as much as one can, and get outside your comfort zone.

It was fighting this resistance that led me to learn Norwegian, begin Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and to plan a trip with Erin to Norway which includes a 10 mile hike to one of the most beautiful places on earth.  At the time of this post, we should be on our way from Stavenger back to Bergen for another three nights. I hope to share some pictures and details of our trip next week.


Today, my wife and I are traveling to Norway.  Getting to this point has been quite a long process.

It began with my decision to begin learning Norwegian using Duolingo about a year ago. I have been fascinated with the Scandinavian culture for quite a long time.  Decorah, IA, one of Erin and my favorite places to visit, is steeped in Norwegian culture and is home to the Vesterheim, the Norwegian-American Museum.  Since Duolingo offered Norwegian as an option, I dived in.

An eventual trip to Norway was in the back of my mind. After all, if I’m going to spend my time and effort learning the language, I would like my eventual reward. The reward came much sooner than I expected!

Our trip is centered around two hikes: the Trolltunga (featured photo) and Pulpit Rock (below).


Photo by Samuel Killworth on Unsplash

After we spend Wednesday in Bergen, we will use Thursday to get ourselves inland to a place called Odda, where we will stay two nights at an AirBnB (all of our stays in Norway will be at AirBnB’s).  We will spend all day Thursday hiking to the Trolltunga.  It will take us approximately 6 hours to hike to it, at which point we will probably enjoy the scenery and take pictures for an hour or two, and then a 4 hour hike back.  We will need to pack in our water and food for the day using my trusty backpack. If it isn’t too windy, maybe I can snap a picture like the one featured.

On Saturday, we will spend much of the day traveling to Stavenger, where we will stay three nights. We plan to enjoy the weekend in Stavenger, and then hike Pulpit Rock on Monday so that we can avoid the weekend crowds. Pulpit Rock is much less technical and much more tourist friendly (as you can tell by the picture above).

On Tuesday, we will make our way back to Bergen. Hopefully, this return trip will be by ferry, so that we can enjoy the beautiful fjords of Norway.  We will enjoy three nights in Bergen before we travel home on Friday, May 25.

During our stay in Bergen, I plan to check out the Sentrum Ju Jitsu Klubb and roll with some Norwegians.  By that time, I will be itching to roll!

Upon my return to the states on Friday, May 25th, I will get in late and need a good night’s rest, as I will be riding the Cottonwood 200 over the next three days.  What better way to get acclimated to the time-zone and weather here in Kansas?  Jet lag be damned!

Featured Photo of this post by GEORGE ALEXANDRU NOVAC on Unsplash

The Tribal Element

If an outside observer happened to look into a specific building around 6:25pm on Tuesday, May 1st, this is what they would have seen.

A bunch of individuals wearing different colored Japanese pajamas, with different colored belts, were lined up in two rows.  On a closer inspection, the observer may have noticed all those wearing white belts were lined up in the row against the wall, and the row in front of them had other colored belts (blue, purple, brown).  Standing out front, the leader of the group was wearing a black belt.

On this particular day, the leader called one of the white belts forward, took a piece of athletic tape, and wrapped it around a small black portion of the white belt. A sentiment was shared, others clapped, and the individual returned to the line along the wall.

Then there was running in circles, some sort of interpretive dance, and then quite a lot of very intense cuddling.

So what is this observer supposed to take from this?  What happened?  What does this mean to these individuals?

The Tribe

Within the tribe, this ritual has very specific and special meaning. Each time a teammate gets a stripe or moves up a belt, it is a promotion.  It is a sign of progress.  Although the individual is singled out in this moment and recognized in front of his/her teammates, it is understood on a tribal level, that this was a collective effort.

The tribe must exist before the individual.

In my previous post, Evaluating a New Venture, I introduced a very important and key component of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which is a deep tribal aspect. I became interested enough that I wanted to look more into this instinct that is within us all.  Indeed, this is an evolutionary trait that we all have.

In Sebastian Junger’s book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, he describes the early human tribes, and the consequences and rewards of such instinctual behavior.

Junger outlines three basic human needs that keep us all from going crazy:

  • They need to feel competent at what they do.
  • They need to feel authentic in their lives.
  • They need to feel connected to others.

It is that third necessity that he really dives into, observing right away that “modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary.”

This necessity is a root cause of PTSD in combat veterans. They go from a situation of intense interdependence within their troop, one in which they serve a crucial and necessary role, to the society just described.

It is this connectedness, camaraderie, and closeness that ignites the passion for Jiu Jitsu. This tribal feeling is powerful.  It is why combat veterans feel compelled to go back. It is why some teammates have turned down great offers elsewhere in their careers or lives.

We are born with a sense of the pleasantness of friendship just as other things. In the same way as there exists in man a distaste for solitude and a craving for society, natural instinct drawing one human being to another, so too with this there is something inherent in it that stimulates us into seeking friendships.



Grappling With The Nerves

With Victory Grappling Championships this weekend, my second Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament, there is a certain level of nervousness to which I feel many of you can all probably relate.

This often happens before a big event, whether it is an important presentation, interview, performance, or athletic competition.  The nerves strike, and sometimes they strike pretty hard.

As an academic, I’ve had countless presentations that I’ve given, which include each and every lecture in my statistics and math courses. I have also competed in many races in my adult life, including several triathlons. These BJJ tournaments are new to me, and because of this newness, their is a new set of nerves to deal with.

Since a high level of nervousness can hinder your performance, it is probably a good idea to find some ways to cope.

Embrace the Nervousness

For someone to not be nervous about a big event approaching is unusual, and can actually be a sign of apathy.  As soon as these new set of nerves arrived at my doorstep, I invited them in for dinner.

If you are going to be in the game of presenting, performing, and/or competing, you will need to accept the fact that you will get nervous.  The best way to accept this fact, is to embrace and get to know that nervousness like an odd family member or neighbor (like Kramer on Seinfeld).

They are much easier to manage if you just let them in, and sit at the table.  When you try and combat them, they begin to argue with you, mess with you in all kinds of inventive ways, and make the situation awkward and even more unsettling.  You can try your best to kick them out on the street, but they sneak around the back door and end up at the dinner table anyway for a very unpleasant evening.

It is best not to fight them.  Get to know them well enough that you can laugh at their ridiculous antics.

Embrace the Now

Your thoughts will inevitably shift toward the presentation/event itself.  You will think about how things could go wrong. What if you fail?

If you think about all the presentations (performances/events) that you’ve given (competed in), and try and remember your frame of mind during the presentation (performance/event) itself, I bet you will arrive at a simple answer. Your mind was focused on the moment.  It wasn’t wondering and worrying about the end, or the post presentation (performance/event) praise or fallout.

It was embracing the now.

That’s what your mind should also be doing as it leads up to the big event.  It should focus on your preparation, the down-time, and the much needed sleep that your body desperately needs in situations like these.

Keep your mind in check.  It will drift back to the future and cause worry.  It takes practice in getting it back to the present.

Sometimes, when it does drift to the future, I like to fast forward it a bit more to after the event is over.  Remember all those feelings you’ve had post presentation and/or post performance/competition?  Whether you bombed your presentation or performance, or lost miserably in your competition, did you ever think, “hey, all those nerves were completely justified”?

Regardless of the outcome, you most likely wondered why you were so nervous in the first place?

Embrace Your Best

Since all that you can give is your best, embrace that idea.  You are going to go and do your best.

If your mind drifts to the future, you can quickly think of this inevitable outcome before returning your thoughts to the now: you will have done your best.  That is all that is important.

Embrace Your Insignificance

Put yourself in the other’s shoes, who will be watching your presentation/performance/event.  How would you react to a failure?

You move on, and eventually, you forget it. You also wonder what did that dude have to be nervous about?