Greetings from Ohio!
Friends and family are enjoying the stories and photos about my adventures in Norway. When I tell them about our encounter with you and your group, eyebrows rise with concern. I am not sure they fully understand how fortunate we were to cross paths with all of you. Admittedly, I too was alarmed when I first learned we were overnighting with prisoners, but it did not take long for me to realize that our meeting them was truly a gift. For me it was a humbling experience and I have no doubts that this lesson in humility was one of my journey's intended blessings. I thank you, Rolf and the others for having helped us and for treating us so kindly.
As promised, I'm writing to send you my impressions. But first a quick update on our pilgrim-doings after we last met in Hjerkinn. As much as I would like to report otherwise, we did not follow through with the agenda you suggested. What Mary experienced walking between Fokstugu and Hjerkinn tainted her willingness to continue by foot. We considered a compromise of her going forward by train, and my walking behind - meeting later in Trondheim. But my reluctance to hike alone in the mountains put an end to this plan. In the end we agreed to continue by train together, although I know it is not the true pilgrim's way to travel. Eventually we found our way to Ingrid Meslo’s farm, which was relaxing and peaceful. Her life as a farmer is not easy and yet she had the time and energy for us. I had the chance to milk one of her cows and visited her summer farm. We shared a wonderful dinner with her aunt and friends, and it was the best sleep I had in a long time. Her hospitality was fantastic and I am grateful for her willingness to open her home to the pilgrims. Our arrival to Trondheim was just as you said it would be. Compared to walking in the mountains it was uneventful. We saw many nice things, however I felt like a fish out of water - wishing instead to be back in the peaceful atmosphere that surrounded me on the pilgrim path. Walking from Favang to Hundorp, and the section from Dovre to Hjerkinn was my favorite part of the journey. The awesome beauty and grandeur of the mountains and valleys will remain etched in my memory always. It was there that I felt most at peace. On this point Mary and I disagree. She (for her own good reason) was happy to be back in a city. We went to the Cathedral and found the office of the pilgremspriest. He was away on vacation. The next day we returned. A lady spoke with us about our trip and gave us each a certificate. While waiting for the overnight train to Oslo, I walked back to the Cathedral for a final look. The plaza was deserted and the cathedral doors locked, but I could hear the organ being rehearsed inside - so loudly I could feel its vibration through the thick stonewalls. Under the cool evening sky I enjoyed this magnificent music while I replayed in my mind each step of our interesting journey. No matter all that went wrong, I was sad that it had come to it's end. I tried to imagine what the prisoners might feel when they arrive. Would their joy be overshadowed by the sadness of knowing they would soon need return to confinement? I hoped they too might have the chance to hear this wonderful recital. It was a fitting end to what I have now decided was a very good journey.
You asked me to send my observations. There are only a few to mention and none of them terribly brilliant. Probably you have already heard much of this before. I know you will not view them as criticism.
1. What little we hiked was well marked, which I appreciated. There was a small section just before Fokstugu where either the markings were not clear, or we simply did not pay good attention. Here we lost the path. Although we managed to find our way to the E6, I felt it was a hazardous option to walk on that busy road.
2. Hiking without accurate information about the difficulty level was a problem. For most people this may not have mattered so much, but we needed to take into consideration Mary's physical limitations. Remember she has only the use of one good hand and one good foot. Had she understood what was involved, she may not have chosen to walk the path. Most times she did just fine, but in order to manage some of the more difficult areas I needed to first carry my pack over the obstacle, then return for hers. This way she could better balance herself without the extra weight on her back. Doing this slowed us down considerably, and what most people could achieve in one day - we could only do half. To a certain extent worrying for her safety was stressful for both of us. Perhaps your book already outlines difficulty levels between the various stages. If not, you might consider making mention of it as others could find it helpful.
3. While partly the fault of our own poor planning, it was hard (based on the literature we had) to identify options for lodging and to determine distances between them. As you know, the guide we purchased at the train station in Otta was outdated - as was the information from the Internet. Many of the phone numbers where inaccurate and some of the places were no longer in business.
4. It might be helpful to include links on the website to the railway schedules and bus routes along the pilgrim route.
5. I also noticed the overall awareness about the pilgrim route is lacking. Some of the people we talked to at the tourist centers, Oslo Cathedral, train stations, etc. had little knowledge about it. Oppdal was the best. They had a thick folder of information and the lady who helped us was very well informed - although she did not have an overnight guide. When she saw mine she copied your information and plans to contact you directly to purchase a supply.
6. Since your book is written in Norwegian, I do not know if you already include this information or not. It is a small point, but worth a mention. A brief history and summary about the basics of the Lutheran traditions and faith would be good for pilgrims who are non-Norwegian or of different religions. This could help them better understand the significance of the historic and religious landmarks they will see, and why things are the way they are. I come with a Catholic mindset and upbringing, and I am glad I took time to learn a few things from the Internet before starting out. It gave me a better appreciation for the history and meaning of this pilgrimage. Others might also find this type of information helpful and interesting.
Having said all that, the most difficult part of the journey for me was to let go of my stubborn determination to walk as far as I planned and reaching the Nidaros Cathedral by foot. That it could not happen the way I intended was disappointing, often to the point of tears. At the time it was not so funny, but now we laugh about it - joking that my tears served no purpose except that they added to all the rain and mud in which we stomped! Still, I fail to see the reason why God wanted things differently - except of course to teach me (yet again) to accept that I cannot always have it my way. Despite the hurdles and change in plans, it was an awesome and unforgettable experience. Entirely different from the Camino in Spain. St. Olav's Way is much more challenging, for both body and spirit! Not knowing what to expect from day to day added to the spirit of adventure, forcing me to walk with greater trust and openness than I ever experienced on the Camino in Spain. I do not easily embrace the unknown, so it was a good test for this gal whose life is normally very predictable. Now it is difficult to return to my everyday world. The feet are home but the spirit still wanders, and it may take some time before they unite. Would I try again? Absolutely! Next time however, I will not be so bold as to think I can do so independently. Perhaps someday if you guide a group and there is space for a pilgrim from the US - you will let me know?
OK, I did not intend to write so much. Thank you again for all your help. I wish you success with your continued good work and efforts to restore the pilgrim ways. If you remain in contact with Rolf and the others, please send them my best regards.
Peace to you always,
Kommentarer til Christinas kommentarer fra Pilegrimskontoret:
Vi setter stor pris på Christina Myers kommentarer og vil følge opp flere av hennes forslag. Bedre merking av pilegrimsveiene står alltid høyt på vår ønskeliste. Lenker til offentlig kommunikasjon på vår nettside skulle være en enkel sak. Det er også verdt å merke seg at turistinformasjonene langs pilegrimsveiene ikke har nødvendig materiale for pilegrimer, og når det nettopp i år er utgitt en ny og oppdatert overnattingsguide med priser, telefonnummer og avstander, så er det leit at denne ikke finnes der den trengs.
Når det gjelder kommentarene om manglende informasjon om spesielt vanskelige partier langs pilegrimsveien, så mener vi at dette er tatt med i de foreliggende guidebøkene som finnes på norsk, men innser at det muligens kan være nødvendig å informere utlendinger om det norske landskapet. På den annen side mener vi at nettopp møte med ukjent natur og nye utfordringer hører med til en pilegrimsvandring. En egen informasjon om hva som særkjenner norsk kirkeliv ønsker vi ikke å gi ut. Dette hører også til slikt som pilegrimer må få lov å finne ut av selv under vandringen.