I am in Norway traveling on a train from Oslo to Bergen to meet my mom there. It is a gorgeous ride through the mountains, past glaciers and fjords. I highly recommend it!
It is T-minus 4 days until I depart at the Sweden/Norway border with my guide Elise Koren from Norrøna Hvitserk Adventure. It is strange. The time is very near yet I feel more calm that I did a week ago.
I have been making a concerted effort to keep my eye on the goal and tune out self-doubt. It would do me no good at this point to doubt my gear, my preparations, or my mental fortitude. I am practicing visualization to imagine safely arriving to our camping spot each night. I visualize feeling warm in my clothing. I spend the most time visualizing arriving to the finish and the flood of excitement greeting family and friends after many days away and out of touch.
About Elise, my guide… I met her last night in person for the first time when I handed her my gear to be driven north in her car. First impression: intimidating! She stands a trim, but strong 5’11”, and looks to be all muscle. I was a little late to meet her and I got the feeling she did not like that. Elise is direct, straight to logistics, totally no nonsense. What did I expect? Mountaineering involves some element of risk, huge amounts of preparation, determination, attention to detail, problem solving; and I was late to our first meeting. I cringe a bit imagining the potential dread she feels for taking on this project. However, I am determined to show her I will be a good guide-ee: respectful of the elements, task, and executing as well as I possibly can.
Other than meeting Elise, one of my main hopes in Oslo was to see Ragna Følling Elgjo again, the daughter of the man I had come to Norway to honor, Dr. Asbjørn Følling. Dr. Følling discovered PKU in 1934 and he is squarely in the history books in Norway and throughout the PKU community worldwide. Everyone here still seems to refer to PKU as Følling’s disease.
Despite suffering a bad fall 4 weeks ago, breaking both her right arm and leg, Ragna was ready and willing to see me. She is 93 years old and has the happiest disposition, wide smile and pretty blue eyes. She beams with pride when she talks about her father. Her memory is razor sharp at 93. She recalled meeting me more than a year ago along and says that she has more photographs of her father to be restored and scanned. She asks for updates on Tia and she was most excited when I told her that Tia is eating meat (bacon is her favorite) with no brain damage. We discussed some of the science under way for new treatments and a cure. Ragna said that she shares the same hope, a cure for PKU as soon as possible.
It turns out Ragna loved to cross-country ski too. Her husband taught her in the woods near their house, using sticks for her poles. She is so animated looking back in time. Her father is never forgotten, but I understand that his story has not been re-told to this degree in some time. The media coverage in the United States has reminded people about his important discovery and she is happy to hear that. TV2, Norway’s largest national station, contacted me once back at the hotel and I vowed to myself to spend as much time connecting Dr. Følling’s historical breakthrough to this project during that interview set to take place in two days.