On July first, I joined a Norwegian family of five from Bergen, who decided to kick off their summer vacation with Outdoor Norway. The day prior, the adrenaline-seeking dad and middle-son found their thrills by shredding hard during a half-day mountain biking tour with their guide, Thomas. Today, with the help of local guides Ruben and Stian, the entire family would together enjoy a more laid back canoe trip down the Raundal River. Though they opted to arrive by car, I chose to arrive by train – a scenic, simple and affordable alternative option. Taking just over an hour, the weaving network of carved tunnels from Bergen provided me with looming views of turquoise fjords and stoic, green mountains.
With a comfortable start time of 10:15am, the family and I were in high spirits as the sun started to peak through the clouds and warm our faces. After a swift check-in, we went off to be fitted with all the necessary equipment: wet suits, helmets and life jackets. Including boots to seal the look (and the warmth of our feet), we gathered into the van and made our way to the starting point of the river, with Ruben offering quirky facts and insights on the historically-rich region the entire way.
Upon arrival, we worked as a team, and within 30-minutes had carried our vessels to the riverbank. During this time we double checked the equipment, and learned the basics of river safety, body positioning and the verbal commands we would need to follow – all of which I am sure to remember for future paddling adventures. Watching everyone’s eyes flicker with excitement as Ruben carefully explained the conditions we could expect to find on the river, I could instantly see how such an experience calls to not only the young, but the adventure-seeking child in us all.
Ready to face the river, we were split in two groups: Stian would guide from the more technical canoe, which was requested by the mountain biking father-son duo, while the rest of us took the wider flow-raft, easier to control and safer for the young one. Grabbing our oars and securing our feet, we began by working the same section of river in circles, getting a feel of our boats, our shoulder strength and the calls of our guide, commanding us to row forward (“fremover!”) or backwards (“bakover!”). After a few minutes, with the littlest one giggling in anticipation, we confidently kicked off the shore one final time and let the river pull us down stream.
Minutes seemed like hours as we explored the Raundal River, weaving from left to right, forwards and backwards. Placed between our laughs and high fives was an incredible landscape, hardly touched by humans. The water: blue and clear. The air: crisp and energizing. The sounds: chaotic yet peaceful. Although I have been to Voss on several occasions, exploring its local gorge, mountain trails and lake, the river experience felt different. Special. Like it was trying to teach us something we forgot long ago.
The second half of the trip built upon the first; sailing past boulders left behind by the glaciers of the past, we hit pockets of water that spun us in circles, launched us forward, and tested our teamwork. As we approached one of the final white-water sections, I peered left to the young teenager beside me, dripping with water. Instead of his eyes being glued to a screen, his worries being spent over a girl, or him stressing about making that evening’s soccer practice, he was completely present. He was focused on the river and his paddle. He was ready for Ruben’s command to hold on tight and get low. He was building the courage to face the unknown challenges ahead. Nature was teaching him a simple truth: that time spent in nature makes us happier, healthier and more whole.
Rounding one last bend, it was time for our 1.5-hour trip to come to an end. We pulled ashore to the left bank, just before Palmafossen: a 15 meter high waterfall and salmon ladder, allowing the ecologically and culturally important fish to pass safely and continue their journey upstream. While we waited for the shuttle to bring us back to basecamp, we shared the day’s stories and stoke among us, recounting our river adventure and the simple joy that comes with spending time outdoors with the ones we love. Back at basecamp, our dry clothes warmly welcoming us, we said our goodbyes knowing that we would never forget the lessons of the river.