Editor’s Note: Here at Amundsen, we consider ourselves lucky that we get to field test our own products. Products created – and field tests performed – always utilizing the knowledge and experience of Roald Amundsen and the people and traditions he himself learned from. For this round we gathered a small crew from the office consisting of Jens Christian, Erik, Trygve, and myself Jørgen. We picked up some factory fresh Amundsen mountain mucks and set out to walk from Montebelluna, Italy, to Oslo, Norway. Below, we recount our journey over the majestic Dolomites and through the impressive black forest — from the warm mountains in the south to the cold beaches in the north.
Wanderers know when to stop. To look around, and smell and feel their surroundings. Montebelluna smelt like pinecone, pancetta and red wine. This peaceful village below the Italian Alps was the first scenery of our adventure. In a gray industrial area on the outskirts of the village, the smell of oil, grease, fresh leather and scorched rubber set the mood in the factory of one of Italy’s best shoemakers; Monte Sport. Run by the five endearing Torresan sisters and their cousins, the Pincin sisters. In their client portfolio they have brands like Hermés and Prada, in their toolbox they have old men with strong arms and dirty nails, grindstones, heavy duty sewing machines, stamps and polishing machines. This is authentic craftsmanship; no robotics, no assembly lines.
This is authentic craftsmanship;
no robotics, no assembly lines.
One of the sisters, Claudia, turned off the pre-war polish machine, and handed us the first pair of the Amundsen Mountain Mucks. It almost felt as good as becoming a parent. No, I take that back. As good as getting your first car is more accurate. The point is, it felt extremely good. On the train ride from Montebelluna to Cortina I looked at the newborns, carefully placed on top of the huge backpack on the floor in front of me. We talked a little bit about why the mucks turned out exactly this way. We owe it to the Inuits. Their way of making clothes and boots is a manifestation of their knowledge, experience and total comprehension and respect of the animals used, and a conscious acknowledgement of their environment.
Spring is my preferred season to make your way up in the mountains. In Cortina we started to walk. It felt like someone had emptied out The Dolomites of people and of life. All the serviced huts were closed, the birds were nowhere to be seen. It was as if there had been a party, or a war, and everyone just got up and left. I had the same feeling when I arrived at the soviet ghost town Pyramiden at Svalbard some years back. Except this was the freaking Dolomites. We just had to stand there and inhale the fresh air from the rivers and the spruce. The hills flatten and rise again, water crossings come and go, and you move from campsite to campsite. The Norwegian word – friluftsliv – sums it up pretty good. It’s a philosophy that emphasizes enjoying the outdoors and not treating adventures as competitions. Roald Amundsen was an explorer, some people consider it a competition. We are adventurers.
Schwarzwald. Or, to non-germans – The Black Forest – upon arrival quite understandably the inspirational geographic for many a Grimm brothers fairytale. To arrive here just after sunset, following the vastness, the solitude and the violent silence of the Dolomites, was like stepping through the door to a crowded dinner party where the other guests must have been talking about you. In the dense, dark forest, the alpine wind was reduced to a shy whisper. Distant birds, it seemed; were cautiously signaling our arrival to one another; gossiping in the branches. Earthbound wildlife, visible only indirectly; through the rustling of the lustrous ferns covering the forest floor as they made their escape, were a welcome novelty to us at this point, even if they made it clear they didn’t feel the same way. The moss clad boulders, strewn about as if some oversized spitfire had thrown them into the forest in a fit of cosmic rage – and the majestic oaks, the pines and the beech – were confining our fields of vision and our attention spans radically, as opposed to our horizons in the Dolomites; which were limited only by dirty shades. But after a while, as the feeling of change was not as urgent, and our senses got accustomed to the new surroundings, we found the forest pathways to be far more forgiving than the rocky trails of the Alps. After a while there was no need for the eyes, the brain and the feet to correspond anymore, at least not explicitly, and we got into the rhythm. And this is one of the reasons we walk. Walking leads to wandering, wandering leads to oblivion.
Late that night we approached a cluster of cabins. On the map it was marked as a village, but that’s definitely stretching it. The cabins looked deserted and run down, the forest was making its way into the clearing, giving an already half hearted pedestrian road an unnecessary disguise. We circled the cabin and found a big wooden door. I gave it the five universally understood “we-come-in-peace”-knocks, but to no avail. We waited in silence for a while, before I gave the door three more knocks, harder this time, on account of my rapidly increasing desperation for a glass of wine and a bed. I heard a match strike behind me and the familiar swooshing sound of the match catching fire. I knocked on the door again, the smell of tobacco and boredom now enveloping the scene. As I raised my hand to knock one last time, the door creaked and opened slowly inward, revealing a wrinkled face unnaturally close to the floor. The old woman inspected each of us in turn, taking her sweet time to determine the level of potential evil in our respective eyes. We must have barely passed the test, as when she first spoke, she did so in german, but in a tone that would have made her discontent come across in the most distant of galaxies. I put my sub-par german to the test, and made an attempt at explaining that we had already reserved and paid for a room online. She rolled her eyes at the prospect of this and spitefully replied that no such thing was possible, as her computer was turned off. I was in no mood to discuss the mysterious ways of the internet, and was relieved when she finally stepped aside and made a resigned gesture for us to follow her inside.
Stepping into the cabin was like entering a set from the first season of Twin Peaks, and I suddenly realized that the tiny old woman could well be the crazy, murderous grandma’ from Mulholland Drive. The cabin seemed impossibly larger from the inside than from the outside, and the silence was deafening. The only noticeable sound was the slow (too slow) sound of a pendulum clock swinging somewhere on the second floor. The old lady led us down a long, dark corridor, decorated with wall-to-wall flowery carpets, vainly illuminated in one spot by two oil lamps hanging opposite one another on the walls. Without a word we were assigned each our own room, and with only silent gestures to one another signifying the creepiness we all felt, we locked our doors behind us. I couldn’t find a glass anywhere, and not wanting to walk in on some obscure ritual or risk my life going down to get one, I fished up a half-full bottle of wine from my backpack, took a sip that would not be considered classy anywhere on the planet, and put it on the bedside table. I removed my mucks and went to bed, repeatedly rustled by a childish sense of terror, until I finally drifted off.
Oh, well; night’s darkness is a bag that bursts with the gold of dawn. I woke up when the sun found its way through the dusty window in my room, evaporating the ghosts of the previous night. The smell of bacon and sausages and the sound of laughter virtually packed my backpack, dressed me and laced my mucks, and I soon found myself at a table downstairs with the guys and the still old, but no longer creepy lady. In the light of day there was nothing that could stop her from talking. She was a bottomless well of stories, jokes and anecdotes, and she blessed us with an armada of sausages and what must have been the totality of Germany’s national reserve of bacon. But after several cups of strong, black coffee and the appropriate amount of italian Muratti cigarettes, we had to put on our backpacks and say our goodbyes.
Walking in the woods is easier on the mind than walking in the mountains. The dangers are few, and the strain is modest. If you find a path to stick to, you hardly need to focus at all – and that’s when walking becomes wandering. If you put one foot ahead of the other for a sufficient amount of time, it eventually becomes a meditative act. A couple of hours after we left Twin Peaks and the old lady behind, we fell silent and got into the rhythm again. My mind drifted off to the German Philosopher Martin Heidegger, who lived, thought, walked and wandered in Schwartzwald over long stretches of time long before us, and wrote at length about the human condition – about being there, in the world. His writings often touch upon the notion of authenticity – the evaporation of your everyday concepts, a temporary state in which you are no longer bound to your familiar anchor points. The freedom from social bonds and polluting thought, from yourself, and from everything that has come to constitute whatever that may be. This state, he claimed, could be accessed through “absorbed coping” – that is; being absorbed in whatever task you are performing. In our case, that would be the adventure, the walk; the slow movement of the body – and the absorption in nature – in the smells, the sounds, the view; to be absorbed in pure, unadulterated experience. Walking, I think, is the slowest, most defiant form of absorbed coping. So, in defiance of what, exactly, were we walking?
We stopped for lunch. We shared the last cigarette, had some red wine and poured bacon fat over the vegetables. I filled up my bottle with ice cold forest water one last time, before wandering the last mile. Walking is slow. No, wipe that – walking is moving at exactly the right speed, no matter the speed. When you walk, you move at a speed your mind can handle – if anything, airplanes makes me feel inadequate.
Walking is moving at exactly the right speed,
no matter the speed.
Granted; that’s an oversimplification – but the point is; when you walk, you perceive as you are meant to perceive. It’s not necessarily that your surroundings change, more important is it that you change as you face them – at the right speed, at the right time – and that you are able to recognize this change. An oak tree in the distance catches your eye. You can’t help but keep it in your thoughts as you move a little closer. Now, you are able to distinguish the branches from one another and one of them, out of nowhere (apparently), becomes a catalyst for a feeling, a thought, an association, which again spawns a different feeling, thought, association. You’re moving closer still, and (here comes the important part) soon the Oak is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It’s an oak, alright, but it’s this oak.
Our mucks hit sand when we arrived in Denmark. As our footsteps ticked into the thousands, we once again entered a sort of hypnotized state. Waves turned into music, dunes into paintings – at least the wine we had left from Italy kept the head going. The sand on the beach was packed rather densely. Completely effortless wandering. Why do we walk again? We walk because we have legs, feet, and a pair of mucks to stick them in. We walk because it takes time. We walk in defiance of the pace of modern society. It’s not a resignation, but a rejection of the endless needs and needless ends, the desires and demands, the do’s and the don’ts, the calculation and scheming. On a trip like this, when everything is moving at a slower pace – from your body through the terrain, to the thoughts in your mind – you slowly come to realize the relativity of your perception of the world, of yourself, and of time. And everything becomes clearer.
Your trains of thought are longer, your eyes rest upon the same landscape for hours at a time, forcing you to indulge in every detail and to see the same thing for the first time, over and over, as your perspective changes.
The homeward journey can not be marked on the map, it starts in the body and spreads to the head, propagates into the feet; now let’s go home.
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