I did my best to keep up, powering into the turns and trying to stay rubber-side down on the rain-slicked rocks. Still, there were moments—plenty of them—when my heart leapt into my throat. It was a feeling not typically associated with Norway, home of geriatric fjord cruises and luxury sailing packages. But then, I wasn’t here for typical Norway.
The torrent proved only a minor tantrum, and clouds quickly yielded to sun. Near the bottom of the trail, we stopped to shed layers. It was June, but the air was cool enough that steam rose from my body as I packed away my jacket. Unexpectedly, a group of 30 teenagers approached us on the trail; most were dressed more for school than hiking. In the States these kids would likely be planted in front of their iPhones or running circles in a musty gymnasium, but here in Norway the priorities are different.
“What’s this, recess?” I joked. Eidset queried one of the kids and replied, “No, it’s gym class.”
A hundred and fifty years ago, playwright Henrik Ibsen first put into words a concept now integral to the Norwegian identity: “Well, then come! In wind and rainstorm, ’cross the highland’s rolling heather! He who wants may take the church road: I will not, for I am free! In the lonely seter-corner, my abundant catch I take. There’s a hearth, and a table and friluftsliv for my thoughts.”
OK, it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but the idea of friluftsliv, literally translated as “open-air life,” has come to signify a simple commune with nature, a responsibility to be outside, and to do so with humility. And it is fundamental to being Norwegian (to the point that it’s taught in school and dissected in academic papers).
Traditionally, friluftsliv is experienced through pensive hikes in the woods, sometimes through biking or skiing. But Norway is changing. The teenage hikers were certainly indulging in a bit of friluftsliv as they trooped up the trail. But so was Eidset as he tore down it. In fact, Eidset and his brothers-in-armor most likely represent the future of Norwegian recreation.
Over the past half decade or so, a new generation of homegrown athletes has made its own kind of life in Norway’s outdoors, one centered on speed and energy and adrenaline. Across the country, whether on Oslo’s miles of mountain bike trails, the coast’s scores of kayak routes, or the Arctic’s seemingly endless backcountry ski lines, you’ll find nothing less than an action sports revolution. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg spends his summers hiking in the mountains, while Crown Prince Haakon, heir to the throne, goes surfing. These days if you see a blue hair in Norway, it’s just as likely to be a mohawked snowboarder as an octogenarian cruise ship refugee.
Because Norway's adventure scene is relatively new, there is no single hub. There is no Chamonix, no Moab. But two areas come close: the western fjordlands near the towns of Molde and Ålesund, known as Fjord Norway, and Tromsø, the de facto capital of the country’s Arctic region. Both are coalescing around a small but growing network of outfitters and upstart adventurers, but each has its own distinctive vibe.