When I stopped in, the house was being gutted. Strandvik was installing radiant heating pipes beneath the floors and new bunks for visiting surfers, who pay about $60 a night for a bed and stove. Despite the construction, some girls from Bergen were calmly brewing post-surfing tea in the basement kitchen, and as I padded down to the beach in booties and a thick five-millimeter wetsuit, a longboard under my arm, a group of guys from Oslo rolled up with shortboards lashed to their roof.
For a country with a remarkably rocky coast, the half-moon beach at Hoddevika is as rare as it is beautiful, and angled perfectly to catch North Sea swells. That day, the waves weren’t quite as epic as the midwinter tubes, but they were head-high and consistent. The last thing I heard before I pulled on my insulating hood and strode into the foam was the sound of surf in one ear and banging hammers in the other.
If Fjord Norway is the Scandinavian version of Lake Tahoe, then the region around Tromsø is its Alaska—big and ends-of-the-Earth wild. The city has been called both the Paris of the North and the gateway to the Arctic. While the former seems wishful (although nightclub capacity is 20,000 in a city of 66,000), the latter is spot-on: Instead of knobby tires and surfboards, Tromsø is big-wall mountaineering, dogsledding, remote kayaking, wilderness hiking.
It’s also where you go if you want to catch a little midnight sun. When I got there, clouds hung low in the sky, but rather than glooming the landscape, the diffuse light draped the mountains and fjords in a twilight of suspended animation. It could have been noon or 3 a.m. And when darkness isn’t an issue, the clock is no longer in charge: At 9 p.m., I met Roar Nyheim, a Sami reindeer herder who recently launched a guiding business, to begin a four-hour hike.
Summer might have been in full swing in the south, but here at nearly 70&176; north, spring was still trying to nose out winter. Dogsledding season was over, but there was still too much snow to strap on crampons and walk one of the many glaciers outside of Tromsø. Instead, Nyheim took me hiking near the Lyngen Peninsula, about an hour away. The hike began up a road that’s slowly being reclaimed by a budding birch forest, and as we walked, Nyheim pointed to signs of recent moose passings and described the history of the trail.
“This was known as the Blood Road,” he said. “It was built by Russians who were prisoners of the Germans at the end of World War II. The Germans wanted to put a gun overlooking the fjord. Many people died building [this road]. My grandmother lived across the fjord, and she used to sneak through the forest to bring food to the starving Russians.”