THE NIGHT IS DARK AND FULL OF TERRORS
I don’t exactly know what “night terrors” are, but I think I have them from time to time. If I’ve been stressed for a bit, or if I’m in a bed that's alien to me, I find that I’m at least 90% more likely to have one. Combine both of those things together, and you have the perfect conditions for a little nighttime fright-time.
*IT'S 2 A.M.*
I wake up to find myself sat up in bed. I'm pointing at something [nothing] in the corner of the room.
THERE’S SOMEBODY THERE.
THERE’S SOMEBODY CROUCHED DOWN IN THE CORNER OF THE ROOM BY THAT LAMP.
WHY AM I POINTING!?
I DON’T REMEMBER POINTING!
My breathing becomes shallower, and I begin to pant like a fat Labrador at the beach — you know, the ones who get their own dishful of Sunday dinner every week.
Why am I breathing so oddly? There must be a gas leak or something.
*That explains why your eyes were watering every time you put your head on the pillow.*
But there’s a smoke detector above me and the light is flashing.
*Yeah but that’s just for smoke. Not for carbon monoxide; the one you can’t smell; the one that’ll gradually kill you in your sleep without you even knowing anything about it.*
I FUCKING KNEW THERE WAS A GAS LEAK.
After spending the best part of an hour worrying about being lulled towards a silent, scentless death, I managed to get back to sleep. It was one of those little disjointed kips you sometimes get, where you don't quite dip down into deep sleep, meaning you aren't all that groggy when you wake up.
(A "nap" basically.)
THE ENTHUSIASM CURBER
*5:30 A.M. JONNY'S PHONE ALARM GOES OFF*
I opened my eyes, relieved to find that this time I wasn't already sitting up pointing. However, just in case there were any lingering apparitions, I had a quick scour of each corner of the room...
Luckily, it appeared to be phantom free.
All that extra stress has made me extra hungry.
A breakfast fit for two gentlemanly adventurers would consist of: bacon, eggs, avocado, and fried onions. The only soundtrack fit for brekkie prep, would be an assortment of classic rock ranging from Zeppelin and Sabbath; to KISS and AC/DC; right through to Springsteen and Toto — all the good shit.
"BACK IN BLACK. HIT THE SACK. DON'T YOU KNOW I'M GLAD TO BE BACK."
I belted AC/DC's signature jam at the top of my lungs, while tapping the edge of a frying pan with a wooden stirring spoon, sometimes dipping the knee and putting one hand in the air in an attempt to mimic the great Brian Johnson.
"You ready to tongue a troll?"
Said Jon whilst licking his lips, appearing worryingly excited at the prospect of spending all fucking day walking. Uphill. This was also Jonny's first — and certainly not the last — sexual innuendo of the day.
(Jonny's enthusiasm was ultimately curbed. You'll soon read about the error of his ways in just a minute.)
*15 MINUTES LATER — IN THE CAR ON THE 20-MINUTE DRIVE TO THE START OF THE HIKE*
Jon had purchased some sweets on one of the (many) ferries we'd caught the day before, but he didn't like the taste of them (half of them were liquorice), so to prevent a perfectly good set of sweets going to waste, I said I'd have them.
Brain, you fucking dick. Don't you know sweets are bad for me?
You're supposed to be looking out for me, aren't you?
*Yeh. Dey nice for like 30 seconds doe, right?*
Is 30 seconds of mouth pleasure actually worth it, though?
*...I think so.*
I quickly tore open the lid of the box and did them all on the head. Right there on the spot. They were annoyingly small, so would've been a right ball-ache to have to finger out one by one, hence the urgency.
Within minutes, I had a raging headache caused by all of the additives.
At the corner of my eye, I could see Jonny had an open sachet of an unknown substance in one of his hands. He looked like he was about to neck it.
Is that a Frube?
Where'd he smuggle that from?
I know they don't sell Frubes singularly, so he must have the multipack somewhere close by.
Wait. Is that...energy gel?
"You really shouldn't have downed that. You're gonna get ill as fuck."
"Nah. I'll be fine, mun."
In place of the sweets, Jon boy had decided to guzzle down a sachet of highly-caffeinated gunge, that he'd only packed in case he started flagging at some point during our ascension. I instinctively knew Jonny had absolutely fucked it. No question. By my calculations, he was approximately 15 minutes away from voiding the contents of his stomach, meaning the egg(s) would quite literally be, all over his face...
EGG ALL OVER HIS FACE (FINGERS, AND T-SHIRT.)
Even though there was technically no entrance fee, it cost £30 to park the car for the day. All things considered, this felt like a fucking bargain.
(And that's when you've been in Norway for too long.)
"Well, this is it. You ready?"
Jonny turned to face me with one of those slightly reluctant smiles people do when they don't know whether to laugh or cry.
Fuck. What've I done?
We could've just gone to Berlin as planned.
They do those really big beers. And they're actually world-renowned for their hotdogs. And they don't have mountains. And it's moderately priced. And...
"Well, I've spent about £500 on gear alone, so unless I break a bone or tear a muscle, I'm doing it,"
I said firmly, with a sense of profound will and determination, as we both walked down a stretch of dirt road towards the "proper" part of the hike — the incline.
(The bitter, twisted, devilish incline.)
"This is actually a lot easier than I thought,"
Said Jon, not realising that we hadn't even started going upwards and were still only on the stoney path which led to the start of the hike.
*15 MINUTES LATER AFTER CLAMBERING UP JAGGED ROCKS WITH OUR BLOODIED AND TORN HANDS*
This isn't a hike...it's...a climb.
Nothing, and I mean nothing can prepare you for the first kilometre of Trolltunga. It was muddy. It was wet. It was slippery. It felt like somebody had tried to make it difficult on purpose. The route wasn't logical. I'd forgotten to talc my balls. The many highly manipulated posts that adorned Instagram had fed us a bittersweet lie.
What a shit show this is turning out to be already.
What sort of sadistic bastard carved this route into the side of this rock?
Jonny fell to one knee. Was he proposing to the trunk of the withered tree fallen before him? Had "mountain fever" set in? No. The packet of neon sludge he'd necked had corrupted his gut. It was repeating on him. I could see it in his face. I’d seen that look many times before; he was having a whitey.
And it was the whitey from hell.
“Go on without me, I'll see you at the top,"
Said Jonny, while gesturing me up the hill with one of his hands as globules of saliva fell from his gaping gob onto the surrounding dirt.
"I'm not leaving a good man behind, damn it! DAMN IT ALL TO HELL!"
Haha. I've always wanted to say that in real life.
I was left with a dilemma: assist my fallen comrade onwards and upwards, or press on solo — and in silence, because I didn't think to pack my earphones.
If I had my earphones I could've listened to [read] like three audiobooks on the way up.
All that time for potential knowledge, gone by the wayside.
I have no other choice but to try and enjoy plain old nature.
"Okay, see you at the top then."
I turned and started walking. And that was that.
I looked back one last time to see Jonny coughing and spluttering up the remains of his high-fat breakfast. He'd had to perform a speedy fuel dump via the gullet, which meant he'd likely be without the necessary resources required to reach the summit. With a setback this major so early into our expedition, I did wonder whether he'd be physically able to actually reach the top, but my mind was already made up: I was gonna make it.
All the way up.
*Maybe go back for the Frubes.*
THEY WERE ENERGY GELS, YOU KNOB. REMEMBER?
Earlier this year, I went to Texas. While out on a mini-hike one afternoon, on a scorching hot day in Spring, I crossed paths with a middle-aged man that appeared to be hiking alone. He sounded a lot like fictional boxing champ Rocky Balboa, so for blog referencing ease, I nicknamed him "Rocky".
Even though we exchanged pleasantries (and mild banter) as he hiked on past, it did seem to me that he was somewhat troubled by something. Why else would a man be journeying through Texas alone on a Harley? He wanted time to think. He was using the trip to work through something. He wanted answers that only the open road and two wheels could give.
At least, that's how I saw it.
(If he were to have had his own travel show, it would've almost certainly have been called "Rocky's Road".)
I clocked Rocky when reaching the top of "Enchanted Rock". He was sat at the opposite side of the sprawling granite dome, looking out onto the lush Texan countryside.
I wondered what he might be thinking about, but quickly concluded that I'd never really know. Maybe I'd never understand what that man was all about. Maybe I'd never be able to comprehend what sort of conditions could lead a man to undertaking a hike...solo.
*BACK TO TROLLTUNGA*
To every person I pass, I'm "that man who decided to solo the Trolltunga".
It was merely a matter of months later and I'd become the aforementioned man — except I was 20 years his junior and don't look anything like Sylvester Stallone.
Had fate stopped Jonny from accompanying me to the top, so I was forced to reassess my life's direction? So that I could ponder on the great questions with every forward step that I took?
I wonder if slugs sleep?
A TOUCH OF FRøST
I was so focused on making swift progress — as if competing for a world record — that I found I had to force myself to look up every once in a while in a half-arsed attempt to try and enjoy nature. My reasons for initially being there had evaporated. My sole intention was to get to the top of that wicked rock as quick as I could, take the damn Instagram photo, and bomb it back down to civilisation once more — to a warm, cosy basement flat with satellite TV and a bellyful of wine.
*AN HOUR OR TWO GOES BY*
My lengthy — yet sizeable — legs carried me forwards with ease. There was no risk of me ejecting any fuel. My stomach is ironclad. Forged deep within the valleys to withhold mass quantities of food. In the same way a camel's hump holds water, my additional sustenance is held deep within my legs and arse. An additional reserve of carbs, should I ever need the extra oomph.
What did people do before podcasts on these sort of things?
I realised what people would do in this sort of situation very quickly. They'd think. Ponder. Assess. Analyse. Theorise.
*How many packets of Hobnobs could you eat in a day?*
Maybe. It's hard to say.
A fully formed dialogue was ensuing between "me" and my brain. No topic too banal was off limits. After all, I had to keep myself from getting even more bored than I already was.
All this [internal] talk has made me thirsty.
My throat felt like it hadn't been used in days, and therefore, it required immediate wetting. There was running water everywhere I looked, but due to the potential risk of cholera, I was a bit reluctant to indulge.
I got down on my hands and knees to lap at a nearby stream like a thirsty hound, making sure to splash some of the water on my face too — because I’ve seen people do that in life sometimes, especially people on quests in movies.
(I just wanted to fit in.)
Suitably hydrated by the elixir of life, I headed onwards. Alone. Deep into the clutches of the mountain. I'd managed to achieve quite the pace, too. I passed rivers, cabins and unusual rock formations. Occasionally stopping to look back on what I'd achieved. The carpark times seemed like an ancient memory.
What was his name? Oh yes, "Jonny". That was it. That's what we used to call him.
Yeah, it has got a bit chilly.
Probably because I'm only wearing a t-shirt.
Because there's ice and snow...EVERYWHERE.
Before I knew it, the dense areas of forestland had given way to an open, icy tundra that was completely devoid of life. I couldn't even see one single bird. The only thing I could hear, was the sound of my boots trudging into the crisp, fresh powder below me. The way had already been made clear by the many journeymen (and women) that had set off before me.
I bet the oldies who stomped this into a path are already on their way back down.
They probably got up at 4:30 a.m.
And I bet they weren't concerned with taking a photo for their Instagram account at the top.
If they even have an Instagram at all.
They'd probably just save it and keep it to themselves for their own private enjoyment.
They'd probably just walked up there for the sheer "thrill" of it all.
The mad cunts.
Every group that I overtook on the way up didn't seem to want to engage in any sort of conversation. I tried to initiate chat a number of times, with a variety of different folk, but everyone was too fixated with pressing on. The people on their way back down however; you couldn't shut those fuckers up.
"Morning! Lovely day for it isn't it?"
Said a distinguished older gent with a spring in his step and Scandinavian tinge to his accent. Him and his wife were wearing matching activewear in contrasting colours. They had money. You could just tell.
Yeah, yeah, fuck off.
I know you’ve been to the top already.
"It really is! Hope you have a good one. Enjoy the rest of your day! Watch you don't slip on the way back down!"
HAHA! YOU TOLD THE OLD FUCK!
A SAUSAGE AND BIEB MELT
When I reached the top, I had nobody to share my victory with. There was no one there to embrace me for my valiant success, and amongst the small pockets of people dotted about, there wasn't a familiar face amongst the crowd — to be fair, I only knew Jonny, and he was already back at the BnB for all I knew.
I AM A SUCCESS. I JUST CLIMBED THAT FUCKING MOUNTAIN. ON MY OWN! ACKNOWLEDGE ME WORLD! GOD! ACKNOWLEDGE MEEEEEEEE!
Out of the large rabble of people that had started to gather, my eyes were drawn to one individual in particular: a lad who resembled Justin Bieber. Not because he looked like him necessarily, but rather, his choice of climbing gear was akin to something Biebs would wear onstage: slashed spray-on skinny jeans, a longline hoody, a raised backwards cap, and a monochrome pair of Nike Roshes.
(I think they're commonly referred to as "fuccbois", and let it be known, it pained me to type that word.)
He looks like he’s just been allowed to town for the first time on a Saturday to go and play Lazerzone...
But there he was, at the top of the Troll's Tongue, sticking a big fat one up against convention — and making me feel like a donkey for shelling out £180 for hiking boots that I'd likely only wear the once.
(Yep. Only the once.)
This was meant to happen.
The Universe has led me towards climbing this mountain on my ownsome, so that I've undisturbed time to find solutions to all of my problems.
*You'd need to climb the mountain every single day for at least a year then.*
...I thought we were friends, but I'm beginning to think you're the one responsible for this mess.
There were no comms from Jonny. The phones were dead at that altitude; right up there on the edge of the world. Was he still walking or had he resigned himself to failure? I had no real way of knowing. I was just going to have to go with my gut, and my gut said...
Why didn't I pack any fucking bread?
I was left with two options: try and engage with complete strangers, purely in an attempt to snag a slice of bread like a persistent seaside gull trying to wangle a chip, or sit on my own at the nearby edge of the clifftop. My introverted nature led me to what I considered to be the right solution.
I'm going to sit on my own over there at the edge of that clifftop. And mope.
The north wind bit. Hard. I wished I could've Googled how long it would've taken for hypothermia to set in (just to be sure), but again, there was a distinct lack of service at the top (not even 3G or that shitty "E" thing). I had no feeling left in my thumbs regardless, so I zipped up the fleece lining of my purpose-bought North Face jacket (another £130 down the pan) and prepared to die.
I'll give him 30 minutes.
The colder I got, the more my primal urges started to bubble to the surface.
*Get nuts from bag.*
Sat upon my rocky throne of despair, I pulled my hood up tightly around my head while shovelling in an entire bagful of macadamia nuts.
Everyone around me was having the greatest of times: laughing, joking and eating sandwiches.
Stodgy, satisfying, delicious bread.
Greggs would make a killing up here.
They could construct a pulley system to cart the food up.
The one thing that would make this situation infinitely better right now is a "Sausage and Bean Melt".
Lukewarm and ready to eat.
Washed down with an orange Lucozade.
Finished off with a custard slice.