Monday, April 24, 2006

Life can change so fast!

When I came back from Norway I was greeted by the news that I had a job at a company in Stockholm. Good news, but it wasn't the job I really wanted as I was still dreaming about working and living near the kayaking over Summer.

The week that followed was truely surreal. I had a couple more interviews and then by the end of the week I actually had four different job offers! It had taken me four months to get any job, and then I had to choose between four, CRAZY!

After a really really stressful week, I finally made my decision. I decided to work for DICE, a computer games company, in Stockholm. This was a bit of a turn around, from my kayaking plan, but it was an opportunity I felt that I didn't want to pass up. They are one of best companies in the field and known all around the world. I am really excited about working for them and learning something new! Life should be an adventure, and even work passes as part of that.

With that sorted, I decided to make the most of the time before I started so I decided to head to Europe to catch up with a few friends. I signed the contract on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, I flew to Paris for the start of this new adventure. After months of not doing so much, suddenly everything was happening so fast!

It feels so exciting to be nearly be working again. At first I was a bit sad that I would not have so much freedom, but now I am excited because I will have money to travel round Europe and go paddling at the places I really want to go. It will also mean that I will be around Swedish people all day which will be a much better way to learn to talk Swedish than at language classes with other second language speakers.

Looking back, I can see that searching for a job in Sweden was a huge growth experience for me. I had to face a lot of rejection, and this combined with loneliness was really difficult. I have huge sympathy now for unemployed people, especially foreigners.

I learnt that was that how you feel about yourself makes a huge difference on your ability to get a job. The longer your are unemployed, the harder it is to feel positive about an interview, the harder it is to get a job. It wasn't until I really decided I wanted a job, and than I had many great skills (even if Swedish wasn't one of them) that I became successful in my job hunt.

And I think that this is true for life in general. You have to believe in who your are and what you stand for, even when outside events and other people make this difficult. Always know your strengths, weeknesses and of course your dreams!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

In search of Heavy Water

Last week Greig, Mike and I headed to Rjuken, Norway to do some ice climbing. It was great to get out of Stockholm and a real joy to switch off my mobile phone for the week.

As you cross the border from Sweden into Norway you actually experience quite a change. The mountains become steeper, and the roads become windy. Norway is a little like New Zealand, well except for the trees. The Nordic pine trees just aren’t the same thing as the lush green podocarp forests of home. But the Norwegian’s have tried to make us feel right at home thought by naming their main supermarket chain “Kiwi”.

In any case, it was great to be back in the mountains, and but also a little intimidating. It’s a long time since I’ve put my crampons on or even been on rock climbing so it took me several days to really feel comfortable with the equipment. My recent experience of head butting a tree had also hit my confidence pretty hard.

Rjukan is an amazing place to go ice climbing and when you first get there you just can’t take your eyes off the huge waterfalls that line the high valley sides. What is even better, is that the English guide book “Heavy Water” makes it really easy to find the climbs. You have the option of going ice cragging and challenge yourself on top rope, or you can try one of the long, 10 or more pitches, routes that that line the main valley.

I had climbed alpine ice, and glacier ice before but waterfall ice is quite different. For a start it tends to be blue or yellow and not white. Initially, I found it quite terrifying, because I couldn’t read the ice. What looked like solid ice would shatter when I struck it with the pick, while some of the fragile looking stuff was deceptively strong.

We climbed through the gloomy, snowy weather for four days and it was exhausting. Ice climbing is really strenuous on the arms and hand and calf muscles and I got pretty tired. I always had a sense of relief to make the top of a waterfalls, some of which were more than 30 meter high. By the top of the climbs, my arms where often so tired that I had trouble getting my tools to strike the ice straight.

Finally on the last day the sun broke through so Greig and I decided to bag the nearby peak. Mt Gaustatoppen, is remarkable because from the top on a clear day you can see 20% of Norway and all the way to Sweden.

Despite all the snow that had fallen, it was a pleasant trip and the mountain was even icy in places. (Greig was so sure that it would be soft snow the whole way he wasn’t even going to bring an ice axe along, so this was a nice surprise.)

We stopped for lunch just below the top, next to the incredibly ugly building, which actually a military elevator that was used during the cold war! It takes you all the way from the valley floor some 1600 meters below, and is now being tested as a winter attraction for rich skiers.

From the saddle we walked along the sharp ridge in nearly white out conditions. The snow sculptures on the boulders made it seem like a magic garden up there. At the top we were lucky as the cloud cleared for a while and we got to look over the town below, but unfortunately not all the way to Sweden.

On the descent we enjoyed a good bum slide but we had to stop several times because our feet sprayed up a fine mist snow which completely blocked our view. The Scandinavian snow, is much drier compared to the stuff at home, so this was a new experience.

What made Rjukan really stand out from similar experiences was the sense of history in the place. On the first night I read what had happened during the war, and I was completely intrigued. This was the first climbing trip I have ever been on where I actually wanted to visit the local museum instead of going climbing!

During the second world war, Norway was controlled by Nazi Germany and the heavy water (D2O) factory at Rjukan became a strategic target for the Allies. They were desperate to stop the heavy water production which could be used to make a nuclear bomb. So a team of hard-core Norwegian commandos went into the area in October 1942.

Unfortunately things didn’t go according to plan and the commandos ended up enduring the entire winter in the mountains, subsisting on lichen, moss and reindeer. Eventually, with the help of some more troops, they succeeded in their mission of damaging the factory, and all ten involved escaped on skis. Some of them skied 400km to safety in Sweden.

These feats of human endurance seem amazing at the best of times, but when you are freezing after a day outside ice climbing, they honestly seem unbelievable. I think these men, must have endured a great deal more suffering than modern ice climbers could endure!

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