Our adventures started 24 hours later than planned after the Manchester airport ran out of de-icer. As John, my boyfriend, and I sat on the plane full of Norwegians, we couldn’t help but be a bit embarrassed. Compared to the crazy winters in Norway, our English weather was pretty mild, yet we still couldn’t take off.
We were on our way to Ålesund, Norway, for a week’s holiday where we intended to meet our friends, Dan and Charlotte. Dan is from the United Kingdom but has lived in Norway for the last 10 years, and Charlotte is a native Norwegian. Together, the four of us would take advantage of the area’s adventure offerings: ski touring, ice climbing, and running.
We finally arrived in Norway by late afternoon, a day later than planned.
A beautiful sunrise woke us early the next day, and we caught the train to Åndalsnes, an eight-hour journey through some beautiful landscapes, before being picked up by Dan to continue the journey by car to Ålesund. That night, we noticed the sky changing and ran to a remote location, away from light pollution, to watch an impressive aurora borealis.
We planned to climb and ski the mountain, Langfjella, on our first day after arriving in Ålesund. I was both excited and apprehensive, as it was to be my first ski tour. I hadn’t been on a pair of skis for over 10 years, but I hoped it would come straight back to me, like riding a bike.
At the time, I was in the midst of training for a Bob Graham round, a 24-hour hill run traversing 106 kilometres over 42 peaks, with a total climb of 8,230 metres. Because of this, I was in great shape. As I began ascending, apprehensions fell away and turned to love for the movement—I felt strong and elated as I climbed up Langfjella. The weather conditions weren’t perfect but my months of hill training were paying off.
We summited in good time, then started on the descent. Wrapped in the grey mist of the summit, fear hit me almost instantaneously. I realised my level of skiing ability was not going to cut it on what now looked like a vertical drop. I had been a little naïve in my understanding of “ski touring,” not fully understanding what was involved and realised — too late — that I should have done some piste skiing first.
There was no other way down. With Dan in front of me and John following me with advice, I took a deep breath and visualised skiing downhill as if it were an everyday skill I possessed. Slowly, but surely, I made ground and started to enjoy it. Fresh powder sprayed out from under my skis with each turn. I came out of powder clouds met with an impressive panorama of snow-covered mountains.
Life was good.
Then, I fell.
Twisting too far over my knee, and my ski taking too long to pop off, I instantly knew there was damage. Worst-case scenarios spun through my head: I’d torn a ligament, a few ligaments, cartilage. I attempted to stand. It was painful, but I managed to get back on my feet and ski to the bottom.
An aching pain consumed my knee as I sat holding bags of snow on it. It was the first day of my holiday. Now what was I to do?
I felt like I had let everyone down. I wanted to go home or be left somewhere so everyone else could continue with their plans.
Though I didn’t want sympathy, I came to understand the importance of having close friends and family around to pull me out of a world of self-pity. They provided objectiveness, reminding me that it could have been worse—I could be laid up in hospital awaiting surgery. They soothed my concerns by listing idea after idea of other things we could do. Under this lightened mood, they kept me distracted and unable to contemplate my injury.
Most importantly, they made me feel like I wasn’t alone.
The new version of my holiday consisted of various alternative activities. One day involved a summit trip via a gondola. On the peak, I recuperated on a sun lounger, drinking coffee, eating cake, and getting an eyeful of the incredible views over the fjords. On another, I managed to go ice climbing in Romsdalseggen. Walking into the route proved difficult and involved some piggybacking and careful walking with ski poles; however, once on the route, I climbed by relying on my arms and my good leg.
And then there was an epic trip with a local fisherman — not something I’d considered before, but an injury-friendly way to explore Norway’s fjords.
It felt good to be active.
The week after we arrived back in the United Kingdom, I had an MRI on my knee. The diagnosis was a strained cruciate ligament and extensive bone bruising. But just like my friends and family said back in Norway, things could have been much worse. I could have torn all the soft tissues which would have required surgery; I could have broken something and been fully laid up for months. Instead, I just needed plenty of rest and physiotherapy.
As a devoted hill runner, competition and training take up most of my time. And I love it: Running gives me a sense of freedom and offers an escape from the busy world of life and work. However, while sustaining this injury caused problems during a holiday intended for relaxing, it gave me time to develop interests outside of running. As I did, I realised I relied too much on running and am now diversifying my time with writing and researching, as well as making steps to return to university to complete my masters in physiotherapy.
Although not what we planned, I firmly believe that things happen for a reason. I earned some injury life lessons. And they helped me open my eyes to new ways to explore and adventures I wouldn’t have otherwise discovered.
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About the author
Cat Slater is a physiotherapist and keen outdoor adventurer who loves fell running. In addition to working in the Lake District, she’s currently undergoing her master’s in physiotherapy at Manchester Metropolitan University. Whenever she can, she enjoys nothing more than spending her days out in the hills.
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