Total Miles: 631.6
Seven Miles from Innset – July 25, 2016
The day dragged on into mile twenty, my feet wore down, my eyes searched for a flat piece of dirt to collapse on. I started late after a rain soaked morning and had to push mile by mile, knowing I couldn’t slow down, that my food would only last so long, that I had just two days left to reach the next town.
The low roar of ATVs caught my ear. I looked up and saw taillights bouncing red in the distance along a muddy two track. Three of them. I looked at my watch. It was near midnight.
Two more ATVs followed a minute later. I watched them as I walked and then saw more, another group following the first and second.
“Must be a party,” I thought.
I walked a bit more, still searching for a campsite. More ATVs, some with kids riding with parents. I watched them pass and kept walking.
At least twenty went by before the trail joined the ATV track. I felt confused and unsure if I should keep going or run back and find some quiet place to hide. More ATVs appeared in the distance. I walked on as they passed, one after the next, disappearing into the distance as the next came roaring forward.
Then three people came walking toward me on the road. It’s the Sami, they said, they are trying to herd the reindeer to mark the new calves. It’s a two hour walk up the mountain, but you can come and watch.
I stood there, feeling my worn feet, my eyes still searching for flat ground to collapse on for the night. But when will I ever have this chance again, when will I be in Norway at the right time, at the right place, when the temperature drops to push the reindeer down enough, when the new calves are still unmarked. When?
Ok, I said. I will go.
We climbed after the ATVs, higher and higher into the mountains, every ridge giving hope and crushing it with a new higher goal. My feet screamed at me. The skin peeled from days of wet walking, the bones ached, my mind begged them to just go a bit more, another mile or two, another rise.
Then the sound of the herd reached us in the air, hundreds of hooves running on dirt. A low rumble that grew with each step, that brought life back into my body, that stitched my feet together. The reindeer were there, the Sami had found them, the long climb had not been in vane.
Cresting a rise, the circular pen came into view, still distant, hoves and voices broken and carried in the wind, the herd a blur of white and brown.
I forgot about my feet.
Up close, a mass of brown and white fur, of hoves and antlers, flowed, circling clockwise, breaking and coming together, stopping and starting, streaming around the Sami who stood inside. Each man and woman held ropes to lasso the caves, pull them away, pin them for a moment to mark their ears before releasing them back to join the current of reindeer.
The motion of it, the sound, it was all movement and dance, the circle swirling like an endless river.
I watched for hours, knowing I couldn’t walk anymore, mesmerized as the night drifted toward day. I set up camp as the Sami marked the last calves.
Two Sami opened a section of the fence and the herd stood before it, unsure the wires were gone until the first brave animal stepped forward and past the invisible line. A roar filled the air, hooves on dirt, as the herd flooded out like water through a burst dam, pouring through to disappear back into the wild.
The Sami waited for a few minutes, talking, collecting their equipment, then the long train of ATVs fired to life and disappeared down the mountain. I watched the last taillight fade away from my tent.
Nothing stirred on the mountain. Not a single sound hung in the wind. Nothing, like it never happened. But the worn dirt of the pen held the moment, capturing the night in thousands of prints, in the trampled rocks, convincing me it wasn’t all just my imagination.