Glacial Gratitude

This is a tale of two glaciers. Or rather, the two fjords resulting from those glaciers and a family who visited them some 10,000 years after their creation. (So, okay, not really about glaciers at all, but definitely two very different experiences.) One fjord journey was a beautiful but exhausting day involving a steep trek, thirsty kids with tired legs and a few mishaps. The other journey was breezy, both literally and figuratively.

Newbie Nomads Trek up a Mountain
Norway was our family’s first stop on this around-the-world adventure. Looking back now almost 11 months later, we can see how our experience there typified anything new in life – it was fun and exciting, but kind of awkward and a little nerve-wracking. We were adjusting to 24-7 family time, figuring out a homeschooling routine, deciphering foreign languages for the first time in years, and navigating new areas with bizarre-looking road signs. We were newbies to this nomadic life, and our trip to the famous Pulpit Rock, known as Preikestolen to Norwegians, would be our first major excursion of the journey.

Our day started early with a ferry ride followed by a drive to the base of the hike. About 45 minutes into the trek we realized we’d left the larger of our two water bottles back in the car. Nevertheless, we continued marching through meadows and woods, climbed up boulders and stone staircases, tromped past little lakes and mountain streams. When we were close to the top Alison started approaching the end of her five-year-old rope. “I can’t do this anymore, Mama! My legs are getting angry at me!” It probably didn’t help matters we were having to ration our water at this point. However, despite a little thirst and some angry legs, almost 3 hours after starting the hike we finally reached our destination – the massive flat mountain plateau known as the Pulpit Rock.
Ferry crossing to Pulpits rock
Tracey and Liv in Norway
Boardwalk over grassland to Pulpits Rock
Endless stairs on Pulpits rock hike
Cottage on hike to Pulpits Rocks
Tired crew on the hike to Pulpits Rock
Lake on the way to Pulpits Rock
Pulpits Rock hike
Brian on Pulpits Rock
Overlooking the fjord on Pulpits Rock
Tracey vertical Pulpits Rock
Emily at Pulpits Rock
Looking over the edge at Priekstolen
Emily vertical overlooking fjord

It was a beautiful and memorable experience, and our time there remains one of the highlights of this adventure. I’ll admit having three children at the top of a 2000-foot cliff did give me some heart palpitations. Several times I found myself shouting “Be careful! Slow down! No sudden movements!” at times when they were nowhere near the edge. Everyone loved it up there and the girls didn’t want to leave, partly due to the beauty and serenity of the place, but also because they dreaded starting the long walk back down the mountain.

We stayed at the top for several hours before hiking back to the car, with Brian and I taking turns carrying Little Miss Angry Legs. After the drive and ferry ride, our tired crew sat down to dinner that evening ready for a good meal and a long rest. It was then that we realized something was missing. That something was Brian’s cell phone. Mind you, this wasn’t just any cell phone. This was a brand new one with an international data plan purchased specifically for this trip. For the journey ahead, we had to get this phone back or go through the process of replacing both it and the TMobile SIM card inside it.

So, back across on the ferry and up the trail Brian went in the hope the phone had been overlooked and would still be sitting on the rock where somebody (cough, Tracey) had left it. Lo and behold, it had been discovered and set in a prominent place next to the trail, apparently so the owner would be able to find it easily. Dozens of people walked by our phone that afternoon, but those hikers were honest people so all ended well. Brian got his phone back and he’s now one of few people who have completed the famous Preikestolen hike twice in one day. He had some “angry legs” to show for it.
Together at Pulpits Rock

Easy, Breezy, Beautiful Milford Sound
Now, compare that experience to our recent trip to another famous fjord also carved by a glacier some 10,000 years ago, but on the opposite side of the planet. The morning we decided to see New Zealand’s Milford Sound I woke up early and made on-the-go breakfast sandwiches for our troops. We left our little cottage in the town of Te Anau before dawn and watched the sun rise as we drove through valleys and over the hills of Fiordland National Park. We pulled into the pier’s parking lot about 30 minutes before the boat was scheduled to leave, strolled into the visitor center, purchased our tickets and soon were sitting in a warm, comfortable cabin ready for our tour. For the next two hours, we watched gorgeous waterfalls gush down the canyon walls and playful seals waddle along rocks as we cruised through the fjord and out into the waters of the Tasman Sea.

This was an easy, fun day with no issues. Hungry or thirsty? No problem, kid. The boat serves free food and drinks. Getting a little chilly in the wind? Just step inside the heated cabin for a bit. Talk about a different experience from the last fjord we’d encountered. All the good stuff with minimal effort.
Milford Sound from above

Milford Sound grassy shoreline
Brian and Em on the Milford Sound cruise
Wall of Milford Sound as sun rises
Morning light on Milford Sound
Ali on Milford Sound
Shadows on the walls of Milford Sound

While Pulpit’s Rock and Milford Sound are obviously two very different destinations, I draw this comparison between them because it symbolizes the way life has changed for us over the past year. In fact, while looking back through some of our older posts the other day, I was struck by how differently we function now. I found myself smiling and shaking my head a lot, the way I would if I were to thumb through my childhood diary. Reading my own words I remembered how high strung I used to get at times and how much our kids used to bicker. Early on in this trip we were very planned, with little faith that things like housing or transportation would work out without a reservation being placed at least a little bit in advance. Now we’re more accepting of each other and the world around us. We’re calmer and more creative when addressing the small problems that arise. Most importantly, we have a lot more appreciation for the life we have together.

Imperceptible changes in ourselves and the ways we interact with one another have accumulated over these past months to dramatically change us as a family. This isn’t something we’ve noticed day to day, but slowly over time we’ve become a very different little tribe. It’s been a truly glacial change – something that happened very slowly, but completely transformed the landscape. I’m realizing lately just how much this trip has changed the landscape of our family, and I can only hope that, like a fjord carved by a glacier, these changes will last forever.

About the Author

Tracey Carisch

Mom, wife, friend and change agent traveling the world with my family to learn our place in it. After spending a career in organizational change management and community initiative implementation, I put my career on hold for our family's trip around the world. In April of 2014 we sold almost everything we own, put the rest in a storage container, and departed on this journey. While my husband continued his software development work to financially support our trip, I planned and documented our adventure, homeschooled our three daughters, and found volunteer work opportunities for us to do in the communities we visit. Now that we've returned to the U.S., I'm completing book about our family's adventure and our lessons learned.

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