Learning about yourself along the Pilgrim’s Path

Coming to inner knowledge along the way

The “fab four,” Rebecca, Dawn, Lori Ann, and Kristine, stopped for a photo at Stange Church along the Pilgrim’s Path in Norway.

The Norwegian American

A journey of self-exploration is not always an easy road to follow. For me, and four others this summer, it was a trip along the Pilgrim’s Path from Oslo to Lillehammer that led to us to deeper knowledge about who we are as individuals and as friends. It is the type of inner or self-knowledge only gained by trials and tribulations, perhaps just as valuable as anything you will learn in a book or in a classroom.

Patience and tenacity

One of the first lessons we learned was that no matter how hard you may try to plan for something, just about anything can happen. In my own case, my trip got off to starts and fits when my flight out of Seattle to Amsterdam was postponed nearly six hours, which would cause me to miss my connecting flights. Hours were spent on the phone and internet to come up with a solution, and finally I was off. My first lesson on this journey was patience and tenacity, as I met many obstacles to get the new itinerary in place, but once I arrived in at my first destination, Stavanger, it was worth it.

Flexibility and compassion

After a week of working and enjoying Norway’s west coast as a prelude to our pilgrimage, I arrived in Oslo to meet up with my friends Kristine, Ruth, Rebecca, and Dawn. We had our party suite booked at the Hotell Bondeheimen for our first night on the road together. But before arriving, we learned that Ruth, who had been exploring Trondheim the week before, had taken ill and was returning to Seattle the next day. (In the end, she tested positive for COVID.)

Of course, it felt like a letdown after so many months of planning, but Ruth checked into her own room to isolate herself, and it was on to dinner. I was excited to bring the others to the Kaffistova, where I would place my first order of genuine Norwegian meatballs—but alas, it was not meant to be. Once we went down to the restaurant, Dawn suddenly took ill with extreme nausea and had collapsed on the floor. The paramedics were called, and I spent the evening at the emergency room with Dawn, as the doctors there worked to quiet her discomfort. She was able to return to the hotel late that night. We would see how the next day would go.

Each pilgrim (even bilegrim Lori Ann), set out of the journey with a commemorative cap and a Pilegrimspass to stamp at each stop along the way.

Then the next day arrived, and Dawn was worse again. Rebecca was able to take her to an urgent care facility, as Kristine and I went about getting a rental car. We learned that even with a navigation system, getting around Oslo can be somewhat challenging for the uninitiated. But we did make it back to the hotel, and we decided that we could all continue our journey. We picked up our pilgrim’s passports (I would be a “bilegrim,” ferrying luggage and supplies around in our bil or car). Two of the pilegrimer, Kristine and Rebecca, set out on the trail, and Dawn and I drove to our first stop at the Quality Hotel St. Olavsgaard north of Oslo.

That evening, I set out to pick up the pilgrims, but I found out the navigation systems can also mislead you. It was dusk, and I drove around in what seemed like circles for what seemed to be an eternity. I was so relieved to find the hikers and we managed to get back to the hotel without problems. But then a cell phone was missing, and Kristine and I had to go back to the pick-up point to find it. We drove around in more circles again, but in the end, the phone was located, so all was well.

Unfortunately, Dawn’s virus was persistent, so the two of us decided to rest at the hotel. I was going to do laundry and pick up a good book, as the others set out on the path. This was a short-lived plan, however, as Dawn became sicker and clearly needed to go to the emergency room again. I called the others back, and Kristine accompanied me and Dawn to the local legevakt, and Rebecca took over with the laundry. This is what camaraderie, teamwork, flexibility, and simply loving friendship is all about. The staff at the hotel was also incredibly helpful.

Gratitude and pride

The next day came, and Dawn was much better to our great relief. In fact, she felt she could try walking with the backup plan of my coming by to pick her up if necessary. The next stop was to be Eidsvoll, and a dream would come true for me.

As the hikers headed out, my first stop would be the historic Eidvollsbygning, where the Norwegian Constitution was drafted and signed in 1814. Having heard about it for so many years, it felt truly thrilling to walk up to its grand entrance. Of course, it was even more thrilling to go inside. The guided tour I took was excellent, and somehow the new facts I learned have stuck in my head—ready to be revived for next 17th of May issue.

A memorable stop on the journey was at Eidsvollbyggingen, the birthplace of the Norwegian Constitution in 1814.

I hung around the museum at Eidsvoll all afternoon to explore the exhibits at the Democracy Center there. I took the time to read the exhibit texts and think about how much the historical events at Eidsvoll have shaped today’s Norway, a prosperous and peaceful country, whose people have the opportunity to live in freedom and security.

At Eidsvoll, I was also struck by the amount of information presented about the U.S. Constitution, upon which the Norwegian Constitution is in part based. Our democracy is even older than Norway’s, and it is in many ways unique. But no system of government is perfect, and above all, we must guard and protect the democracies we live in.

I felt an enormous sense of gratitude, not only to be an American, but to also have the opportunity to learn about and experience life in Norway. I was extremely fortunate to be given the opportunity to study Scandinavian languages and literature at the university level—and eventually serve as editor-in-chief of this publication. The latter especially hit home when I saw a facsimile of a cover of Nordisk Tidende, our precursor newspaper out of New York in a section of the exhibit that focused on the importance of the transatlantic relationship between Norway and the United States. Wow, did I feel proud!

An exhibit at Eidsvoll featured a facsimile of Nordisk Tidende, a New York Norwegian newspaper absorbed by The Norwegian American.

And who should I run into in the café at the museum? Your guessed it—my three pilegrimer. We all got our passports stamped there, and we even got free coffee. We sat down and enjoyed a few minutes together, before they set off to meet me at our new lodgings for the night inside of the town of Eidsvoll.

Our trip went on for another week, with fewer mishaps, as if things turned a corner at Eidsvoll. I did have one bad day with a touch of the virus, but happily, I received all the love and care from my fellow travelers one could ever need, and I made a speedy recovery. It gave me time to contemplate our values and write this article for you. Even though I was just a driver for this trip on the Pilgrim’s Path, I came to a new level of inner knowledge along the way.

Photos: Lori Ann Reinhall

This article originally appeared in the September 2, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Lori Ann Reinhall

Lori Ann Reinhall, editor-in-chief of The Norwegian American, is a multilingual journalist and cultural ambassador based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.