Hi. So I discuss my weight, and consequently, I touch upon my eating disorder and my struggle with its effects on my brain in this one. Give it a miss if you need to, I’ll get back to being less stressful soon enough, I think!
Bergen, while beautiful, had its difficulties for me.
Yikes. The hills. But first – let’s wind back a bit.
At the beginning of 2017, when I first started making my then-nebulous plan to visit Norway, my main concern was flying long-haul while fat. Google searching the term “flying while fat” leads you to pages and pages of information, all sorts, ranging from nightmare situations to coping mechanisms. I was terrified of the things we’d all heard about – being kicked off a flight, being made to buy a second seat, sneering fellow passengers making nasty comments and kicking off fusses. I have never had a problem while flying, to be clear. I’ve just always been afraid of encountering problems. Especially on a trip like this, that I would be making sacrifices just to make, a trip that would not be cheap. My anxiety was working overtime from the start.
So, of course I decided that what I would do is try to lose weight. To somehow lose enough weight in a few months that the amount of space I would take up in an airplane would be…I don’t know. Tolerable, I suppose, to other people. And secondarily, more comfortable, maybe, for me.
Well, of course, with airlines being what they are these days (cheap bastards), that last bit really is a fool’s game most of the time. Nobody is truly comfortable on an airplane, except perhaps children, people who can afford to fly long-haul on airplanes with those bed things, and the babies who get to nap in those bulkhead bassinets. It is no fun. Seats are getting smaller and smaller, leg room is getting reduced all the time. I’d have to lose more than half a person in weight and, I suspect, half a foot in height, before I could be comfortable on an airplane.
Still. I tried. I had taken up fitness walking in 2016 after going to the RT Booklovers Convention in Las Vegas and literally had to walk two miles a day at minimum just to get back and forth to convention events. Even with the little tram that helped knock off about a quarter mile of walking each way – if there was room to get on, it was very popular – I was still walking a lot more than I was used to, more than I was capable of doing comfortably, and I spent more than a couple of nights soaking my aching body in hot baths, and I turned in early most nights, because I was exhausted and aching. So okay. So I would get used to walking.
In 2017, I decided to step it up a bit. To really push myself. I started walking every day. Sometimes even jogging – I tried to do C25K. I did the elliptical, with some misgivings, as overdoing it on the elliptical a few years ago had led to a really nasty case of shin splints that effectively put an end to my thriving hoop dance hobby.
Honestly, I was loving it. Exercise, particularly outdoors, has always been key to managing my depression. Sunshine, endorphins, feeling myself get stronger – it’s good for me, I know it is good for me, and I enjoy it. But, I am kind of fucked in the head, so also, it can be a bad, bad thing. Because there’s a particular little voice I have never managed to silence, who always encourages me to do more, to work harder, because you don’t want to disappoint people by being a fat failure, right?
Oooooooh, I hate her a lot, that little voice. She ends up taking me to bad places, and often
I end up pushing myself into getting physically hurt.
And, well. She got me. Again. First came the plantar fasciitis in my right foot from overwork, then, when I adjusted and adjusted and adjusted my gait to compensate for it, oh, then. That’s when I blew out my left calf.
Calf strain is a nice way of saying I tore my calf muscle. Not the really horrifying needs-surgery-to-reattach way. Just in the pretty damn painful (think like a nasty charley horse that doesn’t go away for weeks) way that can only be remedied by rest.
I am an idiot, so I did not rest, and I undid any progress I had made twice more (the second time was great fun, as it happened on the way to the 2017 RT Con, when I landed hard on my left leg while trying to drag my giant hard-sided suitcase down my apartment stairs) before I finally, finally, had to stop.
From May to December, I did not get out a whole lot. I was able to get back to doing gentle yoga and stretching, I did work at my portable barre. But I really didn’t walk a lot, and I was bummed out so I wasn’t particularly careful about what I was eating, so…
Did I lose any weight before the day of my flights arrived? Oh, you know. Not so much.
But here’s the thing. Flying, much to my surprise, was mostly okay. I didn’t have to use my personal seatbelt extender on all of the flights, which was a pleasant surprise. Now, I don’t think any of my seatmates particularly enjoyed sitting next to me (except for the nice Scottish couple I sat next to from Bergen to Oslo! you were wonderful!) – and on my Chicago to Stockholm flight, I kept losing the armrest battle and wanted to cry each time my seatmate forced it down into the soft flesh of my well-padded right hip – but it wasn’t the horrorshow I had feared. It was just a slightly longer version of every flight I have ever taken: which is to say, not comfortable, but nobody died, and I do wish the Advil PM trick of sleeping through flights worked for me, but no.
The hard part really would be when I got off the airport bus at the Fishmarket in Bergen. To start with.
I wasn’t renting a car. I don’t use Uber. Buses don’t go too far out onto the Nordnes peninsula, where I was staying, because the roads are narrow. So I was going to have to walk half a mile from the stop to my rental. And thanks to perusing Google Maps like it was my job, I knew Bergen was full of hills. And I knew I was going to have to walk a lot. I had been worried for months that I would end up just barely getting to my rental apartment, and then I would just stay there for a week, spending all my souvenir money on food delivery before I gave up and hired a cab to take me back to the airport bus stop.
I cannot lie. Trudging a half-mile with an eighteen pound backpack and my good sturdy purse while wearing hardy waterproof boots and a thick winter raincoat was not my idea of fun. It hurt. I was tired. I had been schlepping through big airports for a full 24 hours plus. And the goddamn hills…! There was literally no path to my rental that wasn’t going to involve at least one good uphill trek. To my chagrin, the path I eventually chose also involved a slight but tricky downhill leg at the very end, tricky because it was a cold and somewhat icy night, and cobblestones, as it happens, are slippery as fuck and also my basement rental apartment had some steep little steps I had to traverse to get into it, accompanied by my mounting terror that I would slip and concuss myself and die before I got to see more than a half-mile’s worth of Bergen.
But…I managed. I hurt, and I was exhausted, and it took ten minutes of sitting in the entry hall before I could remove my boots and shift myself into the main apartment. Ten minutes of staring at this slope and wondering how the hell I was going to manage this street every day.
Yeah. You see that angle? That’s how steep the street is.
(I want to be very clear that apart from the Danger Steps, the apartment I rented was awesome, my host was amazing, and I absolutely would stay here again)
The photo at the top of the post was one I took on my second evening. It’s from the bottom of the street. The walk is not far, about 80 meters all told, but honestly, I had walked to the train station that morning, traveled up to Dale, walked the kilometer from the train station there to the Dale of Norway store, back again (in the snow, and yes! yes there was an uphill each way!), then from the Bergen train station all through Bergen hitting up a few shops, so by the time I took that photo, I had several bags of shopping (including groceries) with me, and I just stood at the bottom of the hill wondering if I had the fortitude to get up it.
I did. Because I was hungry, and also it was cold and rainy and I had spent a morning in a charming but snowy mountain town, and I had consumed all of the hot tea I started the day with.
On that night, it occurred to me to check the Health app on my phone, where I was astonished to find that for three days, I had walked a minimum of three miles a day. And I was hurting, but not intolerably, and most of that walking had involved me being burdened in some way. I thought about it, and decided that you know what? I could be impressed with myself. Also, I was going to be able to get through this trip and do basically everything I wanted to do.
In fact the only thing I missed out on from my planned itinerary was going to church on New Year’s Eve morning, because I was too busy standing on a freakin’ mountain and marveling at the beautiful view of Bergen Harbor.
I walked. Miles and miles a day. I was careful to stretch out at night – I brought a resistance band with me – and I rested as much as I could manage. Bergen is, thankfully, as full of benches and low walls as it is hills. I took an unscheduled bus trip (well, I meant to take the bus, and it was the right bus, but I got on it going the wrong way) that allowed me to rest my feet while I watched the passing cityscape, so it was comfortable and charming.
(a side note: city buses and Flybussen want you to buckle your seatbelt when you ride them. couldn’t manage it. I guess they don’t come quite as big as me in Norway, sorry!)
I…managed. Actually, I would have to say I more than managed, I accomplished a lot on my trip. Despite not being able to get in my workout walks for most of 2017, my stretching and barre work at home still helped to strengthen my lower back, which had previously been the weakest link in my fitness journey when I wasn’t injured. My hiking boots, despite having no arch support, actually seemed to do a lot more favors for my feet than any of the expensive tennis shoes I had blown my money on in previous years. And the hills?
Well. By the end of the week they were a snap. In fact, since I have been home, I have found previously tedious hilly walks to be a breeze when compared to the streets and alleyways of the Nordnes peninsula. I’ve walked nearly every day – that nasty little voice started to push me too hard again, and I was going too far, too fast, and my knee is complaining. So I am resting a bit and will dial my distance back. But! I am going to keep walking. Not to lose weight, because now I know I can travel and it’s pretty okay. I just want to keep getting stronger. If I could do about three miles a day in Bergen, coming off of an injury and near-total lack of conditioning, what can I do when I’m prepared for it?
Anything I want, just about, I think.
What do you reckon? After a few months of these sorts of hills, I should be able to take on Lisbon, don’t you think?
Watch this space.