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Lost Then Found

Jess Bonde

Imagine a world where money is seemingly endless, and where life revolves around showcasing multi-million dollar yachts and all things gold and glistening. Where, when the European summer is imminent, you’re nobody unless you’re docked in a port somewhere along the French Riviera with It Girls hanging off your arm. In that environment, arrogance is both expected and tolerated.

Perhaps not a place for a young Australian who grew up on a farm and studied outdoor education in the pristine environment of Tasmania’s wilderness, or a kiwi girl with hopes and dreams of cruising the ocean’s salty waves and being immersed in new cultural adventures. Yet, drawn in by the glitz and glamour of the industry and, to be honest, its hard not to be, that’s where we found ourselves. Sucked into the lifestyle, the money, the destinations, and the dream of living the life of a billionaire.

We were thrown into yachting life instantly. Scrubbing, polishing, and vacuuming, our free-spirited, travelling souls now on lock down; back-breaking work all day, every day. Schedules, rosters, checklists for checklists, regimented breaks – all became the focus of our world. Not perhaps what we had expected. Arrogant ownders, guests who looked down on the staff, who were too materialistic and cared more about their status than the people close to them – these were not the kind of people we had wanted to surround ourselves with. Time to get back to the adventure we were really looking for.

It was in Chester, England we found Victor Whiskey, a 1995 LT35 Volkswagen that had been retired from its minibus days and transformed into one of the most charismatic vans in Europe. Our ultimate adventure vehicle. We packed only that we considered to be essential, caught the ferry to France, and started to drive north. We knew two things for certain: we wanted to get back to basics and head as far north as we could. The rest we would figure out along the way.

Exploring and hiking, sunset campfires, finding the perfect view to wake up to – these were the kind of things that consumed our thoughts. Days seemed to blend together and neither of us ever knew which day of the week it was, but that’s how we liked it. A month or so zipped by in Denmark and Sweden. At Rømø beach in Denmark we learned that careless driving in sand might entail an evening call to someone with a hook and a tow-line. On that occasion, once pulled to freedom, we cautiously raced back along the hardened sand to get the shot we had been trying for in the first place. The message of enjoying what is around you rather than than trying to find something better was a cherished lesson that helped us connect with each destination.

We knew two things for certain: we wanted to get back to basics and head as far north as we could. The rest we would figure out along the way.
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Neither the biting temperatures, nor the crumbly rock, followed by mudslides leading to sheer cliffs directly below us, could wipe the smiles from our faces while the light began to slowly illuminate our surroundings. Light pink and purple hues swayed across the sky as we jumped on the rock with pure elation releasing howls of joy.

We were struck by Norway’s beauty the moment we crossed the border. Fjords that ran seemingly forever – vast, silent places you could hear your heart beat. This was exactly where we wanted to be.

We both knew we wanted to make it out to Trolltonga. This famous wedge of rock had recently become one of the essential tourist attractions in Norway, attracting hundreds of people each day. We had heard horror stories of people lining up for hours to get their photo of feet dangling from the edge or whatever conquering pose they could conjure, this was not our style. Our solution was to hike through the night and arrive for sunrise hopefully away from the crowds.

We strapped up our boots at just before midnight and bounded off toward the trailhead. Not long into the hike, when we stumbled across several groups seemingly with the same idea as us, our hearts sank. After a brief chat the groups revealed their intentions of camping the night and continuing on at first light. A renewed smile and a spring in our step had us striding along the trail again as it quickly turned from muddy rock to icy snow. The large snow expanses became increasingly challenging as darkness set in and temperatures dropped below freezing. The pure silence surrounding us made the crunching of our boots pleasurably hypnotic. We arrived at 3am with not a soul in sight – success! Due to the bone-trembling cold we down climbed an easy grade of rock to find some shelter, frozen fingertips being the only limitation. Neither the biting temperatures, nor the crumbly rock, followed by mudslides leading to sheer cliffs directly below us, could wipe the smiles from our faces while the light began to slowly illuminate our surroundings. Light pink and purple hues swayed across the sky as we jumped on the rock with pure elation releasing howls of joy.

Onward we went, toward the Arctic Circle, where we wound our way through countless fjords, eyes smiling as they took in endless beauty around us. Allemansrätt, the Scandinavian right for every man to explore the land, provided us some of the finest campsites a traveller could ask for. Every member of the vanlife club wants to park up in the most idyllic place possibly – one that exudes remoteness and tranquillity. Norway supplied us with countless of these astonishing places, all constantly lit by a midnight sun. The light made it difficult to sleep, but then why would you want to in such amazing locations?

Slowly but surely we made our way to Bodø where we caught the ferry to the Lofoten Islands. This was the place I was most eagerly anticipating, so much so I was almost too nervous to arrive. As the ferry closed in on the Islands, the mountain contours grew from distant silhouettes to solid masses of awe-inspiring rock. The midnight sun unleashed glorious golden orange glows that peered through each saddle of rock. So excited were we that, even at 3am, we were not thinking about campsites – we were frantically searching hiking maps for the nearest mountain to climb.

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We parked at the base of Reinebringen, and seeking to embrace the moment and our surroundings, we left everything in the van apart from snacks and water. We reached the top of the mountain in around an hour, completely exhausted from almost running the trail. To our astonishment the vibrant orange laser beams of light were still dancing around the cliff tops at 4am. I was overcome by one of the deepest connections to a place I have ever felt.

Lofoten was so much more than we had hoped for. The multitude of peaks we hiked became our favourite place to meet like-minded people. We became part of a hobo travelling community where we grilled freshly-caught fish over a campfire and sipped whiskey in the half-light. Around one of these campfires we met an Aussie who had been living in Lofoten for 8 years. She had beaten cancer and it had made her powerfully positive, and given her a passion for the Mother Nature’s gifts. She quickly became an inspiration for me on so many levels.

Sitting in our kayaks at 2am, in pure silence and surrounded by glassy waters and pink and orange glowing peaks, we were exactly where we had hoped our travels would end up. If we had left the warm seas of the Med, and falseness of the lifestyle there, we found true adventure in the cold seas surrounding the Islands, and on the Islands themselves. We had planned a 6am kayak through Reinefjord, but as the midnight sun turned the clouds to orange and the wind began to drop, we decided midnight was as good a time as any. The huge fjord was completely empty and with most people sleeping it really reinforced how free we had become. Long gone were the checklists, the timetables and schedules. Long gone were the plans. Long gone were the commitments. We had been embracing the perks of vanlife for almost three months. Two friends, one van, some photography equipment, and one insatiable thirst for adventure were all we needed. The people we met had gave us their wisdom and shared moments with us that enriched our souls. Maybe we even enriched some of their lives, who knows? While the owners of the yachts we worked on might consider us to be broke hippies, I’d venture we were happier than they would ever be.

Some may say that owning a 200 million dollar yacht would be considered a successful life, but I would suggest that sitting in a 200 dollar kayak in the early morning, alongside a good friend and surrounded by Lofoten’s jagged peaks, is making it. But the most important thing we realised, whilst floating in those kayaks, was that we had proved to ourselves that getting back to basics was exactly where we wanted to be.


Jess is an avid traveller with adventure running through his veins. After spending time doing some soul searching his is now getting back to basics on The Sunshine Coast in Australia. While he is sitting still for now the next adventures are already being planned.
Facebook: /jbondephotography
Instagram: @j_bonde

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