Spoiler alert: Bjørn means bear in Norwegian, and that’s literally our local guide’s name. Given his beard, it feels appropriate. He’s a certified kayaking, climbing and skiing instructor. He’s also a striking landscape photographer who channels the rugged spirit of Norway onto his Instagram feed. Since we’re keeping our gay Norway trip’s itinerary top-secret, we thought you might want to get to know the man that will lead our hardy herd instead.
Where in big gay Norway are you from, Bjørn?
I’m from Oslo. Born and raised, and live there now.
What inspired an urbanite to become the backcountry guide you are today?
That was a long process. I was studying in San Francisco. I started rock climbing a lot – they have a big community there – and I started spending a lot of time exploring California. That was 2009-10. Since then I’ve been living a very outdoorsy life, doing everything from rock climbing to kayaking. Then I took it a step further and became an instructor. Skiing. Rock climbing. Different sports depending on the season.
I added my guiding experience only recently, three to four years ago, while I lived in Svalbard – an archipelago that’s one of the northernmost inhabited spots on Earth. I took a program at the Arctic College of Norway with a focus on Arctic guiding: basically ski expeditions, snowmobiling and Arctic cruises. But my girlfriend refused to move to that desolate place so I went back to Oslo where I got involved doing both tours abroad and of Norway. I wanted to find a career that involved taking people into nature and showing them how to do it by themselves. Technical skills to enjoy their time outside. It’s very rewarding to me.
You mentioned a girlfriend. As a straight man, how do you describe the culture of acceptance for gay Norway?
We certainly are a liberal and open society and it has changed a lot in the last ten years. It’s only with some of the older generation and perhaps in smaller towns where you’ll find conservative mindsets. In all major cities and with the younger generations you’ll find acceptance. It’s nothing compared to, say, San Francisco, where I’ve spent lots of time and the community is very visible. The community is accepted here but it’s not as visibly obvious as many are reserved and quiet.
You also run a photography business with a gorgeous Instagram feed. How did you unlock this passion?
I studied Fine Arts in San Francisco, and photography was the perfect fit with my passion for the outdoors. Luckily for me I don’t have to go far from Oslo, as I’m living in a country packed full of visual treasures. A trip to the fjords and mountains are always a treat. There’s no better remedy for the photography equivalent of writer’s block: shutter jam.
You have such a great outlook on life. Norwegians actually rank as some of the happiest citizens in the world (a constant Top 5 contender, in fact). Despite your long dark winters, what makes people so perky?
That’s an interesting question. It’s a progressive society that focuses on taking care of you. Giving everybody a fair chance and helping those who need it. You’ll rarely find people living poorly or struggling because there’s such a big safety net to support and help you. However, these happiness rankings are strange to me. Norwegians don’t come across as “happy”. What does happy even mean?! Full of joy? Or content? It makes me happy that everyone believes Norwegians are happy, but we are mostly just content and comfortable with the way things are.
What are some of the local delicacies we’ll get to try on this tour? I’ve heard of Brunøst cheese. Sounds…interesting.
Brown cheese? Yeah. That’s a must (his tone is *very* sarcastic). We do have our fish. Trout and salmon. It comes in many varieties from dried and cured to fresh and raw. That’s something everybody that comes to Norway needs to try. Norwegian cuisine is based around simplicity: meat, potatoes, and fish…and local variations on them. Being a vegetarian in Norway can be quite challenging (but vegetarians will be well looked after on our tour). We also have an impressive amount of local candy…I’ll make sure you get to sample all my favourites.
Will we get to try cloudberries, Norway’s amber-coloured cousins of North American raspberries?
Oh yes. It’ll be the season – let’s hope we have a good one. Cloudberry cream with berries straight from the mountains is a popular dessert.
What are your favourite stereotypes about Norwegians?
We’re…blunt. Norwegians can come off cool and direct. Some see that as standoffish or rude. Most Norwegians love to interact with foreigners and different cultures, but you need to grab us and shake us out of our shell. We’re very quiet in public. We try to disappear in masses and not stand out.
What’s the perfect souvenir to bring home from Norway?
An ostehøvel – a Norwegian cheese slicer. It efficiently cuts the perfect piece of Swiss. If you’re a fan of liquor there’s also akvavit, a spirit infused with herbs including dill or caraway.
What is your own dream destination?
British Columbia. I really enjoy big mountains and vast wilderness so I’m curious. And I’ve never been to Japan – I’d love to experience a culture that’s completely different from ours.
What’s a favourite holiday you’ve already taken?
I spent about five months driving a homemade camping car through east and south Africa. That was an amazing time. I got to see so many cultures and experience so many situations I can’t compare to anything else. So many beautiful, wild, natural landscapes that are intact…wild in the WILD sense. I visited about twelve countries and planned to drive all the way back to Europe, but it took so long I ended up selling the car in Kenya and flying home from there.
Twelve countries in one trip alone? How many continents have you seen seen?
I’ve not been on Antarctica and Australia, and I’ve only seen a bit of South America, but I’ve been to the rest.
Given that we’ll be in northern Scandinavia during summer, how many hours of daylight will we get on our journey?
At the end of August the sun sets between eight and nine but then you’ll have a long, long twilight period. Then the sun rises around six. And since it’s such a physically active trip you should easily fall asleep.
This interview was lightly edited for brevity and clarity.