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Learn the secrets of “friluftsliv”

Norwegian outdoor living

By the age of four, Mina has already slept 300 nights in a tent.

“What I like the most about our excursions is dancing, playing and telling stories. And spending time with daddy.”

Together with daddy, aka outdoor enthusiast Alexander Read, four-year-old Mina Floriana has slept a total of 300 nights in a tent. She has also climbed five peaks over 2 000 metres and covered hundreds of kilometres on foot.

“The magical moments are usually not the rare natural wonders, but the many small experiences. Things that are far from spectacular, but that become very special at an altitude of 1,400 metres”, Alexander says.

A life less ordinary

Norway is consistently ranked as one of the world's happiest countries, and some of the explanation might lie in the term "friluftsliv". It was initially invented in 1859 by the Norwegian playwright and poet, Henrik Ibsen, who used the word to describe the value of spending time in remote locations for spiritual and physical wellbeing.

A mix of the Norwegian words for free, air and life - its best translated as an outdoors lifestyle and today it can be everything from a short hike or picknick in the woods to a canoeing trip, or a night in a tent - as long as its outside. Because friluftsliv involves a connection with the healing powers of nature.

This power was also one of the reasons why Mina and Alexander started their long-lasting adventure, back in 2018 when Alexander found himself without a job following a reorganisation at work……

Having spent a lot of time in the mountains all his life, he decided to turn the situation into a positive experience. He wanted to do something with his regular hiking tours and decided to go on an expedition with Mina, then only 2 years old.

“Due to work commitments, Mina's mum is unable to drop off and pick up Mina at kindergarten. It was clear from the start that if I were to go, Mina would come with me. And this made it even more exciting,” says Alexander.

They started with no less than an impressive 57-day long winter trip from Vest-Agder to Jotunheimen.

“Suddenly I had a mountain guide who opened a gate to a magical kingdom I didn’t know existed”, Alexander says.

Two years later, they have dozens of expeditions behind them, several of which have raised money for charity. They have made documentaries and children's television programs and have been nominated for several awards.

In 2019, they were named “Årets Villmarkinger” (Wilderness people of the year).

You can follow the short and long expeditions of the father-daughter duo on their Instagram page Mina og meg, where you can get a glimpse of “everyday life” in the mountains as you follow the couple's search for magical hiking moments.

Someone else who always joins them …

… is Laura the doll.

“Laura is Mina's companion. She’s been on more hiking trips than many people do in a lifetime,” says Alexander.

Mina and Alexander believe in magic. They think nature is an excellent place for getting to know each other and, of course, they believe in trolls too.

“Trolls have big eyes, ears, feet and bums. They are smooth as stone and have a tail. They are kind, but they don’t always look kind,” Mina explains.

“We live in a society that has better means of communication than ever, yet at the same time we may be further away from each other than ever before. I think we all need to go troll hunting in 2020,” Alexander concludes.

Nature as a playground

Mina and Alexander swim in streams, jump from rocks, have lunch with grouse and watch Elsa and Anna from Frozen on TV. A TV that Mina creates in the snow.

They sing “Hakuna Matata” and “Let it go”, dance and come up with stories together.

Life in a tent

Sleeping in a three square-metre sized tent week after week can be trying at times, even for the most enthusiastic mountain fan. But for Mina and Alexander, camping has become the new normal.

“It's a simple and beautiful world. Being together in such a confined space means that we can’t avoid interacting and playing,” says Alexander.

They read books with Laura and often look at pictures of those at home: mum, little sister and the kids in kindergarten.

“We enjoy some sweets and play hide and seek in the tent,” says Mina.

Hiking together

“People often ask me how I motivate Mina to go hiking. My answer is that I don’t motivate her, because it is not possible to motivate a child to walk 160 kilometres in the mountains,” says Alexander.

The trick is to make the trip a joint project.

“The first step is to say, ‘we're going on an excursion together’, rather than ‘I'm taking the kids on a trip,’” Alexander explains.

Mina “studies” maps, says what she wants to do and decides which cartoons, princess dresses, and books to bring.

“At the same time, I tell her that she can’t bring ten books, but two.”

With clear rules, there are few fights.

“I set the framework needed to ensure security, flow and dynamics, but I am committed to giving Mina responsibility and a voice whenever possible. Mina doesn’t bother arguing about something she knows isn’t going anywhere.”

Mastering nature

Mina knows how to preheat a campfire stove. She can also roll up a tent and has a special relationship to snow pits, deep cracks in glaciers, and avalanches.

“But these trips are not primarily about practical skills. It’s more about getting to know yourself in nature,” says Alexander.

The main challenge

Mina and Alexander have fought their way through winds of 20 metres per second and temperatures of 25 degrees below zero.

But the biggest challenge when travelling with children, according to Alexander, is something completely different.

“The practical arrangements have to be in place. The main challenge is when I can’t let go of being an adult. If I get tired because I don’t look after myself, I’m not able to be a part of Mina’s world to the same extent – and this ruins something fundamental.”

Because that's the whole reason for the couple’s excursions: Being together.

“Both Mina and I change focus when we are out travelling. We have the time to concentrate on the things that get a star in the margin.”

Alexander refers to the philosopher Arne Næs and his notion of childish pleasures:

“When I sit down and start counting the ants’ legs or the number of pine needles in an anthill, and it feels like a sensible thing to do, then I know we’re on the right track.”

Spreading the magic

Mina and Alexander have cycled from Åndalsnes to Beitostølen and crossed the Nordry ridge on skis. 

Still, there is nothing the couple rates higher than being at home on a micro-adventure with mum Kristin and one-year-old Lijle Olava.

“To make a connection between nature and life, through short and long trips, is a choice Kristin and I have made together”, says Alexander.

“If Mina and I can get more adults and children to go outside and look for trolls, I’m thrilled.”

And you don't have to travel for two months in the mountains to do it.

“Our trips are not about big goals, but about what is happening right here and right now.”

And that is exactly what the healing power of “friluftsliv” is all about.

See Alexander's top 10 hiking tips for families

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