If you enjoy hiking up and down remote mountains while laden with excessive outdoor gear, then The Hiking Book From Hell is probably not the travelogue you’re looking for. On the other hand, if you enjoy strolling through your city, hanging out in pubs or chatting with strangers, then author Are Kalvø is your man. Kalvø, one of Norway’s most popular satirists, is a cheerful urbanite with little to no interest in nature. In his mid-40s, however, he realized that many of his friends were joining the swelling ranks of people who subject themselves to deprivation and possibly even death in pursuit of an “authentic” experience with nature. This insight brought Kalvø face to face with life’s most profound question: Is it them, or is it me?
Kalvø also had serious questions about Norwegians’ mania for nature. As a committed extrovert, he found their quest for isolation and silence disturbing. Also, nature worship can be exclusionary; the high cost of equipment and clothing ensures that nature is reserved for the well-off, while proposals to make the outdoors more accessible to disabled people are vigorously opposed. And if people went into nature to lose themselves in a transcendent experience, then why were there so many nature selfies on Instagram?
Accompanied by his wife, the “Head of Documentation,” Kalvø went on two nature treks to see what all the fuss was about—but he never really found out. Climbing steep, fog-bound mountains in the rain is as much fun as you would expect. Skiing for miles can be pretty boring. And, as he discovered, there’s something about being one with nature that changes ordinary people into boastful, unbearably smug liars who tell you with a straight face that a hike is “lovely” when they really mean “likely to kill you.”
But Kalvø tells his story with such deft humor and affectionate irony, wonderfully conveyed by Lucy Moffatt’s translation, that all you can do is laugh at his misadventures—and be grateful that you’re reading The Hiking Book From Hell in the comfort of your home.