Mariann Saether spent a lot of time tracing her finger back and forth over the topo map, following the route where the Utla River snakes through a tall, skinny gorge in Norway’s Jotunheimen National Park. Saether was a kayaker on the Norway national team, and she enlisted another woman, Nouria Newman, a kayaker on the French national team, to run it with her.
Saether had tried to run it before—it had been too dangerous, the water too high—and she had to hike out on the steep terrain. Saether and Newman left their kayaks there in the the spring when they got shut down, so that they could return in the fall and give it another shot. “I just had to try it,” says Saether. “The scenery is amazing, and the river is spectacular in every way. Pure beauty.”
On her third attempt, she was able to run the section with the towering walls, just a few meters wide, getting bumped and bruised back and forth between the sides of the gorge. She said it was like putting the last piece into a puzzle, a huge relief. But adventure is about more than that. Saether said it was about connecting with Newman, trusting themselves and their decisions on the river, and about connecting with nature. There is something that is “good for the soul” about boating and other outdoor adventures, says Saether. “Our society is more and more based on money, narcissism and shallowness. I am also guilty of playing part of it—most of us are. I think that when we get out and face challenges, when we immerse ourselves in the beauty of nature, it creates a happiness within that a groomed selfie never can. No matter how many ‘likes’ it gets. To be engulfed in whitewater, to try and use the water, but never force it, is difficult. Challenging, and sometimes scary. But the feeling of being one with the current, the times when everything feels right and you know you just touched perfectness, those moments I live for.”