On a typical summer day on the island of Magerøya, it’s a safe bet you’ll find tourists making their pilgrimage to the northernmost point of Europe: Nordkapp (North Cape), Norway. Massive cruise ships tower above Honningsåg’s docks and a train of busses waits to take passengers up to the Nordkapp plateau. RV’s, cars and motorcycles wind up the steep road, passing determined cyclists and hikers, all on their way to the “edge of the world”. In the course of a year, between 250,000 and 300,000 people will make this journey.
Since living in Honningsvåg, I’ve been inspired and intrigued by the methods people have chosen to get here, as well as their motivations. This past Sunday I had the privilege of meeting two individuals as they were about to approach their final destination: 71° north of the Equator. On August 7, 2011, our paths crossed, and along with twenty others, we walked the last steps together.
In the small fishing village of Skarsvåg, the church was celebrating its 50th anniversary. The pews were full, and right before the service started, I heard a tall, young man ask in English if he could sit down. After the service I approached him and was delighted by the story this beaming German had to tell.
His name was Heiko Koristka, from Leipzig, Germany. A little over a week earlier, he’d been chatting with his friend about how they should celebrate their birthdays, which happened to fall on the same day in October. The conversation led to a bet: If Heiko could hitchhike from Leipzig to Nordkapp in seven days, then his friend would pay for the entire birthday party. (It better be one heck of a celebration!)
So, Heiko filled up a backpack and put his thumb to good use, traveling from Germany to Sweden to the top of Norway in six and a half days. While hitchhiking from Honningsvåg to Nordkapp, he was picked up by several local ladies who invited him to come to the Skarsvåg Church’s 50th anniversary before heading up to the plateau. Not only did he stay for church, but he also attended the 2 ½ hour-long party following the service, enjoying an assortment of great cakes, coffee and live entertainment.
On the same day, there was also another guest at the church and the party. He’d shared during the service why he’d come so far north…
Gunnstein Fretheim pilgrimage was rooted in a deep love for his 34-year old nephew, Tom Frode Wallins, who was diagnosed with cancer on August 21, 2010. Tom Frode decided ”instead of lying in his hospital bed feeling sick and sorry for himself, he’d do something positive.” He started a campaign called, ”611 – Swing a Shot Against Cancer”. His concept was to hit a golf ball all the way up to Nordkapp, and in the process, raise money for cancer patients and research.
On April 30, 2011, Tom Frode swung the first shot, sending the golf ball out of his room, number 611, at the Norwegian Radium Hospital in Oslo. Among those who have taken a swing, are politicians, theologians, athletes, and people who have been touched by the devastating effects of cancer. Gunnstein has been the keeper of the ball as it has travelled northbound, lovingly carrying out the vision of his ailing nephew. He’s been a spokesperson for cancer patients and for those who have lost love ones to the terrible disease.
Last Sunday, after the celebration at the church, a group of us, including Heiko, followed Gunnstein up to Nordkapp and had the privilege of hitting the golf ball towards it’s final destination. In the original plan, Tom Frode would have been there to make the final shot, but unfortunately, his health had declined and he was in Denmark receiving alternative cancer treatment.
I think that all of us who had the honor of joining Gunnstein as he headed towards his goal, were deeply moved. He bore the sorrow from watching a loved-one suffer and the hope that someday the fight against cancer will be won. Gunnstein set the final golf ball below the Nordkapp Globe, looked out towards the horizon where the Norwegian Sea meets the Barents Sea, and swung his final shot, sending the ball soaring over the steep, 1,007 foot cliff. A shot dedicated to all those who have lost the fight against cancer.
In the past week I’ve thought many times about Heiko and Gunnstein. Two men that reached their goal last Sunday: Heiko, with his adventurous spirit and joyful smile, headed back to Germany to have one amazing party. And Gunnstein, with a heart full of sorrow and hope, heading back home where the future is uncertain. I’m grateful our paths crossed on the way to the “edge of the world”.