Northern Lights viewing trip displays the grandeur of nature

ADVENTURE TIME: Dave and Laurel “Lolly” Nicols spent five days in northern Norway on a quest to see the Northern Lights from inside the ring which forms around the magnetic North Pole. The couple was able to see the lights four of the five nights, resulting in some spectacular experiences and photos. (Courtesy photos)

ADVENTURE TIME: Dave and Laurel “Lolly” Nicols spent five days in northern Norway on a quest to see the Northern Lights from inside the ring which forms around the magnetic North Pole. The couple was able to see the lights four of the five nights, resulting in some spectacular experiences and photos. (Courtesy photos)

BIG RAPIDS — Most people have something they’d like to experience “someday.” But when, exactly, is “someday?”

“You hear people talk about bucket lists and they throw the term around rather loosely,” said Laurel “Lolly” Nicol. “Last summer, when I had surgery and the chemotherapy treatments, that term took on a little more concreteness. You can’t say ‘I’m going to do that 10 years from now,’ because you suddenly realize you don’t know if you have 10 years.

“I’m blessed that I’m going to be just fine, but I thought maybe I’d better do what I want to do.”

While Lolly’s battle with cancer was still ongoing, her husband Dave was planning a trip to Norway to see the Northern Lights.

“The Northern Lights arise in relation to the magnetic North Pole, forming a doughnut on the Earth,” Dave explained. “In the donut area, you see the light right above and all around you – it’s a different phenomenon than when we see the lights here.”

DAY TRIP: During the day when the lights would be too hard to see, the Nicols planned day excursions to take in the sights. On Feb. 19, they had a chance to see how Norwegian fishermen catch king crab.

DAY TRIP: During the day when the lights would be too hard to see, the Nicols planned day excursions to take in the sights. On Feb. 19, they had a chance to see how Norwegian fishermen catch king crab.

Lolly had wanted to see the Northern Lights from the “doughnut area” for a long time.

“It just sounded like something totally different than anything I had ever seen or experienced before,” she said. “I wanted to try something like that.”

Several places on Earth are inside the ring formed by the Northern Lights, including Anchorage, Alaska; Churchill, Manitoba, Canada; Iceland and Norway.

Dave chose Norway for their trip because it was cheaper than northern Manitoba and there was more to do in case the lights weren’t visible. The Northern Lights actually occur 60 miles up in the air and there are no guarantees weather conditions on the surface will be clear enough to see the lights.

The Nicols planned several viewing trips including a ferry cruise along the Norwegian coast, dogsledding and reindeer sledging, which is riding in a sleigh pulled by reindeer.

“I scheduled different things at different places to maximize the potential we’d see the lights,” Dave said. “We were in five different locations on five consecutive nights.”

While Dave was planning, Lolly was nervous about scheduling dates for a trip she didn’t know if she’d be up to taking.

“I kept saying, ‘Don’t you think we should wait?’ and he kept saying, ‘It’s February. Surely you’ll be fine by February,’” she recalled. “I am thankful I was able to do it.”

“Lolly was a real soldier because of the walking involved,” Dave added. “It takes six months for the chemo to fully flush out of your system and it seems to affect the feet the most. Walking was not always comfortable for her, but she did it.”

And it was worth it.

“It was more than I ever hoped,” Lolly said. “I’ve never seen anything that majestic – it was utterly other-worldly. It’s just incredibly magisterial. It’s more than beautiful.”

Pictures can’t capture what the experience is like, Dave said. The colors are constantly moving and changing all around, and the camera lens picks up more red light than the eye sees.

“It’s like a living thing, that breathes very slowly,” Lolly added.

Twice during their trip they ventured into the countryside via dogsled with Lolly riding and Dave mushing.

Twice during their trip they ventured into the countryside via dogsled with Lolly riding and Dave mushing.

Four of the five nights they spent in Norway they could see the Northern Lights. The only night they couldn’t see them was a dogsled trip out into the countryside when a snowstorm blew in and obscured the sky.

“It was possible we could do all this and would not see the Northern Lights at all,” Dave said. “We were very lucky.”

Viewing expeditions took place at night so the lights would be most visible against the dark sky. Each venture was a different experience, with some featuring overnight accommodations in a traditional Laplander tent or in a snow hotel, though the Nicols opted for more traditional lodgings than a bed of ice.

They also planned activities during the day, including a trip in a cable car in the mountains, a king crab fishing excursion, visiting the northernmost point of continental Europe and a day of sight-seeing in Stockholm, Sweden, on the way back home.

“Above our heads every day, every night, there’s this incredible beauty that we don’t notice or pay attention to,” Lolly said. “We forget – we just don’t realize it’s there. It’s all the time, whether the clouds hide it from us or not.”

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Posted by Candy Allan

Candy is the Pioneer's associate editor. She also coordinates the Family & Friends, Religion and Parenting pages. She can be reached by phone at (231) 592-8386 or by e-mail at callan@pioneergroup.com.

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