Does this ever happen to you? You are reading something and you see a word you don’t know so you look around for what my 3rd grade teacher Mrs. Caronis called “context clues”? And there aren’t any? So you do what she didn’t advise, which is you keep reading. You think you’ll go back to it later, but you really don’t.
This happened to me recently when reading the house sitting guide for our sit in Norway. The guide is robust (and spurred me to write a blog post on tips about how to write a great house sitting guide) and every time I read it I find something new in there. The word in question is “gapahuk”.
What the Hell is a Gapahuk?
I was wondering this very same thing, and so I googled it. The results weren’t that satisfying, so I thought I would explain things in a little more detail. Hopefully you’ll find this more helpful than the time I tried to define “full time travel” by telling you what it isn’t. So here it is. The real definition of what a gapahuk is.
According to Wikipedia and Google, it’s as simple as a “lean-to”, but in reality a gapahuk is so much more than that.
At base a gapahuk is any small structure that has three walls and a slanted roof. They are all over Norway and are used for a variety of purposes, but mainly they are used for emergency shelters when hiking.
They range in size and amenities and comfort. Quite often they have an amazing view. Sometimes they are filled with sheep. Sometimes the roof is falling in.
You never really know when you are going to encounter a gapahuk, as it doesn’t seem that there is a universal map of them, which is one of my life goals – to create a map of all the gapahuks in Norway.
There is a trail across the street from our house sit and late one evening I packed a sleeping bag and some overnight essentials and headed out. After about an hour of hiking, I encountered a fenced in gapahuk and decided to spend the night inside.
There was a nice pile of dry wood to create a fire, some fuel and newspaper for kindling. Somebody had devised a pole and chain combo that could suspend a pot above the fire pit. The pot was inside the gapahuk. There was a sleeping pad rolled up and waiting for my use. The entire hillside was filled with wild raspberries and blueberries. There was a picnic bench and a tremendous view. I boiled some water and had a coffee and read a book until the sun went down, and then proceeded to freeze my butt off because my sleeping bag wasn’t the proper grade for the 12 degree Celsius night air. I woke with the sun and hiked back to the house for breakfast. It was beautiful.
A gapahuk is a uniquely Scandinavian concept: providing free shelter for those who need it.
That nature is for everybody to enjoy but needs to be treated with caution and respect. And when enjoyed properly and with care, it can be enjoyed by everybody for generations to come.
There is no national system to keep and replenish these gapahuks. They are tended by locals who seem to adopt them. Or people just passing through who are kind enough to leave a little extra fuel or matches or a beer for the next person. Some are falling apart. Others, like the one I slept in, are filled with enough supplies to keep you alive and out of harm's way for a few days.
Before I settled into my local gapahuk, I mended the fence that was falling down in one section (to prevent any sheep from tucking in), pulled out any errant raspberry threads poking through the planks, and restacked the wood to allow more space for sleeping.
So while it may seem that a gapahuk is just a three sided lean-to, it’s much much more. It’s a symbol for the Norwegian concept of “leave no trace” that goes beyond that to state that you should leave a place better than when you found it.
And I like to think that I did just that.