Sør Tverrfjord, Norway - Flying fish splash back in the glassy-still fjord. Sea eagles perch on jagged cliffs. From our fishing boat, we spray the water with pellets, feeding 80,000 waiting salmon.
Henning and Frank pour me cups of fishermen's muddy, black coffee. I can't stay awake, my eyelids heavy as bricks from too many seasickness pills. Another typical day salmon farming in Sør Tverrfjord, Troms, Norway.
I'm criss-crossing northern Norway collecting Midnight Sun stories. It's a wild trip - walking a mile in the shoes of Arctic people. We wind along fjords, passing ferry docks, grazing goats and stores that double as post offices. We visit elderly ladies and a British choirmaster.
Wild, beautiful, tragically romantic? Northern Norwegians are characters, every last one I meet, straight out of a Knut Hamsun novel or a Monty Python movie. I've met fishermen, farmers, adventurers, artists, entrepreneurs, even a German chef named Ringo.
In the lush, mountainous Vesterålen Islands north of the Lofoten Islands, I meet Ole Petter Bergland. Resembling a skinny Ernest Hemingway, he's a man of eccentric charm and quirky humour. He's the Safari Man of Vesterålen.
Starting in the valley of Forfjord, Bergland, his sheep farmer cousin Kristin and I hike through swampy marshes and begin our ascent. Eventually, we come to the mountain ridge. Kristin and I lie across it on our stomachs, exchanging looks of sheer panic.
"Ole Petter, I thought you said the ridge was 10 metres wide!"
"Yes, 10 metres wide on average," he smiles. But it's only a false top. The real ridge lies much higher up.
I lose it on a narrow ledge. Frozen against the mountain, I'm too terrified to move or look down. Stones loosen under my boots and skip down the mountainside. The falling scenes in Cliffhanger and Vertical Limit flash through my mind.
I feel dizzy. I begin whimpering, begging Bergland not to leave me stranded there. Slowly, I break through my wall of fear.
Bergland chews dried cod on our mountaintop lunch break, contemplating our options. The valley lake is a turquoise smudge below. Sheep bells tinker on the other side of the mountain. Kristin and I can't go any higher.
There's no other way: we have to slide down the entire mountain, zigzagging on our asses. The !#€ rocks bang my tailbone. The !@#&€& shrubs rip open my pants. The !#€%@ boulders scrape my hands.
"Sooooonya, I'vvvvve nevvvver heaaard anyoooone sweeeear as muuuuch aaaassss yooooou dooooo," Bergland yells.
Finally, we reach the valley floor. I hug Kristin, I hug Bergland, I hug myself. I can barely stand up, but I'm so, so happy to be alive.
Bleik Beach, 3 kilometres of white sandy beach on Vesterålen's northern island, soothes me. I collapse in the sand dunes, and the crashing waves lull me to sleep. Grassy reeds brush against my tent and wake me occasionally.
Far off on the horizon in the direction of Iceland, flocks of puffins and kittiwakes congregate on Bleik Island. "Bleik" comes from the Old Norse "bleikr," meaning light or white.
Villagers still carry on the tradition of gathering down and eggs from the island's birds' nests. Every May, egg-hunting expeditions are arranged, and those with the most land get the most eggs.
Sortland, the capital of Vesterålen Islands, is my final island stop before Tromsø. The Blue City By The Sea, an art and environmental project conceived by artist Bjørn Elvenes, is designed to unify the downtown in shades of blue. Cobalt blue, sky blue, cornflower blue, baby blue.
I wander the eye-candy streets searching for the artist who paints only blue mountains. Ingunn Judith Moen Reinsnes is easy to find in her little white villa with its outdoor gallery.
"Mountains are fascinating forms to paint. Mine are becoming more and more abstract. I see mountains in everything, like skyscrapers in New York. What's special in Vesterålen is the short distance to the mountains and sea," she says. We spend the morning chatting over coffee in her garden.