Ellen von Koczian – Norway

In June 2019 Ellen received a call by Eelco, a close acquaintance of hers and facilitator of the FNL. “Don’t you want to go on a trail?” He asked me as if he sensed this was something for me. He send me the link to the Foundation for Natural Leadership website and something in my head immediately shouted “Yes, cool, let’s do it!”

And before she knew it, Ellen had committed. ‘I’ve never done it, so I’ll be able to’ thought the Pipi in me,’ she laughs.

That decision was not so obvious, because in 2018 Ellen was told that she had an aggressive form of cancer, while her husband Ernst was previously diagnosed with cancer. Many heavy treatments followed.

In August 2019, a few months after the last treatments, she left on a trail to Norway.

“In preparation for the trail I read the book ‘Synchronicity’by Joseph Jaworski’. This book impressed Ellen. For the physical part, from now on she also took her backpack with contents to the physio sports that she still did twice a week as part of her recovery. “The physiotherapist added a few kilos of weights every time,” says Ellen.

The trail itself ended up having a major impact on her. “It was challenging for me, physically but mentally as well.” That stretch ultimately contained the value for her. “I was quite daunted about being on my own for 36 hours beforehand, the solo.” This is a regular part of the Norwegian trail, but it is precisely this experience that she now thinks back on with gratitude.

The solo was preceded by a hike with a heavy backpack, which was hard for Ellen. “The group carried some of my luggage on the second day because it became too heavy for me.”

“At first I found it difficult to accept that help. But I will never forget the moment we reached the top of the mountain together. Someone from the group gave me a high five and I was overwhelmed with a sense of pride, so much came together then. I had made it, with the help of the group.” 36 hours of the solo flew by for Ellen. ‘I could just be here, sit in the sun, and enjoy. The insight came that, even after chemo, surgery and radiation, I had just gotten where I wanted to go at my own pace and with a little help. After the solo I just carried my luggage again.”

Before Ellen went on the trail, she expected that it would mainly be about her disease process. But more than that,  important insights emerged. “Looking back now, my theme of the trail was actually asking for help and daring to accept help. I had never experienced and learned that. Now I had no choice.”

“Both literally and figuratively, the group carried part of my ‘baggage’. After the trail it turned out that offering me help had been very valuable to others. I hadn’t thought of that beforehand.”

“The trail in Norway was quite tough, especially given her situation. ‘I was very reluctant to sleep in the open air beforehand, but it turned out to be very nice and I slept really well. It gave me rock-solid confidence in how little I need. And how rest does me good.”

Another impressive moment during the solo was when Ellen found two heart-shaped stones right next to her tarp. “When I laid them together, I was positively moved by this beautiful symbolism. I realised that this trail was not at all about my career, my illness or any other preconceived plans, but about me, and the love that is around me that I only had to see or feel.”

“After the trail I started looking at nature differently. I realized how overwhelmingly beautiful nature is. We passed a beaver dam, unbelievable, as if it had been made by human hands.”

“I also became much more aware of what food does to me. I experienced the simple but delicious food much more intensely. Cooking over the campfire where we added mushrooms picked by the guide and for breakfast there were blueberries in abundance. And, in Norway, the confidence arose for me that being alone can be wonderful.”

Ellen and Ernst are now doing well, the disease is under control. “Together we enjoy life. And sometimes it’s just hard. At such times I look at the flag of Norway that is on my desk, and then I feel the peace again and strength that I have gained.”:

“Beforehand, I was quite reluctant to spend 36 hours on myself, the solo. But it is precisely this experience that I think back on now with a great deal of gratitude.”

Ellen about the Wilderness Quest in Norway