I tumble onto the porch.
The white color paint is peeling off off the wooden slats. Gray running shoes, two identical pairs, are lying in front of the door. I make a quick guess that a single male lives here. I ask myself whether I want to keep going, thinking perhaps a family might be more likely to take me in, but am too tired to go on. I’ve made it from Umeå to Töre, and I’m not willing to pedal a single step further.
I’m right. He opens the door, says yes, he speaks English, and yes, I can camp here. “There are lots of ants in the backyard though.”
I ask if I can set my tent on the porch.
He never looks at me directly during the entire interaction, instead staring off into the distance at the setting sun. “Yes. You’re welcome.” He slams the door in my face. He doesn’t come out anymore. I eat a few sour gummies as I set my tent, and set an alarm so I can get out of here quickly. I’m hoping to make it past the Arctic circle tomorrow. The closest town from there is Korpilombolo. “Hehe. Great name,” I mumble sleepily. The birds are still singing all around me as I settle in for the night.
Much to my surprise, Jan had walked up onto the porch this morning, swinging a cup of coffee in one hand, and a batch of boiled eggs on the other. “You deserve to eat before your bike trip!” He welcomed me inside, and asked how the night had been. “Good,” I answer between bites off my egg sandwich. “The ants really are super big here.” He laughs. “Yes! They come when I don’t mow my lawn, so I’m doing that today!” He’s very cheerful, and I barely recognize the man who’d slammed the door shut on me the night before. He tells me of his daughter, and her two kids – also daughters. He shows me places I should check out further north, and tells me that there’s a river here (“A tree river!”), of which only one other exists in the entire world – in Venezuela. (What Jan meant to say was “bifurcation river” and the river in question is the Tärendö.) His iPad has an adorable kitten as its background image. He used to work as a trucker, and now sells ice cream in Luleå. He tells me exactly why his neighbor is digging a hole with a huge construction vehicle at 9am in the morning. “He has a leak in his heater. He gets the heat from the earth, so now he has to close the leak.” He laughs. “Everyone knows everyone and everything about everything here in Töre.”
He leaves the house with me to buy gas for his lawnmower. “All the best for your trip!” He yells after me.
His well-wishes don’t work so well, because not even 5 km down the road, my tire suddenly goes flat. The Schwalbe-tire logo has torn along the lines of the logo itself. I grumble extensively about this obvious design flaw as I fix the tire. Then I head on. It’s hot. Summer hot. I’m wearing a woolen sweater, because I’m a determined idiot, and I’m determined not to stop for the next 40km. I do eventually stop by a river. For lunch, I dump the old bread is carried with me all the way from Berlin in a cup of milk. I add honey, but nothing can hide the fact that what I’m doing is weird, though oddly tasty. Or maybe I’m just super hungry.
I pedal on. I cross gushing rivers. I see what I first believe to be statues of moose in a field. “Weird place to put such realistic looking moose statues,” I think, and then discard as the moose begin to move towards me. Two of them have antlers. The third doesn’t, but its clumsy gait leads me to guess it’s a baby. On the other hand, I judged those animals to be statues, so I wouldn’t give my biological classifications too much credit.
I reach the funny name village Kolimprobololololo (or something along those lines) completely and utterly spent. The first house won’t answer my knock. I can hear the mom inside, chasing what seems to be an, even at this hour, still wildly active child. I move on, knowing better than to get between a kid and a parent desperate for some peace and quiet.
A woman opens the door at the next house. She doesn’t really understand me at first, but a few minutes later, I’m pitching my tent on her porch. A man comes outside. I guess it’s the husband, and we chat. He’s the first one to correctly guess that I’m going to the Nordkapp. Then he leaves. Another man walks out. And another. And another. They’re all wearing towels around the shoulders. I’m mildly confused. The answer to this riddle is revealed when I ask if I could take a shower, and am shown the way to the sauna. It’s warm, and I can see the beer opener still hanging from one of the towel hooks.
This particular Swedish sauna smells faintly of beer. I immediately begin to sweat in my triple layers of clothing. I quickly get out of them and enjoy the fading heat of the sauna, before I jump under the shower. The day was good, but tough. I made it past the Arctic Circle. I’m definitely in the North now, though the temperatures of today made me feel more like I was back in the blazing heat of Colorado on a summer day. I drank all 4 liters of water I’d filled up at Jan’s place. The sweat stung my eyes as I kept pedaling, pedaling, pedaling through the slowly shrinking woods of Sweden. When I say shrinking, I’m referring to tree size – the woods themselves are endless, and I come by ever dwindling numbers if houses. Whereas before, in the South, I’d passed a house ever couple of hundred meters, even between villages, here, I now have to make it past 10 kilometers of nature and solitude.
From what I understand, they have a sauna party here every Sunday.
I’m delightfully warm and comfy as I slip into my sleeping bag. I’m ready for more than just a few zzzzzssss….. So with that, I doze off.