I wake up at 11am. I’d run out of Eimo’s house at nearly 1am, and had only gotten to sleep at 2am, so I guess this could’ve been expected. It was cold in the Finnish woods. So cold, I wore not just one, not two, but three jackets while I was having breakfast. My feet were freezing by the time I hopped on my bike. The wind blew in my face. I was tired, and I couldn’t help myself: I kept looking over my shoulder to see if Eimo was driving down the road to chase after me. I stuck out my thumb at the next Campervan barreling down the road, not expecting it to stop.
It did. Kari didn’t really speak much English, but he could understand that for some reason, this woman and her bike really wanted to get away from the woods. “Get in, I take you north!” His English was good enough to tell me about himself, but not good enough to understand me. So I listened to him talk about his sabbatical. “I am mapmaker!” He tells me, handing me a map. “I put little red sticks in ground to measure land!” He points excitedly at every red stick in the ground we pass. They seem to be marking properties. He talks about how happy he is to go on this sabbatical after working for his company for 40 years. “When I was young, I do so much, I went to Germany many times! With my motorbike!” He laughs heartily. “I like Germans. Germans like Finnish. Very logical, and like cheap things. And Germans help me very, very often on my motorbike.” I think taking me along is his way of thanking the Germans who once helped him. It makes me feel safer with him. I understand why he’s helping me.
And it’s not just that I understand the underlying motivation. Kari also asks me every few minutes or so what I need or want from him. “Should we go further? Would you like to take picture? Would you like to have lunch?” It’s incredibly reassuring to be asked so many times after the incident of last night. We stop at a gas station and grab a bite to eat. Kari gets even more talkative, asking about the Germans and how we think of the EU, and the Finnish army. “I didn’t know Finland has an army…” I say. Kari really does looks a little sad, almost heartbroken.
He knows everything about the German army. (Mind you, Germans don’t have an army, we have armed forces, only to be employed for defense – at least, in theory.) “Finnish army is strong! We will keep away the Russians from the EU!” I’m surprised at how unaware I was of how important the military is to countries more eastern than Germany.
We head on north. We’re not going up the route I had been planning to take. But that’s alright with me: I just want to get into Norway, back to more populated places. We head into the mountain range separating Norway from Finland. It’s breathtakingly beautiful. The tundra starts to disappear. Evergreens and green trees make a return to the scenery: the warm waters of the Gulfstream heat up the area around Norway. It truly is much warmer here. We grab a coffee before crossing the border, and I buy a single tomato from the local grocery store. It costs me 40cts, and I’m appalled. “It comes from south Finland, that makes it much more expensive!” Kari explains to me. He loves taking pictures of me in front of the scenery.
He asks if the picture quality is good every single time he takes one.
We arrive in Skibotn. “Do you want to camp?” – “Yes,” I reply. As happy as I am to have had him as a travel companion, the Eimo incident had truly drained my social skill resources. I was looking forward to not speaking to anyone, and just crawling into my tent. The campground is open, but no one is at the reception. “Do you still want to stay?” Kari asks. “Yes,” I reply. He’s obviously unnerved by the idea of leaving me, but eventually gives me a hug and wishes me safe travels. Once more he reels down the car window. “But how will you live, little girl?” he cries. I laugh. “I just do!” He nods, and drives off.
The reception never opens, even as I wait for 2 hours in the kitchen next to it. I have dinner and decide to sleep in the shower. The showers are two separate rooms inside the women’s restroom. They each have locks on the inside. And as far as I could judge, no one is on this campground tonight.
So I put my mat down on the cold tiles, and drift off to the steady drip, drip, drip of the shower. The door is locked. I feel safe.
I wake up in the shower. I had trouble falling asleep. I miss the sound of the trees, and the smell of fresh air. I decide I’m going to sleep on the balcony once I get back to Berlin – just to help myself ease back into city life. I make myself some coffee and porridge in the kitchen – still no one in the camp reception. I’m starting to think this is a trust-jar based company, but there is no trust-jar to fill with money, so I remain rich(ish). Mom calls as I have breakfast. She’s understandably upset over my encounter with Eimo, and tells me quit the trip. “Even if I chose to, I can’t. I’m in the middle of nowhere. I need to keep going,” I try to explain to her. I think she understands.
Eventually, I get going. I’m tired. I’m drained. I don’t think I can go on – till I see the mountains. Oh, those mountains. I understand why the old man in Hässleholm cried. They are magnificent. The snowcapped peaks twinkle in the sunshine, pearly white against a the crisp blue of the sky. Red fishing boats bob up and down in the harbor of Skitborn. The sun tickles my nose.
In that moment, it feels like I can forgive life for everything that’s happened, because it’s brought me here.
I jump back on my saddle, ignoring the pain in my behind, and pedal on.
I don’t get very far. “Sorry, there is some tunnel construction here. You can’t go through on a bike.” His name is Trygwa, he’s a construction worker repairing the tunnel, and he’s in my way. “Well, if someone lets me hitchhike in their car through the tunnel, can I go through then?” His face lights up. “Yes, that’ll work!” A fellow construction worker, Matthias, takes me on board his truck. I ask him if he likes being a construction worker. “Oh no!” He replies, chuckling. “I’m just making money, so I can go back to school! I really want to become an ecologist, and study salmons in Trøndheim.” I think of Shona.
I move down along the Fjords, fighting the wind the entire way. I can see the path I’m going to take just a few hundred meters across on the other side. Fjords are great for improving your mental strength.
I’m listening to a podcast on snail mating behavior. I feel very much like a snail as I push against the wind. Thankfully, it’s the same wind that will help me fly along the other side of the Fjord in a few hours.
The sun is bright, warm and the view absolutely breathtaking. I turn off my podcasts, and just stand by the side of the road for a few moments. It’s been quite an adventure so far. It takes so much out of me, that I rarely have time to appreciate the lack of sound and splendor of nature. I want to appreciate the moment.
I close my eyes, breathe in and ….. Hear a voice. I turn around. It’s a man on a bike, with gear packs just like me. He’s going my way. And he’s Italian.
“Yes, yes, your saddle is set too high. And the shoes! The shoes are not good, no, you must get hiking boots! And you are so thin! You are a good endurance athlete, you should train more cycling! But do not cycle in Morocco, they cut little white girls’ throats there. Or could can climb the Himalayas! Yes, that is good for an endurance athlete like you.” His name is Ivano, and he won’t stop talking. “I eat bread, then I don’t have to carry gas, yes, and cheese, it’s very economic, but I don’t drink coffee, it’s too expensive. Do you like chocolate? I like chocolate spread.” I feel like I’m back teaching in elementary school, and my kids are telling me about how THEY REALLY LIKE PEANUT BUTTER all over again. I hide in his wind and chatter shadow as often as I can. “You must really move to Arco, Italy, if you like climbing, but Italy is no good for a job, so maybe not move there, but it has the best climbing in all of Europe, but you cannot do brain science there…” He tells me of the places he’s been, the races he’s won, and how strong he is. I keep pedaling and nodding. Peace and quiet, really, I wasn’t asking for much. And life sends me an Italian.
Suddenly, we hit a tunnel, with a big red BIKES KEEP OUT sign in front.
We try to go around the tunnel. The road is blocked by snow. “We have to go through the tunnel!” we both agree. The air in the tunnel is smoggy. The light, dim. The cars make huge roaring sounds as they pass us by. For the first time since he yelled “hello!” my way, I’m genuinely happy Ivano is there. He keeps stopping to ask if I’m okay. “Are you scared?” He laughs. I just want to get out of the tunnel. We finally make it out. From there on, we ride another 30km.
I can see he’s getting tired, but he’s not stopping as long as I won’t stop. I still feel strong (ish) and keep pedaling. He first stays ahead of me, offering me to ride in his wind shadow. I wonder how long we’re going to play this game, as he falls behind me. I think he’s strong, he’ll keep up easily with my pace. It’s nice and quiet. “Wait. Why’s it quiet…” I think to myself, and turn around. He’s gone. I slower my pace, but Ivano never catches up with me again.
I set my tent on a lone mountain top. I can see the sun setting from here. I’m happy to be alone in nature. Finally, some peace and quiet.