“… GO TO THE MOUNTAINS, THEY SAID. IT’LL BE FUN, THEY SAID! THIS IS NOT …. FUN!” I yell at no one in particular. In hindsight, I’m glad this cursing and yelling and screaming didn’t cause an avalanche. A bird chirps right next to me. “STOP LAUGHING YOU… STUPID EVOLVED FEATHERY LIZARD!” The bird stops for a moment, seems to consider my admittedly weak insult, and then continues to chirp happily, as I make my way up the mountain to get to Alta. There’s a sign on top of the mountain: 440 m.o.h. I’m guessing that’s how high I am. A German couple actually has the nerve to giggle while I sweat and curse my way past them. They’re in a car. I hope it breaks down in a valley far from civilization.
“IT HAS TO END!” I yell at the snow. “IT ALWAYS DOES!”
It ends. Not only that, but I get rewarded with a speed of 50km/h – my record on this trip (so far). I’m spent by the time I reach the bottom of the valley. All I want is a cup of nice, warm coffee. The tiny villages I pass by barely even have a human population, much less a café. And then I see it. Another mountain pass. Uphill. Again. I rage. I curse. I plead, I push and walk, I pedal and sweat. It goes downhill, and uphill, and I’m certain that this is how I will end – a puddle of sweat and tears by the roadside in Norway. And the morning started off so nicely.
I woke up in my tent. The sun had heated the entire thing up to a degree that made it humanly possible to jump straight into the stream of ice melt, running down the slope. I’m okay with cold water. This stream made me squeak in pain. I had breakfast and looked forward to checking off the next 140km to Alta. I hopped on my bike, made it 10km up the mountain (back then I thought that I had almost made it to the top at that point – silly me) aaaaand…. The tire went flat. Again. Same design flaw. The logo tore again. @Schwalbetires can really look forward to an extensive email. I’ll make sure to include insults as weak as their tires.
I’ve crossed two mountain passes by now. It’s cold. My fingers are freezing.
A few hours before I would’ve described it as “the cold nips at my fingertips”. By now, the cold is gnawing at my entire hand. I hit a tunnel. I check my map. It’s multiple tunnels in a row. There’s a huge sign “NO BIKES ALLOWED” and no Italian Ivano to guide me through. I stick out my thumb, and a truck stops. I get on, asking him to get me through the tunnels. His name is Björn. He asks if I like to party. I say no. He asks if I like to drink. I say no. He asks if I’m single. I say no, I’m married. He asks if I’m going to go to a hotel in Alta. I say maybe. He asks if I’m going to take a shower there. I tell him to stop the car, and quickly get out.
I drag myself into Alta. The weather is still beautiful. I should be happy. But the mountains have stripped even my soul bare. It feels like there’s nothing left of me. I tumble into a restaurant. I reward myself with a burger, a Café Latte with cream and syrup and cake. The waitress comes with the food. I want to enjoy this food. I’ve been looking forward to it all day. I want to be happy I’ve made it to Alta. Instead, I burst into tears. I call my brother. He books a room in a little cottage for me. “Get some rest,” he says. “I love you,” I reply. “Love you, too, sweetcheeks.” I sniffle and wipe away the tears.
The cabin is white, stylish and warm. The shower is wonderfully soothing (and doesn’t make me squeak in pain). I make myself some tea, and slowly calm down. It’s been a tough day. Another 140km down – and 240km left to go. If anyone of you knows how to get me and my bike back home to Berlin from Alta, I’m almost ready for suggestions.
I don’t know how to feel. I’m going to reach the Nordkapp tomorrow. I could’ve even made it there today, but I don’t feel ready for it. I never thought I’d make it, not even past Stockholm, and yet: here I am. My camp is set in the Norwegian tundra. A few birds are chirping in the distance. Other than that, a silence hangs over this place unlike any I’ve ever experienced before. There’s no wind, no trees to rustle their leaves. Just a calm, deep silence, a kind of silence that makes you want to hold you breath to not disturb the peace.
Oh, and the occasional motorcyclist. I hope their tires burst.
I felt much better this morning. I made breakfast in the kitchen (The decadence! Oh, the incredibly unappreciated luxuries of civilized life!) and got myself ready for the 150km ahead of me. For the first time, I put on my Fjällräven expedition jacket, expecting it to be freezing cold. It wasn’t. It felt like I had decided to wear my down sleeping bag into a sauna, while running on a treadmill. I took the jacket off after only 3km. Of course I had to pass another mountain range, of course temperatures dropped down to sub-zero (Celsius. Don’t worry, my dear American friends, I am still alive), and of course it started to snow/rain. So, in the end, the gear test did prove that my investment had paid off: would recommend this wonderfully warm jacket, even for a crazy bike ride through a snow storm.
Much like the man who gave them to me, my headphones are failing me. They will only transfer sound if the cable is held at a very specific angle. I have proceeded to blast the music directly from the speakers, a trick I picked up from basically every annoying teenage gang trying to draw attention to themselves. I love listening to a podcast called “This is Love”. It keeps me smiling, and emotionally warm in snowstorms. My hands wish it could’ve done that physically, too.
60km from Honningsvåg, I reach a bus station. I have about 10 tunnels ahead of me, and kinda miss my Italian friend. Today, I won’t be hitchhiking, I think to myself and settle down in the station.
I’m in luck – only one bus runs from here to Honningsvåg per day, and I haven’t missed it yet. Unfortunately, it’s set to come in 1.5hrs from now. I sit down, and fiddle with my phone. With my bike. With my hands. I make tea. I talk with myself (I’m very good company). I do a couple of jumping jacks to keep warm. Finally, a bus arrives. It’s not mine. “The one you’re waiting for will come in 2 minutes!” the driver says. I’ll be waiting another 20 minutes till I finally get on my bus to Honningsvåg. When I get off, the driver thanks me for taking the bus. “Those crazy bikers, taking the tunnels, they drive me mad! Especially those Italians!” – “What?” I ask. “Those Italians! They all take holidays in August, flock up here to cycle, and clog up the tunnels! But not for me this year,” he says with a smile. “I’m taking holidays in August. I’m sick of those Italian cyclists!” Poor Ivano.
The scenery around Honningsvåg is absolutely stunning. I pitch my tent in the wilderness. There is no sound, except for a few seagulls cawing away at the sky. I wonder what will happen when I finally reach the Nordkapp. And even more frightening is the thought: what will happen when I finally make it back home, back to reality? I decide to take these questions as I’ve taken this journey: step by step.
We’ll see what happens.
At first, this trip was meant to be my (overly dramatic) farewell to what we had once had. I left Berlin with the desire to leave our beautiful, confusing, chaotic relationship with as epic an end as it had been worthy – to me. You always said I was prone to grand gestures. I’d say I’ve never been able to resist a good story.
As the trip went on, it became less of a goodbye, and more of a “Hello? Who have we got here?” The trip had turned into a test, to see who I’d become, what I had learned, and if I could still love life with as much fire as when you’d been by my side. The answer is: yes. You taught me well: how to mend a tire, how to get lost in the woods – and just as valuable, how to get back out of them. The trip became an assessment of my strengths, my weaknesses. I surprised myself with every kilometer I managed to get ahead.
At the beginning I had told myself: “You don’t need to get to the Nordkapp. Just try, and see what’s possible.”
I’m now only a few hours away from my goal. I sit on the mossy rocks of the Norwegian tundra. Seagulls are chasing ravens overhead. The sun manages a cautious smile. I’m warm. I think of you as I breathe in the crisp ocean air.
It’s time to leave, in every sense.