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6 – You’ll Never Get Anywhere If You Keep Skipping Rest Day

I nearly pass him by. He’s holding his lower back, limping down along the road towards me, head bowed low. He’s wearing black baggy pants, and a grey sweater. The voice in my head chides me for my initial thought. “People have been so good to you. The least you can do is ask if you can help.” So I stop right next to him.
“Hey, are you okay? Do you need anything?” He looks up at me. His eyes look tired, confused, in pain. He shakes his head, answering in English. “It’s okay, it’s just this thing, stuck between the discs in my spine. I live 300 meters from here, just over there. Walking feels good.” I want to give him one of my ibuprofen, but before I can offer it to him, he says: “I know I need medical treatment, but I’ve lived with this pain for 19 years by now…” He trails off, eyes following the drifting clouds.

Then he looks at me again. “Where are you from, do you study here?” I smile. “I’m from Berlin, Germany,” I say. “Ah, Germany! I’ve been there 12 times! The south, it’s beautiful. I’ve never been to Berlin. I used to live in Stockholm. What are you doing here?” I gesture towards my bike. “I’m heading to the Nordkapp.” His face lights up. “That’s where my mom is from! She grew up in a small village, only 100 people, east of the Nordkapp.” Oh, it’s so beautiful up there. Take your time, take as much time as you can to see it all.” he repeats. “My parents used to take us back up North in the summers. Oh, Norway. That’s where,” he taps his heart, “I feel whole. “You know, in my village up in Norway, they once sent around a camera team. They were doing it for a study, going around the country, always asking the same question: What is a stranger? And the people in my village, they didn’t even understand the word. It didn’t exist. They answered: There are people we know, and there are people we don’t know yet.” He smiles a big, toothy grin. The white stubbles of his beard glint in the sunshine.

“Would you like to go back?” I ask. “Oh, I would love to go back. It’s just… You can’t imagine it… How beautiful…” Suddenly, he’s crying. He looks at me with his dazzling bright blue eyes, and I can feel the homesickness in him tearing into my own heart. I’m close to tears myself. “I want to…” he says once more. “I wasted so much time… All these years, chasing after things that weren’t real, when everything I needed was in here,” he cups his hand over his heart, “…and out there.”

He points towards the woods. “It’s all I ever needed, and I wasted it all.”



“I’m happy I’ll be able to see it soon.” I say. He smiles at me. He looks decades younger than at the beginning of our conversation. He smiles. “I’m so glad you’ll see it. And I hope you can find this feeling, too. That everything you need is inside of you. And it is! Everyone has that beauty in them. And you are beautiful,” he says, clasping my right hand, smiling. “You are beautiful, too.” I answer. And I mean it. He blushes and looks at the ground. “It was my birthday just last week, I turned 63.” I laugh. “Happy belated birthday then!” He smiles back at me. “Thank you. I hope you’ll get there safely. The Norwegians are wonderful people. If you ever need anything, just ask for help.” He looks down at the ground once more, thinking. “Thank you for making my pain go away. It’s all gone now, poof!” He laughs. “Take care. I hope you find the thing inside, and I think you will. There’s good magic with you.” We wave goodbye. I never find out his name.

He opens the door in his underwear. And he does NOT look amused. “Hi, do you speak English?” I ask, trying to calm the situation with a disarming smile. “YES?!” He is definitely not pleased with this late evening visitor. “Well, I wanted to ask if I could set my tent up in your backyard.” “WHICH BACKYARD?!” he barks at me. “Well, just… Not necessarily the backyard, just a … Place for a tent…?” I try to be helpful and gesture towards my bike. “I’m from Berlin, Germany and-” – “MARIANNE!” he shouts back into the house. A lady comes to the door, eating licorice. “SHE WANTS TO SLEEP IN THE YARD!” I guess shouting is just his favored style of communication. “Let her sleep there, between the houses,” Marianne says, matter of factly. I thank them. Before I can turn away, the man explains which houses. “THEY’RE ALL OUR HOUSES. THAT ONE AND THAT SMALL ONE AND THIS STABLE AND THAT ONE OVER THERE WITH THE CAR. YOU ARE WELCOME.” Then he closes the door. 



He does come over to speak to me a few minutes later. His voice has even quieted down a little – and he put on some pants. “What’s your name?” I ask. “Jörren.” I try the smiling thing once more. “Hi Jörren, my name is Annie.” He looks at me, unsure if what to do or say. “Do you need anything?” I nod: “Yes, I would love some water.” – “We have a spout in the back. Follow me.”

I ask him what he works as. “I’m a computer administrator at the university. What do you do?” – “I work as a scientist at a university, too!” He finally smiles. “Ah! What type of science?” – “Brain science,” I say, tapping my head. “Ah! Brain science! We have brain science at our university! Do you know-” and then follows a string of Swedish words I don’t understand. I guess that he’s given me someone’s name I don’t recognize. “Umm… No?” – “Ah! You should! You should….” He trails off, as we head back to the tent.

I nod, and shuffle off to set my tent between the small house and the barn.

By the time we’ve reached it, he seems to have come to a decision. “Wait here!” He says and runs towards the house. I continue to set up my tent. He comes running back out a few minutes later. “Here! This is my colleague, Lars – he also works in brain science, and he’s looking for good people. Get in touch with him. I think he would be happy to meet you.” He pauses. “So funny. You’re a brain lady, and I work with the brain guy just a few steps down the hall.” He shakes his head and wanders back into the house. I look at the print out he’s given to me. Lars does, surprisingly, work somewhat on similar questions as I do. I shake my head in happy disbelief.

The night in the tent is COLD. Not just “eh, this could still be called refreshing”-cold, but “oh my God, I can’t feel my feet, Capital C”-COLD. I fight the urge to use my Fjällräven expedition jacket for this first time on this trip. I haven’t even made it past the Arctic Circle yet, I don’t want to already be falling back on my Shield of Last Resort. I fight the urge for half and hour and then bring out the jacket, and wear it over my legs. I fall asleep once the feeling returns to my feet.

As I’m packing up my tent the next morning, something does make me wonder. Of all the people I’ve met so far, these two had by far the most houses – but they were the only ones who didn’t invite me in. “Who knows why,” I shrug, and pedal on.

Much like Sauron seems to feed of Frodo’s sense of humor and spine, The Lord of the Rings sucked the majority of my creative writing energy out of me. We spent the last 2.5hrs debating whether and when Eowyn will finally ask for some trousers, if Smeagol and Frodo will ever do the “touchy-touchy”, and why in the world they couldn’t have blessed any character other than just Gimli with more than just a teaspoon of dry wit. “Master betrays usssss,” Smeagol cries. “Movie betrays the books by punching out random one-liners about the smell of the weather….” we hiss back from in front of the screen.

I’m in a student dorm, lying on the couch in the common room area. The movement sensors of the hallway keep turning on the lights. We shared the (as I was told) most Swedish dish for dinner: Tacos. “Whenever anyone in Sweden invites someone over, they discuss for a few minutes what they could make and then eventually we always decide on tacos,” Oscar and David assure me.

I was running low on food, and water when I arrived in Umeå around lunchtime. I headed straight for the closest Naturkompaniet, as there are few stores that will allow their customers to bring in themselves, their bike, their 3 enormous bags of camping equipment, and also happily let them fill up on water. Outdoor stores are hence highly recommendable to achieve this near fantastical level of #extra. I wander around the store for a bit, trying to get my hands on more “Adventure Food” (WHEN YOU NEED FOOD AS DEHYDRATED AS YOU FEEL, BUY ADVENTURE FOOD! Desicant bag included.) and finally start my little jig of asking for water. I’m wearing black hiking pants, and a tech-wool sweater. As I’m standing next to the saleslady, chatting about my trip, the new manager comes in. He shakes her hand, and then mine. “I’m looking forward to working with you!” Seems I fit right in. After the misunderstanding is put right (“No, she’s just a customer, ready to head on to the Nordkapp!”), the new manager tells me about the climbing gym that had just opened up. “Climbing? GYM?! Where? How? When?”

Before I run off to the gym, the absolutely wonderful saleslady runs into the back to give me some free (past their expiration date) Cliff bars. Seriously: if you need anything outdoorsy in Sweden, the Naturkompaniet has you covered. (DISCLAIMER: this ad was brought to you by #SponsoredByFree(Old)CliffBars).

The climbing gym is located in the university’s regular sports facility, but has a moonboard, a Campusboard, a peg board, a systems board, a bouldering area and deliciously set 8b+ (and below) lead, as well as toprope sportclimbs. Unfortunately, I have neither harness, nor belay partner, and Swedes also require you to take a course and a test before they let you lead climb inside. So instead I choose to intimidate a few of the Swedish guys by flashing a 7a. Ashamed by my own display of near-repulsive cockiness, I quickly run off to the moonboard, where I collect my due in getting punched in the ego. “I deserve that.” I think as I tumble off a 6B+. .

I meet Shona, an ecologist, at the gym. She quickly forgives me for being a show-off after I give her my flash-beta, and invites me over for dinner with her friends. She’s at the gym with Oscar, and later I am also introduced to David. They’re all ecologists. I ask them about their work: Shona works on salmon migration, and Oscar runs through the fields catching butterflies for a living. I’m enthralled. Later, David and Oscar will try to outcompete each other in rare bird sightings. “You’ll never beat my sighting of a Blåkråka!” Oscar exclaims. David tries to land his winning punch with the sighting of some rare thrush. His knock-out strategy fails, the two decide on a stalemate till the next sighting. .

Oscar carries the TV out like a guitar under his arms, back to his own dorm. We didn’t make it to the end The Lord of the Rings (extended version). But the sun has finally set. I steel myself for an early start.

The fridges in the student dorm kitchen crack and hum along. 

The sound shocks me awake. It’s someone in the communal kitchen, getting themselves a glass of water at 4am. The sun is up outside already, it’s as bright as in the middle of a sunny Berlin day. I turn around and continue to sleep till I hear Shona walking into the kitchen. She’s off to buy laundry detergent, a productive Saturdayay in the life of a master student ahead of her. She comes back with a packet of eggs tucked under her arm. “I’m making pancakes!” she exclaims, and begins the breakfast preparation. I pack up my bags, and we chat about her work on salmon as the silver dollars sizzle in the pan.

She’s trying to figure out if a bubble curtain can prevent fish from entering a dam. The bubble curtain is then supposed to direct the fish towards a ‘fishway’, a path they can take without having to be worried about – I assume – being sucked into a turbine. “And it seems to be working! They won’t go past the bubble curtain – unless, well, if there’s a predator waiting at the entrance of the fishway.” I guess in that case, the fish don’t give a damn. Ha. Ha. Sorry. (Not sorry.)

She went through months of video footage from cameras set up in the river to figure this out. “Podcasts are your new best friends,” she laughs. They keep her mind busy as she identifies the fish and logs whether they pass the curtain, or not. By now, she’s only got 2 weeks left to write up her thesis. I’m impressed by how relaxed she is about it. As we speak, she gives me coffee and matches for the trip. “I don’t need it anymore, take it!”

We talk climbing as we eat the pancakes. She’s from a small village in France – the World Cup takes place around that area every summer. I get excited: my friend Melinda will be competing there this July. I tell her to say hi to Melinda if, by some chance, she’ll see her. Shona laughs. “Will do.”

She helps me carry my huge bags down to my bike. There’s a dude, naked, except for his boxers, by the door. His skin has a disturbingly red color. “Do you think someone should tell him that he’s burning to a crisp…?” I ask Shona, concerned. She laughs. “Oh, I don’t think he cares. He’s been sitting there for the past few days.” We hug as we say goodbye. Shona promises to get in touch if she’s ever in Berlin.

As I head out of Umeå, I pass by a guy who’s knitted a hat on top of his bike helmet. The Soapbox Science is presenting women’s science projects in the local square. A guy watches over my fully packed bike as I head into a store to buy oats. I watch a man buy stamps for a package to France in the most agonizingly slow fashion. I lose patience when I see him carefully folding his receipt, reaching ever so slowly, so delicately for the stapler, and leave the post office.

“The road between Umeå and Luleå once even won an award,” the manager at the Naturkompaniet had told me. “It’s the Most Boring Road in all of Sweden.” I head north, armed with podcasts.