Kinnarodden – June 14 – 20, 2016
My heart thumps as I slide the keys across the counter. Did I finish every last errand? Did I forget something? The clerk’s hand reaches out and I hold my breath for a moment, then let it go. I’m on foot again, surrounded by an out of reach city.
I walk half a mile to the bus stop. I sit in the back, holding my pack and watching the world slip by on the nineteen stops to the airport.
I find a quiet corner near the check-in counter and sit with my pack, taking everything out and sliding it back in again, rearranging a puzzle of gear that never seems to fit. I lift it across the counter as the agent smiles at me.
“Stockholm?” she says and I nod.
I squeeze into seat 33A and stare out the window as we wait for the runway to clear. A screen in front of me flickers on with a map of the flight. The plane’s dot hovers over Las Vegas, a thin line stretches northeast through Canada, over Greenland, and across the Atlantic.
“5,308 miles to Stockholm,” it says.
I don’t know how far this walk will go because I don’t even know the entire route. Huge chunks are missing on my map, pieces left to fill in like an unwritten story, but my best guess is more than 5,308 miles.
Fear swirls up my throat. I stare out the window, watching the plane’s wing as we taxi, watching as the engines roar to life and press me back against the seat, watching as the ground disappears underneath us and we hurl through the sky at 500 miles an hour. I watch for ten hours, drifting in and out of sleep, watching as the sun sets in the clouds, as night falls and stars flicker into existence, as daylight returns, as the ocean gives way to Norway’s coast, as snow-capped mountains slip underneath, as we ease down to the earth again and the wheels touch tarmac.
“Farther than that,” I think.
Doubt floods into me. The unknown, the fear, the sinking feeling of drowning. I try and push it aside. I run through the equipment in my bag. I think of the black fleece hat that has gone with me on every journey. The hiking sticks that outlasted the the Pacific Crest, the Continental Divide, the Hayduke, and Grand Enchantment.
“Add them up,” I think. “That is enough miles to make it.”
But I know only the handles of the sticks made it that far. The lower sections have broken, bent, and twisted apart along the way, replaced by fresh pieces if titanium.
“Still, the handles made it,” I think.
My train leaves Stockholm’s airport and rumbles north toward Narvik, Norway. I find my cabin. It has six bunks, but I am the only one there so I stare out the window in silence, listening to the train rumble forward, watching the sun reach for the horizon, but never make it.
Twenty hours, we rumble, slipping through the countryside, past moose racing away from the noise, past forests and bogs, into snow-clad mountains, until we stop at Narvik, the northern end of the rail line.
I walk to the road and stick my thumb in the air waiting for first of a string of rides that will take me to Mehamn, Norway, the last hint of civilization at the northern edge of Europe.
Time slips by standing by the road, sitting with people in their cars, sleeping for a few hours when my watch tells me it’s late. The moments start to flicker together in my head as one day stretches to two, two to three. I try not to lose my faith in humanity as cars pass in the rain. Instead, I think of those that did stop, the ones who did not pass, and my heart warms even as I shiver in the cold.
The man going home who worked on shipping boats through the Panama canal and the far east. The couple traveling to their daughter’s graduation that told me Norway is a hard place to hitch but we’re the first car I tried on that leg. The six Finns out fishing the coast in a camper who were playing a card game that I never saw the end of but who told me I had to jump in the lakes and taught me to say thank you in Finnish. Kiitos. A man traveling to plant summer flowers on his parent’s grave.
Solfrid in her shipping truck who knew of Mehamn, who grew up nearby, who is on one of her last deliveries before moving home to work with fishing again, who tells me to ask permission from the spirits as I walk because there is more than the world we see out here. Advice I take to heart. The older couple who may not speak a word of English, who simply stop, let me in, then let me off when we reach the next town.
The Norwegian man who also barely spoke English but we talked anyway with gestures and expressions as he showed me Sami carvings in a hotel lobby and pointed to the mountains around a high pass as Tupac rapped on the radio. The Russian woman, Mira, who lives in Norway, who stopped with her two daughters and picked me up out of the rain without hesitation, who taught me how the speed limit signs work, who was excited to practice her English which was quite good even though she told me many times it was bad.
The cold walk through Alta in the rain, trying to find the far side of town where I could camp. The wet, cold night. The despair where I wanted to give up before even starting. The morning when I stood by the road for two hours waiting for a ride in the rain, telling myself that another hour and I would quit. That I wasn’t ready for this. That the demons grow quite loud standing alone aside a road with your thumb out as icy water falls from the sky. The woman in pink who rescued me, who may have saved this very trip, who didn’t speak much, but drove me all the way to Lakselv, who knew I was cold, and tired, and worn thin.
Asfrid, who was just going a short way to feed pieces of salmon carcasses to the sea birds, who picked me up anyway, who told me to look for cloudberries in the bogs, whose calm, quiet voice added to my resolve more than she knows. The Swiss couple traveling until their money runs out, who told me they once lived in a house with a man who now has 300 million euros but can’t find happiness. The German couple in a camper who barely spoke English, but made due with rough translations, and who brought me the last bit of road to Mehamn.
Then I stood stoop of the Red Tree Inn, with a map and logbook, the beginning of a 14 mile walk across the desolate tundra, past bogs, over scree filled slopes, through reindeer herds, to that final, rocky edge of a continent rising above the sea.
To Kinnarodden, the beginning of the journey south.