Total Miles: 628.2
Near the Voumajohka bridge – July 24, 2016
Near Kinnarodden I felt like the only person in existence as soon as I stepped off a road. By Nordkapp, I started to see more footprints in the mud, sometimes a person or two a day, fishermen and Sami mostly, sometimes only in the distance, a tent on a far hill or smoke from a campfire.
When we met, we spoke, we exchanged stories, we quietly made sure the other didn’t need any help.
Since Kautokeino, the trail has filled out. I can see it in the defined paths, the worn rocks, the huts built to bring islands of civilization into the wild. I pass people every few hours. Sometimes with a wave from the distance or a short hello. Sometimes with just a nod. Sometimes people say nothing at all.
Days slip by where I see many but speak to almost no one, my smile and hellos returned with polite nods and nothing more. I began to worry about my growing beard, the dirt on my clothes, that my eyes look crazy after so many miles, that I am doing something that made people uncomfortable. The doubt shows on my face, hollowing my smile bit by bit.
I think of old friends and how far away they are, how long it will be before I return home and see a face that has known me for years, that I don’t have to convince of my worth, that knows who I am without me saying anything.
Then I meet Turo, a lone Finn heading north. I step to the side of the trail to let him pass with the usual nod, but he stops too. We talk for an hour, standing on the slopes of a valley, rainstorms moving in the distance, as we share stories, commiserate over the mosquitos, laugh at the idea of cutting toothbrushes in half to save weight, dissect equipment and where to find it, pick apart philosophy, and figure out routes.
We talk and talk and all the loneliness flows out of me and I find my smile again, the real one, the unafraid one, the one that doesn’t care if a person smiles back, the one that is content to shine alone because it knows old friends were once new friends and the next could be just a few steps further down the trail.