Today’s Miles: 0
Total Miles: 673.2
Abisko, Sweden – July 28, 2016
I started the day in the Coop, Abisko’s grocery store, the same spot I stood last night in dismay after arriving half an hour after they closed. I bought a loaf of bread, some cheese, and ice cream. I had to hold back my hungry eyes because I didn’t want to weigh my pack down. I was about to stand by the road with my thumb in the air to wait for a ride to Kiruna.
I ate the ice cream by the side of the road, thumb out for every car, spork carving up the pint the moment they roared past. There is a technique to hitching rides–stand in front of a place where cars can pull over, don’t wear sunglasses or a hat that hides your face, smile, make you hiking equipment obvious–but it’s also about numbers. You have to be there waiting, trying one car after the next, thumb in the air, until the right person drives by.
So I ate and kept my thumb out, thinking of a woman who once stopped for me along the Pacific Crest because I was eating a pint of ice cream there too and she “didn’t think a serial killer would be doing that.”
When I scraped the last bit of ice cream off the box, I folded it up into my trash bag and continued to stand a few feet off the road, watching cars go by.
An hour passed. I stood and looked at my shoes. They seemed fine from above. Caked in mud and still wet, but the leather and fabric didn’t have a single hole after all these miles. The problem was the soles. I’d crushed them down into thin, cushonless flaps. One had worn through to rubber under the ball of my foot and threatened to open up straight to the inside. Every rock I stepped on felt like it pressed right into my bones.
I held my thumb higher. I had to get to Kiruna because I had to get new shoes.
I caught a ride with the goalie of the Narvik Arctic Eagles, my new favorite professional hockey team in Norway. He was going to Kiruna to visit his family before the season started. He told me how goalies have to train their focus and forget mistakes and how Kiruna is a huge mining town, so big that as the mine expands they have to move the town. He dropped me off near a sporting goods store and wished me luck.
There were three stores in Kiruna, between them all, they had two shoes in my size, neither great. A mesh running shoe that would rip apart in a week and a pair of slightly used walking shoes with a thick sole that someone had returned after one day. I looked down at my shoes again, wishing they could last just a bit longer, but the next section is almost two-hundred miles, too much to risk with a sole that has almost worn apart.
I bought the thick-cushioned walking shoes even though they were meant for roads and had no real tread on them. When I put them on they looked clumsy and clownish.
“All part of the adventure,” I told myself.
On my way out of town, I bought food for the next section, stopped at an eye glass shop to buy a lens cloth for my camera, and dumped my old shoes in a trash can. They looked sad, lifeless, sitting on the pile of trash after they carried me so far, through so much mud and rock, it was like they knew the adventure was over for them.
“We had a good run,” I said to them.
I walked the road for a while to reach the outskirts of Kiruna and hitch back. The new shoes felt odd, but comfortable, the soles squishy and soft. When I found a spot with a decent pullout I turned to hitch. The first car stopped.
It was the man from the eye glass shop on his way to Abisko. Sometimes you just get lucky. He was heading up to see friends and invited me to a cookout. We ended up at an old house in Abisko that sits on a beautiful rise, just above the Coop.
The house was one of the first buildings there, once an old store built to service the railroad line that ran iron ore from the mines of Kiruna to the port and ships of Narvik.
A light rain came and someone offered me a place sleep so I wouldn’t have to set up my tent. I laughed when we walked to their apartment. The day had circled back on itself. I was back at the Coop, where everything started, this time upstairs in the employee dorm, on a couch, out of the rain, with new shoes.