Total Miles: 1,353.8
Östersund, Sweden – August 30, 2016
I glare at the sign. A man shaped figure with a red cross through it. No pedestrians allowed. No translation needed.
I’d already seen it once, three miles earlier, closer to the city center at another junction of the E14 highway. The road is too big and too fast here for hitchhiking. I need to get farther out where it shrinks back down, where I can stand along the side with my thumb out.
I look at my map. Six more miles and there might be a spot.
“Six miles,” I mutter. “Six useless miles.”
I hate miles that don’t count. They still wear on your legs. They still beat up your feet. They still sap away hours. But it they don’t get you any closer to Tarifa.
I stare at the sign again, feel my chest raise and lower with a sigh, and start walking the six miles on side roads to the next junction.
“Östersund,” I laugh, “where all my problems go away.”
The batteries never made it. They sent them by the wrong carrier and after checking two post offices, I’d given up all hope that somehow they’d made it. At least Thermarest came through with a new mattress, exchanging the old one with nothing more than a picture and description of the problem I was having. All they asked was where they could send the replacement and it had gotten there just as promised. And I found new rain gear, a poncho to try and see how it works.
But those batteries, those batteries that never made it to Tärnaby, they didn’t make it to Östersund either. Those batteries to charge my phone, my camera, my water treatment, my emergency beacon, my headlamp. No, no batteries.
And now a six mile walk just to get out of town, just to reach a road and hold my thumb in the air to be rejected again and again and again.
“I need chocolate,” I mutter.
I pull out a giant bar and eat it piece by piece as I walk, thinking of all the decisions I wish I had back. How I should have sent things differently. How I wasted so much time researching post offices. How I wandered from one to the next looking for a package that didn’t exist. How I walked miles to the wrong intersection. How the next one I walked to also didn’t allow pedestrians. How now I’d barely have light left to hitch back and would probably end up sleeping in some woods on the outskirts of town.
I walk, eat my chocolate, and fume.
A man passes on his bicycle, slows, circles back and looks at me for a moment.
“You must be on a long journey,” he says.
I laugh and smile.
“Yea,” I say. “I’m walking to Spain.”
Later, I think back to that moment, as warm water washes over my shoulders, as my clothes spin clean in a washing machine, as we eat Swedish meatballs at his dining room table.
Sometimes I don’t know why I am where I am, why one moment after another leads me to walking down a road I never thought to see with a chocolate bar in one hand just as Vilhelm passes on his bike coming home from work, but somehow I end up right where I’m supposed to be.