Total Miles: 2,085.4
Gothenburg, Sweden – October 4-5, 2016
Gothenburg came slowly. Little towns on the outskirts filled in the space along the highway. Farms shrunk and disappeared. Houses squeezed together into ever smaller lots until they rose into apartment buildings.
Traffic became constsnt. Roads grew wider. Pavement took over dirt tracks. Single lanes stretched into doubles. Intersections turned into on ramps. Sidewalks and bike lanes filled out the edges.
I walked in at sunset, the lights of Gothenburg just coming on. People filled the streets on their way home from work. Joggers cast odd glances at my backpack. Navigation became difficult in the maze of asphalt.
“This is the end of Sweden,” I thought to myself.
Gothenburg always felt so far away when I thought of it. It was always the destination that I needed to hold on until, that would mean I survived the wildest part of this journey. Standing in the cold rain of the northern mountains, it used to feel like I would never arrive, like it was just a dream hidden in the grey mist.
Then it came so fast.
Chunks of miles melted away as the land flattened from the Norwegian border, as I raced winter south and beat it to the coast. Gothenburg stopped being a mythical place and became the city on the horizon before I realized how close it was.
I walked almost in disbelief.
“This is the end of Sweden,” I thought again.
I almost wanted to stop, to slow down somehow, to manufacture a way to stretch it out until my mind could catch up to my feet.
I climbed up a small hill and turned down a sidewalk, looking for the numbers on the buildings.
All the offers of places to stay had fallen though. Vacations, work, and wrong numbers had swept them all away. But another offer had come from a stranger to fill in their place, a free couch as long as I didn’t mind a cat wandering around.
I climbed to the top floor of the building, feeling my tired legs in the steps, wishing that man who said it would take five days could see me now, and knocked on a door.
I hadn’t showered for three days. I hadn’t washed my clothes for two weeks. But Isabel welcomed me in all the same.
She showed me Gothenburg the next day. We walked the old streets, saw the statues that rise in the squares, climbed hills to towers, and circled churches to get the best picture. And we walked down to the docks to buy me a ticket for the ferry that would take me to Denmark.
The last night in Sweden, I found an old Los Van Van album in Isabel’s stack of vinyl records. The Cuban music played as we cooked dinner, now laughing and joking like good friends just a day after meeting as strangers at her door.
I thought of all the people in Sweden who helped me, of the gang at the Coop in Abisko, of the Narvik Arctic Eagles’ goalie, of Elin and her giant white direwolf, of Bjørn and Vilhelm, of Henrik and Janet and Robin, of the rides, of the small kindnesses, of the love they shared with a stranger.
And I thought of that ticket to Denmark that would take me away in the morning.
The music ended and the record stopped spinning. We cleaned our plates in the sink and shut off the lights. It was time to go to sleep. Tomorrow would be a big day. Tomorrow would see my last steps in Sweden and a ship across the sea to a new land.