All the way to Nordkapp and a long journey south 7727km (summer 2017)
“If the storytellers were old, their stories were much older. The Grandmas and Grandpas were the living repositories for all those wonderful stories told them by their elders from generations before. The stories I heard and learned provide lessons that I can apply in the present, but they also connect me to the past, a way of life that has endured far longer than I can imagine, and to the people who walked the land and left old trails to follow. And because I and others like me were, and are, hearing and remembering the stories, that way of life will remain viable through us” - Joseph M. Marshall III
PART I - THE ROAD TO NORDKAPP
This is how this story begins. July - 13th.
We leave Stockholm on a long journey north by hitchhiking, heavy backpacks and loads of food brought along from home: we have oats, powder milk, peaches, pasta, dates, and some spices. Water is from rivers and waterfalls, so we’ll only stop by supermarkets along the road to buy yogurt, pasta, tuna and bread, adding a little bit of weight to our already loaded backpacks. Beer? With a small tear I already said no, too expensive. The very first few days we head north with a simple cardboard on which we wrote ‘North’. It’ll take us a few days before we make our first tent camp, amazed by the countryside folk’s hospitality, we are invited to a barbecue on our first day on the road, and to Lina and Sara’s cozy cabin on the second night. The day after, in Sundsvall, we get stuck for hours ending up changing our plans and we move west. First tent pitched in Ostersund, and two days after we enter Norway just above Trondheim: we have now the mountains on our right, the coast down on our left: we are heading to the Arctic Circle.
I start doubting I really have a sense of how boundless the country seems to be to my eyes: I feel so small compared to nature out here, lost among interminable fields, everlasting roads and scattered villages: as dark clouds approach from down the fjord, we spread for the very first time the entire map on the grass, the finger draws a line straight up, following a road which seems to never end. We don’t even time to study the whole map that the wind rises from the west and we are forced to pack quickly after breakfast.
During a rainy day we finally cross the Arctic Circle, feeling like we just landed on the moon. There are no trees, and it rains a lot, heavy clouds covering the sky force the weakest to switch on their big pick-up truck lights, and as we speeds fast on wet roads, down the mountain, smell of burned wood enters the car: we spot on the other side of the rough river glimpses of a dim orange flame, of a fire fighting to stay alive in the rain. It’s only two days after when we finally have our first campfire too. We are in Innhavet, we are searching now for dry wood along the shore till we manage to pile up a good stock for cooking dinner. As soft smoke rises up toward the bright sky, a few locals walk along the shore, curious of where the smoke comes from. Everything around is so silence and lazy to pitch a tent, we will fall asleep on the rocky shore, wrapped inside our sleeping bags.
Torfinn picks us up in no time. He lives in Tromso, but he’s driving home to pay family a visit in the far north-east, where the bears are. Heading toward Finnmark, I spot a lonely hitchhiker on the side of the road. He’s holding a worn out sign ‘Finnmark’ is on it. No time to look back at him that the car drives around the small hill and I lose sign of him. What were his whereabouts? What was his name is? Where does he come from? All questions which will stay unanswered… We’ll share with Torfinn a 6h long ride, we leave Norway to enter Finland, and then back into Norway further north. Karesuvanto, Kautokeino, smaller ghost villages: in 3h now we must have seen about 5 cars. Did Torfinn warn us against mosquitoes in Karasjok, but we didn’t take him too seriously, and it was quite a mistake. And so that’s it: probably the toughest day so far, we literally struggle to keep the eyes open with mosquitoes flying all around, a feeling of giving up the journey and head back south pops quickly in my mind as we walk uphill trying to reach the windy ridge. Somehow using the map as a weapon we manage to set up the tent and we run inside closing the zip. In the morning after the battle with mosquitoes, we walk down to the petrol station for breakfast and we get to know some indian guys going fishing. They’ll drop us 80km further north where we see for the first time the direction to Nordkapp. It says ‘Nordkapp 193km’, we are not that far anymore!
Day 10th. The road follows the coastline, which keeps coming in and out the inner land. Everything shrinks the further north we move, the trees disappear, the moose gives way to the reindeer, less and less boats at sea give way to divers hunting the gian crab. Passed the last road fork, to Skarsvåg, claimed to be world’s northernmost fishing village, we walk up the last few kms, and at last we see its fields, its famous globe standing there: Nordkapp, at the World’s End.
It makes me smile to realise that probably we have already met many of the cars and people we see around now. Over a week and half we met people who were driving south from Nordkapp, ‘How’s the weather up there?’ we approached them, as if asking to someone traveling south from beyond The Wall. We met this German group on a bike adventure, about 5 cyclists with whom we’ve been sharing the same road for the last 4 days, about the same time of the day, some day they were ahead of us, some other day we were ahead of them, on the side of the road further north as if waiting for them. And now, now we are all here, blessing for the weather is excellent, and the clouds are just above sea level 300m down the cliff, leaving space for a magic midnight sun.
We pitch tent on the field where the clouds are born.
PART II - THE WAY SOUTH
The way south is filled with many more surprises to come and we are carried away by the flow of new unexpected adventures. We are in Alta, Sindre invites us on his small boat so we can try our luck and fish dinner. We throw long strings with five, six fishhooks attached in the water and only a few minutes after Kasia catches her first fish (wale size for me, herring size for the locals there): we travel south for 100km more and on a shore shared only with a few ghost ships and seagulls we pile up lots of flat rocks to build a stove and cook the fish… After two weeks, it seems about right time for the first heavy rains and wind, good test for the tent: we enter Lofoten islands on a 15min boat ride from the north, and on the open deck we have time to get to know KC, a guy from Germany walking all Norway from north to south, not much of a plan but the one of exploring and taking some time off routine life, staying alive. We decide to make camp together, and share food, and a few stories, unluckly we catch no fish, but we have pasta and chips. Off to sleep, we decide to set out quite early in the morning, despite the heavy rain, but we don’t want to wake up KC. We peer inside his tent to realise he’s still sleeping, probably dreaming of far away lands, searching for the knife lost the day before? We plan on leaving him a note with our contacts, but the paper gets wet as I try to put it inside his boots, and we departure from him without knowing if we will ever hear from him again. Good luck my friend!
We are now in Hennigsvaer, the old fisherman village now climbing mecca of the country: drawn by the soft voice of a girl singing along a guitar tune, “Girl from the North Country’ by Bob Dylan we enter the small pub. About time for our first beer on the road, and with a few more we sit at a random table and get to know a Dutch dad and his daughter, on a long sailing journey from Holland to Nordkapp and back. Sharing stories from the road and life, time passes so quickly and we are invited to sleep on board of the 26m sailing boat. Luckly, as our the tent is still wet from the day before, and we leave it for the night in the engine room to dry. Morning breakfast with oats and cereals, and with the sun rising strong we decide to stay around for one more day in such beautiful lands, and we find a spot for the tent, in a small bay. We share the shore with many more colorful tents, and the voice of people mixes with the sound of waves and wind, and slowly, as the evening draws nearer, everyone starts kindling their own little camp fires.
Walking and hitchhiking we reach the very south of Lofoten on a caravan ride with a old Finnish couple, we talk to each other using google translator, I reckon this might be the craziest and funniest ride so far, and it does make me realise how we all belong equally to this Earth, no matter which tradition we come from, which language we speak, which religion we believe in, if we break spaghetti before putting them in a pot or not. A boat ride brings us back to mainland in Bodo, after 4 hours of rough sea.
We drive south with a feeling of happiness mixed with sadness that we just name nostalgia when eventually the shit happens, just before the Arctic Circle. We’re waving bye bye to this dude in his vintage car to realise after 10min that the tent is still inside the car. So we have no other option but to spend the night outside in the forest, lighting up a candle to mourn the tent. In the morning dried the tears, we decide we have to get our tent back, sure we don’t have much money to buy a new one, and then where? We somehow give out to people the only info we have: ‘He’s got a white vintage car, his family runs a travel bus business’. Boom, we are on the phone with him! And 1h later I’m tying the tent back to my backpack. And so we cross again the Arctic Circle, this time on our way south. We are in the car with probably one of the most humble person we’ve got to know so far. We drive together for 1200km and 17h, throwing the sleeping bag on a isolated river bank, to catch a few hours sleep before moving further south, getting all the way down to Oslo. Beyond it’s Denmark, and we keep going south, our first yummy kebab in Hamburg with Simon, from there Bogdan takes us all the way to Munich, then a ride back north to Paris, Taizè at last.
PART III - THE JOURNEY’S END
This how, 7730km and 65 cars after, a long journey comes to an end. Anna, Lina, Sara, Cecilia, Sivert, Hamed, KC, Sindre, Maaike, Hugh Jackman, Simon, Bogdan, The Soundground crew, Marie, Alessandro, and all the others, a month on wild roads filled with happy moments, sad moments, with joy, and not without times of frustration. After all, to really appreaciate those happy days you will need to admit yourself that you can have bad days. Seems like night is now falling, and so ends this day, soon enough will be time to return to our routine life, busy routine, in crowded cities, where people are more and more forgetting to give themselves time to appreciate the little details… Seems there’s no time for that, no more. It comes to my mind those few sentences I read five years back on a travel blog, a few sentences that’ve been accompanied me since then:
“One day, when we are old with silver hair, freckles, creases, and laugh wrinkles from many years of wandering drenched under sunlight. Our children’s children will lay out with us under the stars by a campfire on a moonlit beach elsewhere. We will tell them stories of wild adventures, of lived dreams, of enchanting places, of conquered fears, of lessons that turned into gold, lessons that we’ve learned from the road, and a full life lived. Our journeys will inspire their own…” And so the cycle will begin again…
3 MONTHS AFTER
I get a message on fb from KC, the note we left in his boot hadn’t been completely washed away by the heavy rain of that day…
“What I love about the Lord of the Rings fantasy world is that it often makes more sense than our world” (a local on our way south from Denmark)