June 20, 2013
Relaxingly hanging out in Tromsø, I was sure I had plenty of time to get to Kirkenes and the border with Russia on my own. You know, planning is boring, so I did not trouble myself to study the map in advance.
The road to Kirkenes lay through Alta and lasted for about 800 kilometers. After Alta the road split up. One could go down the E6 or turn to the 92th and cut about 100 km through Finland. I knew that the local terrain area and my speed would never let me get to the border before my visa expired, even if I went 100-130 km per day. But actually, I did not really care. The feeling that the final chapter had begun concerned me much stronger.
On the day of departure from Tromsø, we had a slashing breakfast with Gabriel, packed up together (he was going to England to see his family), texted to couch surfers (I wrote to Alta, and Gabriel wrote to Amsterdam, where he had to spend the night between flights), hugged, wished each other good trips and left to the respective directions. I exchanged my rainy day fund, knowing that, one way or another, I’d have to use public transport – the traffic in the north was not as heavy, so it was less likely to hitch-hike someone.
I had to go back to the E6, but it was 90 km away: first I had to go back on the E8, and then again along the 91st. And then two ferries. In fact, it could take a day to get to the E6 only. But I wanted to be in Alta by evening. There were very few buses going on these long routes, once or twice a day. I never bothered to look at the schedule, moreover, it did not matter. Nothing could depend on the bus schedule.
The first thirty kilometers were quite easy. I took a back road along the E8, the fjord and farms. The road was completely empty, I could ride with my hands outstretched, as if I was flying. It felt like triumph. A deep sense of satisfaction, the most of the way is behind, but the adventure is far from being over.
Then began a long and rather tedious way up. The only amusement was to enjoy the view of snowy mountains. Stuffiness, damned flies and empty highway leading to the first ferry. Rare cars, several attempts to hitch-hike when it became too hot and lazy. But I was destined to get to the ferry on my own, moreover, I had to break into it, cheered by public, just a second before the ramp went down.
I received a text from Alta: they are waiting for me tonight!
About 5 kilometers before the ferry, a bus to Alta swept past me. I waved to the driver, knowing that he would not stop (they don’t usually stop anywhere but the bus stops). Judging by the distance from Alta and the fact that it was already 3 or 4 PM, I understood it was the last bus in that direction.
I started to spin the pedals with great zeal, I could see the outlines of the fjord ahead of me, but after every hill I met another mountain pass. 15 minutes later, I realized that I would never catch that ferry or the bus. I saw a string of cars from the ferry passing by in the opposite direction. Then all was quiet again.
So I gave up trying to catch up the bus and relaxed. But then, after another hill, I saw the dock. All the vehicles were already onboard, there was no one on the quay, the ferry was about to leave – they do not wait for a long time, once loaded they usually leave at once. I got angry and sped up so hard my head began to buzz. A few minutes of frantic heartbeat, and I literally flied over the ramp, almost dashing into a nearby car. A second later the ramp went down. One of the drivers approached me saying something about how fast I was going, I laughed trying to catch my breath. I doubled up with laughter and trembling in my legs. He said something else, but I could not answer, because I could not stop laughing and failed to restore my breath. Suddenly, I felt so happy. I did it. Here it is, the bus to Alta.
So I pull out a handful of crumpled bills and coins, 170 krones (about three times less than the actual price), begging the driver to take me with him. I guess, it’s my mess up hair, a huge sweatshirt, shorts and a settled simper that convinced him after all.
The clouds piled up, I wrapped in the sweater given by Kostya as a goodbye gift. Not a common sweater, by the way. Kostya had taken it to the North Pole, which made it twice as valuable to me. I love things with history. It became my second Norwegian trophy.
I pull up my legs, turn on the player, doze and watch the passing mountains, swallowing the lump in my throat from time to time. I know how much I’ll miss them. Like I’ve never missed anything, even the sea.
On the way I think about how much my life has changed since I last saw my friends in St. Petersburg before setting off to the unknown. How much has changed in me. In fact, those things that remained intact, they actually define my identity, define who I am. And the changes, that started just a few moments ago, began to thicken and develop, expanding the boundaries of the old me.
I am calm and a little bit sad, as it happens, when something very important is coming to an end. But, at the same time, I feel a new sensation rising from the inside. Everything has changed. And I can not wait to see how it will affect my life in the future.
The city is traditionally empty, wide sidewalks serve me bicycle lanes. I easily slide them over, enjoying pleasant nostalgia for the present. The arctic twilight paints the main street with northern colors, the six kilometers end so quickly that I want to go back to the station and make the journey again.
The note makes me as happy as a child. I find another one inside the hose, requesting I should feel at home, take a shower, do my laundry, do whatever I want. The Wi-Fi password is also there. I leave the bike right on the porch, enter the Wi-Fi and take a 40-minutes shower. At night, the storm begins, the house creaks in the wind. A dull, mind-numbing fatigue pounces at me, and I sleep like a log for 12 hours straight, with no dreams. The room was small, with curtained windows making it strangely and completely dark.
The next day I felt like a vegetable, my head was cracking, the weather was just terrible. My host Jørn came back, he was a photographer from Getty Images, we met and had a lovely chat over some delicious foreign chocolate. Jørn suggested going for a drive out. I reluctantly agreed; the head was wobbly, I’d rather lie motionless staring at the wall.
But the trip turned out to be fascinating. We stopped for coffee, parked on a cusp and went to the woods. A disappointingly rainy day in Alta ended up in informative sightseeing tour. I even visited a museum, which I had not done in a very long time. These are the famous petroglyphs, there are more than 5,000 of them around Alta. They have been listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which is written on the plaque. The oldest of them date back to 4200 BC. The drawings of Norwegians’ ancestors are quite funny. There’s a brutal naked hunter who kills a deer with no front legs, huge deep-sea fish and other agricultural stuff.
Jørn is a noble coffee lover. The gas stations here have a promotion action: you buy a mug at the beginning of the year, and then you can have free coffee poured to you throughout the following year. I wish we had that too.
We also called by the local history museum of Alta, but it was more fun outside than inside. Unfortunately, my headache made it hard to take interest in the culture of ancient Norwegians. When the weather suppresses you like that, you feel the gravity twice as hard. Most of my attention was attracted to the lights in the museum lobby. I wanted to have them in my apartment.
After the cultural programme Jørn took me home and left there alone with chocolate and my writings. I was invited to a party at the other end of the town, but my head ached so much that I had to refuse. I did not to show up there as a vegetable. By night the sky cleared up, I occasionally went out on the porch, I liked to sit there with my laptop and a mug of tea, to enjoy the view. The creaky wooden porch, the smell of wet soil and asphalt. I have to just close my eyes now to get back there.
Since I do not have keys to any house, I attach the trinkets to the keys to the bicycle lock. I take advantage of other people’s hospitality, burst into their life as an amusing event, that is still just an episode. I take so much from this, that sometimes I wonder, do the people I meet on the road enjoy this as I do. I like to be a guest, to become part of someone else’s life just for a little bit. It’s exciting. Like reading a book. And it’s also exhausting. Because they are all beautiful and amazing, and every time I have to say goodbye, I have a mixed feeling of joy and sadness.
Alta gave me not only the opportunity to sleep and rest, but also a great Sunday ride around the empty city. I felt like that evening was a gift to me. I was filled with calmness and joy, as if I was stuck in a state where nothing mattered: neither the distance that I had overcome, nor what was going to happen next. Only the mountains, the sea, the singing silence, a sense of balance and the confident road grip. I was on a date with myself on the edge of the earth. As if I’d just met somebody who was about to become the most loved one.
Next day it was time to leave. I did not know how fast I would get to Kirkenes, but I’d reserved some time for one overnight stay in the harsh northern wilderness. An hour before departure, I greedily examined the map trying to decide which way to take: to keep going down the E6 or turn to the bypass from Alta. Anyway, I did not have to flip a coin. I hate going back, if I decided to turn the bypass I had to go seven kilometers back. So, there was no doubt, moving on, to the E6.
After such a thorough rest I was glad to spin the pedals again. I had rolled about three or four hours, when a thunderstorm burst in. I swore a profane oath and stopped to get a raincoat that Katya had given me in Oslo. But the next moment a car stopped by and offered to outrun the rain. I agreed, considering how anxious I was after my pneumonia. The Norwegian fisherman and I spent about an hour and a half outrunning that rain, listening to solo singer from A-ha.
We said goodbye at the gas station, I stopped by the toilet and got Coke. I put my favorite Norwegian trophy, the hoodie from the North Pole. The rain stopped, but it became colder. The ground was wet, and I could not imagine spending night in such conditions, especially that I’d caught cold in Tromsø.
I went a couple of dozen kilometers until a real whirlwind opened up. In a matter of seconds I got soaked through and through. So I jumped off the bike, put on the raincoat (which was almost useless), hid the luggage and even drove on for a little while. But it was impossible to look ahead – the rain filled my eyes. There was nowhere to hide, except in the bushes, all the blessings of civilization were far behind. But the bushes were not an option, I wanted only one thing – a dry, warm place. My hands turned blue, I started to shake from the cold. There were no cars, only the road, the wall of rain, wet clothes, wet road map, wet luggage and rare vegetation, which could be used to do one’s doings, but not hide from the storm.
What’s most important in such a situation is to remain calm. It’s no use worrying. You have no power over what is happening, you only have to be patient and wait for it to pass. You can rap out, of course. But it’s no use, anyway. So, I slowly rolled in the rain, looking at the front wheel, until a bus to Karasjok came up. They did not need to persuade me, with grim pleasure I lost a piece of my last krones, took a seat, pulled up my legs and tried to warm up in wet clothes. Someone was carrying a cat in the cabin, it mewed unbearably, so I turned on the player. The night was falling. I hade made less than a half way to Kirkenes, but I already felt mentally tired – wet, dirty, with no one to come to.
When we arrived to Karasjok, the driver showed me where the E6 turned off, the rain was over, I’d even dried up a bit in the bus. So I took the bike out of the trunk and rode away at once to warm up. I wheeled along the empty E6 for a little while, then stopped, turned on Google-maps on the phone, examined them with unseeing eyes and went on. After a couple of dozen meters I took another pause to think. The turn to the 92nd bypass was left behind, in Karasjok. Somehow, I could not get this bypass out of my head. Although I’d been warned about the mosquitoes, and according to my rather dim idea of bypass roads, the traffic there should be much lighter. Nuts to you, intuition, I’m going back to the 92nd! And really, after I turned back and reached Karasjok, it actually felt wright.
Mosquitoes accompanied me all the way on the 92nd. It was silent, not a soul on the road. There was no point trying to hitch a lift. First, as soon as I stopped, a flock of biting midges would immediately beat me up. Second, there was only one car per half an hour, which was quite typical for 9 PM in the Norwegian wilderness. So I just went ahead, listening to the rustle of tires against asphalt. Still, it felt wright to have made that turn from the E6. The Norwegian-Finnish border was in hailing distance, and Finland had cigarettes for a cheaper price. There was no rain, as on the E6, although the sky was black with nasty clouds. And it was 100 km less till Kirkenes.
And that’s when I was picked up by Sven.
Sven was going home to Kirkenes from Tromsø, he was driving a small dusty Toyota which, with effort, managed to admit my bike after removing luggage and the front wheel. Sven turned out to be an amiable Norwegian in the middle of 40s. We laughed a lot and told tall tales and anecdotes from our lives, stopped by a Finnish café once and shooed Finnish deer from the road. Gladden with the sudden luck, I could not stop talking.
We arrived to Kirkenes late at night. Sven invited me over and I gladly agreed. We left my bike in the car with the rest of the things. Sven made me a bed, showed me around, gave a towel for the shower and went to sleep – he was very tired after such a long trip. I took a shower and lied down on the couch. I could not sleep for a few hours, looking at pictures, something between a dream and a fantasy on the verge of sleep. The seagulls outside would not shut up, then at 3AM a coffeemaker accidentally turned on for a few minutes. At four in the morning I did manage to finally fall asleep.
I took a shower and had breakfast. Sven came back. Within an hour, he found a driver who agreed to take me to Murmansk for 250 krones. I stayed to wait for him in the parking lot at the supermarket, and Sven left to work. I was sad to say goodbye to this big, kind, funny and very lonely Norwegian man. I thought again about my incredible luckiness in people I met. Hugging Sven, I mentally wished him to be happy. I spent about an hour and a half in the parking, watching visitors. Then a Russian driver came for me and another passenger. He was driving something between a minivan and minibus. We were heading for the Norwegian-Russian border in Borisoglebsk.
Almost all the way to Murmansk I pretended to be asleep, lounging in the back seat. I did not feel like talking. The most joyful event on the way was a halt at a roadside cafe, where I bought tea in a plastic cup and – hurray – a pie with meat. This was how I celebrated coming back to Russia. After that I managed to get some sleep, and then suddenly found ourselves in the misty Murmansk. I spent the night there, and then another 35 hours in the train to Moscow, waiting for another special moment of my life. But that’s another story.
More than 4,000 kilometers during a month travel from St. Petersburg to Kirkenes through Finland, Sweden and Norway. According to my bike computer, only about 1120 of them I actually cycled, even though it died almost at the end of the journey. A month of my life, which was worth getting out of the comfort zone and giving up all that kept me stuck in one place for the last few years.
I got to create my own fairy tale. And a major role in my tale was played not even by the mountains, the roads and the wild northern landscapes. The main characters there were people who met me on my way, who supported me in different countries of the world, more than in two. I was damn lucky. Thank you. I sincerely wish you the same, I wish one time your dream and reality came together in one special place.
There are people-satellites, and there are people-conductors. The first ones accompany you during fairly large periods of life. The latter ones appear to guide you through a series of challenges and adventures. Without the first ones the journey through life would not make any sense. Without the second it would not be so bright.
I wish absolute happiness to every door that closed behind me. And this is again Boris Grebenschikov.
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