The past few days I have found it difficult to be positive – each day bringing with it a new level of tiredness – testing my resolve in more ways than I could have imagined.
Yet today – some of this negativity has dissolved – allowing me to really appreciate some of the moments over the past few days. The explanations I can think of for this are the incredible support/messages I have received from people back home, the lovely stranger who made an effort to talk to me this morning, and a secret milkshake which I stashed for breakfast and nearly cried when I found it. One could say I am becoming emotionally unstable… I therefore aim to seize this rare opportunity to describe to you in a more positive light what the past few days have involved – because whilst the pain has subsided slightly I am able to look back with increased perspective.
Day 4 – Tuesday 16th August – Just inside Finland to Hetta…
Just on a note – after leaving the relative comforts of the café on Day 14 – I was treated to a double rainbow as I was pitching up my tent. The beauty of it was astounding and the photo does it little justice. But it was with a positive frame of mind that I went to sleep – having also had a brief Skype call with my mother and sister.
However, sleep that night proved difficult and twice I awoke from nightmares – dreaming bizarrely that an aggressive man with an East London accent was kneeling in my porch, asking why it took so long to wake me. That was odd- and probably means something to someone – but to me it meant one thing… getting going the next morning was a little difficult. But still I pushed on – wanting to make it to Hetta in decent time – and looking forward to another warm meal when I got there.
But unfortunately something was missing this day and it took almost all day to cover the 24km between where I had pitched up so positively the night before and where I was aiming to get to. Whether it was due to a lack of sleep, a poor choice in food or something else I have no idea, and I wrote very little that night – stating plainly that ‘the day had been long’ and ‘I was tired’.
I did however pass a Huskie Farm which was interesting – and the noise from which was surprisingly loud – following me about 10km down the road.
Day 5 – Wednesday 17th August – Hetta to Karesuvanto…
This morning started out positively – I had just 8km to cover to the next town (Palojoensuu) – at which I planned to take breakfast and make a phone call to dad at the same time to arrange the parcel he was sending. I even stopped during this time to sing enthusiastically down a large tube – a video of which is on my camera and will be made public when I get back…
However, having reached Palojoensuu around 11 Finnish time, it became clear that there was not a breakfast opportunity, so I chose to lay down on the pavement and ring dad regardless – only to worry two local residents who came to check if I was okay…
Having finalised parcel details with dad, I set off along the road to Karesuvanto, hopeful that an opportunity for food would arise. And luckily enough, after around 10km, a fish restaurant appeared from nowhere, a beacon of joy breaking up the monotony of road which I had been following. It looked a little like the photo below and despite the offer of local salmon soup, I opted instead for Sautéed reindeer – which came served with a gherkin and a glass of milk. None of which went to waste I would like to add.
From here, the day got a little more exciting, with a surprise of a reindeer farm just 5km further down the road. Now I know it seems a little insensitive after having undoubtedly eaten one of their brothers/sisters a little while back – but I couldn’t help but stop and feed them. Reindeer have to be one of my favourite farmed animals- super cute and not really threatening in the slightest. Makes for a good combo I think.
I was also treated a little while later on to some wild reindeer in the road – although they never seem to want to stick around long enough for me to get a good photo…
The day was to end well too – a long final push to reach Karesuvanto- marking what was nearly a 50km day. As a reward to myself and due to the previous two nights bad sleep – I checked into a campsite – which meant I was able to shower, wash my clothes, and enjoy some beautiful views of the river, before getting a few hours kip with the relative safety of a campsite for reassurance.
Day 6 – Thursday 18th August – Karesuvanto to not far enough…
Today started well – it began with me drying my clothes on the campsite, enjoying an adventure coffee, and awaiting a call from BBC radio Oxford.
Having completed these tasks around 11, I headed into town for some breakfast, aware that I needed to set out soon if I was to cover a decent distance this day. Having eaten well and stocked up on food I thought that I would be in for a productive afternoon, however soon after crossing the river and entering Sweden, it became clear this was not to be.
I tried to cheer myself using the ‘sun’s out, guns out’ philosophy… however something was just not going to click today.
I found myself tiring out really quickly, having to stop every hour to refresh and try to gain something back. I was aware that there was very little in the 105km stretch between Karesuvanto and Vittangi and this kept playing on my mind. A mixture of fatigue and what felt like an insurmountable distance began to take its toll on my mind and I continued to beat myself up, spiralling into perceived exhaustion and finishing short of my target – Ovre Soppero- by a good 20km. It had been a tough day and despite camping up by a beautiful lake – I knew tomorrow would be tricky too.
Day 7 – Friday 19th August – Not far enough to another middle of nowhere…
I both remember very little from this day apart from the fact that every step felt like a battle and a bad stomach made for a miserable time. This was the day where I made an hour long stop at the infamous shop (pictured below) and basically involved a lot of walking past very little, sinking ever more into a bit of a pit, knowing that I still had a long way to go. And let’s leave it at that – to dwell doesn’t seem to be doing me any favours!
Day 7 – Saturday 20th August – To Vittangi…
Determined to try and raise my spirits, Siobhan (bless her) had googled things to do in Vittangi – which ended with me keen to reach the town in time to visit a coffee shop – which I hoped would have WiFi and power.
The day started off okay – I had about 35km to cover to get there and was determined to do so. For around 20km I made good progress and even noticed this little fella on the ground…
However soon after the distance started to get to me, making the final 10km or so into Vittangi feel like a bit of a battle, not helped by the rain which started to fall as I neared the last few km. It was like a zombie that I staggered over the bridge into Vittangi – failing to appreciate the beautiful settings with a grumbling stomach and an exhausted body.
However, I was rewarded for my efforts when I stumbled across a small pizzeria, which happened to have WiFi, plug sockets, and a huge screen which was playing the Olympics. I got there about an hour too late to catch the canoeing, but was able to watch the triathlon with my feet up, something which along with the huge pizza made me feel much better. I vented a little over Facebook and left the pizzeria after a few hours, feeling slightly better and in search of a place to camp.
It was after I had pitched up and crashed out that a whole host of supportive messages came through – meaning I woke up to a wave of support the next morning- making the fact I was in mosquito-topia in a soggy tent ever so slightly less painful.
Day 8 – Sunday 21st August – Vittangi to Svappavaara…
As mentioned yesterday… it was a soggy start this morning- and my tent was in desperate need of an airing. At first I hung it up where I had been camping – I had woken earlier than normal and considered making an adventure coffee while they dried. However, during the time it took to follow my morning routine of teeth brushing and bladder relieving, the number of mosquitoes had become too much and I felt a need to get moving.
So I packed up everything- still damp – and headed out on the road, desperate to leave these mosquitoes behind. After such a poor start I was worried today would bring more negativity to a trip which I should be enjoying.
However, 8km down the road I came across a ‘rastplats’ a kind of service station/picnic area with toilets. As the sun was shining and there was a nice place to sit – I decided to air the kit and have a little breakfast. It was then that I remembered the chocolate milkshake I had bought the previous evening, and finally a smile spread across my face.
I had not been at the station long, when a Finnish man came to join me at my table. Not one for being great at small talk, I decided to keep scribbling in my notebook as he sat down. However, he soon started speaking to me, asking about the trip, being generally impressed and giving me advice about some of the places I was heading to. He explained how this was his second trip to Norway this year, and that he loved Norway because it was a beautiful country with beautiful fishing.
Having already been cheered by his conversation, I already felt indebted to this kind stranger. However, he went further and offered to share his flask of coffee, firstly apologising for having no sugar or cream, but then being delighted to hear I thought coffee was best without anyway. He agreed, adding that it is best outdoors, something which we toasted to.
He then asked for my blog details and I asked for a photo with him – which he declined saying instead – take a picture of just you!
Here’s one I prepared earlier.
I can’t explain how much it meant to have this 15-30 minute exchange of words with a complete stranger. I also spoke to my dad and sister before I left – explaining to them how happy I was to have met this man and wishing them well on their holiday. It’s safe to say I left the rastplats feeling much more positive about what I was doing, something which I am incredibly grateful for following the past few days.
The rest of the day has gone mostly to plan – having reached Svappavaara this afternoon – admittedly still in an almost zombie like state by the time I got here.
I now find myself in a small café in Svappavaara, making use of the WiFi to finish this post and then I will head down the road towards Kiruna in search of a place to sleep this evening.
As I do so, you can rest assured that I am doing my best to enjoy what it is I am doing, made easier by the kindness not only of those I know but also strangers I meet on the way.
I’m learning to accept that progress is progress and to embrace the life on the road. This is not to say I think it will be plain sailing… I expect more tricky times to crop up in the future… but as I keep being told by the people I love, it will all be worth it in the end, and today more than any other day, I am finally beginning to recognise this.