Reaching Mo last week was a big marker for me. Following a great few days in the mountains, the knowledge that I had some time to relax and enjoy the fact I was now south of the Arctic Circle – with almost 1300km under my belt – felt great and I truly felt proud of what I had achieved.
My day of rest in Mo unfortunately turned out to be closer to three days, however, much as I was impatient to get moving again, I always knew that the first few days back on the road were likely to be tough.
The trouble is this – although I know I have come a long way, I know that there is still a very long way to go. I also know that day by day the temperature will be falling, the hours of daylight decreasing, and the element of challenge increasing. This means that enjoying these markers isn’t actually as straight forwards as ticking a box – as it is likely the rest of the journey will hold many more challenges – challenges which if I am entirely honest, I don’t know how well I will cope with. Chief among these is the cold – people who know me well know I’m not the best person at dealing with the cold – and I’m not looking forward to sleeping in the tent if temperatures fall much lower!
Anyway – enough about worrying about things which haven’t happened yet and back to what has been happening over days 50-53. Contrary to the traditional format of going day by day… I have chosen to give you an insight into a typical day on the road – because apart from a few details – they are much of a muchness.
Day 50-53 – Wednesday 21st September to Saturday 24th September – A life on the road (from Mo…)…
7.00 AM and the soothing sounds of Jason Mraz and James Morrison are the first noises to wake me.
Or at least on a good day they are. Sometimes camping too near to industrial vehicles is the first noise I hear, or the screeching of a road marking truck, or the rumble of a lorry when I’m a little too close to the road, or even – although this has only happened once – the noise of someone making use of the light early morning traffic to empty their bladder dangerously close to my head. Yes, any of those things could wake me – but luckily for the past few days it has been the first thing. My preferred method of waking up if I am entirely honest.
I know there will be two responses to this. One from the older generation of readers – who will question why I need to have an alarm when camping – surely you awake at the crack of dawn to the rising sun and bird song…? No, is the answer to that. If there is one thing I am good at, it is sleeping, and if I didn’t set the alarm I probably wouldn’t wake up til noon. At least.
The second response, from the younger generation, will no doubt be why on earth are you setting your alarm that early?! To you guys I say – see earlier paragraph about a long way to go and dwindling daylight hours. This isn’t to say I get up at seven and march solidly til the sun disappears again – but leaving a little earlier allows for more time stopping and eating – which trust me when I say, is something which I could never tire of.
This is usually the time I have finished faffing and got moving. On a good day this will involve eating something full of nutritional value – such as a Mars bar – and not walking too much like a zombie. On an average day there are no Mars bars and I am zombiefied for at least ten minutes. I won’t give details of a bad day but let’s just say it ain’t pretty.
This is usually the time I can get to before needing to stop for a second breakfast and a sit down. Usually this involves muesli and hot chocolate mixed with some water in a bowl (delicious). If I’m feeling extra adventurous (like I was earlier today) I may even make a pot of coffee. Which I drink from said pot, because I do not have the luxury of a cup.
This is also usually after about 10km of walking/12km jogging- depending again on whether it is a good day or not.
This is normally the part of the day where I start to get a little bored of following the same stretch of road, counting down km markings and wondering how early is too early to stop for lunch. To fill this time I have conveniently come up with a couple of games.
The first has been with me for a while and is more of a – I’m going to be overly enthusiastic about thanking passing cars for not killing me – regardless of whether or not they make any visible effort to do so.
The truck and bus drivers LOVE this game. In fact, these are two of the very few types of driver to visibly make an effort to miss me – camper van drivers are another – and so they get an extra big smile when I raise my hand in a thanking salute. And the response is priceless – I often get a grin and a salute back – and if I am super lucky a wave. This all sounds terribly mundane I am sure – but when your only company has been yourself for several days, even an enthusiastic wave from a truck driver can warm your cockles. Even better is that these guys do the same routes every day – so for a few days I may see the same drivers twice a day. This results in greatly enthusiastic waving and smiling when we realise this is not the first time we have swapped thanking gestures, and in turn greatly warmed cockles.
Car drivers however – not such fans of this game- and tend to glare at me with a stare that says, “you don’t belong on this road”, and passing so close I can almost feel them speeding by. These people still receive a thank you for not killing me smile and salute, however this is often quickly followed by muttering a few choice words which I won’t use here, but I am sure you can imagine (male genital parts often forming some/all of the remarks).
The other game which I came up with today – and is frankly pure genius – is road bingo. Basically at the start of the day I think of five things that I may see on the road – today’s 5 for example were a lorry, a car with a trailer, a camper van, a tractor, and a car with a kayak on the roof. I then set a distance (today this was before lunch time or roughly 20km). Needless to say I saw all of these things many times apart from the kayak before arriving in Trofors. As I sat eating lunch in Trofors however, a car towing two kayaks on a trailer pulled in to the garage. Without thinking I yelled (out loud) BINGO and chuckled. Surprisingly none of the strangers around me chuckled, they just moved slightly further away. Now I know it wasn’t before lunch – but my game, my rules, it counted.
There are also other games – like try to pronounce the Norwegian towns, guess how many Volvos will pass in an hour, guess whether that angry dog has a chain or if he is about to mall your face off etc. Oh and finally one of my favoured games – how long can you hold a conversation with a cow before the farmer gets annoyed and comes out to see what on earth you think you’re doing… but more on those another time.
14.00 PM (ish)
Lunch time. This is basically where I sit down, maybe catch up on some messages, maybe have a loo break, maybe look at some photos, but definitely, without fail, the time to eat as much food as humanly possible. And then a little bit more if you have it.
I’m getting particularly good at that part.
This is my favourite part of the day.
Often it is kind of like the section leading into lunch, except I can spend my time thinking, “ah I’ve already covered 26km today, just 10 more and that will be 36km”. This is great because no longer is it a case or- oh there are so many more miles to go – it becomes more of a let’s see how many we can get. And on top of that, I know that when I do cover them, I get to eat again and then the most precious reward is given, sleep.
Or at least on a good day that’s how it goes. On a bad one it tends to be me struggling over the last 10km, stopping every 3km or so for a rest, losing daylight, panic pitching in a hurry in an unsuitable camp spot and eating what cold food I have (because I can’t be bothered to cook) before finally falling asleep. But those are the really bad days which touch wood, don’t happen too often, so we won’t dwell on those.
This is where that good ol thing sleep is clocked up. Usually I will wake up two or three times during the night because of the cold, however once I cocoon myself and lie on the roll mat (instead of half on half off) this is okay. All in all most nights are fairly comfortable.
Last night though, was not, and just as a parting gift I will tell you why not…
It started well enough, with a comfy pitch behind some hay bales and a decent level ground for popping the pegs in. However, just as I finished pitching a man walking his dog came over for a chat. Conversation was a little awkward- as it normally is with a language barrier – but before he left he said those three words nobody really wants to hear when out camping on their own – “you’re very brave”. I of course thought nothing of it til he was gone, but once he was gone I could think of little else… what did he mean brave?! Was there something I should be worried about?!
And that, I am a little ashamed to say, set me on edge for the whole night- listening to every sound and being constantly alert. It wasn’t helped by two road marking machines placing red poles at 50m intervals in the MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT… or the fact that laying in either side for too long is incredibly painful with achey hips. Let’s just say sleep wasn’t so good for a while.
Eventually of course fatigue won over and I drifted off. Only stirring to my alarm at 7, 7.05, 7.10 and 7.15. Which led me to another realisation that I have come to on this trip – that it doesn’t matter what day of the week it is, whether it’s a special occasion or an urgent wake up, those moments of sleep you get between the sleep function of your alarm are the sweetest damn moments of sleep ever.