Today’s post has taken a fair bit of thinking time to put together. Largely because I have left it a week before filling you in with the latest details of my trip, but also because I have found the days are starting to feel more and more ordinary as I slip into a routine of life on the road.
This means I worry that the stories I pass on will start to resemble other stories I have told in the past, inviting a level of monotony to the blog and discouraging people from reading on next time.
But then I take a step back and realise that actually, the past 7 days haven’t been the same at all – yes they follow a similar routine of wake up, try to dry tent, eat, walk/run/walk, eat, pitch tent, sleep…. but there are a few nuggets of joy, of sorrow, of wonder, of pain and sometimes of shock, which make each day on the road slightly unlike the last.
So here is the tale of the past week on the road. A week which has marked the end of two months away from home, 50 days on my own, and 33 days since leaving Kiruna, having recovered from that little bit of hospital drama. I feel stronger, more confident and happier than I have done in a long time – and though every day has an element of pain and struggle – underneath that I can see myself starting to grow as a person and that, I think, is really exciting.
Day 54 – 25th September – Strendene to Majavatn…
This morning I woke up in a beautiful campsite, determined to put all the negative thoughts from the past few days behind me, kicking that off with some properly brewed boiling coffee in the warm campsite kitchen.
As I walked into the kitchen (having first been to the ladies bathroom to hang up the tent to dry) I noticed a sign which directed campers to their ‘local’ Coop. I looked more closely to see that this local Coop was in fact 30km north in a town I had spent the majority of the day walking away from. I couldn’t help but laugh to myself. Yesterday I walked into this campsite head held high, proudly proclaiming that I had come all the way from this town, only to find a sign highlighting the convenience of a grocery store just ’15 minutes away’ in that same town. I both wanted to slap my forehead and cry at the same time. Turns out a little chuckle was a happy medium and I went about my business of boiling some coffee.
This may also explain why when I explain to locals where I have come from – usually modestly referencing wherever I started that day – they look nonplussed. Yet when they see my rucksack (now boldly stating I started in Nordkapp), their mouth usually hits the floor. This, I have to say, is definitely one of my guilty pleasures.
The shocked look of the locals when you state you’ve come from Nordkapp is both rewarding and inspiring. I have come to respect the Norwegians as a hardened race, a group of people who not only love the outdoors and being in it, but also respect it and look after it as something which is to be valued. These are a group of people who are not afraid of the elements, but who also know how to prepare for extremes. When they are impressed at you for what you are doing – you know it must be something pretty epic (if I may say so myself).
I digress, after boiling the coffee and packing up the tent it was back to the road for a day of hard marching. On route my mind continued to have the same battle as it had done for the past few days – a mixture of come on stop being so negative balanced with that demonic voice warning me that there was still a long way to go. But I was conscious of already being behind schedule and plodded on, noticing my pack feeling heavier than normal – a sure sign that the demonic voices were getting the upper hand that day. Though the scenery around me was still beautiful, it was losing the wow of previous days, with forests on either side blocking the view in most places. A couple of waterfalls still gave me those wow moments, but my head was not in the best place to appreciate them and this day was very much a matter of getting to the final destination.
This did involve crossing the halfway mark- and an obligatory selfie was taken to mark the occasion – even if it was a little clouded with doubt at the time…
On reaching Majavatn my feet were starting to seriously screech at me – there is something about negative thoughts which intensify any kind of pain. Or is it that positive thoughts mask pain? Either way, they were sore, and I found myself perching on a crash barrier for a few moments to give them a break. I looked across the road to see some fellow hikers waiting at a train station and thought I would go over and see if they could recommend a place to camp nearby.
This decision turned out to be my best yet. With the help of a local girl (must have been 14 max and her English was perfect) I was pointed in the direction of a closed campsite 5 minutes from where we stood. Not only this, because the hikers were on their way back to Trondheim (on the train) they offloaded some uneaten food on me, which again involved huge quantities of cheese… meaning not only did I have a free and beautiful camp spots, I also got to feast on cheese whilst I enjoyed the view.
Day 55 – 26th September – Majavatn to Namsskogan (via Nordlandsporten)…
So despite a continued bout of negativity yesterday ended on a high. That view, the cheese and a phone call from one of my favourite people left me feeling positive the next morning. After a breakfast of more cheese, I set off on the 8km journey to the Nordlandsporten – the gateway to the North – or as I was heading in the opposite direction – the gateway to the South (or so I am going to call it). This is basically the border between Nordland and Trondelag – two regions of Norway. It was marked by a sign across the road, a closed coffee shop and a set of toilets which for the first time on this trip, did not have safe drinking water.
Understandably (I think) this was a little frustrating – I hadn’t found any suitable drinking water this morning and had run out over night. It was now nearing 9.30 and I was feeling a little parched, so I set about boiling some of the toilet water so that I could at least have a cup of coffee.
It was whilst I was brewing my coffee that a couple of Norwegian men approached, curious as to how far I was hiking and for what purpose. Conversation was a little broken and difficult, but these two men were clearly lovely people, and as one of them explained they were on a 800km journey back from a visit to the others mother, the other went to the back of the car and brought back a bottle of water which he gave to me. Once again I was touched by the generosity of strangers, and baffled by the size of this beautiful country. Shortly after they left me to read my book as they sat down to have a coffee and some packed breakfast. As they did so I took time to appreciate that things here are done at a much slower pace, people take time to appreciate their surroundings and shy away from the outdoors. It wasn’t a particularly warm morning, the sky was grey and it threatened to rain, but here these men were, taking a break from their car and enjoying the outdoors. This is something I love about this country. Even people who live here appreciate the surroundings – and it’s not surprising when they really are beautiful.
The rest of the day involved just a 20km burst to Namsskogan where I had originally planned a rest day. Though my late start in Mo meant that I wasn’t able to enjoy such a luxury, I was determined to get there as quickly as possible to spend some time off the feet. I also promised myself some treats to eat if I made it in good time. Needless to say, with the promise of biscuits and chocolate this 20km whizzed by, and I found myself in Namsskogan, tent pitched and biscuits already entering mouth by about 4pm. It was time to rest up, get some sleep, and try to convince myself a trip to the zoo was not the most productive course of action for tomorrow…
Day 56 – 27th September – Namsskogan to Trones…
Day 56 was set to be one of the best of the trip so far, even if I may not realise it til a bit later on.
The day started as many others do – the alarm going off at 7, a hobble to the bathroom to hang out the tent and then a hobble to the kitchen to get a pot of coffee going.
It was during my morning coffee (and perhaps sly unpaid for use of the tumble dryer) that I had the great idea of downloading some new music to listen to. This idea turned into an impulse buy of Now that’s what I call the 90’s – which features some absolute classics. Awful awful music – but catchy, fun and easy to sing along to. Making it perfect.
As I packed up and wandered through town, I wandered how long it would take me to reach the zoo, and whether or not I would resist the temptation to go in. I think realistically this all depended on one thing – how far the entrance was from the main road – but as it turns out, there was no zoo at all in Namsskogan – making avoiding temptation really easy. There was a sign with distances to different places in Europe though which I thought was pretty cool – even if it does highlight that I took the long road from Nordkapp.
The road to Trones essentially followed a river for 30km and I was delighted to find that for the first 6km or so, there was also a bike path which followed the river, which meant I could stray from the road for a little bit and not have to deal with too many oncoming vehicles. It also meant a bit of a welcome change in scenery for a little while, and was further improved by the finding of a brass duck/penguin, which I carried with me for a little while before deciding that it was ridiculous to carry something so heavy, and that the drilled hole and white powder probably meant it was deeply wrapped up in a world of drug crime that I just wasn’t ready to enter in to. I did get a good picture of him first though…
Shortly after the brass bird had been discarded, I decided that I was unlikely to see anybody along this cycle path, and that a full blown sing along to ‘Tradgedy’ was perfectly acceptable. Mid-chorus however I rounded a bend and almost bumped into a railway worker, who was in stitches at me before I even knew he was there. A little embarrassed I removed my headphones and uttered an apology. He told me not to worry and asked if I was going far – displaying the usual open mouthed face as I explained I was on my way to Germany. On foot? He asked. I looked around as if to check if a bicycle or some other kind of vehicle had magically appeared, before replying yes. He still didn’t believe me. To add to the embarrassment during this conversation the song changed to the Titanic theme, and with Celine Dione now blaring out of my headphones I gave the usual, anyway must dash, and carried on on my way.
To my surprise this guy didn’t only wish me well, he also stopped as he passed on the road later, handing me a chocolate bun with a smile on his face. Gratefully I took the bun and continued down the road, taking mouthfuls between belting out lines of Cher, now with a big smile on my face. I’m not one to promote accepting food off strangers… but I am also not one to turn that kind of thing down, and I have to say that bun really was tasty.
Around 5pm that day I arrived in Trones to find that Namsskogan zoo was actually located here, and that it had closed for the winter. Temptation gladly removed, I went into the hotel across the road, having practiced my ‘I’m hiking from Nordkapp to Germany to raise money for charity and I was wondering if you would kindly offer me a place to stay’ line over the past few km. Unfortunately the best offer the hotel could give was a half price room (400kr) which although reasonable, was slightly too extravagant for me. He did however say that camping and use of the facilities was free. Result.
I went over to the campsite, stopping briefly for a go on the swing, and then I bumped into a Norwegian lady who had arrived just before me. Always happy for someone to talk to I approached her and asked the usual – do you speak English?! She did (of course) and we set about having a conversation – she was heading back to inquire the price of a cabin and I mentioned that we could perhaps split the price- which is what we ended up doing – getting a night in a lovely two bedroom cabin for just over 400kr between us. I felt a little guilty spending this money, but just to be in this ladies company made it worthwhile.
She (I hope she won’t mind me using she) was on her own little adventure – with no plan or itinerary – simply seeing how she felt each day and travelling (by car) to wherever she wanted. I thought this was a brilliant idea – it is amazing that we don’t do this more often. People get so caught up in planning things and sticking to schedules that they often forget the most important thing is just to relax and have a good time. I myself am definitely an example of this – constantly pushing myself to stick to a schedule when the only thing enforcing that schedule is me. I found her story and her attitude inspiring and I really felt lucky to have crossed paths with this lady.
I even wrote in my journal a few of the lessons I think she taught me…
“It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you do something… that even a small gesture (such as saluting and smiling at a passing car) can have a big impact on someone’s happiness… and that you should always do your own thing in your own way – regardless of what other people think.”
Now some of those things may have been inferred from conversation and some may have actually been uttered. But either way that is what I came away thinking and I thought that she was spot on.
I was also treated to dinner and breakfast the next morning, which as anyone who knows me will know, made my absolute day.
Day 57 – September 28th – Trones to Horran…
Naturally, a cooked breakfast and good company, not mention a poorly performed rendition of the time warp led to a little bit of a late start today. However, I left with a spring in my step and a lot of energy. I remember very little of what actually happened this day – spending a lot of time running and singing along to music. The 30km trip to Harran feeling surprisingly easy.
Though the day was meant to be 45km, because I started late I decided to stop in Harran, with access to a grocery store and a campsite, which being out of season meant I could camp for free, but with access to warm toilets and power.
I pitched up and took the opportunity to dry off some of my kit (it had been raining all day pretty much) and charge up my devices. I retired to the tent that night happy to have some extra room what with most of my possessions drying off in the toilets.
Day 58 – September 29th – Harran to Vegset…
Day 58 did not start particularly well.
I woke up and began my usual routine of hanging the tent up to dry when I noticed my phone charger and power bank (which had been left overnight to recharge) had gone walkabout from the bathroom. I did a quick scour of the building – mens toilets and all – but there was no sign of it, it had well and truly gone walkabout. I asked some hunters in the kitchen if they had seen it, but unfortunately no such luck, and although they appeared sympathetic, there was something intimidating about this big group of males, so I left them be and went back to quietly stewing whilst I packed my stuff up.
Spurred on by this inconvenience I decided that today would be a day of hard walking and that I would make it the 41km to Vegset. I also made a stop on route to but a new charger – taking the opportunity to stock up on emergency chocolate and a few lollipops – certain to lift any grumpy spells which I may experience over the next few days (although none of those things lasted the next few days – I am a sugar consuming demon).
I did make a brief stop at the Laksakvarium (salmon aquarium) which had unfortunately closed for the season, putting to bed my dreams of fresh salmon for lunch, but still providing some wonder at the sheer force of water pouring over a dam…
The rest of the day I mostly jogged – the lighter pack (due to my impressive ability to consume food) being appreciated, coupled with what I think is am improvement in my endurance and running ability. And a little bit of residual anger at the people who had relieved me of my power pack and phone charger.
41km later I ran down a hill to the bank of a huge lake, feeling that warm achey feeling of a good days work and keen to get warm and dry. Amazingly I negotiated a cabin and a shower for the same price as camping and I enjoyed a feast (I found spaghetti in the cabin), a warm shower and a warm night in a proper bed. I was definitely starting to feel good again, and even more so when I awoke the next day to more supportive messages from back home.
Day 59 and 60 – 30th/1st October – Vegset to Steinkjer…
Okay so I am getting a bit conscious of this going on a bit and cheating a little here… but these days basically involved working my way west, along the north coast of a big lake, back to the coast (or the fjordside) which is where I am now.
These days involved the modification of my rucksack and crossing yet another milestone (1000 miles now covered on foot). Another great thing to happen during this time was the result of a conversation I happened to have with a man who was out running. He works at a school 25km south of Steinkjer and invited me to talk to the students there in return for a night in the school accomodation. This was a great opportunity and I eagerly agreed, only realising quite how scary this was about 10km down the road… but excited none the less. This would be a great warm up for the talks I hope to do when I get back home.
And now I am in Steinkjer, well rested, well fed and looking hopefully at what is the first clear sky I have seen for a while, wondering if I may get a glimpse of those elusive northern lights this evening.
I apologise for rushing the end of this post, but I feel it may have been dragging on, and I have some salmon to cook and one last beer to drink, not to mention a tent to re-pitch before darkness sets in (I think that will be in about 20 minutes time- 18.45!).
A long post, but mostly a positive one. I am still feeling stronger each day and hope I can keep this up til I arrive in Germany in (hopefully) just over a months time. The support from back home has been incredible and really makes this all – every shiver, every wince, every twang of a muscle and every feeble attempt to keep my kit dry – worthwhile.
So thanks again for all your support…