Footnotes to Sunlight
“Western philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato.”- Alfred North Whitehead
I like the idea of shrinking swathes of history into a few footnotes, and I like to adjust that quote to say that natural history is a series of footnotes to sunlight. The archetypal human obsession with the sun is good fun if you’re ever at a loose end, and spending innumerable hours by the road under the midnight sun managed to pull me through this obsession and out the other side (for now).
The road has taken me back to the UK for a week to see my family and meet my new niece. It was surreal going from 4 hours sleeping in a ditch in Reading to holding a new family member in the same day, but the last 8 weeks has been a catalogue of surreal goodness. I’ve been wanting to write some sort of summary for a while, specifically since talking about it with Lars after he picked me up ill and sleep deprived between two big storms around Toten in Norway.
Thank you again for that Lars, and thank you to everyone I’ve met, been helped by or been able to help, and before I forget- one thing I’ve learnt on this trip is mobile numbers are very useful to have when you turn up in a friend’s city by accident (emailing people at 11pm is a bit subtle) here’s mine: +34 600 70 10 39 )
I came to Oslo in June to see a close friend, meet her (solid and lovely) family and get some head space, and she said that if I was in Norway with no plan I should go to Karlsoy festival near Tromso.
So the next day after using hitchwiki to get out of Oslo I got a lift from a man named Hans who took me to Trondheim and told me basically everything he knew about shipping phosphorus, sailing to Japan, breeding and racing horses, running discos and destroying cold war bunkers (he was off to catch a plane to Tromso to meet his demolition team). As soon as he dropped me I stuck my thumb out and two climbers picked me up, told me to go to a place called Paradise (in Lofoten) and then dropped me off in a town called Hell where I was stuck for a few hours. Made it to Steinkjer with a bookseller and started the next day hopping around avoiding shitting seagulls as I tried to pack the tent up. Got up to Mo I Rana the next evening and on the third day the first people to stop were a couple of Swedish climbers on their way to Lofoten, so next moment (or four hours later after crossing the snowy arctic circle listening to ‘walk the line’) I’m on a boat with them going across the sea to distant snowy peaks replete with about fifty rainbows…I began to wonder if ‘Paradise’ was some phenomenally well-funded gay club at this point but it turned out to be a climber’s paradise with great camping spots. Climbed cliffs at midnight on the solstice and then spent a very long time in my coffin-sized tent as the weather went down to 4 degrees with sleet. Came out without knowing what day or time it was (turned out it’d been two days). In fact I rarely knew what time it was for the whole trip- no watch or phone and the sun didn’t go down.
After some cold weather indecision I hitched to Tromso where a fresh bout of snow (and indecision) had fallen, so I tried to go into Finland out of curiosity. Wiggo the mechanics teacher took me to Kilpisjarvi, pointed out that I was unlikely to get a lift that day and said come to Lakselv so you can hitch to Nordkapp (northernmost point in mainland Europe, some claim). Well, nothing like a long car journey so we hopped some borders to pick up cheap Snuss (tobacco you put under your top lip) in Sweden and drove back through Finland into Norway. Next day a lovely Estonian couple took me up to Nordkapp where I saw snow, tundra, reindeer, a surprising number of houses, a big edge and then nothing but sea till Svalbard. Sent a postcard and did a U turn. After standing an hour in the snow I was picked up by the same Estonian couple on their way back down. I then took the scenic route back to Tromso and when I got stuck and bought warm clothes in Alta the temperature then shot up to 24 celsius.
Ended up on Karlsoy a week before the festival and spent the days building the main stage and the evenings walking back to my tent on the beach in complete disbelief at the beauty of the place. Words won’t do it. Also let it be said that the happiest seagulls I have ever seen are those on Karlsoy. After a brilliant festival and helping take the stage down I was given a goatskin by Svein Eigil (really felt like I was in an RPG) and hitched out for Finland curiosity part 2.
So, back in Kilpisjarvi in 30 degree heat- when you come over from Tromso the scenery changes suddenly from mountains to flatland with small birches and occasional lakes. I was standing there with my thumb out at noon, glaring sun, empty road, shimmering heatwaves, tundra getting embarrassingly dry- three reindeer trot past me calmly, turn right and walk onto the porch of the house behind, where they beat their antlers on the door and then sit down. At that moment I vowed to make ‘Acid Lapland’ a music genre. Marlena from Finnmark picked me up on her way back home for a festival (lot of Norwegians ride through these roads to avoid the slightly slower coastal route on their way back to Norway). She dropped me 50km of Muonio where I finally met the famous Finnish mosquitoes. People tell you about having to clean their windscreens several times in a journey to get the dead ones off, or tell you that they thought they saw smoke from a forest fire but it was clouds of the winged bastards. I hadn’t taken this on board so ended up waiting around having to constantly fan myself with my hitching sign because repellent (strong stuff, mind) doesn’t work. In order to think straight I dropped the sign, put up my tent (eyes practically closed to keep them out and bitten every step of the way), crawled inside and passed out from the relief.
Here’s a diary excerpt:
“Finland can only get better. I’m sleep deprived, sweaty, cowering in my mosquito frame noting the ones that get through and cursing how. It’s 9pmish, sun is high. No lifts. Many men turning to stare at me through mirrored glass as they drive German automobiles past, accelerating as a gesture of ill will. Bad vibe from couple I tried to ask about camping. Doubt I’ll sleep long if at all.”
..the next morning..
“No water. No cars. Plan is to save strength then walk back, beg borrow or steal to Kilpis and back into Norway I think.
"Saved by missionaries. In Kilpis now.”
Long conversation with Helsinki missionaries about working in Uganda and the meaning of life and then they dropped me in Nordkjosbotn, near Tromso.
Don’t worry, Finland round 3 is on its way when I start again. My curiosity continues to go up and lessons have been learned about mosquito repellent and listening to people’s warnings, as well as knowing about how the population of a country is dispersed (184,000 of Finland’s 5.4million people are in Lapland). Will probably start in the south next time. I still smile fondly at the thought of those cheery mosquitoes because it’s a hell of a good memory for the “I’ve waited longer in worse” mantra I occasionally play in my head whilst at the roadside. Nothing like hindsight to describe a plague of mosquitoes as a host of much-maligned and misunderstood midwives to your future patience…
So to celebrate mosquito free good weather I headed towards Helgeland on Norway’s west coast for a scenic route south, the idea being to go to Oslo a few days after. Great times on the way down, met jazz students, marksmen, zookeepers, locksmiths, accountants- all in a great mood with weekend plans- it was hotter than Palma (in Majorca), someone said.
Got stuck around Bognes but sat about beaming for 3 hours before thinking about putting a tent up. Something said ‘5 more cars then find a place to camp’. The third car stopped, green ford estate with back windows covered by towels, far back windscreen broken, car full of stuff. A young man gets out, hurries me to the boot, jams my bag in the back and says “get in, we have to get the ferry!”.
I get in to find two children sitting in the back laughing and playing with toy pirates, and after a rushed ten minutes along the coast we find the port and sit in the queue. At this point I said I was amazed he’d picked me up given the crammed car, two children to look after and a boat to catch and his answer was that he used to hitch and I’d help him stay awake. Drove 5 hours through the coast, windows open, hot air coming through, midnight sun glowing, listening to Pink Floyd. Passed the original maelstrom (it really spins!) and at one lake the odd sight of a gaggle of male bikers in a semi-circle getting undressed to take a dip in the fjord whilst their leader (?) who was already naked stood in the water, nodding in approval. Scenic is scenic.
Put my tent in Marcus’s garden and continued in the morning. Small roads and long waits but I got picked up by a fishing instructor and her daughter and taken to see a glacier before being dropped at the ferry port. I asked two women the time and got talking to five friends from the south of Norway who told me they’d come up to go to Traena festival. I’d heard of Traena from a locksmith in Tromso, and from Marcus on the way through Helgeland. In brief- it’s a festival across two islands in some of the best fishing grounds in Norway- if I really let loose about Traena here I wouldn’t stop, but basically the girls gave me a lift some of the way down and invited me to have a barbecue and a swim by the ferry port for Traena. We sat around joking about me jumping on the ferry with them, before realising that actually had to happen. Ended up as a volunteer wrapping whale meat burritos and serving drinks in exchange for a ticket, and the rest of the festival I was free to hang out with Hanne, Marianne, Lynn, Veyni and Gina. Brilliant coincidence. It is an astonishingly beautiful place, and the festival culminated with an impromptu rave by a chapel and an afterparty that was 8 people dancing to Herbie Hancock and Jerry Lee Lewis on a table on a boat in the harbour. There I met a great dancer and friendly hitcher from Germany called Florian. Leaving Traena the day after clean-up I met him again on the ferry back where he’d already organised a lift to Sweden and decided to give me all the Norwegian money he no longer needed. I was stunned by this and he pointed out that ‘it’s only money’. The day I left Traena I slept in Oppdal (664km away), helped by an ice analyst debating the pros and cons of moving to Antarctica for 13 months, a retired civil engineer who used to build tunnels through mountains (they begin digging from both sides, and he said he never slept the night before the tunnels had to meet) and a late night lift at 11pm from two German wwoofers in a big VW van on their way to their next host. I went to sleep in a field enjoying the first darkness I’d seen in weeks. Woke up just before sunrise with a cold and began a very intense day down to Oslo. First lift with another retired engineer who was on his way to meet friends for a week of walking/staying in cabins. He dropped me at a pretty difficult spot by a hairpin bend. Two hours later (after inscribing the crash barrier with some Mase lyrics) a caravan stopped and I was ushered in by a couple on holiday and invited to talk with nine year old Kevin so he could practice his English. I was going down the E6 alongside the river, rain falling, mountains behind, sat across from a boy who bore an uncanny resemblance to Macaulay Culkin (his dad pointed this out), eating spring rolls and listening to him divulge his victorious tales of trolling people on minecraft and recording their reactions before putting them on youtube. Occasionally I tried to steer the conversation into hobbies that don’t involve the internet and made the point of ripping a drawing out of my book and giving it to him. Got dropped off and picked up again in 5 seconds by a guy I felt uncomfortable about for some reason (in brief: very lonely and very hyper) , so as soon as he stopped to buy something a minute later I told him I was leaving the car and not to take it too personally. Tried to hitch for 3 hours from a gas station then turned around to find a much better spot. First lift was Magne the undertaker and by this point I was so tired and getting more ill and just fell asleep for twenty minutes, waking up as the car swerved during rain so heavy we couldn’t see a damned thing.
Magne: Ok so I can drop you at the bus stop here?
Me: We can’t see anything. I’ll get hit by a car. Is it ok if you drop me closer to where you’re going? I don’t mind going off the E6 (but I want to live!)
So that’s the point where I end up at the bus stop just when the first storm has stopped and part two is following quickly behind. Still sleep deprived, pessimistic about any lifts on this road at this time in this weather, when a car coming from the opposite direction turns around and Lars gets out and tells me he’s going to Oslo. On the way he said he’d driven past me and decided to turn around and pick me up. We talked a lot about music, psychedelics, agriculture and the unparalleled joy of family dynamics. After being taken to his sister’s flat in Oslo and wanting to stay a bit longer with them all, I gave into exhaustion and the desire to see my friend Ellen. Turned up practically cross-eyed from lack of sleep and recovered during the next few days of great company. After that I decided to go into Germany and that trip began with rescued from hitching in the middle of the Norwegian motorway, picked up by two Polish evangelists and given an English bible to read aloud to them for a few km. With more phenomenal luck I made it to Bremen from outer Oslo in two lifts, one was Zwav moving his furniture back to Poland and the next was Johannes the rowing coach on his way to southern Germany via Bremen. He said he could drop me in Cologne the next day if I wanted, so the following morning we continued our conversation/setting the world to rights with regard to travel, marriage, Norwegian employment and education. In Cologne I saw Florian again, and spent three days with him and his girlfriend Lena learning about physics, containering and saunas.
The last morning in Cologne I had an email to say my sister had given birth to a girl, and with a smile on my face I took two hours (some of it getting lost as usual) to get out of town to a good garage, and stood under the shelter watching hail bounce off the roof and thinking about children). Soon picked up by a car dealing massive techno fan on his way to train mechanics near Karlsruhe, and got lost in a sunny southern German town listening to Somewhere Over The Rainbow (ukulele version) on the radio, and then got picked up by a friend named Lea I’d made in Oslo. She took me to a friend’s party, arranged for me to go with some friends to Freiburg two days later and then drove us home in her fire engine. Spent the next day and a half swimming in the lake, eating tempeh, washing up and all too soon I was in a car on the way to Freiburg to stay at a Wagonplatz. One of the 3 wagonplatz’s in Freiburg had been evicted several times, most recently with many of the caravans being impounded. The weekend I spent there I mostly stayed around the camp helping with chores and meeting people, but the focus of the weekend were a rally and a protest in town.
After Freiburg I had a decisional change and decided to come back early to see my niece and then go to Ireland. I’m going to shorten this story a bit or I’ll never send it but essentially I hitched back to Karlsruhe and saw Lea again, as well as two friends I’d made in Freiburg who were staying with her. Spent a good evening laughing our heads off and avoiding the massive storm outside and the next day Kafi drove me to a great hitching spot outside Karlsruhe. She must be good luck because that evening I was in Rotterdam following a lift from a german delivery driver named Moritz who'd recently returned from Australia, and then two dutch laser salesmen who drove like the wind (177km/h on the autobahn in the rain, clouds flying out the back and the driver turns round and says “I feel like….HARRY POTTER!”) and took me to a coffee shop in Arnhem the minute we crossed the border into the Netherlands.
In Rotterdam I realised I was too high to hitch so I walked until I found a campsite before starting the next day at 6am. Fits and starts to Belgium but made it and got picked up by a trucker called Stefan who took me on the Eurotunnel to Dover. In England the first thing I really noticed was the unabashed relish with which people shunned hitchhiking. People making wanking gestures out the window, swearing, screaming, putting their middle fingers up. Really surprised by it, hadn’t had anything like that anywhere. Waited 5 hours in a busy garage until a Polish software engineer on his way to Newbury came by with a Jimi Hendrix blues cd (basically 12 different versions of hear my train a coming, red house and voodoo chile) and floored it to Reading. Slept in a ditch for 4 hours dreaming that I had a German sidekick named Anna who kept making brilliant jokes, then woke up and met a taxi driver heading to Bristol, and spent that afternoon changing nappies. Very weird to be back just like that, managed to surprise my brother who did the textbook eye rub of disbelief.
Heading to Ireland tomorrow and back into Germany around the middle of August- no real plans on trajectory but hope to see you all on the road. "
Throwing this in here too- first heard on the radio whilst power-steering around big steep snowy roads in Tromso, learning about Sami congress from my driver and wondering where the fuck I was going to camp.