"Europe 2004-05" story # 11

Nikkaluokta, Sweden           July 30, 2004

Without even a winky-blink of sleep, I hitchhiked from the Finnish-Swedish border to the Swedish Arctic Circle.
     Roland was the driver who carried me past the imaginary line at 66.66 degrees Northern latitude. Roland was retired and on his way to his summer-house. We'd ventured into the interior of Sweden at this piont, and the best description of the land was that it was very thick with woods.
     After crossing the "polcirkeln" (Arctic Circle) line, we promptly saw my first reindeer. I think it was Blitzen. It was colorful and sad, like a kids' book character. It was brown, except for the end of its rounded snout, which was a vibrant frosty white. Its furry antlers were also frosty white, and their thick and blunt shape seemed to have been molded out of clay by a child. The sad-eyed reindeer turned away from Roland's Jeep. As it ran, its short legs bounced haphazardly like springs beneath its stout body.
     We next drove a bridge over a wide, jungle-dark river. The river tumbled beneath us in a screaming chaos of white waterfall. The sides of the waterfall had disintegrated upriver from erosion. A grassy, meadowy shore nearby would've made a great camping spot.
     Roland and I rode on together, though, conversing smartly in Swedish. Roland said the many "renar" (reindeer) who stood so dumbly on the road were owned by Lapp people. The Lapps were no longer nomads, but they did have to worry about "lakotter" (lynx) eating their reindeer babies. It was the time of year in which owners clipped their baby reindeer's ears so they would know who each reindeer belonged to. I told Roland maybe I could get a job as a reindeer ear clipper, but he said I was dreaming. Those people are skilled.
     Nevertheless, LET'S HEAR IT! for those wonderful reindeer, without whom Christmas wouldn't be possible.
     While Roland drove, I stole twenty minutes of sleep. (I dreamt peacefully of holding Rudolf down, clipping his ear with a big "SC".) Six rides in addition to Roland's helped me to reach a place called Nikkaluokta.
     From Nikkaluokta, a popular hiking trail led for twelve miles to Sweden's tallest mountain. I hiked for only two miles, because my bags were quite heavy. I found a camping spot beside a translucent, galloping river, and I didn't see another person for two days.
     You may ask: How did it feel to be north of the Arctic Circle? It felt: itchy. That's because sinister, steroid-taking mosquitoes lurked behind each tree. Their overwhelming number often forced me into my tent, and those mosquitoes - not catching my hint - waited outside for their chance to stick me.
     I braved the mosquitoes one night to climb 4,400-ft.-tall Mt. Cievrracohkka. It was eleven p.m. when I started. The small, yellow sun was about to set, after completing its steady, low sailing around nearly the entire 360 degrees of the light-hued sky.
     Arctic forest - made up of mountain-fed rivers, short, decidious trees, and tree-sized mosquito gangs - reached at me as I hiked. (A guy who I'd ridden with, Kent, had told me the area's birch trees were mostly bare of leaves this year. A species of butterfly, which shares its Swedish name "bj√∂rk" with birch trees, had re-appeared for the first time in a half-century. After so much time away, they understandably were craving some leaves.)
     The forest floor was a gloomy mixture of gray and foggy green. Various mushrooms and flightless pheasant-type birds loved these gloomy colors. I hiked up to an elevation where the only big things that grew were orchard-style trees with mangled, white trunks. Gray air gave this wanna-be orchard a scary cemetery feel.
     Before I reached 3000 feet of elevation, the trees ceased altogether. I roamed a mountain-walled plateau, very flat, carpeted with soft grass and slowly-weaving swampy streams. I was struck by how amazingly quiet, how unbelievably still this alone place seemed. There was just me, cold, open air, and moutains that hadn't moved in thousands of years. It felt great to be in a place where a 1-mile-per-hour wind moving past you made a sound.
     A rock-strewn slope led to the bald head of Cievrracohkka. Smooth, mostly-void-of-snow moutnains ran across the vast territory of landscape within vision. To the west hulked 6,700-ft.-tall Mt. Kebenakaisse, Sweden's tallest mountain, and its neighbors. A suffocating load of snow had been dumped on the wide, black mountains who couldn't keep their heads out of the clouds.
     I hiked through the great Arctic quiet again. Down below at my campsite, I wrote. I also bathed myself with environmentally-friendly soap in my river. I had to stand on a rock in the river to lather myself up, then throw my body into the river's staggering chill. It was an important bath; I must stay clean for the hitchhiking! I headed south to Umea.
     Late one rainy night, a grandfather and his grandson scooped me up. Theirs was a very enjoyable ride. They were returning from a fishing trip, as best I could tell. We didn't speak during the ride, because my drivers were Finnish. We just drove the Arctic road, past gray dark sky and forest silhouette, with its sharp pine tops and soft birch fluffs. As the rain picked up, the grandfather whistled an old Finnish tune.

I made it back to Umea Monday evening. Since being back, I've obtained two crucial things: a new job and a cell-phone. My new job is in a restaurant, and I just finished seven hours of work. Meanwhile, I'm still working in Anders and Viktoria's hostel in the mornings in exchange for free housing.
     It was my friend, crazy girl Nina, who loaned me her dad's old cell-phone to use while I'm in Sweden. Really, I never, ever wanted to ever own a cell-phone. I despise them like Wile E. Coyote despises the Roadrunner. But, it's twenty times cheaper to call someone from a cell-phone than from a pay-phone. Also, now my friends can call me.
     Hopefully, the crazy girls will be calling a lot! And there's no recipe for fun like a bunch of crazy girls.
     I would like to tell you about crazy girl Maria some time, but I think she defies description. She's like a hedgehog who dropped a toaster in the bathtub while she was bathing, and now she has so much electrical, overcharged energy that she just wants to happily say a million things to you all at once. There's never a dull moment. Unfortunately, one of those million things is, "Here, try some of my snus. Don't you want some? Take some; snus is great!"

Yuk, cell-phones and snus.
Later, all! - Modern Oddyseus

Thanks to Bert; Denis; Roland; Jean & Agnes; Kent; Herre & Fru Fernandes; Karle & Johan; Ristu & Henri; Erica & Veronica; Storre; Bene; and Anna & Eva for the lifts!

go to the previous story                                                                                   go to the next story

J. Breen's modern-o.com