"Europe 2004-05" story # 16

Kittelfjall, Sweden           September 6, 2004

The next time I want to have as much fun as I had during last week's Hitchhiking Scavenger Hunt, I'll just ask someone to drop a sack of bricks on my head. - No, I'm just kidding, it was a little more enjoyable than having a sack of bricks dropped on one's head. Here's a reeeeecap ...

DAY ONE: Due to a late start by a sleepy Modern Oddyseus, P.W.Herman jumps out to a comfortable lead.
     A truck-driver carried me down Sweden's northern coast. It had been after one p.m. when he saw me on the side of the highway. He must've thought my Swedish was pretty lousy, because he broke into English after only eight seconds. I began to feel confident no one would speak Swedish with me on the whole trip. My first driver, thirty-something Bjorn, had very low energy. He opined that wolves were good-for-nothing creatures and Sweden didn't need them. It was going to be tough to keep my energy level up while hitchhiking in Sweden.
     I couldn't do a salt-water snorkel, because the harbour I'd come to was dirty and smelly. I caught only two more rides on the day.
     I'd turned to a smaller, inland road. My drivers were both guys in their thirties and forties. We conversed in only Swedish, which made me as happy as a schoolgirl. We talked about bear and lynx sightings as we coasted circles around forgotten forests and dark lakes spilled in place. I tried to coax my drivers into stating, "Jag Alskar Roxette" (I love Roxette), or "Surstromming ar acklig" (Surstromming is disgusting), but my coaxing is evidently in need of some practice.
     I was dropped off at a beautiful campsite. In Sweden, there are free campsites in the wilderness which someone mysteriously makes sure are always supplied with firewood. At least, I think they're free. A drastic incline beside the campsite dropped to a brown, foamy river with a fumbling waterfall. On the opposing side of the road lied hills where I could search for moose and bear.

mossy mounds
leaping like clumsy toads
away, away after those king-cypress foothills

like a dreamworld
in which a toad visits after he's eaten his spider fill
the mossy carpet
is shared by spaced-out, little pine trees
who come to greet

tree shadows shroud
the existing light, eerie
as a toad's gentle croaking
blue light dying in the dusk clouds above
christmas green light shining in the eerie moss below

I call that poem, "Toads are People, Too."
     It was written beside a popping campfire, to pick up Scavenger Hunt points. I'd also juggled a tennis ball ten then thirteen times with my feet. And I'd collected a purple and yellow flower and eaten an apple off someone's tree. I gained a mere thirty-nine points on the day. My imaginary competitor, P.W.Herman had somehow scored a hundred.

DAY TWO: P.W.Herman remains consistent; the Modern Oddyseus fears he might score negative-points this day.
     In the brown, foamy river, I washed myself naked with a snorkel mask on. I was rolling with fifteen quick points. I prepared myself to speak only quotes or only lies in the first car to stop.
     But, the wait took over an hour, so it was tough to keep my energy high. An old man finally stopped, and I greeted him, "Hi, I'm Ewan." (a quote my college roommate used to say) I planned to continue with (Benjamin Franklin) "A penny saved is a penny earned," (J.R.R. Tolkien) "Not all who wander are lost," and, if I was asked where I'd slept the last night, I'd quote (Chris Farley) "... down by the river." However, old Liderskoj understood nothing of English, so I abandoned my all-quotes strategy.
     I next had to walk four kilometers to reach a road with traffic. I and my backpack-burdened back waited nearly three hours for the next ride, so I was in no mood to speak only French in it for ten points. Because I lost points every hour that I waited, I was only minutes away from sinking to negative points on the day!
     An interesting guy, Michael, drove me far into Sweden's interior. He let me out in his little city at the front door to a Lapplander souvenir shop. I went inside. There were reindeer skins, stout Lapplander knives, and thin-looking navy tunics made of English cotton which used to be worn comfortably year-round outside by Lapplanders in northern Scandinavia.
     The shop-owner was ethnically a "Sami," or Lapplander. He spoke some "Sami" for me, which sounded cool with a bunch of "okk-okk-kluk" sounds and "chee-chee"'s. He told me many interesting things about his people. He said they used to trade and have power as an independent nation, but the Swedish monarchy took them over and made them pay taxes on their land. Sweden made illegal the Lapplanders' old religion and ardently tried to convert them to christianity.
     I stepped out of the shop. I caught four quick rides. The last ride was from a couple in their fifties. I got in their car, and they turned up the "American Oldies" CD they listened to. The song, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," played. In the backseat, I timidly sang, "A-Weem-A-Wep, A-Weem-A-Wep, Oooh-oo-oooh-oo ..." I was trying to start a sing-along, to gain myself five points. My drivers didn't join in, unfortunately.
     I slept the night in Kittlefjall, in the Swedish mountains. Kittelfjall must be a gorgeous ski resort in the winter-time. Now, in warm early autumn, bare rock glided upward out of a skirt of trees and ski runs. I camped in a grassland field where I'd seen a colossally-sized jackrabbit grazing.
     After having played with a dog and having caught a glimpse of a fox earlier, I earned sixty-eight points on Day Two. Imaginary P.W.Herman scored one hundred.

DAY THREE: Modern Oddyseus actually does lose points on the day. P.W.Herman taunts, "I want a real competitor!" then, "I know you are, but what am I?" then, "Modern Oddyseus is a bozo!"
     All night while I camped in Kittelfjall, that damned jackrabbit kept digging outside my tent not one foot away from my head. I slept dismally. I moved my tent when the sun came up in case I had been camping on top of that poor damned jackrabbit's burrow. I didn't wake up and start hitchhiking until almost noon.
     At that point, I already stood at negative-eight points. I'd gotten stung by a bee while eating gingerbread cookies. (I was the one eating gingerbread cookies, not the bee.)
     I eventually got picked up by a reindeer-owning "Sami" Lapplander. He told me Lapplanders hate bears and wolves and wolverines. Those animals eat reindeer, so he and other Lapplanders shoot them when they see them. I thought it was rather sad that the Lapplanders - who, themselves, had their territory taken over by someone who came after them - could not see the bears' and wolves' claim to the land and be kinder to them.
     I didn't travel very far through the forested, river-carved interior on this day. Before camping out at night, I spent sixty kronur at a supermarket, which cost me six Scavenger Hunt points. I finished the day having scored negative-two points. Imaginary P.W.Herman had scored a hundred positive.
     I had thought I might've been able to make it home to Umea for the night. It's ironic that I had kept that damned colossally-sized jackrabbit from his home one night. Because, by digging and digging and keeping me up all night so I couldn't begin hitchhiking until noon, that poor damned jackrabbit had effectively kept me from reaching my home the next night.

DAY FOUR: The Modern Oddyseus comes to really, really wish there was no such thing as "Day Four." Meanwhile, P.W.Herman celebrates his Scavenger Hunt victory by break-dancing on a bar and yelling, "Tequila!"
     I started to hitchhike at six-thirty a.m. Sometimes I just stood with my thumb out, sometimes I walked down the road. By three p.m., I had walked nine kilometers, but zero cars had offered me a ride. It was a horrible wait.
     The bad news was I stood now at negative-forty points on the day. The good news was if I only walked forty-one kilometers more, then I would have traveled fifty kilometers on a side road, and I would've scored five points!
     Once, I cast my sign after a big, empty SUV that passed me by. I swore sometimes, and not just in reference to jackrabbits. There's no excuse for a country as safe as Sweden is to not help out hitchhikers - especially a hitchhiker who needed to make up 335 points on that damned P.W.Herman.
     My forehead was being grinded by my frustrated, stressed-out hands when I noticed a girl named Pia had stopped for me. Thank god for Pia!
     Four very quick rides carried me 220 kilometers home to Umea just in time before it got dark. It was a fortunate end to the day.
     When I got in the last guy's car, I told him I was coming from my girlfriend's house. It was a lie. However, I wasn't able to make this an all-lies car. It was too tired, and I was interested in the conversation.
     I scored three points on terrible Day Four. Imaginary P.W.Herman scored one hundred.

Here are the final Modern Oddyseus stats, during the Swedish Hitchhiking Scavenger Hunt:

(17 pts.) - 17 rides
(5) - 5 all-female rides
(5) - 100 km traveled on a main highway
(70) - 700 km traveled on side roads
(5) - two straight cars stopped for me once
(-75) - 15 hour-long waits
(35) - 7 Swedish-only rides
(-9) - 3 times people didn't "farsta" (understand)
(5) - learned something interesting about Swedish politics
(10) - juggled a tennis ball ten then thirteen times
(5) - played with a dog
(5) - met a Lapplander
(5) - learned something interesting about Lapps
(5) - heard Lapp language
(5) - went in a Swedish home
(5) - wrote a poem
(-10) - 104 kronur spent (two litres of ice cream, two ten-packs of hot dogs, nearly two pounds of gingerbread cookies, four bananas)
(5) - skinny-dipped
(5) - bathed myself outside
(5) - snorkeled in freshwater
(5) - saw a fox
(-8) - got stung by a bee
(6) - collected red, purple, and yellow flowers
(2) - ate an apple (also wild blueberries) in the wild

The final, sad, sad score was Modern Oddyseus 108 points, P.W.Herman 400.
     Congratulations, P.W.Herman!

later, Modern Oddyseus

Thanks to Bjorn; Lars; Ake; Liderskoj; Michael; Linda; Ulf Rikersson; Ingrid; Leif Karlsson & Uve; Lars-Olof, Tomas, & "Taje"; Erika & Baja; Ake, Nilsson, & "Sida"; Morgan; Pia; Anna-Brita; Buse & Inga; and Peder for the rides!

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