It’s so difficult to do your feelings any justice right now. They are so fucking mercurial that you can scarcely pinpoint an idea before you’ve had a change of heart. The ups and downs of travel are always so extreme. But in them, there is balance. You must believe this. It is probably the purest form of “faith” that you have.
Consider the circumstances in which you had to leave Oslo. If there’s one thing you know, it’s that practically nothing is worth missed sleep. You’re getting too old to wing it without sleep anymore. Long gone are the days of binge drinking, partying, and puking–and then rolling out of bed and into class, or an early-morning practice. You’re not interested very much in meeting a nice girl named Mollie and dancing with her all night long–if it means jawing and gnashing your teeth, wondering when sleep will overtake you. Forget Yips, Good Fortune, or Magic Mushrooms… the thrill is gone, and the missed sleep just really isn’t worth it anymore.
So when you staggered out of the Mosquito Forest after your Great Escape, you were feeling pretty damn low. Come on! It was a sucky morning, full of smashed hopes and frustration. But then…
John found you. And he took you all over the place. He hooked it up with sugary chocolate spread, instant coffees, and thick wool socks. He bought you ice cream and waffles, and took you to a museum. Gave you all kinds of help and history lessons. You slept over 14 hours at his place, and got your energy back.
Bam… on the road again, and ready to face the elements. You had left the security of the Couchsurfing circuit and were ready to camp and hike and cook on rocks and be hobos about it. A nice woman stalled your progress by inviting you into her wonderful Norwegian home–like a cabin in the woods, much like John’s. She gave you a huge comfy bed, hot showers, tea, dinner, and wifi. Or really, she shared these things. In the morning, she laid out hard-boiled eggs, hot oatmeal with blueberries, brown sugar, and walnuts, with fresh fruit and, oh god, coffee. A taste of heaven. She helped you pack a lunch and had you back on the road in no time.
Okay, now, for real. You’re gonna do this.
You made it to Odda in no time–Odda, a cute little town in the heart of some really kick ass hiking. You made it in such good time that you were determined to hit the trail by noon. The good weather would only hold for two days, and then it would begin to pour. Here was your utterly sensational 9-hour hike, including overnight camping.
Katie came down with a sore throat, much to your surprise, since neither of you had fallen ill in Morocco, which you would have thought far more likely to infest you with germs. But there it was, manifesting in her throat, and generally killing her mood. But Katie was a good sport about it, and she didn’t complain very much–even when you dragged her down the mountain and straight up another one.
“I’ve died and gone to Norway.” You said it out loud, reminding yourself that it was real. You were here, finally. Two years later, back in this beautiful country, now with limitless time to see all the things! All of them!
You lie in your tent that night–in your picturesque, too-good-to-be-true camping spot, in full view of the glacier, and kicked your legs excitedly like a high school girl writing a love letter. You flipped through pictures of fjords and mountains and glaciers and dreamed of facebook profile pictures and endorphin highs.
Errr! Slow down, honey.
Katie, in all her young wisdom, said it best: you’re always spending something. It’s either time, money, or energy.
When you are young, you have energy and time, but no money (this was you, a few years ago, during the days when sleep was something you could sacrifice).
When you are in your middle years, you have energy and money, but no time (this is starting to feel more like the case… like this will be your last foray or loose-itinerary travel before your life takes a turn toward far more structured and serious endeavors).
When you are old, you have money and time, but no energy. (Unfortunate… when you are feeling lowest in energy, you most identify with this group–old–because sometimes you feel like you have plenty of time, and the budget being as small as it is, still allows you to travel).
So there you were, camped near your first Norwegian glacier, kicking your feet, and dreaming. But the next morning, Katie awoke hoarse like she’d swallowed heaps or broken glass and rusty nails, and you were slightly less than chipper. After all, running around for hours and hours on end, with your bags, planning itineraries, thumbing it, making conversation, buying food, securing good camping. This takes energy. A lot of it.
But you put on blinders and thought, Fuck it, you’re gonna keep moving.
“Let’s find another town like Odda… like a Mecca for hiking, and keep doing what we’re doing.”
Katie nodded along, deciding not to hurt her throat in protest. When you are on an idea, there’s no stopping you. It’d be like stepping in front of a freight train. Except for one thing… Katie. Katie is the only person that can derail your plans. Nothing moves you to change your itinerary faster than an unhappy Katie–and that doesn’t mean to say that’s she’s a wet blanket. She’s not. But when she’s sick, or depressed by the rain, or suffering in some other way, you change gears.
Katie, sweet Katie, knew how important Norway was to you. She did not want to interfere with anything, seeing how you were just a pig in shit. She knew that you had agreed to go back to Europe for a third time, for her sake, on the condition that you get to go to Norway. So this was it.
You took her down the road. Things went fairly well. A nice man paid the bulk of your ferry ticket, and you landed in Voss on a rainy evening and set your tent up in the woods. Katie tried to sleep off her illness, and you went for a hike. She did not complain about the rain, or anything else.
Great weather the next day, and you were a hot mess. You were like a chicken without a head, flipping through your tourist info books and huffing and puffing and feeling the strain of trying the tip your previous bests.
“I have a feeling like we’ve peaked. I’ve already seen this, this, this, and this,” you said, jabbing your finger into various epic photos displayed on the hiking page, “and I don’t know if anything else is left. It’s all downhill. I don’t want it to be downhill!”
Katie shrugged, ever supportive. “We’ll just have to take it a day at a time.”
Such a sweet sentiment. She was so exhausted, and still sick, and still on her period, and everything else that makes for an icky backpacking situation.
Then shit got whack.
It took well over two hours to get a lift out of Voss, which was unreal in the scope of your hitchhiking expertise (and luck). Your faith in humanity was shaken as you watched car after car after car pass you, bound in your exact direction. Those assholes! What the fuck! What was their problem? That back seat was empty!
And you started to cry after 45 minutes of rejection.
Alarm bells were ringing your fatigue, but you chose to ignore them, still riding need to feel happy. You had to be happy. This was Norway. The weather was gorgeous. You got to put the tent away dry!
But you stuck your bottom lip out. Cried a teeny little bit, then pulled your shit together. And then radiated happiness and confidence at the passing cars. Radiated.
And none stopped. Actually, three did. All of them pulled over to deal with some navigation malfunction or car issue. When they saw you and Katie bounding over with relief, they glowered the look of, “Oh no! We didn’t stop for you! You’ve made a mistake. And no, now that we’re pulled over and our back seats are empty, we still wouldn’t dream of helping you out.”
Feeling entitled to other people’s cars is the unfortunate symptom of someone all-too-accustomed to hitchhiking.
In fact, it’s a problem. They have no obligation to help you. It’s their car. But you have reduced hitchhiking down to a science. It’s a game of numbers. A certain percentage of people (5-10%) will pick up a hitchhiker if the hitchhiker looks neat and clean and non-threatening enough. This means than 1/10 to 1/20 of cars that pass you with enough space, who are also going into your direction, will stop.
So if 100 cars pass you… you’re fucking pissed.
Of course, you finally did get a lift from a nice guy from Slovakia. You had a tough time removing the bitterness from your tone to smile and be grateful, but he was patient and sweet and even took you over a famous scenic road, helped you deliberate about your next location, and left you in a gorgeous little town named Flam at the end of the most dramatic long and skinny fjord in the region, where some famous beer is also brewed. He bough you the equivalent of $40 of beer (two 50cl 6.5% Pale Ale beers), and wished you well.
Yay! Beer! You were high again. And drunk. And again flipping through those info booklets trying to find epic hiking. “We could go here, and do this hike. It’s featured at one of the top ten. Or we could go here.”
Katie, sweet Katie, nodded along.
You decided you route within an hour, gulped down the rest of your delicious alcoholicky beverage, and marched to the edge of town. You were busy scaling the steepest mound of rocks and grass ever in order to slightly-less-publicly urinate away that beery goodness when a white van pulled up next to Katie. You let her negotiate the lift while you let loose off that steep incline, trying not to soak your shoes.
“Maria!” Katie yelled from the road.
You stood partway up, waved, and urged your stream to hurry the fuck up, ’cause it was time to move! You yanked up your pants, scree-slided down that crazy steep mound, and bounded across the highway back to your bag. The van driver was a laughing Polish woman, who watched you every awkward step toward her vehicle.
She was a kick ass chick who worked on the cruise ships that came to and fro from Flam. She was chatty and informative, and drove you though at least 50km of tunnels (Norwegians are very good at making tunnels), and eventually left you at the ferry you needed to take.
You rushed onto the boat, forked over the last of your daily budget, and enjoyed your poor-man’s version of a fjord “cruise.”
Katie collapsed at a table and smeared some peanut butter on bread and chewed with the vacant stare of a 95-year-old woman.
“I gotta try and get us a lift,” you said, having scratched out a sign on the last of your cardboard. “I’ll eat in a moment.”
You walked on deck and ignored the bus of Japanese tourists and petitioned every Norwegian car for a lift. No takers. You went back inside and ate your sandwich.
“Nobody. But that’s okay. We can walk for a bit when we get off the boat,” you said.
No you couldn’t.
All that stood between the ferry dock and the next town was this.
A 6-km tunnel, through which it was illegal to walk. You started laughing, wondering if the drunk (or the high from irony) might wear off. Katie had a good sense of humor about it.
Some kid who was probably 16 but didn’t look a day over 11 avoided your gaze for a while, but finally warmed up when you joked with him about your predicament. He did you the biggest favor of the day and called his colleague on the next incoming ferry to ask him if he might be interested in taking a couple of girls through the tunnel on his way home from work.
It worked! You only had to wait twenty minutes, and you were off again!
The pace of travel is so unpredictable, sometimes. You couldn’t believe your slow, lucky progress across the terrain, but somehow it all always works out. If you stick your thumb out long enough, someone stops. Someone might even drive an hour out of their way to take you to the doorstep of a giant glacier.
You made it!
Sleeeeep. Hike tomorrow.
Creak. Groooan. Go the gears of your rusty head. Suddenly you were consumed by negative thoughts. Ever so many. Thoughts about life, about jobs, school, success, failure, ability to make friends, ability to succeed. You was cast downward into a spiral of fear and self-pity. Were you not good enough? Smart enough? Friendly enough?
Would life suddenly slam a door in your face and make living hard?
Why you had these thoughts? Oh, for a million reasons–most of them unimportant. As subtle as a butterfly flapping its wings and causing a hurricane. A mouse might of farted 20 meters from your tent and caused the domino effect of your negative feelings. You can never be sure. But there is usually one common denominator: fatigue. You’d burned through your fuel tank and even into your reserves without knowing it.
Failure. Failure. Failure.
Failure surely awaited you. Your good luck was bound to end. There is no “creation” anymore. Just luck. Who were you, with your goals and your dreams?
Katie slept. You whined about having negative thoughts. She aww-babied you for a moment and kissed your cheek and passed out again and left you to wonder.
In the morning there were clouds. Threatening rain. And a bad mood. You were too tired to get the stove going, and too annoyed by the 40 mosquitoes parked on the underside of your rain cover, ready for your blood-filled warm bodied to surface for coffee. Those little fuckers How dare they be up there so high in the cold mountains. Glacier mosquitoes. Cold-hearted bastards.
Katie was also sad. She’d been hiding her fatigue well from you, but there was no hiding her hatred of the impending rain. She knew she was going to spend the day wet. She knew it was going to be bitter, and cold, and frustrating. She’s been talking a lot about the highs and lows of travel, and the lower of her lows, and how they are always about the rain, or the big bags, or the hitchhiking, or anything else that has defined your life for 3 out of 5 years. She couldn’t wait until this segment of the trip was over. She wanted little bags and warm climates and trains and buses and normal people travel.
And now you wanted it, too.
You thought about it obsessively, along with your more depressive, self-deprecating thoughts about inadequacy. You didn’t tell Katie this, that you were foaming at the mouth the end this phase of travel. But you took issue with the idea that you had moved to San Francisco with the goal in mind to earn money to travel around South America–which you did. Only you had to swap out South America for Europe.
So far, the only new country you’d visited this time around was Morocco. If you quit now, what would that say about your last two years of effort?
“I have such a hard time coping with the idea that I won’t follow through with my plans. When I tell someone that I’m going to do something, I usually do it. I wanted to travel for two years… now it looks like less. I wanted to hitchhike to the top of Norway, but doesn’t look like that is going to happen either.”
These were only small examples of much greater, more depressing failures, like going to the Olympics, and staying married to Kady #1.
“You’re sensitive about your accountability,” Katie clarified. She elaborated on your feelings by reminding you of something her favorite teacher/mentor told her: it isn’t really about the goal; it is about the process. The goal is there to give your process some structure, and the process is the learning opportunity. “The value is not in achieving the arbitrary goal. The value is learning about yourself, what works, what doesn’t, what you can and cannot do.”
“Sounds like a nicer version of sour grapes,” you chided, refusing to acknowledge the wisdom. Okay, okay, you knew it was true. Hell, you’ve modified your plans about a million times already. That’s life. Change is guaranteed. Feelings go up and down. Circumstances go from good to bad to better to worse. And goals shift as frequently as the conditions of life. There is no point in staying rigid in a world always in flux.
There is no point in staying rigid when your feelings are tossing you like an angry ocean. You thought bitterly about the rain that was beginning to fall, knowing full well that only an hour or so remained before Katie would no longer be able to keep her cool, and that the rain would send her back to her dark place. And in that place, you would go to. Because Katie moves you to change.
All these feeling was set aside for a moment when you got the unexpected: to touch the glacier that you’d just spent 24 hours trying to get to.
It was that high you were chasing. There, again, and you forgot your worries and bounded around like a kid in an amusement park. You filled your camelpack with cool glacial melt and beamed and snapped photos faster than the camera could save them.
15 minutes. And then down… down, down, down. Like a bad comedown. Like the anxiety that churns in your guts after a long night of Good Fortune. You tried to mute your thought. Focus on keeping your camera dry as the rain soaked you. Yes, you got back to camp. You even managed to pack your things without too much difficulty, and without getting too wet. But the damp was ever-present, and the passing cars were few. You waited next to the mountain highway for a long time before a guy gave you a lift to town.
1 loaf of bread, 1 jar of peanut butter, 1 package of hot dogs, 1 bag of frozen peas. Pretty much all you could afford that day. You ate a yogurt (gift from the last driver) in abject silence, packed your things, and hit the rainy pavement. It took 45 minutes before Katie sobbed into her hands, standing on the side of the road, getting splashed by water from passing trucks. Not much longer after, a man stopped and completely turned around your day.
Highs. Lows. Highs. Lows.