“Katie!” you barked. “I wouldn’t pick up a hitchhiker with a face like that!”
It was harsh. Maybe, too harsh. But seriously, she looked like the last kid picked for kickball, soaked in rain, sick, and friendless.
She stuck out her thumb with that dark expression, then slowly contorted her face into what would otherwise have been a smile, had it not been a secret “fuck you.”
She took a few cry breaks, usually when the pitter-patter drops of rain increased in number—a sign that the weather was not near passing. She turned to bury her face in her hands and sob. You saw the big semi-truck coming and reared away from the road a few feet, trying to avoid the splash. “Katie, watch out,” you called, but she couldn’t hear. Nor did she see the truck. You watched the water splash her from the back, and shook your head in sympathy.
Poor girl. It never gets easier.
You were intent on keeping your spirits up. You stuck out your thumb and smiled at the cars, trying not to let them see how desperate you were feeling. Desperate might be a loaded word. You weren’t desperate. You were simply full of hope. From that very morning, when the rain began to fall by the glacier, you said to yourself, Today is the day you need an invite. More than all the other days.
It took time. A car finally did stop. Not for you, the driver, Kai, would later admit—but for Katie, because he could see just how sad she looked. Within three minutes, you learned that he was only driving a short distance home, but that the next day he would be going about 100km in your direction.
“You might like to camp in my garden, or on my terrace. Perhaps you can come inside and clean yourselves up a bit.”
You nodded to yourself; it was a faith-affirming nod. You asked The Universe for an invite that morning, and you got it. But it came at a price: wet, cold, fatigue, mud, rain.
Sometimes you have to suffer before something great comes center stage to balance things out. It might be something as simple as $40 of beer after 2 hours of failure. It might be something more significant, like a brand new better life after having lost the last pieces of your old one. Loss (of time, or wealth, or anything else) should be viewed as an opening for something better. There is new space in your life.
This might just be some rosy-colored perspective on what is really just damn good luck. But it’s getting tough to determine what is luck and what is something you create. Everything you do puts out energy. Positive. Negative. You decide how you want to interact with the world. And the world will return it in kind.
You believe this to your core. It’s is a lighter version of saying that you are responsible for what happens to you.
Kai was a very interesting fellow. He traveled much himself, mostly for business, and recently to simply enjoy himself—to see the world in a light other than that of first class flights and hotels with “pillow menus.” He had a calm energy about him, as though he were patiently observing everything for an opportunity to learn from it. Maybe he was.
He spoke almost immediately about the Norwegian “seventh sense.”
“There are only five senses. What is the sixth?” you asked.
“The fifth is the feeling you get in the body before you have the thought in your head,” he explained. “And the seventh is the ability to know.” Like the intelligent white tiger of Siberia.
He spoke about how you, as travelers, must have a decent seventh sense—you are able to determine quickly who is safe and who is not. You think much of it comes with practice and exposure, but you certainly won’t deny intuition.
Kai’s house was large and marvelously warm. He invited you to leave your bags at the door and lit a fire and served you hot tea and biscuits. You spoke for an hour or so, mostly so he could assess you and Katie as honest, intelligent, for-real travelers with no intention of stealing anything when he wasn’t looking. When the cat jumped into your lap and made herself at home, he was convinced that you were trustworthy.
“She normally doesn’t do that,” he said.
You get this a lot. From animals. You have this ridiculously stupid feeling of pride and satisfaction when animals validate you.
After you were freshly showered, Kai kindly took Katie on a trip to the supermarket, where they bought fixings for Friday Tacos (an unexpected, recent Norwegian tradition), and then on a small tour of the area. You pounded out a blog entry in a fit of confused inspiration. Something about chasing highs… crashing comedowns. The highs and lows of travel. How they rock you, bounce you from one direction to the next. It is so… damn… hard to keep an even tempo.
You, Katie, and Kai talked the night away, discussing everything from travel to parenting to economics. He told you some grave things about the textile industry, in which he had been working and starting factories for the last 15 years. There really wasn’t any silver lining on the subject.
It was a pleasure to speak with Kai, who was unusually introspective and always willing to surprise you with a whacky story about his travels. He, who seemed like such an even-keel kind of guy, could flip a switch in an instant and end up in a brawl. Normally, this kind of information puts you off. There’s nothing more repellent to you than a man with rage issues—and yet this thing he described wasn’t rage. It was simply a lack of hesitation.
You slept very well and very comfortably that night, in his son’s vacant room, and thanked the universe for delivering a night out of the rain.
Kai dropped you 100 kilometers further down the road, in a town where he was scheduled to run a 15-km uphill race. You parted amicably, wishing him good luck, and parked your bag on the sidewalk on the side of the highway, near a petrol station. In the rain.
You watched your cardboard sign melt steadily in your hand. Your fingers went numb. You paced up and down the curb, trying not to care. Katie stood stoically under her bag, unwilling to place it on the wet ground, and contributed a thumb now and again.
60 minutes passed, with no luck. Actually, this is false. The gas station attendant came out to make some friendly conversation before inviting Katie into the station to hook her up with some free coffees. The moment she handed you your steaming cup of brew, you scored a lift with a quiet, tense, very large man who made you feel slightly uneasy, but you were too experienced in these awkward situations to care very much.
He let you out at a service station on the motorway heading south to Oslo, and when you offered him your hand, he leaned in for the very intimate “I want to know you better” cheek-to-cheek—uncommon for Norway. You ignored it and went back to work.
You couldn’t really have known that the annual summer-solstice bike ride from Trondheim to Oslo (about 600km) would be happening that day. You spent hours and hours and hours trying to get lifts from anyone who wasn’t involved in the race. (You also noticed that the large, tense man had returned to the petrol station to simply sit in his car and… hmm… you’re not sure, but Katie got the distinct feeling he was stalking you).
Cars were packed with spectators, camera crews, biking gear, and more. And the locals and tourists were too frustrated with the slow-moving traffic trailing peletons to bother with you. You had to talk your way into one of the large vans full of the athletes’ gear to take you just 30 kilometers.
One woman and her son stood on the side of the road, watching the race. You learned she would be going to Oslo the next day, to take a trip to California. You thought perhaps you and Katie could sweet-talk your way into her house and go with her the next day but she didn’t offer. She did, however, insist on buying you both very large ice cream cones, as Katie had been fiending for one for days, and because you had flooded her with useful information about San Diego and San Francisco, where she was headed.
You were very relaxed, even if the progress was painfully slow. You can’t help bicycle races, narrow roads, or rain. It is what it is. But the funny thing is, you always make it.
A kind man saw your sign, “ANY DISTANCE SOUTH” and pulled over. He had a remarkably large and empty car. You learned that he was returning home from the same race Kai had run.
“I think I heard about you,” the man, Jern, said. “I heard another man speaking to a woman about two American girls who were hitchhiking, and how he had invited them to his house, and that it was a very nice experience.”
It was nice to know. Jern’s English was a bit more careful in coming out—meaning to say, he had a tougher time thinking about how to communicate than many other Norwegians, but he understood you just fine, so you gabbed away about racing, cycling, training, hiking, bodies, running, and more, to keep the energy light. Katie napped in the back seat.
You looked at your watch. It was 4pm, and you were nearing his stopping point of Lillehammer, 200km north of Oslo. At that moment, Jaoun said, “If you would like, you can put your tent in my garden.”
“Really?” you said, almost too quickly and too loudly. You were not the least bit surprised. You also knew that any garden invite would turn into a home invitation.
Cocky? No. It’s just experience in Norway. This happened to you two years ago, with wonderful and hospitable people. The trick is to assure your would-be hosts that they have nothing to fear from you, that you are open and honest and communicative, and polite.
“There’s more to hitchhiking than people think,” you later told Jern and his wife and two of his three children. “Even if I’m not speaking to the driver—maybe due to a communication barrier—I mind what I do with my body. Body language says a lot. I don’t sit like this—” you crossed your arms defensively “—or fiddle with things, or shift around too much. I just sit still, to let you know that I am present and ready to engage with you. And if we are speaking, I make sure that I tell you all about myself. That’s part of the exchange. I assume when a driver does me a favor, I at least owe him the courtesy of explaining who I am.”
You explained a shift you’d had in hitchhiking psyche two years ago, the last time you were in Norway. You realized that you get what you give.
“If I am timid, my drivers are timid. If I am closed-off, my drivers are closed-off. If I am friendly and open, my drivers will be. And if I share with them, in this case, all kinds of information, they share back.”
Do you create? Or do you get lucky?
This is a big question.
Kai had such a positive experience with you the night before that he told another woman about it. Jern happened to hear. He then recognized you and Katie and the same two girls. You’re sure he had considered the fact that another man before him had taken the risk of inviting strangers into his house and it had all gone well. But you made sure to contribute to his decision-making process.
His wife, and children were totally awesome. A beautiful family, truly. Their youngest daughter had two friends over for a sleep-over party, and you all sat down together at the table to have in indoor barbeque, with hot dogs, potato salad, apple cider, salad, and more. You and Katie contributed you package of hot dogs and green peas.
Jern’s oldest daughter lent her bedroom to you and Katie, and you slept warm, dry, and stuffed full of food.
The next morning, there was a breakfast of charcuterie, brown goat cheese, eggs, toast, jams, milk, and coffee. You didn’t want to leave. God, how you didn’t want to leave!
But you had plans to go back to Oslo and pick up your shoes. Turns out Evelyn didn’t try to kill Jorge—that it had been another couple. And they were expecting you. You packed up your bags with freshly-washed and dried laundry, and Jaoun’s wife gave you two Wool Buff scarves. Norway! The land in which the people gift you wool!
The sky opened and dumped cats and dogs. No, more like moose and reindeer. It was a joke. The hardest rain you had seen in… well… yeah… that hard. Having consulted hitchwiki, you knew there was no good waiting point out of Lillehamer. Jern saw this, too, and you could see that he was worried for you, that he felt guilty for leaving you at a service station on a rainy Sunday in which your chances of success were so slim.
You could have asked to stay another day. Yes, you could have. But you didn’t. Too proud to exploit someone’s hospitality, and you simply said, “We will work it out. Don’t worry. We’ll figure it out.”
Because you always do.
Are you lucky? Or do you create?
In two minutes, Katie made eye-contact with a young Dutch couple in a hippie VW bus. They were all smiles, and you overhead, “Yes… Oslo… near city center.”
Unbelievable luck, right? You mean, come on, it was raining so hard that you couldn’t leave the cover of the station.
“Yeah, we actually saw you two hitchhiking yesterday,” the guy, Mike, said. “We wanted to pick you up, but we couldn’t pull over in time. And then we thought about turning around to get you, but that bike race. It was impossible. And we’d spent so much time trying to get past those cyclists the first time… you know?”
Yeah, you knew. You were there. But you were glad they hadn’t picked you up, because you would have missed Jern, and then they wouldn’t have been able to take you all the way to Oslo in one go. Which they did.