Whiffs of beer float past my nose. Is someone drinking on this bus? It’s 5pm, and I’m taking the airport shuttle to the center of Oslo. A grungy Norwegian man is sitting in the row across from me. He’s wearing socks with flip flops and his big toe protrudes from a hole. His grease-stained sweats are tucked into his socks (a look I’ve never seen before) and I’m confident many days have passed since this man’s last shower. I’m also confident this man is drunk. He grunts and hiccups and itches his butt, that I can unfortunately see the crack of. Did he just spit? Yes. Now he’s spitting on the chair next to him- to think I feared I was rude propping my feet on the seat. This man slouches in the bus like a couch potato in a dingy recliner. He reaches to his left and grabs his…beer? Yup, there’s the beer I smell.
Gulp gulp gulp….
It’s gone in 7 seconds. I’m trying not to stare at this man 1 because it is gross and 2 because I don’t want him to pay attention to me. “Drammen?” He hiccups and says- I think this is the name of the stop he’s just missed. I bite my tongue and don’t respond, fishing my bag of gummy bears for the red ones just trying not to laugh at his behavior. From the corner of my eye, I notice he is also fishing……just slightly south of his belly button. Oh please, what is he doing now? With one hand down his sweats, he uses the other to tap the hallow beer can in his mouth like it’s an empty ketchup bottle. Once every drop is drained, he pulls out his anatomy, and uses the beer can as a urinal. He sets the refilled (EWW!!!!!) can on the ground next to him. I move seats. Welcome to Norway.
“There seems to be a common theme in your life….” My new couchsurfing friend says (yes, I am couchsurfing again) when I tell him the story in Oslo. Sure, I’ve had my fair share of run-in’s with crazies, but this comes with the experiences. I, thankfully, have also had run-in’s with some of the world’s nicest people. Let’s take Norway, for example. This trip was so amazing because of the people I met along the way. Jumping in a freezing cold lake, wandering charming coffee shops and museums, sitting in pubs and parks, my time in Oslo was well spent with new friends.
Next stop? The Arctic- to run the northernmost marathon! On the plane from Oslo to Tromso, I met a group of photographers traveling to shoot polar bears (with cameras not guns, to all you Chandler Bings out there). One of them even gave me a USB drive with new music for my race! Wandering off the plane to hunt my accommodation (a hotel gym for an unfortunate 100 bucks a night), I run into another girl heading to the city. It’s her first marathon too and she’s couchsurfing. It isn’t long before my accommodation plans change. Her host goes sailing for the weekend and generously leaves us the key to his home. Sitting in the living room of this cozy and free Norwegian cottage with a view, It was the perfect place to relax and prepare for the marathon. How did I get so lucky?
The next day was the Midnight Sun Marathon. It didn’t start until the evening- hence the idea of running under the midnight sun- so all the runners met up in the morning for a warm up run around the city and then free breakfast! With race jitters shaking my brain for the past week, I pounded the experienced 26.2-ers with questions, panicked I didn’t eat the right things yesterday or drink enough water all week. A tall Vince Vaughn-like character looks at me and laughs, “Hell girl, we all drank beer last night.” He had run 15 marathons, one on every continent. “We’re not out here to break any world records, we are out here to run and have fun. You can do it.” A weight is released. I can do it.
Countdown to gunshot: 10 minutes. It’s 8:20pm, and this small Arctic village is buzzing with excitement. I’ve joined the other runners for a jazzy warm up at the start line, directed by a blonde instructor in leg warmers and purple aerobic tights. It’s obviously very serious.
Here’s the truth: running the marathon was so uplifting and emotional, I honestly don’t know how to describe it. So, I’m not! I will never understand how I enjoyed every moment of my 4 hour 39 minute 27 second run. I will never understand how I sprinted to the finish line. But meeting and leaning on other runners from all over the world, it was like being apart of a mini Olympics in Tromso. This was certainly not my last marathon.
The next day I waddled to the bus station with an enormous bag of chocolate. Next stop? Narvik, a city about five hours away from a dream destination of mine- Lofoten:
Hesitant to fork out the money for the expensive bus to actually take me to Lofoten, It’s early in the morning when I decide to just spend my days around Narvik. But I soon begin a terrible hike in the rain with sore knees. I make a wrong turn to find the trail and get squawked at by an old woman tending her garden. Ahhh. I don’t want to be in Narvik. I wander from my hike and come across a hotel. What can I do in this rain? I ask the receptionist. They inform me there is not much around these parts. Lofoten lingers in my mind. I ask how to get there. They tell me a bus is coming in five minutes to the stop across the street, and they are 90% sure it goes to my destination. Tempting..I tell them, as I walk to the bus stop.
The bus arrives, and I enthusiastically jump on to ask the driver exactly where a ticket will take me. He looks at me with a stare I know quite well- that tricky language barrier strikes again!! He speaks no English, and my Norwegian needs a little work. I shuffle with my credit card in hand, unable to decide if I should take the ticket this driver will sell me, even though I’m not 100% sure where it goes. My head spins and my hands sweat as he speaks gibberish. I panic and jump off the bus. He drives away, and I fear I’d missed my only chance to go to Lofoten. Back in the hotel, I am so disappointed I bailed. How else can I get there? I nag the receptionist. A voice echoes from the back of the room, “Go out there and stick your thumb out!”
I’m hesitant, though I have seen many normal looking hitchhikers (even solo female travelers) all over northern Norway. There are no train tracks up here and buses are minimal, so this is a decent way to travel. And it does sound intriguing. I anxiously look over at the young female receptionist like a child waiting for permission to run downstairs on Christmas morning. She looks back and smiles, “Go! I’ve done it!” So I step into the rain with my thumb out, thinking what my father would do if he saw me.
Ten minutes later….. a truck stops. Oh, Great. I had been hoping for some traveling grandmothers or attractive tourists. Next thing I know I’m stepping up the ladder to his enormous truck, peaking my head through his very large window. Lofoten? I ask. Yup! He’s headed that way and looks perfectly nice (I can hear the mothers now: ALL RAPISTS LOOK PERFECTLY NICE, LAUREN!!!!) But I hop in. Turns out he’s delivering salmon to distributing companies. I tell him I’m certain I have eaten his delivered Norwegian salmon in America. I pester him with conversation and questions along the way. We talk about the winter, fishing, kids, skiing. There’s apparently an old saying that goes all Norwegians are born with skis on their feet. I like this saying.
We reach his destination, but I’m still two hours from Lofoten. I wander into a tourist office to figure my next move. Take the bus! The employee suggests. But I hitchhiked here, couldn’t I just keep hitchhiking? He says it will be difficult finding a direct driver from here, and that this is the only bus going to Lofoten today from anywhere near. This bus is my only guarantee to make it to my destination tonight, but I have to wait three hours for it to arrive. So I wait…and wait..and wait…and continue wandering back into the tourist office. Are you suuuure I shouldn’t hitchhike? I nag the tourist man. No. Take the bus. Somewhat aggravated, I continue waiting, and am thankful the sun doesn’t set in Norway, because at this rate I will arrive in Lofoten at 6pm. I’m arriving without plans, by the way. I know I want to hike. I have a sleeping bag and food. I think I’ll stay up all night?
Finally, my bus arrives, and we drive until we reach a ferry. The bus drives onto the ferry (cool!) and I begin looking for someone to give me advice on what to do once I get arrive in Lofoten. A friendly guy in a yellow rain coat catches my attention. I bring him my map with some general questions. He is very nice, and very helpful, providing me with safety tips and advice about the area. We continue talking. He likes to travel too, and studied in Brazil. He also likes Allen Jackson and country music. Talking with him is like having coffee at Fido in Nashville- comfortable. When the ferry ports, my new friend agrees to walk me to the best hiking spot. Next thing I know, we are hiking together on the most spectacular trail I would have never found on my own. Exchanging travel stories and laughs, talking with my new friend is like talking to an old one.
Soon he finds out my accommodation-less plans, and invites me to his family’s house. After a long hike in the wind and rain, I am treated to a warm meal and a comfortable couch. Slouched in the living room listening to country music and eating ice cream in yet another Norwegian cottage with a view, I am nothing but thankful for the nice people in this world.
Through all of my travels I have come to believe this- there are lines in the universe, as real as gravity, connecting each of us with every single person we meet. With that said, no one you meet is by accident or coincidence. Everyone you come across was placed there specifically for some purpose. Whether that purpose is as simple as a brief smile, or to piss you off, or to show you how not to act, or to inspire you to act, if we can look at every person we meet as a teacher, life will not be withheld. My friend on the ferry in Norway was not supposed to be there, he was supposed to take a different route. I didn’t want to take that bus, but the tourist office guy insisted. The universe doesn’t make mistakes.
I have trusted a lot of people in my travels. I’m aware there are bad ones out there, and I know trusting people could come back and screw me (unfortunately, literally). But I also believe that there is great good in this world. Some may find it crazy to stumble around Norway like I did. What if something bad happens? Well, there’s always a chance something bad could happen. I could be locked in my home in Brentwood, Tennesee, and something bad could happen. I believe if you go into the world with an open mind, pray that everything will be okay, but are willing to accept whatever is given to you- good experiences will come.
I have associated myself among a community of travelers, people who are curious about the world and others in it. Anyone can be apart of this community, it doesn’t require a plane ticket. Back in Tromso, I’m lost with my friend. We stop and ask an old man for directions. He points us the right way and we continue dragging our suitcases through the town. Ten minutes pass, and we still haven’t found it. The same old man drives by us with his sweet little wife in the car. He stops his volvo and shuffles over, “Silly girls! I’ll drive you there!” He takes both our suitcases and plops them in his trunk. “We’ve got to take care of our tourists here in Norway!” He says. The funny thing was, this man had never left Norway, but I consider him a traveler because he was curious about us, and willing to open his door (literally) to our culture. As a world community, this is what we must do. We must take care of each other.
It’s my last day in Norway, and a young man sits next to me on the bus.
“Where are you from?” I ask.
“Iraq,” he says. “You?”
We look at each other and smile.
“Want some chocolate?” He offers.
This is a no brainer…
We chat on the way to the airport. With one headphone in my ear, Imagine plays on my ipod.
…Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world..