I closed my eyes, reminiscing how Natasha Kahns rendition of Gypsy had brought tears to my eyes, stood in a soggy field in Dorset, surrounded by hundreds of people but somehow, completely alone. It was the ultimate cover.
We'd set off on our adventure headed North from West Cornwall with a quick festival pit stop. It had been up there as one of the best festivals I'd been too, but now, riding in the passenger seat, I was struggling to open my eyes. 'You're up!' It was my time behind the wheel and although my decision to give up caffeine had been for the best, in that moment I could have murdered an espresso.
It was the beginning of Autumn and at a time when most people were headed south for warmer climates, we had our sights set a little further North, headed for the Arctic Circle. We'd packed the van as methodically as possible, making the most of every nock & cranny. Boards, thick neoprene, camping gear & a month’s supply of food, both human and dog.
We'd travelled a lot, been lucky enough to see the world both separately and together, between us we were developing quite the memory bank of experiences. The lust for adventure had stayed with us, never seizing to play into our day dreams or wander from our minds, but there was the overwhelming feeling to take responsibility for someone other than ourselves, cue Dillon. Biased perhaps, but the perfect combination of collie-labrador-retriever. From a timid little fur ball at 7 weeks old to an inquisitive bundle of energy 9 months later, now riding shot gun, leaning into the corners & wandering why he wasn't curled up at home next to the fire.
As the headlights got brighter & the darkness started to fill in all around us we found ourselves sat in a German service station eating Bratwurst & chips, offering our English with a German twang, hoping that the man serving us would understand. We'd made it through five countries in a day on the second day of our hangover. That Bratwurst was our celebratory meal.
The racing motorway offered us no idyllic camping opportunities so we took what we could & pulled into the nearest truck stop, sandwiching ourselves between 80 tonne of metal & sharing a toilet block with grunting men. Laying my head on the pillow, I couldn't have been happier about it.
‘Give me a little more notice next time!!’
We’d made it to Stockholm a day late, we’d changed plans 3 times and then all of a sudden we were pulling off the highway and heading for our belated lunch date.
We’d woke that morning to absolute calm, not a sound to be heard, only to be made by ourselves, parking up next to a lake, surrounded by forest, not a house or person in sight, just a bench and the remanence of a fire. It had been the camp spot of dreams, an unexpected stumble to take us there & to be left for the night, a far cry from the grunting men of the previous evening.
The air was close and looking out over the lake, the weather offered no distinguished difference between the water and the sky. Making the only ripples, we waded out, all clothes in a pile on the floor, freezing water at our shins, too slowly to grow further up our legs as the water level stayed shallow, eventually dropping off a ledge and submerging our bodies into the Icy temperatures. Dillon joined, never too far from our side, his face a little puzzled as to why the ground stayed beneath his feet for so long, the keenest swimmer amongst us.
Squinting through half open eyes outlines of trees beginning to come into focus. Shapes emerging on the horizon. We swam out to the unknown as the fog slowly began to clear. Floating, suspended above the muddy bottom. Making porridge with all the trimmings to warm our bodies up afterwards, waiting for the kettle to sing. We hung our legs off the bed, staring out, my hair dripping, soaking into my jumper. We dialled back into our old routine, we needed to living in such a small space.
‘Sorry!!’ we called out, now stood fully clothed on a street in Stockholm watching our friend running towards us.
Estimating arrival times on such a long drive was proving trickier than we had thought. It had been over a year since our chance meeting in Sri Lanka, before then, about ten years. We sat down & mulled over life, tasting Swedish delicacies. ‘You have to try this!’, our host, never afraid to be the most excited person in the room, it never went unappreciated. We sat & talked, there were no breathers, there wasn’t the time, we still had 18 hours to drive. We marvelled at their stylishly functional space, a thing we were growing accustomed to from Sweden for just about everything. We walked around the neighbourhood, a little hidden woodland behind blocks of flats. The warmth of the sun kissed our skin; a welcomed break from sitting in the van, Dillon’s pent up energy starting to loosen.
We filled up our water container, said our farewells & we were back on the road. It had been short, but so very sweet. ‘I wouldn’t leave yet’ he had said just before ‘you’ll hit traffic’. We shrugged it off. His words now echoing through our minds as we sat in gridlock, the sun beginning to set, the sky throwing out shades of pink & orange in a dance against the fading light. Time was precious, podcasts and middle seats snacks, vital.
We pulled back the sliding door to see him curled up in his bed, ears pricking to attention upon our arrival. It was a choice for him to stay in the van while we sailed or to be put into kennels below the decks, the ferry attendants face said it all, 'I wouldn't put him in the kennels if you can help it'. As we left Dillion cosy in his bed, the echoes of other barking dogs followed us up the stairs as we made our way to the cafeteria. We were crossing over from Bodo to the Lofoten Islands, we'd made it to Norway earlier that day and raced to make the ferry. As we'd made our way closer to the Norwegian border, the temperature began to increase, dropping down from a high mountain pass, bleak terrain and cold temperatures and into the warmth of a valley dense with forest. Mountains rising up dramatically, towering over us as we navigated our way towards the ferry.
We waited in line at the cafeteria, trying to make out what each picture was on the menu. It was pot luck. We shuffled along & mumbled our order pointing to the board. There was a sense of urgency in that queue, tensions were high. We weren't in any rush, we had nowhere to be.
The crossing was calm. We watched the land fade into the distance up on deck. Crowds forming, unashamed selfie shots in abundance as we watched on. The comfort of the reclining chairs beckoned us back downstairs and into their arms, I surrendered happily. We closed our eyes for a moment, the light began to fade as we edged closer to the islands. Daggered mountains emerged, shooting up & into the sky. Fishing boats bobbing, jetty’s *racing* out into the still water. A mirror to the surrounding landscape. The sun was beginning to create magical colours & shapes on the surface. A pallet of yellows, oranges, pinks, reds & purples decorating the sky.
As we pulled off the ferry, we pulled over instantly. Cameras wound on, ready. I hung out the passenger window as he walked over the road, standing a while before taking the camera to his eye. A wash of red, sparks of oranges & a race against time before all light was lost. Street lights glistened, flickers dancing with the night. It was magic.
The road wound out in front of us as we made our way towards our sleeping spot. The light from each tunnel carved out of the mountain invited us in, a slight sense of claustrophobia felt with each second, we held our breaths & released once we were *spat* out the other side.
Finding our way out of the last tunnel, the smell of salt engulfed us, driving onto a flat plane and into the valley, past clusters of wooden houses & a small white chapel. By the time we arrived, the moon & the stars were the only light, we were driving blind into the unknown, what we'd wake up to we could only imagine. Parking on level ground, making our bed & brushing our teeth by head torch, we listened to the sound of crashing waves. Lifting out the stove & kettle, placing it on the “worktop” ready for the mornings breakfast rituals.
Excitement was putting up a pretty good fight but tiredness was starting to take over, in the end with our eye lids so heavy, it was time to succumb to the night. 4 days & nearly 2,500 miles later, we'd arrived. What the next day would bring was unknown but we went to bed with butterflies in our stomach, anticipating the next 2 weeks where we'd be joined by friends for a fortnight of scandinavian adventures.
We were a long way from home with no quick return, I smiled with that thought. They would be sweet dreams tonight.