Where's Sam the Man

48 countries, 12 months, one man, half a brain

Name: Samuel Hathaway
Location: Roaming..., Germany

Monday, August 20, 2007

Above the Polcirkeln

Although much of my trip only took shape in the last month before departure, and much of it still remains vague, biking above the Arctic Circle was a preexistant goal. Taking such a route would bring me hundreds of kilometers off of a direct route to Turkey (my end of 2007 goal), but it seemed to bring new scope to my trip that few other things could. Anyway, I looked forward to peering down from my vantage point and seeing the tops of your little heads as you went about your daily business. I'll even reach down my finger from up here and tap your shoulder when you're not looking. And, in the end, I should have better momentum at this altitude for my dive South.

This last week of biking was a demanding push to get beyond the Polcirkeln (as the Swedes call it). Each day I locked horns with a ferocious wind that tossed me backwards and forwards, sometimes in the direction I wanted to go and other times it simply had me panting on the ground. The first day of the week I was on its good side, and, with my panniers as great honkin' sails on the side of my bike, I was flown over 150 km of amazed Swedes. In the following days it became more ornery, and each day became a battle. It was a formidable opponent. As soon as I thought I understood its moves it would swiftly come in from the side, hitting hard and leaving me breathless. As I neared the Circle my waterprood gear also had its first real test, with torrential rains joining the wind to slap me up. So I arrived at the Arctic Circle weary and soggy, but triumphant.

Although the last few days have had me distracted and exausted, and although the weather has not always been the finest, there have been enough moments of peace and beauty for me to put together a favorable report of the land this far north. The area is something very special, but the qualities that make it such can be somewhat elusive. I have done my best to give you an accurate impression of what, I think, are the two most important characteristics.

1. One of the most preciously unique elements that give the land its allure is, I think, the light. I have arrived at a time when the sun is neither always present nor always gone (as the land is often known for), but this "in between" lighting brings special effect. I'm not sure if it ever gets completely dark. When I go to bed at 11:00 pm, the sky is still draped in a heavy twilight, and when I am woken up at 3:00 am I find bright afternoon sunshine streaming through my window. But the magical effect begins later, around 7:00 am, when the sunlight ages from a white brilliance to the warm yellow glow of evening, casting a golden veil over the leaves and rivers. The colors of the pines and wildflowers flare up deep and rich under this finery -- the color palate has a new vibrancy. This used to create some slight tension as I biked, for as I saw my long shadow and the evening colors, I paniced that it was late in the day and I was not at my hostel, yet. However, when I checked my clock, I would realize that it was only 12:30 pm. Once you get used to the idea, though, you can only appreciate the unique effect.

2. Everything seems cleaner and purer up here: the air, the water, the blue in the sky . . . I think this comes from the lack of human presence above the Circle; there is so little that interferes with your pure enjoyment of the land. The self-contained towns are so small and quiet, so mild and unassuming, that the miles and miles of untouched natural beauty can rise up and take center stage. There are no cabins or hill-top development, just a charming cluster of houses every so often. You can bike on the top of a valley and simply marvel at the panorama of sky and hills, watching the shadows of the clouds glide like gentle, silent behemoths across the pines, not breaking a single twig.
I have never heard a silence like this, either. With the traffic of highways hundreds of kilometers away, and no factories grunting and moaning in the distance, you are left with a peace and quiet that can only be compared to a forest during a snowfall. But even that silence implies muffled noise. The calm here is absolutely pure. Sitting by a lake in the evening, I could hear the soft patter of a birds' wings as they flew across a lake. You could sit and listen to the sound of a breeze traveling through miles and miles of pine. The moth fluttering nearby seemed to be making an unnecesary amount of noise.

The peace and simplicity of this area have completely enchanted me.


Blogger Megan said...

Wow, this sounds like my place to vacation

August 20, 2007 5:29 AM  
Blogger Brother Cody said...

I got your post card, Mr. Hathaway.
I am quite honored to be singled out for such a distinguished delight.

Keep on keeping on.

Pax Christi,


August 21, 2007 9:44 PM  
Blogger mark said...

sam, sam, sam...you did it! way to go! i am sorry to not be there with you, but so glad i missed the headwinds and rain! i'm working on getting your dad and his gear up to snuff. hope your travels southward have been rain free and wind at your back. can't wait to join you again for some wasa, mate, cow tipping and good company!
abrazos, mark

August 22, 2007 7:47 PM  
Blogger Keith Olson said...

What delightful prose Master Sam! Oh, how I will enjoy hearing of your whims and folly on two wheels.

A word to the wise: Moose chips are neither nutritious nor pleasing to the palate, or so I've been told.

Ruminate some, experience much, love all.

You are missed by many.

Write often and we'll reciprocate,
Keith Olson

August 28, 2007 7:55 PM  

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