Where's Sam the Man

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

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

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Enough veggies -- more meat!

Okay, I hear you guys: "Enough of the freakin' botanical monologues!" True, I'm in Europe and most of my blog has been nature poetry that would have made Bambi weep. With this entry, I'm going to stop stuffing my writing with grass and twigs, and fill it out with flesh and blood. Not my own, because you guys need a good year of rest from me, but, rather, but that of some interesting folks who I've met along the way.

Every traveler who I spoke with before I left was excited for the people that I would meet during my travels. They would talk about the revolutionists, carnies, and Soviet police that engaged them in fascinating conversations over an espresso, and maybe even journeyed with them for a while. Then their wallet was stolen and the friendship ended, of course, but the point is that one of the joys of travel is not just what you see, but who you meet.

My plane ride over did not exactly encourage me to socialize, for those of you who remember, but I was still curious about what characters I would meet along the way. One of the benefits of solo travel is that you are never distracted by a conversation with your traveling buddy (note: I miss you guys!), so not only are you able to join others' conversations more easily, but you are more approachable by others. The communal atmosphere of a hostel is ideal for this, where budget travelers share everything but toothbrushes -- you can't help but interact with others. Yet, for the first few weeeks, my interactions with others only caused them look harder at their shoes. To be fair, I approached Scandinavia ready to be proven wrong on every stereotype taught to me by Ole and Lena, but not a word was spoken to me by any sober person other than what was absolutely neccessary. Oddly, it was only when I pushed into the far north that people began to converse with me. A lot. In fact, I couldn't get them to stop talking even when I wanted to have a moment of peace. But I was finally meeting "those people," and I thouroughly enjoyed hearing their stories. Gabbing with a complete stranger for hours, while happening occasionaly on other levels, seems to be most common for budget travelers, and, as long as I was down there at the bottom, I wanted to take advantage of this potentially fascinating opportunity.

By this point I have met a number of characters, and I have listed a couple below, for your enjoyment:

First on my list is a 60 year old woman who just started bike touring four years ago! And I thought I was a toughie. Her husband wants no part of the sport (at 60 years old, who can blame him. I don't want to be biking with a trailer for my IV), and her friends feel the same way, so she has gone by herself (not just a woman traveling by herself, but a 60 year old woman!) across Poland, Croatia, and France on bike! Pulling her own luggage! She has seemingly avoided the worn trails, and gone for more challenging route -- like Poland, with roads of uneaven quality, and Croatia, simply a biker's hell with narrow roads and reckless drivers. This lady had guts. While she was holed up in the winter, she would fill her living room with maps and charts, planning the routes for the coming summer. While it snowed outside, she said, she would imagine the sunshine, warm sea, and wildflowers of her new cycle journey. She was a real pleasure to talk: so alert, curious, and excited about living. Rather than let the adventure intimidate her, she let in excite her for what she would find. A lovely person.

There was also a fellow that had me scared out of my socks, at first sight. I shared a hostel room with this guy, and I was tip-toeing by his bed before I got to know him. I walked into the room, one day, and saw that someone else had joined me -- he wasn't in the room, but I saw his luggage. Heavy black coats were draped over the bunk bed, heavy-duty boots were placed on the floor, bandannas in crazy prints were stuffed into different orifices (seriously, anyone who wears bandannas is mixed up), and a bottle of Jack Daniel's was on the floor (okay, it could have been apple juice, but who's telling this story?). When I finally saw the large-jawed, long-haired fellow who owned this stuff, I was even more intimidated. Yet, somehow, we started talking, and he turned out to be the nicest, simplest person you've ever met -- and a passionate environmentalist! He talked for a long time about why we need to preserve the Swedish pine forests, about how he would love to see the national parks in Alaska, and about how he loves the freedom offered by the large swaths of undeveloped land in northern Sweden -- especially how you can stop by the road anywhere and eat the wild blueberries that grow in abundance. An excellent point. Such a nice, honest fellow!

People are so fascinating! Seriously, you guys should talk with one, sometime. Travel isn't neccassary for that, I suppose, but travelers can offer such interesting stories. Each adventurer has their own fascinating experiance to tell about. If the last few weeks are an indicator of what's to come, than it should be an interesting year.

Anyway, there's the proof that I haven't spent all of my days plopped on a toadstool.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Those Finns...

Moose traffic has gotten so bad in Finland that the government has spent millions of Euros on special paved lanes for their horned friends.

Pictures from Above the Arctic Circle

The town at the Arctic Circle...and my bike (he really wanted to be in a picture)

A li'l moose calf -- surprisingly unafraid of humans.

A fascinating sunset on my last night

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.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Pictures of Mark and I

This place cranks out some pretty mean kanelbulle. Charming cafe.


Sunday, August 12, 2007

Mark and I

For some reason, people say that because I have never done bike touring before, therefore I am an amateur. They say it's common sense. I call it quick to judge. Well, those folks got lucky, I guess, because when I started my biking I realized that I lacked some information that would make me completely proficient at the sport. To say the least.

Enter my uncle Mark, a hardened traveler who has spent time in South America, Europe, Asia, and even the United States. He is also a butt-hardened cyclist, who has logged miles touring around Europe, so he was a natural choice for a travel mentor. I'm not sure if I passed the final test or not, but here are the highlights from the notes he gave me:

1. No need to rush. Spend time each morning to feed your addiction; you'll start the day more relaxed.

The evening of our arrival at a hostel, Mark would prowl the grounds in the dark for a suitable "mate spot." I never dared ask him exactly what the criteria were (what do you say to a guy who slinks in dark corners?), but when morning came he would lead me to a couple of chairs in the lovliest spot that the area had to offer. There, he would sip at his yerba mate, I would sip my tea, and, as we chatted, any tension left over from the previous day's ride would melt away.

2. Just bike. Don't ask the map guy how far it is to the hostel unless you want to feel really good at the moment.

Okay, so the maps are a little hard to read. Is that my fault? Seriously, the distance looked pretty short every day. What's a few dozen kilometers in either direction? I mean, are we men or are we men? And didn't you feel relief every time I told you that low number, Mark? I was just prolonging your mate-induced relaxation and helping you to have a more enjoyable ride.

3. The metric translation of "mileage" is "kilometrage." We think.

4. Let out a 10 km whoop, Paraguaian style.

This is where my amateur status really showed, and where a veteran was needed. When you've biked 100 km, you have 25 km to go, and the map guy originally said you'd only have to bike 80 km, you need a little pick me up. Sadly, they don't teach whooping at the Hathaway Institute for Higher Learning (in fact, it is generally frowned upon) or at Struther's Camp Corruption (are you reading this, Scott? I'm thinking some course reorganization), but thankfully Mark spent four years in Paraguay in the Peace Corps. And those guys can whoop a whoop that will push you through that next 10 km.

5. Talk to the cows.

Everybody likes to toy with their prey...before they tip them over, heh heh heh...

6. Wasa.

Wasa bread is a lesson in itself. Actually, it's a belief system in itself. If you've never had Wasa, then I don't know that I can explain it to you. Imagine all of your favorite memories (the day you got a puppy, your 16th birthday, the day you saw a fairy) and the greatest smells (soft rain, fresh bread, pine forests) and the greatest sounds (the first robin of spring, the largo from Vivladi's "Winter," the cry of a newborn baby) and the greatest touch sensations (soft...stuff) and the greatest tastes (one word: manna), role them all into a small rye crisp, and you have Wasa. And it comes in different flavors! Sport Wasa, breakfast Wasa, fiber Wasa... There is a Wasa for every occasion and emotion. Actually, Wasa is an emotion. You don't just eat Wasa. You feel Wasa. And it fills up your stomach when the nearest grocery store is 20 km away and all the hostel has left in its kitchen cuboards is Wasa bread.

7. Stop and check out stuff.

Never having done bike touring before, I started out, naturally, a little tense. If I made it to the hostel, I hugged my bed like a sailor who just stepped onto land after months at sea. Miserable months at sea in a cramped little fishing boat that leaked and smelled like tar and fish and the cook's BO, when the weather was terrible and everbody was sea-sick. And you had scruvy. Bad. That's how I hugged the bed. So, I was very focused each day, intent on getting to destination with as few stops as possible. I wanted no chance of getting lost in the middle of the night with no place to sleep (Stockholm comes to mind...). Mark taught me to relax. He showed me how to stop at the charming roadside cafe, run out of a old woman's kitchen. He showed me how to explore the town in the evening and eat supper by ridiculous statues. He showed me how to make bike touring enjoyable.

In sum, it was a fabulous week of companionship with my uncle. The weather was gorgeous, the hostels were charming, and, most importantly, I was reintroduced to the pleasures of bike touring in Europe.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Marco -- when did you do modeling in Norway?

Stockholm pictures

Gamla Stan in the background

Fryderyk Chopin on the Fryderyk Chopin. Excellent pianist. Easy highlight.


With the clouds of Oslo still hovering above my head, I arrive by train in Stockholm. The original plan was to bike into town, but, with no safe road to take me into the city, I am forced to take a train and arrive in town two days early. So, I can just arrive at my hostel and book a few more nights, right? Wrong. Some shmuck named Rod Stewart was throwing a little party at the Stockholm stadium, and he must have invited a lot of friends, because every single room in the hostel was booked. So, I just hop on my bike and look around town for another room. Six hours later, I'm still staggering around town in the twilight of the midnight sun, still searching for a bed that doesn't have a Rod Stewart fan snoring in it. It turns out that I didn't have to worry about missing some days of biking, because I've gotten in about 35 km. of biking around the streets, by this point. My family, half way across the world, manages to find me a hotel on the web, books it for me, and calls me with the address. I take a cab and, in a few minutes, have collapsed onto a bed.

Such was my introduction to Stockholm. Needless to say, I stepped scowling onto its streets, bitter at the town's cold greeting. Worse still, I was stuck in the city even longer than I expected. I had seven days to suffer at the hands of the self-styled Capital of Scandinavia. Thankfully, there was someone who could tame the beast. Someone who could strip away its grim mask and reveal the beauty and charm of the historic city. Mollie Söderlind, you are that person. You may know Mollie Söderlind as the blixery Swedish girl who was an exchange student in Montevideo. You may know Mollie Söderlind as the blixery Swedish girl who can slap up a Hungarian. Whatever the case, this young lady opened my eyes to the delights of Stockholm. And she makes a great chocolate cake.

With her as my guide, I began to experiance Stockholm. It really is a gorgeous city. The town is composed of variously sized islands, the larger ones creating the foundation of the city and the smaller ones spiraling out into the Baltic Sea. The islands aren't really close enough to create canals, as in Venice, but they are close enough to create a sense of intamacy with the town as you view the harbor. Yet, you never see the city the same way. Each side of an island creates a new panorama of aging stone or wrought iron bridges, historic waterfront buildings, and the shimmering sea. The sense of elegance was heightened by the many sailing ships that lined the harbor -- not little sail boats, but graceful square-rigged ships, here for the annual Tall Ships Race that would take them to various ports around the Baltic. The wharf was an exciting place to be, with over 70 of these historic boats accenting Stockholm's beauty and sea heritage. Thousands of tourists were there to see the ships, and to enjoy the live jazz music that echoed across the harbor all day. The ships didn't sit idle, either; the crew used this publicity to promote their country's tourism, or other efforts. One Polish ship, called the Fryderyk Chopin, offered a free Chopin recital on the deck to promote visits to Poland. I didn't really care what their motives were -- that was a incredible concert with unbeatable atmosphere.

The ships were all centered around one small island in particular: Gamla Stan, or, the old town. It's wonderfully preserved medieaval village, a wonderful reminder of Stockholm's place in ancient history. Nothing is perfectly straight or symmetrical, here. Time is slowly twisting the whole town like a corkscrew, creating charmingly irregular contours on the buildings and crooked streets. The twisting cobblestone streets are full of fascinating curioisity shops, gelato booths, and street musicians of varying quality. After exploring these main roads, however, you can easily slip beneath a crumbling archway and find yourself completely alone in a small, crooked street. As you walk down the narrow path the noise of the tourists fades to a murmer, and you can take time to discover hidden fountains and ancient streets on you own. Suddenly, you turn down a dark, cool street and pop out on one of the main drags, again. After lunch, it's great to find a quiet corner and drink a cup of tea, admiring the ancient pastel-colored buildings and planning my blog.

Mollie introduces all of these delights to me, while patiently explaining that Swedes do not talk funny and soley eat lingonberrries (I'm pretty sure she was pulling my leg, though). Whatever the case, they make for good company on your birthday, so I wasn't alone when I turned the unremarkable age of 19. Twice. It seems that we had both lost track of time, as we had both been traveling the previous week, so we celebrated my birthday a day early. But I couldn't just ignore my real birthday, so we celebrated again. You may laugh, but it's not every boy or girl that gets two birthdays a year. Which reminds me: why weren't you guys at my party?

I'm starting to ramble, so it's time to close.