We found ourselves trapped in a house. Our epic one day attempt at hitchhiking across Lapland was quickly deteriorating. Due to our extended time in Norway, we needed to reach Finland as soon as possible. The route we were planning to take would see us hitch through the vast emptiness of Lapland, Sweden. We were somewhat apprehensive about this route as there was little information about whether it was possible and looking at a map it seemed ridiculous. 700km of wilderness and only a couple of large towns. The rest of the markings on the map being odd houses and a couple of villages. Worse still, we were stuck at our couchsurfers waiting for our entire backpack of clothes to dry. Of all the things! We had put our washing on at 10am and our clothes had been locked in the machine for 3 hours while they washed. Because there was no dryer we then had to hang them outside where they struggled to dry in the cloudy arctic climate. By 5pm we made the decision that we had no other choice but to hang everything from our bags and walk to the road. It was 6pm when we first outstretched our thumbs, happy just to make it to the next town for the night.
As if some wild hitchhiking fairy was looking over us, within minutes a Swedish number-plated car pulled over and we were greeted by a lovely German couple. The sign we held indicated our desired destination was Narvik, a Norwegian town at the beginning of the Lofoten Islands only 150km away. They happily agreed to take us there. Not long into the drive, we began talking and discovered they were actually driving their rental car back to the a large town halfway across Sweden called Kiruna which 400km along the exact road we were hoping to hitch! It was their first time picking up hitchhikers but they were happy to take us the entire way. Feeling blessed that we had somehow navigated the hardest part of our entire trip, we sat back and felt relieved.
The couple were really cool people, having just completed over a week long hike in Sweden. They often went hiking in Sweden, however, due to unexpectedly having two days free, they decided to drive to Norway. They generously invited us to dinner as we stopped at a service station and they were so kind as they offered to pay for us. They stated they understood the importance of budgeting for travel and were more than happy to cover us. We both felt humbled, as always. The rest of the drive was spent in steady conversation, exploring the differences between the German and Australian cultures. As the hour grew late and dusk set in permanently at around 11pm, we reached the mining town of Kiruna. We were dropped at a campground near the hotel our friends were staying at and we thanked our guardian hitchhiking angels for being so helpful. Reception was closed and as it was thankfully not entirely dark yet we walked until we found a location to pitch our tent. Unfortunately, we chose somewhere surrounded by trees and even with the insect repellent which was given to us by the German couple never in our lives had we experienced so many mosquitos! There were so many our vision was blurred by their flying black bodies. We rushed as we setup our tent and jumped inside. After eating a can of baked beans we fell asleep around 1:30am.
We woke to the familiar sound of rain. The joys of camping in Scandinavia had not been left behind in Norway. We remembered to be grateful for the past week of amazing weather and luckily the rain only lasted the hour in which we packed up our wet tent. Running with our bags, we took shelter under a building, ate breakfast and waited for the rain to stop. Borrowing some wifi from next to the reception building, we mapped our 10km walk to the other side of town to what seemed like a good hitchhiking spot. There was no information on Kiruna on hitchwiki so we simply guessed. It was 10am when we left to begin our walk.
A supermarket was our main priority as our food supply was quite low. Having spent no money the day before we loaded up for a couple of days and then sought out a tourist information bay to try to find somewhere we could purchase ethanol fuel for our beer-can stove. We were told the service station from where we planned to hitch our next ride would stock it so we began our walk. Within half an hour thick black clouds rolled over and heavy rain broke. Our trusty umbrella struggled to maintain its shape as the wind increased and we bolted to the station. It became much worse when the large storm began flooding the footpaths and roads, forcing cars to slow down dramatically. We ran for cover to a large shopping complex which had a store resembling a outdoor/camping outlet. We searched inside for fuel and sure enough, found exactly what we needed, 1lt for 5€. We did not expect that in Scandinavia! Rain still bucketing down, we sat outside under the roof and ate tomato and 1€ ham (if you can call it ham ) sandwiches.
The entire afternoon was then spent trying to avoid the rain and finding a decent hitching spot. The highway was odd in that it broke into two roads before the town and we had to decide which of the two options to thumb. We walked between them in order to determine which was better and whilst it continued to rain, we were not convinced with either. Traffic seemed scarce and our hopes of making it out of lapland seemed doubtful as it was past 4pm already. Deciding to compromise our safety and that of the drivers, we walked along the highway until we stood just beyond a large roundabout. Cars had a small patch of gravel, only slight larger than half a car’s length to pull in, however we decided it was less dangerous seeing as traffic was light. Half an hour later a black Audi driven by a Finnish man abruptly pulled over. We were going to make it to Finland! Or so we thought..
It turned out he lived in Sweden. He could, however, drop us 3hours in the right direction along the baltic sea. From there, Finland was only 80km away. Our driver spoke little english so unfortunately the majority of the drive was spent in silence. At multiple times throughout the trip we were forced to stop due to reindeers walking along the road. They did not seem to be bothered by the cars and would walk leisurely in front of a speeding car less that 100 metres away.
“Dumb animals!” our driver would say but they were pretty cool to see! It was close to 8pm when we thanked our driver at a service station in a small town called Tore. As we began walking to a nearby campsite, we stumble across a truck/camper stop which had toilets and flat mowed grass areas. Thanks to the laws in Scandinavia regarding free camping, we set our tent up in the open and cooked dinner before an early sleep. We felt completely safe even while a couple slept on numerous blankets under a tree only meters from us. The world is not such a scary place!
It was the warm sun which woke us at 9am the next morning. We felt strangely refreshed despite our lack of showers the past two days.. We packed everything up, ate breakfast and walked back to the overpass bridge which had an entry to the new highway. . The exit ramp of the small town had little to no traffic leaving. For an hour and a half we were in the blistering sun playing soccer with a plastic puck we had found beside the road. We kicked it across the road into goals we had set up out of rocks, running into position whenever a lonely car drove by. We had no concerns about time and laughed as we enjoyed the situation we were in. Another half an hour past before we decided to walk further up the exit ramp to a location where cars had some extra room to pull in. An Austrian hitchhiker walked over, having just come from the exact same town as we had the day before. We talked briefly but he did not want to intrude on our location as common hitchhiking etiquette foretold the more hitchhikers in one place, the harder to get a ride. 10 minutes later we were picked up by two Syrian guys.
They spoke english very well and it was an interesting ride to get a personal insight into the problematic refugee situation in Europe because of the Syrian war. We felt emotionally moved as they described their struggle to escape and how their motivation to have a better life drew them to a country they respected, but felt so different to their own. They were really good people. The short trip found us at a larger town 20kms away in a better location. We met another hitchhiker, a Finnish girl travelling home, and gave her right of way, walking further down the highway. Within 5 minutes she was picked up so we walked back to her better location and had the same luck as the first car towing a caravan pulled over. They were a Finnish couple driving home from a holiday in Norway but were going shopping on the Swedish side of the border so they dropped us there. We decided to walk to Finland, a 15 minute hike along the road and through a series of cameras and signs indicating we had crossed the boarder. An unlikely few days of late-afternoon hitching and we had made it!
(25km walked, 741km hitchhiked)