In case you missed it: here's Part I of the Sweden hitchhiking adventure.
TWO OLDER COUPLES
Standing underneath a lone street light in the dark, I have zero expectation of finding a ride.
The nearby bus stop will provide a nice place to sleep, but I wait to make myself cozy in case the bus service for the day has yet to conclude (I can't have the people of Sweden seeing me in that vulnerable a state).
I decide to work on perfecting my hitching technique (and dance in the middle of the road).
After an hour of unsuccessful hitching a car slows down and signals – huzaa! They drive right past me and turn into the bus stop's packing lot to take what appears to be a break from driving. Hopes crushed.
Cars continue to pass and quite a few flash their headlights at me. I do not know if this means, “hey asshole, get off the highway”, “hello”, “your dancing is impressive”, or “I am a confused motorist and don't know how to respond to hitchhikers.” I just assume that they are trying to get a better look at my amazingly handsome face.
Eventually the car that fooled me earlier pulls out and prepares to make a turn back out onto the highway. I turn to them (the car is maybe twenty yards away from me) and outstretch my thumb with my finest puppy dog eyes.
The rear door pops open.
Huzaa again! I squeeze into the small back seat with two women in their sixties (at least that's what they looked) and am introduced to their husbands in the front two seats.
“Would you like some wine?” the passenger husband turns around and asks me.
“I would love some wine,” I tell him as he lifts a box up from beneath his legs and pours me a cup.
The two couples are heading to the town of Sundsvall for a night out at the casino (a casino which patrons must pay just to enter and that does not offer free drinks to gamblers).
We make it to town and I decide the hour of cozy making has finally arrived.
Perhaps tomorrow will bring more fortune, but hopefully just more miles.
Two and a half hours spent in the morning's freezing temperatures and violent wind, my thumb was quite literally at risk of falling off.
I am not in the best spot for hitching (and I am fairly certain that it is illegal for me to be standing where I am), but eventually (as always) someone stopped for me.
An Iraqi who has been living in Sweden since 2002, Mohammad and I shared each other's company for more than two hours on his drive up to Umeå. He has been driving since Stockholm (where I left two days ago) and has apparently been awake for 24 hours – he is using me (but I suppose I am using him so I'll allow it).
When I tell him I am from California he turns to me and says, “I not like the United States.” As any self-respecting American would do, I wholeheartedly agree with his opinion. He shares with me a story about how his mother was killed at an American military checkpoint and how America's “war on terror” has done an excellent job destroying the country of Iraq.
A strategically placed piece of Iraqi propaganda? Highly unlikely.
Our conversation turned to more friendly topics, but after some time, as I feared he would, Mohammed brought up religion. To my relief, our talk remains lighthearted and friendly. He tells me that he does not understand why I just want to travel around the world, meet people, and learn about other cultures. It truly baffles him.
“I just want to make money, get rich, and worship god” he tells me. I find this to be quite interesting (and not only because it's essentially the opposite of what I want to do – spend money and become god), but to each his own.
Towards the end of our journey he shares the following video with me, which I find to be educational (and nicely produced), and I promise to pass on (warning: religious mumbo-jumbo follows).
UNKNOWN SINGLE MALE
It takes me a good hour to get from the spot Mohammed had deemed “a good hitching spot” to somewhere that was in reality “a good hitching spot”.
And by “good” I really mean “halfway decent” (sometimes people trying to help do more harm than good).
I am at a roundabout where the E4 (my highway of choice) exited the city of Umeå. There isn't much of a shoulder, and I do not believe that it is legal for pedestrians to be present here, but it will have to do.
Thirty minutes of thumbing and a small sedan filled with furniture pulls over. I force my backpack into the front seat and climb on top of it as I shut the door and we drive away.
A younger, lone, male, this ride speaks the least English of anyone who has picked me up thus far, but we manage to get along as he wrestles my pack out from underneath me whilst attempting to maintain control of his car.
He drops me after only a short while, but I am on the highway, at a bus stop (aka legal for pedestrians), with plenty of space for cars to pull over, and plenty of visibility in either direction.
He turns off down to his village and I decide that sleeping inside of the bus stop won't be a bad option should the rest of the day's cars not desire a strange, American, male companion.
I am happy with my new spot.
Not only am I next to the highway bus stop with plenty of room for cars to pull over, but I have plenty of road in front of me for drivers to make the split second decision as to whether or not they want to invite a stranger into their car.
For much of my time hitching I had simply ignored semis because they would have to be crazy to pull over in the tight spaces I found to stand in. However, this space was different and after half an hour, a two trailer Mercedes semi truck pulls to a stop in front of me. Bingo (was his name-o).
Per, an experienced truck driver and fan of classic America cars (a strangely popular hobby to have in Sweden), takes me all the way to the town of Luleå – over 160 miles (almost my entire total from the day before).
I go with Per to make his deliveries in five different locations across the country, and he tells me that he may even be able to arrange a ride for me all the way to Kiruna (please let this be true).
We pull into a parking lot filled with semis and go inside to his trucker headquarters. I help myself to hot chocolate and a surprisingly delicious sandwich (I think I could get used to this trucker life).
Per finishes up his paperwork and meets me in the kitchen with some fantastic news: he has arranged for another trucker to take me all the way to Kiruna! I will be arriving at around two in the morning, but the important thing is that I will be arriving.
Arctic circle, here I come.
UNKNOWN SINGLE MALE TRUCKER
I hang out at the warehouse until my new driver has his truck loaded and we are off.
This driver speaks far less English than Per and we have a difficult time maintaining conversation (my entertainment value is clearly lacking because he turns on an audiobook (in Swedish, of course) not long into the journey).
I desperately try to stay awake, but I am just too tired (and with the Swedish audiobook droning on in the background I stand no chance). No matter what I do, my body simply refuses to remain conscious.
Eventually I am awoken by the stopping of the truck and I see the mythical “Arctic Circle” sign. After a quick photo-op and some loving embraces, we hop back into the truck and continue our journey north.
Some hours later, long after midnight, my final ride is over and I have reached my destination – 731 miles from the day's start.
The driver parks his truck and we get into his car (parked in a nearby garage). He drives me to the city center and asks me where I am staying.
“I'm camping – do you know a good place to camp?”
He thinks for a bit and then ends up taking me to the small bus station in the middle of the city. “That will be a good place,” he says pointing to a corner of the snow-covered parking lot.
Too tired to search for most suitable camping I thank him and pitched my tent in the howling wind. I think I prefer falling asleep to the Swedish audiobook.
I am not sure how much I actually managed to sleep that first night camping in Kiruna, but soon it was light and the now audible voices of pedestrians let me know that it was time to pack up camp and begin exploring.