On the Road and Homeless, Fjord Style

Michelle and I flew into Oslo last week with a backpack stuffed with pre-purchased pasta mix, ramen,  and oats, and very few plans. Finding ourselves in Norway, one of the most expensive (and safest) countries on earth, we knew there was only one way we could travel: hitchhiking.

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We splurged on a pastry at 7-11 to sheepishly ask for some cardboard on the side, preened our pens, made sure our gloves would keep our thumbs warm. Our destination: Bergen, home to the house a picture on the internet had called “couchsurfer heaven,” and eight Google Map hours from Oslo.

We took a bus to the start of the main road west, then walked out towards the highway. The fields below us sparkled with frost, and the fall leaves underfoot melted into the pavement as the morning breathed, harsh and golden.

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I walked through a contrast: the fullness of the morning light overlapped the jagged absence of our plans. We talked about the next several hours ahead of us as if they were a fairy tale, not fully believing they would solidify. This was a true moment – gold light and yellow leaves – but at the end of that moment the future snapped away. Time ended at the duct-taped toes of my running shoes. Each step became a creation.

I was surprised that the feeling wasn’t terrifying.

We found a turnout and tried to arrange ourselves into a cheery and compact ensemble. “Do you think we look too happy?”, I wondered to Michelle, but just then a truck and trailer pulled up and we climbed into the neat vehicle of an off-duty police officer.

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With that our day became a string of moments, beaded together along the curving yellow line of a two-lane highway. Sloping forests, glinting with frost beneath the shadow of the low noon sun. The van of the Portuguese auto repair man that spilled work gloves as he hiked open the door and told us to get in, that, “in this country, you can die of the cold,” then spent the rest of the ride arguing that his 18-year-old daughter should not become a teacher.

Next came the 18-year-old girl with flowers crocheted on her leggings, on her way home from work at a yarn store. I asked her the strangest knitting pattern she’d seen. “Some people knit penis warmers,” she said, “but I think that’s weird.”

In an empty ski resort, the sound of a percussion band of marching grandmothers wearing hoodies echoed through the square.

By now it was too dark for us to hitchhike any further, so we drowned our defeat in a shared 5-dollar mocha and took a train the rest of the way, staring into windows of high mountains made invisible within the thick night. By the time we stepped off the bus near our couchsurfer’s address, it was almost 1 am.

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Imagine our surprise, then, when we walked up a lane of trees that framed a canyon of cold stars, and found ourselves in a mansion.

If I had to give a theme to this trip so far, that theme would be “home.” A childish concept, somewhat, because I realize now that the certainty of home does not exist. Places change, and people change, just like the borders of countries, and species, and coasts. The mountains crumble, and separate galaxies coalesce. In the midst of all this joining and unraveling Michelle and I hitch from moment to moment, coast to mountain, summer to fall, as cities bloom and subside and the wind purses through different hills, plains, seas. The new air of a place pillows my body, fills my lungs, and I blossom into the joy of a place before sealing its fullness behind me with an exhaled breath. And I walk away, again and again, until it becomes natural to leave.

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My home is each moment. My home is reaching the top of the mountain in Bergen with a friend met the day before, in being wedged and warm beneath my bag in the front seat of a Portuguese auto worker’s van, in listening to dolphins’ breath in the ruins of a Scottish castle.

I am always changing homes, which is another way of saying I am always homeless.

Most days this is thrilling, beading together moments, adoring points of depth or beauty, wearing them like jewelry.

Other days it is exhausting, because my plans to once more work and travel means that I cannot see a future beyond goodbyes. My last home on Jeju waits just below each moment, loaded with the pain of last farewells. And then some days our pace will slow, and stop, and I have to ask myself whether I travel because I want to, or because I am afraid of standing still.

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We reached the mansion. We talked to humans as intriguing as the cast of a play, and listened to an in-house concert by the talented Brett Newski:”I became smart too young,” he sang, “and now I only speak in metaphor.” We hiked a mountain, made new friends and cookies. We hitched a ride into town and ended up seeing Bergen from the back of a convertible, complete with stories of old bombs and 28-meter waves.

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We started early towards Oslo airport and got picked up by a dad and his daughter, a Mazda free-ride promotion team, an old man with the longest possible eyebrows and an unprecedented excitement over fall leaves, and an impossibility sweet Palestinian trucker with knife scars on his face who bought us food at every chance and went out of his way to drop us off at the airport. The drive, I should add, was one of the most beautiful drives of my life, winding through fjords so still they held each tree and hill farm doubled, through corridors of stone that started in water and ended in mist and were clouded on every angle with yellow leaves that shifted so high that I felt like I was looking up at the under-surface of the sea. With the memory of the drive mixing with exhaustion we slept for a few hours in a cozy corner near the luggage scales before boarding our early-morning flight to Warsaw, Poland.

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In Warsaw I met up with a good friend who had been one of the people that made Jeju a place worth missing. That night we all sat together around a platter of meat and liter glasses of beer, while an accordion played alongside an oboe and cello, and I remembered what it was to feel settled. The next day Michelle and I took a walking tour through the Warsaw old town, 90% of which had been destroyed following the Warsaw uprising in WW2, and which the people of Poland had come together to rebuild, with their own funds, using nothing but volunteers. No city square had ever felt more beautiful.

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And somewhere between those liter beers, and the new-old houses, and the bus ride to Krakow as I write these words to the bumping of a county road, I realized what it is that makes and re-makes a home: love. The love of places, and of cultures, but mostly the love of people. People like Michelle, Luke, Sarah. People like the Palestinian trucker and the girl who won’t knit penis warmers. To love people is to create a home, even if only for a moment, and that moment is better than nothing.

I’m still scared about the future, but I do know this: I love to love people. And, somewhere on this vast, intimidating planet, that might be enough to make another home.

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Have your own hitchhiking stories or ideas about home? Comment below!

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