Sören drops me off where I’d left my bike. It’s almost eight in the morning, sunlight seeping into the sky. It’s ‑29°C, so I waste no time in getting going — I can’t afford to stand around. The first few minutes bring an uncomfortable chill to my extremities, but I soon warm up and settle into an established, comfortable rhythm.
Which gets me thinking. What I’m doing probably looks somewhat extreme from the comfort of a desk or laptop. But it’s not. This is difficult to explain. Before I left England, bike and baggage in tow, I was pretty terrified by the whole idea. But now I find myself pedalling alone through Lapland at nearly thirty degrees below zero, realising that — actually — this is pretty OK!
OK, so it’s taken a steep learning curve to get here, and there have been times of utter misery on this trip, during which I frankly had no idea what to do, but by trial and error worked my way through them. These have been some of the most trying of times.
But this is not a polar expedition. Nor is it a pleasant cycling holiday down the Danube. It has some things in common with both: I’m in a climate which requires good planning and constant presence of mind, and I’m alone and in a relatively unpopulated place.
But I’m on a road, for goodness’ sake — and this road is not the wilderness, even if the wilderness is passing me on both sides at all times. The Arctic is the wilderness, where you are alone for a month and carry a shotgun in case of polar bears. Here, there are towns and supermarkets and petrol stations and traffic, however spartan, and stray polar bears get shot for you.
I want to clear up any idea that this trip is anything else. I’m a normal bloke with no athletic talent whatsoever. I’m crap at sport. And I’ve found that I can handle this OK most of the time, and struggle through the rest. I think anyone could.
The bottom line is that it’s an experience which has pushed me well out of my comfort zone, just as have previous travels. It’s like climbing a hill and occasionally stopping to look back; the view gets better, broader and clearer. Step by step. And that’s why it’s worth doing.