I’m riding happily along when along comes a turn-off to my left. This is the moment I’ve been waiting for. And so, after many days of ignoring the side-roads, I check over my shoulder and pull off the E45 for what I hope is the last time.
My new route is refreshing. It’s a minor road, serving a few scattered Lapland villages, some of which are uninhabited during winter. A village here, I should hasten to add, seems to usually consist of three or four houses and perhaps a farmyard, and the chances of actually seeing someone are rather slim. Still, I hope that it will serve as an interesting variation.
It snowed last night, and the fresh snow hasn’t yet been cleared. I trundle my bike along whichever set of tyre-marks looks the most solid, feeling the sheet ice beneath the pressed snow. There only seems to be one lane here, and I’m guessing from the tracks that no more than five or six vehicles have passed this way this morning.
There are no more logging trucks, and the landscape is eerily quiet. A few birds tweeting in the trees is pretty much all I can hear. But the music in my head is playing loud today; a compilation of music I was listening to a few days ago.
I pedal for hours through the monochrome bleakness, the overcast sky casting a flat light on my surroundings, trying to switch off the relentless radio inside my skull and failing. I’m balancing my bike as much through the feel and sound of the tyres as by what I can see passing under my wheels. I enjoy this riding; it’s a fresh style and a new process to learn.
I continue to ride again after dark, feeling in good physical shape and with plenty of reserve energy. I’ve seen three cars all afternoon. They didn’t stop. They never do. Everyone has what they need in this part of the world – who needs to be offered help? This guy on his bike – clearly what he’s doing is none of my business. Why should I stop?
Throughout the day I’ve noticed far more animal tracks beside the road and crossing it. Mostly it’s moose, with the occasional fox. But the creatures seem reluctant to show themselves. Maybe they don’t like my taste in music.
I peer into the gloomy twilit forest, straining my eyes to see between the trees. Every dark shape in the distance is a potential moose – until I get close enough to see that it’s just another tree. Heaps of shovelled snow become potential mooses, in my fevered imagination. There’s nobody out here; no houses, no traffic. Just me, the trees – and the potential moose.
Riding into the blackest of nights – no stars tonight – I swing the beam of my headtorch wildly around the surrounding trees, and quickly back to the road. Any minute now I expect a moose to leap out of the woods in front of me, or maybe a herd of them. There’ll be a stand-off; moose snorting aggressively, me entrenched astride my bicycle, also snorting, in a primal battle of the nerves.
But, despite long miles of tense preparation, this moment never comes. I wind my way down a steep descent, brakes squealing, snow squeaking beneath my tyres. At the bottom I find a long, single-lane bridge across a body of water, and a clearing to the side, where I decide to make camp for the night.
I cook up a dinner of bacon and noodles, and roll out my sleeping bag inside the tent. I’m cleaning my teeth – when suddenly my headtorch picks out a couple of glinting eyes: it’s a moose! Finally! The eyes gaze at me from a stand of trees by the water, maybe a hundred metres away. Nature has cast its gaze upon me this evening. I feel a great deal of satisfaction from this distant encounter.
I look again. The eyes have moved to the right. They’re still moving.
Hold on a second. Those aren’t eyes.
It’s a car. A freaking car, driving past on the other side of the lake. Damn these primordial reflexes…