It didn’t seem to be possible but it immediately felt even more remote and lonesome after I have crossed into Norway. I passed a couple of abandoned buildings. Neiden, the next settlement, seemed almost deserted and to my disappointment the local coffee place wasn’t open. So I continued. The day was grey and eyeing the looming dark clouds on the horizon I was hoping that it would not start to rain.
The scenery changed again. More beech trees and the terrain got a lot more hilly. A huge body of water appeared. I am in the country of mighty fjords now. The road followed Munkfjorden, that turned into Neidenfjorden and into Krossfjorden later. Granite instead of swamps, wind instead of mosquitos, a lot of wind. Then, only 35 km to go to Kirkenes!
There are places that have a certain pull to them. For me, it is not the iconic world capitals or places of general interest; I am interested in the places off the radar. As a small kid I used to explore countries with my little fingers by following the course of rivers, the topographic lines of mountain ranges in an atlas or by annoying my grandma to tell me how to pronounce place names. Kirkenes is one such place.
When I started on that trip, I had in mind to „go north“. I was very hesitant where this „north“ could actually be. I guess most of all cyclist who cycle north in Scandinavia, cycle towards the Northern Cape, the northern most point of Europe. Yeah, it was in my mind, too. But I decided I need to go to Kirkenes. It is a small town with about 3500 inhabitants in the extrem northeastern part of Norway. It is only about 20 km to Russia. It sits right at the shore of the Barent Sea that is part of the Arctic Ocean. As it is about 400 km north of the Arctic Circle, in summertime the sun does not set – it is actually still shining during the night. The town is all about fishing, offshore petroleum-drilling, and tourism as it is the turning point of the famous Hurtigruten mail boats that also take passengers on cruises along the coast of Norway. Also, Kirkenes has a history: old bunkers and a museum tell about the time when Kirkenes was a base for the Germans when Norway was occupied by Nazi Germany during World War II.
Unexpectedly, the remaining 10 km to town turned out being quite emotional. When I eventually got to the shore of the Barent Sea, I was in tears. I suddenly knew that I reached my destination, this is were I intended to go to when I said I was cycling north. So many different emotions and feelings overwhelmed me. I was struggling to connect to my own emotions during the last 2.5 years, the pandemic and all what came with it, made it almost impossible. But, here, while arriving at the Barent Sea, after having cycled through the loneliness of Finnish woods on the one side, and awe-inspiring landscape on the other, after having met some incredible humans along the way, after having thrown off some metaphorical layers I put on during the last two years, I felt at ease, at ease at all. Having had to go beyond my comfort zone with cycling towards the north and having had to go through a pretty fragile period in my life, brought me back a little stronger than before, a little more assured and a little more confident, and, overall, much more connected to myself again.
While sitting at the shore and letting my eyes wander over the beauty of the Arctic Ocean, I enjoyed chocolate cookies and a can of beer I also got at the supermarket just south of the border between Finland and Norway. 2212 km down since I left my doorstep in Germany. Everything else that is going to come will be the icing on the cake and I am looking forward to it. But, first – I will rest in Kirkenes.