Driving was part of the quest. It allows another perception of time. It gives you hours to think in a state close to transe. You can be focused on the road but still deep in your thoughts. Sometimes you turn off the van and you realise that you can’t actually trace how you did got there. There is a phase just before sleeping: not really asleep, but not fully awake. The brain makes itself comfortable and you can’t control your thoughts anymore. Driving alone is the same. You remember forgotten things, you make crazy plans, you rave, you ramble. You think about old friends that you haven’t seen for years. You promise yourself to change your life. Those hours on the road are as important as the places they connect. A journey within the journey.
“There is nothing comparable to the complete joy of nomadism,
nothing more satisfying than the unrivaled feeling to always move”
Sixteen thousand two hundred and fifty kilometers. I wanted to drive them all on my own. The whole journey, every single mile. Even when I was travelling with people, I didn’t let them touch the steering wheel. It would have felt like cheating to me. No matter how tired I was, or how I was feeling that specific day, I could drive until my eyes got red, until my back hurts. I had to do it, I needed to do it. It was an endurance race. Every evening, I was tracing in red on the map the distance I covered during the day. I was coloring each tiny road, one by one, every day a little bit higher, getting slowly closer to the real north.
Driving in Norway can be challenging. With all the fjords, islands and mountains, it’s never flat, straight and easy for very long. Most of the time there is only one road. And this main and only road can be so narrow that you can barely pass other cars. So when you meet a bus or a truck, you just close your eyes and stop to breath, so tense for a fraction of a second. And when it’s definitely too narrow, you just drive backwards until you find a spot to dangerously park, so close to the void. You have to stay focused and awake, to anticipate and not be afraid to try tricky maneuvers. I now have the feeling that I wasn’t really able to drive before this journey.
Living on the roads. I have images stuck in my head, mental pictures. An amazing light through the trees, a stunning view that makes you stop. The perfect songs that play at the perfect moment. Getting lost and not giving a damn. Seeing something, turning back to take the picture and leaving again. The wind through the open window that makes my hair fly. The sun that warms my arms. Doing hundreds of kilometer detours. Singing louder than the rain that falls on the roof. Eating in front of the sea, just sitting on the floor with the side door open. Picking up hitch-hikers, sometimes for an hour, and sometimes a week. But you also have the cold inside, the days of rain. The mechanical problems that send you to the garage for days where you end up living on the parking lot. The search for a place to sleep that sometimes takes hours. The days of never ending highways when you come back home. The stressful driving in the big cities. But in the end, even the bad moments become good memories.
“My van was everything. My home, my vehicle, my shelter,
my point of reference, and above all, my freedom.”
My van has a name and I love him like a friend. I talk to him like he would answer. I know his faults. I know all the tricks to make him function. I’ve discovered pretty fast that nothing inside works properly. The water tank is leaking, the battery is always too low, it is not isolated at all. But I wouldn’t trade him for anything in the world. I’m taking care of him. I’m encouraging him on mountain roads, when the engine can barely breath. I’m cleaning him when there are too many mosquitoes on the windscreen that I can’t see where I’m going. I’m saying goodbye when I’m leaving for a while. I’m relieved when I see him again. It feels good to have a place to go back to after a long hiking day. It is almost too comfortable to feel like home in the middle of an unknown place. I had my key around my neck for three months and it was the most precious thing I had.
Even now, after a few months, when I’m going to my grandmother’s and I see the van parked in the courtyard, I feel the joy of seeing a good friend after a long time. I go inside and close the door, I sit on the bed and wonder if everything was real.
The latest chapter of Chasing Scandinavia will be released soon. Give a read to the interview with Agathe Monnot
Words. Agathe Monnot
Photo. Agathe Monnot