Though we’d hoped to sleep in a bit to make up for two late nights in a row, we were up early and on the road by 7:00. Darkness is still hard to come by in these parts.
As the rain from last night broke up, the forest almost glowed in the morning light. The clouds swirled and danced, teasing the sun and lighting our way dramatically. We pulled over repeatedly, starinng at the shining lakes and rushing rivers, soaking up the morning stillness and trying to capture Finland’s gorgeous farmlands.
Once we’d been on the road a couple of hours, the gentle hills stood a little taller and the going got a little bit lonelier. Then, we turned off and over a bridge, heading into Sweden.
We cruised through Swedish forests, up and down, up and down, at which point Ben asked, “do you think we’re in the Arctic Circle yet?” As if planned, right at that moment, a sign appeared, denoting the Arctic Circle in 1 kilometer. Laughing we pulled over to get a photo of the sign.
We were standing around being silly, amazed at how far north we’d come when all of the sudden I saw something hop up into the road. Silently, I poked Ben and pointed and we both stood in awe: our first reindeer!
A couple of reindeer friends also appeared and we easily spent the next fifteen minutes checking them out, and they, us as we watched each other. Giddy at having seen reindeer right as we’d reached the Arctic Circle, we hopped back in the car for another long stretch of forest.
Though the scenery was excellent, the shopping was a bit sparse and so, having not yet eaten any breakfast, we were starting to get anxious to find somewhere with some supplies. Thankfully, at least when we’re in a car, decent nutrition isn’t as vital to our onward movement. Finally, we found a tiny town with an equally miniscule grocery store. There was no wienerbrod to be seen, but we made do with some yogurt and doughnuts.
The drive went on, and on, and on. The tall trees receded, making way for scrubby small ones, the landscape opening up with vistas of yellow grass and blue lakes. Occasionally, traffic stopped due to a wayward reindeer in the road. We were finally in Lapland and it was pretty epic.
A sign appeared for the famed Swedish ice hotel, and though it obviously wasn’t going to be still standing in the dead of summer, we took a detour anyway to go see what was there. A big gravel strip stood where the hotel gets built every year, two huge blue ice blocks in the middle, a token bit of ice for the handful of tourists that make it out this way. We poked around the reception of the hotel (in a normal building), sampled the local river water from the spout inside, and checked out the amazing pictures of ice hotels past. They were pretty impressive!
As we neared the edge of Sweden, mountains peeked over the horizon. Soon, we were among them, driving between stony ridgelines and a stunning long lake. At that point, I was nodding off and Ben noted that he was pretty tired too. We pulled over into a roadside pulloff and took a repeat of yesterday’s siesta, the wind blowing through our car as we slept curled up in the front seat of our bitty vehicle.
After we’d woken up, we got back to driving where we soon reached the border of Norway. By then, we were almost to the highest point of the pass, and things looked just like the Norway we’d experienced down south: blue grey rocks dwarfed by purple mountains and trimmed with low lying greenery. In short, it was stunning.
Of course, the wind blew and the rain fell and the day was perfectly chilly. Thankfully, from our protected vantage point inside the car, we enjoyed every bit, lamenting the lack of roadside pulloffs for photos. An hour later, we winded down to the coast where we began our approach to the Lofoten Islands.
By this point, we’d logged nearly eleven hours in the car today and though we still had a long way to go, we were ready to call it a night. We began looking for a nice place to pull over and pitch the tent, but it was a bit tough to find enough room for a tent a car, and also any degree of privacy from the busy highway. Forty minutes later, we finally found a mossy track through the trees where we foud a flat-ish spot on which to pitch our tent with only a few large rocks poking us from below. In either event, the waterfront location was impossible to beat.
Though it was nearly 10 PM, the sun was still happily shining. We climbed in the tent, buried our heads in the sleeping bag, and tried to get some sleep.