As a kid, one thing is engrained into your head over and over again: don´t talk to strangers. To be fair, this is an invaluable lesson. Strangers can indeed be dangerous, especially to young, impressionable children. While I consider myself somebody who followed this advice fairly closely growing up, I´ve recently learned that this rule doesn´t apply in Norway, especially while cycle touring.
In the north, Tieran and I accepted what we thought was our bleak reality- we were stuck with just each other for the duration of our journey down the country. While most travellers are able to socialize by staying in hostels, like so much else, even hostels hang far above our budget of 150 kroner ($15) between us per day. Thus, we spent the first few weeks of our trip alone and completely unaware of the intense potential of the Norwegian hospitality that surrounded us.
Fast forward to when we reached the south, just short of a town called Molde. We started our day off as we usually did: complete with a classic breakfast of two slices of white bread (which was particularly moldy on this morning, but I nevertheless still ate it) with Nugatti and peanut butter. Then, we started our cycle towards Åfarnes. The crazy part was, Tieran was the grumpy one today, and he hadn´t even eaten the moldy bread. Still, I knew the root of his attitude- we had to somehow travel through two tunnels that strictly forbid cyclists. The alternative to these tunnels would be to cycle 60km out of our way, which would have added an entire day to our already-tight timeframe.
Naturally, we decided that we had to hitchhike, something that my parents always told me not to do, especially as a female (sorry Mom and Dad). While I might not recommend trying it solo at home to any American readers, hitchhiking turned out to be one of the best decisions we made on our trip. Not only was it successful, but we met an extremely kind couple who took us through the tunnels in their camper van, on a hike to some caves, and out to dinner. In addition to the fun we had that day, meeting this couple set a precedent for the trip. After explaining to them that one night in the north we slept in a wet tent wearing wet clothing after it rained, they simply asked us why we hadn´t just knocked on someone´s door to ask for help. We hadn´t even considered this idea in the past, and were perplexed by it. So, after spending what would be our last night sleeping in a waiting room, we took the couple´s advice: ask for help when we need it.
In what feels like a time where neighbors are more afraid of each other than ever, we experienced a different attitude in Norway; one where people we had never met genuinely wanted to help us. Even before we’d explained what we needed help doing, the couple in the camper van, or “bobil” in Norwegian, kept repeating how much they wanted to help us, no matter what. This refreshing sentiment changed the course of our trip. For those who read my last article, you probably recall my somewhat beaten-down attitude from the struggles of beginning such an intense cycle tour. Down south, however, after Tieran and I started reaching out to strangers, all of that negativity morphed into something truly special.
After hitchhiking through the tunnels, we spent the next nine out of ten nights with complete strangers. A family in a small town called Dovre hosted us for three nights. We cooked together, went on a hike up a mountain, watched England get defeated in the World Cup and, most of all, talked endlessly and learned about each other. When we left it was emotional; these people who were strangers three nights before now felt like extended family. In Harpefoss, another family let us camp in their backyard and provided us with a much-needed shower, food, and more. In Tretten, a family not only took us in for two nights, but gave us a tour of their dairy farm and took us up to their eighteenth century cabin in the mountains. Finally, the most recent family we met welcomed us with a luxury we hadn’t had since Dovre- actual beds to sleep in.
I’ve learned that it’s funny, the way we view strangers in America. While it isn’t Scandinavia, and therefore doesn’t have the reputation that virtually everything is safer, we still tend to be somewhat suspicious of people that we don’t know. I’d like to think that after this trip I’ll be just as keen to embrace some weary travellers like the lovely people that I met. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, or maybe it’s simply to do with individual attitude. Either way, I now know that somewhere in the world, even if it may be 4,000 miles from where I live, there are people who put their suspicions and doubts aside to help those in need. Perhaps they find us interesting, but beyond that, the people that helped us had nothing to gain. There was nothing in it for them, except maybe that they wanted to learn- learn about other cultures, and people, and maybe even about cycle touring. Maybe this eagerness and openness to learning is why Norway is the successful, thriving country that it is.
There are few things that happen on a regular basis that I’ll remember for the rest of my life, but the kindness bestowed on me by complete strangers in Norway is something that will absolutely stick with me. From now on, when I think about what makes a country truly great, I’ll picture Svein from Dovre, gesturing for us to come inside his home, a big smile on his face and cold water waiting for us on the table.
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