Uddebo to Skattunbyn (500km)
The pine forests of southern Sweden often remind me of carefully tended public gardens. Tall straight pines block the sunlight to the lower foliage, limiting growth and making the plants seem trimmed and well-kept, while neat dirt paths wind their way around the small ornament-like mossy boulders. It's a gentle, hospitable form of nature, much like the Swedish people themselves. It was in the midst of such a forest that Anna, Angela, and I now stood, on the side of one of those many long roads that cut through the pines and boulders to connect the smaller towns of Sweden. It was cold and we had had a long day. The three of us had got into our first car early in the morning, and now the sun was starting to set.
It had not been an easy journey. We'd passed through Borås, the rainiest town in Sweden, and spent several hours getting wet before giving up and taking a bus to the next city on our route. And although we'd already travelled several hundred kilometres, our friends were waiting for us at a festival that was still several hundred kilometres away. We were going to be in for an uncomfortable night if we didn't get a ride soon; our tent and cooking equipment were waiting for us at the festival too.
“Let's buy some food and find a barn to sleep in,” said Angela eventually. The driver of our last ride had told us that there was a store a few kilometres down the road. At least we'd be able to eat something. We picked up our heavy bags and resigned ourselves to the walk ahead, our thumbs still outstretched hopefully towards the intermittent traffic.
The next car stopped.
Huge smiles cracked across our faces and we ran towards the vehicle – a large dirty four by four which would have plenty of room for all our stuff. It wasn't until we'd shoved our bags amongst the car batteries and jimmy cans that were already in the back of the car that we paused to take a look at our new driver, a large, muscular, tattooed 22 year old skinhead who introduced himself as Lucas.
“Can you take us as far as Örebro?” I asked, naming a large town an hour or so away that we had decided we'd try to reach by the end of the day.
“I can take you further,” he said.
“Where are you going?”
Avesta! Avesta was a small town close to the festival. It was also the home town of two Swedish guys with whom I'd travelled the USA. Not only would we have a comfortable place to sleep, I was also going to have the pleasure of seeing two very close friends again. Cheering with excitement, I began an enthusiastic conversation with Lucas about Sweden. I couldn't believe our luck.
Three hours later, my good mood was waning. There was something about Lucas that was a little bit off. Upon discovering that Anna was German, he had told us a story about how he had met a German girl that “did everything in the bedroom”. When we'd mentioned that we loved hitchhiking because of the people we meet, he'd told us that talking to some people made him want to puke. He'd also made several references to how he had difficulty controlling his anger. My conversation with him had suddenly become one long effort to avoid provoking either anger or vomit. All of us were tired and looking forward to the end of the journey.
It was with general relief that, as it neared midnight, we finally started to reach the outskirts of Avesta.
“Would you like to see a lake I used to visit when I was a child?” said Lucas.
“Okay,” we said, assuming that we were going to take a short diversion and drive past something beautiful.
Lucas spun the wheel and we lurched on to a single-lane dirt track leading into the forest. We rushed through the trees at much the same speed we had travelled on the highway. Branches whipped across the windscreen, the vehicle rose and fell violently over the uneven road, and sharp turns appeared in the headlights almost without warning, but none of this seemed to have any effect on the position of Lucas's foot on the accelerator. Angela, Anna, and I had stopped talking, but Lucas, oblivious of the tense atmosphere, continued.
“The lake is really deep. It's an old quarry that's filled with water – it's impossible to reach the bottom,” he said. A great place to dispose of dead bodies, the three of us thought nervously. I checked my phone: no signal.
We'd been driving deep into the forest for 45 minutes now. If we asked Lucas to turn back, would he react with aggression? We'd gone from giving up on our journey to celebrating our good luck to living out the classic hitchhiker's nightmare – all in the space of just a few hours.
Finally we reached the end of the road. Gingerly we got out of the car. Our eyes were fixed on Lucas, waiting to see what he would do. Confused, he gestured towards the lake.
A huge expanse of black water stretched out before us, its surface an unbroken reflection of the pale mist that drifted low and heavy across it. The full moon, large and bright, made silhouettes of the trees that lined the shore, and above us the cloudless sky was filled with the milky way. It was beautiful.
Lucas grinned. He had shared something with us that he loved. He was happy.