1982, Nordkapp, and a strange way back

I originally wrote this story near the end of 1989, and the only major change I made to it, in line with what I now do for place-names, it to change "Northcape" to "Nordkapp". I obviously also converted it to html, removed a few spelling errors, and I've added a few comments.

After my first trip to Sweden in 1980, my goal for 1981 was Nordkapp, the northernmost point of Europe. [It's not, Knivskjellodden, which can only be reached on foot, is 1,450 metres further to the north!] Unfortunately an acute appendicitis forced me to postpone this trip for a year, so it wasn't until 9 June 1982 that I left. Unlike the 1980 trip to Sweden, I had planned the trip up north quite detailed, because I wanted to arrive at the Northcape on 21 June, the longest day of the year.

The trip started with the same 5 minute 3.2 km ride to the junction in the direction to Amersfoort. Just four minutes later I got a ride to Amersfoort and after a six(!) minute wait in Amersfoort I got a ride to Zwolle, where I discovered that I had left my water-bottle at home. Later that day I bought a new one and much to my surprise [Remember, this was written in 1989] I'm still using it, instead of the insulated one! After Zwolle waiting times increased, it took me well over three hours to cover the next 90 km to the border at Ter Apel. Once in Germany things improved a little, and at 19:40 I arrived in Puttgarden, where I made the grave mistake of crossing over to Rødbyhavn. As soon as I had left the port I found out that there is no traffic once a ferry has unloaded. [At the time I obviously didn't realise that the key of getting a ride on a ferry is to go to the car-deck when the drivers are invited to do so by the crew!] I waited for the next ferry, but I discovered that drivers aren't very eager to stop for hitchhikers late in the evening. Disappointed I withdrew into the bush-bush, pulled out my sleeping bag and slept, anxiously waking up every hour to see if all my gear was still present.

The next day I got to Göteborg and disaster struck: it was raining cats and dogs and the youth hostel was filled up completely, which meant a long walk to the camping. It continued to rain during the next three days and I spent three days in my tent, getting colder by the hour. Finally, on 14 June it was dry again and so I left Göteborg. I quickly got two rides to Stenungsund where I met a Norwegian who had been waiting there for almost 4 hours. Together we waited for one more hour until, at long last, a car stopped. Obviously he had the first rights, but when he asked the driver if I could also come along, it was OK. We were dropped off near Rygge and my Norwegian companion managed to get away within minutes, while I had to wait for two more hours. Near Oslo I asked the driver if he could bring me to the nearest post-office, so that I could cash a cheque. Coming out of the post-office, I jumped on the bus to the youth hostel, which turned out to be very expensive. The next day I teamed up with a Dutch girl and an American guy and we spent most of that day strolling around Oslo, and visiting the Vigelandsanlegget.

In the evening I calculated that I was still well over 2000 km away from Nordkapp and even though my daily average had increased from the 229 km per day of 1980 to 444 km I had serious doubts about getting there before 21 June, mostly because another American had told me that he had been forced to take a bus because there was virtually no traffic going up north. Still, I decided to give it a try. With help of the map I set out five stages,

and the next morning at about seven I left the youth hostel. I soon found that it is quite hard to leave Oslo, [In general this is true for almost every big city], but at around 9:45 I finally got a short ride to the main exit leading to Trondheim. After another wait of 50 minutes I got a ride to Gardermoen, where I spent only 19 minutes before being picked up by an old lady. She told me she was going to Trondheim, but she immediately added that she would stop in Dombås for the night, because the distance was to big to cover in one day. Immediately I offered to drive, but this offer was rejected. Of course I was somewhat disappointed, but once we got to Dombås she told me she wouldn't mind giving me another ride if I was still around the next morning. I thanked her for the offer, but I also told her that I would try to get a ride to Trondheim this day. She wished me luck and told me that she would be on the look-out the next day, in case I would get stuck somewhere in between. Fortunately, although this may sound strange, I never met her again, because the third car that passed me stopped and gave me a ride, all the way to Trondheim, right to the front-door of the youth hostel! Stage 1 had been completed!

The next day started with a ride to Røra, followed by two short rides to Steinkjer and Asphangen, where I had a bite. At this point it becomes very useful to mention that I had put a small Dutch flag on my backpack, as suggested by a driver in 1980. The colours of the Dutch flag are red, white and blue, just as the colours of the Yugoslavian flag, except for the fact that it has the colours in the inverted order and carries a star. This similarity in flags provided me with my next ride, because the driver, a German, was married to a woman from Yugoslavia. She saw my backpack lying in the "Yugoslavian" direction and asked her husband to stop. Even though they soon found out that I didn't come from Yugoslavia, they still offered me a ride. My backpack was put in the caravan(!) [Until this day, this was the only ever ride in car pulling a caravan!] and some six hours later we arrived in Mosjøen, having stopped several times to rest and to take pictures.

In Mosjøen I discovered that the youth hostel was located 2 "mile" [And those turned out to be "Scandinavian miles"…] outside town, and so I threw my thumb in the air once again. Quite to my surprise another German car stopped and two hours later I arrived in Mo i Rana, 90 km ahead of schedule! After thanking the driver from the bottom of my heart, I spent the night in, where else, the youth hostel.

Getting out of Mo i Rana the next day took me more than two hours, I finally got a ride from a truck going to a quarry in the middle of nowhere. As a result I had to wait for about an hour for a next ride, with a farmer. He dropped me at the entry-lane of his farm, even more in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, 16 minutes later another German car showed up, and that evening I arrived in Narvik, completing my third stage. During the ride, at 13:20, we crossed Arctic Circle. In the evening I watched Brazil beat Scotland 4-1, and I still remember the fabulous goal scored by Zico!

By now I was convinced that I would make it in time, but the next day almost spoiled my perfect score. After walking to the outskirts of Narvik, I quickly got a ride to Bjerkvik. Exactly one hour later a removal van stopped. The driver didn't speak any English, but I managed to indicate him I was on my way to Nordkapp. When I finally got out, it was 8 hours later. On the way from Bjerkvik to Storslett, we had a bite with some of his relatives, who didn't speak English either, and when we finally arrived in Storslett, we drove into town, to stop for an empty house. Because our utter lack of communication, I had thought he would continue towards Alta, but after unloading the truck with help of a few locals, one of them finally speaking some English, it became clear that he was returning to Tromsø. At that moment I cursed myself for not getting out when he offered me to stop while we were entering Storslett, of course I don't mind helping someone every now and then, but spending one and a half hour unloading a truck doesn't really fit this description…

Almost 50 minutes after getting on the road again, the next car stopped, but unfortunately it was going only 10 km. After I got out, I waited for about 15 minutes. After that I started walking and during the almost two hours I walked along the, I must admit, beautiful coastline, not a single car passed. About to pull out my sleeping bag, I finally saw a red Citroen approaching. Without much hope I waved my hand, and miraculously it stopped, and even more incredible, the driver was going all the way to Alta. We arrived there at 0:35 and because Alta lies far above the polar circle, it was as light as during daytime. When the driver asked me if I had a place to sleep, I told him I could go to the youth hostel. To my surprise he told me that I could also sleep at his place. Naturally I accepted this offer. We had a cup of coffee and after I had told him of my trip so far, I went to bed.

The next morning his son returned from his fishing trip and the three of us had breakfast. I left at about 11 and just before 12 I got a short ride to Leirbotnvatn. Sixteen minutes later a bus came around the corner of the road, and it stopped. It was empty and the driver asked me if I was interested in a ride. Of course I was, and two hours later we arrived in Kåfjord, the point of departure for the ferry to Honningsvåg, Nordkapp lies on an island. I entered the ferry between a group of tourists and once we arrived in Honningsvåg, I asked my bus driver if he was going to Nordkapp. He told me he would, but he had to pick up a group of tourists in a hotel, and couldn't take me along. A bit disappointed I said goodbye and started walking the 34 km long stretch to Nordkapp. After about an hour a Volkswagen bus, an American(!) Volkswagen bus stopped. In it was an elderly couple and they gave me a ride. They told me they were on a tour through Europe. In Oslo they had met some fellow Americans and after these had told them about Nordkapp, they had decided to visit it, even though that meant a 2000+ km trip up north, "but at least we will be able to tell our children and grandchildren that we've been to the northernmost point of Europe!".

Once we arrived at Nordkapp, it turned out to be a rather disappointing place. There is a metal globe, a small monument and an expensive restaurant and souvenir shop, but unfortunately there was no sun! After spending about six hours, during which time the clouds got even denser, I decided to return. I went to the exit of the parking, and the first car that left stopped to give me a ride to the ferry in Honningsvåg. I was stunned when I saw "my" bus in the queue and even more when I discovered that it was empty again. When I approached it, the driver saw me in his mirror and opened the door for me. When I asked him if he could give me a ride to Olderfjord, where there is a junction leading to Finland, he told me it would probably a lot better to go back to Alta and then via Kautokeino into Finland, because there is very little traffic from Olderfjord into Finland. Back into Alta I found a secluded spot and slept for a few hours. After getting up I got a ride to Kautokeino and that was the end, during the two days I spent in this place, five cars and one motorbike passed, and none of them stopped. As a result I was "forced" to take a bus to Rovaniemi, a very disappointing experience.

Once in Finland, hitchhiking improved again, even to such an extent that I was at some stage picked up by a car driven by two girls who had already picked up two Finnish soldiers. Near Paavola they dropped the three of us, and I soon found out that the Finnish like their army, within 5 minutes both soldiers were gone. After about twenty minutes I walked back to a petrol station just before the exit to Paavola, to try my luck out there. Some three hundred metres before I reached it, a big truck left, and without much hope, you don't expect a heavy truck to stop on the side of the road, I put my thumb in the air. Guess what happened! Because the driver came from Rovaniemi, he asked me if I would mind if he took some rest. Because he had already told me he was going to Vaasa, 550 km south of Rovaniemi, I had absolutely no objections, so we stopped for an hour, I stayed in the roadside cafe, he slept in his truck, before we finally arrived in Vaasa. As could be expected, I spent another night in a youth hostel, and if I have to give marks to the many youth hostels I stayed in during the last ten years, this one certainly ends up in the upper half of the top ten!

The next day I left for Helsinki and the last driver was kind enough to drop me off before the Olympic Stadium, which happens to serve as youth hostel. I stayed in Helsinki for a few days, but I cannot say that I liked it very much. One exception is the Temppeliaukio Church, a circular church excavated in a rock, absolutely worth a visit!

From Helsinki I went to Turku and from there with a ferry to Stockholm. After arriving in Stockholm, I ran to the "Af Chapman", and again I was lucky to find they had a few empty beds. During the rest of the day I visited the technical museum and the next day brought me back to the "Wasa", where I didn't notice any really mayor changes since my visit in 1980.

Continuing my trip back south I made progress, as it took me only two days to get from Stockholm to Malmö, which is still very long considering today's standards…

A one night stay in Malmö was followed by a cross-over to Købnhavn, where I spent another day. When I left, I intended to go home directly, but instead I ended up in München! What happened? My first ride out of Købnhavn brought me to the ring way around the city. From there I got another "ordinary" ride to Orehoved, but the next ride was far from ordinary. I was picked up by a small truck, furnished with a wooden "house" on the back. It was driven by three women, a mother and her two daughters, but once we arrived in Rødbyhavn, they opened the house, and out came father and son! After crossing to Puttgarden, mother and a daughter disappeared in the back, and during the next hour I had a lively discussion with father about football and the fact that Germany had once again reached the finals of the world cup. He was convinced that they would win, I told him I hoped they wouldn't, still disappointed about the fact that we (the Netherlands) lost the 1974 final.

After being dropped near Lübeck, I quickly got a ride to Hamburg and from there to the Raststätte Münsterland, just north of the Ruhrgebiet, the big and very ugly industrial area. At this point I needed a ride in the direction of Düsseldorf, along Autobahn 43, but instead I accepted a ride along Autobahn 1. This would also have been OK, as long as I would have gotten out just before Köln. Unfortunately I fell asleep, and when the driver woke me up it was almost 1 o'clock and we were near Würzburg. After dinner, or breakfast if you like, the driver told me he was going to Salzburg. After some consideration, I told him I would like to come along to München, to visit the Deutsches Museum, a very famous technical museum, and at a quarter past four he dropped me at Raststätte Fürholzen [Fürholzen was actually only a parking at the time, with a pedestian tunnel to the Raststätte at the other side] just before München. After a plus two hour wait, I finally got a ride to the outskirts of München and subsequently I took the S-Bahn to the centre. I arrived at the museum when it opened and didn't leave until some four hours later. Using the S-Bahn to get out of München, I quickly got a ride to Augsburg, this time with a German business man who spoke excellent Dutch, his mother happened to be Dutch.

During this ride I decided to visit my uncle in Paris, after all, Paris wasn't more out of the direction than München and besides that I was the only one of the family who had never been to Paris before. After making this decision, I asked the driver the best way to get there and he told me that I should first go a little up north, to the Raststätte Bruchsal, some 25 km north of Karlsruhe. At that time this suggestion, going up north when you want to go down south, seemed a bit weird, but he explained that a lot of businessmen and trucks coming from the Ruhrgebiet and heading for France, Switzerland and Italy stop at Bruchsal. He was right, from Bruchsal I got a ride with an Englishman married to a Swiss woman. They dropped me at the exit leading to Strasbourg and Paris. From there I got a ride with four young Germans, who dropped me at the Strasbourg/Paris junction, where I spent three hours trying to get a ride to Paris, without success. I finally pulled out my sleeping bag and slept under the bridge, no more than five meters from the passing traffic.

The next day I spent another hour trying to get a ride to Paris, but once again without luck. I finally decided to get to Strasbourg, and immediately a car stopped. In Strasbourg I exchanged some money and walked back to the motorway in the direction of Paris, expecting more success. Some five hours later, I decided to walk back to the Strasbourg/Paris junction and after I had walked for about 45 minutes, on the motorway, a car stopped. When I told the driver I wanted to go to Paris, he told me that he could only give me a short ride and 6 minutes and 8 km later he dropped me at the junction before the junction I needed. Once again I started walking, my junction was within visible distance. Just before I got to the junction, I passed over the Rhône-Rhine channel and seeing others swimming in it, I decided to take a refreshing dive, before going on. After getting out of the water, I continued to walk for another two hours, until Hoerth. Here I went to the first house to ask for a refill of my water-bottle. The door was opened by an elderly woman. When I asked her to refill my bottle, she invited me in and I was treated to a glass of cold lemonade and a dish of cherries. After thanking her for this treat, I left and two rides later I found myself back in Germany, at the now long gone petrol station Karlsruhe Durlach, together with three more hitchhikers. One of them got a ride in the next half hour, the other two left after about an hour, and two hours after my arrival I got a ride, this time from two Croatian businessmen, who also thought I came from Yugoslavia. They were driving a big Mercedes and as a result, we covered the 108.1 km between Karlsruhe and the Raststätte Büttelborn in just 46 minutes.

About ten minutes after I arrived on Büttelborn, I was already standing at the end of it, trying to get a next ride, something happened that would change my entire way of hitchhiking. I was approached by German coming straight out of the sixties. He greeted me with "Ah, der Konkurrenz ist auch noch wach!" [Ah, the competition is still awake!] He told me that my method of hitchhiking wasn't very effective and after I had offered him a cup of coffee in the restaurant, he explained that you shouldn't stick your thumb at end of a Raststätte, because most cars are accelerating to enter the Autobahn. He talked for about an hour about his experiences, leaving me speechless when he told me he just returned, within 48 hours, from Sicily, stopping only to ask new arrivals in the restaurant for a cigarette. Around midnight he suggested getting some sleep. The next morning we were awoken by a bus-load of children, who turned the restaurant into a mess. We helped to collect dishes, and to my surprise I wasn't charged the full price when I bought something to eat for both of us. After breakfast we walked up to the petrol station, where he spent quite a lot of time washing his T-shirt, which had turned rather grey from spending 2 days on the road, explaining that appearance isn't really very important, but it never hurts to wear clean clothes.

During the next two hours he asked a large number of drivers for a ride, but after having been offered only two in the direction of Kassel, he decided we should cross the Autobahn, travel back south for 30 km, explaining that we were on the wrong Autobahn. Fortunately it was Sunday, so crossing the Autobahn was relatively easy. [It's of course also very illegal to do so, and in many cases there are actually service roads off the back of Raststättes that allow you to legally cross the other side of the Autobahn!] Not surprisingly for someone who claimed to have covered the entire Autobahn system, he got us a 30 km ride down south in minutes. From there we got another ride up north, but shortly after arriving at Raststätte Gräfenhausen all traffic came to a standstill, as the world cup final between Italy and Germany started. Much to my delight and his despair Italy won!

Shortly after the game had ended traffic started moving again, and using my newly acquired knowledge, I got us a ride in a Dutch car. The German guy got out near Siegburg, I got a ride to the Dutch border, where I got my last ride, with a German truck, which I left a little too late, so that it took me three hour walk through the night to get home.

This trip, considerably more than twice as long as the one two years before, thought me one important lesson, that is to accept advice from people familiar with the country. Yet, much more important was the advice to ask for rides. Using this method it is a little bit harder for drivers to say no, certainly if you approach them in their native language. The method can be used at any location where cars are forced to stop. It's easy at petrol stations, but traffic lights will also do.

And finally, some statistics for this trip:

Rides             :     98
Total distance    : 7901.6 km    (= 395.1 km per travelling day)
Total driving time:  95:29 hour
Average velocity  :   82.8 km/h
Shortest ride     :    2.0 km, Ter Apel (NL) - German Border
Longest ride      :  633.1 km, Raststätte Münsterland (D) - Parking Fürholzen (D)
Fastest ride      :  141.0 km/h, Karlsruhe Durlach (D) - Raststätte Büttelborn (D) (108.1 km in 46 minutes)

Last updated on 30 September 2021 (Initial version, from an original dated 1989-10-22)


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