Super speeds and reindeer
Sweden does not have the world’s largest forest. Sweden IS the world’s largest forest. 6 hours wide from the Norwegian border to the Gulf of Bothnia when driving at the lickety-split speed of somewhere between 100 − 133 kph. 95 kph is the speed when meandering through construction areas and flocks of reindeer. Still, my driving partner Jan, whom I was following in the car ahead of me, chided me after we had arrived and were watching the girls play (and win) their first football match:
“So you’re one of those who likes to drive slow,” he laughed.
Ha ha, I laughed, thinking at first he was kidding. But he wasn’t. He and another Norwegian man started making quips and jabs about needing a tow rope. Bia joined in with the comment that I had actually stopped once to wonder where Jan was.
That wasn’t stopping, I said. That was driving up the final Norwegian mountain before entering the forest of Sweden, on a 12% grade with very little oxygen. Yes, it felt like we were standing still. And yes, I had wondered aloud where Jan was, but I was joking. He had to be ahead of us, as there is only the one road. We topped the crest on level with the puffy cumulous clouds dotting the blue sky. Then ahead of us, as in a scene out of a Hollywood movie, we saw the road twisting in wide loops around the sides of the mountain, at the cliff’s edge. And there was Jan’s black VW stationwagon. He was never out of sight for long. Every double semi he passed, I passed too, eventually.
The Swedish superhighway was a little wider than a county road in Wisconsin. Not a lot of room for passing, and with the threat of moose and reindeer approaching from either side it was, in short, a thrilling gallop, with the radio blaring songs from the ipod and Bia and Anna chatting up a storm in between a few brief intervals of dozing.
Bia was afraid that if she slept I would fall asleep, and I remember that feeling of responsibility. I was the navigator and in charge of driver-alertness on our many miles of commuting between Oak Ridge and Manhattan and Oak Ridge and Rio and Oak Ridge and Florida during my formative years. You develop a habit of worrying about things you can’t really control, nor should you have to.
“I’ll wake you if I need you to talk to me,” I told her. “But I’m not feeling tired at all.”
“Ok, and wake me if something exciting happens. Like a moose. Or an accident,” she chirrped and settled down with her pillow.
“You’ll notice the car slow down and wake up,” I assured her. “And when it does, don’t forget to take pictures.”
And she did….