To update my whereabouts, I’ve been in London for four months. It’s still a shock after the exceptional beauty and space of Finnmark, but life goes on. Though I didn’t post much during 2014, I was writing, or at least trying to tap out a first draft manuscript of this story, while figuring out how to continue a journey that has shuddered to a halt. I won’t bore with the details, only to fill in the gap.
I was just passing through but ended up staying in Hammerfest, Norway, the world’s northernmost city (if ‘city’ is defined as 10,000+) from May 2013 until November 2014. I didn’t expect I would be there so long, but then I didn’t expect anything except for the journey to take its natural course, and it was natural to land in the frigid extremity of Europe. There’s much to love about this sparsely populated paradise of fjords and islands. 70°39′ North—almost 1,000 km inside the Arctic Circle—enjoys 9 weeks of polar night and 11 weeks of midnight sun annually, and that alone is worth the experience.
Okay, enough with the travel guide. The point is I would have based myself there until I was prepared for the next stage of the journey if not for the limitations on my residency permit or having exhausted all work options. This is a wealthy nation. Unless you’re an EU citizen, refugee, or have some miraculous skill that no one else in Europe can do, then you’re going to wear out your welcome sooner or later, and concede that you’re just not that special. With this in mind one helpful friend suggested, ‘You could commit a crime. We don’t kick out criminals.’ I appreciated the advice but I wasn’t there yet. Once my contract expired so did my residency, and I was banished from mainland Europe for three months and denied the right to continue the journey.
So it was with some sorrow that I left. In any case, Norway is an expensive place to be lingering around in—though I’ve had to linger somewhere. From the point of leaving Japan I knew that I was up for a lengthy stay in Europe at the end of stage II. My original projected route turned south from Europe and descended Africa to Cape Town, where I intended to sail across the Atlantic to South America. But I had a lot of thinking time in Japan, and the scope of the journey grew. I began to consider other methods of human propelled travel, both on land and offshore, but the turning point came one night in 2010, watching the Roz Savage Ted talk on ocean rowing. Though I didn’t identify with her story, it was this clear vision of being alone and tiny in the Atlantic that stirred me. By the time the video had played I was feverish, pacing back and forth in my cold, dark apartment in Northern Japan. Although I’d had tentative thoughts about ocean rowing, this was when the fantasy hit. I had to do that. I had to row an ocean at least once in my life. And if I was going to do it young, I needed to incorporate it into this journey.
I spent the next weekend in the library working on a budget for the Eurasia stage, so I could get an idea of how long it would take to get to that distant Portugal shore half a world away. But I couldn’t even begin to think about the logistics on the Atlantic because I still had 20,000 km to cover, and the journey into the frozen wilds of Russia to prepare and undertake first. So I shelved the plan until I could make it to Europe. And this brings me to the present. Finally I’m at the planning stage for the Atlantic, with my odometer stopped in Norway until I can get back to 70° North.
I’m aware that I’m far from home to be planing this without support or European residency. The best I can manage is bouncing between the UK and the mainland (hoping not to be denied entry at each crossing) while I work out the financing, prepare a boat, get in condition, and complete the myriad of requirements for the voyage. People tend to assume, because I’m doing this, that I’m some kind of expert on ocean rowing. I’m not. I’m sure it’s all going to be sunshine and rainbows. I’ll learn as I go and take it as theory until I get on the water. But to address the most recurrent question now: Are you going alone? Yes. Though a few unwitting souls have volunteered to join me (well two to be precise), I’ve had this clear from the beginning. I want the isolation of the experience. Besides, there’s less chance of mutiny if I’m alone.
So for now I have work to do and I’ll be in Europe for some time yet, but I have to keep moving. I have to finish what I began those years ago.