It’s the beginning of August in Norway, and I’m sitting at a bus stop near the town of Son, south of Oslo, well past midnight. The next bus is at 9.20 in the morning, but that’s not what I’m waiting for. Sitting there, I am massaging the plantar and heel of my left foot with thumbs as my left leg rests on my right knee, with the sock pulled halfway down, hanging by toes. As the rain fades into light drizzle, I wear the sock and the shoe back, zip up my rain jacket, pop in a caffeine capsule, put on my backpack, turn on my headlamp and continue to hobble on this road towards Oslo under the E6 Freeway. I can’t walk. At every step, as my foot touches the ground and bears my weight, it sends a wave of pain up my leg and spine, and my body leans towards right; then left on the next step following the next wave. There are half a dozen blisters on toes and heel of both feet, and I have torn apart the toebox of my shoe to accommodate the inflammation. I last slept two nights ago, so it’s getting more and more difficult to keep my eyes open with every passing minute, and caffeine capsules had stopped working long ago. Despite that, I continue to make the valiant attempts of popping in more of them hoping it will at least keep me functioning.
While my eyes are barely open, my brain is alert. I am continuously scouting my surroundings using audio and visual cues with minimal movements of my head. As I am focussed on the brightly lit Shell Gas Station about a kilometer away, every other minute I glance at the watch on my wrist to check how far I still must walk before I can sleep. It reads 61.2 km to go, and after 30 minutes of walking, it changes to 61.1. In my head, there is a voice that is telling me to stop. It goes, “You are pathetic! You are so bad that you walked only 100 meters in 30 minutes. That guy from Jamaica takes 9 seconds. Could you be any worse? How can you even say you are a runner? Why do you even bother walking? You are already more than 24 hours late. Does it even matter? You should have stayed home. It’s been a month, you have not exported photos from the festival. Shameless! What about that research paper? Have you even started writing that? Loser!“
While I attempt to reason with this voice, another voice goes, “Don’t listen to him. You are just tired. Reach that gas station, and eat something warm at that cafe.”
Before I come to terms with the second voice, the third one goes, “Fuck it! Run! The faster you cover the remaining distance, earlier you can sleep.”
“If sleeping is the end goal, why to work so hard for it? Just get to that gas station, there must a bench outside the cafe. You can sleep there,” goes another voice.
“What if cafe is closed? It’s well past midnight, it must be closed.”
“Are there self-service cafes in Norway?”
“Why do you need a cafe? You have a bag of chips, trail mix and chocolates in your bag. Why don’t you eat them? It will also reduce the weight on your shoulders.”
These seven voices continue to argue with each other as I reach the gas station. The cafe, Son Grill, is closed, but the lights inside are on. I knock at the door, no one answers. There are no benches anywhere at the gas station either. I walk out of the gas station and crash on a small platform on the ground next to the gas pumps. I remove my bag, open the folds, and take out a bag of chips. As I open the bag and take the first waffer out, voice in my head goes, “Ah, nice! That’s what you needed.”
“Shut up! He should stay, pitch the tent in front of the gas station and sleep here. There is a bus at 9.20, simple.”
“Do we have a tent?”
“Huh, do you think this idiot will carry a tent? I will reach Oslo in 96 hours. That’s what he said that day, right? What a fraud! You should just kill yourself.”
“I have an idea. We have time until 9.20. Let’s play a game. Let’s see who can hold maximum amount of chips in his mouth?”
And there was a resounding yes among all the voices. As I continue to witness everything unfolding, they start to fill their fists with chips and shove them in their mouth, one after the other. And in no time, the 400g bag of chips is empty and flies away in the breeze.
Then, suddenly an old man appears from my left. He’s Frank! Frank Reynolds, from the show, It’s always sunny in Philadelphia. I have never seen any episode of that show, but I know Frank. Don’t know how? As he approaches me, he goes, “You look tired boy. Don’t you have energy drink?”
I reply, “No …”, and before I can finish, another voice goes, “He has been drinking those energy drinks and coke without sugar. He is scared of consuming sugar and gaining weight.”
“That explains all. You are low on sugar, and that’s why you are feeling tired. I know you packed Freia chocolate bar in your bag. Why don’t eat that. Then you have all the sugar you need and you can walk again,” goes Frank.
“Yes, that’s a good idea. I didn’t notice I was doing that for the last four days,” I respond and begin to search for it in my bag. A few seconds later, I get hold of it, remove the wrapper and try to take a bite. It’s frozen solid. As I fail to take the bite, it slips out of my hand, falls on the ground and bounces on to my feet, and I wake up to the sound and wave of pain.
I find myself, sitting outside the Shell Gas Station, all by myself, next to the gas pump on that little platform. My t-shirt is littered with crumbs of chips, the bag of chips is missing and next to my feet lies my phone, with its screen cracked on the corner. I’m shivering, my stomach is hurting, my throat is choked with chips, I’m nauseous, the voices in my head are silent, and 40 minutes have passed since I remembered last checking the time. My watch reads 59.8 km to go!
Sitting there, I recall what all just happened. I recall eating the entire bag of chips with no motor control and remember seeing Frank walk towards me from the left. I recall taking out my phone out of the bag and trying to eat it thinking it a chocolate, one that I had consumed four days ago. I shove finger down my throat, puke out whatever I could, and crash on the platform again.
I’m hiking from Gothenburg to Oslo, to celebrate my 35th birthday. This is Friday night, I last slept for three hours on Wednesday night close to Norway-Sweden border, and have covered 299 km. But, I’m not done yet. I still have nearly 60 km to walk to reach my office, the Section for Meteorology and Ocean Sciences at University of Oslo, the finish line. Once I reach there, I must further climb the mountain to reach home six more kilometers away before I can sleep. Crashed on the platform, with my blood red eyes wide open leaking tears, in my head I’m thinking, how did I get there in the first place? Why am I even doing this?