I’m waiting at a gas station in North Norway. Very nervous. I have a phone number, name and time. Nothing else. I’m about to jump on a fish truck and travel all the way from a far-away fishing village of Stø in Norway to Helsinki Finland. And go figure, fish truck seems to be the easiest and straightest way to travel this two-day trip. So I’ve decided to try hitchhiking.
Two days earlier I’ve got a name and a number. I’ve called an Estonian truck driver who drives up north every once in awhile. On the phone he’s welcomed me to come along with him and his fish. We’ve set a time and arranged to meet up at this very gas station. I’ve had two days to pack up my whole life in Norway and say my farewells to the beautiful fishing village of Stø – I’ve been working there as a line hooker for some months.
I’m confused. How am I supposed to behave? How does one climb in a truck tractor? Will it b a crazy ride on the thin and icy roads of Norway? Will I make it alive?
I mean, after all I’m a woman traveling alone in this crazy world.
And who’s the driver anyway? Do I have anything to talk with him? Trucks and I don’t know each other that well. Have I ever even met a truck driver?
My thoughts stop suddenly. Off it comes; a big fish truck. That must be it. I startle. The unknown, that’s what makes us ever so scared. And a fish truck can be unknown too.
* * *
I climb up to the tractor. Driver lifts my big, heavy backpack up and looks at me marveling. I’m embarrassed. A woman traveling. My whole life’s in that backpack.
Before we leave, driver goes to get coffee. Comes back in the truck and tells how great it is that at this gas station they have the best coffee in whole Norway – and truck drivers get it for free. That’s why he always comes here. He describes me excitedly how they used to give free coffee for truck drivers at many other gas stations too, but when people started bringing their own big thermos bottles and filling those up with coffee, they had to start charging again.
But he always comes here, no matter what, and only takes one small cup of coffee to go.
I can’t buckle up my seatbelt. Some weird system I’m can’t handle. Embarrassed again, I need to ask the driver to help me.
”This is my first time on a truck”, I mumble in English.
Estonian is his language. He only talks a little bit of Finnish, which is my mother tongue, so we’ve chosen to speak English. People say that Estonian and Finnish are similar languages to each other but I do not understand a single bit of Estonian.
* * *
Driver starts the engine. I look around in the tractor. I feel like a man with a capital M. Like, I’m in control of the whole planet. From up here.
From up here you see a lot. Almost everything. The whole world.
I’m peering outside the window. It’s a good day to travel. Roads are clean and wind’s not hard.
”It’s nice to have you here with me”, he says. ”For some reason I’ve got quite many people calling me lately asking if they could get a lift from me. The other drivers at our company said they never get these kinds of calls. It’s funny, like it would be meant that I get to travel with people like you”, he continues pondering to himself.
We return to discuss the weight of my backpack. I tell him that there really is my whole life inside that thing. The previous ones traveling with him have been on a weekend trip to Norway and had a lot less stuff with them. That explains why he’s been astonished by the weight of mine.
Suddenly I’m no longer embarrassed. And there, as we’ve driven not more than 30 minutes, I’ve already told the story of my life to an unknown truck driver. There’s no doubt in my mind longer. This could be a fun ride.
Meelis is his name and he’s some years older than me, somewhere in between his thirties and forties. He’s been driving truck for years now. He studied in a Marine Academy in Estonia, but soon realized:
”I was born to ba a truck driver. When I was child, I had this book with pictures of different trucks. We had other car books at my home too, but for some reason I wanted to read that book over and over again. It was the best thing I had. If I was on a bad mood, my parents would bring me the book I would instantly calm down. I always wanted to drive truck. That’s what my dad and my grandfather did.”
The other sure thing for Meelis is Paris. That’s where he’ll take his wife soon. They’ve been planning this holiday for a long time and it is important.
”Have you ever been to the Eiffel tour”, he asks me a little worried. ”I have quite a bad fear of heights”, he says and looks at me with his big eyes.
See, Wife has found out that it would be a lot cheaper if they would climb the stairs up to the tower instead using the elevator.
But could Meelis do it?
Family, beloved children and dogs. Daughter’s piano lessons. Estonia. Truck. Those are the most important things in Meelis’ life. He calls his wife a Wife even though they’re not married. He’s been thinking about marriage a lot, though. They live in a small town in Estonia. That’s where Meelis spends a week in a month and the rest three he drives around the Northest parts of the Northern Europe. That makes it possible for him to buy an electric piano for his daughter and take his Wife on her first holiday abroad.
Even though Finland is to the opposite way when traveling to Paris from Estonia, Meelis wants to fly to Paris through Finland. He wants to show Wife the Helsinki airport because it’s been elected as one the most beautiful airports in the world.
Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris, on the other hand… That makes Meelis a little anxious. He’s heard that it’s big, dirty and quite confusing. Will they find their way to their hotel? They’ve already decided they will take a taxi from the airport, no matter what it costs.
Paris is a big thing.
My heart melts.
* * *
There’s a car driving in front of us. An Opel. Meelis tells me he’s just bough one of those. He’s been saving up money for a long time and his new car will be delivered to him soon. He’s excited.
”I think THAT is the most beautiful and the best car in the world”, he says staring incessantly at the car. Then turns to me looking like a question mark.
I smile. To me, up here in the tractor of the fish truck, that Opel is the most beautiful car in the world, too. What a feeling we share. Meelis is such a sweetheart and if one of those fish he’s delivering in this truck would to sit here with us, he would make it laugh too.
* * *
Were listening to CDs. East 17 and some Russian folk music. By now I’ve completely stepped into Meelis’ world. It’s a beautiful world. Full of passion, excitement, inspiration ja most of all humanity. I can’t stop thinking to myself how good it would do if each of us could get even a tiny piece of this feeling to their life.
”We used to be three best friends who would spend all our time together. Later on one of us became a plane pilot, one a helicopter pilot and me, I became a truck pilot”, Meelis tells me proudly.
* * *
We’ve been on the road for some hours now. Meelis takes a sip of his coffee. ”Still warm”, he hollers excited. Thermos mug is a great invention.
Somewhere in the Swedish Lapland, middle of nowhere, we stop on the side of the road. Night falls and it’s dark. We have to make a 45-minute-stop because of the law. When one’s driven long enough, they’ve got to stop no matter where they’re at.
”Well, you could say the law is a little stupid; on our route today I have to stop twice for 45 minutes. But law’s a law, and you gotta do what you’re told. No exceptions”, he says with serious look on his face.
Meelis takes his work seriously. It’s very important to him to drive safely and go by the rules. At this point, at the latest, I know I’m in good hands. He really stands up for his title: a pilot. A Truck Pilot.
Wind outside is getting harder. Every once in a while other trucks pass us, and the tractor where we’re sitting in swings.
Pitch black everywhere and we’re sitting quiet.
”Do you believe in something higher? That, like, what happens to us when we die?”, he asks suddenly, out of nowhere.
And there we sit, the two of us, strangers to one another, people from different worlds; somewhere in the Swedish desert talking about belief. Hope and love. Souls and their destination.
It’s starting to snow.
* * *
45 minutes. Meelis lifts up the coffee mug.
”Oh, there’s still some coffee left”, he smiles.
He’s already told me how he won a small lottery win with Wife. How to spend the money was clear to both of them. They bought an espresso machine, the biggest treasure. When the machine was carried home six years ago, it has been the heart of their house.
We share the same passion. Strong, dark coffee. I would die for a coffee right now, but I don’t dare to drink any. That would mean I would have to run straight to restroom and I don’t want to be reason for another stop. Restroom breaks are the only topic I don’t dare to talk about with my Pilot. Funny.
Love and taking things seriously. Those are the first words I would use to describe my Truck Pilot’s attitude towards his work. They seem to be the most important principles to his whole life.
”This is my dream job, I know nothing better”, he tells me. ”The serpentine-like roads, being alone in this tractor, time to think, the feeling of freedom and peace. I need nothing else”, he replies when I ask how he would describe the best parts of his work.
* * *
Now we’re standing at a gas station next a big supermarket in Kiruna, Sweden. It’s time for the other 45-minute-break of today. One shouldn’t park here. Many supermarkets have prohibited trucks to park on their parking lots.
”That feels kind of dum, where can we stop on our regulated breaks?”, my Pilot asks.
But we’re ready to take a risk risk now. Just a little one. I promise to do the talking in Swedish if something comes up. Meelis runs in the supermarket and comes back with a cooking pot.
”I have a little apartment in Finland, and I want to cook there”, he clarifies to me.
I guess I’m looking a little confused because of the pot.
I run to the gas station. To go to restroom. I look at the coffee machine longingly but still don’t dare to get a cup. I grab a sandwich and return to truck. I’m glad my Truck Pilot bought a pot so he can make proper food at home. I wonder what kind of food he likes to cook. That’ll be our topic for the next hour.
* * *
We’ve been travelling for 12 hours. I notice a familiar sign. ”Suomi, Finland”, it says. Travelled through Norway and Sweden, were in Finland now. Still another 12 hour-drive from my hometown Helsinki.
But now we’ve done enough driving for today. I’m spending night at a bead and breakfast in Pello, Finland, and Meelis goes to his Finnish home with his pot.
”Do you want to take a risk and leave your backpack here for the nigh”, he asks me a little shyly. ”I mean I thought if you don’t trust me – it can be for here for the night, but I just thought if you’re afraid of me stealing something.”
I look at him. I trust this man I’ve known for 12 hours more than many others I’ve met in my life. I could not think of him doing any harm to me. I tell this to my Truck Pilot. He smiles. Backpack spends the night in the truck tractor.
That’s for sure.
And in the morning, right on time as planned, there he is with his coffee mug in his hand. I had coffee this morning too. It was terrible. I had a coffee machine in my room but no coffee filters. So I had to use toilet paper as filter and that became a coffee catastrophe. This is a thing I don’t, for some odd reason, dare to tell my Pilot.
Weather’s turned bad. We have stop all the time to clean the windscreen wipers and drive very carefully. But I’m not worried; I’m in good hands. Despite the bad weather this day goes fast. I’m a little sad. There are still so many things I’d like to ask my Pilot.
The dreams. How Finland looks like in the eyes of a foreigner. The list goes on. But I know: next time I’ll travel to Norway I’ll have a friend to ask a lift from. Then we can continue sharing our thoughts.
And if we were never to meet again, I’ve experienced something rare and unique during these two days with my Pilot. I’ve met a new person, got plenty of new ideas, gotten to see a whole another world – that of Meelis’. I’ve experienced what passion, joy of work and positive thinking are. I’ve felt how it is when someone loves another so much that despite the killing fear of the heights they are ready to climb the Eiffel tower.
* * *
For me this trip also meant a beginning of something new. After my adventure in Norway I had to start looking for a new job in Finland. What ever will happen to me next, I knew one thing: I want to live my life as Meelis does. Have the same open and loving attitude towards life. What ever you do, the only thing that matters is love towards what you’re doing. That’s what Meelis, my Truck Pilot taught me. He is the best example of the kind of person every employer needs.
Meelis is the kind of person this whole world needs.
I step out of the truck thinking how surprised Meelis was of the fact that he’s gotten so many people to travel with him. I’m starting to think that really is meant to be; that there’s been a reason to this ride.
There must be. I’m quite sure.
* * *
This article was first published on my blog in Finnish on February 8th 2015