I procrastinate on packing until the day I actually leave, and then I spend most of said day anxiously wracking my brain trying to think of everything I might possibly need. I can’t picture exactly where and how I will be twelve hours from now, there are too many unknowns and too much that can go wrong and too few familiar pieces to hold on to, and it’s more scary than exciting.
And partly I’m afraid of what I’m traveling towards. I keep telling myself firmly that I will survive whatever may happen, and I call up a feeling of calm self-confidence to quiet my fears, but I catch it influencing my decisions at every turn: I gravitate towards clothing that makes me feel strong and tough because I might need to be (somewhat futilely, because I don’t have that much clothing and will need to bring all my shirts anyway); I pack boxers instead of briefs, and a t-shirt to sleep in even though I’ve been sleeping topless for months, because it might be less enticing and save me from some unwanted touch; I leave my stuffed horse behind because I don’t want the emotional intimacy it would bring, but I take my soft, comforting sweatpants because I might need comfort anyway.
Too late I notice that I don’t have any food suitable to eat while traveling. Oh well, maybe I can buy some at the train station if I have time.
Until then, I watch some more Breaking Bad with my friend and roommate S, and we end up ordering pizza, which is great – now I even have leftovers to pack.
I catch my train easily – I’m at the platform at 20:35, before it even arrives. When it does, part of it happens to be loaded with cars, and a car alarm goes off when it stops.
That will certainly help with sleep during the night.
I maneuver into the compartment with my reserved seat, mumbling a hello to the three people already there (a middle-aged couple and their teenage son). Damn, I hoped I’d have a compartment to myself again. Not only does this mean I can’t spread out as much as would be comfortable, thanks to my social anxiety it also means that eating and going to the bathroom and just existing in general becomes much more unpleasant and/or difficult. I have a window seat – to leave the compartment, I’ll have to excuse myself and squeeze past them every single time.
I decide not to drink a lot. I only have half a liter of water with me anyway (didn’t want to add too much weight, my backpack is already pretty heavy).
I get hungry and unsuccessfully yell at my brain to eat something for a while (my brain does not like me being seen while I eat). Then the father briefly leaves to go to the bathroom, and I seize the opportunity (one person fewer to see me!) to unpack my pizza and don’t stop eating when he returns. Victory!
Later, I manage a trip to the bathroom as well – it looks like they’re settling down for the night, and somehow I can turn that into another opportunity. (Better now than later.)
I don’t manage to take out my contact lenses, or to put on something warmer to wear than my shorts and t-shirt. Both of that would mean rummaging through my backpack, which for some reason is apparently a no-go, and taking out my contact lenses is something usually only done in the privacy (and cleanliness) of my home. And changing pants would require me to excuse myself again and navigate the train carrying pants, which is kind of weird – so that’s not happening.
My eyes will be itchy tomorrow. But when I lie back and watch the moon travel alongside our train, I can see it clearly, and that’s nice too.
I don’t get much sleep: it’s a little too cold and a little too uncomfortable for that. I’m awake when the train crosses the border to Germany at 23:18, and when border police walk through the train and shine flashlights into every compartment (as if they could find smuggled goods or drugs that way – but well, I guess they’d notice brown people and could harass them about their passports), and during a long stop at Nürnberg where the train is split, and at four. I listen to the train’s rhythm and watch streetlights and dark trees and houses fly by, and I look up into the grey-black clouds, and I feel at peace.
Some time past six, my fellow travellers start stirring, and I give up on sleep as well. I brave another trip to the bathroom to pee and freshen up a little and dawdle in the deserted hallway to stretch and enjoy the solitude.
Despite not sleeping much, I feel pretty awake and rested, and my contact lenses hardly bother me at all. I’m ravenous, though, and the pizza is all gone. Hopefully I can buy some food later.
I listen to music until ten minutes before I have to get off (at 8:36 according to plan), but then learn via loudspeaker that the train is twenty minutes behind schedule. And they say Hitler made them run on time.
I finally get off for real at Hamburg main station shortly before nine, wander around the station until I find a grocery store and spend my last remaining euros on bread, chocolate spread, and soletti. Then I wander some more in an effort to find a place to sit – no such luck. While the station has plenty of stores and restaurants, the only lounge for travellers to sit is for paying customers only. Worse: the only public toilet also requires payment, and I have nothing left, meaning that I will be stuck without a bathroom or water for another four hours until D arrives to get me (and actually after that as well, since cars don’t come with bathrooms).
I find a somewhat remote corner to stand in, nibble soletti and busy myself with my phone (the station does have free wi-fi). Time crawls. Eventually the filthy ground looks inviting enough for me to give in and sit down, leaning against my backpack. I watch passersby and their dogs, ignore my thirst (I don’t have much water left) and my bathroom needs (fortunately not too pressing yet), feel the lack of sleep catch up with me, and doze off.
Police startle me awake, and I panic for a moment, thinking they’ll make me leave – I’m pretty sure loitering the way I do is not terribly allowed. But apparently I look non-homeless and white enough (I’m still holding my phone, and have the strap of my laptop bag slung around my wrist to make it harder to steal even if I fall asleep all the way), because the officer quickly motions for me to stay and assures me they only wanted to check if I was okay.
The adrenaline spike keeps me awake for another round of browsing, reading a book I brought along and chatting to my friends back home (read: whining at them because I’m bored and bathroom-less and wondering why I even came here).
Finally it’s almost time to meet and I make my way outside, right when D’s green car pulls into the parking lot. Good timing.
We make our way out of Hamburg and onto the highway, and to a rest stop not much after. The bathroom there isn’t free either, but by now I’m pissed off enough to take a quick look around and then duck beneath the barrier. (Seriously. This is a basic human need that cannot be delayed infinitely, that it is in fact unhealthy to delay, and that literally cannot be legally met in public – what are we supposed to do, grow extra bladder and colon room?)
The car is warmer and more comfortable than the train was, and I sleep for much of the trip. We play “guess the animal” (like Twenty Questions, but limited to animals and it lasts until the animal is either guessed or the round forfeited) a lot, and later move on to fictional characters (mostly from A Song of Ice and Fire, which really offers enough material for plenty of rounds all on its own). I eat some of my bread and drink the rest of my water (I failed to take the bottle with me on my illicit bathroom stop.)
We cross over into Denmark at 15:46 and take another longer break before Storebæltsbroen, where we walk out onto the dam. My country is landlocked, and I don’t think I’ll ever get over the sight of open water: the rise and fall of the waves, the salty smell (well, once you get past the smell of rotting algae), and the sheer boundlessness mesmerize me every single time. I take it all in for a while, watch the seagulls (who watch me in return), and eventually walk back to the car over the empty shells of crabs apparently dropped from great height (I suspect the murderbirds currently floating on the waves and looking extremely innocent).
We reach Sweden at 19:15 and keep going, running from the dusk which very slowly catches us. I watch as the last sunlight slowly slips off the clouds and the forest around us grows darker, as the headlights of oncoming cars are scattered in the faint mist rising off the ground, as the streets we turn onto slowly empty of other travellers.
Some time past eleven, I wake up when the motor cuts out. D has stopped to catch a few minutes of sleep. I decide to use the opportunity for another pit stop and slip out of the car.
The forest beside us is just dark enough that I need my cell phone to see where I’m going, and the air just cold enough to make me shiver. I don’t bother with the flashlight app, using the display instead. The light it casts is red: my battery is dying.
I squat behind a convenient tree. It’s cold enough for my butt to be grateful for the heat rising from my pee, and I drank little enough for my nose to be the opposite of grateful for the smell it brings. (Your daily dose of TMI brought to you by yours truly.)
We finally arrive at the house at 1 am. D parks in the overgrown driveway, and I drag my backpack out of the bag of the car and make my way through the long grass to the door. It’s almost dark by now, and I can spot a few stars in the sky overhead. I’ve been travelling for 28 hours straight. The cold wind seems to crawl right into my bones, and my thoughts move sluggishly, too tired for more.
I collapse into a chair while D bustles around to get electricity and water going. The former works quickly, the latter takes a while. I force myself to use the time to unpack some essentials: my toothbrush and my contact lense fluid, unused for way too long, my towel, my sleeping t-shirt, and my sweatpants, which I put on immediately. The fabric on my legs makes me feel warmer instantly, although it doesn’t last long. I’m glad I brought them.
Finally, the water works, although the boiler doesn’t yet. I vaguely think that I should care because I need a shower and warm water might help against the cold too, but I’m too tired to actually feel it. I brush my teeth, wash my face, take out my contact lenses, and fall into bed as soon as D and I have put sheets on it.
There’ll be time for everything else tomorrow.