Paul Andersen: Christina Andersen wondered, why?
Was she a distant relative? A native cousin? Was our meeting a matter of fate?
My son, Tait, and I looked like drowned rats as we stood at the door of a rundown farmhouse in rural Denmark. Rain beat down, and the dim, gray sky mirrored our sodden moods.
We didn’t know what to expect as we knocked, but we were desperate enough not to care. A crude lean-to built onto the side of an old barn was the only dry ground we had seen during a long day of bike touring. We needed a place to camp, a shelter where we could boil water for our ramen noodles.
Rather than the grizzled old farmer we thought we’d encounter, when the door opened there appeared a tall, blonde woman holding an infant. Christina Andersen smiled at us through tortoiseshell glasses with amused curiosity. Who were these strange, rain-soaked aliens, and what did they want?
After getting past the language barrier by learning that Christina spoke perfect English, Tait and I tried to explain our predicament. But our appearance spoke with far more clarity. Christina discussed it briefly with her husband, who was secreted behind the door.
“My husband thinks it’s a bad idea to have you stay the night, but I think it’s fine,” she said with a defiant smile. As the fourth generation on her family farm, it was Christina’s choice to harbor us for the night. Her shed became our manger on this cold, rainy night.
“Do you mind if I come out to see how you are in a while?” Tait and I nodded enthusiastically, hoping Christina would bless our makeshift camp beside a broken down manure spreader and musty, old straw bales. With a smile, she waved us toward the shed.
The rain continued to pour as we changed out of wet clothes and dressed in camp evening attire — long underwear, woolen sweaters, woolen caps. Soon we had our tents carefully fitted beneath the slanted roof. Our cook stove roared beneath a pot of water.
A hedgehog scampered among our gear, but we didn’t mind our spiky roommate. We didn’t mind the musty farm smells. We didn’t mind the drab accommodations. We were happy to be dry and warm with the promise of hot food to fill the ever gnawing void of our perpetual hunger.
We had been on the bikes 10 hours that day, and the rain, wind and cold had drained us. We were in serious deficit. Just as the soup was ready, Christina arrived, dressed in a yellow rain slicker and tall rubber boots into which she had tucked her tight jeans. She offered a thermos of hot coffee and a box of her favorite chocolate cookies. She took our photo with a Nikon slung over her shoulder.
“Please tell me why you are doing this,” she said. She gestured at our bikes, our small tents, our sopping wet clothes, our humble meal.” She shook her head at us, unable to fathom a rational motive.
“Well…” and so began a rambling explanation about what’s it’s like to see the world from the seat of a bicycle and why we were roaming the Danish countryside like a couple of vagabonds. We were a father and son exploring Denmark, the country of our deep ancestral roots.
But how do you explain willful deprivation and harsh physical challenges to a young Danish woman who is content to live within the small sphere of her community and the still smaller sphere of her family?
We slept that night in Christina’s shed, packed up in the morning, and were gone – riding off toward new adventures, new challenges, always something new, unplanned, unexpected.
Such was our life for the month of June, two human specks testing our limits on a vast European landscape — blown by the four winds, doused by cold rains, sheltered by primal forests, warmed occasionally by the sun.
We were swept along on unseen tides that pushed and pulled us in new directions, with complete surrender to the whims of the big, wide world. Christina asked, Why? And we have pondered the answer ever since.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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