KOCHI: As Angamaly native Abin Joe set out on the Great Atlantic Road in Norway on his Honda Deauville 650cc bike, he felt a sense of elation. On his left was the blue Atlantic Ocean, and on his right were grassy knolls. The sky was blue with specks of clouds here and there. Since the road was smooth and straight, he quickly reached the top speed of 140 km/h.
He crossed bridges as well as islands and archipelagos. At some sections, the road bifurcated the ocean and the waves would lash the sides, sending up showers of spray which fell on Abin. “It was quite exciting,” he says.
Finally, he slowed down at a deserted archipelago. Abin saw a grassy section of land, beside the ocean. He decided to camp there for the night. It took Abin half an hour to put up the tent. As night fell, he went to sleep. But at midnight, a storm broke. Lightning lit up the sky. A strong breeze blew. Waves hit the land with great force. The ground began shaking. His tent almost fell on him. With a shock, Abin realised he was lying on a thick bed of seaweed. But it was too late to move.
He closed his eyes and prayed hard. If the weeds got detached from the archipelago and drifted towards the ocean, his life would be in danger. As the storm raged, he went through a gamut of emotions: Fear, sorrow and helplessness. He thought about his fiancee Geethu whom he is scheduled to marry in January. Three hours passed. The storm stopped as abruptly as it began. Abin was alive. “It was a close shave,” he says.
Abin had been on a 24-country solo trek through Europe -- Spain, France, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Netherlands, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway...with a final destination in mind: the Arctic Circle. But the three-month journey had a disastrous beginning. At Barcelona, on July 8, pickpockets flicked a pouch which contained Abin’s passport, driving licence and international permit. Sadly, it would take him 10 days before he managed to get a new passport. There was no time to get another licence or permit.
And when he embarked on the highway, towards France, he immediately faced problems. “All vehicles go at a minimum speed of 130 km per hour,” says Abin. “There is a crosswind especially when big trailers go past. As a result, the bike would sway from side to side. It was dangerous. So I decided
to take the country roads.”
It turned out to be the right decision. “I saw the unmatched beauty of the countryside,” he says. “My speed slowed to 60 km/hour but people were kind and friendly.” Whenever Abin would approach a town, he would quickly log onto couchsurfing.com. Since the members are all travellers, they speak in English and the food and stay are free. “All they wanted was to hear my travel stories,” says Abin. “I may be the first Indian bike rider to stay with them.”
Meanwhile, drama was not very far away.In Kinderdijk, Holland, known for its windmills, he stood on a bridge next to one. Abin had just finished talking and put the phone into his jeans pocket. But it did not fall correctly, slipped out, fell on the bridge and into the water. Abin was shocked. “I knew I would be paralysed without the phone,” he says. “No GPS, no CouchSurfing, and no staying in touch with my host.”
He asked the windmill owner about the depth of the lake. “Two metres (6.5 feet),” said the man. Abin nodded, removed his jacket and shirt and lowered himself into the chilly water. A cold wind was blowing. Soon, he discovered that it was full of mud. Since the water was not clear, he began searching for the phone with his feet. A crowd of curious onlookers gathered on the bridge. “They had come to see the windmill, but forgot all about it,” says Abin. “When they came to know that I was looking for a phone, they started betting on whether I would find it.”
Abin did find a phone. It was an Apple iPhone 8, but his was a Chinese one. Time passed but there was no luck for Abin. At 6pm, the owner said he was closing up. But when Abin tried to get out of the water, the mud held him back. “Finally, two men held my hands while a third grabbed my belt and managed to pull me up,” says the 28-year-old, who works in Infopark in Kakkanad. “It was an unforgettable experience.” Soon, with the help of a local’s phone, he managed to find the address of the host and was taken there. The next day, he bought a new phone. “Thanks to all my data being saved on my cloud account, I could transfer it immediately to my new phone,” says Abin.
The journey continued. Through Norway, which according to Abin, is one of the most beautiful places on earth, with its fjords and lakes, he managed to reach the Arctic Circle. “It was desolate,” he says. “The night sky was full of stars. I saw melting glaciers and large expanses of snow. The beauty was indescribable.” Thus, Abin brought his solo journey to an end.
For us Kochiites and Indians here is one incredible statistic: Abin traversed 15,200 km but did not come across a single pothole!