Malmö and Copenhagen

Sunday, September 14th
I would spend the vast majority of the day riding Swedish trains through over half of the country from Ostersund to Malmö. I had spent nearly two weeks in Sweden (much longer then originally planned) and it was time to move on.
I did have the very fortunate opportunity to stop in Stockholm for about two hours so that I could see Henrik and Olle, who were both in Australia at the same time as me. I had missed Henrik the first time I was in Stockholm and it is always good to see Olle again!
We grabbed a beer and I demolished a burger at the train station sports bar. In wonderful irony it’s walls were plastered with every Boston sport memorabilia imaginable yet was broadcasting Swedish hockey. It was great to see Henrik again. He was always the big partier getting everyone motivated for another crazy night out (although few of us needed much motivation) and I once again couldn’t believe the luck I was having with reuniting with friends. But unfortunately my stay was very limited on time and soon I was off to Malmö.
I left a friend in Ostersund to get drinks with two friends in Sweden and left them to go stay with a friend in Malmö. This was proving to be a very friendly Sunday.
When I got to Malmö, Folke, who’s aunt Karin had just hosted me for two days in Kiruna, was waiting for me at the train station. We walked to his car where I was introduced to his wonderful girlfriend, Linda, and then taken to their place just a short drive away. It was a really nice apartment in a new area of constuction that was right along the water and at the foot of the first skyscraper I had seen on my trip, a building known as the Twisting Torso.
Folke and Linda were just incredible hosts. We had a dinner of fresh tacos (which apparently Swedes absolutely love) and great conversation about traveling, the Swedish election, and our favorite television shows. We turned the tv on to the live election results and that brought us into an intense conversation about how and why the openly racist party had the third highest votes. If you haven’t, please refer to my last post, specifically regarding my experience being abroad on 9/11, for my feelings on that.
I really loved spending that night with Folke and Linda because I was able to just hang out with them. There was no awkward silence to be filled or time constraints. Just three people talking about life, particularly racism and HBO.

Monday, September 15th
The big perk of staying with Folke and Linda (outside of getting to spend time with them obviously) was that they were a short (and free!) train ride to Copenhagen. Since both of my hosts worked, I got up to an empty apartment but quickly vacated it in order to have the most time possible in Denmark.
I got to Copenhagen around 10pm and immediately grabbed a city map, circled all the places I wanted to get to, and estimated what the quickest, most efficient way to get to all of them was. This would become my go to practice everytime I got into a new city.
The first thing I went to was the cemetery where Hans Christen Andersen’s grave is. It was quite a hike and out of the way but let me see the less touristy side of the city as well as the gorgeous lake that sits just outside the city center. I had never seen so many swans in one place! After ambling through the cemetery, which could easily have been called a garden for its wooded walkways, flowery gravesites, and hedged plot rows, I headed to the harbor. I stopped for lunch on the ramparts of the old fort, still in use as an active military base today, that overlooked the habor and palaces. Aside from having one of my peanut butter and jellies sat on by an elderly woman who needed a rest (I wish I was kidding), it was quite enjoyable! Stomach full, I continued on to see the inexplicably popular Little Mermaid. While it was a very beautiful statue, I was baffled at how it was considered to be such a huge tourist draw. The size and detail and location were of no incredible nature and honestly it didnt meet my expectations, although I can’t tell you what those expectations were. Maybe I thought itd be more involved and built up from being a tourist attraction but a single tiny Asian woman with her cart of roasted almonds was the entirety of the tourist scene. But the quiteness around the statue grew on me and it is fun that I can say I have indeed stood with the Little Mermaid. I worked my way back through the city now bouncing along the streets from palace to palace to church to palace. So many palaces. So many churches. I finally got to the Old Harbor area which made me yearn for a six pack and some pals to people watch with.Staring at one another from across the thin strand of water were multicolored buildings with bustling cafes poking out from their sidewalks and bobbing between them were two rows of massive sailboats, all permanently docked I would assume, no more out of place than a Toyota parallel parked in New York city. It was incredible. I followed this street to the new harbor where I crossed over to find the neighborhood of Christiania. Folke had told me about it the night before, that it was this area of the city settled by hippies decades ago who just never left and now attracted the city’s wanderers, artists, and pot heads (as there is an established, bustling marijuana industry within its boundaries despite official Denmark law). It was so cool! There was a sign at the front that said, “You are now leaving the EU and entering Christiania.” Not quite that extreme but it was a place unlike any I had ever seen. Every surface even remotely vertical was covered in art (it is hard to call it graffiti when it is on such a grand and accepted scale), the buildings were small scale structures that hardly looked permanent, and the market area was dotted with canvas covered tents where those of a more uplifting inclination could get their fix. I had no cash otherwise… I mean, no thanks Mr. Christiania weed dealer (my mother reads this blog). After wandering into one too many private backyards (although it is arguable the concept of privacy existed in this part of the city) I decided to head back to the train station, stopping at, you guess it, more palaces along the way! Seriously. So many palaces. I made good time because I didnt go into any of them because they were all expensive as fuck for entry so I killed an hour or two in the Hard Rock, my guilty travel pleasure, before catching the train back to Malmö! I had spent just over 8 hours in the city and easily 7 of those had been on my feet. I was wooped.
When Folke got back we headed out to get falafel! I know, I was confused when he said falafel, too, but apparently Malmö has a large immigrant community that has created this incredibly diverse foodie paradise, the most notable being delicious falafel. They ever have a yearly contest for Malmö’ s best falafel! I got witness another demonatration (seriously it is like they are drawn to me) while we walked along enjoying our falafel with salad, fried cheese, garlic sauce, tomatoes, and who knows what else. It was delicious and made me crave the street food of Israel more than I already did.
That evening I had the unfortunate realization that my trip from Malmö to Copenhagen would be much more time consuming than originally hoped for which meant I would need to say goodbye to Folke and Linda that night instead of tomorrow evening. I thanked them both for their wonderful hospitality and friendship, made tentative plans to meet with Folke again on his fall break from teaching, and called it a night.

*THANK YOU FOLKE AND LINDA FOR AN INCREDIBLE TWO NIGHTS IN MALMÖ. You allowed me to see two cities where I would have only seen one and do so in comfort and circumstance that I never saw coming. You are always welcome to join me where ever I am in the world and one day I shall repay your hospitality with that of my own!*

All my love.

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Östersunds DFF vs IK Hugo

Saturday, September 13th
Oh, happy day! After a long night of training from Kiruna to Ostersund, I got my second dose of the lovely Brigit Reder and team!
I got into Ostersund around 7:30am completely exhausted from the 17 hour trip. Brigit had left a key in the mail slot for me so I let myself in and got a wonderful few hours of sleep before the sounds of the ladies about the apartment woke me. It was so good to see them again!
I shared all my stories of the trip with Brigit and whichever of her teammates were in the room at that time. The mice and Kiruna stories got the best reactions. I showed a few pictures to fill in the gaps that words couldn’t describe.  Before I knew it the girls had to head out for their pre-game lunch so I took the time alone to shower, repack, and grab some lunch.
I was called in as an emergency gear runner for Brigit about halfway through my ham and cheese sandwich. While it made the sandwich disappear unexpectedly fast, it was good to be able to help out and get to the stadium before the ticket tellers got there!
I was surprised by the openness of the stadium. I was able to walk all around the locker room area and even onto the field without a single person saying a thing to me. Kinda cool!
Brigit’s team, Ostersunds DFF, have been having an incredible season and were at the top of their division with just four games left in the season. This game was important for them to stay ahead in the point count so it was fun for me to see a relatively ‘big’ game. Their opponent, IK Hugo, was in the middle of the division but apparently had a reputation of playing hard and were on a hot streak.
When the match started, it was a big case of dejavu to see Brigit play. While I couldn’t say it had been five years since I saw her anymore I could still say itd been five years since I saw her play! My favorite part was watching her personality come out on the field. Strong and in a leading role, but never negative or harsh manner. I had heard her talk about updating her player video so I did my best to tape some but my timing was awful so sorry about that Brigit.
Watching the team’s personalities come out was cool, too. I had only met them for a few minutes each and their playing style and chemistry on the field was very cool to see. It told a story, I felt like.
It helped that they controlled the game from start to finish. The ball control had to have been at least 75/25 in their favor and they were without question the dominant team. The 1-nil victory doesn’t do their performance justice but a win is a win!
When we got back to the apartment I joined Brigit to watch some of the OSU football game over some of the leftover Thai food from their pregame lunch. While the team wasn’t my first choice it was a lot of fun to watch some good ol football.
The weather was absolutely phenomenal so it was decided to head down to the lake for a fire and smores! A bunch of Brigit’s teammates gathered on the beach and, with my very rudimentary fire making skills and a handy lighter, we soon had quite a picturesque set up going. I gorged myself on smores, threw a football with Brigit, got annihilated by the center middie Mel in rock skipping, and passed the evening hours surrounded by this group of complete strangers who were themselves held together by such a chance happening but had come together to form what could only be described as a team. We left the beach smelling of fire and happiness.
Despite my tiredness, I stayed up to watch Gravity with Brigit and the goalkeeper Nicole. I wanted to make the most of my time there and these two definitely made that happen! I dont think any of us watched more than a third of the movie because we kept talking and getting distracted. It made me terribly conflicted when both of them made a comment about me not leaving in the morning so I could stay and help them break the monotony of Ostersund life. That night with Brigit and her team was just what I needed before the whistlestop tour I was about to take on.

The next morning I got the all important selfie with Brigit (who groaned at me for waiting until the morning to do it) and passed along my copy of Barbara Kingsolvers Prodigal Summer that I had finished on the Kungsleden. Then it was a goodbye hug with a rediscovered friend and off to Stockholm!

Once again, thank you to Brigit and the Ostersunds DFF girls for your hospitality and friendship. I will be keeping tabs on your season and cheering you on from wherever I happen to be!

All my love.

Kiruna

I left off my previous post, which concluded my adventure along the northernmost section of the Kungsleden in Sweden, on the afternoon of September 10th. I shall pick up my story here.
Folke, the teacher who I had befriended on the hike, had offered me a ride into Kiruna, which he said would be a much nicer place than Nikkoulakta to stay for the next two days, on the bus the class was riding back on. He also offered to put me in touch with his aunt, Karin, who lived in Kiruna! I gladly accepted his generous offer and it was arguably the best choice I had made on my trip up to that point.
I slept most of the bus ride into Kiruna but when we got to the station Karin was there waiting for us. I had hardly said my name before I was putting my pack in the back of her car and she was pulling out of the lot. Folke only had about 45 minutes before his train to Stockholm so the tour had to begin immediately! I could tell that Karin was very interested in the history of Kiruna as she showed us the iron ore mine (the largest in the world!) that was basically solely responsible for the city’s existence. Other stops on the tour included the first house built for the mine, the personal history of the mine’s founder, and general facts about Kiruna’s past and present. It was really interesting! The part I found most incredible was that the mine was relocating a massive part of the city so that it could continue operating deeper. Karin was able to point out which buildings were getting relocated, torn down, replaced, and the timeline for the entire operation!
I had assumed that I would be dropped off somewhere near to the city center before we took Folke back because no other plans had been discusses but I rode back, said goodbye to and confirmed seeing Folke in Malmö in a few days, and prepared to go find a camping spot. But Karin encouraged me back into her car and drove me to her home! It was funny because I just thought I was getting a bit of an extended tour until she stopped in front of a row of houses and said I could stay with her. I was so relieved and truly thankful for this offer. I couldn’t believe my luck and made a point to myself to never forget how many opportunities a smile and friendly demeanor can unlock for you.
Karin was feeling under the wearher from battling a cold (yet she was still more than happy to host me! Incredible!) so she set me out with directions to the city center, told me that I could join her for dinner at 6pm, and then laid down to rest. But not before nearly exposing my biggest weakness… bike riding. She had been pretty insistent on pulling her bike out so I could use it to get around despite saying I would be more than happy to walk. I was saved the embarrassment of her finding out that “I haven’t ridden a bike in forever” actually meant “I don’t know how to ride a bike” when she couldn’t find the key to unlock the wheel lock. Whew.
I was on cloud 9 on my way into the city. Despite my terrible night and running on mere hours of sleep, my smile didn’t break the entire afternoon. I relaxed in the Scandic lobby to use their wifi most of the day. The next part of my trip would be a doozy of city hopping and I needed to get a plan formed. Plus, social media addiction is a real thing.
When I got back to Karin’s, I almost laughed out loud at my luck. Sitting in the oven was a heap of chicken! I had missed fresh protein, especially chicken, so much that I actually spent a portion of a hike the previous week thinking of ways I could transport it. And there it was filling my nostrils with gorgeous, delicious frangrance. Hopefully Karin wasn’t expecting to have leftovers! *don’t worry she told me during that she hadnt* This fantastic woman even busted out the ice cream for me!
After a scalding hot shower and a lengthy back stretch, I passed out in a real bed before it was even 8pm.

Thursday, September 11th
I slept for 12 hours that night and I have no regrets at all. Totally unlike my sleeping habits for the past few years but I wasn’t going to complain. After breakfast with Karin, during which she read me the international affairs section of the newspaper, and some tent repairs, I accompanied her to City Hall where she needed to pick up supplies for the voting station she’d be running that Sunday. While we were there I learned she had served in the local government for several years and got a tour of all the meeting rooms as well as the incredible artwork, placed there by a unique scholarship the city gives out every year, that covered every space of wall in the building. The scholarship essentially gives an artist a sponsored exhibition by the city and a guaranteed purchase by the city from said exhibition. The place was literally an art museum. They had so many pieces that they were even in the individual offices!
After that, Karin dropped me off at the head of a nice little trail that circled around and up the back of the ski hill that overlooked Kiruna. She was feeling poor again, so I was more than happy to get out of her hair for awhile.
The hike, called the Trail of the Midnight Sun, was only about 4 kilometers but still gave some great views of the surrounding mountains and, once on top of the ski hill, Kiruna itself. The sun was accompanying me on this hike, too, so I wasn’t going to miss it! At the top of the ski hill there is an abandoned hotel construction site (Karin said they didn’t get all the right permits before breaking ground) that was a lot of fun to explore. It was there I realized my inability to decipher graffiti (a conclusion that would later be reinforced in Copenhagen). Overlooking the city and mine was also very cool. I was able to see a lot of the buildings, relocation efforts, and historical sections of the city that Karin had told me about. Then I got to run down! A pair of skis and some snow wouldve been more convenient, though. Maybe thats what I will do this winter…
I laughed at the snow machines that were being stored at the bottom of the mountains. Of all the places in the world, the last place I figured I would see a snow machine was in northern Sweden.
I kept the trail up all the way until it dropped me off in the city. I explored the shops and looked for a nice cafe to have lunch in. I decided on Cafe Rost, which sat above the bus station. I spent my entire afternoon researching the Mont Blanc hike (I had to make a decision about whether to do the hike at the very end (and slightly past) of the season or go to Spain and Portugal). I also splurged on a piece of carrot cake and it was heaven.
I picked up a few groceries on the way back to Karin’s and cooked a quick dinner. Karin got back shortly after so I made us some tea and we sat talking about politics, particularly the Palestinian/Israeli conflict (another example of my Jewish identity showing itself on this trip). Then it was another night of glorious sleep!

*While I recognize that this post is being written well past the actual date and covers multiple days, I want to make a special note about the unique experience I had remembering the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in an international environment.
Karin only made one mention of it at the very beginning of the day and I saw a few articles in her newspapers but it was weird to not have it at the focal point of everyones day. I read an article about the different ways counties covered the attacks and it was an incredible insight. While I am far from the guy who thinks the world is obsessed with the US, it was surprising to not have a lot of dialogue or news or memorials. It was eye opening to see a cultural blindness that is so obviously there but rarely admitted. And I am talking about me! It was ignorant of me to think that Sweden or any other country would mourn or cover the attacks the way that the States would. To prove my point, who can tell me what Anzac day is without googling it?
But I do believe that, particularly in a European environment which is seeing a horrifying revival of hateful, racist, and violent thoughts and politics, the hate-fueled attacks that literally changed the world as we knew it back then should have been given more emphasis. On that day 13 years ago and remembering it just a few weeks ago, I was, as a US citizen, a son, a brother, a Jew, and all the other facets of my being, shook to the core by the idea that anywhere in the world there was a harbor for such hateful ideology. Especially when I thought about all the language, cultural, religious, and socio-economic barriers that I had broken with so many people (and how it is something we don’t spend nearly enough resources on doing on a mass scale) it blew my mind that something like those attacks could happen. Because the unavoidable truth is that we have far too many historical examples and present resources for these ideas to have any presence in society whatsoever. Yet here they are, not dying out but gaining more support!
It is through educating and remembering the horrifying results that hate brings to the world that we can begin to push back these ideas. Yes, it is a painful and daunting task. Why would anyone want to remember such things? So you dont have to relive them. And dont join in the pointless ‘Merica chanting and unproductive quote retweeting that has unfortunately gripped my generation. DO SOMETHING. Engage in new dialogue about what you truly feel and push your limits to expose yourself to new opinions and views. Toss away your air of superiority and the bald-eagle-badass persona and actually take a stand against the hate that has consumed far, far too many lives. Because whether they were soldiers or office workers or children or parents or Christians or Muslims doesn’t matter. What matters is that they were human. And their memory needs you to see through the titles and stereotypes and realize that.*

Friday, September 12th
After another great night’s sleep and a huge breakfast with Karin, I took some more time in the city center to check off things on the to do list. Mainly my Turkish visa which was honestly just an annoying, money grabbing, five minute process online. But it is done and accepted so hooray!
I would be departing for Ostersund that afternoon so I looked over the tent repairs and finished packing things back up. Karin took me to see the incredible church that sits overlooking Kiruna. The all woof, angular structure had been built by the mining company as a sort of tax break with the city. It was gorgeous. I particularly liked the different approach it took to its spiritual identity. The statues were not of the saints but rather the different human emotions, the horoscope could be seen on the altar, and Karin told me that the one, foot long cross resting on the altar was the only identifying religious symbol in the entire building. In a way, its lack of outward symbolism made it a more spiritual place.
After that final part of my three day Kiruna tour, Karin dropped me off at the rail station. I gave her a huge hug, thanked her for her sharing her knowledge and story and home with me, and promised to say hi to Folke for her before stepping on my train!

One down, three to go

Can you believe it has already been one month since I left for this trip?
I can’t.
The time has passed so incredibly quickly it is impossible to think that I am a quarter of the way through this tour of Europe. In that time I explored Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands. I got to set personal records like highest altitude, longest distance, and longest time on some incredible hikes. My faith in humanity was confirmed by generous, wonderful people. And remarkably the trip has gone nearly to plan! While Sweden lasted longer than I expected, the trains (for the most part) operated the way I had planned on, the cities and hikes I had hoped to see where all checked off, and the people I planned to reunite with had all been able to! I have seen and experienced a lot in the past month and below you will find some of my thoughts and feedback on my experience so far.

Where I Stand
I am in love with this trip. It is very difficult living such an inconsistent, disconnected, and spontaneous lifestyle but I am thoroughly enjoying it. The quick moving, early mornings, and night travel have gotten to me twice so far and I have gathered I can go for about two weeks before I need to give myself a time and place to hit the reset button and slow down for a day or two. In a weird way, the inconsistent lifestyle has become consistent for me. I have absolutely fallen into a pattern to accommodate living out of a pack, sleeping in a tent,  and never being in one place for more than 48 hours. Just like I did at work, I have become a creature of habit despite myself! Its just instead of waking up 45 minutes before I have to be at my cubicle, I am waking up an hour before I need to be all packed and moving and rather then fumbling through three cabinets and my half of the fridge to see what I need from Kroger I open one plastic bag whenever I come across a grocery store front to see what I need for the day. The pattern is there to protect myself, I have realized. While I might always be waking up in new cities and off to do different things each day, I have grabbed onto the consistent aspects about each of those days and have created a structure. I have also gathered that two to three weeks is my perfect time for this kind of life. I can safely say that I feel much more comfortable operating out of a consistent homebase and this realization is a huge one for finding out what I want next. But I know if I am to continue to have these revelations I need to keep pushing the limits of my abilities and comfort, so thank goodness I have three more months (at least) to do so!

The Pack
Whew. The most important part of my entire trip, the 70 litre pack that I will be living out of for the foreseeable future, has definitely been a major topic of the past month. When I got to Iceland I realized I had overpacked, when I got to Norway I realized that it was a major pain to have with me 100% of the time, and the insight I got to how well I packed is increasing everyday. Here’s a quick breakdown…
Size: 70 litres
Weight: 20-28 kilograms (44-60 pounds)
Items I Haven’t Used: shovel (this IS NOT A BAD THING, just means I havent had to dig my own poop hole or bury a body), hammock, Nike fleece, jeans, first aid kit, water purifier
Items that Have Saved My Ass: layer system (fleece, wind, water proof), tent repair kit (this IS NOT A GOOD THING)
Items I Used Less Than Expected: chacos, water purifier, camp stove, GoPro, headlamp
Items I Use More Than Expected: Windproof, walking sticks
Items I Consider Luxury/Not Absolutely Necessary: running shoes, hammock, half of my clothes including one of my fleeces, jackets, and jeans (although in longer dry spells between laundry and cooler weather I expect this to change), electronics
So in all, I would say I would leave 3 of my 6 shirts, 2 of my 5 socks, my jeans, the water purifier, shovel, and hammock if I had to repack my bag right at this moment. However, with cooler weather and larger trees in my near future, I expect this to change in the next month.

Eurail Pass
What a relief to know I made the right decision for transport. The pass has been an incredible resource and peace of mind for all of my traveling. The trains are on time, rarely crowded, drop me off in the middle of cities as opposed to airports that leave you on the outskirts, and my bag always has a space despite its awkward shape and size. The only downside of the pass is the expectation they set for the need of seat reservations, especially in Scandinavia. While it is clearly stated that long distance, popular, express, and/or night trains will be more likely to require a seat reservation the regulations and definitions each country puts on these isn’t clear. Every train I took in Sweden and Norway required a reservation of roughly $8 a train. This fee was roughly a twnth of the full ticket price. While nothing that will break the bank, it adds up quickly and was a cost I wasnt expecting to have as often. In contrast to Norway and Sweden, the trains I have recently been taking through Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium were all completely free for me. I just stepped onto thw train with my pass and everything was done. Here’s hoping that the pattern continues, although I hear France is another seat reservation hotspot.

Health
Up to this point, I have been very happy with the way my body has performed and taken the rigors of this trip. The first few days were difficult getting used to the full weight of the pack but I was astonished how quickly my body adapted. Thank goodness for the half marathon trainings and intense, tracked weight lifting program I was obsessed with before coming. It definitely didn’t hurt leaving for this trip the strongest I have ever been. The radical change in diet has also been taken more or less in stride. Smaller quantities of admittedly healthier options due to limitstions from money, space, and circumstances have lead to quite the transformation. 12 pounds of transformation, to be exact. I stepped onto a scale in Malmö and, for the first time in years, am roughly 190 pounds! While I believe a lot of this is lost muscle mass from no longer having a daily lifting regimen, it is still incredible to see my body go through this change. I feel great and healthy with high energy levels so am not concerned at all by this weight loss. Id love to have some of my upper body strength and size back but my legs are stronger than ever and the thinning out of my neck and torso is evident even behind the month old beard I am growing.

Outlook on What Is Next
So far this trip has confirmed that I belong in a lifestyle that is dynamic, unpredictable, challenging, and physically demanding. While the pull I feel from my loved ones back in the States has me questioning the necessity to be abroad, I am still attracted to the idea of staying international for a few years. Everything from non-profit to tourism to graduate school to entrepreneurship is on my plate at the moment. I also have put a list of things I want out of my lifestyle and possible industries/professions I could do it in! So I will be doing research and outreach for all of those whenever I can! My outlook for the start of 2015 took a blow earlier this week when the Crete dive shop I was hoping to work for from January to June informed me that they wouldn’t be looking for me to start until April. While it is still something I would love to do, I had put a lot of my chips in being able to go straight there from my time in Israel and the news that I would have a three month gap is frustrating. But I have begun to explore other options, both in the States and abroad, and will keep you all notified as my search continues! Any and all connections and tips from you all is greatly appreciated! Seriously.

Kungsleden Day 8: Nikkoulakta

Wednesday, September 10th
I had made it to the last day of the longest hike of my life!
I had a terrible night’s sleep, only getting a combined two or three hours between being invaded by mice and the hikers who for some reason needed breakfast at 530am. They were most likely going to attempt a summit of Kebnekaise but it didnt make their racket in the kitchen any less disturbing. But I was the one using the space in a way it wasn’t intended (or allowed) to be used so I just pushed the tiredness to the back of my body. I would have to deal with it later.
I avoided the tent for a long time. Took my time making breakfast, packing the bag, and mentally preparing myself. While I wasn’t nearly as bad as I had been a few hours ago, I was still upset about the night’s events.
When I finally did get to the tent, it was just as I had remembered it. Three mouse made holes, a Ben made tear, and mouse shit everywhere. I decided that I wasn’t in the state of mind to deal with repairing the tent then and there so I did a thorough cleaning of the tent, strapped it onto my pack, and headed out.
The walk did me good. 19 kilometers nearly entirely alone gives you time to work through a few things. I went through the various stages of coping at a record pace. When I was no longer upset, I became hateful, followed quickly by sadness over the damage, pursued almost immediately by a sense of acceptance and willingness to set it behind me. I knew that I couldn’t let the mentality of the mice ‘taking’ my tent away from me manifest itself any further so I buried it under the rhythm of my boots and the few rays of sun poking through the clouds.
The 19k went smoothly. The trail was marked off nearly every kilometer and was broken up by two docks where a boat service acted as a short cut for those that felt 300 SEK was worth 4 kilometers of their energy. This served to pass the time quickly and predictably. I got stuck in the midst of a high school class. I could almost smell the douchey hipsters before I could see them.
The hike was a tad monotonous but when I was able to set aside everything going on inside my head I was able to stop and appreciate the birch forest that served as my scenery. A river valley historically used by the Sami culture, there were several side paths that led to historical/cultural sites from this native people. The sun breaking through was always appreciated.
When I saw the sign hanging over the trail, the word Nikkoulakta carved into it, I could feel my body relax, as if it was finally able to feel tired and hungry and dirty.
I had done it!
Despite the use of huts, the unexpected but equally appreciated saunas, and generosity I had been the fortunate benefactor of, I felt a very large sense of accomplishment. The longest hike, both in distance and time, of my life was completed! It was both relieving and reassuring to think back on the past week, the distance I had covered, and the incredible things that had happened to me. It seemed like yesterday that I had left Abisko and the days ran together but individual faces and sights stuck out bright in my mind.
At the cafe at the end of the trail I met Folke again, who said I could join him and the students on their chartered bus into Kiruna. I told him I had planned on camping in Nikkoulakta but he said that Kiruna was a much bigger and better place to spend a few days, plus he had an aunt that he would try to put me in contact with. I accepted his gracious offers and spent the next few hours sitting with him and his colleague. I tols them about the mice invading my tent and it was remarkably comforting for them to find it so humorous. Normally you’d think that someone laughing at an event that rattled you would make you upset but in this case it proved to move myself away from those negative emotions and closer to being able to laugh at myself.
I loved the time I spent on the Kungsleden and will always remember it as my first big test, and triumph, in my quest to find my niche in the world. But with that beinf said, I was very happy to collapse into that bus seat and head off to Kiruna.

All my love.

Kungsleden Day 6 & 7: Kebnekaise

Monday, September 8th
Whether the morning really was dreary or it just wasnt the busy, friendly morning I had had the night before I still don’t know. The clouds were blocking the sun out, the morning was cold, and for the first time in the trip I wasn’t looking forward to the day of hiking.
I got started early despite all this. I got turned around at the beginning (ironically it is more difficult to find the start of the path than any other part) but soon was making good time towarss Kebnekaise. I was able to see the Sammi herding the reindeer that morning, too! It was surprisingly modern. They used a helicopter and dirt bikes to move the herds where they wanted them to go. To a complete stranger who has no idea whats going on it actually looks like a medical emergency is happening. The helicopter flies very low to the ground, the dirt bikes circle around the edges, and then the helicopter blares police sirens just for good measure. A very loud, busy occassion especially in the vast and calm landscape.
The hike had some gorgeous scenery. We were in more of a river delta that day and the abundance of wildlife and plants was pretty great. So transfixed by it all was I that I once again lost the trail! Well, kinda. I made the same mistake I did the second day when I followed the cross country skiing markers instead of the hiking. Before I knew it the path gave way to a muddy marsh and when I looked around I realized with dismay that I was surrounded by nothing but more marsh. Since I couldnt see where the hiking path had gone, I just assumed that I had to buck up and get through it. So I did. After going miserably slow for about a kilometer I saw a group walking off to my left and, cursing myself for making such a rookie mistake, I made a beeline for the path. You can bet your ass I kept a sharp eye out for the trailmarkers after that.
I arrived in Kebnekaise in about 5 hours after the 19k trek. It was surprisingly nice! Electricity, running water, and a massive common room greeted me when I arrived. It was more expensive to stay there of course, but the perks were very nice. I felt spoiled to be able to treat myself to a refrigerated coke and login to social media for a few minutes on the lobby computer. It was phenomenal to sit in the large common room chairs and read. I sat down shortly after setting my tent up and before I noticed the sun was down! I made some dinner, enjoyed the sauna, and then got invited to join Lennart and his dad for a second dinner before finally retiring to my tent feeling very relaxed. I had arrived to Kebnekaise with the intention of using my extra day there to summit the mountain, Sweden’s highest. But unfortunately the weather just wasn’t on my side this trip and due to a forecast for a cold, cloudy, windy day at the summit I had decided to not go. Which meant I had a day where there was no need to wake up early or even put on my hiking boots! Ahh, relaxation.

Tuesday, September 9th
I did my best to ignore the morning sun (Wait, there is sun?!?!?) and sleep in. I had a lazy breakfast and silently loathed myself for not attempting the sunmit because it was an absolutely clear, sunny day! Miffed at myself, I retired to the patio of the main building to read my book. But I soon found myself restless to at least do something to take advantage of the nice weather so I set out on a side trail through the mountain valley.
I followed the trail all the way to the other side of the valley where there was a field of massive boulders on the other side of the river. Eyeing the largest within my general area, I set out to get a little more bouldering out of my system. Although it wasnt anything super difficult, sitting on top of the boulder gave me a fun sense of accomplishment. It also served for an insanely beautiful view of the valley and mountains that had been to my back all the previous day. With the sun warming my back, I sat on that rock in Swedish Lapland and just soaked it all in. The smell of the Swedish fall, the sound of the river rushing by just a few meters away, the whoosh of the occasional helicopter overhead, and the various birds all talking to one another in their distinct voices. Even the mountains had a sound to them it felt like. There at that moment was when I was probably the most isolated from any other people and had the most silence of the whole trip. No boots or walking sticks or conversation or laboured breathing. And there, in that silence, I heard more than I had the entire trip.
Before long I noticed a pretty formidable looking cloud front coming over the mountains (maybe it was a good idea I didnt summit…) and decided to head back. I grabbed my new book, Josephus’ Bellum Judaicum,  and once again let the hours rush past me in the comfort and relaxation of the mountain station. I took advantage of a great fika special the restaurant had. A delicious piece of berry pie and then unlimited tea/coffee/hot chocolate for just $6! I made sure to get my money’s worth and probably drank my weight in hot chocolate that afternoon.

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FIKA

My reading was broken up by conversations with some of the students from Folke’s class and a fun pair of Belgium climbers who had come back to Kebnekaise after lamenting a decision to not summit years ago. It was nice to finally talk to the students who, until then, mainly kept to themselves out of uncomfortableness in their surroundings and the unavoidable glue that comes with traveling in a group.
I ate dinner and discovered that I could for some reason connect to the huts wifi despite not knowing the password so enjoyed talking to people back home for a bit before heading to bed. Little did I know that this would turn into the worst night of the Kungsleden and my entire trip so far.
Remember I said I would regret laughing at Folke having a mouse hanging out around his tent?
Thats because I had mice hanging out in my tent.
I think the most disgusting part of the experience was that it wasn’t noise that alerted me to the intruders but their smell. Just straight up the smell of shit, which there was a lot of in my tent afterwards, waking me up. The first (yes, he said first) time was so sudden and unexpected it was over before I realized what was happening. I groggily woke up and made out the dark shape of something running along the edge of my tent. Thinking there was no way that it couldve been a mouse inside, I grabbed my headlamp and began to inspect the tent. Sure as shit, there were holes chewed through my food bag. Bastards were after my nut mix. I removed the entire bag of food to inside the tent’s vestibule so it was outside but still covered up and then set out to figure out how the fuck they got in. All the zippers had been completely closed and my worst fear was realized when I saw a hole chewed through the mosquito netting at the foot of the tent. I was quite upset about the damage and loss of some of my food but it was 1:30 in the morning and I figured I would just deal with it in the morning.
Wrong.
They came back about an hour later. Woken again by their stench, I found myself inside the tent with two of them! Whether they were too fucking dumb to find the way they had come in or too terrified of me to think to go back to it, I dont know. All I know is that they started trying to chew new holes out of my tent! This sent me into an unholy rage. My arms have never moved so fast as I tried to force them to the existing hole, keep them from chewing new ones, and prevent them from running into my pack and sleeping bag. I probably looked like some terrible cross breed of human and worm, half out of my sleeping bag and arms wailing. One I managed to get out pretty quickly but the second proved to be nearly impossible. At one point I just resorted to hitting the damn thing as it was trying to chew a new hole out instead of trying to corral it. I hit it so hard it went airborne into one side of the tent and promptly bounced back across the tent. Deciding that airbourne mice weren’t something I was prepared for I didnt hit it anymore. Eventuallt it climbed into a plastic bag I had in thw tent and I was able to throw it out. A part of me wishes I had just strangled the bastard but I know I would be guilt ridden if I had.

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Hole #1


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Hole #2

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Hole #3


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Rip caused from my struggle with the mice.

I was torn up. My adrenaline was pumping, it was 2:30 in the morning, and I knew that nothing I could do now would prevent them from coming back. I was dumbfounded by their boldness. I stuffed everything that I could into my pack and retreated to the floor of the hut kitchen. Thats when my emotions caught up to me and I just let it wash over me. It scared me. Not because they were mice or anything, but because they had taken my place from me. I knew coming into this trip that I wasnt going to have a ton of privacy or control over a lot of my circumstances. But that tent was what I could control. To have that taken from me was really quite scary. I also felt betrayed. I had come all this way to experience nature with the intention of finding a way to share it with other people afterwards and then this happens. Thats when I remembered a discussion I had with my dad before I left during which I told him that a big goal of this trip was to go out, experience the good and bad in the world, and when confronted by the bad to find a way to see the good. And I hates that idealistic Ben sitting in McAlisters because I knew he was right but wanted so badly for him to be wrong. Because the truth is that it wouldve been easy for me to let this night ruin my whole trip, to hate those mice, and even try to exact revenge! While I wont say I am going to make best friends with any Swedish field mice anytime soon, I know that I cant let that experience and feeling consume me. So I gave it a night. I let myself hate those mice and what they did for one night. I let myself feel those emotions entirely, neither fighting or justifying them.
And in the morning, I would tell myself it was time to wipe up the spilled milk and start where I had left off before I had headed to bed that night.

*Thank you to everyone who was there for me to vent to and offer new perspective for me while I was in too much of an emotional state to take a step back. You helped calm me and gain the outlook I express in this post.*

Kungsleden Day 5: Singi

Sunday, September 7th

Easily the most enjoyable morning of the trip. I slept for a glorious 10 hours straight through the night and had an invite to eat my breakfast up with Bosse and Maggan, the hut hosts at Sulka. I ate breakfast and played with their dog and almost immediately afterwards ate fika with them.
Fika is the Swedish tea or ciesta. It involves coffee or tea and a small, sugary treat of some kind. Maggan made me an entire pot of tea for myself and laid out more cakes, cookies, and breads that you would eat for a full meal! We were soon joined by two Sammi farmers/hunters who were, as I later was informed, out to herd up the reindeer. I spent the entire time thinking that they were there to repair the sauna due to the thick Swedish accent Maggan put on the word Sammi, so I had a good laugh at myself over that one.
Before I realized it, it was 11am and I hadnt even taken my tent down! I was floored by how quickly the morning went. I couldnt leave without grabbing a quick picture with Maggan and Bosse. Then I was off for Singi hut!
The hike to Singi was very nice. The clouds had come back but with the wind at my back and no rain it was perfectly enjoyable. Reindeer were literally everywhere at this point. Signs of their domestication became more apparent, too. They simply weren’t afraid of me. They didn’t like me and usually moved as I came too close but several times I was taken aback by how close they let me get. At one point I passed a large group sitting right next to the path. When I approached all but one got up and walked away. Of course the one that didn’t was the largest male of the group. It was unnerving to the point I unbuckled my pack in case I had to run from the damn thing. Looking back I feel silly about it, but in the moment it seemed the best choice. See Mom, I am making active safety choices!!
I eventually caught up with Lennart and his father about halfway through the hike. I stuck with them the rest of the way, talking to Lennart and joking around with his dad. After awhile we came across the packs of the Swedish class that Folke was guiding lying on the side of the path. We looked around and eventually found Folke waving his arms on the other side of this massive suspension bridge that I hadn’t even noticed until then.
We went and met up with him and the students at this incredible waterfall/rapids cutting through the cliffside. The suspension bridge went across the most powerful current. The sides of the cliffs had been shaped into what appeared to be perfectly smooth concave lenses. The water would jet up from the bottom into these spaces and then whirlpool around the bottom in what appeared to be eearily calm water. We started exploring the cliff after that, as it gave a great view of the valley below, Singi hut, and a Sammi farming village. My adventurous spirit got the best of me and I talked Lennart and Folke into climbing down to the rapids. Steep, moist, and the plants that hit the rocks underneath made it quite the descent. When we got down there, we discovered the rocks right by the water were so smooth and wet that there was no way to get any sort of grip on them. So we went out on them! The closest thing I can think of to compare it to is standing on ice. It was quite a rush, as it would’ve been quite the ride to the bottom if one of us had slipped in. Going back up I chose a different way that involved some really fun bouldering.
We spent about an hour at the waterfall and cliff before continuing on. In total it took 4:15 to do the 12k to Singi. Lennart and his dad moved on, but I enjoyed a free camp spot and the few hours that the sun was breaking through the clouds with a good book and a chocolate bar I had been saving for such an occassion.
I ate dinner with Folke that evening and we were joined by a German solo traveller, David, who was starting a backpacking advisory business. I talked to him at length about that, as it sounded like a really great idea and paralleled some of my own ideas. We had a laugh at Folke due to a mouse hanging out around his tent (I would later regret those laughs. Karma is a bitch.)
It was another cool night so we retired pretty early, but not after I got to see those impressive moonlit clouds again.