Kungsleden Day 4: Sulka

On Saturday, September 6th I woke up without a wolverine in my tent so the day was off to a great start.
In fact, this would prove to be my favorite day of the entire trip.
The morning provided me with most of the sun that I would see for the entire trip. It was truly an amazing feeling to set out for the day with the sun shining on my face, which is supposed to be a major perk to doing the route North to South. That night had been the coldest yet of my whole trip and when I shook the condensation off my tent it instantly became ice but the sun made up for it!
While not very long, the trek to Salka had the most elevation change of the trip. It was nothing of any consequence, just a few hundred meters up and down about a third of the way through the route. The route took you up out of the valley we had been walking in for the past three days and then immediately dropped you into the next, which we would follow for the remainder of the trek.
The hike was gorgeous. I was finally able to really stop and appreciate the landscape since I wasnt battling wind and rain. At the top of the ridge we ascended you are met with this stunning view of the valley. I had a few people ahead of me that I could see making their way down the path that gave it a great sense of depth/size. Until then I hadn’t fully realized and appreciated the sheer size of the place. While not as vast as Iceland, it was still a sight to behold. One of those sights that glues your feet to the ground, demands your attention, and holds you there in awe.
It was also on this day that I realized my three litre Camelbak had a leak in it. Not only did this mean half of my water storage capacity was gone but it also explained why all of my clothes had been completelt soaked through the past three nights despite having a rain cover over the pack. I will have to do some experiments to see if the bladder is salvageable.
There were also reindeer everywhere on the hike! By now I had picked up on the fact that the trail led through the land the Sammi, the indigenous Swedish people, released their reindeer into during the summer. So while not completely wild themselves, the setting I was interacting with these animals definitely was. Very fun and ironic to see an animal in its natural habitat that in the States youd only get to see after paying the fee to the petting zoo.
I made the 13k to Salka in 3:15, which surprised even me. Since I was in so early and really didn’t want to have to pay for the campsite, I approached the hut hosts, who were a wonderful couple,  Bosse and Maggan, who were recently retired and in their second summer as hut host volunteers, about working for my stay. I had picked up that chopping wood was a big but necessary chore for the remote huts so I volunteered to do that for a few hours if they would let me use the facilities and sauna. After a few minutes of misunderstandings, I finally had success! Bosse told me that if I sawed and split three logs then I would have earned my keep. A handshake sealed the deal!
I eagerly set out to my work. I was not only excited to have something to keep me busy but was yearning for an upper body workout, something that I hadnt had outside of pushups for nearly 3 weeks. I was soon interuppted by Bosse who insisted that if I was going to work for them that I eat lunch with them. It was sitting in their little private bunk room that I realized they were pretty starved of friendly company. Maggan had made a heaping pile of pasta with this sauteed vegetable medly (of which I only recognized carrots). I ate alone with Maggan since Bosse had to continue the host duties. We talked about where I was from, why I was here, and what I thought of the trip so far. When Maggan was done, she ran out, grabbed Bosse, and before I knew it I was eating a second lunch and having the same conversation as before. You ever try to tell a super friendly, polite person who doesn’t have a great grasp of English that you already had a plate? Its impossible. I loved it though. I could tell that they were besides themselves with happiness to have me as a guest and someone to talk to.
I made my way back to the wood stuffed to the brim and by then my fellow trail companions had begun to trickle into the camp. Believing that sawing the wood would be the most strenuous part, I cut all three logs back to back. What I hadn’t taken into account was that I was cutting birch, which is the knottiest wood I have ever seen. The grains went twelve different ways and all the logs were knotted and twisted. Plus, it wasn’t entirely dry. All of this adds up to a real bitch of a piece of wood to cut, especially with a blunted ax.
Lennart soon joined in on the fun, more out of boredom and curiosity (he had never chopped wood before) so it was nice to have his company and mutual failure as we attempted to chop the wood. Whew. I think Bosse thought we were a bunch of wimps until he came and tried to chop one of the logs that was giving us a hard time. I havent laughed so hard my entire trip then when he couldn’t chop it either but, in stubborn refusal to be bestes by a piece of birch in front of the two of us, he just kept going absolutely berserk on this log. It was wonderful fun.
When we were done, Bosse nearly gave me a heart attack by telling me that all thw wood was too big for the stoves in the huts! I was quite worried and felt bad until I realized that Bosse had told me to use the wrong reference stick and that the wood would indeed fit in the sauna stove so it was still useful.
After the wood chopping was done and my sauna privileges earned, I headed to the tent to cook some dinner. While dinner was on the stove, I realized with great dismay that the pang in my left quad wasn’t just some muscle soreness but actually the same dead leg sensation that sidelined my marathon attempt this past spring. For those not familiar with what happened, I developed a pinched nerve in my lower back that caused my left quad to lose sensation and power. I immediately set out to stretch my hips and back. There was no way that I was going to let this injury sideline this trip. I thought I had been keeping up the stretching and beaten it, but obviously I needed to give it more attention. *The sensation lasted through the next day at a minor level but has since not come back. I continue to be ruthlessly efficient at stretching moreso than ever before.*
At lunch that day, Maggan had invited me to join her and Bosse for tea that evening. She had even scheduled it around the time I wanted to go to the sauna so I was obligated to go (even though I wanted to anyways). I returned to their hut that evening and was able to enjoy a conversation with both of them. I learned they are going to be first time grandparents in a few months, are planning a move to Linkoping, and then we got into all the books the three of us have read/are reading. The tea was incredible too. So many little sugary treats and a delicious jam spread.
The sauna that night was a good one in its structure, size, and company! Folke was able to join after dealing with some drama between his students and other trail walkers, Lennart was there condrantly pouring water on to get it to ‘Finnish’ standards, and the group of German/Swedes were there with their beers and cheerful attitude. Truly, the saunas drastically changed the dynamic of the trip as a whole.
When I left, I was confronted by the view of the valley and clouds backlit by a full moon. The mountains were nothing but a pitch black outline but the clouds were alive as they moved across the sky. They were this dynamic, quickly shifting mass that contrasted harshly against the featureless mountains. Backlit by the moon it was quite haunting.
I went to bed that night with my stomach and heart full to the brim.

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