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.
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.
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.
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.*