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.

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.

Kungsleden Day 3: Tjaka

Friday, September 5th started off great because I wasnt laying at the bottom of my tent when I woke up! I can check off “tenting on an incline” off my bucket list. Trust me, its one of those things you dont need to do more than once. Or at all, if I am being completely honest.
After the way the hike to Alesjaure went the day before, I was eager to get on the trail to Tjalka. The weather seemed to have eased up significantly but it was still pretty dreary.
The 15k was once again not very physically challenging in either technical difficulty or incline. I once again fell into my musical rhythm but tried to break up my set so I could do more to appreciate my surroundings. I was glad I did, for I was rewarded with gorgeous views of the valley and my first reindeer sighting! I had missed them the day before so was very happy to have finally seen some. I also noticed a multitude of mouse-like creatures that populated the areas under the wooden boards erected for trekkers ease of passage. Never more than a flash of orange and gray, I would later find out these were lemmings.
I arrived at the Tjalka hut in a very cheerful state. I had spent the entire four hours of the hike alone on the trail and hadn’t let the weather get me down like I had yesterday. Situated on a ridge overlooking a very impressive waterfall (which you had to cross on a suspension bridge one at a time) the hut was far and away in the most beautiful setting of the three so far.
When I entered the hut, I was followed almost immediately by an elderly woman who turned out to be the hut host. She had been waiting for me it felt like. Before I could even set my pack down and shed my waterproofs she was asking me about where I wanted to stay and where my money was. Bitch, back off. At one point I actually physical contact with her as I was taking off my jacket. She was that overbearing. I was practically pushed into the drying room where I was shown exactly where I could put my things and for how long. Feeling quite invaded, I politely tried to explain I would like a few minutes to relax and dry off. During this conversation I realized I was facing the first significant language barrier of my entire trip. Doing my best to not be that tourist from the States who gets shitty when people don’t have complete, perfect knowledge of English when they themselves dont know a lick of a second language, I explained to her that I was tenting but would be happy to pay the fee to use the hut facilities. I asked if I could make lunch before digging my wallet out, to which she replied I could. She then asked me if I was ready to pay every three minutes while I cooked and ate. Oy.
Her next trick would be to kick me out of the hut. While making lunch I had joined into a conversation with a solo German hiker and a group of four from the UK. After I was done eating I sat inside like I had at the previous huts enjoying their company and conversation until the hut host walked right up to me and said, “You have to go.”
Excuse me?
She then went on to show me that in the fine details of the tenter fee it was stated that tenters are allowed two hours inside the hut while they cook. And my two hours were up. It was obvious she was trying to clear room for two large groups that were coming but even when I told her I would leave when they got there/take my dry room clothes down/not cook when they were cooking she still said I had to get out. I was completelt dumbfounded by this woman’s strict, literal enforcement of rules when the typical person in that environment is so easy going and friendly. I fought the urge to throw her and her rule book into the waterfall the entire way out of the hut. When I left, the only people left in the hut were the four people I was sitting with.
In reality the situation the host kicked me out into was far from rough, but it was the way she did it and how unnecessary it was that had me irritated. I headed back to the tent where I read for a few hours (something I hadnt done in a long time). It was very nice.
I headed back to the hut to cook dinner when I felt the host would have either forgotten my face or turned into a fossil. I put a hat on just in case though. I rejoined the same group as before and we had a good many laughs at the hosts sake. I know she was just an old lonely woman doing her job the way it was supposed to be done, but fuck thats a boring existence following (and enforcing) every rule you cross paths with.
I was thoroughly happy to have an even, grassy campsite that evening. All I had to do was make sure the wolverine that lived in the cliffside didnt decide to enjoy it with me. No joke, they had pictures and an article about it in the hut. Think “honey badger dont give a fuck” and that is what was living literally 100 meters away from me. Somewhere. Sleep tight, Benny Boy.

Kungsleden Day 2: Alesjaure

Thursday, September 4th was not one of the best days for this guy.
The morning started off well enough. I had slept well and despite some overnight showers I was dry and happy.
I got on the trail quickly as it was one of the longest days of the trail at 22k. Plus, the forecast wasn’t the best and I wanted to get the trek in before things got nasty. I spent about 20 minutes going in a circle around the campsite because I first followed the snowmobile/cross country skiing route (impassable at this point in time) and then second guessed if I was headed the right way. Turns out I was, but I guess my nerves about this being my longest hike were getting to me a bit.
Once I pointed my boots the right way down the trail, I was off. My naturally quick walk paired up with being a solo hiker and I was moving at a very quick pace.
I fell into my rhythm and, once there, I zoned out quick. The sound of my boots hitting the ground formed a 4/4 time through which I experienced the world. My boots carried the bass line and my walking sticks joined in on every second beat as the percussion but instead of a drum kit they played off the rocks, wood, moss, and mud. Listening to this music, my thoughts soon filled in the for the vocals.
For those of you who haven’t picked up on it, I have been dealing with some significant internal struggle about what to do with my life and how to get from the person I am today to the person I want to be. Alone on the trail, I faced this struggle head on. Looking back, I missed out on a lot of the landscape at some points along the Kungsleden due to this. Moving alone to the rythym of my body, I zoned out to look for some of the answers I have been looking for. And whats crazy is that those inner debates are some of the best brain storming sessions I have ever had in my life. This shit works, people!
And then nature got jealous it didnt have a part in my music.
Without warning, the tolerable drizzling turned into full blown showers which was transformed into mic static against the hood of my jacket interupting my thought vocals. Then the bass and percussion was drowned out by the big brass gusts of wind shouting to the sky that they were there no longer content to play background noise but wanted a solo.
The hike soon turned into ‘get to the hut as fast as possible’ because, despite myself, I absolutely loathed being out there in the wind and rain. Before you pass judgment and say I didnt fully embrace the amazing opportunity I was in, go stand behind a jet engine with a garden hose on the other end for three hours. If you enjoy it, I will gladly accept whatever critique you wish to give. But you won’t.
The hike was still incredible. I followed the same river as the first day into a mountain valley. The birch forest was replaced by fields of moss and lichen. Boulders dotted the landscape and at several points actually made up the ground I was walking along! Looking back I can appreciate (kinda) the weather as impressive demonstrations of nature and I was happy to see that the Kungsleden has much more vibrant wildlife than Iceland. At one point I scared up a flock of birds that I didn’t even know were there until they took off. Hows that for a miscued brass note in the middle of a song?
When I finally arrived in Alesjaure five hours and 45 minutes later, I was soaked through (the ironic thing about water proof clothing is that you get soaked from sweat instead of rain when you wear it) and wanted nothing more than to enjoy another beer special. I was disappointed to find that their fire sale of beer had been so successful they no longer had any beer at all. Although I did find a copy of Josephus’ Bellum Judeicum in the book exchange that the host graciously let me take despite being unable to contribute a book back (hadn’t finished my current book at that moment and had other plans for it once I was done).
The campsite selection was pretty dismal, as the true campsite was very exposed to the rain and especially wind, so I decided to brave a more inclined location in order for more protection from the elements. I maintain it was the best decision I could’ve made, although it would limit the positions I could sleep in without rolling to the bottom of my tent. Adventure, huh?
The sauna was once again used to great length that evening. The trip to the river was a slippery wooden staircase that proved to be quite treacherous, but also provided some good laughs if you weren’t the one trying to navigate it. Already the relations between myself and the groups I was sharing the trail with were moving from strangers to friends. After the rough weather all day, it was a definite high note to laugh and let the steam of the sauna pull the stress out of my body.
Sleep came quickly due to the long day despite not being able to lay on my right side for fear of rolling down the hill into the lake.