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.

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.

image

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.

image

Hole #1


image

Hole #2

image

Hole #3


image

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 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.

Kungsleden Day 1: Abisko and Abiskojaure

Wednesday, September 3rd was a busy day for me.
After a 15 hour overnight train (where I was finally able to master sleeping in the two small seats), I arrived at the Abisko tourist station. My plan was to stay the evening there and head out on the Kungsleden in the morning. I wandered into the info center/restaurant/hotel where I bummed some wifi and ate some lunch. The entire time I was thinking to myself how the first section of the hike wasnt that strenuous, I still had almost the entire afternoon, and I had nothing better to do. So, I started off. The worst that could happen is I had an extra day on the back end and the best thing would be the ability to fit a side trip or stopover on my way back south.
The hike from Abisko tourist station to Abiskojaure was about 15k and I made it in just over three hours. Departing around 2pm, I had some slight rain and overcast skies accompanying me as I trekked through the birch forests of Swedish Lapland. The entire trail was insanely well marked by large, red wooden ‘X’s. Located in a wildlife protection area, the trail ran parallel to a large river. Several suspension bridges were needed to make the route, which varied from hard pack to marsh. For the marshy parts, there were wooden planks to keep feet dry and happy. Some boards were in better shape than others (the bad boards were arguably more hazardous than the marsh they were supposedly protecting you from) and I couldnt help but feel like Frodo on his walk to Mt. Doom. Except I am not a hobbit and instead of Mordor the mountains that surrounded me just led to Norway. Anyways…
The campsite of Abiskojaure was very nice. Very different from the sites I had experienced in Iceland. I found a spot that was relatively sheltered from the wind by one of the huts. Not familiar with how lax the hut hosts were with fees (turns out they were VERY lax) I went to pay and discovered they were having a wonderful special on beer and potato chips! It turns out the hut was extremely overstocked in beer and, this close to the season, they either had to put closeout sale prices on it or pour it into the woods. Two beers for 10 SEK is unheard of. The bag of crisps was just a bonus I suppose. Also, I blame the beard on making the hut host think I am over 25. Without realizing it I was charged an adult fee instead of the youth that I deserved, dammit!
At Abiskojaure they had a separate hut for tenters so I was able to meet a few good lads over dinner. A German father and son, Carston and Lenart, as well as a Swedish teacher, Folke.
After dinner I took full part in the sauna on premises. What a glorious thing, a sauna. In its own building complete with washing area, it was a traditional wood burning sauna that was quite popular among the trekkers. My paths crossed once again with Lenart and Folke as well as a large group of Swedes and Germans who were all traveling together. Extreme heat and beer are a wicked combo after three hours of physical activity. I ran back and forth to the river three times, each time willing myself to put more of my body into the freezing cold water. Plus, I was able to grab an unexpected shower at the end!
Writing in my journal to candlelight, I had to laugh at how quickly I had gone from the comfortable, wifi enabled, civilized world to what was easily the most remote place I had ever been. I laughed even more when I realized how comfortable I was. Maybe this is the life for me. I raided the leftover food cabinet, inherited a small mouthed Nalgene bottle (!!!!!!!), and then headed to bed remarkably clean and refreshed.
See you tomorrow, Alesjaure.