Here we are, at the start line. OMG it is really happening; it had been happening for months, only now I was here, At the starting point of the FJÄLLRÄVEN CLASSIC 2017 in a station called Nikkaluokta in the back-of-beyond of Northern Sweden – about to head out to the backer-of-beyonder of Northern Sweden on foot and with an 18kg backpack on my back.
The energy at the start line was electric and calm.
I was beginning my walk with Group 5, at 13.00 on 12 August. As far as I could make out, there were 9 starting groups over three days, I guess to spread out the crowds – apparently some 2000 hikers do this trek every year in the same 10 days.
I was starting with my fun and fun-loving travel and start buddies Luc, who organised and booked it all for me, and his mate Kristof. They were brilliant, they brought me to where I needed to be in lightness and laughter; they provided cheeky beers on the night before, helped with last minute gps-watch adjustments and gave answers to so many of my questions. And I had loads. We were clear about not walking together, for they were on a mission to finish in 4 days, a man-challenge thing from what I could tell.
I was focussed on finishing in 5 days – because that is how long Luc had reckoned we would need when he booked a room at the hostel at the arrival. The prospect of that very room at the end of five days would keep me going going going the next five days.
My buddy was not with me. My friend whose dream this hike is and who managed to spark my eagerness for it with her own fiery enthusiasm, sadly had to cancel out a few weeks before due to an injury. I understood and totally encouraged her not to set off injured, however her cancelling out was somewhat of a deal for me as it did leave me with the question for my good self:
LAURA, will you still do this on your own?
Look, I’d never done a thing remotely like this, though I had elements of what this was, and luckily so.
1- I have travelled alone, lots. I’ve been to Australia, the Philippines, India, the States, South Africa, countless European cities, Ecuador, ohh I’ve been alone to more places I can remember, and I will always encourage everyone to travel alone at some point in their lives – it is part of the getting-to-know-yourself process, and I know that I am always going to be fine and I am never really alone.
2- I have camped. I have put up tents, big tents and little tents, I’ve put them up and taken them down in sunshine and rain, day and dark, warm and cold. And I have slept in them, I know the basics of keeping warm and being comfortable in simple conditions.
3- I have walked. Well, I thought I had walked. I love walking. And hiking. I do my little tours in my boots.
4- I tend to ‘do something new’ more than the once a year they tell you to, I’m that nosey by nature.
But I’ve never done all together; carry my tent and gear through cold over an average of 22km per day by myself for the first time ever.
More to the point on my very personal level and referring to point 1: I had made a promise to myself just months before to not go to amazing places on my own again. I’d spent the days after my 40th birthday in an impossibly romantic tented safari camp outside Kruger National Park in South Africa, where the tables were lovingly laid for two – except the one, which was laid for one, mine. While I was perfectly content and grateful, I decided then and there that it was time to move on and find company for my amazing life.
So what would I do now? Honour my promise to myself or give it a shot anyway?
My friends got me. So many people would even say ‘I’d come, if I’d known sooner’, or ‘I’d come, if it weren’t for the sleeping in a tent’, ‘I’d come, if it weren’t for pooping in nature’, ‘I know someone who might be up for it’, or, best ever, ‘I’d come, if it weren’t for all the walking’. My people all have my back and gave me various words of encouragement.
Some spoke the voices of the cheerleaders
‘Yeah, you can do it, it’ll be amazing!!’
others said out loud what I was feeling inside
‘I’m worried for you, this is a huge deal, and you don’t need to do it, you do not need to prove anything to anyone!’.
Every word of advice was deeply appreciated, yet, at the end of the day, this decision was down to me, and seeing as I now had the time off work, I’d invested in all the gear, invested in all the training, mental and physical, and told so many people about it…
…I decided to, YES, start.