KM 47 – KM 61 – KM 74
This was an afternoon fiercely driven by purpose. And the purpose was to make it to ALESJAURE for the night. To the next camp where people were. to the place that may have a coffee for me in the morning without having to set up my stove. and to the infamous sauna, that my friend luc had told me about (‘yes it is worth it’, he’d said, and so I put the large travel towel back into my pack – I’d taken it out in one of my luggage downsizing acts).
Walk and walk and walk and walk and get yourself to that there sauna… It was very windy now, again (still?)… luckily it was tailwind. Not that I felt a push, but at least I didn’t feel a brake. One of the many elements-one-can’t-influence that I was really grateful for. It also spray rained. Another: it didn’t downpour!
The path was relatively easy, ever so slightly downhill, almost level, apart from the boulders and wet planks over muddy moors, and the scenery was wide open. Mountains on either side, we were walking through a large valley, and could see for miles… and for miles I could not see my destination, until I did… and then it was four more kilometres away.
I was still wearing all my gear… That includes my rain poncho that goes over me AND my backpack, the advantage being that the straps and all stay dry as well, but it ain’t half a nuisance… I’d only remembered it two days before leaving, it was rather bulky and probably not the most-researched of breathable-lightweight gear.
Actually, it is large and baggy, my friend Sarah calls me ‘the walking bat’ when I wear it on our walks in England’s Lake District… and with the wind today my poncho inflated like balloon… I felt more like the walking blowfish, it is what I must have looked like. It makes me smile to think of it now.
I was getting very annoyed with my walking sticks at this point, too. I’d never walked with sticks, never saw their use, truth be told. As a downhill skier I knew that when used properly they make all the difference, and people had said that I’d understand their use once on the trail. I did. This wasn’t a walk, after all, it was one big balancing act, from one stepping stone to the next – and the sticks did help me evaluate the depths of mud and streams (not that that helped on Day 1), and prevent me from tumbling down or slipping off many a time.
‘Practice walking with the sticks’, they’d said.
‘How hard can it be to hold a stick?’, the know-it-all-in-me had thought.
Well, it is harder than I thought, or didn’t bother to think about at all, to be honest. What I hadn’t factored in was that my hands and arms were not at all used to or trained to be in a grip for ten hours a day, 5 days in a row. And I got rather creative in how to hold the sticks without holding them and having them readily available to catch a sudden stumble. They were up my armpits or in my elbow creases – but bottom-line: I used them a lot, so, mainly, in the uncomfortable grip they stayed.
This was the longest day by kilometres. And I really wanted to make it, like many others did. As of 4pm I already started walking past tents being put up for the night; they looked unsteady in the middle of nowhere, it was just that windy, and in no way did they compel me to stop yet myself.
I would ask people who passed by me, or whom I passed by, where their goal was, and here, on day three, the ‘walking solo’ thing showed its upside:
Better off alone at times.
Often people would say ‘I’d like to get to Alesjaure, but I am not sure we’ll make it as some people in the group are getting tired / are injured.’
Yeah, like in life (not that this wasn’t life), there are always pros and cons to every circumstance.
You may not have to carry everything yourself, set up camp or cook alone, you may have someone to share your immediate impressions or concerns with, maybe even who would keep you warm or motivate you… but you may also have people who slow you down, weigh you down with their moods or stress you out by wanting to go faster.
Here, like in life (again, not that this wasn’t life), I was responsible only for my good self and ‘team body-and-mind’ – we would walk as far as we would make it, or as far as we would decide to make it, and at our own pace.
Our pace was slow, and steady, but we kept going until we were finally at the foot of the bridge to the Alesjaure station.
I walked into the checkpoint at 19.40.
Have I said how cold it was yet? One forgets, but it was. And I was exhausted. AND I had made myself this promise of this sauna. So the focus was to put up the tent and go to the sauna asap. I found a spot among the many tents already up. The landscape was different here, it had something disney’esque about it… rolly, mossy, and scattered on a hillside.
And in the process, I nearly took off…
Just like the previous evenings I rolled out the tent and secured it with a few strategically placed pegs all around it before threading the poles for the third dimension.
This time however my strategy didn’t hold up and as soon as the second pole was in and my tent looked like a tent, it took off when a sudden gust of wind swept in.
Like a surfer, there I stood on the hillside in the middle of a camp overlooking a lake, with my tent in both hands sailing above my head. Yes picture it.
I heard the kinds of voices that had previously comforted me in the tent beside me, chuckling away at whatever they were doing inside, obviously oblivious of my momentary awkwardness.
And just then also, a man walked by me. Our eyes locked for a moment. I think we told each other stories in silence… then he walked on, and left me tent-surfing.
Eventually the gust dropped, as did the tent.
In hindsight I can’t even say ‘how rude’ of that man. My conclusion is that at this very point where we were, after the day most of us had had, he was too exhausted to remember to offer to help, and I was too exhausted to remember to ask for help.
I changed into my evening gear and rummaged for the tiny piece of soap and the shampoo sample I’d brought along ‘just incase’ but hadn’t yet used, found the large towel and took myself to the sauna. I could barely walk, it was quite funny.
Finally I got to wear the crocs I’d purchased especially for this trip. ‘Get crocs to wear at camp’, my advisors had said, ‘when you take your boots off, they are sturdy, can be worn with socks and are super light’. So far I hadn’t yet ‘walked around camp’.
I wasn’t walking now either, I was wobbling. My legs were like jelly, and clearly my feet had gotten used to being supported all around. I felt like a turkey as I made my way to the sauna, which was inconveniently, yet typically for this journey, located a walk away, down the hill and over some stones by the lakeside. In a picturesque setting, of course.
The sauna story
I’ve been in a Swedish sauna before, when my brother Raoul and my friend Sarah and I visited our friends, my other brother, Gustav and his girlfriend Theresa, in their cottage on an island outside Stockholm a few years back. I loved it, he served us Veuve Cliquot inside. The things this girl remembers…
So here, in Alesjaure, a man was chopping wood outside – sh*t, yeah, the ‘Wanderpass’ said one had to chop one’s own wood…! I decided that surely there’d be enough strong men in this hut that I wouldn’t have to start this now, too.
Doing something new to you but that seems established to others is a bit like getting gas for your car in a country you’ve never done that in.
First, I have a look and see how things are done here. In some countries you fill up yourself, in others there is a warden who does it. In some you must pay first, in others you pay after. In some it doesn’t matter if you place your petrol tank lid on the side of the pump, in others the hose is too short to go around the car… so if you don’t evaluate the situation first, you can find yourself in clumsy situations and maneuvering around in everyone’s way – or, as in Martine and my case somewhere in California, being shouted orders at via the loudspeaker.
It is never really a biggy, but sometimes it is nice to not put oneself into the spotlight as the rookie.
So what I saw was a wooden cottage with a porch. On the porch there were lots of shoes and crocs, three big barrels of water, and a half dressed man throwing water over himself. (Hmmmm was this what they’d meant by ‘you can wash at the sauna?’.)
The man said I could go in, so I opened the door and was greeted by a lot of steam and, as it settled, a cluster of stark naked men. I hastily, and I think accidentally loudly, closed the door again, slightly embarrassed. I don’t see myself as particularly prude, however I’m also not one to want to step right into a sauna fully clothed. A second glance however confirmed that this was, in fact, the changing room.
From there, and in the nude, I proceeded through the second door, into a smaller room. To the left there was a door, to the actual sauna, where a man was waiting his turn to enter, and in the far left corner there was a wood burning stove with a big barrel heating water on it… next to it were two large buckets with cold water (all the water, by the way, in these stations was taken from the streams, or this case I suspected, the lake). Along the wall to the right, which had a window in it, there was a counter on which there were metal bowls that women and men of all shapes and sizes were using to wash themselves.
The scene had something of a plastic romantic post-impressionist Gaugin Cézanne-like painting… not sure I got my artistic periods right, but it had something serenely peaceful and simple about it, so very relieving and beautiful. The bliss of a wash.
I’d never washed with an audience or in such full company before; that said, nobody was watching anyone, everything was natural and normal and perfect. And I won’t lie: first wash in three days, it felt amazing! After the wash, and while waiting my turn for the sauna, I chatted to a Swedish man, we exchanged our stories. As one does.
The sauna, behind door three, was another tiny room with a big window, a wood burning stove in the corner, and a bleachers-like bench construction on three levels for a total of 12 people. I just remember a blur of warmth seeping in and that soothing sound of voices speaking gibberish around me, a mix of languages I do and don’t understand, and just settling into it all for a moment in time – so so happy.
The simple things, and life’s little pleasures.
Warm, clean and dry back in my little nest that stood still, mostly, I felt good. Tired, and good! We’d done it! I was over the hill! Literally!
Pride kicked in. I’d managed to make it to my goal on my self-assigned biggest day! I was over the pass. And the trail was going downhill from here. I was 19km past halfway, AND the last two days were going to have stretches of less than 20km each. YEAH, peanuts! And very soon I could get back online and tell everyone about all this!
I was on the up now that things started going downhill!
I journaled, continued my letter to my injured buddy, and opened the little card from Michèle marked Day 3.
Once again, it stunned and appeased me how spot on she was with her messages; how did she know?
“Sometimes this is all you need”
The visual had a rainbow on it,
not unlike the view I’d walked into that afternoon.
My lowest low of that very same morning in Sälka seemed so very far away, and these words must have been whispered to me through some divine power – and yes, now I was proud!