km74 – km92
yes! here it is, the hills are now alive, lalllallallalllllllll and enter: the holiday part of this trip – sunshine, company, laughter, lightness. my THE Inverted HANGOVER concept was already proving right, I was feeling proud and, yeah, badass… I love being badass in the chica kinda way. ‘WTF?’ was swinging over to ‘ohhh I think I like it’!. But first: get through the night!
Yes, I was alive. I don’t want to sound morbid, or overdramatic. It’s just that I keep learning that these journeys, all journeys, have ways of presenting us with ‘surprising happenings that make for stories after’, but that can be a little bit worrying, even potentially dangerous, in the moment.
Such as two 20-year old girls from Luxembourg walking back to their youth hostel in Las Vegas to save money late one night, way beyond the strip, cars slowing as they passed, men rolling down their windows and making straightforward offers…
Or that ride on a night bus from Potosi to La Paz in Bolivia, with my cousin Marianne and lots of indigenous locals, that stopped in the middle of the desert for no apparent reason, with the driver not responding to our requests to explain or to open the door.
I have many stories like that…
The situations are a tad scary in the moment, because ‘these stories could go, and have gone for others that one reads about in newspapers, anywhere’ – they are the ones that one comments on with ‘well that was a silly thing to do in the first place anyway, they could’ve known better‘.
They become stories to tell once safe and looking back on them,
and they make for another chip on the shoulder of experience.
(note: the bus in Bolivia had stopped because we were on a dirt road, there had been floods and the driver of our bus, like the drivers of all the other busses we saw at daybreak, could not see where to cross through the river in the dark. So everyone waited for daylight to continue – of course.)
And here came in a new one of those for me:
I woke up in the middle of the zero-degrees outside night in a tent in the back of beyond in Swedish Lapland with no feeling in either arms or fingers. Total numbness, it was so very disconcerting. And in my sleepiness, my initial troubleshooting didn’t get me any further than ‘OMG this is it‘, this is where this story will end.
Then: ‘maybe it is because you are sleeping on a slant with your head facing down‘ – no blood in the upper body; in the middle of the night, that seemed plausible to me…
I decided to turn around. Only I couldn’t open the zip of my sleeping bag due to my condition of numbness in both hands, so I turned around in my mummy-state, not unlike a breakdance move, twisting on my bum only and not able to lean on my arms for support… The thing is, the tent was tiny, it was rather full with my stuff on either side of me, and to top it off, this was the night I’d had a lightbulb idea to use the silver rescue blanked I’d brought along (oh yes, it was still very cold), so it was creaking and rattling loudly in the process. Yes, picture it. Funny in hindsight, as I say.
I was fine by morning, so the drama in the night stays only a little part of the story, and the numbness only stayed in one finger – which was enough for me to keep walking. I did however enquire with the guys at the checkpoint if they had doctors or nurses around, and they confirmed that they did. This was a relief to me, worst case: I’d see the ones at the next checkpoint in Kieron. The man was actually very kind and kept asking questions even after I’d said I was fine. Maybe he was a nurse or doctor in disguise?
Then came the second best coffee ever – the first having been in Sälka the previous morning, a lifetime ago…
I went about my ritual of having my muesli, packing up, visiting the facilities and treating myself to a coffee at the mountain station before leaving. This time I used my own cup, which I’d bought in celebration for all the good coffees I’d be having on my big walk (I was carrying 4 bags of proper good filter coffee for camping, 20gr each, just add water – none of them were used on the trail). And I got me a cinnamon roll – it’s the law in Scandinavia, and if they have them out here in the back of beyond, who am I to not buy one?
I sat down at a table with two Swedish men and we got chatting. We talked about gear. And pack weight. These kind gentlemen turned out to be übergeeks in my own vocabulary. This was not their first rodeo, or trek, so to say, and over time they had been acquiring more efficient and lightweight gear and they were now down to 10kg each, before food and water. One of them lifted my mug and said ‘this weighs as much as my entire kitchen‘ (that would be the stove and the pot and the mug, I reckon) – HOW does one do this??? I think, one spends a lot of time researching, and one spends a lot of money. I took a few tips from them, such as: wear less clothes while hiking, and put on the warm stuff at breaks… I’d put on ALL my stuff for hiking and didn’t take off or put on anything in breaks… it made sense to me.
Another DUH moment for the rookie hiker!
We set off from Alesjaure pretty much together at 9.45am, and as I heaved my big backpack on my back I couldn’t help but let the thought cross my mind that these fit strong men could be gentlemen and swap their 10kg mini-packs with me… then again, as my mother always says
‘Never take more luggage than you can handle by yourself’ – I knew this also applies to hiking.
Onwards to Kieron: only 18km, no uphill
Lightness and feeling alive, the nutshell of Good Day 4.
About 3km after setting off I dared take off my rain jacket, which was really cool because it was a heavy duty rain jacket my friend Sander lent me (THANK GOD) a day before leaving – it served me very well, however it didn’t colour-coordinate with my cool Fjällräven pink pants!
Fjällräven really has a cool brand marketing going, awesome into-the-wild photos, subtly inspiring a desire-to-go (note: I write this from my own accord, I have not been paid to say this ;)) Many people were wearing the G1000 pants (these, as I learned in preparation, again from Luc, who I have since named the godfather of my Fjällräven Classic adventure, are to be treated with wax for waterproofing – which I’d duly done), and it did have a tribal feel to me…
‘us with the same heavy duty badass adventure pants’.
The first part of the trail lead past a big lake, it was stunning scenery, oh the stuff dreams are made of.
People were opening up, looking up. Once the cold and rain lifted, I started seeing faces. We still had to look down to check where to put the next step, but one was more inclined to look up during breaks. Also, when we passed and hej hej‘ed each other, I could now see faces as they were no longer packed in buffs, hats, caps, hoods and the likes.
hey and hej hej… the words I used and heard most in my five days on My Big Walk, with every person I passed or was passed by. Especially on the cold and harsh days, a ‘hey’ and a ‘hej hej’ meant more than just ‘hello’. It meant so many things, such as ‘you are not alone’, and ‘you’re doing great’, and ‘keep going’ and ‘I see you’ and ‘lookin’ good’ and whatever I really wanted to hear in that moment was right there in the ‘hej hej’. Only one time a person didn’t say ‘hej hej’; he was one of the, relatively, few people who were walking in the opposite direction… I wondered and let a tiny bit of sadness and anger in until it occurred to me that maybe, MAYBE, he was saying ‘hej hej’ way more often than I was, seeing as he was meeting every single one of the 2000 Fjällräven Classic walkers going the other way… I decided it was ok for the people walking against the flow to drop one or the other ‘hej’.
I bumped into my friends from the loo line at Tjäktja late that morning, Edith, Sue and David from Nottinghamshire. Fun to meet friends, and we walked together for a little while.
There is this unwritten code of conduct on the trail, at least in my eyes, by which you walk together for a minute or an hour or a day, for as long as speed and energies align, then you push on or fall back, and that is ok.
I ran my theory of the inverted hangover by Edith, and she said that
‘yeah, it’s a bit like childbirth – you forget the pain’.
They invited me to lunch, ‘but it’s BYO’ – bring your own, I accepted gladly, my first meal in company. David and Sue found a gorgeous spot on a hillside by the lake, sheltered from the wind. Company, chats, and food in the great beautiful outdoors. YES!
With good weather comes good mood, and yes, my cheeky and selfie-taking self came out to play!
At one point I found myself doing a wheel pose on a rock, the one I’d been dying to do since day one to stretch that poor spine of mine that has been carrying this crazy load. It had been too cold outside (too many clothes to even be inspired to bend backwards that far), and too confined in the tent, until now. BUT OH WHAT BLISS! A man and his dad walked by and said ‘it looked like you were on your head’ and I was like ‘gimme a minute’… Such fun!
Walking was fun, the backpack was still heavy – heavier still, as the cold weather clothes were now in it again.
But this was the day I started writing my book.
So far, I’d not seen the interest in sharing any of my thinkings, so eager to make it through the experience. And I hadn’t seen how the dots would connect into a story. I’m a firm follower of Steve Jobs’ ‘Trust that the dots will connect in hindsight’ – everything happens for a reason, at least in my experience. And things were now falling into place here, too.
I was still not sure what was falling into which place and why, but I was starting to feel the tickle to write about all this.
And this feeling of my creativity coming back to life gave my steps an extra spring!
A few kilometres before the Kieron checkpoint we entered the tree line again, and the path went steeply downhill. Then it appeared like an oasis; first I heard people chatting, then I saw people bathing feet and selves in a river, then I saw tents…
Crossing the bridge was like crossing a border, from there to here, from Swedish Lapland to home, from the adventure to luxury, from day 4 to the last day.
Crossing this bridge, like all the bridges on the track, hanging bouncily over rivers, also reminded me of how far I’d come in my own growth.
My close friends know how big this is for me, I have a very incapacitating fear of heights… cousin Martine knows best, she is my early days travel buddy and a civil engineer with a love for bridges and heights, and over the years we have been avoiding and facing my fears together.
My stomach still crisps up when I think of my first BIG win and walked myself over the Golden Gate bridge (I just walked, I felt like rolling over the sides, and I would not move to the left or to the right, not even to let couples by – they had to let go of each others’ hands or step aside, but I did it!)… the next big step was a chapter (or book) of its own, and it happened in my leadership training-cum-bootcamp in Spain, with my fellow tribe mates as witnesses and co-leaders of my climb. A year after that, my dear friend Romain handed me a glass of champagne at the top of the Eiffel tower (I’d lived near the Eiffel Tower for 3 years without going up it, until, one day, 13 years after leaving, it was just ‘that next step to take’)…
So my crossing these bouncy bridges on my own and, actually, without even giving it a thought, on the Kungsleden is a huge success for me in my overcoming my fear of heights, and once again, it is ‘dots connecting’ – all the little ‘face your fear’ steps needed to happen for me to not freeze at the first one here and stop my adventure at kilometre 10; and I had all my ‘height’ coaches with me in my heart every single time.
Kieron Checkpoint was like a festival camp!
It was a short day for many of us, so there were lots of tents up already when I arrived at 17.30. Also, the Abisko National Park gates were just a few kilometres ahead, this was the only place on the trek that wild camping was not allowed… so either camp here, or continue 18km to the finish.
It was warm and sunny and the Fjällräven people were handing out free pancakes and coffee. They have to bring all these things in by helicopter, one must remember. There was a festive mood here, and it was nice to be around people.
See, there are many nice things about being offline
That there was no phone network on the trail, so for me for my five days, was a big deal, and probably one of the best things about this whole journey for me.
For one, somehow time stands stiller… apart from not knowing ‘what is going on in the world elsewhere than the exact place I am in right now’, I really got used to the freedom from that reflex to constantly look at the phone.
Also, I found that my personal processing got a greater chance to do its thing. I’m not saying to keep everything locked up forever, I’ve been working way too hard at taking down the big wall around my heart to make such a claim, yet I do see the benefit of self-processing before sharing. Here, I would have reached out in the Blizzard night, and I would have worried the people who care the most about me and… I would have missed out on just being in the moment, for better and for worse, and the pride that followed.
And then there is something to be said about the anticipation for what might be waiting for me in the message world once I do come back online – like ‘Schrödinger’s cat’, anything is possible until then. He may have written, lots of people may have written, nobody may have written… all possible.
But the most surprising effect of having the phones off was the collectivity of it. People weren’t staring down at their device the way someone always does these days.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the global easiness of instant communications today; I live entire relationships via them that I may prefer to live out loud and in person, but that for whichever twist of fate, choice or geography isn’t happening.
But it was really really nice to see mankind again, looking up, looking out, into the big wide open, into faces… chatting, or not, the way we were…
…before we all got so connected.
I didn’t realise how much I missed that, I missed you, mankind, I miss us like that.
I set up my tent at the far side of the festival camp.
This was the last time I’d have to pitch it and as a reward it was sunny, there was barely any wind and: I could take my jacket off, and didn’t get frostbite in my fingers. Oh this is what camping should be like!
I took off my boots and walked down for one of the best moments on the whole entire journey: MY FIRST FOOT BATH in the icy cold river!
I bumped into Emily-sunshine, from the loo line, and her brother, on my way down there – they’d done just the same thing, bathing feet and cooling blisters.
When I returned to my nest, I lit an incense stick and stuck it into the ground outside my tent while I boiled some water for dinner – another of my ingenious bringings and wisdom from India: mosquitoes don’t like incense sticks and they are really light weight in luggage!
Here is where I shall admit to not having told the entire truth in my arrival messages the next day, I’d said that I only had one blister to report, that was a lie. I came out of the Fjällräven Classic with two blisters: one on my right heel from day 1, one on my right middle finger from day 4 – from when I pressed a lit incense stick into the ground, top down. Silly me 🙂
And finally, the log fire!
Oh yes, we were below the tree line, there was dead wood lying around, and men were making fires. And I was invited to my neighbours’! YAY! Two meals in company in one day, this one was with Jörg, Thill and Kai from Germany, a fun group of men – it was so nice to chat and share stories. This is where I first worded my ‘story’ as being a result of my general excitability. They’d accidentally hiked up to the glacier on the first day, I fell into the river on the first day… it just did good to talk again, and laugh. And tea, they made me a cup of tea, with fresh sage leaves brought from home. Everyone has their little ingenious bringings.
See, with the cold of the previous nights there was no evening togetherness at the camps, except in the loo lines and that one sauna. People weren’t sitting outside their tents or meeting around a fire… people took refuge inside their tents as soon as possible.
This evening here was brilliant and it was how I’d visualised them all to be when we’d say before I left ‘you’ll meet loads of people!‘.
I thank all the circumstances for giving us this one night, perfectly placed on the last!
Oh this was a good day; I felt good and I smiled as I settled into ‘bed’, journaled, wrote to Antje… and opened my card from Michèle.
Spontaneity is the best kind of adventure!
‘… and remember why you even started.
Pure mischief and excitability, and yes, spontaneity it was.
Yeah girl, you’re totally doing this! Badass chica in the wild x