km 23 – km 47
On day 2 I came up with the ‘inverted hangover’. i wish i could say that i was singing and dancing through the swedish mountain landscapes, which truly were stunning and breathtaking, à la julie andrews and ‘the hills are alive with the sound of music‘; in actual fact however i admit that i spent day two with three main thoughts thumping in my mind like a cacophony, or one might say… mantras.
‘foot – foot – foot‘ – there was not one step i took without feeling my feet. they didn’t hurt per se but they were very present in an uncomfortable way. ‘back – back – back‘ – same here, it didn’t hurt, but it felt weighed down, the backpack really distracted me from the hills being alive. and ‘WTF? What the hell am I doing? Why am I doing this? why would anyone do this?’
Day Two started way better than I feared it might – I’d gone to ‘bed’ slightly broken the night before, however my foot and leg massage, my few yoga stretches and probably my 10 hour sleep must have done me good: I felt good! And the sun was shining! And to my delight, the Danish voices of my neighbours were still around, and: they’d put up the yellow North Face tent I’d initially wanted for myself. I had accepted my friend Sander’s green one though, as it was 2 kg lighter, and it served me well. But how nice to see ‘my dream tent’ on the track!
My morning ritual was to get dressed, and pack my stuff back into many individual little waterproof and compressable bags and into the backpack, then have breakfast and take down the tent once it was empty. I complimented myself for my ingenious breakfasts, I’d mixed and pre-packed my favourite mueslis and seeds and superfoods of goji berries and hemp and chia and ginger and cinnamon and added some dried apples and bananas into four individual bags, one for each morning, which I then soaked in my tepid water from my thermos of the night before. Oh so clever and oh so delish.
My boots had dried sufficiently, what a relief, and I put on fresh socks. Sander had told me to dry damp socks by putting one sock in each trouser pocket – which I did now (and I confirm, by evening they were dry), and I quickly joined the flow of walkers via a spot in the river that my neighbour, the happy camper whom I’d seen taking photos the previous night, had suggested as he walked by me a few minutes earlier. Little did he know at that time how meaningful his comment was to me that very morning after wet-boot-gate, it made him one of my trek angels – he does now, we’ve met since.
The first goal was the checkpoint at Singi, at km 35, so in 12 kilometres.
I walked slower than the previous day, I was feeling my feet and shoulders, the trail was going uphill, gently but steadily, and the path was irregular, stoney, bouldery… I found my hiking style was not unlike jumping in my hometown Echternach’s dancing processing – big strides from side to side, only less elegantly and more haphazardly, as I was going from one rock to a next. It had me look down a lot, and it occupied the mind – every step required vigilance.
It is a meditation of its own, really.
After about an hour I realised I hadn’t peed since Kebnekaise – this amused me, as I hadn’t felt the need to. All night, in the morning… how unusual, and how very practical, too. Then it alarmed me, as clearly, I wasn’t drinking enough. I immediately took a break and had two more mouthfuls of the ‘Chana Masala in a bag’ from the previous night, I still didn’t like it, and I I had some water.
This is the really good thing about the Kungsleden: there are streams everywhere, and they carry fresh crystal clear water, which means there is no need to carry a lot of water and is thereby a huge advantage on weight!
I arrived at Singi (km 35) at 14.25
I know that because it is written in my ‘Wanderpass‘. Singi was a little station of the Swedish Tourist Association, a few refuge cottages for hikers (that were not to be used by any of the 2000 Fjällräven Classic participants, obviously, how would we fit in?), a dry toilet in a wooden hut, a blue Fjällräven checkpoint tent with kind volunteers registering us, a blue Fjällräven kitchen tent where they were giving out reindeer wraps – and to my joy, a vegetarian option of mushrooms and mashed potatoes and lingonberry sauce! My first proper meal since breakfast in Kiruna.
So in Singi I properly looked at the trail map for the first time.
Until then I’d only just told myself that I wanted to be done in five days and that meant walking an average of 22km per day. But suddenly it seemed useful to factor in ‘camps’ and ‘the climb to the pass’. I asked the guys at Singi about where sleeping would be favourable, they said you can pitch a tent whereever but after the pass there was a stretch that wasn’t all that great for camping. Also, I’d read somewhere that it climbing up to the pass did require some energy and that it was a good idea to start the day with it rather than have it appear in the middle or towards the end.
Whatever connections my brain made, they were good: I changed my aim from ‘making it to km 44 to making it to the camp at Sälka, being km 47’ that day, which was situated just before the climb. Also, since my first night I had decided that I took a lot of comfort from hearing voices around me and that I now wanted to stay at a camp rather than avoid the crowds – that is something to do if I were with a group or in a romantic setting, but I was neither nor here: now, I wanted the company, or at least, to feel the presence of company around me.
My awesome Garmin gps watch was my ‘best friend’, as my mother had put it when I told her I’d invested in this geeky gadget at pretty much the same time that my bestie spent a similar amount of money on sexy shoes. Mummy was right, the watch was my best friend on the trail, it gave a celebratory vibration every time I made another kilometre. Sometimes it only took 15 minutes, sometimes it didn’t vibrate for a long time. And, most importantly, it told me where I was in relation to my goal and it cheered me on like that.
The scenery on day two was outstanding.
Oh my, it was that of all the dreamy landscape photos, National Geographic, outdoor adventures, and as if taken straight out of the Things I would like to do with you blog I follow on facebook. Snow powdered mountain tops, rolling valleys, trickling streams, the big wide open, fresh air, lakes and that quiet we only get when we get far enough away from mankind’s great ‘civilzation’. Oh pure bliss.
So km 47 was my goal, and I decided I could do it.
No, actually, I decided we could do it. Yes, on day two I started talking to my body, my body was my team. The pep talk that I said out loud was:
‘My dear feet, you can do this. My good legs, you can do this. My strong back, you can do this. My strong shoulders, you can do this. My focussed mind, you can do this.
WE CAN DO THIS.’
Oh I wanted to make it to km 47. Actually, I really wanted to make it out.
No matter how amazing the scenery was, I could not get my mind off how heavy my backpack was, how cold it was, that I was going to have to set up my tent for refuge and that the only way out was going to be with my own body, walking. Every step I managed to make was bringing me closer to the finish line.
So many people had told me to ‘remember to enjoy’ and I could hear their voices as I walked and walked and walked. I evaluated with my good self if I’d regret it later… and decided that everything was just fine as it was. I had catapulted myself into this walk for whichever universal reason, and the way I was feeling right now, I really just wanted to make it out. With the weight on my back, the cold in my face, and the heaviness in my feet I had so much trouble enjoying it, and the thoughts that kept bumping in my mind where
Why the f*ck are you doing this? Who does this? Who carries 18kg of stuff around in the cold? Yeah, follow your dreams, but also, make sure you are in fact following your own dreams! Was this even my dream? Not really, if I was honest. So what was I doing here by myself now? My last salaries spent on a whole bunch of gear I may never use again. And friends, on this day I kept hearing my inner voice say: Never again!
Oh there was anger in me, and I promised myself, like I promise myself a lof of things, that this was the last time I would get myself into one of these pickles!
YES to amazing places, OH YES to adventures, but next time I find myself en-route to a South African Safari or a Northern Scandinavian Hike without company I would remind myself of this promise ‘Henceforth I will then readjust my plans and take myself to somewhere within my own comfort zone. Not this. NO LAURA! Not this.’ And I was going to brief my closest confidantes for accountability, to make sure they reminded me of this promise I made myself, way up here on the Kungsleden.
The thing is, even while I was angrily stomping (very slowly, albeit, the energy levels didn’t want to join my passionate grump – in my mind I see a sulky child purposefully leaving the room, in actual fact, I think I looked more like a weary old turtle crawling along a path), the adventurer and traveller in me already knew that
I was experiencing the typical symptoms of the ‘inverted hangover’, a term I came up with myself that day for an experience I’d made many a time before…
The inverted hangover
While we are drinking, we are having a good time – and it isn’t until the day after that we say ‘never again’, a claim we quickly forget though, latest when the next apéritif is handed our way. And this here is inverted in that during the experience I was saying ‘never again’, yet I had a slight suspicion that by the time I’d be back in comfort, and safety and the pride of having done it, I’d fall in love with it. This keeps happening to me, my entire raw food and Philippines experience back in 2012 was like this and it ended up impacting me more positively than I could ever have imagined.
I knew I was suffering from the inverted hangover.
I walked into the mountain station of Sälka at km 47 at 18.45 that day
And just as I did, it started to rain and the wind was blowing a gale – I named it The Blizzard. The colourful tents that were already up looked precarious as their sides were blowing about in the wind. I was exhausted, and I was feeling so sorry for myself.
I often, cheekily, say that the weather isn’t as bad when you dress right and just go into it. But today, I just wanted to get out of it. I’d been in it for 10 hours, well, 30 hours, and all I really wanted was to take the wet clothes off, put on my comfy clothes, and sit by a fire. Hygge is what I wanted. What I didn’t want was to open my backpack in the rain with the probable risk of getting the contents inside wet (remembering Sander’s warning ‘Whatever you do, do not get the insides of your boots wet, and do not get your stuff, especially not your sleeping bag, wet!‘), or to put up my tent in The Blizzard.
And I sure as hell was not looking forward to collecting water from the icy river, setting up my stove or sleeping in the tent. Poor Laura, what on earth was I doing here?
Standing in line for the checkpoint stamp I got chatting to the guide of one of the groups on the trail – there were a few groups from Taiwan I kept coming across, they were accompanied by Fjällräven guides. I asked her about the pass and the next stations, she said that yes, tomorrow would be the hardest day, and she told me to eat a lot. I confided in her that I’d hardly eaten at all, it had been too cold and too wet for me to stop, take a break, open my pack and the whole shebang – I just wanted to get out.
She went instantly serious on me, her eyes concerned and she insisted I eat more than my usual. And to snack a lot, and to drink.
‘YOU MUST EAT OTHERWISE YOU WON’T GET OUT.’
She was one of my trek angels. Just like the Danish men the night before. The tiny things that help.
That night, huddled in my tent, like a punished child and mouthful by mouthful, I finished the meal-in-a-bag I’d made the previous evening, then I wrapped myself up for my evening ritual. Following another piece of advice I got from a colleague just days before leaving, I put the clothes I was going to wear the next day by my feet inside my sleeping bag, so they wouldn’t be cold… it was a TOP tip! The other items that made it into my sleeping bag at nights were my thermos bottle with warm water (which I had managed to purchase as ‘three teas’ from the little shop at the station and that saved me from firing up my stove) and my phone (only useable for photos) – to keep the battery warm.
As I heard the comforting voices of my German speaking neighbours laughing (oh how nice it must be to have someone with you), I opened my card marked Day 2 from Michèle:
Escape the ordinary.
‘You already have everything you need in you,
courage and thirst for adventure, and this day, too, will be good!’
Spot on. That was uncanny.
Good night x