Good Day 4 – alive and coming out to play

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…

second best coffee ever - and a gear chat with experts. How can an entire camp kitchen weigh as much as my mug alone?

second best coffee ever – and a gear chat with experts. How can an entire camp kitchen weigh as much as my mug alone?

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!

upside down views - playful in my cool pink pants, finally to be properly enjoyed on Day 4 when I could walk without the rain trousers over them, or the red rain jacket that didn't colour-coordinate.

upside down views – playful in my cool pink pants, finally to be properly enjoyed on Day 4 when I could walk without the rain trousers over them.

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.

picture postcards - things I would like to do with you...

picture postcards – things I would like to do with you…

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’.

Aw buddy…

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!

lunch break YES PLEASE

lunch break YES PLEASE

And onwards.

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 the bridge to Kieron - arriving and connecting dots

Crossing the bridge to Kieron – arriving and connecting dots

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.

Pancakes and coffee at Kieron Checkpoint! Thank you!

Pancakes and coffee at Kieron Checkpoint! Thank you!

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

Kieron checkpoint festival - people, sunshine, pancakes, coffee, chats, laughter... togetherness.

Kieron checkpoint festival – people, sunshine, pancakes, coffee, chats, laughter… togetherness.

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.

My tent site at warm and sunny Kieron

My tent site at warm and sunny Kieron

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!

My dear feet - you did it! Best moment ever!

My dear feet – you did it! Best moment ever!

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.

The evening boot shot was a croc shot on Day 4 as the boots came off way before I got into my tent! A sign of good weather.

The evening boot shot was a croc shot on Day 4 as the boots came off way before I got into my tent! A sign of good weather.

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!

Spontaneity is the best kind of adventure

Spontaneity is the best kind of adventure

 

‘… and remember why you even started.

GO GIRL!!!’

Pure mischief and excitability, and yes, spontaneity it was.

Yeah girl, you’re totally doing this! Badass chica in the wild x

Day 2 – the inverted hangover

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?’


Good morning World!

Good morning World! Not matter what time I got up, there was always already that comforting string of people and colourful backpacks walking on by.

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!

breakfast of home-mixed mueslis

breakfast of home-mixed mueslis

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.

And onwards!

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.

Typical Kungsleden - the Swedish Royal Trail; the rocks are the path

Typical Kungsleden – the Swedish Royal Trail; the rocks are the path

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.

Walk, rest, and take in the moment

Walk, rest, and take in the moment

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.

Tent view boot shot before the best moment: taking them off. Great view, add 0 degrees and blizzard winds to it.

Tent view boot shot before the best moment: taking them off. Great view, add 0 degrees and blizzard winds to it.

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 - alles wats Du haut brauchs, hues Du schon an Dir...

Escape the Ordinary – alles wats Du haut brauchs, hues Du schon an Dir…

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

Day 1 – strong enough to finish

km 0 – km 23


 Just before leaving on MyBigWalk my friend Michèle sat me down and gave me an envelope with 5 tiny envelopes in it, each marked with Day 1 to Day 5 – I was to open one a day, she said, like an advent calendar, adding ‘I am with you all the way’.

She had no idea HOW spot on her words and with me she was, and how very very much I held onto those little envelopes I would treat myself to every evening.


So, you trained? Kristof asked me at Nikkaluokta during the wait for what felt like the never-ending start between being shipped there by bus from Kiruna, and finally starting to walk at 13.00 sharp. I proudly said YES, and proceeded on to tell my story about how I’d rediscovered my home country and my love and delight for beautiful Luxembourg, and how so many of my friends and family had stepped up and walked with me – my journey really began months ago at home.

He asked if I’d trained with the backpack and before I could elaborate how I’d done three walks of over 15km each with backpack, he took the air out of my pride by saying ‘they recommend you walk 200km with your backpack and the weight you’ll carry here – in training.’

GULP.

The heaviest my backpack in training weighed 14.6kg, now it is 18kg,

and I totalled 50km with backpack if I was generous. HOLY SH*T, what have I done? Oh well, not much I could do about it now, here we were. I had spent the last month packing my rucksack, and repacking it, carefully elaborating what I may need to walk and sleep and eat for 5 days in the rough, potentially cold and rainy Swedish lapland.

the bare minimums - selected, reevaluated and repacked over and over again

the bare minimums – selected, reevaluated and repacked over and over again

I’d never done this before, I was going by what people told me, what I’d read and an amalgamation of my life and travel experience so far. When I travel I pack last minute, I boast about only having put the things into my backpack for my three months to India 30 minutes before having to leave to the airport – but this was different, I was going to the unknown and also, there was no way to readjust the content of my stuff once en-route: I’d have to carry it, and it would have to be the right stuff. I didn’t know what the right stuff was, and what I had chosen over the months simmered down to 18kg, which was 6kg more than the suggested maximum for women. But I had NO IDEA at this point what else to take out. I must say, it is a humbling learning to put oneself into beginner’s shoes every now and then – it does the smug in us good to NOT KNOW from time to time.

 Let’s go already!

everything we need for five days in the wild in one 18kg pack each

everything we need for five days in the wild in one 18kg pack each

After applying a last coat of mosquito repellent and attaching the orange FjällrävenClassic flag (that can be seen from the rescue helicopters) to the packs, we all went and stood in the starting blocks and waited for the countdown. Oh finally, this was the moment, finally this Big Walk of mine would start and I could start to stop wondering about it, start to stop fretting over it, start to stop planning for the unknown.

…3… 2… 1… GOOOOOO!

Ready to go for a walk; 110km in Swedish Lapand ahead

Ready to go for a walk; 110km in Swedish Lapand ahead

Quick press start on the gps-watch activity tracker and off we went like a herd of cattle, boots chomp-chomp-chomping, and as a surprise to me: I got tearful.

Onwards!

The last thing I remember Luc saying to me was ‘see the red paint on the stones, that marks the trail.’ … after that, him and Kristof shot off into the horizon. I think I lost them when I stopped 5 minutes in to put the rain cover onto my backpack for the first shower. It stayed on pretty much for the rest of the hike.

Oh what bliss. Just walk. Just walk.

Colourful dots, always ahead of me, always behind me - never alone

Colourful dots, always ahead of me, always behind me – never alone

The herd spread out and turned the landscape into the pictures I knew from the internet: big wide and wild open, one little path, lots of colourful dots ahead of me, lots of colourful dots behind me. Over the next five days, they would become my comfort, this chain of dots, always there, slowly moving and meaning I was never alone.

This day was just walking. Walking away from home stuff, contemplating recent conversations and happenings, walking away from the unknown that had been on my mind and walking in the unknown.

Typical Kungsleden, Sweden's Royal Trail

Typical Kungsleden, Sweden’s Royal Trail

The path was very pretty; in the ‘low lands’, some trees, some bogs, lots and lots of stones and boulders… the wettest parts of the trail were covered by long wooden planks, most parts of the trail one walked from one stone to the next, over dry ground and over rivers and streams… it was soon evident that this was not going to be a straightforward walk, it was more of a dance and stone stepping juggling act.

The FjällrävenClassic trail map

The FjällrävenClassic trail map

I’d set myself the goal of an average of 22km per day, I really wanted to finish the 110kms on day 5!
There were checkpoints along the route, friends who’d done this before had said they would camp a few kilometres beyond the checkpoints so as to leave the crowds.
This is what I wanted to do today, too, as the checkpoint was at km19.
The walk was easy on Day 1, the weather was kind, the path light, everything was new, and the backpack and body went along well. I was quite surprised at how good I felt when I walked into the Kebnekaise checkpoint at 18.30. I got my trek passport stamp, warmed up in the teepee, made use of the last flushing toilet I’d see until my arrival in Abisko, and geared up again.

However my energy level did then drop drastically after leaving the checkpoint. It was getting late, and cold. And though it wasn’t dark, it got grey, and windy. Well, I was climbing by now, and had left the treeline. Part of me was hoping to catch up with Luc and Kristof for the night (little did I know then that they made it to the next checkpoint that evening), so I looked at all the tents that were scattered around the countryside, maybe one of them would have a Luxembourg flag on it.

“Whatever you do,

do not get the inside of your boots wet!”

Every time I told people of my adventure, I would get tips. This one came from Sander who’d done the Classic before… and I heard his voice loud and clear, echoing from the mountain tops, as I slipped off a stepping stone into a stream at km 20!

Within a split second the water gushed down the top of both my boots… and the next three kilometres I walked with a slush-slush sound coming from my feet, a lot of anger coming from my head and a bit of lurking despair as I was starting to get cold.

The obligatory tent picture, this was night 1, notice the socks drying on the walking sticks

The obligatory tent picture, this was night 1, notice the socks drying on the walking sticks

I pitched my tent in the most beautiful of all my tent spots that night, at km 23, in a valley behind the hill after the Kebnekaise checkpoint, and before the trail started going uphill to Singi. It was very windy, and this valley had lots of low shrubs, and tents emerging from their middles. I thought they may protect from the cold, and I chose a spot about 20 meters away from a man who had just finished putting his up and was taking the obligatory photo of it. He looked happy and proud, and he looked like he’d be a good neighbour.

It was gorgeous here, and still light at 8pm, it wouldn’t get dark til after 11 here way north of the artic circle in August. Cold and wind oblige, I was very efficient in my proceedings. Also, I needed to get the boots and socks off, ‘how silly silly silly Laura to get your all-important boots wet on the very first day!!’ Oh I was mad at myself.

What follows next turned into some sort of evening ritual:

1 – I hung the socks on the walking sticks and took the soles out of the boots as I made my bed and put on my thermal evening clothes. I love my thermal evening clothes. I loved them from the moment I bought them, they are cozy and they look good. The guy in the shop said I looked great in them – on My Big Walk  I couldn’t show off my great looks much, though, it being so cold, the hundreds of people around me and my good self tended to retreat into our tents as soon as they were up.

night one: culinary delights - meal-in-a-bag

night one: culinary delights – meal-in-a-bag

2 – I set up my stove and cooked some water for my meal-in-a-bag, which I didn’t like so I kept it for lunch the next day, and how ingenious was I for bringing these two items with: my thermos water bottle, well worth the extra weight because I filled it with hot water to have warm water in the morning, and my flat super light plastic bottle which I could use to carry water to camp and also: as a hot water bottle on my poor frozen feet.

3 – Foot care, following another piece of advice, this one from Luc! He suggested a dip in the cold river, but I was too cold for that so I went straight for the good cream and added my own practice: a proper foot massage. I congratulated myself for having taken that clinical massage training this year, it came in super handy. On Day 1 I also got my first and only blister, on my right heel. Covered with a compeed and it didn’t bother me henceforth.

keep warm!

keep warm!

4 – And then I settled into the warm of my little tent bubble. I journaled. And I started my letter to my injured buddy at home, I’d write her every evening. I only ever wrote a few lines, it was so cold. And I was exhausted.

And truth be told, I was lonely and starting to wonder why on earth I was in a cold tent in the middle of nowhere all by myself and realising how far away from anything I was and that the only way out was forward, with the power of my own body and mind. Would I make it?

I quietly thanked the two Danish-speaking men who put up their tent a few meters away from mine, strangers who by their sheer presence and soft voices made me feel more comfortable in my nest.


my evening treats

my evening treats

And once I was settled I treated myself to the first tiny envelope from my friend Michèle.

I almost cried when I saw the message, she could not have been more spot on for the moment:

“If you are brave enough to start,

you are strong enough to finish.”

if you are brave enough to start, you are strong enough to finish

if you are brave enough to start, you are strong enough to finish

She added that I would make it, the first day would be hard, but that all beginnings are difficult, the hardest step is the first.

I’m not alone. I re-read some of the last messages I exchanged on whatsapp before going offline – oh yes, there was no telephone network along the way – and nodded off into a really good sleep.

Day 1 – brave enough to start

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.

Luc and Kristof, my starting buddies

Luc and Kristof, my starting buddies

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.

brave enough to start

brave enough to start

 

 

 

Why are you doing this hike again?

So I signed up for a big hike. The FJÄLLRÄVEN CLASSIC, 110km through swedish lapland. here’s my story. Some of it, at least.

‘Why are you doing this again?’ – I was asked This question a number of times during my training hikes at home in Luxembourg, by my brave and time-generous friends who offered to join me on one or the other of my walks, usually on the long uphill climbs and usually out-of-breath.

It was also one of the default questions fellow hikers asked on the actual hike in sweden, though they asked with less despair or bemusement, more like ‘So, what made you sign up for this?’


Over the months, my answer boiled down to this:

‘Ohhh it is part of the mischief one gets oneself into at Christmas markets.’

So, at the Christmas Market in Luxembourg Grund one December evening, my friend told me about this friend of ours Luc who had told her about the Fjällräven Classic, a 110km hike through Swedish Lapland, and that this had always been her dream.

Now, I am very excitable by nature, and an adventure in the wild has always been on my big bucket list somewhere and under some form, so why not like this?
As the law of attraction so works, our friend Luc just happened to walk by us a few minutes later (Luxembourg IS small, but I hadn’t seen him in years), and the enthusiastic storytelling and the ‘yes yes yes me too…!’ cries continued!

Man of action, in January we get a message from Luc asking us for our mail addresses as he’d booked us and needed someplace to send the bill to.

This all happened as it needed to; literally, had he asked again before booking, I am pretty sure we would have backed out. This was, after all, a pretty big commitment for first time distance hikers… for one: it is related to a consequential budget (you need a light AND efficient pack, and that kind of good gear is expensive), and for two: it requires a hell of a lot of training.

But hey, why not, it is January, we have 8 months to go, and, in my case:

I was turning 40 this year – a perfect way to mark the coming of new age! Onwards!

If it excites you and scares you at the same time, it might be a good thing to try.

If it excites you and scares you at the same time, it might be a good thing to try.