km92 – km 110
The last day! It was supposed to be a breezy straight-in approach, it turned out to be the hardest part of all… I Kept following the carrot of the bed and shower in the hostel in abisko, i was fuelled by getting back online and touching base with my people, and i was fuelled by that will-to-finish… only the body was now tired. This was the hardest part, and THE SONG I KEPT HUMMING WAS THE COLDPLAY ONE – the song refers to letting go, which, on some levels, I was, too… but that is another story. The video I now remembered when watching it, is about ‘just doing it’.
Good morning world!
I’d been wanting to take a photo like this from inside my tent ever since signing up for my Big Walk – it had been too cold and wet on the previous evenings and mornings for me to even have that romantic picture-taking thought, but not today, today was a good day! So I opened it all up wide and snuggled back down in my warm sleeping bag, took the photo… and took in the moment for a moment.
I started saying goodbye to my Big Walk. And hello to the lightness of knowing I’d be sleeping in a bed that night, that I wouldn’t have to pitch my tent… and ohh, I’d have a shower. Yes, I’d have a shower in the privacy of my own space. I keep repeating this, but one really does remember what it is one is grateful for when one takes oneself away from things for a while.
The Kieron festival-like campsite was a Fjällräven Classic only site, put up for the event alone – so no mountain station, just the checkpoint and loo-tents and so: there was no coffee to be bought. And that was ok, because for one I didn’t need to warm or dry up after taking down my tent, and for two, my excitement didn’t replace my coffee, but it made its urgency less urgent.
I was going home today!
Well, I was going to Abisko, where I’d cross the Finish Line of this here crazy adventure I’d slipped into. Today I was going to arrive where I’d been walking to since Day 1.
In leadership training we would always be told on the last day of our bootcamp retreats to ‘focus on still being here‘; they brought to our attention that it is easy to fast-forward to leaving a few hours later, to packing the bags, to thinking about making flights and arranging dinners, to getting back into our daily ruts and whatnot all would happen after leaving and: that is was not yet over, the last day deserved being a full day in its own rights, with our full attention.
I remembered my leadership trainer Elaine’s loving and strong voice saying this loudly as I set off, with only one thing in mind: arriving!
And maybe because I was so eager to get it over with, my body decided to ‘keep me in the moment’.
I set off from Kieron at 9 am, and I’d barely walked one kilometre when I got a headache. I don’t get many headaches anymore, but I did now. It was a migraine-like headache, and I felt nauseous. And it made me stop and take my backpack off. I stopped and took my backpack off more during the first 5 kilometres on Day 5 than during the entire previous 92kms. This had the foreboding of a long day.
All I could think of now was ‘thank god this didn’t happen any other day’ – one really is weaker when the body leaves the team.
I’d eaten and I’d slept, I reckoned this was my body just saying ‘enough already‘.
See, this really was a big deal for me. We all have our own limits to stretch; for some doing this hike is an absolute no-no, for others it was a walk in the park. For me it was a definite, mainly physical, stretch. I’d trained, but probably not as much as I should have… and with the headache I realised just how lucky I had been, how very cooperative my body had been to get me this far. I’d been tired and exhausted, but not sick or injured.
Very very lucky indeed, I said a little prayer of gratitude to the gods of the universe.
So the weather was rather nice, the day started in the sun, and it was warm enough to go without the rain jacket and my thermal hat under my cap. The path was easy, downhill or level, and basically we walked past a lake all day – I even think I remember less boulders on the trail.
And as I said, I felt really bad. Walking was like in those dreams where you walk and walk and walk and get nowhere.
I kept stopping, and at first I kept being overtaken by the same group of three jovial British men, they reminded me of the seven dwarfs singing ‘hei ho hei ho it’s home from work we go…’ because I could always here them approach me from behind, or hear them leave ahead of me. They were trek angels for sure, every time they passed we had a little laugh. Obviously, if they kept passing me, I also kept passing them. I wasn’t the only slow one that morning.
I wanted to have lunch at a clearing, my headache checklist is ‘Have you eaten enough? Drunk enough? Had enough sleep?’ (if they don’t work I dig deeper into stress and emotional levels).
Only just after setting up my stove, it fell over and my water spilled… so… I packed everything up again and walked on in search of water. For four days it was easy to find water, it just trickled down the mountains, on day 5, when I walked past the lake, the water I could get to was too moorish and shallow, and as per the instructions ‘not drinking water’ – only drink from running streams. It was, again, like in one of those films and stories, water everywhere but not reachable.
I finally stopped lakeside, filled up, and cooked my last meal-in-a-bag. I also stuck incense sticks in the ground around me, I sat there like a Buddha – it must have been a sight, and smell… but I didn’t get bitten once, not even on that fly-heavy day 5, and I did not have to use the beekeeper-like headnet, which I think looks dafter than some incense sticks.
Day 5 had major ups, apart from arriving, it was also a bit like the round of applause part at the end of a play.
It brought out so many of the characters I’d met along my walk.
Emily-sunshine and Luca hopped by with a big energetic smile. I saw my campfire neighbours trio of men. I walked by Edith and Sue and David, and I confided in them how weakly I felt when Sue said ‘I don’t want to sound like your mother, but are you eating and drinking enough?‘ – I loved her for that.
My lowest low of the day was somewhere after lunch and before km100; I felt too weak to continue, so I just lay down flat on my back on the side of the path and took a few breaths. Savasana, dead man’s pose, is one of the hardest poses in yoga because we are so unable to be still – I was very very able to be still.
I don’t know how long I lay there, when I came out of it I remembered my buddy Antje’s gift to me before I left: a bar of (organic raw, she knows what I like) chocolate ‘to have at the right moment’, that would be now.
And, serendipity-magic oblige once again, it’s wrapping came with an insightful message.
“I thank my angels and companions” – oh yes!
Trek Angels was a term brought to me by Claude while we had beers after arriving later that day. She was another Luxembourgish lady whom I happened to be sitting next to on our flight from Stockholm to Kiruna, serendipity or coïncidence, whatever one wants to believe, as they had taken another flight from Luxembourg that morning. She and her husband were doing the FjällrävenClassic for the second time, of course they knew Luc, we all met on the flight and then parted ways. They started a group ahead of us, and I met them again on Applause Day 5 a few kilometres before the arrival; they rushed past me (after giving me a bit of candied ginger to help me forward) to try to get a room at the hostel as they were finishing a days earlier than they’d planned because of the cold. Later, over beers at the Trekkers Inn after arriving, and we shared initial impressions, she told me about a book she’d read and how the author had called them ‘trek angels’.
My take is that trek angels are the momentary encounters who appear on our path at just the right time with a right message or sentiment. Often trek angels don’t know, and may never know, that they are trek angels to us.
Andras, whom I’ve since met, was a trek angel to me when he was a stranger to me, just by looking so happy and trustworthy taking a photo of his tent on that first night when I was feeling a bit lost and lonely and cold after having fallen into the river. The Danish men whose voices I heard from my tent that first night made me feel cozy and in company, I never saw their faces but they were my trek angels. The guide of the Taiwanese group who told me fiercely to eat at Sälka was a trek angel. As was the man whose lunch I got to hold on the pass. And the ladies in the loo line at Tjäkta who made me laugh out loud for the first time on the trail and confirmed that I wasn’t the only one wondering what the hell she was doing here.
So many trek angels, everywhere, all the time, the men who lit a fire next to my camp site on Day 4, the jovial Brits, Emily-sunshine… everyone who said ‘hej hej’ to me…
OH YES, there were trek angels everywhere on my Big Walk and they did me good. And yes, I am grateful to them for showing up on my path. As I am for all the seemingly inconspicuous, yet meaningful encounters (read one of my favourite posts I wrote on this thinking ‘Meandering about in Wonderland‘) I keep making in life.
And here’s to my injured travel buddy who couldn’t make the walk but showed up for me now, in a moment of physical weakness on my last day of what was to be our journey and her following her dream; she showed up as my trek angel in the little, sweet, perfect chocolate she gave me.
And as I returned to the path, I met another very important character: a young man from Hungary whose name I never got. He was wearing sweatpants and a heavy metal t-shirt, I’d noticed him on Day 1, his gear stood out (remember US with the cool Fjällräven G1000 pants). He suddenly appeared and he walked the same speed as I did. He didn’t wait for me, he didn’t chase me, we just seemed to walk the same speed. And we chatted, not much, but some, and it turned out he actually walks a lot and has even done some crazier hikes than this one. Also, he’d come all the way here by car – after arriving, he was going to ‘drive to the end of Europe’. I liked that, I like people with a name and intention for their journey.
Our encounter was light, and organic, I felt neither pressured by nor bored of him, and suddenly I noticed my headache was getting lighter.
Also, at some point he looked at me and politely said ‘I think your backpack might not be strapped correctly‘… it took me about a kilometre to react to what he said and went ‘hold up, pardon me? What doesn’t look right?‘ – he tweaked the straps a bit and… OMG, weight lifted off my back and shoulders!
Now, I am holding on to the belief that I had not been walking 100km with a badly strapped backpack, I am holding on to the belief that weight and bulk had shifted and was different today as I was wearing less of my bad weather gear than the previous day. I need to hold on to that belief because: HOLY SHIT, if it was strapped wrong all the time what a difference I could have made by simply adjusting it!!! How rookie could one be?
And we kept walking, ever so slowly. My watch that vibrated every kilometre took ages to vibrate, but it did. Kilometre by kilometre.
My company made me stop at this vista point – me still eager to just arrive would have missed it, but this grand view was basically at the beginning of my final approach and it deserved a moment.
The people I walked alongside on the final kilometres were my Hungarian buddy and an English man who was carrying two backpacks (later that evening the organisers gave him an extra shout and a gift at the Trekkers Inn party tent): he was carrying the pack of a girl who’d injured her knee the previous day. She and a friend were also among my final approach crew – just saying, the girl who was limping in pain was pretty much walking the same speed as I was: hats off to her!
I walked up a little hill at the top of which I saw the hostel, the blue Fjällräven Checkpoint tent and also a big Fjällräven signpost over the path. On the left of the hill there was bunting displaying many country flags. There was some background noise of voices, maybe music…
I did see some people, but not really. It all seemed so quiet, almost closed-down. It didn’t seem right – everybody on the trail had said
‘The finish line will be amazing, the energy will blow your mind!’
I must have missed it, OMG maybe I’m still not there!
The last time I knew we were all together, me and my companions from my last kilometres, was at the gate to the Kungsleden, Sweden’s Royal Trail, and meters away from the finish line. I have no idea where they went or what made them hold back, but I walked to and through the finish line alone – and I am very grateful for having been given that privilege.
I did this trek with many people back home and in my world holding my space and having my back,
I did this in the momentary company of fellow hikers,
and I also did this on my own.
It was good to finish on my own.
I walked towards the empty and eerily quiet Finish Line of the Fjällräven Classic in Abisko at 15.30 on 16 August 2017.
Then I heard one person clap. One person clapped for me.
And this is when I knew I’d done it. And I cried.
She was one of the checkpoint volunteers, she handed me a glass with a pink drink, I hugged her.
Everything was such a blur, the pink drink, the stamping of my Wanderpass, the receiving of my two badges and my medal…
I can’t remember receiving a medal since ski school when I was a child… I felt similarly proud.
Only I felt prouder. And so very relieved. And really really exhausted.
I stopped and saved the activity tracker on my trek bestie, I didn’t really dare stop it, afraid I might press the wrong button and loose all the information. This watch can do way more than I know how to… So I took one last photo of the screen. ONLY NOW, looking at the photo in my blog, am I noticing the round number 111.1 kms and also the 37 hours… 37 is a somewhat meaningful number to me, how hadn’t I noticed these numbers yet?
And like out of nowhere my people from just minutes before reappeared.
I got to clap loudly for my Hungarian headache-reliever and strap-adjuster. And he also accepted to take my finish line photo, I took his. And off into our own lives we disappeared again.
Before checking in to my room, I weighed my backpack:
15kg on arrival – it was very Cheryl Strayed, liver and author of the book WILD that my friend Sandra had given me years before it ever occurred to me to do anything remotely like this. I’d thought of Cheryl Strayed a lot, and, OK, I wasn’t hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and Fjällräven Classic is a very well organised event that made sure I was never entirely alone. Still, I was a woman doing a big hike in the wild alone for the first time – and I was carrying a backpack that was way heavier than they recommend (max 20% of your bodyweight), like she did. She’d called her pack ‘the monster’ and everyone she met on her trail knew her for it. Mine didn’t have a name…
They also had us weigh our trash bag (‘leave nothing but footprints’), the heaviest each day would receive a prize – I wasn’t sure how to understand the reward for heavy trash, and mine weighed a measly 500grams, but that evening a 10-year-old girl won the prize for the heaviest trash bag; as of day 1 she picked up all the trash she’d found on the way, making the world a better place. Now, THAT I get! Well done girl! Also, she put things into perspective, here I am at 40 all proud of myself, doing something a 10 year-old did. Actually, doing something a three-year-old did, like I found out later that evening…
As I say, ‘there will always be some doing less and some doing more than us, the only thing that ever counts is how much we are doing on our own scale of things.’
I stumbled past the many many people in the lobby of the hostel, everyone was taking shelter from the cold and the rain, it had started to rain just before I arrived, and everybody was back to staring down at their devices.
I didn’t blame them, I was getting ready myself to send the message I’d been writing in my head for the past five days.
And finally, reconnecting with the home team
A whole other set of words came out than the ones I’d been concocting over the day, and oh the replies where plentiful, instant and overwhelming.
I just sat on my bed, shoes off, gear on, staring at my phone, at the messages that had been sent while I was offline for five days, friends sending messages for me to ‘have when you get back in’, friends telling me that they are thinking of me, every day… oh I am a lucky girl.
Then my phone rang. There is something about an actual phone call I really appreciated. It was my friend Nick, the man I have named the godfather of my watch for his recommending which one to buy (the best, of course) and for patiently helping me set it up… he plain phoned, like in the good old days. And he joined me on my buzz, let me offload my in-the-moment high and excitement out loud, asked all the right questions, let me talk and talk and talk, and tell whichever random stories that came out – it was such a nice present to give me just then. He also told me which buttons to press to make my phone connect with my watch and show us My Big Walk on the map.
My phone rang again, and this time it was a facetime call from: MY STARTING BUDDIES! Luc and Kristof, calling in from Stockholm. They’d done the walk in… THREE DAYS! There was me thinking they ‘may just be a couple of kilometres ahead of you’ and ‘I wonder if I’ll bump into them in the sauna’, and ‘NO WAY they’ll finish this in four days!!!’. Well, they did, in three days… they finished among the first 40. WOW! And they were happy to ‘see’ me, they expressed a pride for me that I still feel when I think back. We never walked together, yet they are linked to my experience, they were there at the start, here they were at the finish – and they’d walked the exact same path at the same time as me – give or take a day. And I was so very happy to tell them all about how I’d done!
aaaand relax… have that beer!
The shower was bliss, and I went to the Trekker’s Inn Teepee outside for a falafel and a beer, and just let myself arrive. I met Claude and her husband Marc again, they bought me another beer. It was nice to see them again and compare notes (like ‘where did you sleep?’), talk about trek angels and how people had been saying this was the coldest the Fjällräven Classic has been in at least four years. They told me a lot of things they knew from their previous experience and how one must buy the Classic ‘hoodie’ that they sell outside.
Also, Marc said, and I think I saw some bemusement in his face when he did, that he had not thought that I’d make it, apparently he would have bet on me being airlifted out… it stung a little bit, but oh my, this comment also made me feel that much more badass!
It reminds me of one of those inspirational quotes I once read that says
‘Those who say it can’t be done
are usually overtaken by those doing it.’
Riding the pride wave, and with a huge smile that I could not and would not wipe off my face, I retreated to my room, for the best sleep.
I remembered Michèle’s card, which almost didn’t feel as vital now that I was ‘back’ – but it was.
‘Say yes to a new day. The world is yours to explore’
She’d added ‘you’re nearly there, keep your head up else you’ll miss the stars. Keep moving, not long now.’
I kept moving, and here I was.
Thank you x