Day 3 – surf and sauna

KM 47 – KM 61 – KM 74


This was an afternoon fiercely driven by purpose. And the purpose was to make it to ALESJAURE for the night. To the next camp where people were. to the place that may have a coffee for me in the morning without having to set up my stove. and to the infamous sauna, that my friend luc had told me about (‘yes it is worth it’, he’d said, and so I put the large travel towel back into my pack – I’d taken it out in one of my luggage downsizing acts).


Walk and walk and walk and walk and get yourself to that there sauna… It was very windy now, again (still?)… luckily it was tailwind. Not that I felt a push, but at least I didn’t feel a brake. One of the many elements-one-can’t-influence that I was really grateful for. It also spray rained. Another: it didn’t downpour!

The path was relatively easy, ever so slightly downhill, almost level, apart from the boulders and wet planks over muddy moors, and the scenery was wide open. Mountains on either side, we were walking through a large valley, and could see for miles… and for miles I could not see my destination, until I did… and then it was four more kilometres away.

somewhere over the rainbow lies Alesjaure... on the horizon for another four kilometres once finally spotted

somewhere over the rainbow lies Alesjaure… on the horizon for another four kilometres once finally spotted

I was still wearing all my gear… That includes my rain poncho that goes over me AND my backpack, the advantage being that the straps and all stay dry as well, but it ain’t half a nuisance… I’d only remembered it two days before leaving, it was rather bulky and probably not the most-researched of breathable-lightweight gear.
Actually, it is large and baggy, my friend Sarah calls me ‘the walking bat’ when I wear it on our walks in England’s Lake District… and with the wind today my poncho inflated like balloon… I felt more like the walking blowfish, it is what I must have looked like. It makes me smile to think of it now.

I was getting very annoyed with my walking sticks at this point, too. I’d never walked with sticks, never saw their use, truth be told. As a downhill skier I knew that when used properly they make all the difference, and people had said that I’d understand their use once on the trail. I did. This wasn’t a walk, after all, it was one big balancing act, from one stepping stone to the next – and the sticks did help me evaluate the depths of mud and streams (not that that helped on Day 1), and prevent me from tumbling down or slipping off many a time.

‘Practice walking with the sticks’, they’d said.
‘How hard can it be to hold a stick?’, the know-it-all-in-me had thought.

Well, it is harder than I thought, or didn’t bother to think about at all, to be honest. What I hadn’t factored in was that my hands and arms were not at all used to or trained to be in a grip for ten hours a day, 5 days in a row. And I got rather creative in how to hold the sticks without holding them and having them readily available to catch a sudden stumble. They were up my armpits or in my elbow creases – but bottom-line: I used them a lot, so, mainly, in the uncomfortable grip they stayed.

nearly there - full steam, or step-by-step, ahead to km 27 of the day

nearly there – full steam, or step-by-step, ahead to km 27 of the day

This was the longest day by kilometres. And I really wanted to make it, like many others did. As of 4pm I already started walking past tents being put up for the night; they looked unsteady in the middle of nowhere, it was just that windy, and in no way did they compel me to stop yet myself.

I would ask people who passed by me, or whom I passed by, where their goal was, and here, on day three, the ‘walking solo’ thing showed its upside:

Better off alone at times.

Often people would say ‘I’d like to get to Alesjaure, but I am not sure we’ll make it as some people in the group are getting tired / are injured.’
Yeah, like in life (not that this wasn’t life), there are always pros and cons to every circumstance.

You may not have to carry everything yourself, set up camp or cook alone, you may have someone to share your immediate impressions or concerns with, maybe even who would keep you warm or motivate you… but you may also have people who slow you down, weigh you down with their moods or stress you out by wanting to go faster.

Here, like in life (again, not that this wasn’t life), I was responsible only for my good self and ‘team body-and-mind’ – we would walk as far as we would make it, or as far as we would decide to make it, and at our own pace.

Our pace was slow, and steady, but we kept going until we were finally at the foot of the bridge to the Alesjaure station.

I walked into the checkpoint at 19.40.

Alesjaure - after a long straight stretch, over a bridge and up the hill

Alesjaure – after a long straight stretch, over a bridge and up the hill

Have I said how cold it was yet? One forgets, but it was. And I was exhausted. AND I had made myself this promise of this sauna. So the focus was to put up the tent and go to the sauna asap. I found a spot among the many tents already up. The landscape was different here, it had something disney’esque about it… rolly, mossy, and scattered on a hillside.

And in the process, I nearly took off…

Just like the previous evenings I rolled out the tent and secured it with a few strategically placed pegs all around it before threading the poles for the third dimension.
This time however my strategy didn’t hold up and as soon as the second pole was in and my tent looked like a tent, it took off when a sudden gust of wind swept in.

Like a surfer, there I stood on the hillside in the middle of a camp overlooking a lake, with my tent in both hands sailing above my head. Yes picture it.

I heard the kinds of voices that had previously comforted me in the tent beside me, chuckling away at whatever they were doing inside, obviously oblivious of my momentary awkwardness.

And just then also, a man walked by me. Our eyes locked for a moment. I think we told each other stories in silence… then he walked on, and left me tent-surfing.
Eventually the gust dropped, as did the tent.

In hindsight I can’t even say ‘how rude’ of that man. My conclusion is that at this very point where we were, after the day most of us had had, he was too exhausted to remember to offer to help, and I was too exhausted to remember to ask for help.

Home in Alesjaure - after having surfed with the tent I finally got it to stay grounded

Home in Alesjaure – after having surfed with the tent I finally got it to stay grounded

 

Bootshot before taking them off for the 'best 12 hours of the day'.

Bootshot before taking them off for the ‘best 12 hours of the day’.

I changed into my evening gear and rummaged for the tiny piece of soap and the shampoo sample I’d brought along ‘just incase’ but hadn’t yet used, found the large towel and took myself to the sauna. I could barely walk, it was quite funny.
Finally I got to wear the crocs I’d purchased especially for this trip. ‘Get crocs to wear at camp’, my advisors had said, ‘when you take your boots off, they are sturdy, can be worn with socks and are super light’. So far I hadn’t yet ‘walked around camp’.

I wasn’t walking now either, I was wobbling. My legs were like jelly, and clearly my feet had gotten used to being supported all around. I felt like a turkey as I made my way to the sauna, which was inconveniently, yet typically for this journey, located a walk away, down the hill and over some stones by the lakeside. In a picturesque setting, of course.

The sauna story

As goals go, this was a big one: the sauna in Alesjaure. Finally some Scandinavian hygge in Swedish Lapland

As goals go, this was a big one: the sauna in Alesjaure. Finally some Scandinavian hygge in Swedish Lapland

I’ve been in a Swedish sauna before, when my brother Raoul and my friend Sarah and I visited our friends, my other brother, Gustav and his girlfriend Theresa, in their cottage on an island outside Stockholm a few years back. I loved it, he served us Veuve Cliquot inside. The things this girl remembers…

So here, in Alesjaure, a man was chopping wood outside – sh*t, yeah, the ‘Wanderpass’ said one had to chop one’s own wood…! I decided that surely there’d be enough strong men in this hut that I wouldn’t have to start this now, too.

Doing something new to you but that seems established to others is a bit like getting gas for your car in a country you’ve never done that in.

First, I have a look and see how things are done here. In some countries you fill up yourself, in others there is a warden who does it. In some you must pay first, in others you pay after. In some it doesn’t matter if you place your petrol tank lid on the side of the pump, in others the hose is too short to go around the car… so if you don’t evaluate the situation first, you can find yourself in clumsy situations and maneuvering around in everyone’s way – or, as in Martine and my case somewhere in California, being shouted orders at via the loudspeaker.

It is never really a biggy, but sometimes it is nice to not put oneself into the spotlight as the rookie.

So what I saw was a wooden cottage with a porch. On the porch there were lots of shoes and crocs, three big barrels of water, and a half dressed man throwing water over himself. (Hmmmm was this what they’d meant by ‘you can wash at the sauna?’.)
The man said I could go in, so I opened the door and was greeted by a lot of steam and, as it settled, a cluster of stark naked men. I hastily, and I think accidentally loudly, closed the door again, slightly embarrassed. I don’t see myself as particularly prude, however I’m also not one to want to step right into a sauna fully clothed. A second glance however confirmed that this was, in fact, the changing room.

From there, and in the nude, I proceeded through the second door, into a smaller room. To the left there was a door, to the actual sauna, where a man was waiting his turn to enter, and in the far left corner there was a wood burning stove with a big barrel heating water on it… next to it were two large buckets with cold water (all the water, by the way, in these stations was taken from the streams, or this case I suspected, the lake). Along the wall to the right, which had a window in it, there was a counter on which there were metal bowls that women and men of all shapes and sizes were using to wash themselves.

The scene had something of a plastic romantic post-impressionist Gaugin Cézanne-like painting… not sure I got my artistic periods right, but it had something serenely peaceful and simple about it, so very relieving and beautiful. The bliss of a wash.

I’d never washed with an audience or in such full company before; that said, nobody was watching anyone, everything was natural and normal and perfect. And I won’t lie: first wash in three days, it felt amazing! After the wash, and while waiting my turn for the sauna, I chatted to a Swedish man, we exchanged our stories. As one does.

The sauna, behind door three, was another tiny room with a big window, a wood burning stove in the corner, and a bleachers-like bench construction on three levels for a total of 12 people. I just remember a blur of warmth seeping in and that soothing sound of voices speaking gibberish around me, a mix of languages I do and don’t understand, and just settling into it all for a moment in time – so so happy.

The simple things, and life’s little pleasures.


Warm, clean and dry back in my little nest that stood still, mostly, I felt good. Tired, and good! We’d done it! I was over the hill! Literally!

Pride kicked in. I’d managed to make it to my goal on my self-assigned biggest day! I was over the pass. And the trail was going downhill from here. I was 19km past halfway, AND the last two days were going to have stretches of less than 20km each. YEAH, peanuts! And very soon I could get back online and tell everyone about all this!

I was on the up now that things started going downhill!

I journaled, continued my letter to my injured buddy, and opened the little card from Michèle marked Day 3.

Once again, it stunned and appeased me how spot on she was with her messages; how did she know?

“Sometimes this is all you need”

sometimes this is all you need

sometimes this is all you need

 

The visual had a rainbow on it,
not unlike the view I’d walked into that afternoon.

 

 

 

 

 

Day 3 card from Michèle: "I'm tired. I'm cold. It is raining. My feet hurt. - strikethrough! Get up! Tomorrow you'll be proud of what you did today!"

Day 3 card from Michèle: “I’m tired. I’m cold. It is raining. My feet hurt. – strikethrough!
Get up! Tomorrow you’ll be proud of what you did today!”

My lowest low of that very same morning in Sälka seemed so very far away, and these words must have been whispered to me through some divine power – and yes, now I was proud!

godnatt x

 

Day 3 – rise and shine

km 47 – km 61 – km 74


rise and shine! And Walk your talk – it could not be more literal in my case. A lot of MY WORK and living revolves around playing with the law of attraction – you get what you give – being in charge of one’s own happiness, creating memories, living in the moment.

‘If you don’t like something, change it or leave it.
for the very least: learn from it.’

I know myself and my defaults well by now, and i knew very well that my feeling sorry for myself out there in the elements, all alone, was not very conducive, or fun for that matter, on the long run. it was high time for a perspective change and taking OWNERSHIP! I was here. on an amazing adventure. in breathtaking scenery. with a healthy functioning body. and a strong mind. get up and keep walking!


But first: Get up!

OMG, I woke up to the insides of my tent walls flapping against my nose, that there Blizzard was still on! And the rain was crashing down loudly – the sound of rain has something comforting in a tent, or under the roof of a dry house with skylight windows as I have at home. The comforting feeling is rather nullified though when the tent one is in is all but taking off from the ground – and when one knows that the next steps are to ‘rise, get out of the tent, pack it up, stuff it into the rucksack, and walk through the elements all day only to put up said tent again’.

'A tent well pitched is the basic rule for staying dry' - and in this case, grounded; my tent pitching knowledge I took from my many trips with my camp-mentor cousin Martine.

‘A tent well pitched is the basic rule for staying dry’ – and in this case, grounded; my tent pitching knowledge I took from my many trips with my camp-mentor cousin Martine.

Here is where I thank my cousin Martine – she used to be a scout, and is my personal camping mentor. On our six week trip through the US SouthWest and another trip around the Canadian West, many many moons ago, and then some to the Dutch seaside, Martine taught me everything I need to know about pitching a tent in a way that had it stand strong and keep us dry, no matter what the weather. She is also, along with my mother, one of my big teachers on how to be a resourceful maker of luxury moments in the weirdest, coldest, most improbable circumstances, with just the tiniest tweaks. Whatever I know comes mainly from their inspirations to not just ‘let it be’ – and I am now also an expert at making nests in aeroplane seats and canoes alike, so to say!

The only way out is onwards.

I was so quick that morning, everything was down and stowed by 8am! New addition to my ritual, only possible because I was at a camp: leave backpack by the hut, visit the facilities and return for an expensive cup of filter coffee from a thermos flask sold at the mini shop here at Sälka – and warm my hands that had gotten frostbitten in the pack-up process. OK, ‘frostbite’ is a bit dramatic, but I take that privilege!

I was not the only one warming up, the tiny 3×3 meter front room of the refuge had a wood burning fire stove, there were people huddling, evaluating the trail and day goals (it became apparent that getting to the camp at Alesjaure, km 74, was most of ours’ intention) and tending to their blisters – here is a moment to thank the hiking lords that I was still only dealing with my one blister from the first day, that I hadn’t felt since compeeding it then – I saw so many feet along the way when people took their boots off on breaks, full of plasters and tape and bandages; I was a lucky girl and I knew it.

I also overheard a man enquiring about helicopter services.

So yeah, where I’d gotten myself to was not reachable any other way than on foot and by helicopter (I think also snowmobile in Winter). And yes, you could have yourself airlifted out for 5500SEK (580€) per person, if four are sharing.
I admit that I briefly let the idea cross my mind… ‘treat yourself princess, you do not need to prove anything to anyone…’

And the second I let that thought in was my lowest low… and the start of my rise.

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. - Doctor SeussNO, Laura, you have a healthy and functioning body, you are fine and you are here to walk: WALK!

And off we went, my team and me! I greeted my key body parts with my little chant from the previous day:

‘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.’
And today I added ‘We have been joined by the energy system which has been fed – WE CAN REALLY DO THIS!’

Because yes, I was eating – and what do you know? It works! Not rocket science, really, but wow! I added another ritual to my day: I’d put my bag of snacks (nuts and candied ginger) in my jacket pocket for easy access (DUH! It only took me two days to come up with that one!) and so every time I stopped and took my gloves off to blow my nose – you know how on cold days you always have one little drip dangling from the tip of your nose? – I would also have a sip of water, apply chapstick and have a handful of snack.

For the first part of the day I noticed that I wasn’t feeling my feet and back all the time, and because they weren’t on my mind every second, I found myself singing. Mantras, I like them. Om Tryambakam and Tumi Bhaja Re Mana.

Soft little melodies in my mind, the day had something soft to it – as I climbed up the trail for 7 kilometers to the Tjäktjapass.

My faithful bestie of the tour, my gps watch, vibrated its celebratory kilometre marks as I was walking towards the

First milestone of the Day of Milestones: KM 55 – Halfway!

KM 55 - Halfway!!! BIG milestone on my journey, I started telling myself 'nearly there'

KM 55 – Halfway!!! BIG milestone on my journey, I started telling myself ‘nearly there’

And when it came, I stopped, and gleamed at whoever was right by me then and there… they went along with my excitement, crying ‘champagne’!

From here I could also see the pass. We scurried up, all of us, I think I was not the only one driven by a newfound force!

The last fifty meters were the steepest of the whole trail and it hardly slowed any of us down.

 

Second milestone of the Day of Milestones: Tjäktja Pass – downhill from here!

Third milestone of the Day of Milestones: lunch break

It wouldn’t be a big deal if I hadn’t made such a big deal of not having eaten. But as I was lingering around the refuge on the top of the mountain wondering what next, I heard the same guide I spoke to the previous night, the lady of ‘you must eat otherwise you won’t get out’, instructing her group to take off their backpacks and bring lunch inside the hut.
I took off my backpack and brought lunch inside the hut.

Milestone: Lunchbreak, in the cheerful company of Taiwanese hikers

Milestone: Lunchbreak, in the cheerful company of Taiwanese hikers

So, in the cheerful company of smiling Taiwanese walkers, I ate the most gorgeous tomato sandwich, another of my ingenious bringings from home: ‘tomato paste in individual pots’ and ‘sun dried tomatoes’, which I put on the bread Fjällräven gave me before leaving.

The other important thing about eating is that it makes the backpack lighter! Another DUH for the blonde first timer!

Back to the pack, and of course, by the time I was geared up, my fingers were frozen despite my fancy odlo gloves and if walking off with cold fingers is avoidable, I’ll avoid it. I went back into the hut fully loaded, and just stood there. A man politely invited me to sit, I told him what I was doing and then he… held out his warm ‘food in a bag’ for me to hold! In that moment, it was the single most generous thing anyone had ever done for me – it almost made me cry as my fingers warmed up. He waited patiently, until I noticed, and said he could continue to eat, I’d hold his meal for him – which he then did, and somewhere in the cameras of some people of the Fjällräven Classic 2017 there is a picture of me holding a kind man’s food while he’s eating.

I told him he was my hero. Because he was.

We namaskar bowed to each other, and off I went again. Downhill, oh delight!

Downhill over kilometres of rubble!

The other side of Tjäktja Pass. Downhill from here - kilometres of rubble

The other side of Tjäktja Pass. Downhill from here – kilometres of rubble.

 

The Tjäktja check-point, in the middle of nowhere

The Tjäktja check-point, in the middle of nowhere

I got to the Tjäktja Checkpoint at 14.45 that day, 6 hours after leaving Sälka, and probably the longest it took me to go 14km. It was the simplest of all the checkpoints: just the two blue Fjällräven tents (one for stamps in the passport, one distributing brownies – which I FORGOT to collect for myself!!!) and three toilet tents. Nothing else, but many many people.

The loo line at Tjäktja did me worlds of good.

In the loo line we got chatting. I talked to Sue and Edith from the UK, a Finnish girl from a group I’d been passing and being passed by for two days (it was nice to see the same people over and over again and I’d told them that), a lady, who confided that next time she’d not let her husband choose their holiday destination by himself, and a sunny young girl from France whose name I don’t know; to her face I called her ‘sunshine’, and in my mind I called her Emily – she had a fresh smile, a light spring and a spark about her, like a fairy.

These were the first people I had a laugh with.

Mood-lifting encounters, in the loo line in the middle of nowhere, of all places.

Mood-lifting encounters, in the loo line in the middle of nowhere, of all places.

See, there were only ever a few loos along the trail, Fjällräven Classic had sent us all a video of ‘what to do when nature calls and you’re out in… nature’, and we were above the tree line so needless to say, everybody knew what everybody was doing in them – and the wait was naturally extended. And that was fine. We all looked at the tents blowing in the still very strong winds and Edith made the poignant observation

‘Now wouldn’t THAT just be the ultimate insult – to have the loo tent blow off just as you’re sat there!’

Oh it felt so good to laugh, and I am a softy for toilet humour!
I liked Edith from the get-go, she was the one who said out loud what we all, as it turned out, were thinking ‘One night in a cold tent is fine, but four?’. Oh yay, it wasn’t just me.

Edith also high-fived me, right there in the loo line, for doing this on my own. The others then joined in, it touched me. ‘Are you hiking alone?‘ was one of the classic Classic questions (along with ‘is this your first?’, ‘when did you start?’, ‘where are you from?’ and ‘what made you sign up?’), and I must say that every time I told my story I did get a hats off in admiration. The statistics of the previous Fjällräven Classic said the ratio was about one third women to two thirds men on the tour, and I know I wasn’t the only woman alone either – but there weren’t many of us, I reckon, and Edith’s high-five to me at that very moment was an energy boost; you know what mental state I had walked myself away from that morning, and she came in like a trek angel by cheering me on for it.

It felt good to be acknowledged like that, because I did feel I was doing something grand and hard – and that said, we all were. Most of us here, I dare say, and like in life, were here with our own stories and walking with our own set of challenges and goals, and she reminded me to, at least mentally, high-five everyone on the tour!

I high-five anyone who gets up and goes!

It can be a huge and heavy step to take, that first step in any  circumstance, and then to keep walking; high-five to those of us who actually do!  For ourselves, and as inspiration and encouragement to others.

Ahh encounters… I would keep bumping into all these nice characters from the loo line at Tjäktja until the finish line two days later. 

 

Celebratory pasta at Tjäktja, the day's halfway point.

Celebratory pasta at Tjäktja, the day’s halfway point.

 

I had my second lunch (once you break the seal…) and I treated myself to my one bag of my most-beloved comfort food: PASTA!

 

 

 

 


I set off from the Tjäktja checkpoint at 15.45 and was headed to the ‘big camp at Alesjaure, which has a Sauna’ – the sauna is what I promised us, me and my team feet-legs-back-shoulders-mind… just another 13km to go.

WE COULD DO THIS!

 

 

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 4 – giving the raw food diet another go

raw food

The raw food diet – and giving it another try

My transformation into an organic vegan all pretty much began by going raw in 2012; I was in the Philippines, working with Nomadic Hands, and I decided to join my host on her raw food diet for a month. I called it an ‘experiment‘, I did it for no other reason than fun and convenience, but I kept a diary of what went on. I had no idea it would be a life changer, both in terms of how I eat and how I think. But it was. This is from my diary.

Originally published January 16, 2012 – In the Philippines and on day 4, Simone, Ramke and I headed up to the ‘mountains’ for a few days.

The cottage in the mountains is a two-hour bus ride on bumpy dirt roads through nature to the back of beyond. One goes shopping before heading up, so we dropped by the market on our way out. Ramke had declared he was starting up the raw food diet, and once again, I had no inclination to go out and purchase my own meals. I had no way of knowing which equipment was going to be waiting for us at the cottage, so, as well as being the obviously convenient option, it is much more sociable to ‘cook’ and dine together.

So I am back on the raw food diet!

And after the smoothie breakfast (and 2 more squishy croissants at home before leaving), a tomato, cucumber and unidentified lettuce salad spruced up with apple cider vinegar and raw sesame seeds for lunch, and a dinner of the same but different because cabbage had been added to the mix, I actually felt quite good about myself.

The jetlag was gone, my skin was clearing up, even my hair felt less limp than the previous days. And most of all, I wasn’t feeling hungry – at all! Even before meals, I felt no appetite nor need for food.

I was getting back to being excited about how much good I was going to have done to myself after a month of this.

Day 1 – and suddenly I found myself on a raw food diet

laura & simone

all aboard the tricycle

My transformation into an organic vegan all pretty much began by going raw in 2012; I was in the Philippines, working with Nomadic Hands, and I decided to join my host on her raw food diet for a month – I called it an ‘experiment’, I did it for no other reason than fun and convenience, and I kept a diary of what went on. I had no idea it would be a lifechanger, both in how I eat and how I think. But it was. This is from my diary.

Originally published January 16, 2012 – ‘I’m on a raw food diet,’ she said to me, probably within 5 minutes of me arriving at the house in Talisay, eyes sparkling, almost skipping in her walk as she handed me a freshly blended smoothie of mango and banana.

‘I’ve been on it for two weeks and I feel great, I’m no longer sick, I feel more dynamic and creative and I’ve lost loads of weight! Wanna join?’

I had just landed in the Philippines from 30 hours of travel and after a fabulous array of airline meals, the matter of food was, indeed, of interest to me.

See, I’m a great eater, it is one of my dearest pleasures, it is a reliable pleasure, my days are broken up into meals, I go from one to the next.

So my first question was, naturally, ‘Pardon??? You’re on a what???

‘A raw food diet, you only eat raw food, nothing cooked.’

I thought about it.

So it is like being a vegetarian… who doesn’t cook. Just salads?

I also like to think that I am an open ‘taster’, I will try new things. So I said that I’d give it a go.
Firstly, a fresh salad sounded perfect to me at that very moment.

Secondly, Simone was my host in a country I didn’t know – I wanted to piggy back on her meals. Truth be told, I had no idea where else I would find my food at this point.

She presented me with the lushest of salads! It was green, a mix of leaves I had never seen before, and they all had individual tastes and crunches that were just delicious!

I really did like it and a bit of a diet wouldn’t harm me.
WOW, of all the places I’d imagined this journey was going to take me, I hadn’t thought of a nutrition spa – and so I dug my way through the salad.

One thought did cross my mind, though: what about my comfort food?

‘Oh, I know, I loooooove pasta too!’, she said, ‘And I’ve heard about a way to make it raw!’

Oh, good… I hoped!

‘We can grate vegetables, like pumpkins, very finely. Then we make a tomato-based sauce to put on it. Like pasta! I’ve never done it before, so we’ll try it tomorrow!’

Erm… say again? Pumpkins? Instead of De Cecco? I’m not so sure about that…

And so the raw food experiment begins.