Kungsleden 2016: Day Minus 1

5th August 2016
3:00pm – 5:30pm / 14.5km

I slept well, waking periodically to listen to the soft whoosh of the wheels on the track. The gentle rhythmic rolling soon lulled me back into sleep. Marcus woke and left, and shortly after I crept out into the corridor to don my boots and head for the buffet car.
I had no need to have worried about over-sleeping. The train was held at the previous stop for around 20 mins and gave me some time to rearrange a few things in my pack.

I’m a little of a control freak! Sshh yes – just a little.
But when it comes to hiking I want everything is in its right place. At the moment everything is packed in ‘flight mode’ with the non-cabin-friendly items like stoves and trekking poles having been disassembled and packed inside my rucksack. I’m resisting the urge to strip everything out and repack. That can happen tonight at my first camp spot.

Being both in-control and out-of-control is some of what this adventure is all about. There are some things that you can control, and others that you can’t. Your pack and contents are your own. You can choose your destination. Make your own way. Eat, rest and sleep when you want. Even mistakes are your own and your own consequence to bear. Anything outside of that is out of your control and seeing as you can do nothing about what you can’t control, there is no stress in letting it ride.
That was a lesson learnt whilst travelling with my wife a few years back, but with the hectic pace of life it’s something I’ve forgotten of late. This is a good reminder.

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Alighting from the train I take a 10 minute stroll into the sleepy village of Jörn. I find myself at the bus station. It’s just before 8am and despite being a week day it appears that nothing gets going until at least 9am here.
There is an impressive bell tower structure with a cross on top which stands outside the church and must be visible from a good distance. It looks like the separation between the two structures should have some relevance but the significance escapes me. (A subsequent search leaves me non-the-wiser).

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I meet a friendly groundsman who is watering the plants. We talk abut the Reindeer I had for dinner last night. I had found it a little chewy but we agree that’s probably the nature of a pre-packed train meal. He reassures me that Reindeer is lovely but Moose meat is so much better! It’s an Easter thing apparently. Hunting for Moose and eating it with the family.

As I wait I’m reminded of the Butterfly and Lego man which I found in my pack. Noah slipped them in there so that I would have company if I were feeling lonely. Sweet.
I take a picture of them hidden in the midst of a dense bunch of red. flowers. I think the children will have fun looking for them.

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Spot the butterfly and the Lego man!

In the bus waiting room an elderly lady starts chatting. She is the first person I’ve met who doesn’t speak impeccable English. Soon she draws a photo book from her bag and starts showing me pictures of what is clearly her 90th birthday party with family members. At 90 she is doing remarkably well and I piece together what I think resembles her family tree. When the bus stops in Arvidsjaur on route I notice she has alighted and is showing a group of ladies the same album. Clearly proud of her family!

The bus journey to Jäckvikk is steady and calm. My stomach however is neither. Pre-match nerves? Something I’ve eaten? Who knows – although it could be that bit of plastic knife that I never found whilst eating my Reindeer stew last night.

The countryside rolls past. Miles upon miles of pine forest with the occasional clump of wooden houses, mostly painted in that traditional Scandinavian red.
At times the bus slows for a Reindeer to get off the road. They seem to be skitty nervous creatures and likely to be unpredictable when driving past. I imagine night time driving needs super caution around here.

Arriving in Arjeplog I’m unsure about the connection as the arrival of bus 26 from Jörn coincides exactly with the departure of bus 104 to Jäckvikk . Prior to heading out a helpful email from Länstrafiken Norrbotten reassured me that if you buy a through ticket they will ensure that the bus does not leave without you. The driver seems nonchalantly unconcerned so I take this as a good sign. The driver duly drops me and two other hikers at a bus stop, points across the road to another, and says that this is not the main bus station but the 104 will come past here anyway. Sure enough it does and we are soon in Jäckvikk being dropped at a well stocked garage at the start of the Kungsleden trail.
One thing you do not need to worry about in Sweden is being understood. They all speak impeccable English, and everyone I have met has been helpful and friendly.

I buy gas for my stove and step out with a decision to make. Today is not a walking day per se but anything I can get under my belt is a bonus. I can see from the map that once I head out, the terrain is likely to turn quite marshy and finding a place to camp may be difficult and potentially mosquito ridden. That doesn’t fill me with glee.
About 10km in there is hill with a rise above the tree line that should be relatively mosquito free and an awesome place to camp. I predict that’s a stiff 4 hour hike and I’m not sure I’m up for that straight off the bat.

As I deliberate the two hikers who came on the same bus appear. One lady is heading south and disappears across the road. The other is waiting for her boyfriend before heading north. There is a lake within a few kilometres with boats provided for rowing. I’m hopeful that doing the trail in the less popular northerly direction will mean there might be 2 boats on my side and therefore only 1 row needed. But if I get there first that would leave these guys to do the obligatory 3 journeys.

Within moments Ida’s boyfriend, Andreas strides round the corner. He carries with him an aura that clearly announces that he is a seasoned hiker and some not fresh faced newbie off a bus. It turns out he has been walking for a number of weeks covering over 1000km. He started south of the trail in June and is walking up to Abisko and beyond.
I’m suitably impressed.

And so we hit the trail together. Here goes!

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A lone cloud drifts over and deposits a smattering of rain drops. I should have taken this as a warning. We head off under idyllic blue skies. The trail is well marked and the forest floor soft and easy to walk on. The views through the birch trees across the lake are superb. I’m in my element and if it carries on like this for two weeks it will be blissful!

Step forward about 2 minutes. The sky turns grey and rain starts to fall. Hmmm, trust a Brit to bring the weather with him!!
I’ve realised that I’m wearing an old pair of socks and under-crackers that I had intended travelling in and then ditching. I had meant to change at Jäckvikk but completely forgot and I can feel that these are going to ruck up and rub. I switch my socks at the rowing shelter and feel instantly more comfortable in the foot department.

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Arriving at the boats there is just one on our side. Never mind. Andreas and I take the oars and we row across to the other side where we deposit our bags. Ida has grabbed a boat and with Andreas they take two across, leave one and bring the other back which we pull up out of the water. I feel slightly guilty that I didn’t take the oars on the way back but it’s just the way it worked out. I also feel a little uncomfortable that they have not seen each other for over a month and are sharing the first leg of their journey with a stranger. They seem happy enough though and when I mention such, they are quick to dismiss the thought. Whilst I waited the rain started to fall a little heavier and I cover our packs with rain-covers and jackets.

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The decision is now whether to don the rain jacket and accept the sweaty consequence, or brave the rain. Either way I’m getting wet. We don our jackets, and as the rain picks up I’m glad to have made the right choice.

The ‘walking’ has now turned into a ‘tramp’ along a marshy, swampy, muddy trail. A couple of times my boot goes right in and I’m aware that my socks are getting damp. We plod on with the trail twisting and turning through the forest, through the mud, over some bridges and forded places where the trail had turned into a small stream.

The mosquitoes join us as we walk. This is not like the swarms of annoying midges that I’ve experienced in Scotland. These come in their few, but are big blighters, focused in their predatory hunt to drain you of your most precious resource.
I wipe my lip and notice a smear of blood on my hand. Instantly half of my lip feels a little numb and a swelling appears. I’ve been hit!! I’ve been hit!! The swelling rises but is gone by the next morning.

As we walked through the forest I can feel the lack of a good meal taking its toll. A packet of sugary sour sweets perks me up for a bit but soon wears off as the trail relentlessly winds through the birch and pine trees. We hit the bottom slopes of the hill on top of which I had previously considered there to be a perfect camping spot. I was running on fumes. Our pace slowed and we trudged upwards. It’s a good reminder to keep your eyes up, as when the going gets tough you can spend so long staring at your boots and not at the view around you.

Breaking out of the tree line our spirits lifted at the thought of a camp spot, dinner and a little breeze to keep the mosquitoes at bay. Pitching my tent at a spot between two lakes it was indeed absolutely beautiful. There was no breeze to speak of but the jungle spray seemed to do its trick.

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We’ve done 15km. Not at all bad for a non-walking day.
Bag unpacked. Tent erected. I’m starting to feel a little more in control and all the better for it. I get some food on the go and am grateful not only to be filling my stomach but to be lightening my pack. Food is by far the heaviest thing I’m carrying.

I soon “hit the hay”. Although it’s still fairly light we are pitched in the lee of big hill and it will be dark enough to sleep. I have with me a snood to pull over my eyes but I’m feeling tired and a little too warm in my sleeping bag so I opt to leave it off.

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It’s 10pm (9pm UK time) and I attempt to put pen to paper and but on account of feeling pretty shattered, I set my iPad to one side and instantly drop off to sleep. Next thing I know it’s 5am. 7 hours straight – I’ll take that.

 

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