This blog served me well whilst I was running through Europe, but it needed a new home, so I’ve relocated to BarefootAleks.com.
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This blog served me well whilst I was running through Europe, but it needed a new home, so I’ve relocated to BarefootAleks.com.
Please SUBSCRIBE to receive weekly adventure stories, kit reviews, events and more…
Thanks for your support
With so many words and pictures, I’ve managed to fill the space I have and since I travel with little money and no income, I’ve setup a new blog to allow me to complete the story of running Europe from North to South.
If you’ve enjoyed the reading so far, go over to barefootaleks.wordpress.com and follow so you don’t miss a single update.
Thanks to all for reading.
I’m not sure if I get cold or I just get to the point where I’ve had enough sleep. Either way, I wake. Check the time…
No, that bit was a lie. I open my eyes and if I can’t see anything then it’s night time and I then battle for more sleep, which arrives eventually. In fact just in time for me to have to wake up and pack things away. Not really sure why I bother with this part of the routine? Actually I do, I have no head torch and packing things away, when you can’t see, is actually more difficult than you would think.
Today, I reached up. Felt the small dimple, pressed gently and then got really excited! One of the little light things that Kerstin had bought me was blue! Not any blue. That ultraviolet blue that mesmerises and threatens to rob you of valuable time like the Internet does. I turn it off quick and go back into a doze. It’s warmer in the sleeping bag. Especially with my entire body encapsulated in side, like an astronaut in deep freeze, ready for a….
Ok so this is how I get myself to sleep sometimes. It worked once when I was around 9yrs old and it still seems to work.
Long trip into the unknown regions of space. I have around 45km to cover and since I’ve seen Ritsem Mats twice already, I’m gonna head over to his house for he evening. GPS coordinates plotted on the map, a straight line drawn between Nora and his for easy navigation on the phone screen. Time to go get breakfast. Another lie, since I ate breakfast already. A delightful mix of soft rye bread, ICA basics Cognac salami and a drink of water. The trail is damp, but I’m not sure what else it would be after 2 days of rain. I step back along the trail and then stop. A mist shrouds the land and someone has coloured everything in pastel shades. The view is almost contrived in its perfection. Two horses on a frosty field, just visible through the mist, with a slight parting in the clouds above, revealing the rising sun and coating the underbelly of the clouds in a golden hue.
A quick apology for the overly descriptive descriptions. My blog is out of storage space, which means no pictures and the views today where stunning. Truly stunning.
There is a faint promise of a sunny day, if only in part, and with flashing blue ahead and flashing red behind (I attached the lights to my pack for safety) I head out into the mist. As expected, the feet are a bit nippy, but I’m greatful they aren’t frozen like the grass verge to my left. Nora arrives. This is a bit of physics I adore. When we move, we stay in the same spot, causing the space around us to move instead. I grab an apple of the tree, saving it the disappointment of having ripened to perfection only to fall to the ground and rot. I wanted to get a larger much brighter coloured apple, but it was too high for me to reach and being in that kind of mind frame, I grabbed 3 smaller ones instead. One even came with a frozen drink of water attached to it.
There’s no point in heading into the centre so I ignore the sign that says ‘CENTRUM’ and head to the garage. I’m hoping for a swanky seating area, a plug socket and a coffee machine. I got the coffee machine but all else was missing. Off to the loo I go. This is an essential part of travel. Get toilet paper for another day, even if you don’t need the loo. I now have enough loo paper to create an emergency shelter should the temperature drop or use natures facilities and have something that doesn’t have several pine needle surprises to wipe my back side with. Coffee purchased. Fruit juice purchased. Off to ICA Nora for some calories to carry my the remaining 42km. I wander in, grab 100g of a skinny version of adventure sausage after making a pretence at deciding which flavour to have (I have no idea what flavour it’s meant to be other than it tastes good and is mostly fat) I head over to the fridge containing the cream. I look around and then I see it. The best news all week…
Buy two packs of vanilla cream and save 2sek!
Right… I’ve been meaning to mention something a bit odd about Swedish pricing but kept forgetting. Things are prices as everywhere else. What do I mean? Well, 9.90sek or 18.95sek. The thing is, no matter what combination of goods I buy, throwing in curve balls by purposefully grabbing that extra one item, my shopping is alway in whole SEKs! Now if they are just rounding things up, then why not just do that on the price ticket? If you are Swedish and read this, please… Explain 🙂
The excitement of saving on the best running fuel ever, other than adventure sausage, was overwhelming. I actually caught myself talking out loud about this amazing offer! The fact that it was effectively 20p I saved doesn’t register. I pay and sit, doing absolutely nothing for over an hour. New sandals adjusted and time for the off again. Googlemaps says 41km, 8hours and some minutes. Challenge is on and I run in completely the wrong direction and have to do a crafty scramble to get into the right road. It doesn’t take long for the road to become that delightful mix of road and trail I’m budding ‘troad’ and the map shows a section where I get to meander in a lake!! Before long I notice a big white sign. I pick out the words testing area but think nothing of it. On trees, spaced out about 5m, there are signs. ‘STOP’ ‘NO PICTURES’ they all read (rough translation based on the pictures as apposed to Swedish words). I’m intrigued. First, what could they be testing in woods? Second, why can’t I take pictures?
Camera out and I’m taking pics and I even shoot a bit of film. I run along, being blown away by the troad I’m on. I pass gate after gate, all displaying a sign that says no entry, but all up and out of the way. I pass a red VW van. I pass a red VW van. I pass a red VW van. Three vans. All exactly the same and being driven by men dressed as carbon copies of each other. I carry on and a guy in an Audi passes me. I think nothing of it all. Maybe they are the workers at the testing grounds going home, but I’m wrong. The barrier ahead I down. An obvious sign that says don’t come in in the middle of it.
‘Are you joking?? Why didn’t the people that just drove passed me tell me? I am not going back 20km just to go another way.’
Once my verbal outburst was acknowledged by the trees (no one else there I hear me!) I march forward.
Bang bang bang bang. DaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDaDa.
Gun fire and not just the odd one or two shots! A full on barrage of bullets being fired not too far away from me. I spot a new sign. It simply warms people to stay off the road and not to go into the woods either side because of molar art operations with live ammo!
Shit! Thanks for that warning earlier!!
I run. I have no choice really. Run and hopefully the sound of gun fire will end up far away and no one will come near you.
The gun fire got louder and there was far more of it, but before long I reach the barrier at the other end and leave the area. Ahead is a trail and I follow it instead of the troad. Not much difference if you saw either but it was the thought of being off a troad and on a trail that appealed. Not long and I’m on the trail, running like I’m only 3km from a race finish line and using up the calories in the two packs of vanilla cream is necked twenty minutes earlier. The trail is incredible to run after so long on the road. I’m adding distance on my route by following it but I don’t care. I’m too busy avoiding rocks, roots and staying upright on the useful but cartlidge slick big boards. I have very little battery power left and I don’t want to miss the section Mats’ house is on.
A sign appears ahead. How useful! A map of the trail and a scale. I’m around 5km away, the sun is just about set and being so well prepared I have no head torch. My feet are now working overtime. Feeling the ground under my sandals and giving me enough info to avoid trips and slips. I’m getting closer but it’s now almost pitch black.
‘Shit! It’s hunting season?!’
I reach for the soft dimple and press it. Blue light shines forth… No it doesn’t. The little white plastic section glows blue and I feel safe from well aimed bullets meant for elks. Eventually I pop on to a troad again, turn right and head up hill. This is around where Mats lives and..
I hear a voice and look up. There’s someone ahead and it’s Mats. Mats dog appears out of the dark, running excitedly around, and we head inside. An old house that need a a few bits doing to it, but such an amazing place to have a house, regardless of whether there is running water or not. Mats is kind enough to make a meal of burgers and bacon, along with food that isn’t brown, and we eat, chat, laugh and talk about adventure. He plans to adventure next year. An adventure without a plan. Sounds a great idea to me.
I’m two days ahead now so I’ll have half a day’s rest tomorrow. Then maybe rest later on in Sweden, although the time left here is getting shorter by the day. A great way to leave though, reminded of the loneliness of the road, the coldness of the north and the warm and kind nature of the Swedish people.
If you enjoy reading this blog, why not support it with what amounts of the cost of a coffee? £2 here and there will eventually add up and help return the pictures to the words
A night of wetness. Rain all night and an interesting discovery…
If a rain drop is big enough or hits my tent with enough force, it passes through the material, creating a refreshing or shocking water spray.
The lumps on the ground seemed to have been placed, more by chance than any actual attempt to position myself as I did, to provide support where needed and space where not. As a result I slept in reasonable comfort, but as the rain beat down on the tent, big drops of water acting as accents to the chaotic rhythm, the coldness of being damp crept in. I wait for the sun to rise. I can see the silhouette of branches, created by the solitary light on the house about 100m on the edge of the wood.
I’m anticipating cold hands. I always get cold hands in the mornings as I pack my tent away. I avoid touching the tent pole as long as I can, the metal a drain of heat energy from my fingers, sending them into the world of a burning cold. Tent is away quickly, rain has settled into a steady drizzle and I’m on a dirt track heading to my next stop. Thing is, my next stop is now only 7km away, which gives me time for coffee and a recharge. The running is made fun. By fun I mean challenging as my smoothed out sandals slip at the slightest misstep. My legs aren’t warmed up yet. They feel a little stiff from yesterday’s speedy 45km but there is no rush at all. I’m getting close to being two days ahead and in two days I’ll meet up with Mats near Vintrosa.
I miss a turning. I end up on the main road, but it’s no mither. I’m not far from the shop or petrol station and all I’m thinking of is coffee and electricity. This is provided in the form of a petrol station that has a fresh coffee machine. I buy a coffee, find a spot to sit and get things charged. A hamburger follows the first coffee, a new cable to test my portable battery, a conversation about what I’m doing. ‘You’re crazy!’ Is the resultant reaction and I have to agree a little. Part of me still looks at this from the outside on occasion and realises that this is kind of insane. Winter is coming, the Autumn weather makes things tricky to manage and with each step I seem to get physically fitter. Mentally I take things as they come, aware that I have come over 2000km, through injury and health scare (now this is something I kept to myself but in the sections that I saw nobody, had no signal and was days away from civilisation of any kind I would go to the toilet and see more blood than faeces, a discovery that really did worry me. The fact is that it stopped by the one I saw a car to wave down and now is part of the journey to this point) and I’m still not half way there yet.
But at present, I’m using my time to rest my legs. I’ll cover around 16km before I stop today, pass through Nora for food, travel towards Vintrosa on the same day and arrive at Vintrosa, still a day ahead of schedule. Now, for another coffee.
Ooh! A USB cable to see if i can solve the battery probelm…
The guy behind the counter says I can try it out first to make sure it works. It gets plugged in and….
Side note: plugging in a portable battery pack to see if it works or not is not a cliffhanger moment. Trying to make it into some kind of tense moment is just plain daft.
It works! Tremendous. Back to the counter to pay and get another coffee. I try to pay and the guy refuses.
‘For charity’ he says, then I try to pay for the coffee…
A big smile on his face, he says ‘for charity’
I slump my shoulders in resignation, smile back and use the phrase I seem to be using more and more…
‘Tack så mycket’
It’s the small acts of kindness, unexpected, unasked for and given open handedly that really blow me away. I feel like I’ve spent my life and neglected this aspect of living. It seems it’s all been about gaining things, hence my current financial situation, and that by giving away my belongings and choosing the have less do more mentality, I’m beginning to experience more of the kinder side of human nature. It reminds me of a speech give by Charlie Chaplin in a film. A film I can’t remember the name of but words that move…
‘Our knowledge has made us cynical; our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.’
With each passing day, these words make more sense. In fact, other sayings make more sense to me. Instead of liking the sentiment, feeling like the words relate to me, I find a deeper understanding of what the words portray. Again I digress, placing thought into words before they are fully formed. Instead I’m going to stop, drink my coffee and move on. 4 hours to cover 17km is a gentle walk. A gentle walk is probably what is needed today.
Gentle walks never happen. They turn into a mix of running and walking, no different to the usual day. Once off the main road I walked up, ran down, found some historical buildings as I’m running along and through a region that’s full of old iron works. The sky clears, the sun shines through and a flock of birds fly over head. It’s blooming beautiful is what it is.
I reach where I intended to stop but carry on. Legs feel ok, the sun is still up so why the hell not. I’m 5km from Nora and the sun starts to set. Darkness falls quickly and I’m a little bit weary of the cars. Less than a kilometre to the nearest trail, the contours of the map showing the potential for flat ground. The road that leads to it is more like someone’s drive and I automatically go into sneaky ninja mode, pointlessly sneaking passed house, passed garage and passed open and occupied barn. The trail head is there. I image what the spot would look like in the light, since all colour is bleached from the landscape. I pause…
The tent is wet. He tent is shelter but will ask for the heat from my hands as payment. Tent setup as quickly as possible, the time my hands are on the aluminium tent pole minimised as best as I can. Hands are still cold though. It’s dark and it’s time to eat some food. That last kilometre had the tell tale symptoms of being under fuelled. Now I eat, get in my sleeping bag and allow my body heat to fill it before putting on some wool and sleeping. Chances are, I’ll get myself to Vintrosa tomorrow, but no rush. There is never a rush anymore, especially since I am now just 4km away from being 2 days ahead of my schedule without feeling destroyed. Viva la caffeine
Before it all starts I’ve realised something. At the end of a day, the running, landscapes, small stops and moments are all incredible. Like a fairy tale that you suddenly find yourself in. Then night falls, you sleep and they are wiped down, removing the bright colours they once had and leaving just a grey and matter of fact version behind. That’s why this blog and my journal is important. Try help preserve the unique beauty in this journey. In what I’m experiencing and what I learn. Maybe there’s something to this that others should try and use? It is amazing to think that a few days ago I was miles away, cold, frozen tent around me, struggling to light the alcohol in my stove because of the temperature and not looking forward to the burning sensation in feet and hands as I pack away my tent. Now I sit in a petrol station drinking coffee. Enjoying the lack of movement for a while and reminiscing about the two days that lie behind me…
I’m back at work. People are placing demands on my time and I can feel the stress building. Then there’s the noise. Constant sound of a multitude of kids talking, shouting. Suddenly I’m in a corridor and the hordes of the school are moving around from place to place. Amongst them a child is on the floor. Curled in a ball, arms around his head as if protecting himself from unseen blows. I go over, pushing my way against a torrent of people. The noise is deafening.
I kneel beside the child and he look round. Eyes red and face glistening with tears. I put out my arm and he reaches out. Before he grabs my arm I look him in the eye…
‘I’ll help but you’ve got to get up yourself.’
He doesn’t take his eyes of me but slowly pulls himself up. Not a single word uttered.
Then I wake. An odd dream to have and I remembered it vividly. The words repeating in my head. ‘I’ll help but you have to get up yourself.’ Very odd, but it’s too early to rise with no light to even see the skin of my tent. I doze for a while until the first glimmers of sun light. There’s no rush. I only have 15km to reach the next stop point and checking again, the hotel is open. I need to sort my kit. It is damp. Damp means cold nights and the temperature is set to drop again in the next few days. I’m expecting a hobbit hunter today and wander if he will be more successful that some of the previous people. Everyone always expects me to be way behind where I actually am for some reason. The wind is still blowing. The same wind that made it sound like I was next to the world’s busiest motorway. And rain. Rain is falling making it the perfect combination for a cold run. I feel ok though. I will run and change clothing as I need to. It would be stupid to pile on the layers only to sweat and get cold. The kilometres pass. The distance gets hotter and shorter. I stop at a bus stop for shelter while hunting for my coffee. I’m struggling with tiredness. The sleepy kind of tiredness and I know the cure. Caffeine.
I pour some coffee into my palm. The dry brown powder looking non too appetising. Down the hatch it goes. Water follows. It’s bad enough to make you want to retch. More running and gradually the caffeine kicks in, the legs feel smoother and the feet warm up. I arrive and run straight to the entrance of the hotel, grab the door, say hej to the locals stood outside, pull and…
It’s bloody locked!! I can’t get in and with a single syllable ‘shit’ I laugh and run to the shop instead. Inside I head to get a drink. Check the website for the hotel and it opens at 12. I’m half an hour early, but I can wait outside and so I wander back from the shop to the entrance. I look inside and the chef spots me. I wander to the small alcove just to have a look and when I spin round he’s there. The vowel rich words of Swedish flow from his mouth and I just say…
‘Erm… I wanted to book a room??’
He ushers me inside, door locked behind me and a lady at the counter wanders over. I explain I want a room abut would like to know the price first. I get offered free coffee, told the price and I sit. Can I justify a hotel room? I look out the door, rain pouring down and I realise that really, with my clothes needing a serious clean, with my sleeping bag needing to dry out, I have little choice. I sip my coffee and in walk in Johan and his wife. Amazing! They actually found me. Shame I left early and got here too early. Would have been good to run with the dude. Especially since he’s sporting his lunas. He comes over, greetings exchanged, names exchanged and some chatting. He hands me a pair of thick Injinji socks. As always I thank him and feel I should pay. He convinces me to let him get me a meal at the buffet there and we sit to eat. It was great chatting. We laughed, I asked questions about Sweden, discussing things I’d noticed as I’d run from Ritsem, general chatting about running and even some technical bits about hormone imbalances in runners from over training.
I have to say that both are awesome examples of human beings. It almost felt like I’d known them for a while. Old friend meeting for a chat and laughs.
Meal done, and having seen the state of my sandals and tabu, Johan offers me a pair of sandals and organises Kirsten (another runner who I randomly met in the lakes whilst training) to collect them and find me with them. It was her plan to find me at some point over the next day or so (or at least that’s what I think is happening) so it seemed like a convenient way to get the sandals transported.
A pause here…
I feel like I’m ok for equipment despite the tabu socks and neoprene socks falling apart, my sandals having worn down to around 4mm of rubber, the strapping wearing through, the nights often being colder that I would like. I do look a state of you look closely. A man running in a red jacket that is clearly covered in dirt from the road and trails, toe poking out the front of both socks, heals and foot visible at the back and side of my socks. The normal reaction is that given to me by some children and folk who look that has a tinge of revulsion in it. I’ve weathered this look for a while but it is incredible that it is not the typical response of people. Generosity and kindness are the things that will save our world, should it ever need saving, as long as we have people like the 9 I’ve met so far on my travels through Europe. It is the act of giving without the need for thanks or repayment that really does make a person want to give their very best in return. Anyway! I’m getting sidetracked as always…
Time came for them both to leave. It had been a good morning of running, a great lunch time chat and now I was booked into the hotel. A quick visit to the shop for my evening meal and hen I set about cleaning my kit, setting it all out to dry and generally resting. I grab maps I’ll need to run Denmark and have a quick look at the route. It looks simple enough with two major paths running almost the length of the country. I check where Varberg is in relation to Granå and I’m now tempted to run back up once I hit Denmark so that I don’t loose latitude after the crossing. I will decide what I’ll do when I get there and leave the thinking alone. It is getting late and I simply can’t sleep. The question of why is it I can’t sleep is asked repeatedly, but there is no answer returned. Time passes and sometime near midnight, I finally fall asleep.
2am I’m awake.
4am I’m awake again.
6am I wake for the last time. Dress, go to breakfast. The buffet is minimal. Cheese, salami, ham, boiled eggs, bread, tomato and cucumber. I eat 2 plates of ham, salami, eggs and cheese align with the vegetables on offer. 2 coffees go down, a handful of hot chocolate powder sachets pocketed, some fruit juice drunk and I’m back to wash and pack. Packing doesn’t take long, but the slow breakfast means its approaching 10am before I finally get ready to leave. More juice if needed and drunk, the ladies behind reception let me checkout and one offers me a coffee for the road. I decline explaining that it won’t last long whilst I’m running. She laughs at the idea of the coffee going everywhere and then returns, takes my hand twisting it palm up and places 3 chocolates into it. I say thanks very much and get the reply Vashe gud (for the Swedish or Swedish speaking…. Please ignore that spelling!)
I say good bye and leave. Running feels easier today. The 28km to Koppaberg pass quickly, I wander close to the brewery trying to get a tour but there no reception, only the entrance and exit for the lories so I run into the centre and there is a restaurant dead ahead. It would seem rude to come here and not drinks cider, so I wander in. Cider ordered. Cider drunk. I leave for the shop, buying just enough for the morning. I still have a stash of meat balls, beetroot salad and gherkins to eat. A group of locals sat in the main entrance give me odd looks and I just laugh back. It’s time to shorten the gap for tomorrow. I’m here early. Far earlier than I expected. Now, I have just 7km to go before I reach tomorrow’s end point. At this rate, I’ll be almost two days ahead of my schedule! Legs feels good and I have the most lumpy ground to sleep on. Perfect camp spot picking by me. I’ll see if Kirsten manages to find me. I have my tracker on but there is no phone signal here. If she doesn’t, I’m sure the sandals will make their way back to Johan.
Sitting and deciding. That seems to be the order of the day today. With a few days of rain and colder weather ahead it seems important to make the right decision. But what’s actually happened over the last three days? Truth is, I’m not sure. Days blend. It’s just an ever flowing cycle of eat, sleep and run. Now let me think…
Oh yeah. Warmth. A comfortable clinging warmth…
I had the best nights sleep ever. Warm followed me into the night, surrounding and letting me sleep. 4am and I’m wide awake. The moon is out and I pack using her light. The ground is damp, a sparkling sheen of moisture covers the inside of my tent, broken in parts by the random meanderings of my two or three tent mates. I pick the slugs off the tent inner and place them outside. Since I’m awake it seems right to start the day with coffee and cake. Consumed, the bag is packed. The stops today are Rättvik and then Leksand. No rush.
I start to run once the sun begins to make herself known. Rättvik appears, the shop just opened, and some food is purchased. Next is Leksand. I wander through the town looking for a place to have coffee and charge my phone. All are shut so the phone is turned off and I head out, watching an old man trying to collect a bottle or can from the displayed Viking long boat next to the road. For each bottle and can he collects he can claim money for food. He stands looking at the boat’s inner and then give up, walking towards the nearest bin. I try the local Coop to see if they have a coffee machine and a place to sit and charge. They don’t and so it’s the road for me. Not long and a hotel appears on the right. I run for the restaurant, grab a coffee and then spend 2hrs siping and charging my phone. I go for another, ready to pay…
‘Is it a refill?’
‘Ok. 10 krona for the chips’
No way!! I could have been drinking warm coffee all that time. Probably just as well though, since the caffeine is making itself known as my arms and legs feel the jitters. The run starts well, Leksand approaches and passes with a quick food shop. I find out that the adventur wagon (from now on named Wagony McWagon Face) has been delayed and so I can slow my progress. Not so much I can but I should. Arriving somewhere early only to have to wait is costly. ‘I will stop short of Mockfjärd today’ is the decision.
As I pass Leksand my legs decide it is time to rebel. Ache sets in. Tiredness. Heavy steps and an effort of will to move. I find atrial and head to the water’s edge. A river, fast flowing with clear waters. I shouldn’t drink this but I will. I have no other water to drink. A quick glance and I locate the perfect sleeping spot. A flat area amongst the spruce, the ground covered in a healthy layer of needles that make it softer than my mattress. I eat. I sleep, the gentle whisper of the trees in the wind and the sound of the river gently beating the shore line the only noise to be heard.
I wake and legs ache. It has been a few days since I’ve woken with stiff and aching legs. It’s been decided that today is a slow day and so it is. A slow march to Mockfjärd. Slow and steady. Hopefully a place to stay when I get there to recharge. The route along the road and then the cycle track was a quiet or. No cars but a collection of old and disused cabins. More tail than roads and I delight in it. Mockfjärd looms on the horizon and I join the kids on their way home from skola. They either smile and wave or they look baffled and I don’t blame them. A bloke, wearing ripped socks, sandals, a woolly hat, beard and running with a big pack on his back. I’d be curious to know what he was up to or where he might be heading.
The shop at Mockfjärd is small. Good enough for me and I buy little. There is pizza across the road and I want something cooked. Warm food. It’s been ten days at least since the kindness of lisette. Continually fearing on cheap salami and lingonberry bread is at best a little boring. Food should not be different shades of brown! I shop and step to the pizza place. Order food. They question my order, looking like it was more food than any man could possibly eat. I repeat my order, sit and wait. It arrives…
A big plate of nachos and a late pizza. Ok. I admit I only really managed the nachos but I had time to charge my phone. My portable battery however is dead. It refuses to charge and so I send an email to Anker asking for some sort of resolution to my probelm. There is no real solution other than ‘try a new cable’ and ‘get a replacement’ but the temporary and pointless moan feels good, although somewhat empty. Meal done, I leave. Rocking the hobo style with a shopping bag and a buzz a box. I will walk and find a trail to sleep near.
Legs scream at me with fatigue. I start the usual moans. They are followed by the statement ‘no you’re not. Your legs still move. Stop talking nonsense and move more’
More cabins appear. In fact I’d say more holiday homes as they are far too lavish to be cabins. I have a look at the first. What a great place to have a home. On the shores of a lake, away from the noise of towns and in amongst the trees. Further ahead another cabin. This one is boarded up. Property is important here. Further north, they seem more open to people. Doors unlocked, no fences. Here it is different. ‘This belongs to me. Stay out’ is the message at most properties and there is nothing to say it is wrong. Just seems to highlight a potential change in mentality to me. The ground next to this cabin is perfect. Flat, soft enough for pegs, but hard enough for them to stay. The wind is increasing in strength and I will get cold if I wait any longer.
Tent is up quickly, I’m in and clothes are changed. The pizza is almost completely devoured. The sun’s light is almost extinguished and it is time to sleep. The wind shakes my tent and the waves from the lake lap against the shore making amusing noises. I hear the fall of an eagle owl and smile. It’s hard to live outdoors at times but it has rewards.
I wake. Left over pizza is breakfast. Sleep interrupted by lady winter and her cold fingers. My own fault for not getting in my sleeping bag soon enough. It insulates. It doesn’t provide warmth. I have an even shorter day today. 20+km and I reach Grengarde. Another shop and having seen the map, a potential hotel. I will head there. Get a room and dry kit, recharge batteries and legs. There is a long road ahead and there is no need to destroy myself. All is kept in readiness for the last two weeks. Then there will be nothing to lose and all to gain. As I run it begins to snow. Small flakes fall, mixed with the golden yellow leaves of the birch around me. ‘Hello Lady Winter’ I say out loud with a smile. Hold out my hands and watch the flakes land and slowly melt into my old, ripped gloves. There’s no point in denying that I like the winter. That I enjoy the feeling of the worth that follows a cold morning’s start and run. I feel it quickly as I stop and I run again. Yet another walk day spooky by the joy that the landscape around me brings.
I run towards Grengarde, reachin Nyhammer quickly. There is something to be said for walking with rhythm. Sadly, I seem to forget what it is every time and run instead. There is walking amongst the running but I am yet to complete a day where there is no running at all. I reach Grengarde and in to the shop I go. I purchase little. I am focused on the hotel. With drink and snack I run to the hotel. Entrance found, I go in…
The smell is wrong. I appreciate this sounds odd. Spend enough time outside and you become more aware of smell and sound. They become useful suddenly. More useful than living the ‘normal’ life. The place seems deserte. Two young boys. One staring at his phone, watching something in Arabic, the other just staring at his phone. I wander to what looks like reception. A wall of glass covered in printed notice after printed notice. Some arabic, others a mix of Swedish and English. I read them…
‘The fire alarm is for emergency use only. If you set it off when not needed, the INTERNET will be TURNED OFF for TWO DAYS’
‘Please let us know when you leave here so we can tell migration services where you have gone to.’
This hotel is being used as a refuge. What an odd thing! At the same time what a great idea for a hotel that is likely to have no customers at this time of year! Back to ICA to buy food, a return to the hotel and a purposeful entrance. I spotted the plug socket the first time I came in so I sit at the chair next to it. Phone is plugged in and charges. I sit and write in my journal. It is the only reason I can recall this tale in order. A store of information, learning but more importantly a way to help make sense of things. Without it I would not know that I am existing by simply surfing the ripples of decision I make. Now back to the recollection…
I sit for 2 hour shift, unoticed. Something I’ve practiced for a while. The art of hiding in plane sight. Suddenly the door I sit near opens, swings towards my face and stops before any contact is made. It is a signal. I heard by my ears, but loud enough for people from buildings outside to hear and pour into the dinning room. The most I get is a hello and I am tempted to go in and chance my luck at some food. If this is a refuge then what I’m tempted to do is wrong on a deep level so I remain seated. 99% charged, the number of people drops as the dinner hall closes. I grab my pack and leave, following the road towards my next spot. Again a trail off the road provides the chance of a camp spot and my legs are starting to complain. Less than ideal, but it is sheltered from the wind. The sound of it deafening. I am in my tent, eat a piece of chocolate and drift off to sleep. I know I will wake cold. I feel the dampness in my clothing and my sleeping bag. Tomorrow I will find shelter and dry everything again. It will rain soon and likely to rain for a few days. Best to get as much sleep as possible and do what is needed tomorrow. There are short days ahead and I’m a day ahead of y schedule still.
Sleep was broken. Cars. Lots of cars. A dog barking. Many dogs barking throughout the night. All served to keep my slumber in tatters. I got myself out and packed by 7. Still dark but just enough light to see and follow the track. Into the village and straight out on to the main road. Not far to Furudal and food.
After over an hour I check the map to see how much further. I left in good time so I would get to the shop for opening. Annoyance begins to gnaw at me. I’ve covered 4km in over an hour. The slowness of yesterday persists and something…
Something is grabbing at the part of me that I’ve freed and tries to pull it back. The general sense of good mood is on the verge of being defeated. I try to pick up the pace but the mind isn’t the calm it has been. There are ripples of discontent, like the shattering of a mirror still lake by the gentlest of breezes. Then a statue of an old man catches my eye and I’m intrigued by the Swedish tendency towards small dioramas and statues as part of their garden displays. Less than a kilometre and an even bigger one. The statue at the entrance to a holiday park. A scattering of cabins, different sizes and designs and all behind the figure of a man sat with arms outstretched and the expression akin to thunder on his face. This amuses me. ‘Why isn’t he smiling? Surely it’d be more welcoming than that grim face!’
I stand next to its leg and get a picture of myself with it, then decide to wander in and see if the reception is open. There may be chance of electricity. I get closer and electricity is a given but anything else is not. The reception is closed. An old man cycle passed, then returns, then cycles passed. I plug in my portable battery, start to get out my cooking equipment to make a coffee…
A van pulls up. Out comes a elderly gentleman. Thick trousers and thick coat, woolly hat, glasses perched on a gently weathered face, aiding a set of blue eyes.
He asks something in Swedish and I reply that I don’t speak Swedish.
‘Why did you just do that in English?’ Runs through my head! But he says he speaks some English and asks what I was after.
‘I’m just having a break before I move on’
‘Having a break? I don’t understand’
‘Having a quick rest’
‘Quick rest? Ok. Hold on’
He opens he reception, tells me to go in, calls someone and speaks to them, then explains its his wife who speaks better English. While he was on the phone I translate my sentence into Swedish on my phone. I take the phone to speak to his wife, explaining that I was just going to sit outside for a while and rest before moving on, he read my translation and then shows he understands now with a smile and a knod. I pass the phone back, he says a few words to his wife and the phone is put away.
We go outside and I ask if I can make a coffee there, which he says I can. I offer him some but he says no thanks and wishes me a safe journey after telling me the trail way to Furudal. Only a short trail but better than the road. I sit to make coffee and a lady wanders passed, asks me where I’m from, where did I start and where am I going. I explain and she wishes me a safe journey after asking if I’m sleeping outdoors and telling me that it’s cold. This last bit amuses me. I want to say I know, I’m sleeping outside every night, but there’s no point other than being facetious. Coffee made I drink and write. The old man reappears. He passes me a thick wool jumper and tells me to take it.
‘It is warm.’ He says pointing at it
‘Thanks. How much can I give you for it?’
‘Nothing. Take it. It’s too big for me.’
I hold it up and we share a laugh as its too big for me!
‘I’ll use it to sleep in. It will mean a warm sleep. Tack så mycket!’
He then asks me when I started and when is finish. I tell him I started in August and I’ll be finished by February. He looks at me a little astonished, but wishes me well and goes back to working. This is the fuel for today. I can barely fit the jumper in my pack! I put it on instead. Easier to carry and I’m sat still getting cold.
I make another coffee. Drink it and workout what it is that is gripping at me. I set myself a goal of beating my schedule. Of covering 45km a day so I could get a week ahead. I was racing ghosts and shadows again instead of doing what is needed and what happens. The freedom was being eroded and with it the ability and mentality to cover bigger distances in the shorter times. Acknowledgement followed by action…
I’ll just run again. The distance is irrelevant. I have 20km to the next shop. I have a pack of biscuits and water. I have some rather tasty adventure sausage. I need to eat and run. Nothing else. With this I set off. The 20km pass quickly. The next 10 pass just the same, but I carry a bag of food so running is a little off balance. A moments glance into the woods and a huge owl floats sassy from me.
‘Holy shit!?! And eagle owl!!’
Then I see an elk at the road side, then a woodpecker and finally two red squirrels, perched on a branch, peering at me as I pass them. I am on a dirt track again and no cars travel here. I find a trail that lead to a lake, collect water and settle for the night. It’s time to eat and sleep, but I told Peter if get a picture of myself naked for the 2000th km. I don’t like this idea, but it is time I stopped being so conscious of my body. It is just a body. It does what it is designed to and is getting better as each day passes. I get undressed, sandals off and the feeling of wet pine needles on my feet is refreshing. Picture taken, I set up the tent, dress in the warm jumper and get on my bed.
My silence is back. No noise can be heard other than the whisper of the leaves in the wind. I fall asleep warm. I wander if the warmth is the usual temporary warmth or if it will follow me through my night’s sleep.
The morning arrives as I wake. It isn’t morning if you define it as the rising of the sun but I am awake. The warmth persisted and I slept well for the first time in since leaving Örnsköldsvik. I eat breakfast. Cake and coffee. Pack. ‘No point in leaving to early. The shop won’t be open’
I leave with the intention of arriving just after 8. It is dark and I can just about make out the trail I follow. I find a trail that cuts the corner of the road and follow it. The sign says ‘Springkällan’. No idea what it means as I wander down the pine needle and root trail and as the light improves I run. Then there it is!! BA fountain I the middle of nowhere. A spring made by men drilling for oil in the late 1800s. I read the information about the area to find I am on the edge of a meteor crater. A crater that is so big it is invisible until you look at a map and was made 360 million years ago.
‘I’ve been running on the rim of a meteor crater!’
I run the rest of the trail, end up on a road and then I’m in Rättvik, find the shop and buy enough food to get me 20km to Leksand. I stop along the way to charge my phone at a hotel. I make a coffee last 2 hours only to find out I can get unlimited refills, the leave. I plan on stopping at 40km for the day. There is a trail to be run to Mockfjärd and I’m looking forward to it. The rush to get places is gone and now I have a deliberate slowness to stick to. The adventure wagon isn’t quite posted yet so no point in rushing. I will still be able to get ahead of schedule and I have plenty of time to make better progress between here and Tarifa.
I’ve written little to nothing over the last two and a bit days. Electricity has been a problem but it’s more than that. The road is a desolate place when running alone. Water is still a problem, with little rain over the last few days, the road side streams are dry or static, filled with orange algae or the detritus of those with little respect for the land. It is a dampener on an otherwise focused mind. How can you fail to take your rubbish when you have come to this place in a car?
Again, I digress…
I left the room I was kindly given cheaply, having struggled to sleep. Broken is a good descriptor for the night I had. I woke and ate some cheese, quietly packing my kit that was spread across the entire room. This required ninja like movement and the memory of the most advanced brains combined. The old wooden floor was like a burglars nightmare. The tiniest of missteps, the smallest of pressure on the wrong part of the foot and the floor would produce a creak of mythical magnitude.
I wandered down stairs. The owner was there and the chat as always was about what I’m doing. I explained was offered a reflective top, but I brandished my snap on reflectors and kindly declined and after a photo (she always takes two!) I was off. I was intrigued to see if 50km was still possible with a pack leaden with food. Not much food mind, but enough to add 2.7kg to my pack. I knew there was a petrol station ahead so I wandered in and there, I saw the shrine…
A freshly ground coffee machine.
I genoflected at the small but mighty alter, failing to be distracted by the pastries and going straight for the mother load. One press of the espresso button and another of the black coffee. The best £1 I’d spent in some time. A treat of fruit juice followed and it was time to leave. An hour or so lost in the garage, nursing the coffee, meant that the sun was making an appearance and I was suddenly more visible than two thin reflective stripes. I ran through farming village after farming village. All devoid of any sign that people existed in these building. It feels like you are running through ghost towns, made to waken from any dazed moment of tiredness by a random dogs protestations. Some places are clearly abandoned and I’m drawn to them. The placement of object around and inside give the sense that they were left quickly. That the people are still there but on a different plain to myself. Yet more to add to the strange dislocated sensation of travelling light and leaving no trace of your passing.
Edsbyn drew nearer and my legs got tireder. I had covered more than 50k in a day, with plenty of breaks. This bodes well. A trail just outside means a soft place to sleep and I think I have a solution to the damp and cold. I will stop using my tent as a tent and more as a tarp. Single skinned and open. Setup, fed and dozing, a couple of people pass. The words of the first person lost to the doze but the clear ‘tento’ spoken by the second amuses me. I repeat it to myself and then back to sleep.
It seems I was right. Despite the temperature being no different to normal (by normall I mean cold) I was warm. No 2am wake up call from lady winter, as she poked me with her cold finger. Instead I am given a display of colour to ease the tiredness of the legs. Pink, red, orange, yellow.
A breakfast of meat and bread and off to the shop. I feel ravenous today! Edsbyn arrives, I purchase food, I eat food and for the rest of the day I struggle to maintain any sort of decent pace. I am resigned to walk and in the 11 hours of light I barely cover 35km. The highlight of the day was using the exploration of another abandoned farm building as a reason to rest, having tried the plugs to see if they are live or not.
I know I can’t walk this one. Running is the only way to get things done. I setup, expecting a damper eve as the signs of rain float above me. It rains just as I get the outer part of the tent setup and get inside. I eat again, I sleep. A brief moment of amusement as I remember the toilet at the partly built and abandoned cafe I passed in the day. Another place searched with no sign of that miraculous energy… Electricity
The last part is a bit of a lie. I try t sleep but what happens is I am repeatedly woken by the sound of dogs barking in the night. Cars drive passed almost nonstop on the road that is around 1km away and I realise that for now, the delights of the wilderness are lost. No more evenings, lulled into sleep by nothing more than the sound of the wind setting the trees to a murmur and the rhythm of my heart. Tomorrow I will have to find electricity. Tomorrow I will have to find food and fuel better. I am almost a day ahead of my schedule but to continue like today is not an option. I came to run. My legs and mind want to run. I feel it when I walk. An odd sensation that this form of motion is not fluid. It lacks the smoothness of running, yet takes the same amount of effort with less reward in terms of distance.
Right now, I sit at a camp site, surrounded by cabins, charging my powerbank, drinking a coffee and enjoying the sense that there is no need to rush. ‘All in good time’ and ‘play the long game’ make sense, no longer phrases that feel to me, like empty encouragements. I will use this to add graphite and clay to paper. To increase the weight of the journal I have been writing and to make sure I stay present. I am not the white rabbit chasing time…
The start was grotty. I felt grotty. The sort of grotty that you get after a good night on a mix of whisky, gin and strong IPA. The familiar and haunting sound of a fox in the distance reminds me of the first time I ever heard it. Horrified by it, wandering what the hell could make such an eerie sound. Now I just smile.
It wasn’t quite as cold as previous days, but still… The wetness persisted and infiltrated my sleeping arrangement, making for that not quite warm, not quite freezing that stops all sleep. Breakfast was eaten. Not sure why I even eat muesli. Seems to provide no umph in the engine and creates a dark cream paste at the other end. I left with enough time to cover 13km to Delsbo, said with a slight cockney accent and some swagger. The shop opens at 10. The one at Friggesund, just 2km away open at 12. Superb planning on my part.
I walk with purpose up the hill. In fact I walk the lot. I feel like that cold (the virus, not the temperature version) has gotten a whole new grip on me. A lady pulls up…
‘vill du ett lyft?’ She says and I reply ‘sorry, I don’t speak swedish’
She repeats in English and I explain the whole running thing. She asks about where I slept last night and breaths out in a kind of ‘bloody hell!’ way. She then says that she drove passed me twice yesterday and was amazed at how far I’d gotten on between her seeing me. That’s a bit of fuel for the engine. Then she wishes me good luck and drives off. A tiny bit more fuel and I’m runnig suddenly. The landscape the same beautiful forests and lakes.
‘Really need to get these things posted to England!?’ Is the thought as I lift them and place my journals back in my backpack. They’re pretty weighty, eating more than the 350g solar panel I’m carrying (another piece of ‘needs to be posted’ equipment. I’ve worked out that with some clever kit tweaks I can reduce my pack weight (not including food) by around 1kg. I just need to put the whole idea on trial first before I go and shoot myself in the nuts. I would say foot but it would be a might more disastrous that a foot with a hole.
Shopping purchased, food eaten, I’m off. Back to no man’s land I go and it’s mostly uphill. Still… Google says 6hrs and I say 4:30hrs. 28km to go and I suddenly feel that adventure sausage (in the form of sliced salami) kick in. I start to run the downhills. All feels good. Now the flats get a run. A few hills here and there to make me warmer. I run passed a couple getting the fallen leaves off their lawn, the lady looking up, smiling and waving as I run passed. More fuel for that engine. Then a farm and two young boys on bikes. I wander what they think of the sight they see. Old bloke, red coat, rucksack, leggings, multicoloured beard. I say hey and wave, a little concerned by the rifle on of the boys in carrying on his bike. Waving it around like its a wand and he’s Harry Potter casting a patronous charm.
Then a series of cars go by and I wave and say thanks to each one. I recognise the last one, the lady driving waves enthusiastically, smiling. Was that the lady from the morning? Pointless question, uttered loudly for the ears of the trees. Then I suddenly stop. The wind has disturbed the trees and they shed their leaves. I stand in a flurry of yellow falling flakes. It’s beautiful to watch. I try to record it but sadly the reality of the moment may never be communicated in the way t was perceived. More running. I’ve been tagging a bunch of mile stones, not realising what they are until suddenly one says 1 Mil. Then the boundary between Delsbo and Jarvso appears and I know I’m over half way.
Run in is running but a times I want to whoop. I whistle and sing as I run. The health benefits of the running balancing out the criminal act of creating such noise pollution. Jarvso apears and for the first time a cafe that’s open. I’m in…
‘Sorry I don’t speak Swedish’
‘Can I grab a coffee please?’
‘Help yourself to anything you want’
‘There’s a long way to go yet. Too much has gone by for me to stop for no reason. Or no good reason.’ Is my reply without even a moments consideration. She smiles and nods in agreement. I et ready to leave, get my money out and count out some coins…
‘The coffee is free. You don’t need to pay for it’
‘Really?! Tak! Tak lots! Have an amazing evening’
‘And you. Good luck’
I’m off. More fuel in the tank, or is it the caffeine? The next shop is reached quickly, about 1km out of my way but I need a tad extra for the two days ahead. A couple of young girls stop in their tracks as they see me appear in one of the isles. I look straight at them both, smile then laugh, walking off. Food bought, I run towards a hotel. I need to dry my tent and sleeping bag but if they are more than £50 I’m not staying. I arrive, the lady explains the cheapest they have is close to £90 and then kindly starts to call other places. She gets me a room for £25 and I decide to take it. More running, straight passed the place, then back to it.
The elderly lady at the door speaks no English, her husband only the tiniest bit. I thanks them for showing me what I need to know and pay. Time to recharge batteries, drink water, sleep. For a day where nothing much really happens, there is lots to say for human kindness. The lady at the hotel insisted I find a place to stay web when I said I have a tent and not to go to too much trouble. Again thanks isn’t a big enough word and even saying tack så mycket seems a paltry way to express my gratitude.
I wake to the sound of rain. A gentle piterpater of light rain accentuated with the heavier drops from the adjacent tree. It stops for a few minutes before continuing. ‘Sunday already. Where did the weekend go?’ I think as I have some breakfast. I plan on grabbing some food from the shop, which luckily opens at 9am everyday. I still have food enough for a meal or two, but extra calories are a bonus. My shopping is quicker today. Salami sticks, 2 mini cartons of vanilla cream (this is what I thought was some custard type liquid) and some cardamon buns. I wander out of the village, intent on a slow steady day. The weight of the pack is still heavy when carrying nearly 2l of water. Passed a weir, a ski resort and then it’s back to no man’s land.
I need to dry the inner of my tent and My sleeping bag, but I’ve resigned myself to a colder eve since it’s drizzling and all the land is coated in a layer of moisture. Hidden in the woods, I spot a stack of logs beneath a makeshift shelter. There’s no path to it by my feet are already wet and cold. The chance of a fire is a good way to dry them. It is a nice little hunters shelter with some rocks setup as a place for a fire and plenty of chopped wood. I collect some birch bark, place it in the centre of the fireplace. Grab two split logs, using my knife as an axe edge and hitting the blade with one of the logs I split the wood into smaller, faster burning pieces. I set up the wood in the traditional wigwam manner and start the fire. It burns well and I add a few more piece of wood. The sleeping bag waves slightly as the hot air rises passed it. The tent and my tabi socks steam as the moisture starts to evaporate quickly. I eat the cardamon buns, drink some water and then wait for the fire to go out. I put out the glowing embers and leave.
The road ahead is a roller coaster ride of ups and downs, but eventually it’s time for the down. A lake side bench seems like a good place to stop for a rest but there’s more here that is useful. A map on a board shows the location of all the wind shelters and cabins in the area. There’s a wind shelter next to the lake at Friggesund if I end up arriving there today. Ideal for a night next to a fire. Normally I would have sat, eaten, gone. Oblivious to the map and the useful information that it holds.
‘But it’s Saturday’ catches my eye and I laugh. I wandered where the extra day went! Phone off again and it’s time to run. I know it’s a rest day. Running just seems less effort, smoother somehow compared to walking. I pass through two, maybe three villages and a lady, dressed in luminous orange and walking with purpose. She smiles and waves and I return the smile and wave, running as its a downhill. An old road, covered in leaves head at an angle on the direction I just came and there’s an electricity junction box.
‘Free electricity’ is the only thought I have and the powerbank and mobile get plugged in. I contemplate staying there for the night, recharging my powerbank. I eat a little food, check the map to see how far I am from Friggesund and what time the shop opens. 9pm is the opening time. I’d like to be near Delsbo by then, so early shop is cancelled for a late shop. At my feet the smallest mushrooms I have ever seen are growing from a leaf. I pick it up, amazed at how delicate the structures are.
Suddenly there’s a roaring sound from the junction box, with the occasional hiss of gas escaping at pressure! I nearly fall off the chair I sit on and decide to get gone. There’s no way of getting a good nights sleep if that thing is going to keep making such a a racket. Plug pulled, pack reorganised and on my back I leave. I have around 3km until I reach the trail just outside of Friggesund and it arrives sooner than I was expecting. I wander down and find a spot out of the way. I pitch my tent and while I’m still warm and fully dressed I’m in my sleeping bag. I start to eat some food and hear voices close by…
I freeze for a moment before zipping up the door to the inner compartment of the tent. The voices stop. I don’t here footsteps. They’d be obvious on the pine needles and branches that cover the track. A pause…
More waiting and nothing. Then a bird flies from branch to branch, fluttering its wings and singing loudly. I return to my meal in the hope that the people I heard either didn’t see me or decided to leave me be. It’d be a pain to have to repack and find a new spot but I’m prepared to do it if needed. Warm and comfortable, I eat, drink and dress for sleep. As rest days go, I still ran, still pushed up the hills, but there was no urgency to the journey and I realised that my ability to see what is around me has improved. More aware of opportunities that make the difference between warmth and cold, food and no food, water and no water. I suddenly realise that i have never been this observant when running. Right now, less than a meter from me, a red squirrel scampers up a tree, into the canopy above. The slower pace is the only reason I’m able to wander and feel like my eyes are wide open. Able to see the smaller things and have the time to appreciate their beauty. The point is, why when we have the ability and the choice, do we seek a life full of things when all we need seems to be right there. Hidden in the open.
Musings of an outdoor lover
On the quest to live an interesting life.
Photos and stories from a 7,000 mile walk across Europe
jóga & meditáció
Find Me Outside
#GetPromFit is a project to get young girls to engage with exercise and a healthy lifestyle, using the end of school prom as motivation, learning that exercise is enjoyable when done right.
Retracing Genghis Khans longest invasion route by bicycle.