It’s hard to not repeat yourself when days feel like a repeat. Groundhog Day is what running in this part of the world is like. Not a bad thing really…
The view is mostly pine, spruce and birch woodlands, occasionally they break to give views of grassy marsh land and there’s a smattering of lake and river views that are stunning. The morning was the coldest yet. Again, the ground and vegetation frozen and again, a blue sky dappled with cloud. My tent is frozen solid. All condensation turned to ice. I wait…
This is just laziness really and avoiding the biting cold, but still I wait in vain for the ice to melt. It’s not melting, so I get packed and out. The tent is unfurled from its pole and peg imprisonment and shaken like a dusty rag. The ice breaks away and slides out, covering the floor. ‘Result’ says I. ‘Less moisture on the tent’
I fold and roll. The tent is now the size of a 12″ baguette, bagged and placed inside my cut down floor mat. All is ready for my to move and so I do. Slowly…
This is a rest day and I will only walk.
I amuse myself by saying the words 50k rest day out loud. The benefit of km is that 50k or any distance, rhymes with day. The only word I can come up with to rhyme with miles is piles! More self amusement. Then I check the map whilst sat eating in a riverside shelter…
A shorter route! A shorter route but it involved off trail hill and bog navigation.
I veer away and wander down a dirt track. This is a loggers tracks and evidence of their trade is everywhere, including stack after stack of wood.
Numbers stamp on every other log and I find the patterns and image pleasing. A break to charge my phone with the solar panel…
The sun is lacking in power and is setting. I keep marching on, determined to reach the river I have to cross and I do… Just as the sun vanished behind the wooded hill. There is a shack. Incomplete on the inside, a huge double door that doesn’t shut properly and dusty inside. I check out the terrain and river, deciding whether to push on or stop.
The sun is setting fast, light diminishing. To carry on would be foolish. I stop.
The routine is still there, but it’s adapted to the new situation. I clean the few floor boards that are in the cabin, perhaps it was destined to be a garage of sorts and never completed. No matter. It’ll make a sleeping place. A pit is dug, the chimney hole in the roof is cleaned out in the hope it’ll act well enough to stop the cabin from filling with smoke. Wood collected. Rocks placed on the rim of the pit, fire started. Smoke fills the cabin, eyes burn, eyes water. All doors and the solitary window are now open. The smoke billows out and I can breath again. The fire is left to burn out, the embers used to cook a meal of barley and adventure sausage. With the addition of coconut oil it’s actually rather tasty. Then it’s time to sleep. With the warm meal, I feel warm. I put on an extra layer. The sky is clear and the stars wink at me, warning me of the cold ahead.
‘My nose isn’t cold’ is the last though before is fall asleep.
I wake. Cold. Actually cold as apposed to uncomfortable with the temperature. I put on my waterproofs. They have little effect and I curl up, head inside the sleep bag and the ends wrapped up. I cling on to the tiny bit of warmth that fills the claustrophobic space and sleep a little more.
Alarm goes off. Snooze. Alarm goes off. Snooze…
I have no idea why I’m snoozing it. I’m not actually sleeping and avoiding the cold is pointless. It’s cold and will be cold most of the day if not all day. I light another fire, using smaller pieces of wood that will burn fast and with less smoke, embers used to warm water ready for breakfast. Amusingly, it was cheaper to buy hot chocolate powder (which contains milk) than to buy just powdered milk, so a mug of chocolate muesli is eaten. Bag packed… You know the routine now I hope.
‘Cross the river when it is its closest to the road. Head south west’. A reminder to myself. The river is deeper than I was expecting but I cross, neoprene socks doing their job well. Crunch after crunch, I step along the frozen miss and peat hags. The frost clings to my feet and freezes the moisture on the outside of them. It is more winter than Autumn.
I miss the clearing and the start of the road, but redirect. I was 3m to far west, although I couldn’t see the clearing for the small trees. The road is again a dirt track. Infrequently used and appear to be more a snowmobile route in the winter. All sparkles. The spectrum of visible light, twinkling as I walk along. 55k day is the plan. I glimpse a lake through the trees as it develops a layer of mist, aided by the warmth of the sun’s rays. I walk and another lake, this one in the shade. The land is far more pleasant on these roads. More inviting of exploration, but still woodlands. So I realise that the Swedish are shaped by their lands, as apposed to shaping it. The small shelters, the camping spots, the rest areas for drivers, all give the impression that the land is being shaped by humans, but really… It’s the relationship with these forests and wood that shapes the people. Just as I realise this, a cabin appears. The chimney stack tells of the wood stove inside and the lake provides a nice back drop.
‘Yet another nice spot that I will wish I stopped at’ and I walk off. Then I stop.
‘A rest day in a town is costly. A rest day here is free and far more resting’
I go back, I go in, I sweep, I collect wood, start a fire, lay piles of wood to dry and collect water, heating it on the wood stove.
The wooden spoon is carved some more, making it more spoon like. There is a joy, a profound joy in using my hands to make things. I recall wanting to be a bricklayer when younger and realise that maybe the root of this though, the desire, was the joy I felt when making things. Now I sit with all my equipment either draped or hanging, the moisture leaving them all with help of the heat. A lunch of cracker bread, beetroot salad and adventure sausage, a cup of coffee, and listening to the crack and creak of the fire mingling with the sound of the 3 flies that have been awakened from their cold induced slumber. An early start tomorrow, but more importantly, a good nights sleep tonight.
Some locals appeared at the door. All dressed like atypical hunters, all carrying their shotguns and all wearing the trousers that everyone outdoors wears here. The guy who tried to get in apologised, told me they’re hunting and then insisted that they are going to stay outside. I invited them in but the reply was no, we’ll stay out here. But it was said in an almost apologetic tone. They wanted me to shut the door quickly too so I didn’t waste the heat. Now they sit outside, a fire cracking occasionally, chatting and laughing. I’ve managed to dry everything, heated the cabin to almost sauna like warmth and the sun sets again.
The time for rest is almost over. Tomorrow promises to be another fine frozen day…
2am and the cabin temperature dropped enough for me to wake. A new fire is lit. The heat permeates, fills the space where the bed is. 2 hours more sleep…
The fire burns out quickly and at 4am I’m wandering around in the dark for wood. A couple of armfuls and I go back in. A new fire burns, it’s orange light dancing on the walls. I eat breakfast, drink a coffee and pack. Shortly before 7 I leave, the sky a light blue colour. The colour that promises sunlight soon. Running isn’t a mode of transport today. It’s a heating mechanism. My beard freezes. Develops a crust of ice. A slight detour off route provides the chance of some loo roll. I’ve noticed that each small town or area has its own animal and wander if it’s based on the prevalent animal in the area. Varträsk proudly shows a wolf on their welcome sign. I get back on route, run along a road that is more like a trail and the sun rises higher and higher. It seems to lack the warmth it had a few days ago. It’s cold enough for my beard to freeze, which helps pass a few cold minutes as I try to take a picture of it.
The land refuses to let go of its frosty coating and the streams and smaller rivers have inch thick layers on ice on them. A new problem to solve, especially when rocks are frozen into the ground. The hours pass and Frederika appear around me. I diversion to a shop and a lunch in the sun. I have ages and should make 50k today. I stroll out and head to Bjorna. I pass close to a Buddhist temple and want to go over but I keep on route. I just want to get closer to Örnsköldrvik. I need to get a solution to the cold nights and there is a long way to go. The sun seems to be waking up…
The warmth from her light forces me to take of the 2 extra layers and I’m running in leggings and T-shirt again. Locals drive passed and look on with what I guess is bemusement. I come across an abandoned building or two. I find them fascinating so I explore them quickly. One is little more than an old farm shed and the second an old house. Normally I would have stayed in the house for a warmer night but this one is different. It has the feel of a house that saw a loved one pass away. I wander through the kitchen, the living room and finally a toom that has a makeshift bed at one side. At the foot of the bed, facing it, a chair. The sense of a loved one passing away is stronger now and I feel the need to leave.
Back into the cold and up the hill. The sun’s light shines at the top and I’m starting to get cold again. I push on. ‘Reach the light before the sun goes behind that hill’ I say out loud and before long I’m there. She warms me. A smile and I run down the hill. The aim to reach a lake or suitable spot with water. On the map there is promise of a cabin at a lake side. I hold no hope of it coming to anything other than a lake with some houses next to it be still run on. The sun is dropping fast and I want to be settled before her heat leaves the ground and I am forced awake by the cold. I arrive. A groups of buildings, all resembling a postcard picture of an old farmstead. I find a clearing in the woods opposite and wander in. There is flowing water near by, the ground is free from ice and it’s time to setup camp. 6pm and I’m asleep knowing that at some point in the night, the temperature will drop enough for the cold to sink through my layers and touch my skin.
3am was the coldest. Cold enough to wake me from my broken night’s sleep. Tent checked…
It’s frozen of course. Sagging under the weight of the solid water that clings to its inside and outside. I eat something. I move around to generate some body heat. I cocoon myself, trapping any and all body heat that I can. I stay on there. Alarm goes off and the snooze function keeps on at me till 8am. 4 hours of snooze! All to hide away from the inevitable. Cold and a frozen landscape.
I eventually get out, pack, shake out my tent and watch in satisfaction as layers of ice fall from the outer and inner. It’s gonna be soaked in a few hours as if defrosts, but I have distance to cover. Rolled up, attached to pack and it’s the road again. The sky has a thin film of cloud and I rejoice at the chance of a warmer evening. It may not happen but one can hope.
It’s time to move but my legs refuse. My brain sends the signal to stop and walk and my legs listen. I don’t even realise it’s happening. I just amble on. Then a sign warning me of a restsplats ahead. I run the last km to it and wander in. It’s a pleasant spot. The road hidden by trees, two shelters with spaces for fires, two cabins (locked and I assume bookable) and as expected, toilets. I start to run off and change my mind. I collect wood instead and start a fire. I get my tent out and spread it from the rafters. I hear water for a coffee and realise that yesterday’s sausage fest was raw sausage! I had no idea I was meant to cook em first.
Sausage eaten I confront the mental weariness that I acknowledged on the way here. Now this part I’ve written once already, but it was all waffle without purpose. I find myself in a strange head space. I know why I started this. Inspire others, put my money were my mouth is as a teacher and to raise money for charities. The odd space is that they don’t seem to matter. Not the right words so I’ll explain my sentiment…
The more I run, walk, live from the pack on my back. The more I exist in this way the less the reasons matter. I’m doing it because I’m doing it. The bravado, the ego, the incredible endurance adventurer aspect rear their heads and when they do I feel the weariness. When I let go. When I run for runnings sake. That’s when the weariness vanishes. My pack feels lighter, my legs don’t need to be forced into running. They seem to do so on their own accord. This is me showing what ordinary can achieve and that’s it. I am pedestrian. What I do is pedestrian. Yet for some reason, being pedestrian seems more than it was. I am studying my body. I’m learning the mystical art of living through movement and all seem to be leading me down a path that I can almost touch. So now, having found another secret little resting spot, with wood for fire, I will make myself another coffee, drink from the lake and wait for my body to say…
‘Time to step on.’
A quick note before I do though… And more for the students that I no longer teach and the teachers I no longer call colleagues… It seems that we miss a huge trick in not making resilience more explicit. We say what it is but we never demonstrate it, show them what it really looks like. There’s definite steps to it. Acknowledgement, defining, solving. Acknowledge the failure, your own part in it, all the potential problems that may arise, define the feeling of failure, how the failure came to be, what actually was the exact reason for it and then move on to create solutions, avoiding repetition of be same mistake. Javad has it right, since this is really the creation of a story… A story of failure and how it was overcome.
Now, COFFEE 🙂
Coffee didn’t happen. Dinner and a burnt thumb did though and after a few hundred meters a trail that led into the forest. A spot to camp. Close to the road but hidden, slightly sheltered by the trees but I’m hoping for a warmer night. There seems to be a hint of cloud cover, even though the early clouds vanished in the warmth of the midday sun. I actually feel rather good. Tomorrow I’ll head to Bjorna, grab some food and then head to Örnsköldrvik, although I won’t attempt to go the full distance. If I decide to have a rest day there, it would be better to arrive early and make the most of the day, spending one night there as apposed to two. Right now, it’s time for routine and finally, sleep.
Sleep didn’t happen too well. 10pm awake and cold. Another layer put on. Doze after having a small alcohol burn. Tent frozen already. 3am.. What is it with 3am?? Every time I wake early it’s 3am. This time it was the cold. Freezing cold and no extra layers left. I made breakfast, left it to warm the tent and me before eating it. The coffee. The coffee placed on chest, zipped into top and left there. The burning sensation was pleasant and before log spread throughout my body. There’s a solution right there… A bottle just for hot water but not my water bottle. It leaks which would be disaster with a down sleeping bag.
I dozed off I think and woke to a Luke warm coffee. It’s now 4:30am and I make a second coffee, delighting in the heat from the stove and then from the metal cup placed on my chest. Wander if Alpkit ever thought of it being used as a bed warmer? Probably not.
I start to move, write some words in my journal and get out for a visit to the wood loo. The first step I take with my right foot is painful. Really painful! Confused I hobble off and then head back to pack away the tent. Quickly flicking through then memories of yesterday for a reason behind the pain…
None. Yesterday felt great. Smooth, lift and easy once I left the restsplats. I walk. Perhaps it just needs warming up, but the pain persists. Trying a run proved even worse! ‘Oh well… Go with the flow and all that.’ I still wanted to run though. A quick break at a roadside random shelter. A fire, clothes out for drying. The damp must be annihilated! I fiddle with my ankle.
Can’t get it to hurt by wiggling it so after I have no idea how long, I leave. I start to run down the road, determined to give it at least a minutes or two before vetoing running for a while, just inc…
Forgot my wetsuit socks! I turn around and run back up the hill. The run turned into a wall quickly from the pain, but still… I’m amused.
Socks stashed away, pack back on and I head off. The sun is coating the land in gold, I pass through Nyliden, seeing young children ready for school waiting for the bus. I pass through another village and there’s the school, children playing hockey outside. Eventually Björna appears. Straight for the coop. Straight for food and out again. I eat as I walk. Enjoying the peacefulness of the town, wandering how far before I find a pleasant rest spot for launch. One appears ahead and.
Wrong way! I turn around and head back to the shop. I missed the turning in my jovial meandering swig food in hand and mouth. I head to Örnsköldrvik now, find a spot in full sun. Sit. Sleeping bag draped over a large rock, solar panel attached to the battery and food in hand. Dallas salad was nice before so I decided to live a little and try Mimosa salad. Peach and pear brought together in a creamy mayoesc erm…. Cream.
This stuff is more pudding than a salad. I try it with some meatballs. All I taste is peach and get the texture of the meat along with it. I try it with the salami I have… Nope! This stuff is not to be eaten with meat. I move on to biscuits, a drink of cola and some dry roasted (it says clearly on the packet that this is roasting without oil! Funny for some reason). Too much food! The next hour is near food induced coma. Still, there’s a game afoot. Count the lakes to measure pace. A stupid game involving counting up to 6 and having no idea of how far or how long it takes to get from one to the other. The sixth one arrives after a session of road dancing and being amused by the skinny backpacker that walks on my east side at around 4pm everyday.
Thirst kicks in with a vengeance and I can’t get to the water in the lake without first crossing a bog. Map planning was to stop at a stream but looking at he ones I’ve passed, water is in short supply. Eventually I get to the stream, it’s running, I drink and then take extra water. Time to pick a camp spot. This is do with glorious efficiency. Meandering first for 20minutes before looping right back, next to the road and where I first thought of camping.
My skills are sharp today.
Without intending to, I’m around 10km from tomorrow’s destination. A mission is on to have a few solutions in place for the cold and for the inevitable increase in pack weight as I have to get more wintery in my gear choice. I should get there early though and have plenty of time to visit a cash point, go for a shopping meander, find some bargains and maybe a set of shiny new wheels 😉