Friday, October 19, 2018

Day 8: Another day, same reindeer

August 23: I woke up in the morning and headed outside for a quick pee, noting that the thermometer read 4.5°C--or about 40°F. Not super cold, but I certainly didn't go out without my jacket either! And, I was happy to note, the rain that fell for most of the night finally stopped. At least for now. The clouds still looked angry and the weather forecast did call for sprinkles throughout the day.

Rainbow in the morning!

For breakfast, I had my usual cereal in the morning but this time decorated it with blueberries on top that Karolina had picked the day before. It was a nice addition! =)

Fortified with cereal and blueberries, we hit the trail at around 8:00. The outside temperature had already warmed to 7.1°C--or about 45°F when we got on the trail.

We were now badly behind our initial schedule to reach our next resupply point by stopping so early in the day yesterday so we planned to make up for it today by pushing for a long 30 kilometer dash to a location near the next emergency shelter. If the weather was super bad by the time we arrived, we had every intention of sleeping in it. It was nice to have a plan B that could get us out of bad weather.

The topo map made the trek look relatively easy with one long, shallow climb to the top of a plateau early in the day, then more-or-less flat for several hours before a quick descent off the plateau where the trail would level out again. So... mostly pretty flat all day!

Patches of sun would come out through the day, but mostly we hiked under dark, menacing clouds that dropped some ever so light sprinkles. Karolina put on her cape to keep her and her gear dry--just in case the rain got worse--but I left my poncho and umbrella in my backpack hoping the rain wouldn't become worse.

Except for the first few kilometers of the day, we were primarily in a treeless region which was prime reindeer habitat and we saw countless reindeer throughout the day. They became such a regular presence, I didn't even try to get photos of most of them. I already had a lot of good reindeer photos at this point and couldn't imagine what I'd need with more of them!

Late in the afternoon, after about 20 kilometers, Karolina's aches and pains started slowing her down and she needed additional rest breaks. I tried to perk her up, "You can do it! You're doing great!" but I think I mostly just annoyed her. =)

Also late in the day, as we were traveling over a boardwalk, we saw a small animal scurrying around, trying to hide itself under the boardwalk. It was a small, gopher-like creature and we wondered--is it a lemming? We knew lemmings were (allegedly) common in this part of Sweden but we hadn't seen any so far. It had spots and was lighter than I imagined a lemming looked like, but when I tried thinking what a lemming should look like, I realized that I didn't really know. They were just small, creatures with a green set of hair and a blue shirt that I tried to save from extinction in the Lemmings game decades ago. I was pretty sure they didn't really look like that in real life, though.

I tried to get photos, but it annoyingly stayed deep in the shade under the boardwalks before dashing quickly behind a rock and into a crevice where we could no longer see it. We felt certain it must have been a lemming because what else would it be? (Later, when we got online, we looked up photos of what real lemmings looked like and it was definitely a lemming!)

As we bore down on our goal by the emergency shelter, we started looking for places to camp but the best locations were already taken by other hikers and we pushed on, eventually hiking about a kilometer past the shelter--or at least the turn-off for the shelter. We decided not to walk the 1/2-kilometer off trail to see the actual shelter.

We found a nice, open campsite next to StÄrbmieavrre Lake. The location was gorgeous, right up by the lake with big views but I was a little worried about its exposed location. The weather forecast predicted rain during the night and combined with wind, that could be a huge problem in such an exposed location.

Karolina was hurting pretty badly at this point, so I told her to take a break and I'd scout ahead 5 or 10 minutes up the trail to see if there were any more protected campsites nearby. I dropped my pack and pushed ahead, scouting for something that was more protected than the campsite we found but after close to 10 minutes, I gave up and turned around. We'd make the best of the campsite we got. At least it was a beautiful location!

I set up my tarp low and secured it the best I could with rocks and wood helping to anchor down the stakes holding up the tarp. I hoped it would be sufficient. The weather forecast hadn't mentioned strong winds, but these plateaus and treeless areas have generally been windy and wind seemed to be the norm, so I prepared for it anyhow.

This is the only photo with a tube of cheese that are so prevalent in Sweden! This was a common snack for me, and one of my favorites, squeezing cheese out of tube onto a flour tortilla. Most people (including Karolina) would put the cheese on "bread"--I use the term loosely here because that's what people called it, but it was more like a hard cracker which I didn't care for. Tortillas, I thought, tasted better and didn't make as much of a mess.

Found a reindeer antler!
And I bet these guys know who the litterbug is, but they aren't talking!

The trail is marked with red markers (see the rock on the left in the background), but this was an unusual one! =)

I'm setting up my tarp. The location is beautiful, but I worried about how exposed it was knowing that rain was in the forecast.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Day 7: More Reindeer, More Rain....

August 22: We woke to a beautiful, clear morning! The weather forecast wasn't looking good for the rest of the day, however, with rain expected by noon and continuing the rest of the day and overnight, so Karolina and I decided to hit the trail early and get in as much hiking as we could before the rain started.

Sunrise was gorgeous without a cloud in the sky!

The clear skies didn't last long, however, and even before we left camp at 7:00am, there wasn't a blue patch left in the sky. And it was cold! There wasn't any wind, but temperatures seemed to plummet throughout the morning after the sun came up. That's never a good sign for weather!

The trail passed over a long, mostly-flat plateau so the hiking was quick and easy. It was also prime habitat for reindeer which could be seen near and far--and we saw a lot of reindeer over the next few hours. We joked that it was another sign that the rain this afternoon would be brutal. So far, our theory that reindeer = rain has held true every day of our hike.

After a couple of hours, the trail descended off the plateau into a river valley where we reached the next hut, the Raufallsstugan, on the trail at 10:30, and given the dire weather forecasts for the rest of the afternoon, we talked about the possibility of spending a night in the shelter. We were surprised, however, when we arrived at the hut and discovered that there wasn't a caretaker and that all of the rooms were locked with a key. Apparently, to reserve a bed, one was supposed pay for it and pick up the key in town and drop it off at the next town.

But we didn't realize that and the idea of staying in the hut for the night was a last-minute decision so that wasn't really an option at this point.

However... one room was unlocked so hikers could get out of the elements which included a small kitchen, a few tables and chairs and two beds. So maybe we could stay there after all?

When we arrived, the German guy with the yellow coat we had first met a few days earlier--the one who helped the woman who ultimately was airlifted to a hospital for her injuries--was still there having spent the night there. We were surprised to see him figuring he'd want to take advantage of the lack of rain in the morning like we did. It was as if he were waiting until the rain started before continuing for the day! I think he just liked to sleep in very late, though, because we've caught up with him several times late in the morning still in his camp although we had already been hiking for hours.

He was packing up to hit the trail, though, and would leave about 10 minutes after we arrived. We wished him luck and good weather, but we all knew he was going to get miserably wet.

Arriving at the Raufallsstugan Hut

The rain hadn't started yet, however, so Karolina decided to go outside and pick blueberries and hike a short trail along the nearby river while I watched some Netflix shows on my smartphone. The hut didn't have any electricity, but our devices were fully charged after leaving Ammarnas and I had a solar panel charger with a little extra juice, so I could watch at least a few hours of stuff without any problems.

Having quit for the day at 10:30, we had lots of time to kill, and after watching a couple of shows on Netflix, I pulled out my laptop and started doing some work on Walking 4 Fun. I couldn't get online, obviously, but I could upload my work later when I did get an Internet connection. At best, I'd only have a couple of hours before running the laptop battery down so I didn't want to get too deep into anything complicated and wound up working on videos for the website.

If you don't use the website, it allows people to virtually walk trails. And, in fact, I was taking hundreds of photos each day so that after I finished the Kungsleden, I could add that trail as well. But a couple of months earlier, I updated the site to support videos as well as photos! So when you reach a certain point along the trail, you can watch a short video of that section of the trail.

I had hundreds of videos I needed to process. Deciding which ones to use, which ones not to use, adding closed captions, then figuring out exactly where on the given trail the video is supposed to show up. I didn't process them all before launching the new feature--I'll just work on a few here and there as time permits and eventually, someday, I'll finish them all.

Our home for the night!

So with the couple of hours that I knew the battery would last, that seemed like the perfect task to work on. Process as many videos as I could then upload them at the next trail town. And that's what I did. I wound up processing 7 new videos that I took on the John Muir Trail that I'd later upload in a trail town. When the battery level fell to 5%, I shut the laptop down and stopped working. My work was done for the day.

A little after noon, the expected rain started falling and it continued almost nonstop for the rest of the day and evening. Another hiker soon appeared, hiking in from the other direction, and decided to call it quits for the day as well. Inexplicably, I didn't write anything about him down in my journal so I remember absolutely nothing about him--not his name or even his country of origin. He didn't talk much in any case.

So the three of us settled in the for night. The rest of the afternoon we spent writing in our journals, cooking dinner, comparing notes about what to expect ahead on the trail and reading our Kindles. Looking out the windows to the cold, wet rain, it felt very cozy inside. =)

Lots of reindeer on the trail today! Which, of course, means a lot of rain....
Reindeer tracks!

If you notice the snowmobile markers along the trail, they look old, worn and faded.

But clearly, they were planning to replace those markers soon!
We would pass by piles of new snowmobile markers maybe every five or ten minutes along this section of the trail.
So many great suspension bridges along this trail! This one went over the river next to the hut.

Karolina took this while out picking blueberries before the rain started.
She was very proud of her haul! =) Also, she let me have half of them which I'd eat with breakfast tomorrow. Thanks, Karolina! =D
Karolina cooks dinner. As you can probably guess from all the warm clothes that she's wearing, the inside of the hut wasn't heated. We might have been dry, but it was still a little cold! Actually, there might have been a small, wood-burning stove for heat. All of the huts and shelters seemed to have them, but we didn't use it.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Day 6: Shipping Pains

August 21: Night passed over AmmarnÀs without anything noteworthy happening. I'd periodically look out the window when I woke up and once again, it never seemed to get really dark, but I couldn't tell if that was because of our location so far north or due to the small amount of light pollution the town put out.

We slept in late--with plans so only do a half-day of hiking, we had time to relax. The morning was clear and gorgeous, and I was a little disappointed that we didn't have a full day of hiking with such great weather to our backs. Why?! Almost every day the weather has been less than stellar, and almost immediately upon reaching town yesterday, it clears up beautiful! Why does nature hate me?!

Karolina and I both took one last shower before checking out of the hotel/hostel and walking down to the grocery store where we planned to resupply.

Actually, the first thing we tried was to hit up the tourist office for suggestions about where to find lodging in Jakkvik which we figured would take us five days to reach, but they literally put out their closed sign just as we walked up. So we left to get groceries and hoped they'd be open again before we left town.

Packing up our packages! Little did I know when this photo was taken the problems that lay ahead....

Karolina stood outside the grocery store watching our gear while I went in first to buy 5 days worth of food. While being checked out, I asked about shipping--there were long portions of the Kungsleden that didn't have any grocery stores and the small shops in the hut, we had read, had rather expensive food since the food usually had to be transported there by helicopters or (in the winter) snowmobiles and our guidebook suggested that shipping food--especially the kind of stuff not found in the huts--could be competitive. But I wasn't sure how to ship stuff ahead (our guidebook was lacking such details!) The guy checking me out assured me that it wouldn't be a problem--he'd be glad to help.

Awesome. But first, I'd pack the food that I planned to carry for the next 5 days which was my first concern.

I exited the store, then Karolina took her turn shopping while I stood outside watching our gear and packing my newly acquired supplies.

When Karolina returned, I re-entered the store and soon bought another 10 days worth of food. I planned to send 5 days of food to two separate locations along the trail. The guy working at the store grabbed three boxes for us from the back of the store--old shipping boxes that they no longer needed.

I wanted to send three packages in total, but only two of them would include food. The last box would include my duffel bag which I used to check my gear when I fly and some extra Ziplocks, bags, clothes and toiletries to fill up the empty spaces. Stuff that I wouldn't need until I reached the end of the trail and needed them to fly home.

Karolina and I filled the two food boxes, but the boxes weren't quite big enough and we both had to take out a few days worth of food. About 7 days of our 10 days worth of food could fit. The other 3 days we decided just to carry. Which meant that I now carried 8 days of food on the trail. Ugh!

With the three boxes packed up and ready to go, I re-entered the grocery store to ship them.

The packages are ready for shipping!

At first a woman took me into the back--the area were customers usually aren't meant to go given me a behind-the-scenes view of the supermarket--into a small office where she got onto a computer and started searching for the specific addresses where the boxes needed to be mailed. But she had trouble finding the information online (the websites were all in Swedish so I was of absolutely zero help!) and eventually the man who first helped me took over the job and the woman went back to handle the registers again.

As he poked around, looking through one website after another trying to find the addresses, I learned that his name was Patrick. After what seemed like a half hour, he had come up empty. Well, not completely empty--he found some phone numbers of the places where I wanted the packages sent so he tried calling them, but the first ones he tried didn't answer their phones at all, and then he was on hold for what seemed like an eternity.

I was starting to get worried that we wouldn't be able to send these packages at all. Why is it so difficult?!

Patrick got a message on her personal phone that his kid needed to be picked up from school or something so he had to run off and do that, but it would only take about 10 or 15 minutes and he'd be right back.

I went outside to give Karolina an update--and ate a couple of snacks from my pack because it was lunch time and I was getting hungry. Karolina said that she was getting very bored sitting outside, not that I could blame her. She'd been sitting there for over an hour while I was inside trying to send these stupid packages.

Karolina took this photo through the window of the grocery store, and the woman next to me was the one who first started helping me before handing me off to Patrick after 15 minutes or so. (Sorry, it appears that Karolina took no photos of Patrick, but she wants everyone to know he was a very good-looking man.)
To be productive and give her something to do, I suggested that Karolina wander over to the tourist office again and see if she could locate lodging for us ahead in Jakkvik while I watched our gear until Patrick returned. Karolina returned maybe 10 minutes later saying that the "closed" sign on the tourist office was no longer there, but that the door was locked. That didn't make any sense, but I didn't want to leave in case Patrick returned.

We chatted for another half hour and I was beginning to wonder what happened to Patrick when he poked his head out the front door and called me back saying that he had been back for some time and had managed to get through to two of the three phone numbers to confirm the address where the packages needed to be sent. Yes! Finally!

He tried calling the last number but was once again had trouble getting through for the better part of a half hour. I was impressed with the patience of Patrick. He'd been helping me for close to two hours now and didn't seem at all bothered by the inconvenience. I felt a little bad for the trouble I caused. I thought it would be an easy thing to look up the addresses and mail the packages off within a few minutes. I certainly didn't expect this to take hours!

But finally he got through to the last phone number and after a brief conversation in Swedish of which I could understand absolutely nothing, he hung up the phone and told me the good news--he had verified the correct address to mail the package! Yeah! =)

He filled out the necessary forms online, printed the labels, put them on the boxes and gave me the receipts which I then took up to the register to pay for. We were done! It took over two hours to mail those packages, and we'd probably been at the grocery store for closer to three hours in total.

When I exited the store for the last time--free!--Karolina was chatting with another hiker who had arrived in town but was headed in the opposite direction on the trail. She told him that we were shipping food up ahead on the trail.

"You don't really need to do that," he said. "The huts have little stores with food already available."

Yeah, but they were (allegedly) expensive and had limited options. And we were only sending two boxes of food ahead along the longer stretches between grocery stores like Kvikkjokk.

"Oh, well that's a good place to send one," the hiker replied. "The selection there is very limited."

Glad we had his approval, but the boxes were already in the mail. Or rather, the bus. The bus service would actually be carrying our packages to their final destinations because the post office either wouldn't deliver to them or is more expensive or something. I didn't really understand that, but the bus, Patrick assured me, was the way to ship. At least to these particular destinations. (Our guidebook also suggested the bus as well.)

The hiker left and Karolina and I headed back to the tourist office to find out about lodging in Jakkvik, where I figured out why Karolina had trouble getting into the building--it was an emergency exit and she hadn't been at the front door at all! Oops. =)

We got a good laugh out of that, then entered the tourist office where a friendly woman told us about the hostel in Jakkvik which had room for 80 beds and said at this time of year, there should be plenty of space available. Really? Eighty beds?! Holy cow! She dialed the number on her phone and handed it over to me, and I made a reservation for the two of us for five days out.

Mission accomplished! At this point, I was ready to hit the trail. It was well into the afternoon by now and due to the shipping fiasco, we were hours behind schedule! But Karolina really wanted to see Potato Hill before we left town.

I kind of wanted to see it too but I was ready to write it off, anxious to finally leave town, but off we headed to the edge of town where Potato Hill was located.

Potato Hill is a small, natural hill that looks oddly out-of-place and, upon seeing it, I assumed it must have been made-man. It's not, but it looks man-made. And on the sunny southern slopes, the townspeople use it to grow potatoes. It's a funny little place, with a funny little name, and we followed a small road that climbed the back of the hill to the top with wonderful views.

I stopped to eat some snacks at the top--it was a nice place for a break with benches and even grills! Although I didn't cook anything on the grill, I made use of the benches.

We walked by an old, wooden church and some old, historical cabins and finally got out of town.... at 4:00 in the afternoon. I never imagined we'd be leaving town so late in the afternoon! We were so far behind schedule it wasn't even funny.

We followed the road out of town where it intersected with the Kungsleden and were finally back on track again. At least we thought we were on the right track, but after a few junctions without any signs pointing which direction was the Kungsleden, our confidence was falling. Did we somehow miss a turn? I kept a particularly close eye on our topo maps, comparing the ground we were hiking with the slopes and details on the map and--as far as I could tell--we were going in the right direction. But it bugged me that none of the junctions we were approaching had the Kungsleden listed. Why not?

We only hiked a few hours before setting up camp near another emergency shelter. It was the first day it didn't rain on us at all! (And, coincidence...? It was also the first day that we saw absolutely no reindeer!) The weather, in fact, had been quite nice all day. Sunny and warm. A little windy when we got above tree line, but overall, a beautiful day for hiking.

But I was still grumbling over the fact that we wasted so much of the day in the grocery store trying to mail those packages. It seemed so unfair that our first day of good weather, we didn't start hiking until 4:00 in the afternoon!

There's a postscript to this post.... Like I mentioned before, Karolina got very bored waiting outside of the grocery store for me and later, after we finished the trail and I flew home, going through my photos, I found some... unexpected photos of Karolina on my camera. She had taken a few silly selfies to entertain herself, for me to discover about a month later! Very funny, Karolina....

This was the silly selfie I found on my camera--about a month after Karolina took it!
Potato Hill--where all the locals grow potatoes on the sun-facing side of the hill.
The view from the top of Potato Hill was quite nice!
It's also a nice place to take a snack break because I was starving at this point! We missed lunch!
What a beautiful, wooden church!
Karolina checks out one of the historic cabins.
And finally back on the trail again!
This ski lift was one of the landmarks on my topo map that had me convinced we were still heading in the correct direction--even though the last few trail intersections had nothing pointing to the Kungsleden.
This wind shelter was another important landmark that confirmed we were still heading in the right direction.