Monday, October 8, 2018

Day 3: The Magic of Reindeer

August 18: Karolina and I woke up to a beautiful, clear morning! It never really got dark during the night--we were, after all, in the land of the midnight sun. Well, technically, we were slightly under the Arctic Circle so there was no midnight sun, and being August, the sun was setting even to the north of the Arctic Circle. But the days were super long, sunrises and sunsets were slow as the sun weighed low on the horizon, and darkness only lasted a few hours. But even when it was dark, it wasn't dark dark!
Sunrise in the morning was gorgeous! Maybe too early, but gorgeous!
 I had hoped our location hundreds of miles away from big cities would have provided a spectacular night sky, blazing with the Milky Way and perhaps--if we were lucky--the northern lights. I didn't stay up all night, but whenever I did wake up during the night, I'd take a peak at the sky and I never saw it get truly dark. At best, it looked like the sun had set maybe an hour and a half earlier--dark enough that it looked like night, but with enough light that it felt like we were camped near a big city with lots of light pollution.

Maybe it did get truly dark for an hour or two, but if it did, I slept through it. But at this time year, we'd be losing over an hour of daylight each week so we had hopes that the night sky viewing would improve over the next few weeks.

In the meantime, the sun rose at a ridiculously early hour and we were on the trail and hiking by 8:30, happy for the clear, sunny skies.

But that only lasted a couple of hours before dark and menacing clouds started rolling in. *sigh* At about the same time we saw more reindeer. Again. Our reindeer sightings were starting to turn into a daily occurrence. And, more interestingly, we noticed that we tended to spot them just as it was about to rain. Coincidence? Maybe reindeer got their name because they caused rain?!

Which then became an ongoing joke throughout the rest of the trail.

"Drats!" Karolina would say. "Reindeer ahead."

I'd usually be looking at my feet, watching my step trying to make sure I didn't slip or fall in the mud, and look up to see the reindeer.

"Stop looking up!" I'd tell her. "Look at your feet like I'm doing! If you don't see them, it doesn't count and it won't rain!"

The group of reindeer we saw today included a distinctly white one. An albino reindeer? Did those exist? Neither Karolina nor I had expected reindeer to be white. Was this an anomaly? Was this normal? We didn't know!
It's an albino reindeer!

Over the coming days and weeks, we'd see a lot more white reindeer and realized they were quite common. Most reindeer were brown like you'd normally imagine, but I'd guess that maybe about 15% of the ones we ended up seeing were mostly white. Learn something new every day!

After one snack break by a lake, Karolina got a head start on me by a few minutes so we both expected that I'd catch up quickly, but I chased some birds to get photos, checked out a structure off the side of the trail trying to figure out what it was (still don't know, but it looked like it might be used for storage of... something?) and basically would get off trail for 5 or 10 minutes chasing down photos. It wound up taking over an hour before I caught up with Karolina again after she started worrying that maybe something had happened to me.

We tried talking in Polish--it's nice to have someone I can practice my Polish with!--and she asked what had taken me so long.

And I answered--or rather tried to answer--in Polish about chasing after some birds to get photos, but I got the Polish word for "chasing" mixed up with "fleeing" so Karolina understood me as saying that "I was fleeing some birds"--as if the birds were chasing me. After switching to English and getting the confusion sorted out, it became something of an ongoing joke as well whenever I fell behind on the trail. "What happened?" Karolina would ask. "Did you get chased by some birds?"

"Yes!" I'd reply, even though nothing of the sort ever happened. "I was trying to photos of reindeer" or whatever the case might have been.

These were the birds that "chased" me. =)

The threatening clouds held off on the rain for the rest of the morning and much of the afternoon--a fact that both of us were happy about. The last break of the day we took near 4:00, and I could see a large, active rain cloud heading our way and knew there was no way we would be avoiding it.

Karolina put on her cape and I put a poncho over my pack, and we continued hiking in the rain, complaining bitterly about the reindeer that caused it. At least the rain was a relatively light one--an aggressive sprinkle might be an accurate description--but the water is water and it's still wet regardless of its intensity. And all water in Sweden is ice cold, including the rain.

A half hour into the rain storm, I slipped in the mud on the trail and fell into a large puddle of mud. The bottom of my pack was coated with the mud, as was the hand I caught my fall with. I wore gloves because of the cold and rain and landed wrist deep in the mud. I cursed loudly, angry about the weather and wishing for just one day--just one nice day without any rain or even a threat of rain.

I rinsed off my hand (and glove) in a nearby creek, which felt like plunging my hand into a bucket of ice water, but at least the mud was off of me. I didn't want to dip my pack into the creek, but I hoped most of that mud would wash off on its own in the rain.

For most of the trail, it's possible to camp in the wild more-or-less anywhere you want, but our maps and guidebooks didn't actually show where to find campsites or where the better ones were located. We had to read our topo maps closely and make guesses about possible locations, and I spotted a possibility next to a particular creek that the trail passes over on a bridge. Our map showed the area had trees, which I figured was good to help set up my tarp and provide a little protection of any wind-driven rain, but when we arrived, the place was almost completely barren of trees and a huge disappointment. I could count on my fingers the number of trees in the area, and none of them were located near a good place to set up my tarp. There were campsites, however, which I expected to find near any location where the trail crossed a creek.

Ultimately, we settled on a location directly next to the bridge. I could use the bridge to anchor one end of my tarp--I liked the idea of having a very solid anchor in case the wind picked up--and it was located on a grassy patch of land which made it softer for me to sleep on since I didn't bring a pad for cushioning.

If you remembered at the end of the last blog post, we were camped on an island in a lake. So we had more bridges to cross to get back to the "mainland"!
This is a reindeer fence, but it appears to be in poor condition!

The trail was in bad shape in some places! And be super careful--some of this mud is very slippery!
This was another "bird" that "chased" me. =)

Taking a snack break by a creek

You can tell the rain started because Karolina is now wearing her red cape. (I'd joke that I'd have to start calling her Little Red Riding Hood because of the red cape.)
We camped next to this creek, which had a lot fewer trees to protect against the elements than we had hoped or expected!
Lots of reindeer along the trail again today!

The reindeer are "semi-domesticated" so they'll let people come surprisingly close... but this was about as close as they'd ever let us come before they'd run off.

1 comment:

DarkZen said...

Being stuck in the Central Valley makes me jealous! Beautiful country!