Kvikkjokk to Jakkvik

The trail down to Kvikkjokk was easy, with a wide path and lots of sun. The Fjallstation had a nice lobby where you could hang out and charge your electronics, along with the most pitiful “grocery store” I’ve seen on a trail. All they had were way overpriced crackers and low calorie soup powders. Who wants low calorie food when you’re hiking all day?! 

Buying food in foreign countries is fun. My usual thought process is: That looks bizarre and kind of disgusting…let’s try it. 

“I’m surprised you got these,” the Swedish clerk told me in a nearly perfect upper class London accent as she held some dark sourdough crackers and hard bread. 

“Why, are they bad?”

“No, they’re great! They’re just, uh, very Swedish. Usually foreigners don’t…never mind, just try it!” At first they tasted really strange, but they’ve grown on me. 

Kvikkjokk is the end of the line for the vast majority of the hikers who’ve made it this far. The next week to Ammarnas in the south is almost deserted, according to my guidebook. 

Some disaffected young Swedish boy ran the “campground,” which was a plot of land with a bathroom. For 50 kronor ($6) you can camp there and take a hot shower, my first in nine days (and a great opportunity to wash my clothes). 

Boat schedule.

The next leg of the Royal Trail begins across the lake, and the signs for the boat crossing were pretty vague. Contact boat driver to cross lake. Wandering around the jetty, I ran into said “boat driver.”

“Oh wow, you’re far from home!” He told me, which I’ve heard a lot lately. I haven’t met any other non-Europeans in Sweden, which I’m just now realizing. It’s nice being exotic. He told me to meet him at the jetty at 10:20 the next morning. 

My socks and underwear hadn’t dried by then, which I was counting on the 3:30am sun to do. The clouds stopped that from happening, but at least it wasn’t raining. 

Everyone on the boat was Swedish and older, except for me and a German guy named Mats. Mats asked me if I’d done any other long trails, and I mentioned I’d hiked the Pacific Crest Trail last summer. The hikers on the boat had all heard of the trail, and asked a lot of questions. 

“It’s my dream to hike the Appalachian Trail one day,” a Swede on the boat told me.

“You’re only 25 and you’ve already hiked the PCT and lived in Spain for a year. That’s impressive,” Mats told me. I guess it is, but compared with my trail friends from last summer it seems pretty normal. And all I can think about is when I’m getting on the Continental Divide Trail, 3000 miles from Mexico to Canada through the Rockies. 

The section to Jakkvik started out in some craptacular swampy forest, but soon I got back to the open rolling tundra and my reindeer friends. 

An Italian hiker heading north seemed surprised to see me. “Whoa, another hiker!”

Above the tree line.

I camped by a river on a slanted piece of land, making a mental note to not get out the wrong side of my tent and fall into the water. Sometimes I wake up in the night, forget where I am, and panic in the darkness and confines of my (wonderfully toasty -12C) sleeping bag. That hasn’t happened in a long time, but it would still be a real damper on the trip. At least I haven’t had any moments like when I woke up at 2am in Yellowstone thinking I was covered in mice, which made me turn on the lights and slam my sleeping bag repeatedly against my dorm wall. My roommate was really cool about it, though. 

The next day started out with wet feet, rain, and going off on a game trail instead of the path. It was super boggy, with the trail really just being a creek in places. It was too wet and cloudy to dry off my things, so I took as few breaks as possible. The scenery was great in the wide open expanse of the fells, but the rain got harder as I passed through some really uninspiring forest. 

The vast pine forests of the PCT and the green tunnel of the AT are great, and make you feel really peaceful and far away from everything. This was just not the same with endless mud and a stream for a trail. The squishing of my cold feet with each step grated on my nerves, probably exacerbated by my dehydration. When it’s raining and cold, I find it hard to rationalize stopping to get water. Thus, I suffer the consequences and get really grouchy. When I’m hiking through really lush, wet areas I don’t drink as much because I figure water is everywhere and why stop when I can just go a little farther? In the desert I pay much more attention to water, and tend to be much better hydrated.

By the time I got to Vuonatjviken, a fishing getaway and site of the ferry to the next part of the trail, I was soaked and tired. There was nobody outside (for good reason with all the rain), so I just walked off to a field and set up my tent barely out of sight of the houses. If they tell me I can’t sleep here I’ll just play the stupid foreigner card and walk into the woods, screw their property rights. It rained all night. 

The next morning, during a break in the rain, I got up and tried to find someone. It was deserted, except for a fisherman who just stared at me. I went back to my tent for a couple hours and, at 8:30, finally found the guy who arranges the boat crossing. I was the only hiker they’d be taking that day, but I could tag along with some Finnish fishermen not much older than me. 

The guys had trouble understanding my English, but were friendly. The Swedish woman navigating the boat gave me candy, and I definitely took more than was probably polite. Whatever, I paid 300 kronor ($35) for the crossing and I’d never see her again. 

It took an hour to drop off the Finnish guys at some road and then arrive at the Kungsleden. I was perfectly happy to be in the warm and dry interior of the boat, and got to dry my socks and shoes. They stayed dry for about 25 seconds after I got to the trail. 

Following a road to Jakkvik.

The sludge to Jakkvik was only 11 miles, but took me 6.5 hours including three quarter mile rowboat crossings. The rain and mud just made me want to get to town and be done with it, and the promise of cheese (I couldn’t stop thinking about Gouda) made me go on. 
The Italian hiker earlier told me I could go to the church to get wifi…but the church in Jakkvik had no apparent electricity. I saw a house nearby and trespassed on the property to see if there was wifi there. A middle aged Swedish guy came out wondering what I was doing. 
Quick, think of an excuse. “It’s just such a beautiful view from here!” He agreed, and talked to me for 15 minutes about how mosquitoes will leave you alone if you just give in to their desires. I managed to escape and arrive at the grocery store right before it closed, buying some Gouda cheese and eating it like a homeless man under the gas station awning while it poured. 

My home during another rain shower.

One of my toes had been rubbed raw, so I limped my way out of town. I saw a sign for a campground, and looked back to the Jakkvik Fjallgarden. I wandered inside, and using the Swedish I had picked up from being here two weeks was able to figure out it just cost 70 kronor ($8.25) a night to camp. 

I think it means call that number…

I called the number listed using my Spanish phone number, and the same mosquito zen guy who I trespassed on showed up! Turns out he also runs the Christian youth camp/Kungsleden hostel. 
It was seriously amazing, probably the best hostel I’ve ever stayed in. Four ovens, a huge kitchen, and spacious living rooms with sofas. I ended up taking a much needed rest day to dry all my clothes and let my toe heal. 

Hostel and campground sign, with the red building being the hostel.

Heading South

Ivan and Margarie had resisted the siren call of free wifi and set off, but we met up early the next morning while waiting for the motorboat crossing. They said they’d tried to find me at the lodge, but I admit I wasn’t in an easy to find spot.
This crossing wasn’t done by a hut warden, who are among the nicest people I’ve met on this trip. They all seem constantly jovial and excited, and one even gave me some lemonade she’d whipped up. Another told me about a moose in a faraway field I could see with somebody else’s binoculars, but I wasn’t as enthused as the others. I’ve had very close encounters with moose in the Yellowstone area, and narrowly avoided being charged in the Tetons. Apparently they’re a lot more docile out here, probably because they don’t have to worry about grizzly bears (another thing Europeans constantly ask questions about when wanting info on hiking in North America). 

Trail on the way to the lake crossing.

On the topic of vicious animals, while waiting for the boat two minuscule dogs with shaved bodies and fluffy heads emerged from the nearby house. After about 10 seconds of wandering around they started whining and screaming to be let back in. Maybe they were cold, although one of them was wearing a pink sweater with hood and leggings. They did not look like beasts that could survive the harsh Arctic winters. 
A man came out, and some Germans asked him about the food the sign said they sold. Reindeer jerky? Out of it. Dried fish? No. Bread? Ran out.
I asked if he took credit card, and he said no. I walked dejectedly back to the row boats, which luckily there were two of. It’s a difficult crossing of around 3 miles, but luckily the weather was great. It took me almost 15 minutes to get the boat into the water because I had no idea what I was doing, but after getting my feet very wet I was able to start trying things out. 

One of the rowboats for an earlier lake crossing.

The buoys I was following turned out to be trash, and I could barely see the real orange ones to the east under the glare of the incredibly bright sun. As I tried turning my boat around, getting closer to rocks than I’d like, the boat ground to a halt. I was stuck on a shallow part of the lake without any real idea where the marker buoys were, and how to row. As I fumbled with the oars to push myself away, then desperately tried to figure out how to steer this thing, I was sure the warden on shore was having a good time watching this stupid foreigner try to work the boat. 
I had a “what am I doing alone on a rowboat in the middle of a lake deep in the Swedish Arctic with no money?!” moment and seriously considered going back to shore and hiking back to Saltoluokta. 

After thinking it over for 30 seconds, I decided to just keep on going. Things could be a lot worse, and I figured I could use the upper body strengthening. Plus, it was a free opportunity to go rowing and I loved canoeing in Boy Scouts (canoeing is way easier). 
With lots of squinting in the sun to see the buoys, maneuvering around the shallow parts of the lake, and the GPS tracks on my phone I was able to somehow make my way the three miles across the lake. Looking back, it seems like a small miracle considering how many times I got lost and the circuitous route I took. 
Feeling discouraged yet proud of myself for succeeding and not giving up, I laid out my soaked gear on the jetty to dry in the sun. I heard a motorboat, and a Swedish woman dropped off some German hikers. 

Drying out on the jetty after the solo crossing.

“Are you the boy that didn’t have cash?” She asked me, letting her son who was barely old enough to walk wander off into the bush by himself. I said I was, bracing as she let out three tiny dogs (including the pink sweater one) run off into the woods with the toddler. 
“Usually I do all the crossings, but I was really tired so I had my husband do the early morning one. You could have paid with credit card at the next hut. I’m so sorry about that.” She seemed sincere, and asked me how long it took me to row across. 

While reading a book about the Appalachian Trail, I saw this chapter title. My PCT trail name was “one of us.” It’s a sign!

“This is going to be embarrassing, but around an hour and fifteen minutes. I got lost a few times.”
She said she was impressed, and that it usually takes people an hour and a half without getting lost and with a group to share the burden of rowing. Then she told some really entertaining stories of all the people she’s had to rescue on that lake from their own incompetence, before apologizing again and again. 
“If you buy a candy bar the warden at the Aktse hut will let you use your credit card to buy cash,” she mentioned as she set off on a hike. 
I followed the trail back up to a plateau, leaving the wandering solitary toddler with his guide shi tzu in the pink sweater. It reminded me of all the toddlers in the swimming pool by themselves on the Arctic coast in Iceland. 
There was a herd of reindeer atop the plateau. “Why the hell is that one white?” I wondered aloud before realizing it was an albino. It was exciting to see, and after navigating the herd I plopped down on a large rock to dry all my stuff. 

Tiny dog wearing a pink sweater in the Arctic.

I’d promised myself that I would ride the motorboat for the next crossing, just 6 miles after the previous. Upon arriving at the Aktse hut the warden, who I thought had a 95% chance of being a former hippie, was able to sell me a cold pop and 500 kronor ($58) in cash. I now had Swedish cash, and in smaller bills! The boat didn’t leave for another two and a half hours, so I sat down and ended up chatting for the entire time with a Welsh hiker. Most of the people on the trail have been Swedish, with almost everyone else being German. A bartender back in Wales, he was one of the few native English speakers I’ve met in Sweden or Iceland. He’d done the northernmost section in a previous trip, and was doing the next part up to Kvikkjokk Fjallstation. 

The plateau with reindeer in the distance

We talked about how annoying it can be meeting the kind of tourists the typical Western European sites attract, and how the crowd in less developed places is much more fun. He’d recently spent some time traveling and living in Madagascar, and raved about it. He’s not the first person I’ve heard gush about Madagascar. 
We took the boat across the lake together, but I never saw him again since I hiked a good deal faster. I was in a pine forest, which was really fun and reminded me of the Northern California section of the PCT except without all the switchbacks. 


I’m typing this post in the lobby of the Kvikkjokk Fjallstation, the lodge and location of the only tiny store in this tiny town. This place makes some of the Icelandic villages I visited look like metropolises, though it’s incredibly picturesque with its mountains and lakeside view. 
Rather than stay at the lodge, I’m camped on the lawn of the “tourist services center.” At 50 kronor ($5.89), it’s my cheapest night of accommodation on my Nordic trip outside of the free wilderness camping. I took a shower for the first time in nine days, and also used said shower to wash my clothes. There were detailed instructions on how to use the coin operated shower, but when I turned the knob there was plenty of hot water so I’m treating this as a victory. 

Clear skies at last!

After the (admittedly fine compared to Iceland) rainy first few days, the weather became absolutely perfect. The cloudless Arctic sky made me get out my PCT ridiculously shading wide brimmed hat and sunscreen. I have to admit I wasn’t expecting it to be this sunny and over 70 degrees in the mountains of the Arctic. 

Looking across the clearing.

At the Teusajaure hut the trail stops at a lake, with rowboats to ferry hikers back and forth. There are multiple lake crossings on the Kungsleden, and you often have two choices:

1. Row across. There are three boats on the lake, with at least one and at most two on each side. If there’s only one, you have to row across the lake, tether a second boat, return to your starting point, drop off one boat, and then return to the opposite side for a total of three crossings. Since there are more southbound hikers (like me), this is usually the case. 

2. Pay the hut warden 150 to 200 kronor ($17.50 to $23.50) to take you across in his or her motorboat at the posted times. Usually once in the morning and once more in the evening. 
This first crossing was only 1km (0.6 miles), and two other hikers opted to join me. We figured we’d each row one trip across, and I volunteered to go first in the hopes that I could just ditch them after the first crossing. 
It quickly became evident that I had no idea what I was doing, but the guy from Normandy was very helpful and taught me how to use the rowboat. He kept getting left and right mixed up in English, but other than that he was a great set of eyes and advice. As we neared the other side a big group took both boats and zoomed across the lake, so we didn’t have to do the other two trips! A great day. 
After relaxing in the sun and getting annoyed by the German woman who kept complaining of how tired the crossing made her even though she didn’t row at all, I zoomed ahead on the trail and camped on a high plateau overlooking snow capped mountains and the Vakkotavare hut. 

The road in front of the hut.

It was only a 40 minute walk to Vakkotavare, which is right on a lakeside highway. At the highway the trail terminates and picks back up 19 miles down the road on the other side of the lake. A bus stops three times a day to pick up hikers and drop them off at Kebnats in time for the ferry to the Saltoluokta Fjallstation (lodge). 
As on the PCT, whenever I open my pack it seems to unleash a hurricane of gear and food all around me. I sprawled out all my stuff on a picnic table in front of the hut while a troop of German Boy Scouts sang a few feet away. 
I overheard a couple speaking in English, which was weird because it seems like everyone on the trail is Swedish. They seemed to be around my age, and were on vacation for six weeks as a break from their studies in Germany. Ivan was from outside Moscow and working on his physics PhD, and Margarie was a German masters student studying art therapy. Margarie couldn’t stop laughing at the German Boy Scouts and their songs, and also seemed fairly embarrassed. 
The three of us sat together on the bus, which pulled up precisely on schedule at 9:40am. It seemed weird that the 19 mile bus ride took an hour and 40 minutes, and it soon became apparent why when we pulled over at a rest area cafe for an hour. It was really cozy inside, with the comfortable rustic atmosphere all the buildings up here seem to have. There was a lifelike stuffed fox inside, which made me jump when I looked next to me and saw it for the first time. I thought it was a real fox, but luckily stopped myself from yelling out from the shock of it when I realized it was dead and on display. 

My weirdly rainbow ice cream.

Ivan, Margarie, and I bought the weirdest looking ice cream bars we could find and went outside to taunt somebody’s huskies with food (it wasn’t intentional, they just went crazy when they saw the ice cream). 
Finally we arrived at Kebnats, though I’m not sure why it even has a name since it’s just a jetty. The boat was waiting for us, and the non-hikers wished us luck and cheered as we got off. It was all in Swedish, so I’m assuming it was that and not “death to the foreign devils.” 

The German boy scouts leaving the boat to Saltoluokta lodge en masse.

The ride across the lake was fairly quick, and the boat large. They collected the 200 kronor ($23.50) fee from everyone in cash, but since I didn’t have any the fee collector said I could just go ahead and pay at the lodge. 
The Saltoluokta lodge store was closed when I arrived, but the waiting area was inviting with lots of cushy chairs, outlets, and free wifi. I’d brought too much food for the first leg of the trip, and ended up having to buy just a little more. There wasn’t much selection, and though it was expensive it wasn’t totally unreasonable especially considering how far we are from pretty much anywhere. I also bought the map for the next section, though with the GPS tracks I’ve loaded into my phone it’s really just a backup. 

Overlooking the lake between Kebnats and Saltoluokta.

I ended up staying way later than I’d planned, not leaving until around 4:30pm for the trail. After a steep climb I got to another plateau, free of trees and surrounded by great views. I picked out a nice reasonably flat spot when I got tired and, with my eye mask to ward off the 3am sunrise and perpetual twilight until then, passed out quickly. 

Arctic Circle Day 2

The weather forecast said today was supposed to be full of a constant rain. To my pleasant surprise, I woke up without the pitter patter of raindrops hitting my tent. This gave me the impetus to break down camp and hit the trail. 

Weather is good!

One of the really great things about long distance hikes (I hesitate to call this a long hike after having walked 2600+ miles last summer) is that there’s very little planning once you get to the trailhead. All you have to do is walk at a reasonable enough pace to make it to the next resupply point before you starve. 
Whether it’s raining or sunny, you still have to trudge through roughly the same distance. And when you’re totally at the mercy of the elements, especially in a harsh environment like in the Arctic wilderness, every minute the weather’s not miserable feels so wonderful. 

The red paint shows the way.

I started my day with a gentle incline along a muddy trail, the result of last night’s fairly strong rain showers. The trail climbed slowly through the valley into the clouds, which partially obscured the mountain pass I was heading towards. 
The cold and periodic light drizzle meant I didn’t want to stop for a break, so I kept on trudging and plopping through the mud until I got to a reindeer fence. I haven’t seen any reindeer yet, but the indigenous Sami people who live here herd them and I’ve heard they’re everywhere further south. There’s a little ladder to climb over the fence, and I take shelter behind a rock on the other side. After eating a bit of my half pound chocolate bar, I get cold. Packing my things up again, I’m off. 
The trail gently descends, with a lake in the distance to my left. I eventually approach the lake, finding a little three walled shelter. I duck into it and lay out all my stuff. The Swedish man who was there first is very welcoming, and we talk about his trips to the United States, how Sweden has changed over his lifetime, etc. 
A much younger Swedish couple enters. It’s really cool that I’ve mainly been meeting and interacting with Swedish people (99% from Stockholm) out here. It’s so different from Iceland, where it seemed like most people had never left their hometown. The couple is not really interested in talking about anything other than how cold and tired they are, and how they just want to take the boat to the hut rather than walk the 4km. The older Swedish man leaves, and I shortly follow his lead and hike the 4km to the next hut.
I don’t stop because the rain has started, and instead keep walking to stay warm. I walk and walk and walk, periodically checking the GPS app on my phone to see how far I’ve gone. 

Better than swimming.

After crossing a bridge I lay down my pack and sprawl out on my sleeping pad, letting my feet air out. I’ve stepped in numerous puddles and my shoes and socks are fairly wet, which isn’t that huge of an issue. It’s uncomfortable and bothers me way more than it in all reason should, though the socks can take some time to dry. But the synthetic wool of my Vermont Darn Tuff socks keep me warm even when wet, so it’s really not a big deal. The former AT hikers on the PCT swore by these, and I have to admit they’re my favorite sock company now. 

Trudging along.

My dreams of resting and drying out my things are ruined by the drops of water falling on me, and I hurriedly pack everything back up again. I don’t make it far before checking my position to find that I’ve gone 17 miles already, which at 6pm with a late start I’m more than fine with. 

Home for the night.

If I go any farther I’ll have to camp at a higher elevation, which I’m loathe to do because of the cold in the morning. In less than two hours of walking time I’ll be at a mountain pass, the highest point on the trail at around 1100 meters. I don’t have the willpower to go over the pass, so I decide to call it a day here. 
The campsites along this trail are superb, and it takes me all of three minutes to find one adjacent to a stream. 

And the Kungsleden begins

The wind kept me from sleeping well last night, and it didn’t help that I stayed up late reading and drinking apple mint tea as the sole occupant of the campground’s living area.

My Lulea bus pass.

I wanted to catch the 8:10am bus to downtown Lulea, and with the 20 minute walk to the bus stop and my 7am alarm I had plenty of time to make sure everything was ready for my Arctic hike. Being able to preface everything with “Arctic” makes me feel really badass, but it also means I want to make sure everything is in tip top shape to avoid any unfortunate surprises. Boy Scout motto: be prepared. 
The pliers went into the campground’s free box, along with my superglue and scissors; all were bought in Uppsala. In Iceland the zippers on my tent stopped closing the mesh screen. The manufacturer’s website said zippers can almost always be fixed by using pliers to tighten the fastener, and it worked! My tent is like new, minus the (admittedly minimal) wear from having been lived in for six months. The superglue fixed my tent stake after the top came off, which had caused my tent to collapse periodically throughout the night. It also reassembled my power adaptor after I accidentally crushed it on my overnight train trip, giving myself a startling albeit mild electrical shock in the process. 

Kungsleden map with the trail in red.

Having an uncontrollably long beard bothers me when I’m not living in the woods, and nobody thought I was eligible for the under 26 youth discounts. After using the scissors to trim my beard to match my hair, the campground attendant asked me if I was aware of the bus discounts for those 20 and under. 
Pack full with food for four days, I walked through the pine forest to the bus stop. The walk reminded me of the 1500 miles I spent in the pine forests of the PCT. 
My chores were quick: send my father a postcard, get a lighter for my camp stove, and lunch. Then board the Norway bound Arctic Express at 11:07am. 

The burger joint that’s everywhere in Sweden.

I kept seeing long lines at this burger joint that’s ubiquitous in Sweden, so I decided to give it a try. Meals were decently priced for here at around $8 to $9, and the portions were pretty generous. The burgers were also really good! 

The order terminal at the burger joint.

Rather than order at a cash register, you pick what you want on a computer terminal, pay with card, and are then given a number that’ll be displayed on a monitor when it’s ready. You could check out all the toppings and ingredients and filter the menu based on various categories. It might be mundane by Swedish standards, but I thought it was cool and had fun with it. 
Upon arriving at the train I realized I didn’t have any cash on me besides 30 kronor ($3.50) in coins. There are a couple of ferries and a bus ride involved with this hike (the trail cuts off at a lake and picks up 20 miles to the east on the other side). Hopefully they take credit cards, or I can get to an ATM at the mountain resorts or Sami villages beforehand. Either that or I’ll have to learn to walk on water or teleport over the next few days. 
After about half an hour in an empty carriage we stopped at Boden, where it seemed like every blonde person in the world transferred onto my train. Nobody is speaking in English, and I drift into my own little world with my headphones in and the Arctic forests and lakes whizzing by the window. 

Train platform at the northern terminus of the Kungsleden.

The six hour train to Abisko Turiststation drops you off right at the start of the trail, and surprisingly only cost me $27.50. I’ll have to look at my statements after the trip to be sure, but traveling in the Nordic countries so far has been way cheaper than I thought it would be. Especially in Sweden, which is starting to turn into one of my favorite countries I’ve ever visited. 

First trail sign.

There’s some mumbling in Swedish on the loudspeaker, and then I hear “NEXT STOP, ABISKO TURISTSTATION. EXIT ON THE LEFT.”
Halfway through the process of putting on my puffy jacket and raincoat, I grab all my stuff and barrel onto the platform. I’m now 120 miles north of the Arctic Circle and it feels…surprisingly different from Iceland. It was supposed to rain all day and night with a high of 6C (43F), but it’s barely drizzling and surprisingly not cold. It’s definitely warmer than Iceland, and there isn’t the constant wind typical of that island. 

So glad I didn’t have to deal with this.

I walk towards the “mountain station,” which is a big lodge and campground. All of a sudden I turn a corner and see large crowds of hikers milling about. A woman starts to clap as I approach the entrance to the station. I look around, confused at who she’s clapping for.

Beginning the trail!

“Did you just finish the Classic?” She asks. I politely say no and keep on going, entering the lodge. It’s a sea of humanity in there, and I read a sign saying the “Classic” is an annual event in which 2500 people hike part of the trail and all start within a three day window. Thank God I didn’t have to deal with that, since tomorrow is the horde’s last day. I send my dad a postcard from this remote Arctic outpost and hit the trail. 

View from the trail.

Wooden planks over the worst of the mud.

Almost everyone I see is coming north, the opposite of my southbound hike. It’s typically done southbound, so this is a little strange. The path is wide, almost as wide as I am tall. It meanders through a birch forest with thick vegetation and lots and lots and LOTS of mud. There are wooden planks over the worst of it, and the roar of the river I follow is pretty much the only thing I hear. 

Looking out over the river.

I play leapfrog a little with four guys speaking what I think might be French, but after 8pm don’t see hardly anyone. Camping is forbidden in Abisko National Park except in two places: a campground 2.4 miles in, and outside a hut just a 25 minute walk from the park boundary. On the rest of the trail camping is free and you can sleep anywhere. Not wanting to pay to sleep next to a party of the organized hiking event, I keep on going and cover the entire 10 miles of the park in around 4 hours. Just past the boundary I see a side trail going up a hill. It looks well trodden, and I follow it to find a collection of phenomenal campsites hidden from view of the main walkway. 
It’s almost 10pm, past when I’m used to getting into camp. I’d originally only wanted to do 5 miles, but because of the camping limits had to keep going and going and going. Rewarding myself with pretzels, I cook my dinner of ramen noodles and crawl into my toasty 10F (-12C) sleeping bag. It’s still surprisingly warm compared to Iceland, and other than some friction on my left heel I’m feeling great. There’s a light drizzle again, and it’s time to try to get some sleep. 


The day finally came when I was to leave Iceland and head to Sweden for the final leg of my Nordic summer. Reykjavik’s international airport is a 45 minute drive from the bus terminal, the latter of which is a 50 minute walk from the campground. 
I opted to pay an extra $5 and have the bus company pick me up from the campground. It was well worth it, but being at the airport for my 7am flight meant I had to be at the campground bus stop by 4am. At least the sun was already up!
The small Keflavik airport on the Reykjanes peninsula was fairly overcrowded, though the staff were pretty well organized and things ran smoothly. With more and more tourists each year a lot of Iceland seems to be playing catch up when it comes to being able to handle the numbers, though at least the airport seems to be in the process of expanding. I’d never seen so many bikes and backpacks in an airport as I did leaving Iceland. 

Vasteras in red, with Uppsala and Lulea also on the map.

Back in April I booked a flight on WOW, Iceland’s budget airline, to Vasteras in central Sweden. Because I flew in peak season, the 2 hour 45 minute flight cost me $150 one way. Maybe I’ve been in Europe too long because that struck me as really expensive.

The Schengen open border area consists of the countries in blue and green.

The Vasteras airport is probably one of the smallest airports I’ve ever been to. Sweden and Iceland are both part of the Schengen open border region, but Sweden reinstated a check for people entering by land from Denmark. When I did that crossing for a day trip to Malmo back in early July I didn’t have my Spanish travel papers. The stamps in my passport showed I had been in the EU for many months, well past the 90 days allotted to tourists, but the border guard didn’t seem to care after I showed him my round trip bus ticket back to Denmark. I didn’t want to take any chances of having issues going into Sweden, so I had all of my documents and an explanation ready by the time we landed. There wasn’t a single person at customs or passport control, so I just walked in without issue. 

The cathedral in Uppsala, my first stop in Sweden.

The vast majority of people who fly into Vasteras take the direct one hour bus to Stockholm. Instead, the friendly information desk attendant sold me a local bus ticket downtown, 4 miles away. Everyone is so friendly and helpful in Sweden, and really goes out of their way to help me when I’m not sure what’s going on/can’t understand Swedish. 
I stayed in Vasteras just long enough to catch a bus to Uppsala, a university city north of Stockholm. 
My eventual end goal is to get to Abisko, 120 miles north of the Arctic Circle, to do a 270 mile hike on the popular Kungsleden trail. The Arctic Express leaves Stockholm each evening and heads to Narvik in Norway, stopping in Abisko along the way. Rather than do the 21 hours all at once, I opted to instead break up the journey and spend a few days in two lesser visited towns of Sweden: Uppsala and Lulea. 

Walking through Uppsala’s botanical gardens.

Uppsala is a wonderfully walkable city with leafy green streets and lots of affordable ($10 or less) restaurant meals. This was all a huge shock after five weeks in Iceland, where I survived on crackers, self cooked hot dogs, and ramen noodles. I also finally got the opportunity to eat from a decent selection of fruits and vegetables!
The Uppsala campground was a 20 minute walk from downtown, and was easily 1000 times nicer than any of the campgrounds in Iceland (and way less crowded, too). I got a massive doner kebab with lots of vegetables at a place my guidebook recommended downtown, and didn’t feel the need to eat until lunch the next day. Good decision. 
The main tourist attraction in Uppsala is probably the oldest cathedral in the Nordic countries, which also happens to be the center of the Church of Sweden. Although it’s Protestant, it had all the artwork and grandeur of a Catholic cathedral since it was started before the Reformation in 1258. This was the only church I’ve been to where they do collections via credit card. I don’t think anybody uses cash in the Nordic countries. Even the bathrooms take credit cards.
When I arrived at the Uppsala train station at the end of my second day, I found out the train was delayed almost an hour. Taking my bag, I wandered around the gardens west of the station to get a good view of the Uppsala castle. It doesn’t have anything on the amazing castles of Transylvania I visited with friends in March, but was worth the trip. There’s so much greenery and amazing gardens everywhere I’ve been in Scandinavia. 

Drying out my laundry at the train station.

When I got back to the train station I laid out my socks and underwear to dry on the platform, having washed them in the hot shower the night before. Others on the platform didn’t seem to think it was feasible to do the Kungsleden in two weeks like I’m planning, but one of them did say his pack weighs 33 pounds without food or water. Mine is closer to 13 or so, I think. I don’t check because ignorance is bliss and I have to carry it anyways. Hopefully I can finish this hike in my allotted timeframe!
I’d bought my Swedish train tickets back in late May, which along with a youth discount got me some sizable discounts. A bunk in a 6 bed dormitory compartment for the 620 mile, 14 hour ride to Lulea cost me $64. There was only one other guy in my compartment, who didn’t say more than three words the whole trip. 

Arriving at Lulea station!

Although we left Uppsala late, we got to Lulea at 8:40am just as planned. Lulea is a seaside town of about 144,000 just south of the Arctic Circle, and is the capital of northern Sweden. It used to be a church town centuries ago. During the colonial days when everyone lived spread apart, families would come on the weekends to mandatory church services. There were small houses built for the churchgoers, which have been rebuilt and are still used by the church. 

The church town.

Inside the cathedral near Lulea.

The original church town is a few miles inland and still stands. Eventually it turned into Lulea. Because of a receding coastline over the years and subsequent lack of sea, the town and port were eventually moved to its current position. Gammelstad, the church town and old Lulea, is just a 20 minute bus ride from the modern town. I bought a bus pass that let me wander all over the Lulea area, and also gave me easy access to an affordable campground a couple miles away from town. 

Walking to the bus stop.

Pathway to the bus stop.

Goodbye Iceland, Hello Sweden

By the end of my time in Iceland, I was already mentally checking out and gearing up for the next leg of my two month Nordic trip. This feeling started hitting me in Hella. When the Icelanders pronounce the name of that tiny service town they throw in a guttural “k” and make it sound like they’re gurgling water. Back on the Ring Road, I was now able to use the last few legs of my bus pass back to Reykjavik. 

Bus routes in south Iceland.

My couple of hours in Hella was devoted to eating my now traditional post hike victory skyr and can of Pringles, followed by finding and sending my father a postcard. I look for postcards to send in every town I visit. In the smaller, more obscure places well off the typical tourist’s itinerary it can be somewhat difficult, if not impossible, to find one. But I succeeded in finding a card of this random little outpost. 
The buses have been getting more crowded the closer I get to Reykjavik. This one was almost full, which was quite the contrast to the nearly empty vans in the northern and eastern parts of the Ring Road. 
Selfoss was only about an hour from Hella, and was my destination. With a population of around eight thousand, it’s easily the largest town in the area (and the largest I’d visited in weeks). My guidebook said it was a residential area with little of interest to tourists, so I decided to go take a day off there and see how the people of south Iceland live. 
In all these Icelandic towns it feels more like I’m in North America than Europe. Everyone has a car, everything is spread out, and pedestrians were obviously not really thought of in the layout. Even the food is very American, with a large portion of it seemingly imported from across the pond. 
Usually the kitchens at the campgrounds in Iceland are pitiful, but Selfoss’s was indoors(!!!!). Often they’re just a table with a hot plate, three walls, and half a roof. Showers were included in the price, which is not often the case, and the trash was overflowing, which was much more typical. Since the showers in Iceland are heated by geothermal energy, they get really hot really fast. Noticing that laundry cost an outrageous 1500 kronor ($12.50), I decided to instead take a page from my Ethiopia trip and just wash everything in the shower. Except this time I didn’t get a mild electric shock when I touched the temperature gauge!
Ten minutes down the road was my next stop, Hveragerdi. I’d heard it had some neat geothermal areas with some hot springs you can swim in, but I wanted a break from hiking and couldn’t get the motivation to do walk 9 mile round trip (much of it along asphalt, not as fun). Instead, I wandered the seaside town and found a cozy spot in the library to read. 
The Hveragerdi campsite had the best selection of sauces (and also tea!) I’d ever seen in the “leave what you don’t want, take what you do” corner. I took full advantage of this by buying and cooking chicken nuggets on my camp stove to enjoy with the sauces, followed by black tea with honey. 

Gay Pride…2012?!

Hveragerdi is very close to the Reykjavik area. Reykjavik seems to charm people who never leave the southwest of the country, but I’ve found it to be a sprawling ugly city with very little to do other than drink in bars. There are supposed to be some great book cafes, but I didn’t really want to pay the ridiculous prices involved whenever someone cooks for you here. Rather, I had a great time browsing a bookstore with the largest travel guide collection I’ve seen outside of Kramers Books in DC. I also went to Reykjavik’s pride parade, which was disappointingly well organized. I would’ve preferred a chaotic mess. 

An insanely massive unicorn at the pride parade in Reykjavik.

Laugavegur Part Three: Alfavatn to Landmannalaugar

Sunshine again this morning! But the ranger said it would be like yesterday in terms of afternoon rain. 

Looking back at the hut.

It was an easy climb to the penultimate hut, which being directly on the pass surrounded by snow with lots of wind looked like it was in the running for “worst camping choice ever” award. The ground was rocky and people had built windbreaks out of volcanic material. 

Looking down into the valley after the climb.

Getting closer to the pass.

I hung out in the shelter of an open faced cooking hut with a French couple who were heading south. 99.99% of people I meet on the trails here are German or French. I did meet an American for the first time in almost a month, and we talked about the AT (he was wearing an Appalachian Trail hat). 

Entering a geothermal area.

Rain gear on.

There was a steep ascent, which I did my usual thing with. I try to scale the slopes in one go as much as possible, which was a little difficult with the lack of good grading. People seemed to think I was running up the mountain as they huffed to get up, and I felt like I was back on the PCT passing day hikers. 

Walking through the geothermal area.

The school group was blasting pretty explicit music in English from speakers.

Today’s pass had a lot of really interesting geothermal areas, so I stopped a lot to explore. The rain clouds made me bundle up and keep going, and didn’t let up all the way down to Landmannalaugar. 

Descending to Landmannalaugar.

Landmannalaugar is the traditional starting point of the hike. I was going to keep on going for a few days west, but the weather forecast and apparent lack of people on that trail made me decide to skip it. I’d done the main thing I came here for, now I could go enjoy some other parts of the country nearer to Reykjavik. 
It turned out to be a good choice to stay in the campground, because immediately after I set up camp it began to pour for almost two hours. There was a little lake under my tent, since the ground where I set up camp wasn’t the greatest spot in the world. I stayed dry and warm in my tent and didn’t leave until morning. 

View from the day hike.

Before taking the bus back to the Ring Road, I did a really cool (and frighteningly steep at times) day hike with great views of the valley. Definitely a great three day hike, and I can see why it’s listed as one of the best in the world!

Laugavegur Part Two: Thorsmork to Alfavatn

It was surprisingly warm and sunny when I woke up at 8am. I’ve gotten in the habit of staying up late reading and then sleeping in until 8 or 9. On the PCT I can remember two days where I wasn’t on trail by 7:30am, and usually tried to be up and going much earlier. But when it’s light enough to hike safely until midnight so no rush to get anywhere by dark… Plus, the morning dew on my tent was usually dry by 9am. 

First stream bed to cross.

Leaving the stream bed behind.

Storm clouds to the left.

Today involved a decent amount of stream crossings, none of which were higher than my mid-calf. At every one of the crossings I would find young Germans in their underwear drying off their legs, which seemed fairly strange. 

Crossing a plain.

Looking towards the mountains and glaciers.

The trail goes on.

The first part went through an Icelandic “forest,” which was really just a bunch of sickly looking trees my height. It was weird seeing trees for a change. 

An easier river crossing.

I can’t imagine biking this trail.

Checking my map on a break.

The rest was a series of gentle ups and downs. When I got to the next hut, too early to stop for the day, I ran into the herd. I think everyone starts the hike at the same time in Landmannalaugar and heads south, staying in the same campsites with other herd members. For 45 minutes or so twice a day I would run into massive groups of hikers heading the opposite direction. 

Hoisting myself up.

Leaving the river.

I ran into the second herd in the early afternoon near one of the huts. Threatening dark clouds loomed over the horizon and everyone was bundled up in rain gear. The clouds overhead are often dark but don’t necessarily end in rain, but it became apparent these were the real deal.

A photo of me taken by a member of the herd.

I donned my raincoat and kept on going, knowing the rain here never really gets that heavy. Compared to the stuff we went through on the PCT during storms, this was nothing. 

The last member of the herd approaches along with the storm clouds.

Once the rain came out pretty much everyone disappeared. It was what I imagine it would be like to be in the Walking Dead. 

A lull in the rain.

At a river crossing I stopped to take off my socks so they wouldn’t get drenched, and kept my shoes on. Two guys across the river yelled something. I put my hands over my ears to show I couldn’t hear him. 

“TAKE OFF YOUR PANTS!” He screamed in a German accent. What the…? Then I realized the Germans were all taking off their pants because they thought it would make crossing the very low stream easier.

My pants cost me 10€ ($11) from Decathlon in Madrid, but are the best hiking trousers I’ve ever had. It’s so nice being able to buy clothes that fit me in a country where everyone is short and thin. Plus, my pants dry in 10 minutes even in the rain so I just ignored them. 

An entertaining sign.

“DID YOU HEAR ME?! TAKE OFF YOUR PANTS!” I gave him the thumbs up and just ignored him, crossing the river in 20 seconds and kept on walking. My pants were dry very quickly (I saw people wearing blue jeans!!). 

Alfavatn hut and camping area.

They stopped at the next hut and I kept going, drying all my stuff off in the sun when it came out around 8pm. Turned out my rest break was a 3 minute walk from the next hut, where I set up my tent in a crowded field.