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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.