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. 

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