So imagine my surprise when my girlfriend told me she wanted to go for a hike! I've not been particularly spoiled with such comments in the past - not to bad as I do enjoy my own company a lot, but this came as a welcome change of pace.
I was going back to my home country Sweden for Easter to take care of a bunch of practical stuff (such as fixing my motorcycle that I crashed almost two years ago... yes, some things must mature), and as there is a widespread culture of enjoying nature there, including with a well-developed sense of the "right to roam" as I understand the Scots call it, what better way to seize the opportunity! Except it was April. A risky venture to undertake a three-nighter in the most unpredictable of weather months and with a first-time hammocker.. Ah well, all good experiences come to those prepared.. and some bad.. or something.. so undeterred, we looked for something convenient to get to out of the nation's capital. Given that there are nature reserves that begin where the subway ends, that turned out to be a breeze. We did go for something slightly more remote though, as during an intense google-session I stumbled upon a trail called Bruksleden, which departs from the town Västerås. That town is an hour by train west of Stockholm, and then I read in a book that taking a bus out on the highway (nr. 66 - but without any rock charm attached to it) would bring us a bit out of town. Bushwhacking for a while would then get us onto the trail without having to walk through the civilised beginning of it.
Get your kicks on...
Stepping off the bus it turned out that that road had been reconstructed since the book was written though.. We'd travelled a bit too far, and until we figured out where we were on our pdf-printout maps (prepared was it?) I figured it wouldn't be particularly smart to head out in the woods.. After some deliberation we got our bearings straight though, and headed in on a small gravel road. This would end, and then there would be about 200 metres of bushwhacking to another small gravel road, at the end of which a few kms down, there would be another 100 or so metres until we found the trail.
No, contrary to what you now think, this is exactly what happened actually! No reason that once every 1500 hikes you can get it right.. We did need to look for a while to find the actual trail, because as it turns out it was really, really a trail and no road. I don’t think I was five metres away from it when I spotted it. I was happy to have found it, because in accordance with my usual modus operandum my backpack was not a gram below 25 kgs (in fact, going to the airport some days later I put what felt like a significantly lighter pack on the belt and it weighed in at 27.. although accounting for the fact that I carried it only to and from a taxi that may be somewhat wrongly estimated)..
We took a couple of pictures, had a zip of water, and then made off north. Honestly, this was my first time really hiking a trail in my home country. Well, except for school excursions and such which is so long ago I’d rather forget about it if it wasn’t for the fact that I already have.. I usually go somewhere with my fishing gear, set up camp and fish. Or ride my bike to some godforsaken place in the woods and hang in my lonesome. This time, I was going to use what we like to refer to as the horses of the apostles.. yes, that would be your legs..
See? We did find the trail!
It’s a lot of work, hiking a trail! Especially one that goes up and down cliffs! And when wearing nearly half of yourself on your back.. However, the trail also went through some real troll forests with moss growing all over the ground, and large rocks strewn around under which the little people live. It was quite cool to experience, as my non-Swedish girlfriend pointed out several times, how the landscape changed several times. One moment we would be in woods of the kind I know very well from my home: pine and birch on granite rocks. A km later, we’d step into what looked like robbers’ forests of old.. a few more steps, and from behind any tree a troll could jump out.. and then further down the trail bogs and mires would spread out and the people once having laid the trail would have put long wooden planks on the ground to walk on, lest you’d sink to your knees. I felt like Frodo (or perhaps rather Sam..)! We saw traces of wildlife all around: moose droppings, fox droppings, and what I am fairly convinced was a bear track. It was about as large as my palm, roundish-oval with “toes” in front..
The best part about those wooden planks is that you know for as long as you're walking on them, the trail will be absolutely flat...
We reached what was the first interim stop: a cabin which is open for use with a stove and beds for those who are so inclined. It was lunchtime (well, since we’d started walking around noon, it was actually more like three p.m., but out in the woods you let your stomach be the clock, right). We had *hrm* borrowed *hrm* some hard-boiled eggs from the hotel breakfast that morning, bought some sliced, dense sourdough bread (which felt like it accounted for about five of the 25 kg.. bricks!), and the all-time Swedish camping classic: shrimp cheese in a tube! I don't care what you believe, that there was a right gourmet lunch! Especially out there where we hadn’t seen a soul in hours!
With renewed strength, we started putting the backpacks on again. The renewed strength soon dissipated under the load, but we stoically pressed on! Onward and upward! And sometimes downward.. and sideward.. we tangentially walked past a huge farm, the fields of which we could make out through the last tree line. Unfortunately, that tree line was encircling a deforested hill, and as a result wind had felled quite a few trees.. all of which seemed to have found their resting place across our trail.. so an obstacle course it was – climbing over trunks lying waist high, or crawling under those that were slightly higher. Still with those packs of course… by now I started feeling the weight on my hips, but being a Viking I can obviously not say anything about that, so I won’t!
Trying to figure out just how lost we are.. without giving it away to my hiking companion/girlfriend
We reached what was supposed to be the final bog before a wind shelter at a lake, and on the map it looked really like a short strut to the finish line.. but as had become apparent during that day, that map was like a speedometer on a bike.. it tells you you’re doing 150 km/h, when you’re actually more like 90! > This map was what we refer to back home as a “happy-gauge”, meaning it looks like a km or so, but was in fact more like ten.. but we soon put that out of our minds, because walking was after all what we were there to do!
The really cool thing about the outdoors in Sweden – actually not just the outdoors in terms of nature, but generally venturing outside any four walls – is that the sun takes forever to set in the summer. Now, we were only at the end of April here, but you could tell it had already started. It was about seven when we reached the shelter by the lake, and what a breathtaking view it was.. we instantly forgot about the weights of the packs (well, at least as soon as we had dropped them at the shelter), and mumbled in unison that it was totally worth every step. You be the judge:
After soaking the view up for a while I hurried to set up the hammocks. This just HAD to be enjoyed in porch-mode with a beer! And I certainly wanted to make sure that my girlfriend would get a good first taste of hanging as well – this was after all to be her first night above ground!
Don't think I could have conned her into hammocking better if I'd tried..
Next step was to make a fire. We gathered some nice, dry firewood from trunks that had been sitting above ground after having fallen. Included in the “right to roam” rules (in Swedish the word is “allemansrätt” – meaning literally “every-man’s-right”.. yes, we remain a little leftist in our heritage.. ) is that you are allowed to pick up firewood from the ground, but not break anything from living trees. (when it comes to kindling that you can gather at the base of pine furs, I personally make an exception to that rule unless I can find something that works anyway, because it can have rained a week and that stuff’s still dry. But as long as you keep to the general principle of this right “don’t disturb, don’t destroy” – which rhymes nicely in Swedish – I believe it won’t affect my karma too badly). I made the fire, brought out the meat I’d bought in the supermarket that morning, and set it to grill.. oh man, that was some meat…
When it got dark, it also got a little cold, and after our day we did not need much persuasion to get in our hammocks and turn in. I explained the principles about the hangle (well, I’d set it up for her, so if it weren't ok i'd have some answering to do..), and that you lie on the diagonal. She had bought a sleeping bag the day before in one of Stockholm’s many outdoor stores, and I shared my experiences of learning to step into the bag before sitting down in the hammock.. she took heed, and learned from my mistakes, as is the hallmark of a wise person.. (unfortunately, the sleeping bag had a manufacturing fault – its seams were simply not good enough and in some locations it used barely a mm of fabric, and in one place actually it opened up and started letting down out.. some tape fixed it for the trip, but we returned it to the store once back and it turned out that the other bag they had of the same make had the same problem. And then they called the other branch in town, which also had the same problem on both their bags in stock! If you buy a Marmot bag, inspect the seams!)
We slept like the dead, with me only waking up one during the night at around four to take note that it was -0,1C according to the temp gauge on my watch which was hanging on the hammock ridgeline. In my hammockgear top quilt and warbonnet yeti, I was snug as a bug in a rug, and judging by the lack of sounds from the other hammock, so was my girlfriend in her sleeping bag (which, albeit faulty, was reeealy nice and warm) and full-length hammockgear underquilt. In the morning, I woke up to a bright day, and as is my experience, I had prepared my coffee pot within reach of the hammock with my home-made alcohol stove to make sure I would expend as little energy as humanly possible before having my first (four) cup(-s) of java. I was slightly concerned with our water supply, as we’d been drinking like fish the day before during that hike, so in the night before I filled the coffee pot with lake water which I brought to boil on the remnants of the fire. Aside from it being rather coloured by the surrounding bogs, it was perfectly fine and didn’t even have a particular taste to it. This is worth pointing out, as our location while feeling remote was really not particularly far from population centras. Another reason I like outdoors in my home country.
NOT getting up anytime soon..
Neither of us had any particular urge to get energetic and all that morning. We had a very loose plan, and we both solemnly agreed that we were out here to have fun and not to press ourselves too much (two weekends before we had both participated in a marathon.. and finished..). The trail continues north for quite some distance, but another section veers south around a second, larger lake and runs just by Hallstahammar - a smaller town not far from our starting point - before closing the loop east back to the original town Västerås. It was going on noon, and we hadn’t even gotten out of our hammocks yet, and our plan slowly developed into doing a very short hike that day of about 3,5 km to the next shelter, which was right next to that larger lake; and the next day continue south as far as we felt we had energy for, with the intention of finishing off the day after that in that smaller town by a bus ride back to the train station of our departure, for a train ride back to Stockholm.
How we turned out hiking - (bright) red is day1, yellow day2, etc, and the dull red is the trail on the map
All said and done, that sounded like a plan, so we got busy eating breakfast (brunch? Can you call it that out in the woods, or do you have to be in a restaurant?) and breaking camp. It being April, and Sweden, one has to prepare for just about any kind of weather, so I had strung up the tarps but not deployed them from their snake skins. Turns out, not one of those nights I would either. I still can’t believe our luck with the weather – it could just as well have been sleet for three days straight!
Offering some trail snack to the lake gods to ask for the weather to persist. And lighten the pack load...
We got our packs on, and actually with some energy started walking towards the second shelter. Probably it helped that we knew we would reach it within an hour.. As we were about to turn south away from the lake, we met a guy trail running – an indication that this place was actually really close to Surahammar - another town - and not in some vast wilderness devoid of human activity! Of course there were traces of people along the trail, but it really had felt like we were somewhere out in the middle of nowhere. The trail passed through some more troll forests, and then through another bog, and then onto a larger, obviously more populated trail along the larger lake. When we found the shelter I guess the luxury of the previous night’s sunset got to me a little, as I was desperately looking for a spot that could match it.. after a while I gave up, and decided to just enjoy it for what it was: a shelter in the woods with a beautiful outlook over the water. We were now pretty much in civilization – on the other isde of the lake were summer cottages, and in the distance we could even see the main road (that route 66!) which passed for about 100 metres along the southern lake shore.
That has pros and cons to it of course. Once my disappointment over not getting another sunset like the first night had dissipated, I realized that our water supply was getting acute. We would not have water for more than a couple of hours’ hike the next day, and that was with some serious rationing. We had two choices: boil lake water, or I would bushwhack about 1,5 km straight to the west where I would encounter that route 66, and a couple hundred metres up it there were a few gas stations where I could refill our camelbaks and water bottles. I still had a number of hours of daylight left, and from somewhere I’d gotten some energy, so I opted for the second option even though I didn’t doubt that the lake water would be potable. I kind of liked the idea for some reason.
So I took her 1,5 liter camelback, my own 3 liter bladder, the two 1,5 liter PET bottles we’d used up the day before, and set off with a compass. I could of course have made it easy for myself and just followed the trail south for about as far as I would bushwhack one-way, and then follow the road up north about the same. But where’s the fun in that! I really found myself having to check my bearings all the time though, because at times the young trees were growing so thick it mostly resembled a wall.. and then when I found some game trails to follow, they almost exclusively veered off in some other direction.. still though, they crisscrossed the woods so much that I had to be grateful to papa (and mama) moose for the help! I was soaking with sweat when I reached the road though, but I had hit it just 200 meters to the south of the gas stations. I filled the bottles up, gulped down about a liter myself, and bought some chocolate and another bottle of water just in case. Then I headed back. This time, I started going through the woods about where the gas stations were, and if I would have had a topographical map I may have chosen a different route, because with all that water it’s actually kind of a workout to climb cliffs that are only different from hills in name! All of a sudden, I came upon this rock sitting there, which just looked like an old man’s face, as if one of the miners or the 'charcoalers' ("kolare" - people who lived in huts in the woods to produce charcoal for the furnaces to extract metals from ore) of a couple of centuries ago when the area was littered with mine holes. It felt as if this was his land, his forest, and it was so much like a face I found myself asking permission to pass through his woods.. don’t know if he was smiling as a reply, but in my memory now he does.
When I came back, my girlfriend had gathered and sawed up enough fire wood to last us a winter. So after setting up the hammocks down by the shoreline, obviously this was the next step. This is my favorite part about being out I think. When the day is done, and you have a fire going, it just feels like everything is going to be alright. It doesn’t matter if it was raining all day, or it’s cold and miserable – the fire brings that warmth and comfort all the way into your marrow and any shuddering just disappears and its hypnotic flames just carry away any worries you may have.
Not a half bad spot either really
And not to mention, we had another batch of that same meat again! Yummmm.. In supermarkets, you can buy this pre-marinated meat in various flavours, and this was just the right shape and packaging to fit into my food thermos. So I bought two packs, which turned out to be just as enjoyable the second night as the first. And so were the beers.. knowing that we had to cover some ground tomorrow I opted for finishing as many of them as possible.. but there was a tricky balance to be struck there: you want to reduce the weight you carry in terms of the beers, but you need to be careful that you don’t just shift that weight up onto your head in the form of what we commonly refer to as the “concrete cap”.. Again, I’m a Viking, and Vikings drink until it’s empty! So that’s what I did.. and low and behold, when I woke up that morning, my head was indeed slightly heavy.. but that was nothing that my routine morning coffee didn’t take care of (thank god!).
Of course, a side effect of that morning coffee is that the morning constitutional is much facilitated.. so much so that one sometimes has to rush up in one's sleeping attire only...
We were quicker to get up that day (although not by much), and we really felt that it had been wise to take it easy the day before. Now we were rested and full of energy, and the packs felt a LOT lighter (because they were.. eating all the food, drinking all the beer…). I had boiled lake water and filled one of the PET bottles we had emptied the evening before as a reserve though, so some weight was still there. Just so you don’t think I’m a weakling! We headed off with good spirits, and soon crossed the road and entered into a fairly hilly landscape with mainly birch.
Well, not JUST birch..
This part of the trail runs in a different municipality than the first day’s part, and you could tell it was better maintained. Along it were little signs about the bogs and the plants that grow there, or old homesteads that had been located there in the 1300s, one of which king Charles XI had apparently hunted moose on in 1644 (or something like that). And then, just when we felt like it was a good time for a break, there was a bench on a height overlooking the forest. Possibly we felt it was a good time for a break because there was a bench there overlooking the forest.. but let’s not split hairs. In any case, it was really beautiful, especially in the clear blue sky and sunshine that we had all day. Again, the third day in a row – this doesn’t HAPPEN in April in Sweden.. still can’t believe it..
We made really good progress, and before long we were on a track which is prepared mainly for runners with lights on it – most every municipality in Sweden has this, basically a small gravel road with lightposts lining it for people to go running on (or in winter cross-country skiing on). I guess someone made the calculation that the cost of maintaining that is way lower than the cost of health care if that infrastructure doesn’t exist for people. They are great little things anyway. But it meant we were faced with a choice. We could set up camp right in the middle of all this, or backtrack a km and turn in on the trail that headed west towards the original starting point. We opted for the second, because in spite of its vicinity to a town, just a couple of steps onto that trail you still felt like you were in the total wilderness. Here there was no chance for a view though, but I don’t mind. I usually just camp out in the woods anyway, so this is kind of my element. There was also no pre-prepared fireplace, which is a logistical problem more than anything else. You are perfectly allowed to set up a fireplace in the woods, but I just felt it would be a bit too much work to gather rocks, so out came my little joker up the sleeve: the grilliput fire bowl! This meant that with minimal preparation, we could have a small fire going to grill some marshmallows (this is something I had never done before, but my girlfriend was all enthusiastic about – and now I understand why…), and just feel that coziness.
In the morning, it again became evident that we were close to civilization, as a few people out on Sunday walks passed by our camp. They looked loooong and hard at our hammocks, and probably thought it looked pretty comfortable too. In keeping with our routines, we made coffe in the hammock (that’s my take on Shug’s brrreekfast-en-a-hammuck) and generally just enjoyed existing. We realized that if we packed up camp in about 40 minutes, we could make a direct train to Stockholm from this town instead of having to take a bus from here back to our starting point and then change to a train, so we got our stuff together quickly (oh, how quickly a hammock packs up!) and got going. We weren’t sure about how long it would take to reach the train station, so we did haul *** a bit, and made it about 15 minutes before it was set to depart. Another good workout (and in that weather, breaking a good sweat too).
The end of the trail as we walked it.. only slightly more scruffy than when we began!
We stepped onto the train, smelling *hrm* differently than the average passenger, and less than an hour and a half were back at Stockholm central station and headed back to the same hotel. That was oooone niiice shower, I’ll tell ya…. As good as it is hammock camping, that night in bed was seriously good too. And in the evening we both flew back to our respective dwellings, with seriously refurbished souls, agreeing that this has to happen again and more often.
Thanks for reading, those who made it this far!