There were no boats at the water's edge when I arrived at Sitojuare. Not a single one.
The only vessel I had seen was half rotting into the ground closer to the empty Sami village than the lake.
I put down my pack and climbed up onto a rock at the rim of the large lake, scanning for rowers but couldn't make out any. Everything was silent and still. I paced around nervously, worried that I was in the wrong place. I checked my maps. I jogged down a path to the shelter but no one was around to confirm the location of the rowboat launch.
Just west of there, I knew there was a Sami man who would ferry people across the lake but I was nearly out of crowns and if I spent my last SEKs on a motorboat ride, I might not have enough to spend on food further on.
I reminded myself that the stakes weren't very high. I had food and I had time.
Just as I resolved to stop pacing, relax, and cook a hot meal for lunch, I saw a rower coming around the bend in the distance. Phew! Another human. Her course was not terribly direct and I wondered if this was one of the Kungsleden's boats. I put away my stove and awaited her arrival. There was thankfully no wind and Sitojuare was perfectly flat.
As the rower neared, I saw that she was a woman in her 70s. She waved cheerily to me. As she hit shore, I helped her pull the rowboat up on the landing. She started speaking to me animatedly in Swedish and then continued in English when she realized the only word I had caught was "Hej."
"Marcus will be along with the second rowboat in a minute. He's been out fishing too. You should wait for him. You will only have to row across once since two boats will be on this side and he needs to head back south too."
I was surprised to see a whole bunch of trout at the bow of the boat. She had just caught them all and could not have been more excited about her harvest. "Stay for lunch!" she insisted. "Come! Let's clean the fish and start cooking."
It turned out Inna was from Umeå and works as a caretaker at the cabins on the Kungsleden now and then during the summer and winter. She'd be out for a couple of weeks still. Inna found a sturdy willow branch and threaded it through the trout mouths and had me carry the array over to the shelter.
"I am so glad to have company, I couldn't have eaten this all on my own," she said again. But I was the one who was glad! Of the company, of the warm meal, of the opportunity to ask a million questions about Sweden and her life.
Inna and I gutted the fish next to a boardwalk, dumped the entrails into the water and then brought the meat inside to begin preparing for the feast. She showed me how she removed the fish skins and let them soak in a bath of salt to make "fish leather." She sells fish skin bracelets back in town.
Marcus appeared in the doorway a little while later and was put in charge of the skillet. He was a tall, young blonde kid also working as a caretaker but further south.
Our feast began. Unfortunately, Marcus had put so much salt on the trout, it was nearly inedible. Inna admonished him but was so excited about the fish skin that I don't think she cared too much.
Thank goodness there was a lake full of drinking water right next to us. We all downed half a gallon after the salty meal, laughing. I asked Inna and Marcus all of the questions that had been building up in my head about Sweden and the Kungsleden and life working in the hut system and they asked me about Alaska and why on earth I had come to Sweden when Alaska was so beautiful and far.
It was such a nice surprise to be surrounded so unexpectedly by such welcoming people.
Marcus had to head back south so after lunch, we paddled across the lake to where the Kungsleden continued. Marcus was still so thirsty from the salty meal that he kept dipping his hands in the lake and gulping down water as we rowed.
On the far side, after tying the boat down on the beach, we ran into a man from South Korea who I had met two days before. He wore a trucker's hat with the word "sex" spelled out in green letters on the brim. He had paid for the ferry across and was sitting on the ground making poor attempts at a campfire. Marcus took pity on him and offered some tips, moving around the kindling and adding birch bark. I was eager to continue on to Laitaure before dark and bid them farewell.
I followed the trail out of trees steeply and up to a wide open flat with a great big peak to the west. A few caribou milled around on the tundra.
The route then dove back down into the trees a few miles later. Night caught me while still on the muddy downhill and I ended up hiking the last few miles to the lake in the dark. I had wanted to sleep near the shelter but there was a hefty camping fee, so I continued down to the lake crossing my fingers that I would find some place.
A moose and I crossed paths in the dark and it scared the living daylights out of me. Although I'm pretty sure I scared the living daylights out of him too judging by how he took off.
Everywhere was mud and brush. There were a few Sami homes off from the trail. I wouldn't have even noticed them in the night if I hadn't seen the candles in the windows.
I was nearly upon the lake when I heard voices.
Being a girl traveling alone does have some drawbacks and I suddenly felt vulnerable. I could see the glimmer of fire through the tight trees.
Friend or foe?
There had been no good camp spots the entire distance between the lake and the shelter. What could I do? I was tired. Oh. Screw it, I decided. And I continued towards the lake with my headlight on and called out a friendly "hello" so I wouldn't freak them out any more than I probably already was.
The fire belonged to two men from Stockholm. Two bankers. They were quite surprised to see a random American girl stumble out of the dark but immediately invited me to sit by the fire and showed me a good camp spot next to theirs. The only free place to pitch a tent for miles. They wanted to talk about Trump and then wanted to know what Americans knew about Sweden. "Everone mistakes us for Switzerland and thinks we are famous for dairy and cheese," one of them laughed. I told them of the trail north and they told me of the trail south.