Murder on the Orient Express

When I was a kid I loved Agatha Christie.

I’m not sure why because while revisiting her works as an adult, I was shocked at all of the dark undertones that completely went over the head of the 13-year-old version of me.

Regardless, her writing left a huge impression on me.  One of my favorites was always “Murder on the Orient Express.”  I can’t say that I have spent much time on trains, but I always imagined that if I did, I would quickly become involved in a hair-raising mystery and a race to save lives.

The train ride was a good half of the reason why I decided to hike Kungsleden.  In order to arrive at the start of the 275 mile King's Trail, you have to take an 18- hour night train across the length of all of Sweden.  To the Arctic.

For better or for worse, the experience did not live up to my imagination.

For five glorious minutes, I believed I had lucked out with a nearly empty sleeping compartment.  But then . . . I could hear them coming down the platform in Stockholm.  “Americans” the man sitting across from me muttered, “Americans are the worst.”  They weren’t Americans though.  They were a group of students from a school in Gothenburg.

They filled up the compartment and spent a good 90% of the ride talking about the evils of Americans.  The topic is in vogue for sure.  I sat quietly, looking out the window, thinking about that Hercule Poirot line: “I do not like your face, Mr. Ratchett” and wondered if Agatha Christie had ever said anything like that out loud or just written it.

Each compartment held eight people with four seats on either side.  My seat was by the window which was nice.  As the evening wore on, the beds were set up.  Two at floor level.  Two on the seats (which might be the worst spot), two at eye level and two all the way up at the top where the luggage was kept.  That was my assigned area and it seemed like a good place to be.

Since it was well into the fall and I was afraid that all of the re-supply options on the Kungsleden would be closed for the season, I carried 16 days of food with me.  It was very difficult to find information online beforehand about re-supplying that late in the season.  My pack was so huge.  It could barely fit with me on the suspended cot and I had to awkwardly hold it while I tried to fall asleep.

The trip was not off to a flawless start.  I had planned the adventure with a friend and at the last minute it hadn’t worked out.  So I was on my own.

I did not sleep much and was very relieved when the sun started to rise.  I headed off to the sitting area with my belongings, determined to see what land I could in the daylight hours. It was flat and forested and definitely fall.  The leaves were bright and changing colors.  We passed through some lumbering communities.

I finally disembarked in Abisko and started walking in the afternoon.  The trail is 275 miles and runs from Abisko to Hemavan.  A good fall walk.

The Kungsleden caught my eye a long time ago.  There was an article in National Geographic about it and I always thought it sounded nice.  It’s been a daydream for a while so it was exciting to finally be there.  To do something that I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid.

I had heard it is one of the wildest places in all of Europe.

The trail was well worn and well used.  Lots of litter.  Lots of helicopters flying this way and that at the beginning too.

That surprised me.

The hip belt on my ten-year-old pack fell apart twice that day since it was so heavy.  Twice I stopped, sat on the ground and stitched it up with my handy dental floss sewing kit.  (To be fair, my first attempt was pretty half-assed).  I hoped the second, more serious attempt with quadruple stitching would last for a few days at least.  It’s a pain to get a needle through the material.  

It was cold enough that I wore my coat and gloves for much of the day.  The trail rose out of the forest and brought me up to bare land quickly.  The tundra was red, the route was easy to follow, and there was no rain (yet).

There are shelters that you can pay to stay at here and there but you can camp anywhere for free.  As it grew dark, I hiked away from the trail up a hill opposite the southern end of the first lake- Abiskojaure.  I found a spot on a ledge with a view.

There were good blueberries there.  I set up my tent and watched the stars come out over a cup of tea as it grew dark.  I don't know how many thousands of miles I was away from Alaska but I was in the Arctic.  The plant life was the same.  The aurora even shimmered green and pink across the sky and it felt like home.

It's always good to be on the trail.

(someone please teach me night photography) 

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