I made it 22 km to Alesjaure in the pouring rain.
The wind had been blowing a mix of water and ice sideways all day. I had passed my last trees in the valley long ago, so there was nothing to hide behind or under for a moment of reprieve.
It was a relief to walk inside the hut at Alesjaure. The hut system on Sweden's Kungsleden was closing for the winter in just a few days and all of the stops were selling their last freeze dried dinners and chocolate bars. Not that I was buying any after my wise decision to carry a full 16 days worth of food just in case there was none available anywhere . . . I was an autonomous state with aching shoulders.
There was a pot of hot water and mugs in the corner so I made myself a cup of tea and sat down on a long table by the window. The hut was mostly empty. Five men sat at another table playing cards and a boy sat at the far end of the room reading by himself.
I spread my maps out in front of me, made myself a peanut butter and jelly tortilla, and reviewed the situation, still shivering from the wet and cold. It was already 4 pm but 22 km is only 13 miles so I knew I'd better go on or I'd have to pay for it by upping my daily average over the coming week.
I procrastinated by going through the guest book and seeing where all of the different travelers had come from. There were a few Americans but not many. Mostly people from all over Europe and a surprising number from Japan!
It was hard to leave the warm, cozy room, but once the rain had turned to drizzle and the wind had quieted down I was unable to come up with any more excuses to put it off.
Arctic falls only last a few days and I had hit Sweden's Arctic at the peak of the season. Just as the tundra was its brightest shade of red. It provided a warming contrast to blue ice rivers and the gray mist that hung over everything.
The trail took me up into a great big valley. I walked until it was too dark to see and then a little further still.
I finally set up my tent near a small hilltop away from the trail.
The ground was very soft and it was windy enough that my stakes wouldn't hold and kept pulling through the loose ground. I scrambled around for a while in the dark trying to find a good, heavy rock to weigh the stakes down. There were none so I ended up using my food bags as weights. A good chunk of my right knuckle went missing in the dark during the process. I didn't even notice until my headlamp illuminated the red staining my hand and sleeve of my long underwear shirt just before falling asleep. I cleaned it up and wished I had packed more band-aids.
It was a cold night. A drowning rain set in and the wind began to build. I had to fix my stakes twice and resort to a few sets of pushups to stay warm.
My original plan was to rise before six but it was too cold to see the plan through and the sound of another miserable squall arriving kept me buried in my sleeping bag. The weather finally quieted a little after 7 and I peaked my head outside. I was delighted and surprised to see that instead of more storm clouds ahead, it looked like the weather might be breaking up. I packed up quickly and began walking towards Tjaktja Pass, the highest point on the Kungsleden.
The way was gradual and the whole situation seemed a thousand times more cheerful when the sun began to break through. A lone caribou marched right towards me on the trail before deciding to veer off left. I hiked away from him, uphill and took out my camera for a few pictures.
Tjaktja was not a difficult climb and the views on the south side were the kind that stops you in your tracks. The valley after the pass had a broad floor and the river digging through it shimmered for miles. As far as I could see. I cooked ravioli and sauce for lunch and even had a chai tea. It felt quite decadent.
By noon there were no clouds at all. Only bright sun.
I passed another hut but it was too early to stop walking so I continued on. The Guobirjohka River had a suspension bridge over it and I stood there right in the middle for a while staring down at the cold, fast, green water. The terrain did remind me a lot of Alaska's Arctic but it didn't have that wild feeling. It felt safe. Tame. I didn't have much to worry over. For better or for worse. No grizzly bears. Civilization was close. The way was easy to follow.
An A-frame was marked on my map and I knew I would reach the spot just as it was getting dark. I saw it from a distance. There was a man standing there out in front of it. I drew nearer on the trail crestfallen and cold. Disappointed that my solitude would be interrupted. It was dusk and I didn't want to walk too much further. I had secretly been hoping to sneak inside the A-frame with a suspicion that the sun had cooked the air in there up a little bit during the day.
There was an outhouse and a woodshed next to the A-frame. I opened the door to the shed wondering if it was any warmer than outside. The small room was so full to the brim with wood that there wasn't an inch for a person to stand let alone sit.
The stranger came out of the A-Frame and waved to me from the porch. I had assumed it would be a grumpy middle aged man like one that I had met earlier in the day. But it was a university kid. It turned out he was from Germany. His name was Clemens.
He had his meager gear laid out inside the A-frame which was thankfully a good fifteen degrees warmer than the Arctic evening air.
Clemens was a nice kid with dreadlocks sprouting out of his head and dirty, worn bracelets covering his wrists. Only 18. He was having a terrible time. His family had gone to Greece for vacation but had decided to go to the Arctic instead of joining them. His gear wasn't appropriate for the cold weather and he had spent his entire trip frozen but he was hiking out, back to civilization the next day, so he'd be fine.
I was 18 too when I went on my first big hike alone and remember the fear and loneliness so well. I was in a state of panic for most of that trip. Everything seemed like such a big deal. Every scrape. Every mistake. Everything felt like the end of the world.
It broke my heart a little to see someone else going through that so I tried to be as friendly and outgoing as my introverted self could be.
I wondered, though, I'm not lonely anymore. Is that a good thing? Is there something wrong with me? Have I spent too much time alone?
Clemens kept going outside to check for the northern lights. They came out for a few minutes. It was the first time he'd seen them so he was happy.
I stayed up looking at maps and reading inside the shelter and fell asleep under a shelf by the door.
It is so much easier to get going when you're not freezing and your tent isn't covered in condensation. I was out the door and walking south within twenty minutes of waking up and Clemens was relieved to be hiking out, east, back to civilization.