An Evening Of Magic And Serenity

For days now I have wanted to share the absolutely wonderful and magical evening I spent up on Skule Mountain with my brother during my visit to Sweden last week. Last night I got started on editing the photos, but I have been so tired since I came back home to Finland that I had to go to bed. Even though I added a few extra days to my stay it still seemed like I ran out of time. I was in constant motion, and my head burst with ideas–so many places I wanted to visit. I knew that I will be going back later this summer, with Lilli and Loke, but something happens when I am back in Ångermanland, among the mountains, deep rivers and old forests. If I am not outside I keep being drawn to the windows, knowing what is out there, waiting.

My brother works in a flower and gardening boutique. On my first day back in Sweden I went to see him with my mother. I even bought a couple of plants that came back to Lappi with me. Later that day we went for a drive–my brother is getting his license and does practice driving with our mother. We were out for a few hours. I had some coffee and sandwiches with me and the original plan was to sit by a lake out toward Viksjö, about 20 kilometers inland from Härnösand–another truly beautiful place. When we arrived so did the winds, and massive clouds floated toward us, hiding the wandering sun. My brother listened to me gush about the views while we huddled inside the car and drank our coffee, and we ended up driving all over while he showed me some highlights he had discovered during his drives with our mother in the past few months. Eventually it was time to go back to the apartment and I asked my brother if he wanted to come with me to Skule Mountain that weekend. And of course he did.

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They are currently doing a lot of landscaping and building at the foot of Skule Mountain, so when we arrived we weren’t sure where to put the car. One other car stood in the turning zone, though, so I parked there. And then we were on our way. We had already decided to take the Mountain Path, which is a 0,6 kilometer steep climb–and the shortest way up. Little did I remember my fear of heights. But my camera came out a few steps onto the path and my brother laughed as I crawled around on the ground to take some photos of the steep, rocky path disappearing into the forest.

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We also took the same way back down, and it was just as challenging going up as it was coming down. In different but equally taxing measures. Even though the trek down went much faster. Going up we still had fairly good light, but on the way down, at nearly 11 p.m., the sun was making its final descent below the horizon. Luckily we are in the land of the midnight sun, so it doesn’t go far. The sun lingers behind the mountains, takes a few moments rest, then begins its ascent back into the sky.

 

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Possibly our climb up taking much longer than the one back down was not so much due to my loss of equilibrium, or clinging to the mountain and railings, but more due to my camera getting pointed in every which direction. Every five seconds. Haha But that is the thing with fear–I find something else to hold on to, something else to think of, to take my mind off that which threatens to swallow me whole. This trek was definitely a glorious moment of being louder than my fears. I threw them down the mountain and grabbed my camera instead.

Before continuing up the top we took a little detour half way, to finally visit the Bandit Cave (Rövargrottan in Swedish). Every time we went to visit our grandfather as kids, we would drive past on route E4 and peer up at the dark spot in Skule Mountain towering over the road. The name comes from stories of alleged bandits roaming these mountains–a long, long time ago. In reality the cave was probably hollowed out and carved by the ocean current and waves grinding rocks against the cliff side when the shoreline was above this level. It’s just so fascinating. Incredible.

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When we left the cave I aimed my camera one last time before securing it for the final climb up the top. I needed both hands and full focus. Otherwise, who knows, we might have still been there–my brother waiting while I ohh and ahh at every drop and angle catching my eye.

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Scaling that wall, even though it is perfectly accessible and safe without climbing gear, took the breath out of me. So when we finally reached the top I planted myself on some rocks and we didn’t move for at least twenty to thirty minutes. And the view–my soul ached. I just marvelled. We had some cheese rings with us, which I was very glad I decided to as a last minute thing shove into the backpack before departure. As we sat there, I took out my phone and recorded a little clip for you all. (Best viewed in HD. And, yes, that crunching in the background is the sound of cheese rings. I wanted to add a nice instrumental piece instead but gave up. If you happen to have it, you can always turn the sound down and listen to Paul de Senneville’s Mariage d’Amour. I adore it, and it fits beautifully. Not Richard Clayderman’s version, though.)

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Done with munching and drinking, conveniently we found toilets. The toilet itself was a non-flush version, with a large hole into whatever container collects human waste, but there was a sink, a tap with warm water, and soap. And the actual restroom itself was heated, which came in handy later. Additionally, if you see the roof there in the photo–that’s a Raststuga. A hiker’s resting cabin, which was also quite warm. It had a fireplace and wood for starting a fire. Behind me sits the Top Cabin, which is open during the day. They serve some light food, drinks, and (my favourite) waffles. With cream and strawberries. Yum. Next time I will be here before they close.

Our time here had only just begun. For the next few hours we trekked all over this mountain top while I took photos of every view I found. And considering you have a 360 degree view from up here, that is a lot. You just follow the top trail that takes you all the way around.

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My original plan was to stay up on Skule Mountain past sundown and wait for sunrise. As the sun sank lower, though, the cold crept in. By the time both my brother and I agreed we should start our climb back down my fingers and toes were completely numb. I was having trouble handling my camera, and when we took a moment in that hiker’s resting cabin, it felt like my fingertips caught fire.

But the views. That sun wandering lower and lower, so skillfully, so artfully painting the sky and clouds in pinks and lilacs. And the magical haze–like a glowing veil draping the breathtaking vistas in warmth. My heart was so full of emotion I felt I might burst.

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Out of all the photos I took that day, these are my absolute favourites. I want them on our wall so I can look at them always.

We continued our journey around the top, and suddenly my brother started shouting from up ahead. You MUST come look at this! And he was right. There, on top of this mountain in a little dip nestled close to the edge was a tiny pond full of moss and water. And in it a rock stuck up. I rushed forward to set up my camera and asked my brother to pose so I could get the settings and the focus right. He also had to help me get onto the rock. When I finally sat there, though, and looked out over our gorgeous forest-dressed mountains and valleys I didn’t want to move. I could easily have stayed there and let that moss cover me, as well. At least, that was the feeling in that moment.

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It was with great reluctance I left this magical and mystical place, but the sun dipped lower and I wanted to capture the ocean view again in this light. We returned a little later, but not quite this far, so I could take some more photos just before the sun went into hiding.

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Thus, our time on Skuleberget came to an end and it was time to brave the mountain path, descend back to reality. Speaking of which, when I return with my daughter later this summer, we will come up with the lift and walk down another path that opens up officially this summer. Much more suitable for families.

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I deliberately decided to share the entire trip in one post, even if I knew it would be very long. I simply couldn’t split it–I didn’t want to. So if you have read this far, I want to say how grateful I am to have gotten to share this magical evening with you, too. My brother fell asleep on the sofa after a cup of coffee (which we requested on our drive home–our mother had fresh coffee waiting for us when we arrived at the house). I stayed up and gazed at the photos, already dreaming of the next visit. The High Coast truly holds a piece of my heart, and I hope to one day be able to get a little summer cottage to which we can go from time to time, the whole family.

I wish you all a wonderful evening. Thank you so, so very much for reading. ❤ See you soon!

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A Personal Journey

Hello, everyone! I know I dropped off the radar but it seems like I have been in constant motion since Wednesday morning and I haven’t had a chance to sit down and write until now. The past few days have been amazing and I have been longing to get a moment to share them with you.

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In my mother’s living room.
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A gift.

Last week I got a message from the education coordinator at Härnösand’s Folk High in Sweden, where I studied for two years–two incredible years which came to play a big part in the personal journey I began back in 2014. I have had plenty of time now to land and process all the emotions and impressions from the past few days–and since I got her message–but even as I write I am overwhelmed anew. A tangle of happiness, wonder, and such a deep thankfulness it feels like I might lift off the ground. I cannot tell you how many times I have been on the verge of tears or how many words were choked by the emotion that provoked them.

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View from old route E4/“Riksväg 90”.

As I write, I sit in my father’s kitchen, a cup of coffee beside me, and with a view of the High Coast bridge outside our window. It is the most comfy place and I am so easily lost in thought and contemplation. Even though I feel and know the changes I have gone through, even though family, friends, and teachers have seen and confirmed them, I am still kind of gobsmacked that it got me elected for a stipend. A diploma with words of my accomplishments along this journey rests in my suitcase now, ready to travel back home to Finland to be framed. Honestly, I am going to put it on my wall. I both can and can’t believe it, do you know what I mean?

You know, I almost didn’t go. After I was contacted I ran out the door and across the farm to where my partner was in the middle of cleaning our machines. I had to shout over the rumble of the compressor. I told him about the invitation back to Härnösand Folk High and he reminded me of the timing belt that needs changing before any major trips should be made with the car. And there just wasn’t enough time to get the car into the workshop before I would have had to leave. The HFS education coordinator told me I could join them over Skype, so either way I would be with them throughout the event. And so I told her I couldn’t come.

My partner noticed how crestfallen I was, and I kept trying to come up with any alternative or solution to make the trip anyway. He told me you’ll regret it if you don’t go. I don’t believe in regrets, but I knew already on the inside that I hadn’t accepted I can’t be there. I guess I needed to hear that I could risk the fate of the timing belt–and the engine–take the chance. Sometimes, no matter how far you have come to trust in that inner voice, sometimes that little extra push is needed. So I went, and the car and I had a smooth and uneventful trip, all the way from Finland to Sweden.

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I think once again on those words the speaker presenting the stipends gave, how important it is to find your own voice. For so long I lived with those borrowed voices I had collected over the years, and for so long I grew to resent the people behind those voices every single time I met failure and disappointment. So finding my own voice wasn’t only important for me and my own well-being and growth, but I have finally been able to let go of the world of weight my grudges encumbered me with. I can now with complete honesty say I do not feel contempt for anyone, no matter who they are or what they do. We are all on a journey–our very own path to find and establish that inner voice, find our place in this world. Sometimes we walk alone, and sometimes we walk alongside others. When my own voice is strong and clear, and the trust in myself sincere, I have come to see I hear and find it in me to understand and listen to others in ways I never could before.

For this, and for all the other challenges and opportunities to meet them I was given during my time at Härnösand Folk High, and to all the wonderful and amazing people I got to meet–I will be forever grateful. So this is not the end of a journey, it is only the beginning. And I eagerly and with more surety and confidence than ever take my next steps.

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At the top of Skule mountain in the High Coast, Sweden. A sneak peek of the many more photos to come from that evening. 😉

As always, thank you so much for reading and I wish you all a cozy Sunday and a great week ahead. See you soon!

A Mother-Daughter Hike: Part 3

Hi, everyone! We have arrived at the third and last stretch of the hike I did with Lilli two years ago. Living through this trip as I share it with you has gotten me all excited for this summer. Just looking at these photos coaxed that lovely memory cocktail of sounds, smells and sensations; the heat rising from rock, hovering between the trunks as we wandered, and the cool breeze sweeping in from the ocean–salt, seaweed, and minerals. Even the moss and lichen has its own distinct scent. And the pine trees. Oh, the smell of resin and pine needles is divine.

After leaving the beautiful tarn behind, the landscape soon began to rise. At one point I had to lift Lilli up by intertwining my fingers and letting her step on my palms, and at another climb I got up first, then pulled her up while she found purchase with the toes of her shoes. On the way back, though, she told me she would brave the drop herself and she sure did. I kept my camera stowed away during these moments, though, ready to pounce to the rescue. Once the trail leveled out, I got my camera out again.

Lilli didn’t get tired of me taking photos, either. She was happy stopping and taking it slow, but at a particular moment after posing for a dozen photos in a row, she turned away and pretended I wasn’t there. Hah.

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“Ugh. No more, Mom.”
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Lilli?

My steadfast little girl might not have said anything about getting tired, but hiking across a shifting landscape like this does wring the juice out of you. In a nice way, I think. In such a way that makes taking a break feel so good. So we found a spot with a great view and sat down to take many long breaths. And to refresh ourselves with water.

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This sky used to be littered with those Unidentified Flying Objects – aka dust speckles on the sensor.
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Taking a moment to just be.

As I am sure shows and seeps through my words as I write, wandering nature and adventuring through all that it has to offer fills my heart and soul with joy. Getting to do this with my daughter–I count myself so blessed and lucky to have been given this wonderful human being to guide and nurture. And to be part of, whether close by or from afar, her very own journey in this life.

I may have this sneaky old habit of being very hard on myself, one I do many battles with still, but I only hope that by the time my little girl wants to try her own wings, I have given her a solid foundation to push off from.

On the last stretch, before reaching our turning point, and that preciously needed coffee and picnic smörgåsbord, we both kept our eyes all but glued to the horizon. The views from up here were absolutely breathtaking.

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And this almost concludes our trek through Skuleskogen–for now. At the end of June, Lilli and I will get in the car–Loke will be joining us, too–to begin our road trip. Our first stop is Terranova, a natural science exhibition which presents Kvarken archipelago, elected as Finland’s first natural heritage site in 2006. It is a permanent part of the Ostrobothnian Museum in Vaasa. After that we will travel straight to Svedjehamn on Björkö in Kvarken archipelago, about 40 kilometers from Vaasa, and do a little exploring. I will talk more about that later in another post, since I have exciting plans to document our adventures this summer. In other words, there will be more mother-daughter hikes to come. And then some.

Some Last Words

The famous last words–no, not really. That just popped into my head when I wrote the heading text. I do want to get a little nerdy, though, and I have saved a little for the end credits. In every post I have written I have edited out my tendencies to transform my storytelling into information dumps. So, here we go. Short but sweet.

Did you know that twenty thousand years ago Skuleskogen National Park was covered by a 3 kilometre thick layer of ice? Can you imagine the weight of it? That pressure? Now, think of that melting, moving, sliding. The High Coast in Sweden, in which this park we have ventured through is situated, and Kvarken archipelago in Finland, forms a unique area. Together they are one of the few places in the world where traces of post-glacial rebound are so clearly visible. Flads and gloe lakes, deep crevices, vast rock fields, caves and tunnels carved by Mother Nature’s able hands. And watch that ancient rock rise up, still, at the pace of 8 mm per year. Skuleberget–Skule Mountain–which is right across route E4 from the National Park is impressive and definitely worth a visit. If you are into climbing, they have Via Ferrata facilities.

Lastly, did you also know that this post-glacial rebound process creates around one square kilometer of new land every year? In a couple of thousand years our descendants will be able to hike across Kvarken. It is just too fascinating and powerful to imagine. And too cool information to not add as an afterword.

If you have read this far, I want to thank you for joining us. I have honestly enjoyed writing about this and going through these photos so much, and I can’t tell you how exciting it is to see your likes and follows. Thank you! As always, I look forward to sharing many more adventures with you. Until next time, and see you soon!

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Here you can not only see a gorgeous example of that–if I am not mistaken, do correct me if I am–ancient rock, but also stark traces of my newbie photography skills. Blurr-blurr-blurr.

 

A Mother-Daughter Hike: Part 2

Hello, everyone! First I would just like to say that I am seriously so excited so many of you liked joining us on the mother-daughter hike. Today, before we continue, I have a (sort of silly) confession to make. My daughter was born in 2008, which means I did a slight miscalculation. She wasn’t eight the summer of 2015, she was seven. As I write this, I have to pause and count on my fingers, just once more, to be certain. Yep. Seven years old. What a little champion. Additionally, we had a little talk about that I am sharing this hike with you, which she thinks is pretty cool, but she wants me to refer to her as Lilli when I talk about her.

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Here she is, my Lilli, dancing on top of these ancient mountains.

If you only just now dropped in, then you can find part one here. Alternatively, stay till the end and read part one once you’re finished. Whichever works for you!

Okay. Let’s Do This

After Lilli and I had walked for what seemed like hours–in reality much less–we breached a clearing. We had reached a tarn connected to a mire, only one of several. A wooden walkway had been laid out to enable crossing. My camera was out all the time, so when Lilli found some leaves and told me I had gotten muddy, then decided she would clean it, I had to capture the moment. She is so sweet.

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You know, I often stop and think about how different it is out here, walking among creaking trees, the faint whisper of water as it makes its way through pathways it has found over the years. The echo of an owl, eerie yet so beautiful. This place is full of life and movement but not in the same way as a city or even a small town. It has its own pulse, though. A beating heart to which my own answers. The pace varies, but the baseline changes. A rhythm more in tune with the precious life we truly hold in our hands.

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Out here, I learn to listen–really listen. Our inner voice is so important, but it’s not the sound, not the words, not the volume that counts. It’s the bond, the trust. I acknowledge I know so little and it’s all right. I open myself to taking it all in, to learn and grow.

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Every time I have stepped into the wilderness I have come back revived and at peace. And every time my belief that nature is the best therapy grows stronger. There are even scientific studies on the benefits of getting out into the wild. I read an article recently; they measured what actually happens in some parts of the brain, and the conclusion was it lowers the production of stress hormones. I found that fascinating.

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Okay. Confession time, again. When I first talked to Lilli about going hiking, she wasn’t overly enthused. She loves spending time with me, this is true, and she enjoys picnics and doing things with us, her parents, but when it comes to trying new things she has been wary and reluctant. Some coaxing and time to think it over is required. What enticed her initially was the true fact that a movie made of Astrid Lindgren’s Ronja Rövardotter was partly filmed here in Skuleskogen. There is a big crevice Ronja jumps across at one point and it exists for real. Slottdalsskrevan. (The Castle Valley Crevice.) This kept Lilli going, but by the time I realised we wouldn’t make it and told Lilli so, she shrugged and said it was all right. She had gotten to do so many cool things already and was happy with our very own adventure, wherever or however far it would take us.

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As we continued our journey I did see changes in her. Of course it was a long hike, and kids ask are we there yet? (Adults, too, actually. Ahem.) But she didn’t ask are we going home soon? Honestly, she didn’t tell me she was tired until I started packing up our picnic and told her it was time to return home. I saw she was, though, but I also recognised that peacefulness, that serenity in her when we sat on top of a mountain and looked out over the ocean, forests, and peered down at our destination that would have to wait until another time. And since then, at the mention of a hike, her eyes have lit up. I know that belief is a powerful force in our world, but could it be, when even her teacher has said Lilli has really transformed over the past two years–more courageous, more secure in herself, and is among the first to jump up to make presentations in front of the class–could it have at least some connection? I don’t know, but I can honestly say I believe so.

And so, my lovelies, what will also have to wait until another time–next time–is the conclusion of this adventure of ours. As Lilli and I left the second tarn we came across, I turned and saw what looked like a magical gateway. I tried and failed to capture the mystique in the contrast of light and shadow. With a little help of Lightroom I managed to tweak the photo, although not at all to my satisfaction (there is so much stuff you can do though!). I actually ordered a book on photography and how to move from point and shoot to the magic of the manual settings. So maybe I will be ready for my second chance at that perfect shot this summer. Either way, I will keep on snapping photos. And I will keep sharing them with you.

Thank you for coming along on this adventure, and I look forward to seeing you soon!

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A Mother-Daughter Hike: Part 1

Whenever I look back on the hike I did with my daughter almost two years ago now, apart from being filled with wonder anew, I end up saying we have to go back there. Not only because we truly had such a great time, or the fact that we got to see only a fraction of all there is to explore, but the one thing that kept my daughter going, the place I promised her we would see we didn’t reach. We simply ran out of time and would have run out of daylight if we had continued. So this summer we will return; at the end of June we embark on a road trip that will take us up through Finland and then down through Sweden. More on that in another post, though.

Today my daughter and I will take you through a portion of the 19 kilometer long hike we did on the 25th of July, 2015. I was 34 and one hiking experience richer than having no idea. In other words, I still had no idea what I was doing. My daughter had turned eight some months before. But we had food. We had sandwiches, apples, carrots, hot chocolate, coffee and lots of water. Our destination: Slottdalsskrevan in Skule-forest National Park. We started at Entré Väst–the western entry. As far away from Slottdalsskrevan you can possibly start. But what is an adventure without challenges, right?

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Let’s begin!

While far from all of Skule-forest National Park is accessible to you who for any reason are reliant on a wheelchair or similar, it is quite awesome they have built ramps and constructed pathways to make some areas more attainable for everyone.

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Also, before getting deeper into the park, the trail consisted of wooden walkways, which my daughter very much appreciated. Especially on our way back. She kept asking when we would reach those wooden planks. Still, she remained in good spirits the whole time.  She continues to impress me with her valiance.

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While walking, we talked about all kinds of things. Often my daughter would ask me questions I had a hard time answering, due to a lacking vocabulary in the Finnish language. I would say I am satisfactory fluent in Finnish–so long as the topics are on every day things. I don’t believe in regrets, but if I would count one, it would be that I did not speak Swedish with my daughter as much as I should have during her first years. And my partner and I speak English at home, so the only times I practiced speaking Finnish was at work or when we would go visit my partner’s parents. In any case, with the rich and vivid beauty that surrounded us on our journey, words were soon forgotten and we settled into a slow pace, taking in and investigating whatever took our fancy.

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Compared to my hike with Loke, this adventure was much less challenging, that I must admit. On the other hand, for my daughter, it was most definitely the toughest thing she has ever done. And still she hiked those whole 19 kilometers like a pro.

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She volunteered to be my assistant and carried that camera bag all the way…
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All along the trail winding upwards…
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…and down. And back up again.
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Moss, lichen and vibrant greens wherever we turned.

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And blåbärsris! (Blueberries? Dictionary also tells me whortleberry and bilberry. Gah. Confusion galore.)

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These forests–I just love these old forests. They are like taken out of fairy tales from my childhood. My all-time favourites were the stories illustrated by John Bauer. I urge you wholeheartedly to Google him. There is such mystery in his images. Also I simply adore trees. Especially those found in primeval forests (wild-woods?). To think of the ages they have borne witness to, all they have seen and survived, endured. The feeling is equally humbling and… I can’t find a word. Mäktigt. It’s silly, right? A word in the mother tongue has a distinct emotion tied to it, and even after browsing what seems like a hundred synonyms in English I can’t find a word to which I get that same connection. Strengthening and encompassing, vast and powerful. All in the same word. What would be that word? Majestic? Vastness?

Anyway. Mäktigt can also be used to describe something that is too much. Which this post would be if I took you through the full 19 kilometers. So I will stop here and wish you who are celebrating Mother’s Day this weekend a wonderful day. I will be spending at least the first part of it in bed, as ordered by the man and the daughter. As commanded, I say! (The man also added “Prepare yourself for tomorrow now. Bring your laptop with you to the bedroom before you go to bed so you have something to do.” He sure knows me well–I have a hard time staying in bed once my eyes are open, or even only half-open. So I also decided on a precautionary Night Owl Session. You know, to force myself to sleep longer. Just in case.)

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Flowers for all the mothers out there. We passed a pond full of these beauties on our journey.

One Last Peek At Winter

Good evening, folks! Or is it a very early morning? What time is it where you are? In Finland it’s past midnight as I write, but I wanted to share something before shutting down and getting tucked in. I am currently up to my elbows in editing photos for future posts in My Love For The High Coast series, and found a few from a spontaneous hike I did with my friend. She loves hiking and adventures just as much as I do and I will be forever grateful that we found each other.

I sent her a message the other day and told her about my plans, and asked if she would be okay with me using photos with her in them. Of course she agreed. “Go for it!” I miss her so very much, so in honor of min pingla, I will give you a sneak-peek at some gorgeous winter scenery from our beloved Höga Kusten. Before spring has us overrun with tingles and the last thing we want is to think of cold winter nights and a howling northern wind.

Håll till godo, as we say in Swedish. In other words, enjoy.

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Shaped By Thousands Of Years

Preparations? I got this

What do you think when you hear hiking? Even now, although it really has nothing to do with what hiking means to me, a huge backpack larger than the person carrying it appears in my mind. I’m seeing Reese Witherspoon in the movie Wild, lying down on the floor to get into the straps of that monster of a thing. Great scene, and great movie, too, by the way.

At the time I did my first Hike with Loke, I had a normal backpack, a generic thing with a laptop pocket. It wasn’t until later I invested in a larger pack, which I tested by executing a brilliant expedition to walk all the way from Härnösand to Ramvik, along a busy road (I had to turn off and take the old E4 at one point, because you can’t walk on a motorway, which made the trip longer). I filled my brand spanking new hiker’s rucksack to the brim with anything I could find, because I had to try it, right? If I couldn’t walk 35 kilometers along the E4 and a country road with a load of 20 kilos on my back, how would I be able to manage in the wilderness where I couldn’t call a friend (or in this case my mother) to the rescue when I had more blisters than toes and the frame of the backpack was digging into my flesh? Yeah… Did I mention it was brilliant? Not-so-brilliant. What can I say? I’m a stubborn nutcase. But blisters and bruises aside, I had an great time. I had food with me that time, and climbed up some rocks along a windy road and sat there to enjoy my cold dinner and smiled at passersby.

My hike with Loke both was and wasn’t one of those not-so-brilliant ideas. Not only because I packed nothing to eat but a third of a 150 gram bag of roasted soy beans I didn’t even know about–I discovered it later, long-forgotten in a hidden pocket. I did, however, have the sense to bring several liters of water for Loke and myself. But I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. None.

The online site I visited beforehand to read about the trail told me it was a 9,8 km challenging hike, but as I sat on my father’s balcony on the other side of Ångermanälven, I did my own evaluation of its potential challenginess. Its starting point wound down the cliffs from the High Coast Hotel and snaked below the bridge and into the forest. It didn’t look that bad to me, I had walked Loke in that area before–how challenging could it be? And, hey, I had hiking boots! And layered clothing, layered socks. I got this, I thought. I have read up. Additionally, I had been running and walking 8 – 10 km several times a week for months (which never took me more than two hours at walking pace), not to mention going strong on a training program, so my body was in tip-top shape. I had the stamina, I had the strength.

Let’s do this, Loke! Not only his tail wagged–all of him wagged with it when we left the house.

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Section 1: Hornöberget – Lövvik. Courtesy of Höga Kusten Turistservice. Thank you so much!

Loke and I got in the car and crossed the High Coast bridge around 9-ish that morning, and then we were off. I took a photo with my phone of the map at the start of the trail, you know, just in case.

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So how long did it take before reality ate through my bravado? Taking into consideration I have this stubbornness, which with years of experience in its company I can readily say has in equal measures been my greatest ally and most damaging adversary, I didn’t admit to the challenging-part until I was on my way back home. Half a day later. Along the country road. Because no way in this universe was I taking the trail back, like I had planned. Loke and I would have crawled on hands, knees and haunches across my dad’s threshold long past midnight. If we had even made it that far. We might have had to crash at this charming wind shed I passed high up along the trail.

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One day I will come back to this spot with a packet of sausages, mustard, ketchup and roasted onions. You’ll join me, right? Wait till you see the view!

 

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Where Is The Trail? This Is The Trail

I mentioned I took a photo of the map before I started walking. Next to a row of parking spots facing the river and cliffs at the Hotel is a big board with various information about the area, including the trail. It tells you the trail is marked along the way. So I followed those marks. While I wouldn’t recommend hiking the way I did, I have to give it to these folks who maintain the trails–great marking. Without them, I would have been so lost.

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See the red paint smudge on the tree to the right? I followed those the entire way.

 

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But before I got to the trail-trail, I had to walk along small country roads and through a couple of small villages. Signs along the way told me I was headed in the right direction. And then I got to this bridge, one that was also built nearly 20 years ago. Before that–you guessed it–a ferry took you across.

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Here I was concerned for Loke, the shoulder being so narrow, but luckily this road wasn’t very busy.

 

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Utviksfjärden – the Utvik Bay.

 

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I remember looking at the back side of Hornöberget (Hornö mountain) and the High Coast bridge and thinking, “This is going to take a lot longer than I thought.”

To be honest, I can’t remember anymore how long it took me to get to this point, but long enough for me to get a little emotional. I gave out a shaky breath and teared up when I finally saw a sign pointing me into the thicket.

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Look, Loke! We’re going in!

 

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Loke: You’re still taking photos. Are we going or what?

The World Heritage

Remember I asked before what you think when you hear hiking? Besides backpacks and hiking boots, to me, it’s about getting away from all the noise of civilisation. Away from whirring buildings and rumbling vehicles–away from all that the Industrial Revolution brought with it. Our modern society. (Well, some of it. I do love my phone, and my camera, and my laptop. Heh.) I certainly wouldn’t have had my hiking boots without it, though–with memory foam!–and my feet truly might have been chopped pork at the end of the day. And as I write this it hits me that those bridges wouldn’t have been there, either, and I would have had to row a boat across. Or maybe there would have been a ferry man with a raft on a rope? No? Too wide across, probably. The thing is, by getting away I gain perspective, and I can see the things I take for granted. I appreciate and am grateful for what I have–which is so, so much–but don’t even think about when I am smack in the middle of it.

By appreciating what I have, I am happier, more driven, more inspired. Nothing treats stagnating motivation, nor soothes a restless soul, like arriving at the top of a mountain you spent hours getting to. I used to–and still do, though these days I catch myself, mostly–obsess over really insignificant things, ridiculous things even. Imagined things. But when my foot touches the trail, when my muscles pull at my bones as I climb up a steep hill, droplets of exertion trickle down my back, my stomach makes a fist, and suddenly I am there. Looking out over a landscape that endured and was shaped by thousands upon thousands of years, incomprehensible weight of shifting ice masses. And it rises up, proudly. Here I am, here I stand. Look at me. Even today. In spite of yesterday, because of yesterday.

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Hiking through our heritage–the wildness in general–reminds me there is value in every moment, no matter what it looks like. That it’s a process. The good, the bad, and that which escapes our attention because it happens so slowly, so discreetly. And the very real magic of it lines the soul. Heck, even now, sitting here and writing about it I am reminded. I am not there, but it’s in me. And it humbles me. How easily we forget amidst the crush of every day life.

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One of the bridge’s pylons can be seen in the far distance, but in that moment my thoughts were not on how long it would take us to get back home. I felt utterly free and happy.

The Way Down

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Speaking of perspective, as I went through these photographs to gather the ones I wanted for the post I kept repeating one question to myself: Why didn’t I take more photos? Especially on the way there and on the way home? Wandering through the villages, the dense forest going up, that shack on the waterfront, the little lake and the picnic table along the road home. The answer is I for one was too eager to get as high up as I could so I merely forgot, and secondly, by the time I got down and out of the forest, I walked in the wrong direction before realising and had to turn back. I didn’t feel tired, not yet, but my body was running on reserves. Continuous walking, and in this kind of terrain, puts the body into a crazed energy burn.

Up The Trail

Additionally, having built muscle over several months–that muscle needed more than I had given it. I am not about to do maths here, but my customary two slices of wholegrain toast that morning, and two cups of coffee with skim milk was nowhere near enough. So when I came off the trail and hit the road, and by the time I realised I had walked in the wrong direction–because where is that café?–I was beginning to feel a little shaky.

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Down that way, somewhere, is Lövvik. And a café.

 

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Can’t be seen on a photograph, but my legs were a little spaghetty-ish.

 

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Finally, the café!

 

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Shoes off, socks off, I sat and ate an ice cream–best ice cream I ever had–while Loke chillaxed.

 

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I believe that photograph was among the last ones I took that day. The camera stayed in its bag after I left the café. A very charming little spot next to the road, and the clerk inside was a warm and chatty fellow, telling me I was out hiking at precisely the right time. Later in the summer it gets really hot during the days, and, well–need I say more?

Regaining Balance & Re-fuelling

As I sat there, feet up and with Loke resting next to me in the shade, I experienced a sense of peace and serenity I can’t quite put into words. I mentioned that hiking for me is about getting away from the busy buzzing of our society. And there I was, back again among people moving around and talking, cars passing by, voices of children in the distance, boat engines… yet I was in harmony with it all. Because I had gotten back to basics and regained my inner balance. I had re-booted and was re-fuelling.

I may have had no idea what I was getting Loke and myself into when we set off that morning, I could have been much better prepared, done so many things differently. But that day I gained something truly valuable; the trail gave me a very important piece in a series of lessons that would take with me on my journey toward understanding myself and taking better care of myself. I didn’t grasp it to begin with, not really, not the way I do now–although I have a long way to go still–but I want to share what I wrote in my journal that evening, about peace and serenity, after eating two huge servings of my father’s roast beef and potato salad–yum.

I was so content, and although there were sounds all around me, for once the world was silent. I had peace. Serenity. And I want to achieve that again. More of it, and for longer periods of time. I just felt so amazing.

I did feel amazing, but what I didn’t grasp at the time was that it was within my power to gain it. My power. I claimed that power and challenged myself. I achieved that state of tranquility by dropping all the fears of not having the equipment, nor the experience, or the know-how. I put myself in a position where I allowed room for failure and mistakes. Room to gain. To learn. And it’s perfectly okay not to know.

Too often in my past I tied up my wellbeing to the actions and words of others. Aware or not, I had given over my power to a nameless, faceless entity out of my reach. I thought I was cursed, I was being punished. Every possible reason for my misery ended up in blaming something or someone outside of my power to change. Yet I now believe the only one we can ever truly change is ourselves. We can inspire and motivate, we can set an example by which to follow, but it is and ultimately always will be the choice of that other person. Knowingly or unknowingly. And many of us don’t know. I didn’t know. Maybe I still don’t understand it entirely. That is all right. The road to insight often leads through the darkest and deepest of valleys, through trials of pain and despair. Light and dark. Without one or the other there is no contrast. Without moving yourself into a different position there will be no other perspective. That light will keep on hitting the same spot, the shadows will fall where they always fall.

With that in mind, if you have managed to read this far, I want to thank you for sharing your time with me. Thank you for listening.

Lastly, I would like to leave you with this photo of a dead tree I came upon during my hike. It was so incredibly cool I had to take a photo of it. I moved all around it, snapping shots, but each and every one disappointed me, no angle did the twistedness of this dead old tree justice, and I just couldn’t figure out why. I thought I was missing something, that I was–and admittedly still am–an amateur photographer without the know-how. And that may very well be the case, so, um… Moving on. No catchy last words to see here, folks.

I do hope, however, that whoever you are, wherever you are, you take the time out to find and gain your very own balance. Sometimes a change of scenery is all that is needed. Even if it’s just a walk around the block, backwards–or leaving whichever spot you are in and going to get a cup of coffee. Like I would do, right now, except I forgot to buy coffee. The only thing I went to the shop to get and I came home with everything else but the coffee. So tea it is.

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More Reading

If you would like to read more about the High Coast Trail, you can find details here. Or if you are curious about the surrounding areas you can check out Härnösand Municipality, Kramfors Municipality and Örnsköldsvik Municipality (my grandfather is from here!). Unfortunately I couldn’t find an English section on Kramfors’ or Härnösand’s webpages, but if you turn on Google translation for the sites you might be able to make some sense of it.

Lastly, I warmly recommend visiting The Outdoor Village (Friluftsbyn in Swedish). These guys are doing amazing things to pin the beautiful High Coast on the world map.

The Unintentional Prelude

Even though I moved back home to Finland to rejoin my family in December last year, I still haven’t unpacked all the boxes of stuff I brought with me. So when I started working on the blog post wherein I’ll share Loke’s and my 9-hour hike, I thought I would go through my journals to see what I might have written that day. It took me a while but I found it eventually… and got stuck reading what past-me had to say. I’m laughing at myself because I just mentioned the lacking organisational and time management skills in my previous post. It makes me think of this image I saw once, of counting sheep when trying to go to sleep, and it ends up with hey, Macarena!

So now I have hit a bit of a hey-macarena situation with my blog post. I intended to just add an excerpt from my journal entry, but one thing lead to another, and suddenly I had poured out a ton of words before even getting to the actual hike. So instead of deleting those words, I am posting them as a fitting example of my process. Let’s call it The Unintentional Prelude.

June 20, 2015

Dear present-me,

Hiked the High Coast trail today! Got a total of 32 km! I am not sure how I am still alive. Or sitting up. Poor Loke is totally pooped. But it sure was nice. More than nice. Awesome, even. I am so proud of myself for doing the entire 1st course of the High Coast trail! Oh. And BOY am I glad I invested in those Meindl hiking boots. Without them, my feet would be chopped pork.

I wish I would have had a diary excerpt to share from when my parents first moved us–my siblings and me–from a Stockholm suburb up to this area in 1989. Not that I really kept a journal back then. I was eight years old and I hadn’t found my love for words yet. Suffice to say, younger-me did not share my enthusiasm and love for Ångermanland, the northern province of Sweden in which the High Coast is located. To my young self it was dark, remote, and I knew no one, at first. All my friends were a world away. Winters seeped through the creaking walls of the old house, and outside the cover of snow seemed taller than I was (enough to bury our car at times). I didn’t dislike nature, but the loss of my friends and the world I knew muddled my impressions.

From old photographs and stories my parents have told, I know my father took me out on smaller hikes to pick berries and mushrooms already as a baby–I rode along in a sling on his back. And later on, as my siblings arrived and we got older and could use our own legs, we stumbled around in his footsteps, climbed large rocks, hunted insects and explored the undergrowth. We would help each other to lift smaller boulders to watch in fascination the intricate patterns created beneath by all manner of critters and little lizards. Once we found a snake sunning itself. Another time we crossed paths with elk calfs. It is safe to say my love for nature has long been cultivated in me, and I in it.

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At my request, Mom dug up some photos. Bless her.

When I came back to Härnösand in autumn 2014–and every other time through the years, really–I always remembered our family hikes with fondness. I took every opportunity I could to go back to those places we visited as children, coaxing whoever available along as well I could, but the one place that had the greater pull was a cabin built and maintained by a local outdoor organisation. It’s open all year round and is free to use by anyone. Nestled on a bare cliff on top of a ridge it gazes out over the amazing landscape that signifies the World Heritage of the High Coast.

View from Tuäggenstugan
Did you know that due to the post-glacial rebound, the High Coast rises 8 mm annually? And it will continue to do so for generations to come, gradually slowing down.

The trek up to Tuäggenstugan, as the cabin is called in Swedish, is situated a few minutes drive from a small village by the name of Ramvik, about 30 km northwest of Härnösand. My father still lives there in that creaky house I called home from the age of 8 to the age of 13 (and sporadically in later years).

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The house used to be pink once, and white-beige-ish before that. The two smaller windows were once shop-sized windows. The house’s bottom floor held a sewing and fabrics shop in the earlier 1900’s – 1950.

My father’s house–almost only a stone’s throw away from water–faces Ångermanälven, a 463 km long river. The name originates from Old Norse–anger–which seems to have various meanings, such as tight/narrow, and names of lakes and bays have contained some form of the word anger. Mostly in Norway, but also in Sweden. In this case maybe it refers to that the province of Ångermanland is full of fjord-like (fjord-ish?) formations, although by far not comparative to our neighbour’s majestic fjords.

If you looked closely at the photo taken from Tuäggenstugan you could see the pylons in the distance (tiny, tiny). That is a suspension bridge–Höga Kusten bron–which was inaugurated 20 years ago, now, this year. Before it was built you had to take a ferry to the other side, or drive another 15 or so kilometers further north to cross. Next to the High Coast bridge on the other side of the river, atop some cliffs, sits the High Coast Hotel–where they serve absolutely delicious food–and that is where my hike began. The hike this post was supposed to be about. Er, oops?

Regardless of taking a little detour, these sneaky extra words still tie into all the reasons why this place means so much to me. Which is something the younger-me, as I mentioned earlier, never would have thought she would one day say. As I write this, and truly think about it, I find myself smiling; the place I once couldn’t get far enough away from is the very place that much later would have such a big impact on my personal growth and, ultimately, my mental health. I won’t go into details or dedicate any major words to that here, and get sidetracked again, but when I left Finland over two years ago I was suffering from deep depression and anxiety, social phobia, PTSD–and, now, let me tell you that all that has changed.

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Feel the moment… just this moment.

 

An Idea Takes Shape

I was looking out the window a couple days ago–blue skies, spring birds chirping, glorious sunshine–and missed my home town with a vengeance. Even more so I wanted to get in my car and drive out into the magnificence of the High Coast, attempt the second stage of the High Coast Trail. I thought about how spoiled I became during the two years I lived and studied in Härnösand, Sweden (one of the many places of my childhood), having the World Heritage of the High Coast in my backyard.

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Gorgeous, isn’t it?

I can’t say I don’t live close to nature, now. My partner is a farmer and we have acres upon acres of fields and forest. I have but to step outside the door and walk in any direction to get my fix. But strolling through rural farmlands and forests is not the same as braving the wilderness. Flat pastures can’t compare to the steep rise and fall of forest covered slopes, and even though a softly curving hill filled with swaying wheat and barley is beautiful, it isn’t as magnificent as standing on top of a mountain to be awed by the vast ranges and realise how small we truly are. Yet we accomplish great things.

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So there I was with the pull in my chest, wanting so badly to go hiking, but then I got an idea. I may not be able to go trekking right now, not physically, but I have quite a lot of photos from my various adventures, and I am finally blogging, so why not combine the two and write about it? There are too many photos and thoughts to share to fit into one post, so to further my idea I decided that I would make a series–a blog series. Spread it out over a few posts. And I will call it My Love For The High Coast. Great!

To honor One Step At A Time I will set the goal to not get carried away with plans and structure. I know myself well enough to understand that the bigger the project the further it stretches out before me and the higher the chance becomes of me drowning in my still-lacking time management and organisational skills. But bit by bit is how we learn. And that is my motivation.

This is the beginning, then; the first stage and the introduction to a hike back in time. A trek through the past two years. Some adventures were smaller, shorter, and some bigger, longer. But they all meant the world to me.

I will begin with a long one, a hike that took me and my trekking companion, Loke–my beloved dog–nine whole hours (and perhaps even more) to complete. But–that is another post. Until then…

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“Hiking, you say? Nine hours, you say? At least you had boots for the occasion! Nutcase.” – Loke, 1 year old and ever eager to explore.