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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Way Down
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.
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.
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.
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.