NYC –> Sweden
It all began at Mappy Hour:
I met Alex at the second ever Mapppy Hour in NYC, she had just returned from an almost unbelievable adventure to Northern Sweden where she spent her days dogsledding across frozen tundra and nights camping in -30 degree temperatures. We hit it off and she recruited me to head to the trails of local Harriman State Park with her as she trained for yet another trip to Sweden. That summer, she would return to the far North for a 71 kilometer trek along the famous Kungsleden Trail. She would be participating in the annual Fjällräven Classic, orchestrated by Swedish brand Fjällräven and bolstered by support like aid stations, food, and trail directions.
When Alex got back from the trek raving about her experience, I shared her story with my Dad & brother with whom I had recently summited Kilimanjaro. We were ready for our next adventure and Alex assured us this was a relatively easy and flat (this word would be a source of debate between my family members later) trail that would be great for Team Knapp.
Fast forward 8 months:
Landing in Stockholm after a too-many hour flight from New York, I quickly grabbed an espresso on my way to my connecting flight to Kiruna. The flight, lasting less than 2 hours brought me to a large mining town in Northern Sweden. Heading to baggage, I watched as backpacks rolled around the conveyer belt as, it seemed, every other person on my flight was also here to trek. Nordic languages filled my ears as I set off to find my brother and father who had arrived a few hours before me. The overcast sky cast shadows over the low buildings adding to the town’s feeling of remoteness and languid quiet.
I met the family at the gymnasium of a local school where gear, registration and food supplies were to be picked up. I had forgotten matches for the stove, and soon learned that with conversion from dollars, and the economics of having no other options, I would be purchasing the most expensive matchbook of my life. For dinner we went to a local pub, dark with soft leather chairs and a roaring fireplace, perfect for this area’s long winters and dark days. We finished Day 1 back at our hotel for our last night in beds for quite a few days.
The Trek Begins:
Early the next morning, shuttles brought us to the trailhead in Nikkaluokta Sweden, where a small building and many other trekkers awaited the start. And off we went, heading west past Sweden’s highest peak Kebnekaise, which, the ambitious trekkers would summit by adding an extra day into their trip.
Each day we covered between 10 and 15 miles, heading North now towards Abisko National Park. Each night we stopped to camp near a water source (we were far enough North we could drink straight from the rivers), and hopefully away from the winds that ripped through the mountains.
One night, my brother and I were certain our tent was being attacked by a wild animal, just to learn that the wind on the exposed section of the trail could shake the tent more than most wildlife could.
While most of the trek was flat, the hardest parts took us across the long sections of rocks. Luckily, some sections had planks, which, though they slowed us down, saved our ankles and provided a great photo opportunity.
Throughout the trek, we came upon the STF Mountain Huts, cozy places where we could sometimes buy a coffee or snack and look longingly into the huts as guests enjoyed hot meals and cold drinks. Luckily, many huts had an adjoining sauna which we were allowed to use. Buckets of cold water were brought up from the river to dump on each other when things got too hot, and a few crazy Swedes went for a swim in the chilly arctic waters.
I, of course, brought the OutdoorFest flag with me, and managed to get a couple of shots with the epic Lapland views. Throughout the trek, we met other hikers from all over the world. When I mentioned I was from Brooklyn, a few times I was asked if I knew the couple ahead of us from Brooklyn. Unfortunately, with millions of people from my home borough, I did not but hoped to meet them at some point during the trip to reminisce of home.
At the end of the trek, I got in line to grab a beer and discovered the two other Brooklynites who we had heard of along the trail were indeed familiar. In fact, they were two other members of Mappy Hour!