A New Way
At the bus station in Stockholm, I waited with our packs while Andy searched for some fast food to take on the long bus ride. Contrary to what many foreigners think of Americans, we don’t all live on fast food. Usually, the only time Andy and I eat at McDonald’s or Burger King is when we are traveling and need to grab something fast.
Also, we’ve realized that Burger King and McDonald’s are way better in other countries than in America. And we’ve yet to travel anywhere where you can’t find a McDonald’s or KFC.
When our bus arrived, we threw our packs in the storage underneath and climbed aboard. We found a couple of seats and settled in with our bag of food for the four-hour trip almost directly north to Sundsvall.
As we got away from the city, the landscape changed quickly. The comforts and luxuries of the capital gave way to forests and wilderness. I realized just how far north we were, the furthest north I had ever been in my life. I was both excited and nervous about how different this was going to be.
We arrived in Sundsvall late and found our way up a hill, about 1km from town to a campground where we would be staying for a couple of days. We had a private room (no bunks!), a TV with some English channels, and WiFi. We spent the next two days relaxing, walking into town for food, and trying to figure out our plan for the next journey.
We quickly learned that things on St. Olav’s are not as clear, accessible, or as well known compared to the Camino. It doesn’t have the history or the massive cultural significance that the Camino has. There is a Facebook group and IG account, but right now there is only one guidebook in English and we had to pay a pretty penny to get it in Sweden. It was costly in monetary value and it was costly in weight. As we flipped through the book, we groaned when we realized how many pages were taken up with pictures of the landscape.
Even the people in Sundsvall didn’t seem all that familiar with the hike. The woman who sold us the guidebook and the woman who sold us our pilgrim passports both seemed surprised that two Americans would want to come all the way to Sweden to walk 350 miles.
And they didn’t even know that we had just walked across Spain.
Ok, maybe they couldn’t be blamed for thinking that was crazy. But still, we had expected it to be more of a “thing”. The lack of information and lack of community around the hike was going to present a new set of challenges. Not to mention the wild camping that we were planning on doing. This was a whole different game.
One of the first big challenges we encountered was trying to figure out how to ship some of our gear ahead to the end, in Trondheim, Norway.
Because Norway is not in the EU, you can’t just throw your pack in a van to be carried down the line like you could on the Camino. And the regular mail service doesn’t ship to Norway.
So we made reservations at a Best Western Hotel in Trondheim, guesstimating our arrival date. Then we called and asked if we could ship a duffel bag to be stored until we arrived. They said it would be fine, so we threw all the gear and clothing that we wouldn’t need for Olav’s into a duffel bag that we used to protect our packs when flying.
Next, we had to take a city bus across Sundsvall. Then we walked to the DHL building located in an industrial park, duffel bag in tow. We explained our situation to the DHL employee behind the desk and she helped us fill out a customs form. Then we paid the fee to ship it ahead.
The woman at the DHL office was so patient and kind as she helped us figure out the process. We could tell it was not a common request, and she went above and beyond in helping us get it sorted out.
That night, Andy cooked very primitive TexMex style tacos in our bunkhouse/campground kitchen. We knew it would be the last home-cooked meal we would have for a while. There were several stretches of this hike that would require us to carry our own food for several days at a time. That meant lots of instant noodle meals and trail mix.
The days of pilgrim menus, communal dinners, and abundant, inexpensive wine were long behind us.
We were in totally new territory.