Day 3 St. Olav’s, July 18th, 13K, Nedansjö > Stöde
After a great night’s sleep, we woke up, and while Andy cooked breakfast, I started packing up the sleeping gear. Camp breakfast consisted of eggs with bacon cheese spread on toast and coffee. This is our first real experience carrying food to cook, but we were pretty pleased with our camp menu.
We encountered another fresh spring today, called kjellvatten in Swedish. We’ve been told that there are tons of springs and fresh, clean drinking water everywhere. But we’re overly cautious, so we run it through our Sawyer water filter. No offense, Sweden, we’re just not accustomed to clean drinking water being in nature.
We visited the first church for the walk, Stöde Kyrka. We were struck by the differences in church style from the ones we saw in Spain. Stone was replaced with timber, and the dark, cavernous naves were replaced by brighter, cooler colors. It was here that we saw our first statue of St. Olav.
This is another way St. Olav’s Way is so different from St. James’s Way in Spain. In Spain, there is no doubt from the very start who the walk is meant to honor. St. James’ image is everywhere. In contrast, our first two days on Olav’s could have easily been mistaken for any other hike. We were encouraged to see St. Olav’s image for the first time.
That night, we stayed at a great campground where we met a fellow pilgrim, Margriet from Holland. Margriet had also traveled the Camino in Spain and we chatted for quite a while about pilgrim life. She is moving a lot faster than we are and only has a few more days before she has to return home, so we know we may not see her again after this. We exchanged contact info so that we could keep in touch.
The woman who owns the campground told Andy about a reality tv show where Americans come to Sweden to find their Swedish relatives. The show is called Allt För Sverige and they filmed part of the show at her campground. After Andy tells her that he too has distant relatives from Sweden, she insists that he should apply to be on the show. It would certainly be a wild addition to our travel plans.
We washed some clothes and showered because we weren’t sure how many of these amenities we would have along the way. While we cooked dinner we waited for our clothes to dry in what looked like a drying cabinet.
Day 4 St. Olav’s, July 19th, 0K, back to Sundsvall
The next morning we awoke to some disappointing news when Andy received a phone call from the DHL office in Sundsvall. The bag we tried to ship ahead to Trondheim, our final destination on St. Olav’s, was held up at customs. Because Norway is not in the EU, they have stricter rules and regulations for shipping. The hand sanitizer, antibiotics, and a handful of coins were preventing the bag from crossing the border into Norway.
We asked the guy on the phone if he could kindly remove the prohibited items for us, but he couldn’t. What he could do, he offered, is return the bag to the office in Sundsvall where we could remove the items ourselves. Then, we could re-send the bag to Trondheim. Great, we said. That will have to do.
So we made a game plan while we packed up camp. We asked the owner of the campground if we could store our packs there for the day, then we hopped on a bus back to Sundsvall. It was frustrating to have to backtrack and lose a full day of progress on the trail, but we had to keep going. Besides, going back to the DHL office was still a better option than having to haul all that extra weight.
The same woman as before was working in the DHL office and was very helpful in getting things sorted out. We carefully sorted through the bag, removing anything that might be questionable with customs. Once we felt confident that the bag would finally complete its journey, we handed it back over to the lady behind the desk.
She said “hold your thumbs!” which we learned is the Swedish equivalent of “cross your fingers!” We thanked her and said hopefully we wouldn’t see each other again.
We made the most of our day off and visited our first IKEA. We wandered around, joking about how we needed this set of string lights and that potted plant for our tent.
“Look at how much money we saved!” I joked as we left empty-handed. It’s much easier to resist unnecessary purchases when you know you have to carry everything on your back.
Next, we visited a sporting goods store where we perused a little more seriously. We found some reindeer stew MREs that we considered, but decided to pass on them.
Before we hopped on the bus back to Stöde, we stopped at a Big Boy burger joint and ordered burgers with “Texas barbeque” in the name. Eating American-named/inspired foods outside of the US is like when someone tells you that you look like someone else. Then you look at that person and think “Really? Is that what I look like?” The burger was OK, but it definitely wasn’t Texas barbeque.
We got back to the campground, retrieved our gear from the storage shed, and set up our tent for the night. We crossed our fingers and held our thumbs that the next day we could continue without any further setbacks.
Day 5 St. Olav’s, July 20th, 21K, Stöde > Rombäck
One of the biggest differences between St. Olav’s and the Camino in Spain are the trail markers. On El Camino de Santiago Frances, yellow arrows or yellow scallop shells mark the way every kilometer or so. And the path is so heavily traveled that you always encounter at least a few fellow pilgrims marching in the same direction. You really can’t miss the trail.
But here in Sweden, on St. Olav’s Way, the signs are much smaller and very easy to miss. Instead of a yellow arrow or scallop shell, we were looking for red crosses. We were constantly scanning ahead of us to make sure we didn’t miss a sign and meander off into the wilderness. There were no other pilgrims to follow. We were on our own.
As much as I was enjoying this new adventure, I was feeling a little lonely. I was missing the pilgrim community that we had enjoyed so much on the Camino in Spain. We came across a bench next to the trail with a sign pointing to a pilgrim hostel. I noticed a note on the bench and picked it up. It was from our new friend Margriet that we met at the campground. She had left us a note of encouragement.
I was so touched.
We were happy to learn about another difference on this trail: the pilgrim community. Though we don’t walk with (or even see) any other pilgrims, the digital pilgrim community for Olav’s is very active and supportive. And the physical guestbooks we see along the way provide a way for new “old friends” to keep in touch and stay encouraged.
When we were getting ready to stop hiking for the day and set up camp, we spotted a house with a large yard just off the road. There was a nice, flat, cleared spot about 20 yards from the house that would be ideal for our tent. So we approached the house to ask permission to camp there.
The couple who answered were older, close to our parents’ age. We asked if they spoke English and they said no. But they didn’t turn us away or slam the door in our faces, so we did our best to explain who we were and what we wanted to do. The looks on their faces told me they were still puzzled about what exactly we were doing, but they permitted us to set up camp.
They kept coming out to check on us as we put up the tent and got our sleeping gear arranged. On one of their trips out to the yard, they tried to offer us some food. We told them we had food to cook and showed them our camp stove set up and instant noodles. They seemed impressed by how prepared and self-sufficient we were.
They asked if they could take a picture of us and I imagined them sending it out to their friends and family. “Look! We have wild Americans sleeping in our yard tonight!” We were happy to provide an entertaining conversation.
As we were getting ready to sleep, we marveled at the generosity of this couple. It was a simple enough request, all we wanted was a flat place to set up our tent, yet we were prepared for them to tell us to keep walking. Especially once they realized we didn’t speak any Swedish.
But they didn’t. And it made us wonder what we would have done in a similar situation. It didn’t take long for us to admit that we probably would have turned the strange travelers away, maybe even called the cops for trespassing.
I am hoping to leave this place a kinder, more generous person.