Day 8 St Olav’s, July 23rd, 16km, Lake Stor-Harrsjön > Bräcke
Today’s walk was shorter after the long distance we covered the day before. It was a nice walk, and we spotted a sign from the Camino. It seems like a lifetime ago that we were walking across Spain. It’s comforting to know that we can find our pilgrim community anywhere in the world.
When we got into Bräcke, we resupplied our groceries. We binged on donuts and fruit juice in the parking lot while we pondered where we would set up camp for the night.
We decided to see just how flexible this “Right to Roam” law is and set up our tent in the city park near Lake Revsund. We found a level spot close to the water with a picnic bench nearby.
A couple of locals came over to chat with us while Andy made our camp cuisine of ramen with eggs. One of the locals was a professional chef who seemed leery of our dinner, but he kept his opinions to himself. They offered us some cold beer, which we were more than happy to accept.
The city park had showers available, so we cleaned up before crawling into the tent for the night.
One of the things I insisted on bringing on this trip was a Kindle reader. I had preloaded it with some classics and some “I want to read this someday” books. We both love to read, but in the hustle and bustle of chasing our careers, we hadn’t made much time for it. And if you can’t work your way through a reading list in “pretirement”, then when will you?
We picked a book and Andy started reading “Around the World in 80 Days” out loud to me as I huddled down into my sleeping bag. Eventually, we fell asleep to the sound of the water gently crashing on the shore.
Go Fast, Take Chances
Day 9 St. Olav’s, July 24th, 15km, Bräcke > Mälgsand
Today was hot. A lot of the trail was on asphalt, so it felt like we were working twice as hard and moving at half the speed.
Our guidebooks didn’t warn us that the old wooden bridge across the Gimån river was out. We were trying to figure out a detour when a local man approached us to offer some help. He encouraged us to keep going straight, then we would see the place to rejoin the trail. We were a little unsure about these vague directions, and he must have noticed us wavering, trying to decide what to do.
He said, “Go fast, take chances.” Then he gave us a “go get ‘em” wave of encouragement and walked away.
“What do you think ‘go fast, take chances’ means to the Swedes?” I asked Andy. It seemed like a funny thing to say to a couple of people traveling on foot. We laughed at how it sounded like a line from a “Fast and Furious” movie.
“I don’t know, I guess it means to go for it and don’t overthink it?” Andy said, shrugging.
This would become a line that we would say to each other often throughout our travels. Anytime we had to make a decision and didn’t have a lot of information, we would look at each other, shrug, and repeat the mantra.
When you ask a Swede for Water
We were walking through a small village when we drank the last water from our bottles. We had just passed a house when Andy suggested we stop to ask to refill our bottles. I hesitated because it looked like they were busy, but it was hot, and a minute of rest in the shade sounded nice.
In the middle of the front yard was a large, wooden table with reindeer hides spread over the bench seats. Behind it was another table beneath a pop-up awning that looked like it was set for party guests.
Andy approached a woman who was carrying something from the house to the set up in the yard. He asked if we could fill our bottles up with water and she said yes. She invited us to sit on the front porch, took our bottles, and disappeared inside.
In a couple of minutes, a large, bearded man in a leather apron appeared. He had some cans of beer in a bucket of ice.
“Do you want some cold beer?”
Hell yes, we want some cold beer! What a welcome sight on a hot day of walking. The man seated himself on the porch next to us, passing each of us a can and taking one for himself.
As we toasted our host, Andy remarked that it looked like they were getting ready for a party.
The man of the house, Torgny, said that yes, they were having their annual end-of-summer dinner for the other families in the village. The other families only live in the village for the summer months before returning to Stockholm. The rest of the year, it is only Torgny and his partner Ulrika who live in the village.
Torgny disappeared inside the house for a few minutes and said something to Ulrika, who was bustling around the kitchen. When he came back to the porch, he invited us to stay for dinner. We were conflicted, feeling like we were intruding on their dinner party, yet excited by the idea of something other than ramen and eggs for dinner. We tried to politely decline, but they saw right through our social conditioning.
Once it was settled that we were staying for dinner, they invited us inside the house to clean ourselves up. Hot showers two days in a row were a luxury and I was happy to change into something other than my trail clothes.
After we cleaned up, Torgny showed us the rest of the farmhouse and introduced us to their Moosehounds, massive wolf-looking dogs that they use for hunting moose and bear. During our tour, we learned that Torgny and Ulrika are quite successful hunters and farmers. It seemed like they harvested everything but the beer for the evening’s festivities.
The rest of the village started to show up for dinner. They were intrigued by the American guests and we were still a little nervous about intruding on the dinner party. But as more beers were passed around, the conversation flowed. We shared our story about how we ended up there and the grand adventure that we were on.
We learned that the village consisted of a woman, her adult son and daughter, and their families. They spent the summer in two of the three houses in the village and had been coming there since the adults were children. Now their children were getting to experience summers in the countryside.
Dinner started with bread, cheese, and wine while Torgny finished grilling the moose steaks and pork chops over the fire. When the meat was ready, Ulrika brought a pan of roasted vegetables. We couldn’t believe our good fortune at this dinner spread.
We passed around the dishes until everything was gone. After dinner, Torgny served us coffee that had been heating over the campfire. He kicked it up a notch when he added vodka to it. They party hard here in the village.
We stayed up all night talking and drinking. We watched the sun finally dip below the horizon, and saw it come back a few hours later. Around 2 AM, we realized that we needed to set up our tent for the night, which would have been a real feat in our condition.
Our new friends saved us and insisted we stay in their guest room. We were tired and drunk and in no condition to turn down a bed. We accepted, grateful for yet another generous offer.
As the dinner party disbanded, we hugged the neighbors goodbye and promised to keep in touch. Never before has a group of strangers felt more like family.
We staggered to bed, warm and fuzzy from the lively evening, still amazed that a simple request for water turned into such a memorable experience.