Day 10 St. Olav’s, July 25th, 25km, Mälgsand > Anviken
We woke up the next morning with aching heads, wondering how we were going to manage a full day of hiking. Our generous hosts, Torgny and Ulrika, fed us breakfast. I ate carefully, not wanting to anger my sour stomach.
We waited as long as we could, but we knew that we needed to get on the trail. We thanked our new friends and promised to keep in touch. When we finally left Torgny and Ulrika’s, the sun was high in the sky. It beat down on us and seemed to judge us for all the fun we had the night before.
We moved extra slow, but my head pounded with every step.
We had only walked a couple of miles when a pickup truck stopped by us on the road. It was Torgny. He had been to town and picked up a few items for us. There was a tube of dissolvable hydration tablets to help us recover from our hangovers and a one-kilogram bag of salted peanuts. He also gave us a bottle of anti-itch solution to help with the countless insect bites we had gotten over the last couple of days.
I couldn’t believe how incredibly generous these people had been. We thanked him profusely and tried to offer him some money, but he insisted it was nothing. He waved as he drove off, headed back to the village.
We dropped some hydration tablets into our water and had a couple of handfuls of peanuts. We laughed at the impracticality of carrying two whole pounds of peanuts, but we were thankful for the salty nourishment.
The trail took us into a bog, terrain that a couple of Oklahomans are not exactly familiar with. We noticed that the ground started to feel (and sound) like we were walking on a giant sponge. It was squishy and at one point, our feet sank enough to get completely soaked. There was no way around it, so we slogged through it.
The highlight of the bog came when I spotted my first cloudberry, a berry that grows wild in this part of the world. Cloudberries are a peachy, golden color with a tart, floral sweetness. Ulrika had told us about them and encouraged us to be on the lookout for this Nordic delicacy.
We were nearing the town of Gällö when we saw a shortcut out of the bog to the paved road. Andy stepped toward the road on what he thought was solid ground and sunk into the bog up to his knee. I scrambled to help him, afraid that he was injured or, at the very least, that he would lose his hiking boot.
Luckily, he and his boot came free with no injuries. We made our way onto the road, thankful to be on solid ground once again.
We stopped outside a small convenience store to change out of our wet boots and socks. We put on our sandals and strapped the soggy footwear to our packs to dry. Sandals weren’t ideal for the heavy packs we were carrying, but it was better than pruny and blistered feet.
And then there were ants
Outside of Gällö, we came across a gorgeous viewpoint. There was a large, wooden cross on a boulder overlooking a lake.
We were taking in the view when we each felt a crawling sensation. We looked down and realized the ground was swarming with large, angry ants. And we were in sandals, standing right in the middle of them.
Stomping and cursing, we tried to fight them off. We were swatting and kicking in such a frenzy that Andy accidentally kicked up the end of his toenail. Blood covered his toe. As if the mosquitoes and biting flies weren’t bad enough, now we were being eaten by ants.
I wanted to scream. What is this hellscape?!
Our only option was to move as quickly and safely as we could down the trail, away from the ants. As great as our hiking sandals were, they fit looser and were less stable than our hiking boots. If only we had kept on our wet boots and socks, maybe we wouldn’t have even noticed the ants.
Into the woods we go
The trail led us deep into the forest on more difficult, technical trails. The ground was rocky, uneven, and covered in moss, but at least the ants were gone.
We were hoping to find a place near the water to set up the tent, as there seemed to always be a lake nearby. But the forest was so dense and rugged that we had to keep walking. We stopped to change out of our sandals back into our semi-dry socks and boots.
Suddenly, I had the thought “What else lives in these woods?” I envisioned bears, wolves, or large cats watching us fumble through the forest. I just thought ants had been a nightmare.
I remembered a tip from a nature podcast I listened to. If you make noise, bears will typically avoid you. Even a “Hey, bear!” will be enough to keep them at a safe distance.
As we trudged along, looking for a place to set up camp, I recited the children’s poem “I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.” It made me feel safer, thinking I was scaring away anything that might be thinking of snacking on me. And it helped distract me from the sinking feeling that we were still hours away from finding a suitable camping spot.
It felt like we were going to be trapped in those woods forever.
When we finally emerged, it was after 9 pm. We had covered around 15 miles, and we were beat.
We knocked on the door of the first house we came to. The old man who answered spoke very little English and waved us away when we asked if we could set up our tent in his yard. He told us there was a youth hostel about seven miles away.
Not a shining example of Swedish hospitality.
Luckily, within the next few kilometers, we found a nice woman who let us set up our tent on her property. There was a lake nearby and Andy jumped in to cool off before dinner.
We cooked dinner, nursed our ant bites, chugged water with hydration tablets, and ate a handful of peanuts for dessert. We collapsed into the tent, exhausted.
We had walked through our hangovers, a bog, an angry swarm of ants, and a massive forest. That was enough for one day.