Day 19 St. Olav’s, August 3rd, 21km, Ristafallet > Åre
The night we slept in a church graveyard.
The next morning, we were taking down camp when a fellow pilgrim approached us. He hadn’t slept there the night before like we had, but was passing through the campground. He recognized us as Americans and stopped to talk to us.
His name was Khalil, and he was from Afghanistan. He had served as a translator for the U.S. Military during the war on terror. He left Afghanistan and had been living in Poland, with hopes of getting a visa so that he could move to the U.S.
We jokingly asked about his massive pack, and he told us he was carrying all the food he would need for Olav’s. He had bought all his provisions in Poland because everything was so much more expensive in Scandinavia. We admired his dedication but were thankful to not be doing the same.
We wished him the best of luck getting his American visa and parted ways.
It was a hot day as we made our way to Åre. We deviated from the trail a bit and followed the highway into town, rather than climbing up and down the hills along the path. We even found several little patches of wild strawberries in the ditches along the road. The strawberries were so tiny, about the size of a raisin, but they were so incredibly sweet. Where have these been all my life?
When we got into town, we visited the Gamlakyrka, the oldest stone church in Scandinavia. And we opened the door using this old, giant key, which was kind of a treat in itself.
We were tired and hungry (always hungry!) so after seeing the church, we started looking for food. We found a pizza and kebab shop where we had a specialty called “pizza fries”, a pizza covered in french fries.
After dinner, we strolled around, looking for any space where we could set up camp.
Åre is a ski resort town, the biggest in Sweden. Think of Vail, Colorado, in the U.S. So there are a lot of businesses and private properties in town. Not a lot of available camping space.
We felt like tramps but we didn’t want to walk the distance through (and out of) town to find someplace else.
So we decided to set up in the church graveyard, in a distant corner that was not yet being used as a final resting place for the dead.
A few things about camping and sleeping in a graveyard:
- The ground is typically cleared and level
- There is fresh drinking water available (at least in Scandinavian graveyards)
- It’s quiet (for obvious reasons)
- Passersby either didn’t care that we were there or they thought we were crazy and didn’t want to get involved.
We slept very comfortably and had a restful night’s sleep.
Hopefully, our neighbors enjoyed the company and were maybe even a little entertained by us being there.
Day 20 St. Olav’s, August 4th, 22km, Åre > Tännforsen Falls
The next morning, we woke up and quickly packed up camp. Just because we were able to sleep there overnight didn’t mean we could get away with lounging there all morning.
We moved our gear to the picnic table in front of the church and started cooking breakfast. It was a gorgeous day and we watched a couple of dozen paragliders launching off the top of the mountain overlooking the town.
While we were eating breakfast, we heard someone call out to us. Hans and Astrid! Our pilgrim friends from the Netherlands were on the trail and stopped to visit with us. Even though we had only met them once before, they felt like old friends. We caught up on everything that had happened on the trail since we saw each other and discussed the next stopping point. They had reserved a cabin at the campground by the largest waterfall in Sweden and encouraged us to camp there as well. It sounded nice, so we agreed to meet up there later.
This was a perfect day for appreciating all the natural beauty along the trail between Åre and Duved: wildflowers, rivers, waterfalls, and mountain scenery.
We stopped on our way out of Duved and bought more groceries, preparing for a four-day stretch with no grocery stores. I know this is an experience that I had the luxury of opting into, but the feeling of being in a food desert is stressful. I know that only what we can fit in our packs must sustain us for the next four days.
I found myself calculating nutritional trade-offs while we walked:
What are the most nutritious + shelf-stable or easy to prepare + lightest weight + not wildly expensive things we could buy?
It was a ”fun” (to me, the food nerd) puzzle that momentarily distracted me from the stress I felt about not having an abundance of food.
On our way out of Duved, we encountered a monument on top of a hilltop and stopped to check it out. The monument was dedicated in memory of soldiers lost during the 1718-1719 invasion of Norway by Sweden. We were shocked to learn that 3000 Swedes froze to death in the borderland mountains while retreating to Sweden. We were never happier to be camping in the summer than in that moment.
We arrived at our stop for the night, Tännforsen Falls, the largest waterfall in Swede, right around sunset, and the view was stunning. We walked around near the falls, taking it in as much as possible.
This area used to be a thriving park, complete with cabins, a restaurant, and a gift shop. It appears business dried up because now those things have closed, and it is a little like a ghost town.
We saw Hans and Astrid, and they told us they had asked the owner if we could set up our tent nearby. We were grateful for them and gladly set up our tent in the clearing by their cabin.
They invited us to hang out in their cabin with them and insisted that we take advantage of their shower. We couldn’t refuse the offer. After we were clean and warm, they offered us hot tea and chocolate. We nursed steaming cups of wildberry tea, nibbled pieces of dark chocolate, and talked and laughed for a couple of hours.
Hans and Astrid were well-traveled and told us about the adventures of their younger years before they had kids. They drove around Europe in a renovated old bread truck. They both seemed to feel a pang of regret over getting rid of it.
We felt like we were with old friends, trail mentors, and other-life versions of ourselves.
Once we realized how late it had gotten, we decided to call it a night. We thanked our hosts for sharing their cabin and refreshments. Then we went out and crawled into our tent, moving quickly in hopes of retaining the warmth we had absorbed.
Once again, we fell asleep to the sound of waterfalls. What a life.
Day 21 St. Olav’s, August 5th, 20km, Tännforsen > Medstugan
We woke up to a cool, overcast morning. We had observed a correlation between the weather conditions and our hiking pace, and this morning was perfect.
Hans and Astrid gave us a heads up on a shortcut back to the trail, saving us 2-3 kilometers. The giving never stops with these two, and we are so thankful for them.
When we arrived at our stop for the night, it was in another apparent ghost village. There was no one else around, but there was a nice, open space for our camp. We were delighted to see Hans and Astrid had also stopped there. We enjoyed some afternoon tea and watched the sunset while Andy cooked dinner.
After sunset, the air turned cold and damp. I pulled on every article of clothing in my pack and zipped up in my sleeping bag.
I tried to lay as still as possible, because every time I moved, warm air left my sleeping bag. It was the coldest night of the hike. I spent the night switching between curling up to stay warm and stretching out to keep my legs and feet from cramping.
It was a restless night, but knowing that we had less than two weeks left on this trail made it more bearable.