I’m not quite sure how it happened, but somehow I’ve found myself booked on a trip next month to trek the classic Kungsleden hiking trail in the northernmost tip of Sweden (Swedish Lapland – I didn’t even know there was a bit of Lapland in Sweden). It’s actually in the Arctic Circle, which sounds very impressive, but in August it’s more like northern Scotland than what most people would imagine as the Arctic. There are no polar bears for starters, so at least that’s one less thing to worry about being attacked by in the middle of the night. The event, the Fjällräven Classic, is a 110km trek, organised every year by Fjällräven, and attracts around 2,000 people from all over the world. There are official checkpoints and start times, and although we’re not really doing it as a race, some people do: the record time for completing it is something like 8 hours. I don’t think we’ll be doing it quite that fast, however (the plan is to do it in 4 1/2 days). We also get kit from Fjällräven and last but not least, the esteemed Alan Hinkes as our group leader. While he might have summited all 14 mountains over 8,000m (including Everest) and has an OBE, I’ve heard he only has one joke – it’s going to be a long week if so!
The reason this is challenging is more the remoteness than anything else, and for me the fact that we’ll be carrying all our kit including tents, stoves etc. When I thought back to the last time I’ve actually carried that much kit on a trek, the answer is actually “never”. I’ve been wild camping many times, but never unsupported, and I’ve done long-distance trails, but never actually had to carry a tent as there have always been huts of some sort on the unsupported trips. My mum suggested helpfully that we could always flag down a passing reindeer to carry our kit, but I’m not so convinced of the wisdom of that. It was bad enough in Morocco with recalcitrant mules carrying our kit and disappearing frequently into the sunset! The nearest I came to carrying a full pack was in New Zealand in 1990 on the Abel Tasman trail, but we stayed in a hut so didn’t need tents, although we did need stoves and sleeping bags. We did the whole thing in 2 days, although it’s supposed to take 4 – well we were young and fit and possibly stupid – so we saved weight by not having to carry so much food and fuel, and I also wrecked my knee the day before the trip, so we split most of my pack among the among the other members of the group to lighten my load and reduce impact on my knee. I trekked in Mallorca on the GR221 last year for 5 days, but again, we didn’t carry sleeping bags, tents or stoves, and minimal food as again we were staying in mountain huts where food was also provided every night and morning.
The other reason why this will be challenging is because I haven’t been able to use my shoulders for the last 2 years, and am still not fully recovered from the shoulder surgery I had in February – I have “functional movement” now but can’t get my arms behind my back still, can’t throw with my right arm, and can only lift the lightest of weights (which is still a major improvement on not even being able to lift a full kettle for the last 2 years!). Oh and following my mountain biking accident in Sardinia in April, my ankle is still bruised and swollen and decidedly dodgy. So walking with a 20kg rucksack will be interesting. I deliberated for a long time before booking the trip, and just as I had pretty much decided I could do it, I asked the advice of a friend who knows me well and has walked many times with me, and even she was a bit doubtful even though she is normally very positive about my abilities! Of course that made me more determined than ever to do it!
One of the good things about the trip is that Jagged Globe organised a pre-trip training weekend to meet the rest of the team and to practise trekking with a big pack and any campcraft skills we might be lacking. The week before the training weekend I lay awake almost an entire night worrying about whether I could actually carry a 20kg rucksack over 15 miles without dying, whether everyone else would be superfit and laugh at me, what kit I should take, and so on. For a 5-day trek (for the real thing) there’s only a limited amount of spare jelly babies and medical supplies you can conceivably carry. The internal debate went on for hours – on the one hand, I like to push myself out of my comfort zone, but on the other hand, I worry about stupid things as soon as I have to do something new. The challenge for me is often more about overcoming the stupid fears than the physical element. However, another friend reminded me that 75% of any challenge is the mental part rather than the fitness part, and that I am never one to give up on a challenge!
Of course, the training weekend turned out to be absolutely fine despite the fact that I came down with tonsillitis 2 days beforehand – not ideal conditions! When I felt the weight of my rucksack with everything in it, I was terrified at the thought of walking all day with it, but once it was on my back, I soon discovered that it was actually very comfortable. Despite the fact that the rest of the group were all more experienced with this kind of trip than I was, I wasn’t out of my depth at all, and amazingly had no major (or even minor) incidents during the weekend! The others laughed when I gave them the rundown on how to deal with a medical emergency. “We’ve never heard of jelly babies being described as life-saving medical kit before!” For them, a luxury, but for me, of course, they could literally be the difference between life and death. Even my first ever time eating dehydrated food wasn’t as bad as I had feared, despite everyone telling me that it was always disgusting. I learnt lots of small tips along the way (porridge mixed with hot chocolate powder is infinitely nicer; bringing real coffee instead of instant coffee would not have been considered “princess-like”; a spare water carrier is a really good idea and weighs nothing when empty; super lightweight tent pegs are an excellent way to save a bit of weight…).
Most importantly, I managed to push myself just a little bit further out of my comfort zone. The real trip in August will push me just a little bit more no doubt, but at least I now feel prepared. And without a mountain bike to fall off or altitude sickness to worry about, I only really have to concern myself with being mauled to death by a very lost polar bear. I’m sure I could defend myself with a spork in that case. Or offer it a handful of jelly babies. Maybe I should take some spare.