Friday, 27 December 2013

2013

Just when you thought that the blog was abandoned and you could sleep easy, here I am, wreaking havoc in your holiday planning with a long post about my 2013. For those of you who are already stressed out after Christmas, returning the sweater Aunt Ginger bought you (two sizes too large, is she trying to tell you something?) and spending hours on the StepMaster trying to burn those stubborn praline calories off your butt, the summary is this: it was a really good year. Now you can stop reading and go back to your post-holiday exhaustion.

For those of you gifted with extraordinary stamina and/or nagging curiosity, here follows a long account of what the fuss is all about. I can't promise you it will be worth your while, but then again, you can't find out unless you read it. If you start reading now, you might even be finished before the year is out!

I like challenges. I find it refreshing to throw in a little challenge in my life and try something new once in a while. I don't always succeed (I'm looking at you, Japanese lessons of 2005) but it's mostly good fun and I learn a lot in the process. I don't do it for anyone else's benefit than my own and for no nobler reason than because I feel like it. It gives me something to stress about on the weekends.

One challenge I embarked upon this year was the half Cannonball read. Read 26 books within a year and review them. It was the second year in a row I participated in the CR, but this year I completed the challenge as early as August, and went on to read several more books after that, albeit without reviewing them. Most of the books I read were crap, but there were some real gems in there.

Challenge number two was to write a novel in November. NaNoWriMo takes place once a year. Its basic premise is that you have to write 50.000 words within one month. They don't have to be good. They are just meant to get your creative juices flowing. I completed the challenge. The immense exhilaration I felt upon completion took me by surprise. I wanted to shout it from the rooftops. I was so proud. Then people started asking me if they could read the book, and I realised that this book would never be read by anyone else but me. In its present, unedited form it is shite, and I have no intention of going back to edit it, mainly because I'm a lazy muppet but also because I don't think it can ever be good enough. I am still proud of it, but it's not the story I wanted to tell, just a story I had to write. This experience has been great. It showed me that, if I ever decide to put my mind to it, I could write a proper book, one that I will share with anyone who's interested. I would really love to do that.

And now, for the moment you have all been waiting for, since this is a training blog and all: How was 2013 training wise?

It started off amazingly well. I had Lapland Ultra in my sights. I had a training schedule I followed for several weeks without a hitch, and I dared to hope that maybe this time my body would be on my side. Unfortunately, it wasn't, and I suffered my first injury early on in the year: a strange, intense pain on the back of my right knee. I could hardly walk, let alone run. I let my dream of Lapland Ultra go. It felt okay to do so.

When I got back on track, I watched instead how my times in different distances got better and better. My training with AIK had done wonders. In May, I got to stand on the podium to receive a medal after Luleå half marathon. In August, I got first place in a local track race. The rest of the races I ran saw me climbing to positions I had never before thought possible.

In July, J and I spent a week in Hemavan. I was sorely untrained for the demanding terrain but still managed to log a very respectable total of 120 km running and hiking. The only downside to it all was an injured foot: I had managed to twist it during a trail run earlier that summer and it wouldn't heal for months. In fact, I am not sure it is healed even now. As long as I stay away from trails, it's fine. Hemavan was, of course, nothing but trails. My foot was a constant reminder of how easily things could go wrong.


And speaking of trails, one of the best experiences of 2013, hell, of my life, was Salomon trail Ultra in Umeå last September. The promised 48 km was ”only” 45,6, but the finish line was a sight for sore eyes. I had gotten myself a runner's knee somewhere around the 20th kilometre but still stubbornly refused to drop out of the race and get my first DNF. It took me almost 6 hours, but I got to that finish line.

Achy knees have been my constant companion since then. Thankfully, I haven't had to take a complete break from running, but my long runs have suffered cutbacks. That is to say, I haven't run any long runs since the race. Maybe because of this, or maybe because of the terrible, grey, icy, snow-free winter we've been having up here, my motivation to get out and run has been non-existent (as evidenced by the extra couple of kilos that magically appeared on my thighs). Maybe I am just winding down for this year, basking in the good feeling of everything I have achieved.

And next year? The older I get, and the more experience from running I gather, the humbler I get and the more realistic my goals are. I become better and better aware of what my body can and cannot do. I become better at being patient. My focus next year will be to put down the foundations I will build upon in 2015. I will strive for continuity in my training, rather than progression towards a goal. I will strive for strength and variation. I hope that this strategy will keep me injury-free. It's about time I had an injury-free year, don't you think?

Monday, 16 September 2013

Salomon trail ultra in Umeå

Here I was, a few days ago, contemplating giving up on this blog entirely, because I felt I didn't have a story to tell any more. And then I went and entered an ultra race and found myself with a story to tell.

A lot of my training the last few months has been about speed. I have improved my times immensely, even climbing up to top-ten spots in local races. I did a few longer runs during the summer, but I didn't seem to have the same focus and motivation to run really far as I used to. Then I half-decided I would try to do Umemarathon in October.

That's when a couple of running buddies from the club asked me if I wanted to join them on a 48 km trail race in Umeå. ”No way!” I replied. ”I haven't trained for that”. ”Neither have we”, they said, and explained that this was to be an adventure, a day out in beautiful surroundings.

Despite my initial hesitation, a couple of days later my name was on the participants list and my stomach was so full of butterflies, I had to force my carbohydrate-rich food down.

On the day of the race I woke up at 03.20 and was unable to go back to sleep. My fellow adventurers picked me up around 6, and we drove on country roads bathed in a golden September morning light. Hunters were stationed by the road at places, holding their rifles in their lap and waiting for an unlucky moose to walk past, but the only moose we saw were the couple we almost ran over with the car. 



We gathered at what looked like a conference lodge, professional-looking, compression socks and buff-clad runners picking up their bibs and chatting. We got some information from the race organisers and then it was time to head down to the beach by lake Tavelsjö. That's where the start was. Excited and apprehensive at the same time, I tried to keep up with the long, snake-like line of runners rapidly disappearing before me but I knew I'd have to take it easy and save my strength. There were some nasty hills ahead. Not to mention several hours' worth of running.

Taking pictures while running can be hazardous to your health

The race took place mainly on the 39 km-long Tavelsjö trail, through birch and pine forest, first climbing up a few kilometres and then rolling down gently towards Umeå - although we all agreed that it certainly didn't feel like we were running downhill. The view over Tavelsjö was astounding and I was glad I had entered a race where I could take it easy and enjoy the scenery.


The trail was littered with large stones and roots at many places, and I countered that by running like a cat in a puddle of water. This put a lot of pressure on my left knee, which responded by sending me runner's knee signals. I got worried. I had only run about 20 km at this point. Was I going to have my first DNF? I walked a few steps, stretched and could continue without pain.


My knee kept on sending me signals whenever the trail got too technical or I had to run down a hill, but kept quiet otherwise. This gave me hope that I would be able to complete the race. I was getting really tired, though. I walked up hills and ran on the flat parts, chatting with my friends at times and keeping to myself at other times.


We noticed early on that the aid stations seemed to show up earlier than expected, and soon enough it was confirmed that the race was going to be shorter than 48 km. I didn't mind. After all, I wasn't trained for this, and with my knee playing up I'd only be too happy to let it rest a bit earlier. We reached the last aid station with only 9 km to go. We ate some chips and drank some Enervit before we continued. Our little group split up soon after that and it became a race to see which one among us would get to the finish line first (spoiler: it wasn't me).


Some of us ran elegantly and seemingly unhindered by fatigue. Others (me) had to struggle to keep upright and not start crawling. With 4 km to go, I did what I had successfully avoided doing during the first 42 km of the race: I set my foot down in an angle that made my old injury flare up again. There was even an ominous cracking sound. I limped up the slope, trying to shake it off. After a few minutes, I was good to go. I should really have someone look at that, I thought for the umpteenth time.

I had now entered Umeå and ran among houses and parks. Even here the organisers had (impressively enough) found real trail to run on, even if it meant running on a grass slope outside the cemetery. I could hear the speaker announcing that yet another runner had made it to the finish line, and I could hear the crowd applauding, but I was surrounded by trees I couldn't see past. The last kilometre was fuelled by sheer will power, since I seemed to have run out of carbohydrates long before that.

The finish line was now visible but there was one last hurdle: an upward slope. I forced my legs to keep moving and they responded well. This was not the part they had trouble with. After running upwards, I had to run downwards again towards the finish line, and my knee wasn't too happy about that. I ran in a zig-zag manner, which kind of seemed to work. I stumbled the last few steps to finish in just under 6 hours. Happy.

We celebrated later that evening with pizza and beer. I even managed to walk to the pizzeria without pain. I woke up this morning with sore muscles, but it wasn't too bad. I couldn't feel the 45,6 km, in other words. I had a blood blister on one toe but -other than that it did nothing to make my feet look prettier- it doesn't bother me.

My knee was, unfortunately, very stiff. Getting J to massage my thigh with the rolling pin hurt, which is yet another sign that this might be runner's knee. I will rest and stretch it and then try a shorter run towards the end of the week. Hope it goes well.

It's strange. Even if this is runner's knee, I don't regret running this race. It was such a wonderful experience, such a great adventure in the woods, the icing on the cake of a great running year.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Cannonball Read #26: The Ocean at the End of the Lake by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lake was the last book I read to complete my half Cannonball Read, and I couldn't have picked a better book. But boy, is it ever a hard book to write a review of.

Let's get these two facts out of the way first: I don't usually enjoy Gaiman's work (heathen!). And: I loved this book. Was it a literary masterpiece? Was its plot original, more developed, deeper, more fascinating than all the other books I read these past few months? It's not important. Not right now, when I'm writing this review just a few minutes after I finished the book. What matters is this feeling.

Our narrator is a middle-aged man, heading back to his childhood home after a funeral without knowing why. While there, memories long forgotten start coming back to him. Difficult memories. Yet, beautiful in their own way. The lonely, friendless seven-year old version of our narrator goes through terrible loss, and he deals with it with some help from the neighbours down the lane, the Hempstocks: Old lady Hempstock (the grandmother), Ginnie (the mother) and Lettie (the eleven-year old daughter).

I don't want to reveal too much about the plot, because it is a short book and revealing more than the above would be spoiling the whole story. And it is frustrating, because I need to talk and think more about this book. Gaiman tackles some pretty serious issues, and he does it through the innocent eyes of a child, not a precocious child but a believable child, a frightened, vulnerable child. I found it refreshing to have a smart child that's not older than his years at the centre of a story. These serious issues could break anyone, let alone a little boy, but if you're a lonely boy with an over-active imagination you just might find a way to cope, and our narrator does.

The writing was beautiful and reminded me of a couple of my favourite authors at times, Stephen King (ca The Body/ Stand by me) and Terry Pratchett. Gaiman's descriptions of the environment were so vivid in detail, as honest as a childhood memory, and I nodded my head in recognition, remembering similar adventures I had embarked on as a child. Magic was at the core of the story. Magic in the descriptions, magic in childhood, magic in the way a desperate child thinks he or she can change the world if only he or she can wish it hard enough.

This book had so much heart, so much sorrow and sweetness. It is a book I will be revisiting and thinking about often.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Cannonball Read #25: The Dinner by Herman Koch

Disjointed. Unlikeable characters. Badly written.

So, Shaman, tell us what you really think about The Dinner by Herman Koch!

Two brothers and their wives meet up at a fancy restaurant to discuss a very important matter that has to do with their children. The narrator, one of the brothers, recounts the events that led up to this evening. These events are presented in a detached way, without emotion. Explanations are given, yet nobody is held accountable, let alone takes responsibility willingly. Still, every single person around that table should be stepping up to the plate.

The book is divided into sections named after the course the two couples are currently eating. This I found an annoying gimmick, especially because the dishes – otherwise completely irrelevant to the story – are presented in detail (something that has made me skip whole paragraphs when reading Game of Thrones). Maybe this was done on purpose, to irritate the reader and bring him or her closer to the state of mind of Paul, our narrator. By all appearances in a constant state of irritation and with a dangerously short fuse, he makes for a character that's hard to empathise with. His beliefs are at such odds with mine that I almost shuddered with distaste every time he talked about them. I suppose that, if there is one thing Koch succeeds in is to prove that, if you're not careful, you become the monster you detest.

Writing-wise I found the language too simplistic, although that might have depended on the translation. It was difficult at times to understand when the events described were taking place, as the story jumped from ”now” to ”two hours ago” to ”some months ago” to ”many years ago” in a disjointed, confusing manner. Some of the narrator's recollections seem to do little to add to the story except further irritate the reader.

The Dinner was a quick read and it did make me think, so it wasn't a complete waste of my time. But I enjoyed watching Carnage, a film with a similar premise, much more than this.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Cannonball Read #24: Señor Peregrino by Cecilia Samartin

A colleague lent me this book. It's important to write that, because it's not the kind of book I would have otherwise chosen to read. But, for me, the Cannonball Read has been an opportunity to try new genres. Broaden my literary horizons, so to speak.

Señor Peregrino is the story of Jamilet, a young Mexican woman carrying a secret. She was born with a birthmark over almost half her body, from her neck down to her knees. Jamilet is convinced that American doctors can perform miracles and remove the birthmark, so she takes herself over the border illegally and makes it to Los Angeles. There, she moves in with her aunt and soon enough she finds a job at a mental hospital, taking care of an older man (the titular Señor Peregrino) who refuses to leave his room. After a while, he starts telling her his story.

It's a common plot device. The archetypal old man tells a story so deep that it makes his captive audience go through a personal transformation. I kept trying to remember what film or what book it reminded me of. There's probably loads of them out there. As I turned the pages, I waited for some transformation to happen, something to explain what message this book was trying to convey, some pearls of wisdom. Unfortunately, unless I completely missed the point, this aha-moment never came.

Jamilet is an interesting character, at least to begin with. The burden she carries should be an excellent tool in the hands of the writer, her plight a chance for personal development and perhaps for rising above all fixation with appearances. Instead, we're led onto a different path, that of Señor Peregrino, and his fixation with beauty, with just a dash of desperate love. I found myself confused. I felt like there was supposed to be a meaning with the telling of his story, but the book read more like two separate stories that were only connected by a tentative professional relationship between Jamilet and Señor Peregrino. The word ”miracle” appears often, so perhaps we're meant to think that a miracle has occurred by the end of the novel, yet it is an underwhelming miracle, the personal transformation almost non-existent.

Señor Peregrino was not a bad book. It just left me wishing it had packed more of a punch.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Cannonball Read #23: The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

Rarely does a book manage to fill me with apprehension after just one paragraph. But The Slap did it. After just one paragraph I was prepared to hate this book. I usually hate books that only have despicable characters in them.

Set in Melbourne, the story revolves around a group of people related to each other by blood, friendship, marriage. While these people are together at a barbecue, one of them slaps a three-year old child across the face to protect his own son from getting hit by the child. The group is then divided between those who think that the child deserved it and those who believe that no one should ever hit a child and that the family should press charges.

From the description above, you would think that the genre of this book is legal drama, or perhaps a murder mystery, but what it really is is a character study that has mostly nothing to do with the titular slap. Divided into chapters where each chapter follows a different character, it reveals their secrets and dark desires. It is unrelenting in its portrayal of these people's lack in basic morality, and it is an ugly world it paints. There are no good people to offer redemption here, no one to shed a light in this bleak suburban existence, just bad and less bad people. People that are obsessed by how they look, how their lives look, how their own needs will be satisfied. Except maybe one.

It is that person, right at the end of the story, who made me change my perception of the book. This person would probably be judged as ”bad” by some (hopefully a few), but in my eyes he never did anything inexcusable. This made me wonder if some of the characters I found horrible, narcissistic, self-absorbed would get a pass by other readers, just like the slap was deemed horrible by some and ok by others. And, perhaps, that's exactly the point Tsiolkas is trying to make: that we all play by our own set of rules, and as long as we don't break any rules or are too outspoken about the ones that we do break, our own version of immorality goes largely unnoticed by the world around us. But morality is so bound by cultural standards that it becomes a very relevant question, especially in this day and age, in our multicultural Western societies. At several points in the book, for example, the adults complain of young people not showing respect for their elders. This complaint is, in itself, laughable, because, by all accounts, the adults in this story haven't done much to deserve this respect – they just expect it.

An easy read, The Slap kept me interested throughout, its depiction of some deeply flawed people like a bad car accident that just forces you to rubberneck. Thankfully, my fear that I would hate this book was unfounded. I didn't love the book either. The lack of redeeming features in the characters felt unrealistic, and that so many rotten of them would find each other to spend time and procreate with only amplified that feeling. But it was definitely a thought-provoking book that I would recommend to my less-sensitive friends.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

I won't even mention how many times I stumbled and almost got my skull crushed

I couldn't come to Hemavan and not try to put in a long run. J had spent the night in a tent somewhere close to Kungsleden, the King's trail. I consulted the map. I wanted something relatively flat. I say relatively because we're on the mountains. Nowhere is flat, except maybe the airport, and I'm not even sure about that. I had run to the first STF cabin a couple of years ago, a long run that I remembered fondly. Now I was curious to see what lay beyond it. During our hiking trip here a month ago, we had put up the tent about a kilometre after the cabin, right at the mouth of the Syterskal valley. The map told me that a reindeer guard hut bookended the valley on the other side of the passage.

I ate a hearty breakfast and set off around 9. I walked the first 4-5 kilometres, knowing from past experience that they are uphill and not worth wasting energy on. Speaking of energy, all I had with me were two flapjacks and some peanuts. In hindsight, it was probably a bit optimistic of me to think that would be enough. I also had almost three litres of water, my VFF for crossing streams, a towel to dry off my feet afterwards, a compass and map, an emergency whistle and a bandage. Just in case.

An hour later I was able to start running. I met a few people along the way, said quick hellos. I saw a dark brown forest hare disappear into the jungle-like vegetation near a stream. The sun was mercilessly turning all intake of water into steaming perspiration before I had even started running, and now it was threatening to turn my brain into boiled mush. It was unbearable. The heat sucked all my energy from me. I tried to combat its loss by eating but what I really wanted to do was to jump in a stream. Soon enough, I came to a big one, the one we hadn't been able to cross without poles on our previous trip. The water was so low now that I didn't have to change into my VFF. I splashed some cold water on my face and on my head. It was a great relief.


Some clouds had started casting thick shadows across Syterskal valley, as I could see even before getting to the STF cabin. This was great news for me, of course. After passing the cabin and our old camping place, I was enveloped in the darkness cast by the clouds. The ground was flatter, too. I could run longer distances without having to stop all the time. I did have to stop where the terrain got really technical. Huge, unstable stones covered the path at times. At some places, little rivulets of melted snow from the vast mountain walls above made the ground into a muddy mess, forcing me to stop and think how I would get across. I didn't want to get my shoes wet. I had a long way to go and my feet had enough blisters as it was.


Blisters. I had gotten them during our 32 km-long hike up South Sytertoppen (1685 metres high) two days earlier. My legs were tired, sure. But the blisters felt like needles were stuck into my feet with every step. 

The ridge we walked on our way back from South Sytertoppen

I saw the reindeer guard hut in the distance. It got closer, but at an excruciatingly slow pace. It was mental torture to be able to have my goal in sight, yet feel like I'm running on a treadmill and getting nowhere. The Syterskal valley was adding to this effect by being monotonously flat, with no distinguishing landmarks.

Finally, I was there. I turned to look at the valley and its two sentries standing on either side, North and South Sytertoppen. The precipice at the Eastern side of South Sytertoppen looked horrifying and I couldn't believe we stood just a couple of metres from its edge two days before. 

South Sytertoppen looms over the reindeer guard hut.

Two runners showed up just as I was trying to figure out where I was going to take a break and eat. We started chatting. One of them had started off in Abisko (where Kungsleden starts, approximately 450 km from Hemavan) and the other one in Ammarnäs (”only” 80 km away). I reflected on my own condition. I couldn't help but compare myself with them. I had only run 11 km at that point and I was already knackered. How did they train for such an enormous adventure?


After a quick bite, I felt some raindrops on my arms. It felt nice to get cooled down but I knew that if I stayed too long, I would start getting cold. The sun was shining somewhere else at the moment. I got a text message from J, who had climbed up a 1300-metre high top and was getting a bit worried that there might be a thunderstorm on the way. Mountain tops and thunderstorms are not a good combination. I hurried back, thankful for the flatness of the valley this time, but then I realised that I couldn't help J. He was half-running down that mountain, and I wouldn't be able to get to him before he got back to his tent, at the foot of the mountain. I took another break by our old camping site, removed my shoes and socks and put my feet in the cold Syterbäck river water. Heaven.

Beach 2013

An hour later, I saw J walking down the slope near the bridge, waving his hands at me from the other side of the river. I waved back, glad to see he was ok. I ran over the bridge to meet him. After catching up briefly and getting an update on each other's plans, I decided to run back down to the village a different way. Big mistake. I climbed up the first bit of the trail and tried to start running when the ground became flat again. It didn't work out so well. The mud that covered large parts of the trail was threatening to suck the shoes right off my feet. Then, the trail got divided in two, looking just as untrodden on both sides. I, of course, picked the wrong side and was soon bushwhacking through a birch-canopied, Downy Willow (Salix Lapponum) shrub-covered forest, completely lost with nothing but an inkling to where I was supposed to be going.

Warning! This is where my parents should skip the next paragraph. All others, keep reading. Great stuff.

Bear poo. BEAR POO. Right by my SHOE. In the middle of the forest, in the middle of my frantic efforts to find the bloody path again. I'm not certain it's bear poo, at least not until I see something that looks suspiciously like a bear paw print in the mud, but unless they've been lying to us all these years and the dinosaurs are not, in fact, extinct, I can't imagine what other animal would be able to produce poop this size. I'm so sorry, Internet, that I was a lousy blogger and didn't stop to take a picture of the poop. I was too busy getting the hell out of there, with my emergency whistle in my hand. A whistle that I was hoping would scare any bears away. Yeah. These are the phenomenal survival skills that would make me think bringing a kitten along on a swim in Australia to scare off approaching sharks is a fantastic idea.

Why, hello there, mum and dad! You just read all that, didn't you. Well, I did warn you.

I didn't have to use my whistle. The only thing that attacked me was a swarm of really persistent flies and something that kept buzzing angrily in my ear. I found the path and was hit by a tsunami of relief. A few minutes later, I was down by the road and the tsunami of relief was replaced by a heat wave that almost made me choke. Without the trees to provide shade, I ran on the tarmac road back towards Hemavan, suffering with each step, sipping on my water but suspecting that the reason I was so sluggish was salt deficiency. I had sweated buckets, as anyone who stood within 100 metres of me could attest to. I also desperately craved ice-cream but I only had 10 crowns with me and wondered if someone at the store would take a look at me, feel sorry for me and give me one for free. I didn't test my theory. Instead, I switched off my Garmin at 27 km and walked the rest of the way up the hill back to our flat. I reckon that the total distance I covered today, including the walking parts, was close to 37 km, and it took me 7 hours to do it. The thermometer showed 33 degrees in the sun.

I bought an ice-cream on my way to pick up J.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Cannonball Read #22: Shift by Hugh Howey

Hugh Howey's Wool was one of the best books I read last year. Original, clever, well-written, I've recommended it to lots of people. Naturally, I was excited to find out that there was going to be a sequel.

Shift mainly takes place before the events described in Wool. The story of Wool, for those of you who haven't read it (obviously, SPOILERS ahead) revolves mainly around Juliette, a young woman living, together with thousands of others, in an underground silo. The world above is toxic and anyone who is unlucky enough to get kicked out of the silo dies within a few minutes. In Wool, we don't find out exactly why things are the way they are. Shift tries to do that. Through the main character of Donald, we get to look back at the world before silos, and how it became a toxic wasteland.

Just like Wool, Shift was released in parts before it was published as a book, and just as in Wool, I found the first half to drag on a bit – maybe because of their episodic nature. The issue I had with Wool, namely that...

SPOILERS!

Characters are introduced and fleshed out only to be killed off, turning out that they weren't important to the main story after all

/SPOILERS

bothered me a bit with this book too. But, in the end, the biggest issue I had with this book was that our main character seemed to reach important conclusions about the secrets that were hidden from him (and from us), yet these conclusions were never fully revealed to us. Was I not paying attention? Do I lack the capacity to follow the same logical steps as he did? I kept thinking that the big revelation was just around the corner, a revelation of such enormous importance (you want the truth? YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!) that it kept me turning the pages. But the revelation never came. Not in a way that I was able to understand, anyway. In the end, I felt a bit cheated and the hints that there was a great mystery felt like nothing more than a way for the author to produce a thicker book.

That said, I still enjoyed reading this book. I love the world of the silos, the idea that whole societies live underground, unaware of each other. I want to find out more about these societies, their psychology, their religion, their politics. I will be reading the follow-up, Dust, but my expectations may be a little lower this time.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Drottningleden – The Queen trail

So what if my quads were shot because of yesterday's fiasko? My throat felt fine this morning and so did I. Looking through the window at a sunbathed Hemavan, yesterday's reluctance to ever run in the mountains again seemed like a dream. Days like these are rare in the mountains and you have to -sorry for being corny- seize them.


Still, the painful memory of twisting my already injured ankle was fresh. I chose Drottningleden, the Queen trail, that stretches between Hemavan and Laisaliden, and which is relatively simple to hike on (ergo, a good running trail). The first 3 km are uphill, so I walked up the toughest parts – which was most of them. I had decided to let this run take however long it takes, not stressing about having to walk at places. I had all day, hardly a cloud was in the sky and I was feeling great.

This hawk (or one like it) is there every year, always circling the exact same spot by Drottningleden

I reached a point where the uphill parts were shorter and far between, and took a moment to breathe and admire the view. A reindeer male could be seen a couple of hills away, looking majestic, with a huge crown on its head. I realised that yesterday's deer was probably just a reindeer after all, but I'd be forgiven for thinking that it was something wilder: I had never seen such big, brown reindeer before. I usually see the smaller, white/grey ones, grazing around the plains. The reindeer were now close enough to photograph, and were kind enough to stand still while I snapped a couple of pictures.


The illusion of solitude and fragility I usually associate with being alone on the mountains was soon shattered. More and more people started showing up on the trail, all of them heading towards Hemavan. A group of primary school-aged children wandered around with only one or two adults to accompany them. It was starting to feel like Saturday at the shopping mall, and I didn't like it. Then I came across three MTB cyclists who had stopped to rest.

- Are you out getting some exercise? one of them asked me.
- Yes, it's a beautiful day for it, I replied.
- Mountain weather is not usually like this, he said. It's only been such weather 3 or 4 times whenever I've come here.
- Are you guys heading towards Laisaliden? I asked. Because, in that case, I'll keep my ears open for you. Ring your bells to let me know you're coming.
- Well, then, you should run faster! one of the other guys quipped with a grin on his face.

I told them I'd do my best and started running again. I got to Laisaliden about 20 minutes later, and, while I was having a look around at the trail head, the cyclists showed up.

- I made it here first, I told them cheekily.
- Are you going back the same way? they asked.
- It beats the alternative, I answered and pointed at the narrow, asfalted road that led back to Hemavan.
- Then all we can do is applaud you, one of them said.

They wished me a good day and left me to climb the first tough segment of the Queen trail back. I stopped by a stream to fill up with energy and water, and then continued, passing group after group of hikers. My quads were complaining. Loudly. What was an easy, gently downward sloping trail on the way to Laisaliden was a long, uphill struggle on the way back to Hemavan. I walked more and more, not even wanting to push my legs any harder, jogging carefully among the stones where I could. I had to take a longer break before the trail turned down towards Hemavan again, which did wonders for my energy. The view from here was amazing. Everywhere I looked were snow-clad tops, and today, none of them were covered in clouds. Several hundred altitude metres down, I could see Hemavan airport and the village. I could even see where our flat was. All the familiar landmarks looked so small, you'd think they were tens of kilometres away. Yet I knew that I didn't have long left to run.


I heard shouts. A woman I had passed on my way to Laisaliden was now standing on top of a cliff with two dogs on a leash, whistling and calling a third dog at the top of her lungs. As I ran past, she asked me if I had seen a loose dog. I simply answered ”no”, biting my tongue. What I had wanted to say was that maybe she shouldn't have had the dog loose in a nature reserve, where it is forbidden. Maybe the dog ran after one of the reindeer I had seen earlier on. Still, I hoped she would find her dog. Losing a pet is a terrible, terrible feeling. And it's definitely not the dog's fault if its owner doesn't know how to handle it.


The whole excursion took me 3 hours. Of the approximately 17 kilometres between the flat and Laisaliden, I ran just over 14. Not bad. This is trail running at its best.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Trail running in Hemavan, day 1

I've been looking forward to this trip since we started planning it a year ago. I have been longing for the undulating trails of Hemavan since I first ran on them two years ago. But, after my first excursion over the bush-covered hills at the foot of the mountains, and after a hot shower and burrowing into my sleeping bag in this cold flat we're renting, I'm not sure I want to ever run a trail again.

We got here around 4 yesterday afternoon, and after eating some dinner and unpacking our things, I went for a short jog around the street-illuminated prepared path by the village. Oh how wonderful it was to breathe in the crisp air. How at peace I felt in the familiar surroundings. How my legs worked effortlessly. I forged grand plans in my head, long runs that would take me to see new places. I could do all that, because I felt great. I felt strong.

Then, this morning, I woke up with a throat that, while not exactly sore, was not exactly the healthiest throat specimen in the world. Still, I put on my running clothes and picked a destination: I would follow the stream into Kobåset, the valley between two imposing mountains.

To get there, one has to start by following Kungsleden for a couple of kilometres. A few hundred metres in, I was already knackered and reduced to a walk. No, not a power walk or anything even remotely resembling exercise: it was a zombie-like, slow stumble, while my lungs and heart worked furiously to pump oxygen into my blood.

Shelter: Fjällfinakåta

Let me take a break at this point to tell you that J and I had started off towards the same destination at the same time, only J was going to hike there. A couple of kilometres later, I could still see him, not so far behind me. That's how slow I was.

Anyway, I was stubborn enough to continue. I ran a few metres, walked a few metres. After the trail diverged from Kungsleden, it became more and more wet and stony, the mud so thick at places that it sucked in my shoes and refused to let go. Single-track is not the word I would use to describe it. No. There wasn't even enough room for one single person to walk on, unless this person was walking sideways like a crab.

Yep, this is the trail...

At some point I must have passed some invisible barrier, the ground must have levelled off or my legs were finally warmed up, because I found myself running, happily splashing through the marshes, balancing precariously on stones, casting quick glances at the still-not-ripe cloudberries, listening to the plovers and the approaching Kobåset stream. I crossed the aforementioned stream without a problem, only to find out a hundred metres later that the track, or whatever that was, ended abruptly near the entrance to the valley. The view was beautiful and wide, from cloudy Sytertoppen to Hemavan and even the sunlit, snowy Norwegian mountains in the distance.

This, too, is the trail. Sytertoppen is in the clouds.

I turned back, and 2 minutes later I met J. Told you I was slow. We gave each other promises once again that we'd continue to be careful and I left him to continue his hike, while I tried to hover over the marshes in drenched shoes. Once I got back to Kungsleden, I looked at my Garmin. Only 6 km! And it had taken over an hour? I needed to keep running. I had my eye on another route that would take me further on Kungsleden and then turn westwards towards Klippen and the village, a route that was new to me. Kungsleden went on being pig-headedly steep, and I found both my physical and my mental energy draining quickly. Then, the thing that was not supposed to happen happened. I put my foot down in a weird angle, and my injury flared up. The pain was excruciating and lasted a lot longer than it usually does. I was convinced that I had taken my last running step in Hemavan and that I would have to hop back to the flat on one leg.


A couple of minutes of groaning and cursing later, I tried putting some weight on the foot, and then walking on it. It felt ok, so I tried running on it. That felt fine, too. No pain at all. Onwards and upwards I ran and/or walked, my mood so rotten that I thought only following my plan would fix it. Suddenly, the most awe-inspiring creature, the stuff of fairytales, appeared further up the trail from me. It was half-hidden by the trees, but I thought that it was far too magnificent to be a mere reindeer. No – it had to be a deer. Its crown was enormous, its beautiful face nature personified. I started reaching for my camera, that was, somewhat inconveniently, inside my backpack. The deer started moving away, and I went after it like a hunter, fumbling with my camera at the same time as I tried to tiptoe silently towards it. Before I knew it, the deer was gone and I had veered off the trail onto a mountain bike path. For some reason, I chose to walk up that path, instead of turning back towards Kungsleden, probably thinking that the two paths would meet further up. They didn't.

I reached the top of the hill and for a moment I was unsure how far off the path I had gone. I recognised the ski lift over my head, but I thought I remembered Kungsleden being much further down the slope. Then, I saw an orange-painted stone and breathed a sigh of relief. It marked Kungsleden and it wasn't far at all. Further down, I could see some signs, and I hoped that one of them would point me to the direction of Klippen, my destination.


Once I got there, I was disappointed to find out that the only signs there pointed either towards Hemavan or the STF cabin in Viterskalet. The path to Klippen was much further away. At this point, my energy was at a dangerously low level. I hadn't brought any food with me, gravely underestimating how much time this little jogging trip would take me. I made up my mind: I would turn back.

It was mostly downhill from here. This was good (because I didn't have hills to struggle upwards) but also bad, because the path is littered with stones and the downward speed makes it easy for runners to twist their ankles. Mine was already injured and it wouldn't take a lot to make it hurt again. Despite my exhaustion, I was careful and managed to get back without incident. The hot shower was longer than usual. In fact, I think I might have used up the whole village's hot water. And all this for 12 lousy kilometres.

When I grow up, I want to be a real trail runner.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Three national parks and 75 km in five days

(LONG read. Yeah, I don't write that often any more, but when I do, you get a lot for your money)

This summer has been all about the mountains. Less than a month ago, J and I roamed the ones around Hemavan, and a week ago we drove up to Ritsem to hike around mount Akka (also known as the Queen of Lapland). During the 5 days we were there, not a single kilometre was run, but believe me: running was on my mind very often. Keep reading and you'll soon see why.

Day 1: The drive up to Ritsem and looking for a place to camp

It's not easy getting to Ritsem, the little collection of Sami fisherman cabins by the lake Akkajaure. The road there is long (around 430km) and the last part of it is narrow and rough, the asphalt broken up by the harsh winter climate, its side littered by huge stones that have plummeted from the cliffs above. Also, suicidal reindeer hiding in the ditches, waiting until you're almost close enough to hear their racing heartbeat before they throw themselves at your 90 km- per hour speeding ton of metal. Judging by the look it gave me before it trotted back into the bushes, head held high, I was being unreasonable to brake and shout obscenities at it.

I guess reindeer are not known for their smarts. I mean, you don't see many of them graduating from Harvard.

We had to wait for an hour before we could get on the boat that would carry us across the lake and to Änonjalme, the trail head of Padjelanta trail. The boat tour took a little more than half an hour, but it was a pleasant tour: Mount Akka looked very impressive, looming over us, surrounded by other snow-clad tops.


Padjelanta trail is around 140 km long and pretty easy to hike on. It seemed to attract lots of people, all sorts of people, most of whom only went as far as the first cabin (a couple km from Änonjalme). We continued over the shaky suspension bridge that hangs over the raging river Vuojatädno. 


Our goal was to reach the Northern side of Akka and find a place to put up our tent at the foot of the mountain. Then, the following day, we hoped to climb up to the Hamberg glacier. We found what looked more like a reindeer track and less like a trail veering off into a mountain birch jungle, complete with mud, puddles and thick bushes our heavy backpacks got caught into. After fighting nature for one kilometre, we decided to give up on that goal and turn back to Padjelanta trail.


The trail was like a motorway compared to the narrow track we had attempted to follow, complete with fellow travellers having put up tents at strategic locations. After 10 km of hiking with 10 kg on my back (and a long car journey), I was eager to find such a strategic location. But it proved to be harder than we thought. We needed to have access to water and a clearing big enough for our three-man tent. We were also hoping to find such a place a bit further into the woods so that we'd have some privacy, and some protection from the elements in case the weather got bad. We had taken a food break by a stream, and we briefly considered putting up the tent there, but having people walking 2 meters past our tent wouldn't do much for our illusion that we were in the wilderness.


We chose to walk on and get to the next cabin, which was 15 km from the boat. About a kilometre before we got there, we found the perfect camping place: a peninsula of land right where two rivers meet, the rivers that divide the area into three national parks. We had access to glacier water, blue and frothing. We had trees around us that provided shelter and privacy. And the reindeer poo that covered the whole area made for a really soft surface to put the tent on. Not to mention a pleasure to clean the tent afterwards.

Yeah. The last part was maybe not ideal. But we had driven 430 km and walked 16. We just wanted to sleep.

Day 2: Sarek national park

Sarek is pure wilderness. No cabins, no trails. Just hikers and wild animals, which, fascinatingly enough, never collide. The bears, lynx and huge moose that are the natural inhabitants of this area kept well away.


We found a reindeer track and followed that along the river Sjnjuvtjudisjåhkå (someone forgot to put some vowels in there - surprisingly, I suspect that word is easier to pronounce after a bottle of wine. Or maybe when noone is sober enough to correct you). Despite the lack of official trail, it was mostly pretty easy to hike there. We upset some long-tailed jaeger and willow ptarmigan. The plover's mournful cries accompanied us the whole way. We were hoping to get near Nijak, a sharp-looking top 10-12 km from the tent. Unfortunately, the weather took a turn for the worse and we could hardly see our noses, let alone a top which by now was surely hidden in the clouds.


We turned back, our clothes slowing getting wet despite the rain gear. After a couple of kilometres, the rain stopped, because of course it did. That's mountain weather for you: unpredictable, always changing, fierce. We took a detour past a hill that offered a great view of lake Vastenjaure and a reindeer sighting. When we finally arrived back at the tent, we had hiked 20 km.


Day 3: Stora Sjöfallet national park


We were aching to put in some altitude kilometres, and since we couldn't get to Akka from where we were, we aimed for the next best thing in the area: the 979-meter tall mountain hill Sjnjuvtjudis (remember that word? How could you forget). It wasn't a steep climb but our thighs still ached pleasantly. The top was marked by a heap of stones littered with reindeer antlers and offered a magnificent view over Akka's Western tops, Akkajaure lake and the mountains Nijak and Kisuris. 



As easy as it was to climb up, getting down was hard. We thought walking around the whole hill would be a great idea, but what we didn't take into consideration was the weather (which turned foggy and rainy) and the thick bushes covering large parts of the hillside. It was slow going, and it was mentally tiresome to not be able to look around and judge how far we'd walked. Thankfully, we had our GPS with us, telling us where we were. We finally got back after 14 km and cooked some delicious couscous on the stove. Well, not so delicious. But when you've spent the whole day hiking, even paper tastes good.

Day 4: Padjelanta national park and the way back

Just as we were finishing our coffee on a cold morning after a dreary rainy night, J exclaimed: ”Look!”. Not 15 meters from us, a young reindeer and its adult companion were walking towards the river shore to drink some water. I hardly had time to produce my camera before they spotted us and ran away.

The sun finally appeared, just in time for our last-day hike into Padjelanta. The plan was to walk for 2-3 hours on the easy trail, saving our strength for the evening hike back to the bridge. Conveniently enough, a Sami village lay 5 km from our tent and we headed for it. The environment was almost surreal at places, barren but for some beautiful mountain birches that struggled to survive. The trail was undulating, taking us over sandy ridges and past cool streams. All I could think of was how cool it would be to run Padjelanta trail, maybe staying at the cabins at night. It wouldn't take more than 6-7 days.



The last part of the hike cut through low marshlands. The elusive cloudberries (also known as Norrland's gold), going for 40 euro/kg in the supermarkets, were abundant here – unfortunately not ripe enough to eat yet. That didn't stop us from tasting a couple.


Back at the tent, we ate some couscous and packed our things. The weather was still beautiful, the air crispy but not cold enough to cool us down, the sky blue among the scattered clouds. Akka and the surrounding mountains were revealed in all their glory, with some fresh snow powdering the tops. We walked in its shadow with our heavy backpacks on our shoulders, stopping to admire the awe-inspiring glaciers slowly gliding down its sides. 



We put up the tent by the suspension bridge. We had to be at Änonjalme at 12 the following day to take the boat back to Ritsem, and we still had 4 km to walk. Some dark clouds seemed to be coming our way from the West, and we re-hydrated our dehydrated dinner in a hurry. We indulged in a couple of home-baked flapjacks for dessert. The dreaded storm turned out to be nothing but a drizzle. We slept badly that night, knowing that the alarm would go off at 6 the next morning.


Day 5: The journey back

We were very efficient with our breakfast and packing routine, and we headed back to the boat at 8.30. We arrived there way too early, and, with nothing else to do, we sat by the beach, cooling our feet in the icy lake. The mosquitoes were almost outnumbered by the seagulls, but they were infinitely more annoying as they buzzed in my ear. Good thing we had hats with mosquito net on them.


The boat took us to the Vaisaluokta cabin first before it turned back towards Ritsem. Our car was, thankfully, still there when we got back. Some rainy weather was waiting for us in Skellefteå, and the temperature had dropped to 8 degrees. It seemed like the mountain weather had followed us all the way home.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Cannonball Read #21: Löparäventyret - på småvägar genom Europa

(This is a book originally written and published in Swedish. To the best of my knowledge, it hasn't been translated yet. The title means: "The running adventure - on small roads through Europe")

In April 2011, ultrarunning legend Rune Larsson and marathon runner Susanne Johansson set off from Portugal on a journey that would take them across Europe and all the way home to Sweden. They travelled on foot, mostly running, pushing a baby pram loaded with essentials. During their 75-day adventure, they crossed 8 countries and over 3500 km.

I love stories like this. I have several books on my shelves written by people who'd covered great distances on foot and the things they saw. I find such stories incredibly inspiring. I, too, want to embark on such adventures. Imagine the things I'd get to experience.

Despite the fact that I've always loved Larsson's articles in the Swedish edition of Runner's World, I felt that this book was lacking in some areas. I enjoyed the first half of the book a lot more than the second, picturing how it must have been to travel through Spain and France, to meet all sorts of people, swim in the rivers and camp under the stars. But then the book runs (pun not intended) out of steam. All the exciting incidents get reduced to just another page in what reads like a diary. Neither Larsson or Johansson are, of course, writers by trade. They are athletes. So perhaps I shouldn't have expected more than this day-to-day account of kilometres run and how much accommodation cost. It's just that....on the few occasions when I've run 40 kilometres or more, I've always had a story to tell. In this format, without a story to make each day unique, the numbers fall flat and become meaningless to an outsider, their importance diminished. I suppose I expected more from what I am sure was an amazing adventure.

This is a book for runners, written by runners. It's not a bad book, per se; I just don't think it does the actual journey justice.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Cannonball Read #20: Into the woods by Tana French

Detective Rob Ryan is relatively new to Dublin's Murder Squad. He and his partner Cassie Maddox have only had easy cases to deal with so far. But then, one day, a case falls into their lap that will affect them both profoundly. 12-year old Katy has been found dead, left in an archaeological dig in the middle of the woods bordering an estate. The woods where Rob Ryan's two best friends mysteriously disappeared with hardly a trace when he was 12. Are the two events connected? And how will Rob Ryan cope with the resurfacing of the old case?

Into the woods is Tana French's début novel. Yet, that's hard to notice; she exhibits a confidence in her writing usually found in more weathered authors. Her language is at times almost poetic, filled with metaphors and then sharply contrasted by the grim events she describes. Her characters are believable, flawed (wretched, even) but likeable. There's never a dull moment in the book. It never sags or misses a step, and it certainly doesn't feel like it's 600 pages long.

The whole experience was like being in a nightmare, like walking through the fog on a starless night, the only reprieve being the occasional good-natured taunts between Ryan and Maddox – but even those seemed ominous at times. Although I wanted to find out whodunnit, I also didn't want the book to end. As dark and devoid of life its landscape was, I didn't want to leave it, yet. Especially since it left me with unanswered questions.

I would recommend this book to anyone who loves a good detective story and who isn't afraid of the dark.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Cannonball Read #19: World War Z by Max Brooks

Max Brooks' World War Z is a collection of stories as told by Zombie war survivors. Soldiers, politicians, refugees from around the world present us with pieces of an apocalyptic puzzle, one that brought mankind to the edge of extinction. Their accounts are vivid, horrifying, often bitter, bleak and demoralizing. Faced with an almost unstoppable force that feels no emotion, humans will do anything to survive.

There has been a lot of praise for Brooks' book, and, already after reading the first page, I could see why. He has crafted a detailed, realistic scenario of what would happen if there was a zombie outbreak. You can tell he's given this a lot of thought: he explores everything from how to effectively destroy zombies to how different countries would react, to how some zombies would float to the surface as opposed to walking the bottom of the sea depending on how bloated they are. It's a rich world – which was kind of the only drawback of this book for me.

Having read World War Z right after Robopocalypse I couldn't help but make comparisons. The two are similar in some ways, not least in how film-friendly their subject matter (and even their approach) is. Both are told through several narrators. This works much better in the case of World War Z, perhaps because the reason there are several narrators (there is a journalist collecting the stories) is much more plausible than in that of Robopocalypse. The journalist keeps mainly in the background, speaking up only to ask questions or to introduce the setting. He's discreet and doesn't get in the way of the story - which is way more complicated and nuanced than in Robopocalypse.

Still, the fact that there are so many narrators is, I feel, detrimental. While the story never really became repetitive, it did tend to drag on a bit. Some narrators' stories were similar enough to be eligible for exclusion; some could have been left out as they didn't seem to do anything to advance the plot. Maybe it is the format of having several sub-plots instead of a main plot that doesn't suit me.

Although this book wasn't perfect, I found it enjoyable and at times it had me at the edge of my seat. A must-read – at least for zombie enthusiasts.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Cannonball Read #18: Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

I had such high hopes for Robopocalypse. The story sounded pretty good: Robots get smart. They try to take over the world by annihilating humans. Humans resist. If it sounds familiar it's because it's been done before. Unfortunately, it's been done much, much better.

What a silly book this was. Right from the first pages of the book I understood that this was going to be the literary equivalent of a Michael Bay movie. Action, explosions, soldiers, tough talk. Characters who are shallower and more wooden than their robot enemies. While that might work on the big screen (at least if you're looking for some mindless entertainment), 350 pages of it get boring real fast.

The book is divided into chapters, each of which retells events as witnessed by one of the many characters. These accounts are based on CCTV footage, webcams and the like. The central character provides an introduction to each story, as well as a final note at the end of the chapter. This was a major fault of the book for me. It took me out of the story (not that I was lost in it, but still). He also kept hinting at the importance of these events for the future, which didn't leave any room for suspense or surprise.

I'm only giving this book two stars instead of one because Daniel H. Wilson obviously knows his subject matter: robot technology. Too bad he couldn't work in some more humanity.

I hear this is currently being made into a movie by Steven Spielberg. Will this be one of the few times the movie is better than the book?

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Cannonball read #17: When the devil holds the candle by Karin Fossum

This is the epitome of summer reading. A quick, light, unpretentious read that's easy to digest and just as easy to forget.

Andreas is an 18-year old that doesn't know what to do with his life. He spends all his time when he's not working with his best friend Zipp, hanging around town, managing to stay out of trouble despite their risky (and often outright criminal) behaviour. Then, one day, Andreas disappears. No one knows where he is. Or at least that's what the police believe until they talk to Zipp and they realise he is hiding something.

It is not a ground-breaking idea, but we know almost from the start who's responsible for Andreas' disappearance. The question is not so much who did it but why. Through the pages of the book, a portrait of a very disturbed person is slowly revealed.

Don't expect a deep psychological thriller or a complex mystery here. The portrayal of the disturbed person feels incomplete. Andreas' own implied psychological problems are only hinted at. It was like waiting for a punchline that never came.

This is not a fancy 7-course meal at a fancy restaurant. This is a light snack before going to bed. It might keep your stomach busy for a while, but by midnight you're hungry again.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Mineralleden, the Mineral trail

(Long story. Again. Grab a piece of pie to go with that coffee)
 
I had a plan. I was going to follow Mineralleden (the Mineral trail) to Varuträsk and then run back the same way. All in all, about 36 km. It all started so well. It was a beautiful day and the trail head, which I thought I'd have trouble finding, couldn't have been more visible if it had a blinking neon sign hanging over it. 


Off I went into the woods, with my Camelbak in my backpack and some flapjacks in the outside pockets. It didn't take long before I took a wrong turn. Although I didn't know it at the time and put the blame on lousy marking, I had run past the trail. I stood at a crossroads scratching my head. I knew that, further up the road, I would come across the trail again, so I took my chances and ran in that direction. 


The woods were peaceful, casting a much-needed shadow on this hot day. Stones and roots littered the path and kept me focused. It was a gorgeous single-track I was running on, the vegetation whipping my legs. I hoped there were no ticks hiding in the bushes, throwing themselves at me as I ran past.

After a while, I had to leave the woods and run on asphalt. The trail follows some less-trafficked roads, and cuts through a posh area with well-maintained red houses and tidy gardens. Not many people have gone on leave yet, so I didn't meet anyone except a woman tending to her flower beds and a boy playing on the grass. The little blue-and-white signs glued onto trees by the road told me I was still following the trail. And then my mind drifted off and I lost my concentration and suddenly there were no signs to be seen. I couldn't decide what to do. Keep running and hope that the trail was up ahead? Turn back and look for it? Ask someone? But there was no one around. I kept running, believing that the part of the trail that followed the road was pretty long.

I ran for about one kilometre without seeing any signs. I was almost convinced that I had missed a turn somewhere, so I made my way back towards town again, looking around carefully. And there it was. Hidden in the trees. Well, hidden - if you're blind. Not only was there a blue-and-white sign on a tree, there were orange markings showing the way on several other trees! I couldn't understand how I could have missed it. I almost threw myself at the trail, happy to finally leave the hard asphalt, and was met with mud. Lots of it.


That was just a taste of the things to come. Because later, after another short patch of asphalt, I ran through areas that were so wet, my feet almost sunk in to the ankle.

And speaking of ankle. A few months ago, I managed to do something with my right one while doing yoga. I suppose I overstretched it? And now, I landed on my foot in such an angle that it shot a flash of pain up the front of my calf. 


If a runner swears in the woods and no one is around to hear her, does she make a sound?

I started running again. The flat parts were fine. Problem was, there were almost no flat parts. The trail is like a roller-coaster, and did I mention the stones? And the roots? Second time I twisted my ankle followed, and then third not long after. It hurt like a son of a b-- female dog. Running two extra kilometres because I took a wrong turn hadn't crushed my spirit, but getting injured in the middle of the forest came dangerously close. Something big bulldozed its way through the bushes. I caught a glimpse of a moose calf just in time, and right after another brown shadow further ahead that might have been its mother. Crap. Moose can get aggressive if they have young. Good thing they seemed to be more afraid of me than I was of them. My incospicuous bright fuchsia T-shirt camouflage didn't seem to be doing its job. Looking out for the moose through the trees, I slowly walked away.

"What was it we said?" found on a tree in the middle of nowhere. I don't know what it was they said. I don't know who "they" are. But I'm very curious.

The trail got more and more treacherous, with overgrown grass and bushes making it hard for me to see where to put down my feet. I walked the most difficult parts. Then I was out of the woods once again, and I took a break to eat. This was the forest road I ran on with AIK last autumn, only now it was greener.


Right before I reached Vildmarksgruvan (”Wilderness mine”, and the end of the trail), I had to follow the trail into the forest. A strange group appeared before my eyes. Three men of, how shall I put it, very different shapes and sizes (think fellowship of the ring here), were standing in the middle of the path, with a folder in their hands, seemingly looking at nothing more spectacular than the stones on the ground. I was startled, finding other humans on the trail, but I think I managed to hide my surprise with a wave and a happy ”Hello!”. As if it was completely normal.


The mosquitoes attacked me as soon as I stopped at Vildmarksgruvan. I was parched. My throat was thick with what felt like wool. The wool was absorbing every drop of moisture from my mouth. A couple stood on a little mound, also staring at the ground. The woman was holding a rock in her hand, observing it.

- Do you know if I can get water anywhere around here? I asked. The excavation site was only a museum nowadays and was currently closed.
- The village is about one kilometre down the road, the man mumbled. Do you have your car nearby?
- No, I ran here, I replied.
- If you run to the village, there might be someone who could give you some water, the man said, completely disinterested in me, and kept looking at the ground.
- There might be a hose around here somewhere, said the woman in broken Swedish.

I'd had already had a look. There was no hose around, and the extra kilometre to the village, on asphalt, in desert-like conditions was the last place I wanted to be. I gave my situation some thought. Which way would I run back, the trail or the forest road? I still had some water left, but it was getting so warm I'd soon be able to boil an egg in it. Black backpacks, who thought they were a good idea? On the trail, the shadow cast by the trees combined with the breeze would keep me cool enough, but I really didn't like the idea of twisting my foot once again. I left the couple to their rock observations and aimed for the forest road.


This absurd day was about to get weirder. Finding my stride, I made good progress back towards town, trying to run in the shadow of the trees on either side of the road but the midday sun shrank the shadows to nothing. The heat-scorched dirt road smelled of pine needles and I was starting to foam at the mouth with thirst. I licked my lips, washed my mouth with a gulp of water before swallowing – it only gave temporary relief. Then a beat-up, dusty red car pulled up beside me. A family of four sat inside.

- Do you know the way to the bog? the bespectacled, kind-looking man asked in English.
- The what? I asked.
- Do you know where there is a bog around here? he repeated.
- A bog???

 I didn't get it. My tired mind was mixing up English and Swedish and the word he said sounded like something completely different in Swedish, something very inappropriate for him to ask for in front of his wife and children.

- Yes, a bog!
- Aha, do you mean a swamp? gratefully the penny finally dropped.
- Yes, a swamp! Do you know where a big swamp is?

I didn't. Baffled by this strange question, thinking it was all a dehydration-induced hallucination, I fished out my phone and started looking at the pictures of maps I had taken. None showed any bog. Or swamp.

- Where do you guys come from? I asked as I looked through the pictures.
- Germany, he said. They said in town that the swamp was Northwest of Skellefteå.

I explained that I wasn't from these parts. I asked if they knew what the swamp was called. They didn't. They said they'd ask someone else and drove off. 


My thirst becoming more and more like a stubborn child tugging at your sleeve for attention, I wished I'd asked the Germans for water. I kept wondering if I should ask one of the few people I saw gardening if I could bother them for some. I was prepared to beg, bribe or steal, but my shyness got the better of me and I made do with the little water I had left. I stopped at Klintforsån to rest and eat the last of my flapjacks, and rinsed my feet in the cool water of the brook. I wished I could swim in it. I wished I could drink all of it up. If I had slipped and fallen in, I would have drowned with a smile on my lips. I put my cap in the water and then put it back on, and I could almost hear the water evaporating with a hiss as my hot forehead turned it to steam. 


The rest of the run was uneventful. Well, almost. I did manage to twist my ankle one last time when I got back to Vitberget.

Did you know: I can swear in three languages! Four, if you count Finnish. Perkele!


Tick-free, I arrived back at the car with 32 km under my belt. It felt good to be able to run longer distances again and not be completely shattered or injured afterwards. The foot doesn't hurt, nor is it swollen, but I'm giving myself a couple of days' rest. Just in case.