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.

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