End of May, beginning of June, the world is flooded with news about the “you-know-which” virus and all I can think about is when I will finally set off... Because of the fact that Swedes chose a radically different approach to pandemic from the rest of the world, my adventure was not associated with quarantine or social distancing. It was carefully planned and polished during long, dark winter nights way before #missrona struck. Fueled with craving for long distance conquests which started during my first ultra adventure in 2019 #carpatiadivide.
The premise was quite simple and practical. It was supposed to be a training and sort of intro to my main cycling event of 2020 - #hope1000, beating 750 km in about 5 days and testing my new camping equipment consisting of a sleeping pad, sleeping bag and bivvy. A test of my capabilities after winter as well as challenging my body with daily effort and vision of not so perfect regeneration caused by sleeping under the night sky and bathing in still cold swedish lakes. I also wanted to shoot a short documentary of this project. And it was supposed to be my first lonely excursion of this kind... Me, Myself and I.
That's all about the idea. Let's go.
Morning on the first day of my adventure was really beautiful. Last bike check, mounting my camping equipment and I'm on my way. The difference in going solo was noticeable. Usually when I travel with my wife @aneciakowa, I need a day or two to start going with the travel's flow. To focus on the present, leaving everyday life behind me. This time I heard the call of adventure after around 10km . You all probably know the feeling of exhaustion coming from all that planning before an actual trip. During preparation there are so many questions, variables and blind decisions which in theory would determine if its going to be a positive experience. Especially if it's one of those first timers. And that moment, the moment you realize that you are on the road and there is nothing you can change, upgrade or plan. Such a relief. Now it's just me and my belief that I could overcome any obstacles fate throws at me.
And throw it did. First of all, I forgot to bring a charger – or to be more specific, adapter necessary to charge phone, powerbank and gps cycle computer. Basically all electronics I had on me. It was more of a disappointment caused by my negligence than an actual problem. Luckily I found a shop quite close to my trail, where I bought that charger but for a few kilometers I was pretty sure I failed. No phone means no maps and no filming, without gps and planned route this undertaking would be way less fun too. Anyway the charger was bought, crisis averted.
Shortly after, I accidentally found myself in an area plagued by wildfires caused by a very dry spring in Sweden. It really pained me to see one of (in my opinion at least) most beautiful nature reserves near Stockholm - Paradiset Naturreservat - like that. Blinded by the smoke, coughing and choking I met a group of firefighters in gas masks and sci-fi suits. I honestly don't know who was more surprised, but after a quick 'what the hell are you doing here' look they gave me they turned out to be really nice and gave me instructions how to escape the fiery trap I found myself in. After riding out of the smoke curtain I stumbled upon a lookout tower from which I could watch helicopters dropping tons of water over the burning forest.
Later, Aneta and I visited areas affected by fire. It was a really sad view. Charred tree stumps sticking out of dead, dry and as black as tar ground. Visiting places touched by fiery elements is always accompanied by deep sadness, fear and anxiousness. It's a reminder of some sorts, but back then I wasn't thinking about that. I never stood so close to wildfire before, maybe that's why I was more excited than considering what consequences it would bring.
I rode on. Amount of variables waiting ahead seemed to overshadow the magnitude of that event. Later that day, without further disturbances I reached Skansholmen Camping. Where – after looking at her really imploringly, it was way past the kitchen's closing time – the owner of a local diner prepared me some burger and fries. After devouring the food, I had a moment to enjoy well deserved foamy, golden ambrosia, beautiful sunset and to digest events of the passing day. And the delicious burger, there was some digesting there too. Not far away from camping, on a sandy public beach I found a perfect spot for my first night under the stars. After lighting a small campfire in a fire hole in the sand I fell asleep watching passing ships on the horizon.
I woke up to the scratching sound of my bivvy, opened my eyes slowly to see a hare drinking morning dew off a little bowl formed out of my sleeping bag's waterproof material.
And that was the first of intimate moments I had during this expedition. The moment, when in the quiet morning accompanied by the subtle sound of waves, our eyes met was absolutely magical. The hare was curious enough to approach me with no fear, and after a few seconds of our little staring contest it finished up drinking and calmly left. It was not startled, it just left in direction known only to it. It's really hard to describe that feeling. Feeling of being part of something pure. Sharing this moment by simply being. I layed down for a while to enjoy that experience a little longer, then packed and moved in a direction only known to me. What a morning.
Most of the route was narrow, rocky and rooted. Don't get me wrong, normally those conditions would be perfect for me, but with all that equipment strapped to my bike it was a bit of a different type of experience. The weather conditions were fine enough for me to lose the tarp, a rainproof sheet that would serve as a roof of my minimalistic bedding. I also figured that my planned route was going close enough to some small towns that it was more comfortable to make a little detour to eat at local diners than carrying a camping stove. Well, I needed to find a post office then. Luckily, one of the small towns I was passing by had one of those in a grocery store, where I could send a package home. Those 2 extra kilos might not sound like a lot but it was taking a lot of space in my seat bag as well as haunting me, reminding me that I'm carrying unnecessary weight. The relief was real.
When I was pedalling through a few next kilometers, there was another of my little magical encounters. It was the middle of the day, I was riding on a fairly wide gravel road in the forest. It was heading to a glade and taking a sharp turn left. While leaving the forest I noticed a movement on the other side of the meadow, it was some kind of large animal. The very moment I was taking that turn I mentioned before a majestic deer jumped out of the forest's edge and stood still. I stopped as well. I stared at him with respect and could tell he was looking at me too. We stood like that for a dozen seconds or so, after which we calmly went our separate ways. I was filled with the same dose of positive energy as before. This situation instantly brought to mind a scene for Wes Anderson's „Fantastic Mr. Fox'' with black wolf saluting titular fox with raised paw as a sign of friendship and understanding.
This time I spent a little more time thinking about this event. I started to wonder if we could have an actual connection with such a wild animal. Is it based only on primary instinct of sensing danger or could we somehow subconsciously form a brotherly bond of mutual understanding? On what level could culture and romantic ideas shown to us in movies or fairy tales affect our perception of animals around us?
Maybe it sounds funny but while I was standing there looking this amazing animal in the eye I felt some kind of community of coexistence. Sensitive bond. Anyway this moment was etched deeply in my brain. Carried with this experience I continued my travel.
That day I ended up in a little cabin by the lake Nävsjön. A fate would have it that in the evening an older fisherman appeared near my shelter. It turned out it was his favourite spot to calm his mind while angling. He asked me about the details of my adventure - where from, where to and why that far. He also shared stories from his youth and history of the stocked lake I was planning to spend my night near. He spent most of his life in the area so he was pretty well informed. We sat like that for some time sharing thoughts and stories. He seemed like a really happy man. When I finally went to sleep he returned to his mantra. After encounters like that I'm always filled with admiration for elders for their amazing ability to enjoy little things and great wisdom coming from a lifetime of experiences. My night wasn't great though. I had a feeling I was served on a silver plate to all local winged bloodsuckers. Turns out that lakeside spots, sheltered from wind, are not the best choice to camp.
In the morning I felt like I slept 15 minutes tops. Well. Taking an example from a fisherman I met yesterday, I figured I'll take whatever life throws at me and continue my journey. Beautiful weather, clear blue sky, warm night, forest all around me, smell of pine needles, sound of birds singing and feeling the wind on my face. Even a whole army of vampiric insects could not ruin that.
Day three included the last of my interspecies encounters. This time I met a gray heron near Lake Viggaren. I was calmly riding on a gravel road, forest on my right turned into backwater with cane field from which a startled heron took off. Magnificent large bird was flying in the direction I was heading to, deviating slightly to the right. With few flaps of wings it straightened it's course and we were travelling in parallel. The road was going straight along the shore. Seeing that the bird was going a little faster I decided to accelerate a bit so we could line up. The heron lowered its flight and closed in as if it wanted to take a better look at a strange traveller. I felt it's gaze on me and it felt like wy synchronized our movements. Again I entered - well known at that point – euphoric state of understanding. Together, we celebrated our mobility and freedom of movement. We stayed like that for lake's whole length, over 2 kilometers. In constant movement, yet somehow it felt to me like whole world stopped for a while. This time I didn't want to overanalyze why and how. I simply lived the moment, breathed it in and let it fill me without attempting to understand or identify it. It was one of those moments you know you experienced something important in life. For such moments it's worth living, traveling, being.
So as much as I enjoyed all the beautiful emotions I experienced on the way, my goal was still a top priority. At this point I already knew that my objective was right at my fingertips. Everything worked really well. The weather was great, in beautiful wilderness my short film basically shot itself, camping equipment passed its test with flying colors, I felt great mentally and physically and on top of that I knew I would easily do my daily kilometers. Realizing all that made all the haste I had in me go away. To be clear, it was not a feeling like I had to rush head first and at all cost, but it was a constant thought, reminding me what I was doing and why. And it was gone. That fact opened new possibilities... What did I do with it? I decided to get lost. Focused on the ride itself, on here and now. exploring nature surrounding me. No map, no GPS, no purpose. I chose an interesting looking trail not knowing what's around the next corner, cause... Why not? Of course I landed ankle deep in mud in a mire and kept on going on foot, pushing my bike towards the next adventure. And shockingly, I did not find it annoying. Hopping between patches of grass trying to avoid sinking in mud I laughed under my breath, thinking that I didn't have that much fun in a while. Something like when you are on a bike while it's raining and you are already soaking wet so just for pure, childish fun you start driving through the biggest puddles of water. Not caring about wet shoes, socks or pants you keep on driving just for the sake of it.
And that's how I realized how different we can experience our journey, depending on the destination and attitude. Following a road, when the destination is not obvious or even known is essentially completely different in its nature. Maybe it sounds trivial, like one of those truths that in theory are well known to everyone. Yet it made me realize how important it is to simply give up planning or at least leave some space for improvisation. Do things a little freestyle. When there is no goal on the horizon we can focus on the process itself, we are aware of the moment. It's a beautiful experience. However, if you read my #HOPE1000 story, you know that knowledge alone is not enough.
The process of implementation and changing patterns of our behaviour can be really hard and time consuming. Actually my 'failure' in Switzerland was what pushed and motivated me to look behind and analize what I'm doing and how I'm doing that.
After my swamp adventure I found a little lake in which I could wash off all fertile soil, a reminder of my muddy crossing. After that, I returned to my planned route. This time it was a narrow, well-trodden path between blueberry bushes that actually took me to my desired destination. I set up my camp on a rock on lake Musken's shore.
Woken up in the middle of the night by a group of ducks having a lively discussion nearby, I could witness a beautiful moonset and graceful dance of mist above the lake. I thanked the ducks for giving me this amazing opportunity but it was not the time to get up yet.
When the sun rose above the tree line high enough to warm my 'cocoon' up with its first rays, I figured it's time to start the last stage of my adventure. I packed up and started the day with a somewhat pleasant breakfast in a golf club I was passing on my way. Day five was basically dusting off some paths between Stockholm and southern shore of archipelago by the Baltic Sea, paths that I knew really well. A quick visit in Torö area, where my wife and I had our first camping trip in Sweden. Beautiful coniferous forests covered with blueberry bushes. Long and wide beaches covered with light grey, almost white, stones. I love this area and I have lots of great memories of it.
Some inner thoughts, how my life changed since my last visit there. Carried with all this positive energy, I'm going further to the Nynashamn peninsula to grab dinner in a familiar restaurant situated at the end of the scenic route.
And heading home. Those roads run close to smaller and bigger towns. You can actually feel the moment you enter a more tightly concentrated civilisation and other lifestyle of those living in Swedish capitol neighborhood. I don't know if it's me coming back to everyday life or a positive, idyllic atmosphere slowly changing into city chaos. I end my day in my home, feeling grateful for shower, warm water and soft, comfy bed. The beauty of coming home.
And so the journey turned out to be something far more than I planned it to be.