(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.
- 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.
- 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.