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A Scandinavian Road Trip

On Sunday we left Stockholm for a week long road trip around Sweden. After deciphering the cryptic directions Chris had left us, Scott and I managed, by some miracle, to find his cousin’s house in the suburbs of Stockholm. There we picked up Chris and his cousin, Johannes, had a shower, washed some clothes, then pilled three tall guys and me into a tiny Swedish rental car. Our plan was to drive north and see where it took us. That night we camped on the beach a little way out from Gavle, nestled between the forest and calm as glass sea.

Camping is free everywhere in Sweden due to Allmansrätten or, loosely translated, Every Man’s Right. Allmansrätten dates back to the Middle Ages and is extremely important to Swedish history and culture. It means that every man (or person) has the right to access to any land in Sweden, with the caveat that this right comes with the responsibility to care for the natural land, basically do not disrupt or disturb and leave the land as you found it. It is generally agreed upon that you do not camp in someone’s backyard, so we walked a ways down the peninsula and set up camp. The sun stays up here until 11 pm and rises again at 1 am, giving someone sleeping in a tent a mere 2 hours of relative dark. As difficult as the long days can be on a sleep cycle there are few things more awe inspiring than waking up to go to the bathroom and seeing the sunrise over the Scandinavian sea in the middle of the night, a red ribbon of light hung low across the sky while the sun pops it’s head up again after a very brief nap.

Camp cooking in Gavle, Sweden

We broke camp late, as waking up at 1am then deciding to sleep through the light leads to sleeping in until nearly noon, but were off quickly to visit a Sami family that Johannes worked with a few years back. The Sami are the native people of Sweden and have been making a living herding reindeer for hundreds of years. However, as happens on all good road trips we didn’t make it straight there. See Scott forgot his spoon, a very common occurrence backpacking with Scott, so when we stopped for lunch we popped into an outdoors store. Turns out four college kids in an outdoors store act like children in a candy store and we spent more time wandering around looking at all the toys then anyone ever needed to buy a single spoon.

In our wandering Chris found the axes, his favorite outdoors toys, and found out that they were made only 20 minutes from where we were. Obviously we got the directions and headed off to tour a Swedish axe factory, because, why not? What ensued was 2 hours of wandering around heavy machinery unsupervised and throwing double sided axes at upturned stumps. Apparently, Swedes are not afraid of lawsuits because when we asked if we could try the targets with the axes we’d just bought, one of the workers said ‘of course’, handed us two huge throwing axes, and let us go. No ‘please don’t accidentally behead your friend’ or ‘use at your own risk’, just ‘have fun’. They trust that people are generally smart enough not to injure themselves in stupid ways in Sweden, a trust that does not exist in the US, land of silly lawsuits.

What road trip is complete without axes?

After we realized Chris is basically a Viking (he can hit a bulls-eye on the first throw while throwing single handed) we headed off to our original destination, Idre. Due to our Viking-esque fun we were coming into Idre much later than anticipated, but thanks to Johannes and his Swedish cell service we were able to coordinate with Helena, the woman we were meeting. We arrived around 10:30 pm and had a thirty minute hike to the hut we would be staying at, but because this is Sweden in summer, we had light to hike in at 11 pm at night, no head lamps needed. I’m still trying to get used to it. Tired and damp, we finally stumbled upon a hundred year old Sami hut that Helena was letting us borrow as accommodation for the night. With reindeer pelts covering a bed of dried grass, a fire pit in the center, and tepee style walls to shelter us from the wind it felt like walking into a movie. One would think we would pass out, exhausted from a day traveling west across Sweden, but the hike had energized us like nothing else could, so with a fire roaring to keep us warm in the cold alpine night we cracked open beers and talked the night away. I will never forget that night spent laughing around an ancient Sami fire pit, watching the wild reindeer herds pass us in the night.

Our home for the night.

In the morning the rain had stopped so we hauled ourselves up, took one last look at the snow covered mountains, and walked back to the village to, finally, visit with Helena. It turned out she was very busy so she couldn’t do lunch with us, but Johannes told us she wanted to make it up to us by letting us “walk with the reindeer”, what ever that meant. Turns out it meant exactly what it sounds like. The Sami make their living herding reindeer and the 2,700 that Helena’s family owns are wild, but some, those who lost their mothers young, have been hand reared by the family and are tame enough to use for walking tours. What a walk with tame reindeer entails is simply that, walking herd style through the woods with reindeer all around. There was a baby, three weeks old, named Lako, two teenage males, and Lako’s mother, Luvis. What is so special about reindeer is that they don’t need leads, they treat you as part of the herd and when the herd stops they stop, when the herd walks they walk. It’s amazing to be a part of, something I have never felt before, being accepted into their world.

Reindeer in Idre, Sweden

With one last goodbye to the magic of Idre and its reindeer we made the spontaneous decision to head west to Norway. Scott had wanted to see Norway, mostly because it would add to how many countries he’s been to, but he was driving so off we headed to Norway. The minute we crossed the border Johannes’s cell service went out and we were without a map, driving aimlessly around the middle of nowhere in Norway. I admit, our planning was poor. We decided to try to head to Oslo and camp somewhere along the way. By 8 pm it was pouring rain, we hadn’t eaten, and there was nowhere less soggy than a bog to pitch our tent. Sodden, hungry, and grumpy we gave up on the tent and decided to keep driving in hopes that we would find somewhere to stay. Thank goodness only 10 minutes later we stumbled into what seemed like a Norwegian cabin-style campground. For $17 a person we were dry in an adorable little cabin with real mattresses to sleep on and an indoor stove. We were happy, dry, and full of freshly cooked burgers so we went to bed, all the while fending off the mosquitoes that characterize a Scandinavian summer.

Hiking into camp.

In the morning it was off to Oslo in what should have been a short two hour drive, but it took about 5 hours considering we were driving through a capital city with no maps and no cell service. If you are ever considering driving in Oslo save yourself the headache and don’t. That drive was probably the most terrifying drive I have ever been on, with a driver who didn’t really know how to drive stick, pedestrians with a death wish, and trains that come out of nowhere. By the grace of God we made it to the hostel in one piece, took a shower to refresh and regroup, then headed out to see Oslo. It all started well, until it started raining. Brilliant me had decided to dress up to feel better so I was braving the torrential downpour in a long dress, leather high heeled sandals, and a fleece jacket.

The fateful night, pre-drama.

Chris meet some Norwegians on the street who invited us to go to the gay pride festival with them and the group decided why not? This seems to be the theme of the trip. However, if we had known the reasons why not to go beforehand they would have been the following: it was mostly outside so the venue was very wet, there was not much food, but lots of beer so we all drank instead of eating, this resulted in people getting drunker faster than usual which then turned into Scott cornering me and forcing me to tell him that I wanted to break up. We both knew it was over after the trip, but I was trying to get through the trip that we were both on for the sake of the trip and our traveling companions, Johannes and Chris. However, he was annoying me more and more throughout the trip and I wasn’t attracted to him at anymore, which he noticed and decided that drunk and wet at a gay pride festival in Oslo, Norway was the best time to talk about it. Long story short I broke up with him, he demanded the keys to the car and said “I might be back in the morning”. The car was in his name so it was technically his to take, but in doing so he stranded all of us, his friend Chris included. We didn’t think he was that much of a jerk so we gave him his space that night and hoped we’d see him in the morning.

It is now the morning and he is not here. He took his stuff out of the hostel, threw our stuff from the car on the floor, and hasn’t responded to Chris’s messages. We have been abandoned in Norway. It will be a funny story later, but right now it’s not the greatest having to find a train to Stockholm so last minute. At least Johannes and Chris are here and they are great guys so we will all figure it out together. I take solace in the fact that if Scott is the type of guy who will strand his friends in Norway that I did the right thing in breaking up with him, I just should have done it sooner. Here’s to finally having time for myself, free of all messy relationships.

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