Kungsleden 500 km

Hiking along Sweden’s King’s Trail

As we make final preparations for our next adventure, I realize that I failed to post about our amazing hike through Sweden in 2018. I shared some photos on social media but ultimately I prefer the less temporary venue of a blog.

4 years ago, I might have written pages and pages, telling the stories and experiences we had but this will be a simple photo gallery of the most memorable parts. Here’s a pictorial tour of our 19 tent spots, each after a day of rural hiking and roughing it in the tundra.

Miles to Go Before We Sleep

We arrived in Hemavan, Sweden, after a two hour flight from Stockholm in a 15 seat prop plane. We deplaned onto the tarmac and headed into a 2-gate airport, similar to the one at home. With our two carry-on backpacks and our single checked bag, containing our tent, trekking poles, knives and various liquids, we walked along the single-lane, gravel road into town.

We found the decent-sized grocery store beside the highway where we loaded up on food for our journey. Although there was no scale available, we guesstimated that our packs were 14 kg each, which meant we had both added more than 8 kg of food weight to our loads. We shouldered the burden and headed upwards, towards the ski area, to find the Kungsleden trailhead.

I always like going South. Somehow it feels like going downhill. – Treebeard

For this adventure, we ignored Treebeard’s advice and started our 500 km trek in Hemavan, Sweden, and walked ever northwards towards Abisko.

This was truly an amazing trip. We walked every step (except for outrunning a thunderstorm on day 5) and planned nothing in advance (except for our train ride back to Stolkholm). We were challenged often by terrain, fitness and weather but always rewarded with gorgeous scenery, remoteness and Swedish hospitality.

This is our favourite photo which we had made into a canvas print and now hangs in our stairwell.
With minimal planning, we start on this spontaneous trip. Tiny packs with few supplies but we’ve got big smiles and soaring enthusiasm.
From South to North, here are our sleep spots

Day 1 – Hemavan to Syterskalet (17 km)

One of our top 3 camping spots of the trip. The Syterskalet valley was truly spectacular!

Day 2 – Syterskalet to Tarnasjo +5 km (27 km) Continue reading Kungsleden 500 km

Finlayson Arm 100 km

Race Day Play By Play

Have you ever wondered what runners think about when they are out, alone, on the trails for hours? For me, some hours drift past almost unnoticed while others are cemented in my mind for years.

Here’s my hour-by-hour memory dump for 22 glorious hours on the Finlayson Arm 100 km route.

Pre-Race Prep Over these past two months, I trained as if cramming for an exam, sort of like drinking from a firehose. Having run the Finlayson course multiple times, I know you can’t fake the fitness needed to climb and descend the endless hills but I didn’t have time to build up a base of fitness nor work specifically on hills and speed.

When I finally decided to register in July, my training plan was simple – run a lot – and I did, making the most of my glorious summer time off and trying to get out of my covid slump. Now that race day is here, I am simply ready to see what today (and tomorrow) hold for me. My goal is to run as much as possible and go as fast as I can – but isn’t that everyone’s goal?? The difference for me this year is letting go of time pressures and expectations. I will be just as content with 26 hours as I will be with 19 hours. What a freeing thought.

5 pm – Start Line We arrive at Goldstream in plenty of time to pitch the tent, organize my gear and head down the hill to race central. Old friends are everywhere and Continue reading Finlayson Arm 100 km

The Road Taken

Each one of us has stories about COVID-19 and its impact on our lives, our goals, our mental well-being…

But it is the emerging from the pandemic which currently holds my attention. How will I approach this sudden freedom to run, to travel and to set goals? Am I happy with my small, contained lifestyle which has been constructed to eliminate risks and challenges? Or do I need to burst out of the cocoon and aspire to those lofty plans from before?

On one hand, being comfortable is comfortable. Fat and lazy is new to me and it definitely has its draw. Although I have kept up some running (and more mountain biking) throughout the lockdown stages, I have also been quite content to stay at home, putter around with my flock and bake.

Some pants no longer fit.

I have enjoyed the lack of obligatory miles and the loss of the nagging voice that endlessly reminds me that I shouldn’t be relaxing or content. It has taken 16 months but she has finally toned it down to a whisper.

On the other hand, I feel a real void in my life. There is a deep hollow that needs to be filled. I’m pretty sure I could fill it with any number of hobbies but my fallback is mountains, trails and occasional suffering. Continue reading The Road Taken

Close Encounter of the Cougar Kind

So there I was – hauling ass down the Puntledge Plunge after a post-work trail climb in Forbidden Plateau. The late afternoon light was fading and I had been motivated to leave work and make the most of it. A grueling climb on these tired, out-of-shape legs was exactly what I needed. As I descended, it was just dark enough in the forest to warrant my waistbelt light but it wasn’t yet dark. Pale purple sky was slowly giving away to starlit night.

Up ahead, a slight movement caught my eye. Was that a deer? No, the shape was all wrong. COUGAR! I froze in place and tried to confirm my suspicions. There was a softness, a roundness to this animal that didn’t quite match my regular forest creature encounters. A swish of the tail was enough to make me snap into fight, flight or freeze mode. This big cat had turned its head to look at me. No doubt now.

Not my photo. The last thing on my mind was documentation.

My mind started churning with the DOs and DON’Ts with cougars.

  • Don’t look in its eyes.
  • Back away slowly.
  • Hold your arms up so you look large.

I realized Continue reading Close Encounter of the Cougar Kind

Needed Time Off

I have cleared the schedule, hung up the shoes and found a new pastime. 2019 will be remembered as the year that ultras went on the back burner.

Last spring and summer, my running struggled along as I battled twinges and tweaks and resulting low motivation. My achilles injury forced me to forgo a bunch of races. It was really difficult to get the proper training in for my A race, the Mighty Quail 100 km. In the end, I got it done but I lost something along the way – the desire to push through.

For me, running long distances requires strong focus on a specific end point – usually a certain finish line – and that focus will pull me through the long hours of training. I really love being out in the forest, deep in the lesser known trails, reminding myself to eat and drink and watch my footing as I go. There is a purity and ease as I clock the kms but that ultimate race goal is truly what gets me out the door.

I have always been one to take time off from running once daylight savings ends but, last fall, I took it to the level of hibernation. I had no desire to run in the snow or rain, nor solo or with the group. Instead I read, became a homebody and allowed myself to get soft around the edges and it has been fabulous. I got a new-to-me mountain bike and have been learning to rip up the trails (a little). I ride purely for fun and usually in a group. There is no goal except perhaps to end the ride without any new bruises.

Last night, B and I were talking about his upcoming Tor de Glaciers race – a 450 km loop of the Italian alps in Sept 2019 – and reminiscing about our Tor de Geants race five years ago. I found myself wishing aloud (again) that I could have a re-do of that event. I believe I could have done it better. B was quick to suggest a number of other 100 mile and 200 mile races which would allow me to prove myself to myself.

As I scrolled through event pages, looking for an ultra race that would fit in my 2020 fixed summer holiday, I had to laugh at myself.

Here I was, searching for that goal race, ready to click the ‘register’ button, despite the fact that I haven’t laced up my running shoes for weeks. But perhaps this summer of rest and relaxation has worked its magic.

I knew I needed some time off – not to consider quitting for good but simply to come back with a thirst for that next finish line.DSCN0370