Under a low gray sky and into a steady soaking rain at 9:30 on the morning of August 1st, I set off from the Den Norske Turistforening / DNT hut at Ny Sulitjelma, planning a run of 50k by day’s end. After climbing the 400 meters to a high pass between Norway and Sweden, I soon realized that I’d be facing not only the weather, but a snowy spring and cold summer had left behind a deep snowpack, buried trail markers, and rivers overwhelmed with meltwater.
In short order, I rolled up my running pants, forded two rivers of knee-deep meltwater, crossed undermined snowfields, and waded through countless shoe soaking streams.
All in the first 5 kilometers.
Conditions, I learned later, were more typical of June than August.
Nonetheless, 50 kilometers and many many wet hours later, I was setting up my tent in a slackening rain on a flat section of sodden heath on a Swedish hillside.
I knew I had four consecutive 50-65 km days through similar alpine terrain (and its associated lowland bogs), weaving back and forth across the Swedish/Norwegian border before my first resupply, but I knew at the end of that first day that this was going to be a run unlike any I’d attempted before — it was my first extended self-supported stage run, which was itself an added layer, but so many other challenges presented themselves one after another:
- The trail-less expanses of springy heath, depthless moss and bog;
- The miles of overgrown willow canes crossing the narrow path;
- Suffering through 18 hours of GI distress on day two;
- Waist-deep fords of class II rapids;
- And, finally, and most severely, a mounting pain and swelling in my left shin that started late on day 4 and grew progressively more acute with every step.
It was this humbling, hobbling, often searing pain that eventually convinced me that 8 days and 360 km were enough when I reached my family in Abisko, Sweden.
I had set out with the intention of running the whole of the Nordkalottleden over 12-14 days, and when I considered stopping early as I ran the last 70 km along the Kungsleden, I weighed a few things:
- Pain was really keeping me from finishing my 50 km days in good style and was distracting me from my focus on the landscape surrounding me.
- I had already completed what was arguably the most challenging and beautiful section of the trail along the Norwegian/Swedish border during days 3-6.
- I had found what I had come to the Arctic to find. Further mileage would no doubt have added to the adventure, but as it was, the layers of experience and depth of learning were profound and will take time to understand and appreciate.
- The past year — and the coming months of writing and sharing stories, pictures, and video — are both as important as the run itself. I’ve already started the work of building conversation across communities, countries, and ideologies. I cannot wait to do dive in fully — this is where the essential work of Climate Run happens.
Each day I continue to be more grateful to everyone I met and talked with along this journey and to everyone who has continued to be so supportive. There is so much to share and so many stories to tell. I’ll share some of them here, others in pictures on Facebook or Instagram, and still more in what is quickly becoming a larger writing project that will tie together CR 2016: Iceland, CR 2017: Arctic Trail, and many other experiences in something resembling a book.
More about that later! 🙂