Weeks passed, summer turned into autumn, and the scars seemed to be healing well. My wish to go alone for a hike in the arctic Lapland had not eased. I drove 800 km to a very remote village in the north where we used to live, just to sleep one night there and walk away.
It is actually a very popular thing to do in places where popular national park hiking routes begin. The village in question used to have a sign at the bus stop “what to do in Hetta” and the only thing it had, were the instructions about how to get to the national park and walk away. Most people don’t even overnight here before they go away.
The route I was going to walk is easily the most popular hiking route in Finland. It’s 55 km long and has free wilderness huts every 10 or so kilometres. These huts are very well-kept by the national park authorities, as are the routes. It’s more a hiking highway than a path. But the excellent service is not the reason people come here. It’s because of the nature. Roughly 300 km north from the Arctic Circle, the park is at the northern border of the Boreal Forest. The 3 or 4 days hike takes you through forests of candle shape pine trees to open round fell tops way above the treeline.
As you have already guessed, this route can get busy at times. In the busiest day I have seen almost 30 people. For such a remote location, that is a lot. Take my word. You might have already guessed also, that this time it wasn’t going to be busy. It was late autumn, beginning of October, when the days are cold and short and snow usually falls. I was expecting to be alone.
In the morning my friends walked the first few kilometres with me. They did what I used to do a lot when we lived in Hetta; walked up to the treeline to enjoy the views and walked back home. And boy was I lucky they were with me! This is reindeer herding area, and October is busy season for the dominant male in the herd. The fortunate lad is making sure the herd will grow with his genes the following spring while he aggressively keeps the weaker males away from his girls. Or tries to at least, the herds are big.. Driven by his hormones, these males are known to attack unfortunate hikes too. It is rare, and usually happens if you try to approach them too much. Nevertheless, I was happy I was not alone, when just before the treeline we pretty much walked into a large herd.
My friends waited until the path was free for me to go again, and off I went alone. I had been to this route so many times before, I didn’t need a map. I knew exactly what would be behind every turn the path would take. My backpack comfortably on my back and nothing but the vast openness around me, I made my way up towards the first summit. As I gained altitude, I became happier and lighter. I was finally here – a wait of months was over.
At the summit I got to the first snow. The path was slippery at parts and I had to concentrate on my steps instead of the views. However, I was at the hut well before the dark. I had plenty of time to cook my dinner and when the sun started its slow journey behind the horizon, I sat on the terrace eating a yummy mushroom risotto. First stars started to appear and I sent a text message home that all was good.
Then came the darkness. More stars and some faint northern lights were in the sky when I went to the toilet. But I didn’t feel good. My mind was playing tricks with me. I started to think of all the little problems I still had with my body (bladder didn’t really function normally) and how that would affect my hike. I spend a good while in the darkness of the hut wondering if I should return in the morning or should I continue.
In the morning, after a good couple of hour’s contemplation, I made up my mind. I knew I didn’t have any problems, there was no need to turn back, I would be physically just fine to do a 3 days hike. At the same time I knew, I couldn’t mentally push myself yet. As much as I enjoyed being out there, it was too soon after everything that had happened. I send a text message to my husband, who replied that it was ok to return. “Do a couple of day trips instead” he said. And was so right.
I walked back to my friend’s house, where we enjoyed a dinner together, and the next morning I drove to the southern end of the trail I had planned to walk. I walked to the last summit of the trail, a nice 5 km walk from the car park, in terrible side wind. Freezing cold wind, completely treeless landscape, some strange appearance of at least 10 people on the same day, and my bladder that had the capacity of half a cup of coffee, proved to be a winning combination for some interesting sneaking behind big rocks hiking day.
Once again, it wasn’t quite what I had planned, and it was really difficult for me that already a second attempt of an adventure would end like this, too early. I was slowly and very painfully learning that my new body was indeed in charge and my mind wasn’t quite there yet either. Even so, it was an important landmark adventure for me. It was my very first night slept alone in the real wilderness. I had lost my solo overnighting virginity.