What is Time? – or: my short time-out on the Kungsleden

What a question! Everyone knows: 60 seconds is a minute, 60 minutes is an hour, 24 hours is a day, etc… Yes, but have you ever wondered if we measure time in the right unit? Is every day, every hour of our lifetime equally valuable? Before we lived them, potentially yes. But when we live them, don’t hours and days often take on an entirely different meaning? Why do we say “time stands still” or “time flies by”? Maybe because we often use the time wrong? Have too high expectations? I don’t want to exclude myself from that, on the contrary, I’m someone who lets the time – or rather the clock – stress me out very often because I can never switch off, but always have in my head what there is still to do , so that I often can’t really enjoy the really nice, relaxing moments. So what do you do about it? Waste time… or say it more friendly: you use it consciously, not because you have to do something important, but because you decide to do something time-consuming. In my case a hike on the Kungsleden, together with my favorite dog Zazu.

Already the planning was time-consuming, but in a positive sense. First I had to decide which part of the Kungsleden I wanted to walk. Since there are 24 other furry friends and a husband and child waiting at home, I only have about a week. Well, really crazy people run the whole trail in 15 days, but I do not only miss the time for that, I also don’t have the physical constitution. Ok, so from where to where? I already know the area around Abisko and Nikkaluokta a little and think it’s really beautiful, but since I needed to go in July – Raffi has vacation and the dogs aren’t in training yet – the northern entrance was ruled out from the start. Because there are so many people out on the trail at that time that you could easily feel transported back to the time of the migration of peoples. Ah yes, by the way, the Padjelantaleden would have appealed to me too, but dogs are forbidden there, even on a leash. So, next consideration Hemavan – Ammarnäs. This part is divided into six stages by the STF (Swedish Tourist Board). 78km in six days? Sorry, what? At the Marka24 in Oslo nine years ago – phew, how time flies 🙈 – I walked 80km in 23h. And this is where my typical me came in again… Shouldn’t I go as far as Kvikkjokk, or at least Jäckvik? That would then also go well with the bus arrival and departure. And what do I do if the daily stages only last three to seven hours, I don’t have cell phone reception to work, and mosquitoes are annoying me? It actually took a while before I decided to really only walk Ammarnäs – Hemavan. One reason was the high temperatures at the time of planning. I was afraid that too much sun would be bad for me and Zazu, especially if we were going relatively far. And of course then came the self-doubt a la “I’m not fit enough to walk 35 km a day”.

So, after the route was determined, I started planning the equipment… and since I’ve had back problems for a long time, I naturally wanted to carry around as little weight as possible. At first I briefly thought about only sleeping in the Biwi, but that would be stupid for Zazu in the rain and in the afternoons when the mosquitoes are annoying, too. So I needed a tent that is lightweight but still has some room for Zazu. When that was done, the next pieces of equipment and clothing came under the magnifying glass – or rather: on the scales. I hadn’t decided which shoes to take until the day before the tour. Raffi swears by mountaineering boots, but since I’ve never gotten along well with high boots, they were not only eliminated because of their weight. But the decision was still Goretex hiking shoes or the 130g lighter running shoes. Due to the predicted rain, it ended up being the Goretex. Whether that was a good choice, more on that later. Next, the food was prepared and weighed on the exact gram. You should get a lot of energy for little weight. Of course you could now say why spend so much time for a few grams more or less. First of all, a few grams quickly add up to a few kilos in the end and secondly, I’m a planning nerd 🤣 for me, planning a tour is almost exactly the same as carrying it out in the end. That’s why I used to plan vacations and moves, and I still help our family today when they fail to find the most sensible travel connection. Of course, our guests have also benefited from this already.

Now that everything was packed, we could start. At first I wanted to take the bus to Ammarnäs, but in the end Raffi and Joël drove me there. Since the first stage is only 8 km and the bus would not have arrived until the afternoon, we also left later in the day. Quarter to two Zazu and I both had our backpacks on and were ready to start. The description said it was going steeply uphill… a Swede must have written that 😅 I was prepared for a steep climb, but it was actually very fair. You probably can’t compare Sweden to the Alps… We hiked through the forest and as soon as we saw the first bridges over rushing streams, it was clear that these wouldn’t be Zazu’s favorite parts of the trail, which is why there are no photos from the bridges. A little later the vegetation became sparser, instead of trees there were now almost only bushes… and cloudberries. But I hadn’t seen any ripe ones at that point, so I thought you’d probably never see ripe cloudberries by the side of the trail because the tourists who don’t know them probably always pick them too early… but more on that later. After a last small climb, the Aigert hut came into view. We walked once around the lake and then looked for a nice spot for our tent. We spent the rest of the afternoon taking a short walk to the viewpoint above the hut, cooking food and… doing nothing. What a waste of time you might think and for a moment I was inclined to write the first part of this blog post, but then I thought there will be time for that later. And this doing nothing without thinking about the next tasks is much more valuable than an hour on the sofa, when you only think that you better have to do something the whole time. Those people who can really relax while watching TV, for example, can be happy, but I have to be out of reach of work in order to get it out of my thoughts – at least temporarily… Later in the evening first a bird made Zazu crazy and after that Zazu made me crazy. Since the weather was still nice, Zazu slept next to the tent attached to a tree until a cheeky bird sits directly above him and chirps incessantly. No well-tuned singing, no, an annoying beeping. When a few drops of rain fell a little later, Zazu was allowed to come into the tent. What can I say? With Zazu in the tent is about the same as with Joël in a 1.80m wide bed, for me there are 20cm at the edge 😬 I don’t even know how Zazu managed it, but at some point he was lying on my sleeping mat and I next to it.

The next day was the longest stage with 19 km. It started with a slight climb all the way up to bold fells, from where we could enjoy the view to the surrounding mountains. In between there were some downhill parts and it became clear that such a full-grown sled dog might not always be so practical. Because when Zazu pulls, you have to stand against it quite a bit to not fly. The other way around when we met people, because as soon as he saw someone, he stopped pulling and wanted to hide. At some point he started to walk more beside me than in front of me like his dad Ranger, which is more or less possible on the fells, but was really annoying in the forest area that started again with paths only two feet wide. About two kilometers before the finish we had to cross another bridge over a roaring waterfall, so I almost had to carry Zazu. The last two kilometers were really a fight, who is running in front, because side by side was not really possible – but Zazu is just stubborn. Arriving at the Serve hut, I quickly set up our tent, because it was teeming with mosquitoes and small flies. Zazu didn’t want to go out anymore and when it rained he slept so well that he even forgot to push me off my sleeping mat.

The next morning we were both up early and so we started the next stage before 7 a.m. First it was a bit uphill, then mostly flat through more or less dense bushes. Due to the previous rain, the trail was very muddy and sometimes the wooden planks, which are supposed to bring you through the swampy passages with dry feet, were also under water. So it didn’t take too long until I had wet feet despite Goretex. In addition, I discussed – what felt like 90% of the way – with Zazu, whether he was walking in front or behind me, but he only switched between right and left, but there was no space on either side 😬 In the end the trail was downhill through the forest to Tärnasjö , where we reached the hut in good time before lunch. Of course we could have just taken a break and then continued hiking, but instead we decided to have a good time in the hut. The “dog room” was in a separate cabin that we had all to ourselves. So we could hang up the tent and Zazu’s backpack to dry. I washed some clothes – taking a quick dip in the lake on the occasion – and took clothes and shoes to the drying room in the main cabin. In the afternoon we alternately relaxed in our hut or at the lake and on the way there we also nibbled a few ripe cloudberries, which line the way from the hut to the sauna and also to the beach. Ah yes, I also cooked in between, but somehow I wasn’t hungry the whole time. Actually, my backpack should lose weight every day because food comes out, it did, but not to the extent calculated. Apart from muesli bars, for which I had planned a re-supply in Tärnasjö – but didn’t need it – I still had so much to eat that I could easily have extended the hike for a few more days…

Although we didn’t get up until an hour later the next morning, we still started ahead of most of the others. Before that I got my things out of the drying room, but my shoes were still not dry even after about 18 hours in the drying room. The decision whether to goretex or not will definitely be different next time 😉 The stage to Syter first led through a long flat birch forest, interrupted by some open swampy areas. After a while you come to a great beach where we could enjoy the view of the mirror-like water and the reflecting mountains in the background. After about two thirds of the way you reach the Tärnasjö bridges, several suspension and wooden bridges to change the side of the lake. Still not Zazu’s favorite, but since the water underneath was still, it was a little easier to master. After that it went steep uphill for a short time, but the view back to the lake landscape definitely makes up for it. It continued flat over the fells with a great view to the opposite mountains, some of which were still covered with snowfields. Shortly before we reached the Syter hut, it started with some raindrops. I was considering if it’s worth taking out the rain jacket and covering the backpack, but you never know 🤔 and it was good, because the last 500m – if not less – it poured like cats and dogs. And since the weather forecast – there was cell phone reception on Syter – also announced thunderstorms for the evening, we spontaneously decided to stay in the hut instead of camping. Otherwise everything in the tent would have been wet immediately, because Zazu shouldn’t have stayed outside in the rain. And trying to rub him dry in the pouring rain is also a rather pointless endeavor. Hence the luxury version again. Incidentally, later sun and rain alternated, but the announced thunderstorm did not materialize.

Before we continue, I would like to share with you a few thoughts on the subject of time that came to me during the obviously not so strenuous stage – if you can still philosophize on the side 😅 What is the importance of time for us? That is certainly very individual, but do we ask ourselves the question at all? Everyone talks about “work-life balance”, a phrase that is used a lot when it comes to working in a large law firm – but not only there. Does the work-life balance really always depend on how many hours we work? Isn’t it more important what we do with our free time? If I only work five hours a day and sit around the rest of the day trying to figure out what else I want to do, do I really have a better work-life balance than someone who works 12, 14 hours but then pursues his hobby for three hours that totally fulfills him? What is work and can work be fun? Of course, work should at best be fun, but even a great job has tasks that aren’t that great… that’s why you get paid. If work is always fun, isn’t it a vacation that you would have to pay for yourself, or at least a hobby? The question comes up automatically with a job like ours, doesn’t it? Of course, nobody should work themselves to death – not even for money, but shouldn’t we rather focus on making better use of the available time than on work? It doesn’t matter if it’s five minutes, an hour or a whole day. Tackle the long-awaited meeting with grandma right now, not when there is a whole weekend to spare. Cancel the mandatory brunch on Sunday with a large group of friends in order to sleep long, read a book or do nothing. Free yourself from social constraints, from the definition of time as others see it. I’m certainly miles away from always using my time sensibly – another term: who decides what makes sense? But realizing that you have to find your own meaning, your own way of counting time, is perhaps a first step. Although I’ve wanted to do this hike for a long time, I thought about going until the very end before the start because I can’t do so much else in this time what have to be done. I’m glad my stubbornness prevailed. Not because I can’t think of 1000 things to do along the way, but because I have time not to do them…

And then day 5 came. On the last stage – or actually the last two – time caught up with me or maybe my typical way of dealing with it. Actually, the route is divided into two stages of 12km and 11km with a stop in Viterskalet. But since you had cell phone reception on Syter and could check the weather forecast, I was tempted to combine the stages. Because even for the last day thunderstorms were announced for 2 p.m., which I didn’t want to sit out in the tent in the mountains. But I didn’t want to spend the night in the hut again. And then maybe there was also the fact that I found the previous stages relatively short and two even shorter ones at the end would somehow not have been a challenge. So when the weather forecast in the morning still predicted thunderstorms, I decided to walk through to Hemavan. The only problem was that there would be no bus going to Arvidsjaur that day and Raffi would have to pick me up from Lycksele later. I had already checked the bus connections for the next two days, and the bus left in the (later) afternoon, so it was relaxed anyway if you started around seven. Said and done. First we went up the hill. Following an intuition, I thought I would use the existing cell phone reception here again to check the exact departure time of the bus… and was then a bit surprised that it was supposed to be leaving at 1:20 p.m. Ok, so I had a little over 6 hours for the route, could do it. If necessary, I could also camp in Hemavan (and stay somewhere inside during the thunderstorm). So first we crossed the hill, where the downhill passage in particular was very muddy and I had to ask Zazu several times not to pull like he did. Somehow he probably had the feeling that it should be the final stage. After 4km we turned off into a long valley, which was lined left and right by – by Swedish standards – high mountains. Also known as the southern entrance porte on the Kungsleden, this U-valley is relatively easy to walk. You cross countless smaller watercourses, which are sometimes wider, sometimes less wide. In order not to slip on the wet stones, you shouldn’t walk too fast. The valley stretches almost to the next hut. At its end you climb a small hill and from there you can already see the Viterskalstugan. There we allowed ourselves a short three-minute break… we were quite well in time, it was just after 10 o’clock. So we had made our way here in the lower end of the specified period of time, even if we – of course – took time to take some photos.

The last leg to Hemavan is said to take three hours so it wasn’t looking too bad. The stage is not strenuous either, as you first cross the fell at the same height for a longer period of time. But here, too, there were more watercourses, muddy spots and smaller rocky ups and downs that you should approach carefully if you don’t want to risk injury from a stupid slip or sprain in the last few kilometers. Relatively quickly we reached a signpost that pointed out 5km to Hemavan. So we were very well on time. A 4km signpost followed and from here we met a lot of people, some with small children, and I thought that they were already hiking nicely walking up to here. I was a bit irritated that despite the alleged only 4km left, the ski area was not yet in sight… that was not too long in coming and offered me the explanation for the many children on the mountain: the lift was in operation. There was also a new signpost with kilometers: 4km to Hemavan… although the last one was more than a kilometer back. I began to have doubts as to how far it really was to the end of the Kungsleden, which was the longest way down into the valley. There would have been shortcuts to get to the bus stop faster, but I didn’t want to take them. Maybe the mileage was just an average. And from the end of the Kungsleden I also had to go to the bus stop. Although I had signal again in the ski area, I didn’t want to google the route so that I could concentrate on the route and the people. Zazu is super nice with everyone, but since you never know if someone is afraid of dogs, we always stepped aside when we met someone. The last part of the way took quite a long time and there it was again, the time pressure. In theory, another night in the tent wouldn’t have been a problem, but missing the bus by 5 or 10 minutes would have been kind of annoying. Exactly 12 minutes before departure we reached the end (or the beginning) of the Kungsleden, where we of course had to take the obligatory photo. At the same time I googled the way to the bus stop: 19min 🙈 ok, we’ll try. We were able to shorten the first two serpentine turns, but after that it wasn’t really clear which way to go. It seemed as if a large number of the houses were newly built and the course of the streets had changed or Maps was just inaccurate because it constantly showed us between the houses and the walking direction was not reliable either. But since you sometimes go in one direction and sometimes in the other direction on serpentines, it was not so self-explanatory where we had to go. Time was running out and we weren’t quite on the main road when the bus should have come. A few meters before that, hikers asked us if we wanted to catch the bus and I thought they would say that it was already gone. But the opposite was the case and so we hurried the last few meters to the bus stop. A minute later the bus came. Being not in time doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. I am definitely a person who values being in time very much, but in this case the bus had adjusted to my time, which I was very grateful for.

It was Zazu’s first time riding a bus, but he did it with flying colors. We took the bus to Lycksele, where Raffi and Joël picked us up. When he got home, Zazu went to his kennel with Max, where they played wildly. Two must have missed each other. But about an hour later the dogs were noisy again, unlike when Zazu and Max are just playing. And who is that sneaking up to the house? Zazu (who hasn’t moved into his new, hopefully escape-proof kennel yet) seems to have figured he’d rather sleep with me… well, today’s exception is the sofa. Kennels will be swapped tomorrow 😂 By the way, Max wasn’t happy about it and cried because he missed Zazu (which he probably never did in the last few days). A little later the dogs were restless – and loud – because the moose were visiting… so you had them back quickly, the usual background noise of 25 dogs 😉

In case you’re wondering if my last day wasn’t counterproductive to the previous days, when it was all about deceleration and the importance of time: no, not at all. Because for me it was an incentive to run against the clock. I enjoyed it and it was a very good use of my time. Now I have a little more time at home for all furry friends.

If you are interested in the tour now… we will also offer it for guests next summer. I started writing the text “live” during the tour. Only the last two stages are still missing 😉