I was on vacation.
As most of you know, we have been working in tourism for the past few years. Many people experienced with us our Arctic Life in Northern Sweden. We loved to show and share our favorite landscapes and longing places with others.
Our home was the starting point for many tours and a visit to our kennel with the huskies was often the highlight for our guests.
But where and when does someone like me go on vacation?
I am on our farm almost 365 days a year. Having more than 30 dogs comes with a lot of responsibility. Everyone wants attention and optimal care.
I take this responsibility very seriously, love the work associated with it and do not want to exchange for any money in the world. But taking a few days off is also good for me too.
In the last few years, I have always taken a little vacation at the end of April / beginning of May. Up here in the north the snow melts, everything becomes muddy and rubber boots are the preferred footwear during that time.
This “thaw time” was always our mandatory break between the winter and summer seasons. A time when we could not offer any activities. And the annual summer projects on our farm could only start after the snow had melted. The dogs dig happily in the first patches of soil and training does not work particularly well with sledges or other training equipment.
Free time – vacation time
Johanna came back home from her guest tours and took care of the dogs. Throughout the year she was always away from home quite a lot due to work. She really enjoyed her break on our farm each spring.
I was able to drive away for a few days with a clear conscience.
2500 km to the south. To be more precise – to Germany. More precisely – to Borgholzhausen (a small town near Bielefeld with approx. 8000 inhabitants, also called Pium from the locals). Exactly – I go to my family’s farm once a year, close to Borgholzhausen, where I grew up.
I just relax, do not plan too much. Go spontaneously to the bakery or simply meet up with a friend in a café. I ride my bike into town, eat fresh asparagus and ripe strawberries, walk through deciduous forests, and enjoy the spring air.
All things that I do not have at my chosen homestead in Swedish Lapland. Things that I do not miss in everyday life, but I do enjoy them when it is possible. A great time were I only have the responsibility for myself. Simply vacation!
These days give me a lot of strength. That might not sound like a lot of vacation. But to be honest, after just a few days I miss everyone so much that I want to go back as soon as possible. (21 days was the longest time I was ever separated from my dogs. And back then I said: “Never again!”) I just love the life on our farm with the dogs! I like to be at home, almost every day of the year.
This visit at my families place means a lot to me. It’s a time to relax and to recharge batteries for the coming adventures in the North.
Changed plans due to Corona
This year everything was different. The Corona crisis caught us in the middle of the last weeks of our winter season. When it came to a complete travel stop, two groups were still outstanding. Then, like every year, we would have gone into our short resting time before the summer season would start with fully booked tours at the end of May.
I would have gone to Germany and visited my family. Had eaten asparagus, wandered through the Teutoburg Forest, met friends and visited my grandmas and grandpa.
Instead, Corona has turned our lives upside down. The borders were closed and our professional existence vanished into thin air. The fight for our company, the fear of no longer being able to take care of my dogs, of suddenly being insolvent and the emotional ups and downs made a break unthinkable. (would you like to read more about it?)
Johanna made me go away
We could not take a deep breath for the first time until June. The bankruptcy was a done deal, many existential questions clarified and thanks to the donations for dog food that we received from many wonderful people, the dogs were secured over the summer.
Suddenly we felt how tired we actually were. During the repairs in our kennel facility in July, the idea grow in my mind about a short trip – a time for myself. Johanna had thought for a long time that taking a break from daily tasks and spending some time for myself would be good for me.
She knows how important the trip to Germany has become for me every year. But the Corona related restrictions did not allow this. The quarantine rules, which are constantly changing and the fear of endangering the grandmas if I came, made a visit to Germany unthinkable.
Johanna regularly reminded me of my time off. She just did not give up. I am so grateful to have her by my side! Because she was right.
But I kept putting off the decision. A thousand things occurred to me that still need to be done. At some point I realized that I was just looking for excuses.
Johanna put the pistol on my chest one day. “There’s no reason you can’t go on a tour. You think you don’t deserve it. But that’s total nonsense! And if you don’t want to do it for yourself, take one of the dogs with you. Surely there is someone who needs a little extra attention. Then just do it for the dog. “
She just knows me! It still did not feel right to go on a trip for me. Especially now when there are still so many projects to come. Right now, when we have to save money. Driving away right now, for completely selfish reasons? That does not fit. But do something good for my dogs? Always!
Planning excited short trip with a dog
Johanna had convinced me. Immediately it began to rattle in my head. Which dog would need a special time with me? Attention, adventure, experience new things?
I had many different options. The 16 young dogs could all use extra attention from me. Just because they are young. Would be good for every dog to experience different situations and new locations. Doing something alone with a dog, without the pack, creates a deeper bond. The choice was not easy for me.
Duplo came first to my mind. He is quite unsafe in new surroundings. He could get a little more confident. Or Rubin, who is simply full of energy and never really knows what to do with it. Saphir would also be a great choice, because I have the “worst” bond with him in comparison, he is very cautious and skeptical. Or Lava. I haven´t often been out with her alone. Oreo? It could not hurt to get some leash training for him Just like Mars.
But in the end, I choose Kitkat. I had great contact with her in the first 1 ½ years, but in the last few weeks she has become more and more stubborn. She started doing her thing more and did not listen very well. She is a very important dog in the pack. Despite her young age, she already has a clearly distinctive position. A deep bond with her is very important to me and in relation to the pack it plays a big role that she wants this bond with me.
Decision made – Kitkat and I are going on tour!
The “where to” was already clear! To mountains, of course! I love the Swedish mountains and I have wanted to go hiking there again for a long time. The best time to do this is from late July to early September. This was unthinkable the last few years, because at this time we were knee-deep in the summer season and enabled our guests to have unforgettable vacation experiences.
Now we can go on vacation ourselves at the best vacation time.
Johanna is just right! It is good that she is so persistent.
Suddenly everything was very simple:
I called a good friend who lives very close to the first foothills of the fells. She lives in a small wooden house on a beautiful piece of land by the lake Soutujärvi. From there I could go on day trips to the tundra and close hills with Kitkat. Cooking together in the evening and philosophizing about life. Barbara enthusiastically agreed and the travel planning was in place …
By the way – who is Barbara?
Barbara lives in the middle of nature in a small wooden house by the lake. She also has a great tiny house on her property. She rents this out to travelers who are looking for solitude. A place I can really recommend! Barbara is an exciting woman. She has already achieved a lot in her life and has at least as many plans for the future.
Originally from Switzerland, Barbara lived some years in Finland. She also fell victim to the sled dog fever and has had a small kennel with 8-12 dogs for many years. After Finland it was Sweden’s turn, where Barbara’s work should be varied. Everything from the owner of a larger tourist facility, to mountain tours with guests, dogs and pulkas, tourism projects to running a grocery store. And if that would not be enough, she makes her free time just as challenging.
Apart from various mountain tours and alpine hikes, she hiked the PCT, the Pacific Crest Trail. A long-distance hiking trail in the USA that she hiked in once – in total 4,270 km!
And the next adventure is already on the horizon. The so-called “White Ribbon” (vita banded in Swedish). You cross the Swedish mountain range for 1300 km from Grövelsjö in the south to Treriksröset in the north. During winter on skis or with sled dogs.
More infos on her website https://simplelifebasics.com
I do not like to pack. So early in the morning stuffed quickly the most important things into the car and too Kitkat with me. After a 3-hour drive we reached our goal close to Skaulo.
Where everything began
This is where my Lapland adventure began in October 2007. Back then, Johanna and I were working in a sled dog camp close by. We got to know each other there. I still remember exactly how it was, 13 years ago. Johanna had picked me up from the train station in Gällivare in her old VW bus. We liked each other at first glance and drove north to the camp in autumnal weather. Highlight were 2 moose passing the road in front of us.
When I saw the hill Avvakko in the distance on the last stretch of the way now, I immediately got the feeling of home again. It is difficult to describe, but the nature here is very different from our home in Miekojärvi. Here the Lappish tundra stretches out to infinity. Large intact swamps, low birch forest and the majestic mountains of the Swedish fells are beautiful. You can literally smell the mountains. It makes me very happy and grateful every time I am near Avvakko.
Before I started my first hike, I stopped by an old friend of ours. He lives in the village of the same name, Avvakko, and I was very happy that he was home. Ronny works in the mine on a weekly shift system. This week he was off! It was nice to see him again and to hear something from his life. That is what I like about Northern Sweden. You just drop by friends and neighbors. Without notice. If you would come to an inconvenient time – no problem. There is always time for a “Fika”, a Swedish coffee break!
The first tour was exactly as I imagined. A small path guided me and Kitkat to the foot of the hill Avvakko and from there it just went straight up. After a few meters we were above the tree line. From here you have a wonderful view of the endless expanse of the arctic nature.
I feel particularly connected to the Avvakko hill.
Our very first hike
The first hike that Johanna and I did together led us to this place.
During our first tour, we made pretty much every mistake that you can make. Badly prepared and with a good portion of overconfidence we set off (I was always out in nature a lot and Johanna was used to hiking from the Alps). We got to know the peculiarities of the nature up here in Swedish Lapland, especially in November. We will probably never forget this first test!
November 2007 – we knew each other for a month, and both worked in the sled dog camp. The winter season had not yet started so we used our days off to explore the area. Johanna and I wanted to go on a camping tour. It should go to the Avvakko hill. On the other side, according to the locals, there was a shelter – easy to find – we wanted to stay there overnight. I knew the first part of the hike because I had been to the top a few days before.
Since we planned to have a shelter and fireplace, we only equipped ourselves with a sleeping bag, a sleeping mat, and some food. You have to imagine that you can get minus degrees and snowfall in November above the Arctic Circle. And so, it was… On the day of our tour, it had snowed overnight, and the temperatures dropped a few degrees below zero. The snow overall was our choice of clothing and some ordinary hiking boots and a backpack.
We were in good spirits and a little bit excited, felt the special chemistry between us. The adventure could start. And we got one, careful what you wish for.
At first it went wonderfully. We found the path and followed it up towards the summit. We took pictures and were not in a hurry at all. During the ascent, fog came in and visibility became significantly worse. Avvakko hill does not have a steep peak, but rather a rounded top with no vegetation. A stone world without any distinctive landmarks. As the fog increased and visibility deteriorated, we slowly but surely became aware of this. How do we notice that we are at the top?
Our tour planning was based on the fact that we would see the shelter from above, which should be on the other side. We were still in good spirits. Above the tree line it became increasingly uncomfortable. It was windy and cold. We decided that we would go a little further down to the tree line and then circle the mountain to the other side. It slowly began to get dark. Fortunately, the little trees offered us at least some protection from the wind.
A neighbor had told Johanna shortly before the tour that the brown bears were already in hibernation. But that they often wake up again when it snows for the first time and that they are hungrily looking for food. Somebody made a joke with Johanna …
The gloomy, mystical forest landscape with all its cracking noises and the snow-covered ground put Johanna into a certain unrest. Are these the bears looking for food? After a while, she urged to go a little higher again to get out of this creepy forest. I did not really share her opinion, found the atmosphere wonderful, so completely different from what I knew from northern Germany. We went a little higher again. When it got even darker, we turned on our head lamps. They gave us light for a short time, but quickly became weaker. We did not check if the batteries were fully charged. A real green horn mistake! Now we know that batteries discharge very quickly in cold temperatures. It is always good to have spare batteries with you.
There we were standing on a hill somewhere, in the middle of the fog, visibility was zero and no windbreak in sight. The darkness was almost complete, and our lights were as good as off. Johanna was still worried about the bears and slowly we were getting tired.
What to do now?
We agreed that we had to find a place to camp and start a fire. Tomorrow the fog would hopefully lift and we would know where we are.
We set out on one last march to find a good camping spot. On the way I unfortunately stepped with my left foot into a small stream that I hadn’t seen under the fresh snow. My shoe immediately filled with water. Great!
We continued. Shortly afterwards we chose an overnight place and without words we began to put our things down and looked systematically for firewood. That was tedious. The few twigs and branches we found were wet. With a lot of patience, we managed to light a fire, but it wanted to be well guarded, because with the damp branches it threatened to go out again any second.
The romantic idea of us around the warm campfire with time for deep conversations remained a romantic idea. We were busy collecting wood and keeping the fire alive. When we finally got to the point where it was burning it was time to eat something. In the light of the small flickering flames, Johanna unpacked our food. We kept this part pretty simple too. A bit of cheese, sausage, crispbread and as a highlight – boiled eggs. Johanna had cooked them shortly before we left, but unfortunately it turned out that they were still almost runny. Either Johanna had made a mistake during the cooking time, or here at the Arctic Circle, eggs simply take longer. Regardless – in our need and our pronounced hunger, we simply ate the eggs with their shells. With crispbread, you hardly notice the crispness of the shell. ?
The evening passed in silence – and yet with a pleasant agreement. We both knew that the essentials mattered here and now. We crawled into our sleeping bags and I fell asleep instantly. I didn’t notice that Johanna kept me from rolling into the fire with my sleeping bag for half the night.
When it got light again, I woke up almost refreshed. Johanna was also awake, much less recovered and rested.
Unfortunately, the fog had not lifted. The question of where we actually were could still not been answered. First plan was to make a fire to boil water for coffee. Because without coffee Johanna would certainly not have gone a step further after the almost sleepless night. We had a small pot and instant coffee. I crawled out of my sleeping bag and tried to get on my boots. But my left shoe was completely frozen stiff. Next greenhorn mistake! After plopping into the stream the day before, the shoe was of course wet. Instead of taking it with me in the sleeping bag, I just put it down next to me. Now it was frozen.
Johanna went to look for firewood. Just like the night before, she found only small twigs and wet bushes. We would not be able to make a decent fire with it this time either. It would never burn so warm that we could thaw my shoe. Let alone to boil water. I would have expected the mood between us to turn bad. It was not like that. We were not very talkative, but we were still solution-oriented and coordinated well.
Now that I think about our first tour together, I notice that even then we were incredibly good at dealing with difficulties.
We hit the frozen shoe against stones, kneaded the leather and finally put my foot in the shoe. Hopefully, the warmth of the foot would soften it a little over time.
Where should we go?
We wondered for a while what the best solution would be and agreed that we would always follow the ascent until it became flat again. Then we are at the top in any case.
We started the ascent in silence. When the terrain flattened out, we stopped. The fog was still thick and visibility was only a few meters. In my opinion we had already hiked to the “other” side the day before, and now had to go over the hill and then descend. Johanna was convinced that we would still be on the “home” side, just much further to the north. According to her theory, we would have to go up, but then along the summit to the left and descend there. So we would automatically be on the path that goes along the foot of the hill.
We disagreed. A lot. In the early stages of our not yet started relationship, this should be a moment we would often remember later.
Neither of us deviated from our points of view. Nobody wanted to argue about it. We decided to go a little further without an agreement, walking in silence. Both were probably busy thinking about how we could convince the other.
Suddenly I discovered a prominent pile of stones. I remembered my tour a few days ago. Those stones are close to the summit. Exactly this pile of stones! And I knew again where we were. And where we have to go. In my eagerness, I forgot to communicate all of these thoughts. Instead I called to Johanna: “There! The stones! ” And immediately started the descent. I literally ran down , delighted with the new orientation. Johanna had no choice but to follow me. It was not until we reached the path below that I stopped. I will probably never forget the question marks in Johanna’s eyes. I explained to her that I recognized the stones. She shook her head in amazement.
Today she is no longer surprised at my spontaneous ideas and changes of direction without further explanation, but she still shakes her head sometimes.
Now I am sitting with Kitkat on the Avvakko in wonderful weather and thinking back to this crazy tour. To Johanna and me, the time together and the last few months. We learned a lot the last years, not only better outdoor skills.
The crisis into which Corona plunged us was, like the fog on our first hike together, dramatic and threatening. The circumstances frightening, the direction not clear. Even now we had different opinions, had to find compromises, trust that the fog will eventually clear and, if it doesn’t, find alternatives.
We are good at that. We have always been able to do that, as I realize now.
Our shelter is not in sight yet. The fog is less impenetrable, but it is still not clear how we can finance the dogs in the long term. Will we find enough people who want to sponsor the dogs? Where can I get the training equipment for autumn training? Can I earn enough money for a living with my new job?
We do not have the answers to any of these questions yet. Our view is limited – but we go step by step. And when we are tired, we take a short break, relax and move on.
Returning happy and relaxed
I smile to myself, pet Kitkats neck. She is satisfied lying next to me all four stretched out. I take my backpack and we start the descent.
On the way back I enjoy the landscape again, say goodbye to Avvakko for this summer and follow the road 300 km to Överkalix. Nature changes about 50 km south of Gällivare. The forests are becoming denser again, the trees higher, more fields and fewer swamps. Autumn has not arrived here yet. It blooms everywhere. The willow herbs shine with their purple flowers on every meadow. Soon my heart beats faster as I get closer to home.
How is the saying? “Borta bra, hemma bäst! “, Which translates as” Somewhere else is good, home is best! ” Exactly!
I met friends, had nice conversations, learned new things and Kitkat and I found each other again. I experienced, felt, and enjoyed nature. And I remembered our first hike on the Avvakko!
Sometimes it is good to get a little distance. To change your perspective and take a little break. I was not in Germany like usual but I was on the road for 3 days and I bring peace and gratitude home with me!
Peace, because Johanna and I have everything to go through this difficult time, and gratitude for my life up here. Sometimes with a frozen shoe in the middle of the fog, sometimes with sudden bankruptcy in times of Corona, but always surrounded by wonderful people, dogs and stunning nature.
I am at home here.