Ready to go down the slope.

If you look carefully, you can see a glimpse of blue sky back there! We’re ending our ski trip on a high note, with the best skiing conditions thus far.

Adrian goes down the hill like a hay wagon. Plants his skis wide, aims them in the right direction and then heads straight down. Barely brakes, rarely turns.

Ingrid shows off her hockey stop skills.

Day three of skiing and snowboarding.

Ski school is the best thing ever, and so is skiing, say the kids.

Adrian is progressing in leaps and bounds. He has graduated from the kids’ slopes to the real thing and bravely goes snow ploughing down the green slopes together with us.

Ingrid’s ski school group has gone down blue and red slopes and even a little bit of black. She’s practicing her “hockey stop” and is proud and pleased with the amount of snow that goes flying when she stops.

Eric and I have found a favourite green slope and even though we occasionally try others, we keep coming back to “Grandma’s downhill race”.

I have a new pair of ski boots for today. I’ve never found ski boots particularly comfortable, and the ones I rented initially seemed as good or as bad as any other. But yesterday afternoon I could barely stand or walk in them, because they hurt my shins so badly. I exchanged them for the widest model available, and the difference is huge! Now my shins no longer feel like I’m pushing them into a pair of narrow drainpipes. From my vantage point, my calves look like any other, but I guess my perspective is distorted.

Just like during last year ski trip, and like the year before, the weather here in Stöten is cloudy and the air is full cloud and fog and snow, especially at the top. And it’s windy. When we get to the top of the hill, our thoughts focus on how to immediately start getting down the hill, in between the trees, away from the wind.

This morning the snowfall actually turned into rain. By lunchtime we were all sodden and went back to our apartment to dry our clothes. But the afternoon brought snow again instead of rain, so we went back out.

The kids are enjoying ski school. And enjoying skiing – which was far from a given, since it’s Adrian’s first time and he can be quite cautious about activities where he can hurt himself.

We’re all at very different levels. I have decent technique (I think), but I am cautious and like relaxed skiing on easy slopes, preferably with nice views. Ingrid has no technique and mostly snow ploughs straight down, but likes “adventure” slopes with lots of turns and bumps. Adrian is a total beginner and goes up to the 2nd post on the beginner slope platter lift, then gets off and skis straight down. And Eric snowboards instead of skiing.

So we’ve been splitting up in various constellations throughout the day. The closest thing to skiing together as a family is when Adrian has ski school and the rest of us go down a nice green slope together.

I needed a dose of nature so I went for a long walk.

(It’s a stressful time at work right now. Senior developers have been increasingly dissatisfied with our work situation, and just as we had started work on analysing and improving the situation, we found out the company would get a new CEO. That new CEO arrived a few weeks ago, and he of course has his own ideas about what needs changing. So everything is in a state of flux, but nothing is actually improving yet. It’s going to get worse before it gets better.)

It’s a snowless, cloudy day in February, and it feels like the whole world is the colour of muddy asphalt. And it is actually muddy as well, due to unseasonably warm weather – all of February is normally below freezing, and today’s forecast was +7°C. I stopped for a snack break next to lake Muskan (which you can see in the photo above) and while the ice was still thick, it was dripping and purling like a whole brook.

But it’s not all mud and greyness. With a bit of attention, I found specks of colour here and there. (Although counting my own rucksack as a speck of colour dos feel like cheating a bit…) I also found out that lingonberries, which are quite tart in summer, get milder and sweeter after having been frozen – the taste brought lingonberry jam to mind.

Adrian and I went out cycling and geocaching.

What kind of a winter is this, when we can cycle in the middle of January without winter tyres, because all the snow and ice has long since melted?

The temperature has been around zero for what feels like weeks. Today was no different. But even zero-ish temperatures can feel quite cold when you’re not dressed properly, as I was reminded today. I dressed for a day of normal cycling and hiking, but forgot to take Adrian’s pace into account. Walking with him is closer to standing still, in terms of energy expenditure – far from enough to keep me warm. Most of me was pretty OK but my fingers felt like they were going to fall off. Next time we do anything like this, I’ll take my warmest ski mitts.

We cycled to a small patch of relative wilderness just off of Bromma Airport. I was a bit concerned that it might be noisy there, because it’s right under the runway approach to the airport, but only a handful of smallish propeller planes passed over our heads and didn’t bother us at all.

I guess it might be quite pretty there under better circumstances, but now it was all dull brown shrubs and dead, dry grass. Adrian wasn’t the least bit bothered by that; he wasn’t there for the pretty views. He found a stick early on during our walk and had fun with it all the way. It was a flag that he planted on a stone. It was a walking stick. Best of all, it was an ice breaker. Every frozen puddle we came to, he picked and hammered into tiny pieces. (Until I got too cold and made him move along so we could get to our bikes and I could get my hands warm again.)

Oh, and that small area contained all of eight geocaches, of which we bagged five. Some were even easy enough for Adrian to find.

After more than a week of not doing much (other than cooking, eating, and hanging around) I am in need of physical activity. My body is getting sofa-shaped and my back is getting sore from all the sitting. Today I went walking on Sörmlandsleden.

Christmas wasn’t white, but last night we got a bit of snow, as luck would have it. Everything was covered in a powdery layer of fresh, fluffy snow – very picturesque! The forest looks much prettier in white than in brown and black. Much of it was untouched by human feet, which made it extra beautiful.

Untouched by human feet, but not by any feet. The forest was full of animal tracks. I’ve never hiked after such fresh snowfall before, so I’ve never seen anything like this. I mean, I know in theory that there are animals in the woods. But as a loud and clumsy human walking through the woods, I normally never see them. Maybe a deer in the distance, that’s it. Now I got to see – well, still not the animals, but signs of just how omnipresent they are.

Fox tracks in particular were everywhere along the paths and footbridges. It seemed funny to me at first that a fox would choose to walk on footbridges on Sörmlandsleden. But then again, Sörmlandsleden follows old, established paths, which in turn probably started their lives as animal paths, centuries ago. So it’s not that the fox follows Sörmlandsleden – it’s Sörmlandsleden that follows old fox paths.

Stages 5 and 6 together are about 24-25 km, which is eight hours of walking at my normal hiking pace. Midwinter days are short, so eight hours is just at the limit. I started in the pre-dawn twilight and finished shortly after dark.

November is not a good time of the year for me. It truly drags me down.

I have been getting more and more tired with every day that passes. Tired not so much in my body but in my soul. It takes an effort to get out of bed in the morning, and I wish I could just be done with the day, before it has even started.

The one thing that always helps me when I get into that kind of state is getting out into nature. But even getting out through the door feels like so much work. I need to pack, and prepare some food, and figure out where to go…

By mid-morning, after some prodding from Eric, I had gathered my last reserves and gone out after all. I spent the day hiking around Järvafältet nature reserve – mostly staying away from anything that reminded me of civilization, such as the wide gravel trails with people with their baby strollers, and the small farms.

The first hour passed in a daze, but after that I could feel my energy levels lifting with every minute that passed. By the time it started getting dark I felt like a human being again.

Swedish nature in November is not much to look at. It’s mostly dull, gray and muddy. So was the much of today’s walk. The ground was even still covered in snow in some colder “pockets”, from the recent unseasonable snowstorm we had.

But there was an hour of sunshine in the middle of the day, and while the sun does not rise very high in the sky this time of the year, there were fields where it reached past the tall shadows of the trees, and moments when it broke through gaps in the forest.

The family is gone for the weekend. What does mum do? Turn up the volume on Adele in the entire house and start planning and packing for another solo hike.

I do pack light but some creature comforts are important. I want good, proper food, rather than cheese sandwiches or trail bars. So I packed both a luxury lunch (flatbread wraps with prawns and avocado) and two thermos flasks with hot drink. It weighs a bit, but dull sandwiches or cold drink would just take all the fun out of it.

I picked up Sörmlandsleden where I left off two weeks ago. So finding the beginning of stage 3 was easy. But then after a hundred metres or so, before I actually started walking for real, the trail markings just seemed to disappear. I spent a good quarter of an hour circling around before I managed to pick up the trail again. (Instead of turning right into the woods, the trail first detoured across a parking lot and behind some ugly gravel hills.) From then on it was smooth going.

The first part of the trail was quite similar to the previous stages. But after a couple of hours, as the trail crossed from the nature reserve into the Tyresta national park, the landscape got more and more beautiful. Much of it was still rocky pine and blueberry forest, or mossy spruce forest, and the odd little lake here and there, but somehow it was just… better. Like it had been more artfully arranged, with more pleasing proportions and less distractions. Just beautiful.

The weather was not so beautiful, unfortunately. It was only about 5°C outside, and around midday it started to rain. First just a light misting, and then a drizzle, and from then on it rained until 5 o’clock, sometimes more and sometimes less, with just a few brief breaks. At first I thought I’d cut my hike short if the weather didn’t improve. But I had waterproof shoes and clothes, and a hat and warm gloves, and there wasn’t much wind, and it was not actually pouring… so I just kept going. I was both warm and dry, even if the weather was not.

I was like the fabled frog in hot water, except the water in my case was cold. It would never have occurred to me to go out hiking in the rain, but since I was already out hiking and the rain only came gradually, I never saw a reason to jump out.

The only two downsides of hiking in the rain were (a) the way the hood of my waterproof jacket rustles and blocks ambient sound, and (b) it was harder to take photos. I have no rain cover for my camera, so I had to put it in my backpack to protect it, and stop to dig it out when I wanted to take photos. Which was a right hassle, so I took far fewer photos than I’d have done otherwise.

The shelter at Årsjön protected me from the elements during my lunch break, and I had brought an insulated jacket to keep me warm. I postponed my other meal break until it was nearly dark, and luckily it stopped raining just as I was thinking that I’d have to eat in the rain (because section 4 has no shelter). It was just me and a few small birds in a twilit mossy forest.

Section 4 of Sörmlandsleden was ordinary forest. The contrast to the beauty of section 3 was stark. On the plus side, while the best parts of section 3 were quite busy, this section was completely empty of people. I met a group of boys with their leader at the very beginning, and not a soul after that.

There is a qualitative difference between hiking with few people around, and hiking with no people around.

By the end of this section it was dark outside. I had brought a headtorch so the darkness was not a problem, but I didn’t really see much of my surroundings. I was also getting tired at this point. The two sections are listed as 12 km and 9 km respectively. But somehow my hike totalled not 21 but 24,5 km, and therefore took over an hour longer than I had planned. It’s a good thing the final part of the trail went through unexciting nature, basically just little forested patches of land between residential areas and some light industry – I don’t think I missed out on anything unforgettable there.

Sörmlandsleden 1+2. Another rainy hike. A previous hike in Tyresta.

Having done two weekend walks in the company of others and come home semi-satisfied from both, I decided to go out on my own this time.

I’ve been thinking for a while of starting to walk Sörmlandsleden, or at least its more accessible sections: the entire path stretches 1000 km throughout the county of Sörmland and is perhaps not entirely doable without overnight stays and dedicated transport. So today I got started with stages 1 and 2.

My start happened to coincide with the start of Sörmland Ultra Marathon, a 50 km run mostly along the Sörmlandsleden. But those 200 runners quickly disappeared from view and most of the time I was walking on my own, which was just the way I liked it.

The views were nice and varied but nothing spectacular. A bunch of little lakes overlooked by rocky bluffs, pine forests with blueberry bushes, some fir and birch and oak, a few meadows.

After 14 km of walking I briefly considered doing section 3 as well, but I would have reached the end after dark and after the last bus back to civilization, so I had to give up that idea. Instead I walked a few extra kilometres to Tyresö castle, hoping to get a hot meal at the café there. The extra walk there was nice, castle was pretty standard, but the salmon quiche served at the café was the stingiest one I’ve ever had.

We went geocaching in Ursvik. Cycled all the way there with Adrian on the tow bike; it worked great. I’m so glad I bought it.

Of the four caches we attempted, two turned out to be located up in trees. The first one was relatively easy, but did require Ingrid to climb onto my shoulders to get up to the first branch.

We spent a good while on the second one, but finally gave up. It was harder than the first one to even get started on – my shoulders were not high enough and Eric had to step in. First Ingrid climbed up to look for it, but turned back after having climbed to about 8 metres’ height. Then I tried and got to about 10 metres or so before coming back down, for reasons of security. Neither of us could even see the cache. Maybe we passed it; maybe it was still above us somewhere. I am miffed. We will have to go back there and spend more time on reconnaissance on the ground before starting to climb.

Still, a day we will all remember, and both Ingrid and I had fun climbing!