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Wide Welkin and Speaking Stones, Part 1: Is there Jet Lag Where the Sun Never Sets?

October 13, 2012
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This is part 1 in a series.  See the introduction for background.

August 7, 2012

Well, this isn’t an especially auspicious start to what was supposed to be a regular journal – I’ve missed two days before even starting! In my defense, I was sick and tired.  Now I am somewhat less sick and somewhat less tired, and it’s morning on the train to Abisko.

I slept as much as I could on the flight, which was not a lot, but at least my eyes were closed.  I hope all my snuffing didn’t make the woman next to me sick.  The Baltic was perfectly clear as we glided in to Stockholm, so it was like landing on islands in the sky.  I wrote a haiku about it in my sleep, but I don’t remember most of it anymore.

The ticket machine for the Arlanda Express, the train to the city, wouldn’t recognize my credit card because it didn’t have the chip that has become standard on European cards, so I had to go back up the stairs to the information booth.  This actually turned out to be a good thing, because I hadn’t realized that being under 26 years old qualified me for a half-price ticket.

So I arrived at Stockholm Central Station at about 9 in the morning, and then spent quite a lot longer there than I needed to because being runny-nosed and flat-out exhausted made figuring out the baggage lockers very, very hard.  They wouldn’t recognize my credit card either, you see, and while some took coins I didn’t have any coins and couldn’t see where to get any.  So I went back up to tourist information, where they told me there was a change machine by the lockers; back down to the lockers, where I still couldn’t find it; back up, where I milled around in confusion, picked up a map of Stockholm from the tourist information desk, and tried to figure out if I could get away with just taking my luggage with me on my errands.

The answer, which I arrived at after a great deal of contemplation, was pretty clearly no.  So I went back down the stairs to the luggage lockers … and there was the change machine, staring me in the face.

It only took 20 kr and 50 kr bills.  I had a 500 kr bill.  Somewhat guilty-faced, I bought a 25 kr cup of orange juice with my 500 kr bill, locked up my backpack, and went on my way.

I had seven hours before my train left for the north, and two things to accomplish: one, go to an outdoor store and buy a fuel bottle, some maps, bug repellent, and possibly a wooly hat; and two, buy my first week of provisions.  The latter was more urgent, because I didn’t know what kind of grocery store there was in Abisko, but I had the address of a Stockholm outdoor store and I didn’t remember where the grocery store was.  So I set out for the outdoor store – on foot, though it was a ways away, hoping that if I saw enough of Stockholm I would remember where the grocery store was, and also hoping that if I kept moving I wouldn’t fall asleep.

I’d forgotten what a crazy street layout Stockholm has.  It looks like a pretty regular grid on the map, but streets disappear into tunnels, climb over each other on bridges, dead-end, are pedestrian-only alleys … it took me a long time to find the outdoor store, despite it being on one of the major roads.  But I got my fuel bottle in the end.

Then I sat down in the sun of a nearby churchyard for a bit.  The bell tolled noon.  People emerged to eat their lunches next to the gravestones.  I pulled out my map of Stockholm, made my best guess at where the grocery store might be (I remembered it was in the basement of some mall somewhere in central Stockholm), and hauled myself to my feet once more.

Well, I didn’t find the grocery store, though it later turned out I’d been quite close.  Instead I wound up at the Kungstradgården and found another tourist information counter, where they gave me directions.

At the grocery store I discovered an unanticipated aspect of solo hiking, which is that if you need 700 g of dinner starches and the smallest package of rice is 500 g, you’re going to be eating the same thing for dinner a lot.  Oh, well.  At least I corrected the meal-planning mistake of the England trip four years ago and bought enough lunch/non-cooking foods.  I hope.  I might have overdone it on the soup … and I’m a little concerned about fitting all this food into my pack.  As well as about the weight.  My pack weighed 16 kg going onto the airplane, and when you factor in what was in my carryon, about 5 kg of food, 1 liter of water, and 1 liter of fuel … I’m going to at about 50 pounds.  I hope I’m not, but that’s probably what’s going to happen.

I also got some sandwich things, fruit, and vegetables, and walked back to Kungstradgården to eat my lunch.  It was 2 pm, and I hadn’t eaten since the airplane breakfast at 6:30.  I tore into it like a starving hyena.

Then I got kicked out of the table where I’d been sitting, because it turned out it was reserved for customers of the nearby hotdog stand, and I started to cry because I was so tired.  I had no idea how long it had been since I’d slept, and I wasn’t going to tally it up because that would just make the jet lag worse.  My nose was still running, my throat was itchy, I was pretty sure I was running a fever, and it was still three or four hours before I could get on the train and lie down.

At least it was a nice day to be sitting in a park snivelling, and at least I’d managed to leave my large backpack at the train station.

I made it back to the train station eventually, retreived my backpack, and re-packed it with as many of my groceries as would fit – they were all still in their original packaging and I didn’t want to do a lot of re-packing in the station, since that seemed a recipe for belongings scattered and lost.  As I was repacking, a woman came up to me and told me about a Swedish nature reserve where some courageous environmentalists are blocking the bulldozers of evil, development-minded Finns as I write. (That’s not quite how she phrased it, but that was her implication.) She gave me a quarter card, but it just had a QR code on it and don’t have a smartphone, so I don’t have any more information.

There were lots of young people with backpacks at the station, and also lots of families with kids and backpacks.  I watched them come and go, wondering where they were coming from and going to, and I dozed, holding on to my luggage, and periodically I got up to see if my train’s track had been posted yet.  When it was I went to the platform, but there were no benches there and my feet started getting sore.  I judged everybody’s backpacks, trying to decide if mine was unreasonably big, and didn’t come to any good conclusion – it was hard to compare since I didn’t know if people had gotten their food yet, people in groups shared gear, and everybody’s packs had different dimensions and pocket arrangements.

The train was about fifteen minutes late, but it came, and I got on it.  There was one other woman in my six-person compartment.  We both dozed.  When I woke she was gone, though her things were still there, so I guessed she had left for dinner, and another woman was just coming in, and I realized I was drooling.  I wiped my face in embarrassment and asked if she wanted any help with her luggage, since she had a walker, but either she didn’t need any or didn’t understand me, because she didn’t reply.

I ate some bread, peas, and cookies and then, fearing I might wake up hungry, went looking for the restaurant car.  At first I went the wrong direction and wound up at the back of the train, watching the tracks run away behind us.  When I finally found it, the restaurant didn’t have much of anything I wanted to eat.  Well, if I woke up hungry in the middle of the night, I could manage on the lunch leftovers I’d been saving for breakfast.  It’s not like my body could get much more confused.

When I got back to my compartment, woman #1 was still missing and woman #2 had folded down the beds.  We had some fun trying to figure out how to turn off the lights, though I’m not sure why they were on in the first place as it was still quite light outside.  At 9:20 pm I lay down at last.  I woke several times that night – when woman #3 arrived, talking what seemed like far too loudly and far too long, though probably it was neither; and at two, four, and seven am.  It was light every time I woke, and each time, after watching the taiga running by in the mist outside my window, I fell asleep again.

I woke for good around eight, well-rested, fever gone, my nose mostly dry.  The scenery was going by in the opposite direction, so they must have rearranged the train during the night – that explained the bumps I’d felt.  I got some coffee from the restaurant car, which was a different one though in the same direction, and brought it back to my compartment to drink with the last of my leftovers from the day before.  My knife was still packed so I just gnawed on my cucumber, feeling rather barbaric.

We passed many towns I’ve been to – Gallivare, Murjek.  I’ve been on this train before, but never so far north along its line.  The trees are growing shorter, and fog creeps down the mountains.  There’s a chill in the air, and I’m glad of my sweater.

I hope I don’t miss my stop; we’re somewhat delayed, so I’m not sure when we’re getting to Abisko.

There’s a kid down the car wearing fluorescent yellow hiking pants.  I guess her parents don’t want to misplace her on the tundra.

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