Side trip to Åre

A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it. ~John Steinbeck

During our recent vacation in Sweden, while staying with my cousin Fredrik and his wife, Anna, we innocently asked if there were any good places we could go for a hike. They are both very fit and love the outdoors, so I figured they would be a good resource. They enthusiastically suggested that we take a night train up north to Åre, a popular skiing town with a good-sized mountain, Åreskutan. We impulsively jumped on the idea, and booked the trip for the next week, leaving late Monday night and returning Thursday morning.

We spent that Monday sightseeing in Stockholm, and then after dinner and a few drinks, we made our way to Central Station. Our train was over an hour late, and when we arrived at our cabin, it was locked. We had to wait nearly another hour to get in. The beds (we each had a top bunk, with two people below us) were more like hammocks, and getting in and out of them without kicking someone in the head was pretty tricky. In addition, the 400+ mile ride up north to Åre was punctuated with multiple interruptions as people came and left the tiny 6-person cabin, and conductors came numerous times to check our tickets. Sleep, we did not. Upon arrival in Åre, we immediately checked into the hostel. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that we could go right to our room, despite it being only 9:30 in the morning. We did not hesitate, and proceeded to nap until 1 in the afternoon. It was probably the best sleep we had the entire trip.

Once we were sufficiently rested, we wandered down the steps and found a nice spot to eat a late lunch, then had coffee at a place down the street. Around 4:30 or so, we figured we should probably get started on our hike. We had neglected to bring our Camelbaks, not knowing we’d have the opportunity to use them, but we packed some water and a couple snacks in Curt’s backpack and started up the mountain, having only a vague idea what route we would take to the top. Unfortunately, we found out the hard way that they were installing new cable car routes, which made finding the hiking paths rather difficult as much of the landscape had been pretty much leveled. After walking up some steep dirt roads and then trudging through a nearly vertical field of knee-high thorny shrubs, we made our way to the saddle and were finally above the treeline, where the posts marking the trail were clearly visible.

The hike was challenging, and we traversed a few spots that were still covered by an impressive amount of snow. As we neared the top, it became incredibly windy and cold, despite the sun beating down on us from overhead. I was grateful for the knee-high socks I’d purchased, and for my hoodie that I’d nearly left behind. We didn’t spend much time at the summit, as it was cold and we were eager to get back to town for a celebratory beverage, but the view from the top was breathtaking…we could probably see Norway from where we were, and the mountain range and all the little villages below were stunning to take in. Apart from a helicopter performing some interesting maneuvers quite a distance below us, we did not encounter a single soul on our descent. The mountain was completely deserted.

It was almost 9pm when we finished our descent, but since it was midsummer and we were so far north, we still had the benefit of daylight. We cleaned up, went out for a nice dinner and a couple drinks, and then headed back to the hostel, where we were relieved to find we had the room to ourselves. At least we’d get a decent night’s sleep before having to endure the joys of another night train. The next morning, we enjoyed a tasty (and free!) breakfast, and then checked out. The manager told us we could leave all of our bags there for the day, and come and go as we please. This was excellent news, and we took full advantage. After wandering around town for a bit, we decided to rent a couple cruiser bikes and venture into the next town, Duved, which was about 5 miles away. I had some false starts on the bike (it’s been a while!), but we finally got going and had a nice ride along the lake.

When we got to Duved, we stopped in for some pretty amazing stir fry at Surjämten, a Czechoslovakian place where the owner suggested we have some Budějovický Budvar – the “original Budweiser”. I thought he was just pulling our leg, but I later Googled it and found out that it’s true. Learn something new every day! It definitely hit the spot, and the ride back to Åre was much more relaxed. We dropped the bikes off, then meandered around town before grabbing dinner and then heading down to the train station.

The train ride home to Stockholm was awful, but once we got back to my aunt and uncle’s house and were able to get some rest and a hot shower, we knew that we’d made the right decision. It was great getting to hike a mountain in Sweden, and to see a part of the country that even my mom had never been to. Looking back, it’s also pretty much the only real exercise we had while we were away. I’ll touch on the ramifications of that later…

For now, some pictures! 🙂

Downtown Åre.

Downtown Åre.

Where's the trail?

Where’s the trail?

Teeny tiny town below.

Teeny tiny town below.

Summit of Åreskutan! Hooray!

Summit of Åreskutan! Hooray!

Biking around Duved.

Biking around Duved.

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