My wife understood that I had been working too hard in the build-up to Christmas. It’s normal for my line of work. It was agreed that after a few days’ rest and serious attention to the kids, I could take some time for myself. Newly armed with a packraft and a fat bike I could re-visit places and redesign my known routes to suit my new dual mode of transport. Blank parts of maps could be filled in, they are there to be explored.
My parents-in-law live a hundred kilometres south of Stockholm. It’s the type of place where farmers complain about the herds of deer eating their crops and the wolves hunting their calves.
The ancient forests hide the small lakes with the larger waterways dictating the road network. It was here we were going to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Eve with my family, and here where I could find my adventure.
The weather was getting colder and Sweden was preparing for the winter. The autumn had been long and dark. At this time of year we’d normally get 5 hours of light per day in Stockholm. This year we only had 2 hours of sunshine for the entire month of December. The grayness was killing me. Most people were hiding in the warmth of their homes. Then a dusting of snow came. My playground had arrived.
As always planning takes time. My father-in-law watched me lay out my gear, tools, boat, drone, safety equipment and more. He watched me map out my route on the computer as I cross referenced different apps and websites. He asked me in his Swedish accent if this part was as satisfying as the actual ride. I gave him a smirk. He knows me too well.
I chose to go to Långsjön. It’s over 3km long but only 200 metres at its widest point. Having been to the lake before but with the restrictions of a sea kayak I wanted to explore it more by bikerafting. I wanted to see what was on the other side, beyond the green walls of the thick forest. At first glance the map looked like dense woodland mixed with marsh and swamps. But then I saw it. A stuga in the middle of nothingness. If there was a house there it must be a way in. My adventure was on.
I left at dawn. The temperature must have been close to zero as I set off in my packraft. Flakes of snow gathered on the top of the water, submerging just enough to make the lake into a giant slushy. It was pure, still and unbroken. As I plowed my way along the narrow waterway I left a trail in my wake. I felt like an explorer discovering a new land. There was no evidence of anyone being there before. A virgin territory.
During a long straight section my eye noticed a break on the surface. It looked like a stick at first but it was moving. Beaver, I presumed but it was too small. As I paddled forward our paths came closer to crossing. It was a minx traversing the lake leaving its own wake in the slush. As it exited the other side I was startled by a large splash behind me. That was a beaver. With my camera at the ready I waited for him to re-emerge. I would easily notice with the snow covering the surface like a flawless blanket. It never happened. I guess beavers can hold their breath for longer than I had patience.
After transforming back into a biker I met up with the trail. From my research I was expecting a tractor wide farmer’s lane. I was wrong. Barely wider than a single track this path had me twisting and turning through the ever denser forest. With the dusting of snow and the branches getting closer to my face I was reminded of Lewis and his lamp post. It felt like I was in his Narnia.
Then there it was. The stuga from the map with a colourful sign announcing it. “Välkommen till paradiset” – “Welcome to Paradise”. Far from the road and deep in the woods the house stood all alone. It was a basic structure, stained in the typical Swedish red colour, in the middle of a clearing. It wasn’t glamorous but it was definitely my kind of paradise. There was nobody home which only added to its mysterious aura.
The trail continued on in the same rolling and looping fashion. Gradually it got wider, turning into a proper 4×4 track as it passed by a series of lakes and 19th century dams. The trees became deciduous as the ancient forest turned into just an old one. Old water mills and farmhouses became a regular sight. Their residents could be seen sitting by their warm fires as I raced against the fading light. Soon it would be dark.
I arrived at my starting point with my trail still visible on the slushy surface. The broken snow showing all where I had gone, if there had been anyone there to see. Ice had formed on my outer layer and I was chilled to the bone. As I arrived back at my in-laws house the snow was all but gone. The winds had changed, now blowing from the south. My task had been completed.
I had designed and rode a route inspired by a dot on a map. I wasn’t to know beforehand but I had found paradise where I never thought to look. Södermanland, my home from home, had revealed a little more of itself. Combining bike and packraft a new door was opened. A new style of adventuring in a land which I had previously felt was all tracked out. I never saw any lions or witches on my journey but I believe I visited Narnia. It was that magical.
A native of Ireland, Michael now calls Sweden home. When he’s not running his jewelery company or being a husband and raising four kids, he spends his time exploring. Never content to sit still if he’s not on an adventure he’s designing the next one. Not that it always goes according to plan but if there’s no hike-a-bike involved then it’s not really bikepacking, right? Michael’s obsession is photography and as a keen amateur he loves to document his bikepacking travels. Mongolia, Georgia and Oman to name a few, but he’s equally happy on a local tour.