Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Getting Lost in the (Swedish) Woods

I had the exciting opportunity to visit Sweden a few weeks back for some work
training. I had one extra day to do as I pleased. The logical choice was a nice, long trail run in the Swedish backcountry. A friend and colleague of mine, Mattias, met me for a few beers the night I got in and we reviewed a nice, well marked trail that more or less traverses the western coast of Sweden from north to south. The Swedish name for the trail is the Bohusleden Trail. I believe a rough translation is "running around in circles" Trail. The website for this trail has perhaps the best user interface I have ever experienced in a park website. I went to Sweden armed with a series of topos, with the trail well illustrated, and locations of interest marked. Plus, Mattias promised me it was one of the most well marked trails on the planet. All I had to do was follow the orange marking.

Actual photo from my run. You can see 5 trail markings in this photo alone. It's nearly impossible to get off trail.

The plan was to hop on a bus in the morning and take it 35Km (yeah, I'm gonna be annoying and report everything in km for this post) north to an old fortress that used to sit on the Swedish-Norway border a long time ago. From there I'd run back to the hotel. If any of my trail running partners are reading this right now, they are likely cringing. It would be an understatement to say that I am somewhat directionally challenged. I know this, and wouldn't have taken on such
an endeavor if I weren't so well prepared.

I got to the fortress around 9:30 in the morning, 1.5 hours before it opened. I decided to run a few km north along the trail, and then head back to the fortress for a tour. The trail was quite breathtaking. It ran up and down forested rolling hills, passing through several homesteads and such. Early season wildflowers were in bloom. I felt like I was running through some enchanted forest. I was so enchanted, in fact, that I totally lost track of time and ended up going about 8-9
km north before remembering to turn around.

The Bohus Fortress. Parts of it are over 700 years old.

I kept expecting to run upon a cake house with a cannibal witch inside.

There were miles and miles of these stone walls. I can only imagine that they were built by hand hundreds of years ago.

I made it back to the castle around noon. I did the tourist thing for about 45
minutes. I was a bit bummed that all of the dungeons were barred shut, but
overall the fortress was pretty sweet. Shortly after the fortress tour, I made my
first really boneheaded decision. Up until this point, I never went more than 50
yards with out seeing a trail marker. For some reason, I justified running about 1-
2 km without seeing a marker. I was obviously going in the wrong direction. Once
I finally gave into logic, I backtracked and eventually found the correct trail. It
was now about 1:30pm, and I had covered maybe 1km out of the 35km I needed
to cover to get back to my hotel.

Obligatory weird architecture shot for Popes.

I ran up a hill, through a small town with some cool buildings before once again
finding myself on some pretty sweet single track. About 5km from the fortress I
came upon one of the most confusing signs I had ever seen in my life.

I really hate this sign. A lot.

The Swedish language likes to jam entire sentences into a single word. Looking
at my map, I could see that I needed to run through a place called "Vattlefjall".
The problem was that the majority of this word was included in the descriptions
for both directions. To complicate things, both trails were marked in orange. I
justified that "Vattlefjallsleden" was the wise choice, and off I went. I followed
this trail though some fantastic single track, which likely contained over 1km of
boarded trails over marshy areas. Those Swedes take care of their trails.

I got a bit bored in this section of the trail.

About an hour later I came upon another sign. This sign pointed in two
directions. Both directions were labeled "Bohusleden". Well, F@ck. Now what
to do? I stopped briefly, decided to trust my instinct, and headed off in the
absolutely wrong direction. About 45 minutes later I ran by the exact same sign
shown above. And by "ran by," I mean, I actually went a good minute or two
down the trail before it dawned on me that I had just ran a huge circle and was
heading back towards the damn fortress.

I took the picture you see above as I ran by the sign for the third time. If you
look closely, you can see a red and white flag hanging from the sign. That is an
international orienteering waypoint flag - oh the mocking irony.

"You're going the wrong way Jackwagon"

I would revisit this section of trail a few hours after taking this photo.

By this time it was a good six hours into my run and I had covered maybe 5km
of the 35 km I needed to get back to my hotel room. I decided to follow the
correct trail south and see how many more stupid decisions I could make. I
was somehow still having a great time. The scenery likely had a lot to do with
it. If there is a place to run around in circles like an idiot, this was it. I ended up
running maybe another 10km until I came to a small village outside of Angered.
I stopped at a local shop and picked up a $3 Coke and some weird cookies. There
was a major bus-stop by the shop, and I recognized the stop for my hotel on
one of the route descriptions. It was about 5pm at this time, and I decided the
prudent thing to do was to bail and ride the bus back to the hotel. In all, I think I
covered about 55km (34M) in about 8 hours, but was still a good 20km from my
hotel. I am proud to say it is one of my more accomplished getting-lost efforts to
date, and I've had a lot.

Views like this helped me keep my sanity

I passed a few of these shelters along the way. They are open to the public on a first come basis. I was convinced I may be staying in one of these at a certain point in my adventure.


Yeah, I should grow up... sounds painful though.

This post is long enough already, but in case you're not bored yet, below are some touristy photos from my trip.

A Mussolini Urinal. Yeah, you're supposed to piss on him.

My Swedish Friends

The bar of the night. I'm not fluent in Spanish, but I did work construction for a summer. This is one of the phrases I did learn.

No European story is complete without a disco tech photo.


  1. Awesome story Ryan - love the photos!

  2. You have the best stories and race reports! Seriously. Please post more!

  3. man, and i thought i got lost. great place to do it though... so jealous!

  4. Farthinder? I laughed out loud. I would have freaked out getting lost in the woods in a foreign country. You took it all in stride (ha,ha)!