springtime of my sverige.

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In less than a week I’ll be competing in another big ski marathon. I know, I know. After the Vasaloppet, you really want to do this again, Chelsea? Well yes, I do. It’s the Birkebeiner. I’ve been excited abut the Birken for…. years. This year is no exception. I’m ready – to do whatever is possible for my body on that day, to participate, to have a great time. I know that it can’t possibly take 7 hours, since it’s only just over 50 k. So that right there means I will have significantly more fun.

But I digress – I’m going to be competing in a ski marathon. It feels surreal: these days in Uppsala have been warm and sunny. Spring came weeks ago and is not going anywhere. Winter is a distant memory.

And so in the midst of a long run I found myself standing in this magical clearing asking: where did the snow go? What did you do with it, Sweden? Which god have we offended and what can I sacrifice to appease him, or her? I’ll do it.

Don’t get me wrong, spring is lovely. It has been painful to work sitting at my desk all day, looking out the window at the sun that washes over everything and wishing that it could wash over me. I’ve been sneaking in a run here, a bounding session there, as I try to stay somewhat fit for the Birken.

Today I finally had time for a big run, and hit up my favorite place in Uppsala, Hågadalen. Just to get there, I had to make my way on a bike/pedestrian path full of happy people who were thrilled to be out in the spring weather. It was 50 degrees F and everyone was still bundled up, as if they were excited for spring but just weren’t quite sure whether they could trust it or not.

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And then, finally, I was in Håga, navigating my way through the puddles and over the rocks. I adore trail running, adore adore it. There’s something spiritual about being out there in the quiet, absorbing the peace all around you, but also focused so acutely on the little details of the treacherous ground. And yet you can’t be focused too hard. The best thing about trail running is that you achieve a sort of trance state, where you are noticing the bumps and potential trip-ups almost through your peripheral vision and your stride automagically adjusts to take them in. You’re looking, but you’re not looking. It goes deep.

For me the singletrack of Håga is almost like a cathedral, a place which distills and amplifies all those little things about trail running. The quiet is so quiet – you are surrounded my mosses and lichens which soak up the sound in their softness. And the trail is so nimble and twisty. It’s muddy and rocky and rooty and sometimes the best way is to just head off through the heather. I never come back without a scratch as a souvenir.

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And so I was happy, so happy, to be out running in Hågadalen for the first time this year. I had this sense that I belonged. It was magical, especially as I headed toward Rödmossen, where that top photo was taken. Even within Håga, which I already love, Rödmossen is one of my very most favorite places. It seems almost mystical with all that moss and lichen, a spongy sort of forest that can absorb anything. Maybe it would just soak you right up into it. I follow trail signs but always have this nagging sense that the forest has a will of its own, that it’s its own being with wishes and plans. What if there’s something out there switching the signs around? The boggy, fenny, rocky forest would make the perfect labyrinth. I can imagine twisting and turning your way through, stuck forever not knowing which direction you were going. I always think that this area would be a fantastical place for a fairy tale, and indeed these landscapes must have inspired Norse mythology.

These slightly foreboding feelings are seldom at the front of my mind, though. The forest is a happy place. And today it was a happy day, the sun seeping through the trees and me and the forest just enjoying springtime together. And yet – I didn’t belong there. It’s early March! It’s not time for this. No, it is time for skiing. I have had a few snowless late winters in my life – Eugene, Oregon; Montpellier, France – but this is something on a whole new level. It has been spring for weeks and going to Norway will be like a culture shock: white? snow? Spring is lovely, but this was not what I was expecting from Sweden.

It’s the hand I’ve been dealt, though, so I might as well go about enjoying it. Starting in Hågadalen.

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cevennes on the trail of RLS.

I have been hoping to write this up for some time and have finally given up…. so here it is, a quick note and a photo gallery. Last weekend I didn’t really have the weekend off from work, I had to give a presentation on Monday which I hadn’t started putting together yet! And also I wasn’t sure whether I would have to come into the lab on Sunday afternoon. So I put together an unusual travel itinerary: get on the train in Montpellier at 7 a.m. on Sunday, go to the mountains, have a nice night, and then get back on the bus there at 7:15 the next morning to return in time to do my work. Most people don’t plan 24-hour trips this way, but it was great!

I got all the way to Saint-Jean-du-Gard, about 1 1/2 hours away, for less than six and a half Euros, on the train and bus. I was staying at the Château de Cabrières, which I would highly recommend; as far as Chateaus go, it was pretty cheap, and an absolutely amazing location. There were extensive grounds to wander around and my room had not only the huge bed (my requirement for travel these days) but also a huge window, with big French shutters like you imagine in the movies. The Chateau was up on a hill, so the view out the window was over the village and then into the next hills and valleys.

I dropped my stuff off (they were nice to let me check in early) and then hit the trail: the Robert Louis Stevenson Trail. I am now dreaming of coming back and doing a through-hike when I’m in my 40’s. It would be much different than the American style – you can stop and stay at gites, in small villages, or even in chateaus like this one – but it is quite long and has a lot of elevation gain and loss. My out-and-back run on a small section was a blast.

After a great dinner in town, probably the fanciest food I’ve eaten in France at half the cost of a comparable meal in Montpellier, I nestled down, exhausted, to enjoy that big bed. The early morning light woke me up and it was back to Montpellier. Although I would have loved to stay longer, it was a great one-day getaway. The Cevennes National Park area is huge and I was just scratching the surface – I will have to do much more exploring if I have time.