1,300km of trail stretch in front of you. Your pack, containing your ‘home’ (tent), ‘bed’ (sleeping bad and mat) and food (packets of unappetising freeze-dried, calorie-dense meals) , sits squarely and heavily on your back. You’ve set yourself 70 days. Will you make it in time? Before Swedish winter brings inhospitable weather. Will you make it in one piece? Mosquito bites and weight loss notwithstanding. Will you still like each other after spending so much time together without any ‘regular life’ distractions getting in the way? When friends Martin Olson and Martin Andersson started trekking the Green Ribbon (Gröna Bandet) in Grövelsjön last July, these were the thoughts running through their heads. A year on, with the trek behind them how do they feel?
“I’m still feeling the benefits. It was funny, after walking 1,300km in 60 days – 10 days less than planned – when we got back everyone we met commented on how much energy we had,” says Martin Andersson. “Everything just felt easier. We were invigorated. I still feel that – the focus. I don’t know whether it’s more perspective on life and all that – that sounds cliché. But spending all that time out there, free from stuff, has had major psychological benefits for me. I will definitely do something like it again.”
The idea for walking the Green Ribbon came one night over a few beers. Martin Olson had always wanted to do it, but for one reason or another hadn’t got around to it. “Life just happens,” he explained. But a few drinks in, one Martin convinced the other that it’d be a good idea. And as the night wore on dreams started turning into plans.
“The trail basically followers the entire Swedish mountain range. I walked some sections already, but I thought it’d be really cool to combine it all into one trek,” says Martin O.
The Green Ribbon trail is well-established, if not well-known route. There are seven points you must pass by and you must complete all sections by foot (with the odd bit of help from boatmen when crossing dangerous rivers). The trek starts in Grövelsjön and finishes in Treriksröset. It can be done in summer, by foot, or winter, on skis. The upland landscapes rolls higher and higher into mountains; rivers span out into deltas; forests give way to scrubby tundra. It’s a landscape of change. On top of all that, the 60 days the guys took to walk the distance saw them through summer into autumn. This changing of the seasons is stark in the mountains. Lush greens are replaced by reds, oranges and yellow in late August. White snow christens the mountain tops in September. The days shorten and sunsets burn brighter.
“The scenery was amazing. It’s was kept us going all the time. Even in bad weather, which we didn’t have much of, the landscape was beautiful,” says Martin A.
But it wasn’t just the scenery that captivated them. The people they met along the way also ensured this trip would stay in their memories for ever. From reindeer meet to beer and chocolate, people opened up their kitchens and themselves to the two Martins, in a way that Swedish city dwellers aren’t used to. This was mostly out of friendliness, but also curiosity.
“At one point we were walking with our bags on an old milk cart to give out backs a rest,” explains Martin A. “We got it from this guy named Eken (The Oak). He was a real character, that’s for sure.”
They met Eken in a garden and hardware store after they got the crazy or ingenious idea of using a wheelbarrow to cart their bags for the day’s 30kms, which were along asphalt roads. “He was suggesting all these ideas in the store, but then he just asked us to follow him. We got in his car, drove round the corner to his home, and that’s where he gave us this cart. We explained we were walking 30km one-way, we weren’t coming back. And he just said, ‘that’s no problem, I know a lady working in a café over there. So you can just leave the cart with her and I’ll pick it up in a few weeks.’ and that was that,” says Martin A.
And once they had this cart, well they started piquing the interest of everyone they passed. They got chocolate and beer as reward for their ‘entertainment’.
But it wasn’t all smiles and smooth sailing. At one point, fairly early on, Martin O became really ill. “I could barely walk. I couldn’t eat anything and everything was difficult. It was ironic, because I got sick after eating at a hotel. It wasn’t anything we did on the trek.”
Despite it being a challenging and somewhat worrying experience for both Martins – “I basically had to coax Martin (O) along each day,” says Martin A – it actually brought them closer together. The old adage, what doesn’t break you only makes you stronger definitely rings true here. “It strengthen us actually. In a way it was good it happened so early in the trip,” says Martin A, “as it welded us together and brought us closer.”
Over the course of two months they learned a lot, about each other, themselves and life. But also about trekking.
“Start slow,” says Martin A. “That’s the most important think. Don’t be in a rush. If you go slowly you can just relax and enjoy being out in nature.”
“And go light. You actually don’t need that much stuff,” says Martin O. “We had 20kgs each and that included 5kgs of camera gear. With good equipment, you really don’t need a lot.”
“Yeah, but focus on staying dry,” says Martin A, which is easier said than done in Sweden, in the mountains, in late summer and autumn. But actually the guys were lucky. With less than a handful of bad weather days slowing them down.
And finally, they both stress the importance of changing into clean, dry socks regularly. “Blisters and sweaty feet are two things you definitely don’t want when trekking 1,300km,” says Martin A.
Neither Martin ever thought about giving up. And on a trek like the Green Ribbon, you can take your time; you can call into towns to refresh supplies, both your own and with more food. You can take rest days or slow days. You can walk long or short. And at the end of it all, you can reward yourself with all your favourite foods in one sitting and a marathon-run of all seven series of Game of Thrones from the comfort of a hotel room, like the Martins did.
“It’s about making it your trek. Just enjoy it,” says Martin A.
Images: Martin Olson
Text: Sarah Benton