Week 1: Fire Building (Judarskogen Nature Preserve)
Materials needed: Headlamps, firewood, coat, hiking boots, snacks, good attitude
Step 1: Take the green line on the tunnelbana to the Ängbyplan stop.
Step 2: Walk 5 minutes from the tbana stop to the Judarskogen Nature Preserve – a wooded area with hiking trails surrounding a placid lake.
Step 3: Overzealously put on headlamp. Accidentally break headlamp and decide to use the light of the stars to guide you instead.
Step 4: Listen as Hanna, our Outdoor Ed coordinator, gives us instructions on how to construct a good fire. There seems to be a contentious debate about whether the teepee method or the log cabin method is better. Opt for teepee because it sounds more fun.
Step 5: Forget most of what Hanna said, and watch as Bryn (an outdoor trip leader) and Dean (an Eagle scout) do most of the work. Provide moral support and twigs for kindling as needed.
Step 6: Think of your best, most twisted riddles and do your best to stump the group. Reflect on what it has been like so far living in Sweden. Let the sounds of laughter and lively conversation warm you almost as much as the fire in front of you.
Step 7: Look up at the stars, take a deep breath of cold air, and remember how good it feels to be outdoors just for the sake of being outdoors.
Step 8: Take tunnelbana back to Hornstull as quickly as possible. Stop at ICA (the local grocery store) on the walk home for popcorn and weirdly-flavored Pringles.
Step 9: Commence Bachelor viewing party. Die of laughter as one of the contestants accidentally explodes an entire bottle of champagne in her face.
Week 2: Sauna and Polar Plunge (Hellasgården Sauna)
This adventure is a bit farther out than the last one. We take the tunnelbana to Slussen, and then have a 25-minute bus ride to the Hellasgården sauna. When we arrive, we walk down a candlelit path lined with cabins to get to the sauna building. You can rent a cabin for the night for a relatively cheap price, which I definitely plan on doing at some point.
We get into the locker rooms, all of us nervously giggling and talking a little too loudly. This is the moment where we have to take all of our clothes off to shower before we can enter the sauna. The showers are just a series of showerheads lining the room, with no curtains or dividers of any sort between them. So now, despite the fact that I met this group of people literally less than 2 weeks ago, they’re going to see more of my body than most people ever will. Our discomfort and prudishness are palpable as we all do our best to take off our clothes and shower as quickly and discreetly as possible. Meanwhile, around us other Swedish women walk naked with no seeming sense of embarrassment or spectacle. After showering we wrap our towels around ourselves and go into the sauna. There are about 7 other women in there when we go in; a wide range of ages.
I have never been in a sauna of any sort before, so excuse me if this is a dumb thing to be describing, but the warmth in that room was a warmth like nothing I’ve ever felt before. It was a heat so deep and intense that it felt almost spiritual. The air is thick and heavy and coats your entire body in the most comforting way. I could have fallen asleep in a second, but it was more fun to instead focus on my breathing and the feeling of my muscles loosening as I settled into the atmosphere around me. My mind usually wanders off pretty easily, but in this moment I felt completely present and at one with my body.
And that was the most interesting part of the experience — feeling connected to and at ease with my physical body in a way I don’t often feel. In that room, bodies were just bodies. Not sexualized, politicized zones of focus and attention. No one seemed to care about being naked, and there was no reason to feel insecure or on display because everyone was in the exact same position. Not to get too dramatic about it, but there really was something empowering about being in such a vulnerable position yet feeling so comfortable and at ease with myself and my body. All of the Outdoor Ed kids went into the sauna fully wrapped in our towels, but by the end of our first 20-minute stint almost all of us had cast them aside. It truly did seem to be the Swedish way of sauna-ing.
When it got too hot to bear, we went outside into the clear, starry night. We padded down to the lake, bare feet slipping on the wet stones and slippery dock. Shaking in our towels and visibly steaming in the cold air, the thought of entering the black, choppy water seemed not only stupid, but impossible. But somehow the ridiculousness of where we were and what we were doing made me want to take the next step. Why not? I took a deep breath, dropped my towel, and jumped.
The cold. An instant shock to the system. Every nerve and fiber awake and singing. Pure adrenaline. When I got out of the water I felt numb, my body confused by the temperature extremes it was subjected to in such quick succession. After everyone had jumped, we went back to the showers, and then back to the sauna. Rinse and repeat. We jumped into the lake four times in total.
We finished the night refreshed, rejuvenated, and definitely a lot more comfortable with each other than when we came in. I know there are probably less extreme ways to bond with people, but this was a pretty good deal in my book.
Week 3: LLC Weekend (Tyresta National Park)
When I pictured caving, I was thinking of maybe having to stoop my head a little to duck under a rock ledge, looking at some stalactites and stalagmites, maybe seeing a bat or two.
What I wasn’t picturing? Army crawling on my stomach, my body wedged in impossibly thin gaps in between giant stone slabs, the weight of an entire mountain pressing in on all around me. Hanging by only my hands over a 15-foot drop and somehow managing to not yeet myself into oblivion. Being foolishly convinced to squeeze my way into the “Friendly Room,” a small hole where, if you turned your headlamp on, you could see about fifty female cave spiders on the walls surrounding you close enough to touch, each bulging with a sac of baby spiders ready to hatch. Being so far inside of a mountain you couldn’t fathom which way was which, or why any human would have voluntarily gone in there in the first place.
It was exhilarating, it was scarier than I thought it would be, and it was like nothing I have ever done before, which honestly seems to be the theme of my LLC experiences so far.
Slightly less extreme LLC weekend activities included:
- Hiking on a rocky ridge blanketed by soft mosses in every shade of green imaginable
- Making smores by our second teepee fire (I actually helped make this one) (the marshmallows in Sweden are much better, they’re larger and more vanilla-y)
- Going on a late night walk for fika in a castle near our cabin, and walking through the castle gardens at sunset
- Cooking dinner as a group and nearly bleeding out after cutting myself while trying to cut the world’s thickest sweet potato
- Belting out Christmas songs with Jojo in a hole in the cave as we waited for the others to catch up to us
- Making fun of Evan endlessly for bringing a carry-on suitcase for a 1-night trip instead of a backpack like the rest of us
- Feeling extremely grateful for the opportunities I have been given here and for the second family and home I have found in Sweden