Day 1:
100% Natural Ice
Day 2:
On Lake Mälaren
Day 3:
Race Day in Uppsala
Day 4:
Baltic Sea Islands
Day 5:
Tailwind to Sigtuna
Skating in the Vikings' footsteps ... Monday, February 15.
Like me, Arjen Meurs was enjoying a few extra days of skating after Vikingarännet. We met at Fridhemsplan station and rode the Green Line subway to the end of the line at Hässelby Strand. From there it was a short walk to the ice on Lake Mälaren. Quickly clamping our skates onto our boots, we let the wind whisk us away in the direction of Sigtuna, 25 miles to the northwest, following an ancient Viking trading route. This route, in the opposite direction, will be the race course for Vikingarännet next winter if all goes well.

The clouds had returned, it had snowed overnight and the wind was on the rise, leaving alternating patches of bare ice and windblown snow. In the gray ice we could see the fossilized tracks of dozens of weekend skaters. A single pair of fresh skate tracks pierced the new snow ahead of us. Here and there we saw a mountain bike track. Not a single snowmobile was in sight or within earshot. With gasoline prices over $4 per gallon, snowmobiles don't see much action in Sweden.

As we followed the lakeshore north, the suburban apartment complexes thinned out. We looked up from the ice and suddenly realized we were surrounded by pristine wilderness. The ice under our skates stretched away in all directions to rocky shorelines bristling with evergreen trees.

Kristian, Ylva and Arjen in the middle of Lake Mälaren
Through the gaps between islands we could see more ice, then more islands, to the horizon. And on the ice only Arjen and I, following one mysterious pair of fresh skate tracks.

We never caught sight of the creator of those tracks, but the tracks diverged to the west past a rocky bluff where our route veered north. We stopped at the bluff for a fika, or snack break. It was obvious that many skaters had taken their fika here over the weekend. We saw more old skate tracks frozen in the ice, bits of orange peel scattered among the rocks, and to our amazement we spotted one cigarette butt. Careful not to contribute to the litter, we stuffed the empty wrappers in our pockets and skated to the village of Kungsängen, where we had to get off the ice for a half-mile "portage" around a patch of open water.

We walked through a deserted boatyard to Kungsängen's main street, took a right, passed under a railroad track, under a busy highway, then turned off into the woods, crossed another railroad track and scrambled down a steep slippery slope to the ice. There we found schoolteacher Andre Bergström giving ice-fishing lessons to a group of students. Andre told us the ice was 25 centimeters (10 inches) thick, so we didn't bother to test it. You can always trust an ice fisherman.

Skating north, the wind at our backs accelerated, and so did we. And now there were two skaters coming toward us, fighting the wind. Far out on the windswept ice, we met. "Talar du engelska?" I asked. "Do you speak English?" "Yes, I do," answered Kristian Wannebo, who with his companion Ylva Öhrskog had skated upwind from Sigtuna, our destination. As Kristian pulled out his map to show us our whereabouts, a gust of wind tore it out of his hands, and all four of us raced after it in hot pursuit. Finally Kristian dove forward on his stomach, pinning the map under him.

We could have talked for hours, but the wind chill was getting to us, so we parted company. Minutes later Arjen and I glided into the Sigtuna town pier. The adventure was over; I had to catch a bus back to Stockholm. The next morning I flew home to Vermont, sad to leave Sweden, but fortified with a great treasure of new friends and new memories.

On Wednesday, the day after I flew home, Johan Porsby and Arjen Meurs returned to Lake Mälaren and skated 70 miles from Västerås to Stockholm. But that's nowhere near the record. In a good winter it's possible to skate 135 miles in one day. You start in Örebro at the west end of Lake Hjälmaren, and you skate eastward across Hjälmaren, through a canal to Mälaren, and then all the way across Mälaren to Stockholm. Next winter when I go back to Sweden, that's what I plan to do -- but I think I'll break the trip into two days. Come with me if you want; there's always plenty of room on the ice.

Copyright © 1999-2015 by Jamieson L. Hess. All rights reserved worldwide.
Originally published in two Vermont daily newspapers, the Sunday Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times-Argus.

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