Thursday, September 27, 2012

Kayaking with the Swedish Outdoor Academy in Bohuslӓn

From a dream I awake in Bohuslӓn in a car. Back-seat sleeping beats back-seat driving. Sleepily I follow Felix and Axel from Point65 to join outdoor people from all over the world for the Outdoor Academy of Sweden

From Grebbestad we were about to float out in groups between the islands and rocks of the Swedish west coast archipelago, paddling Point65kayaks. But first, there are several sponsors and in the building with all the kayaks are neatly arranged piles of equipment, one for each person and some for each tent group. We don’t need to bring much of our own: this trip will be a showcase for Scandinavian design.
Leading my group from the beach is Christina who guides trips in the archipelago for a living. I’m comfortable from the moment she starts. Some of her first words explain how much she is love with the rocks. 

Bohuslӓn is a place of rock and water. The ice sheet of the last ice age smoothed the rock surfaces, grinding them smooth as silk, and leaving subtle curvaceous edges between undulating faces. Stones frozen into the slowly moving ice gouged grooves across that suggest the work of a giant comb. The sea has since added its mark on the slowly rising land, and the salt creates a border, allowing the gradation of more or less salt-tolerant species to cling to the faces in different colored bands. Above I see tiny flowering plants clinging to cracks, and the lichens and mosses, trees and grasses that sometimes struggle to make this part of Sweden their home.

It is autumn. Already I hug my arms close and hide my fingers from the breeze. The leaves are turning brown.  Rose hips and rowan berries glow a startling scarlet. The sun is out and the visibility is so good, we see the most distant islands looming in mirage above the horizon. Here is a playground that begs to be explored. We can only scratch the surface. This is just a preview. 

We pass a lighthouse, tuck behind islands and between rocks. Here and there the professional photographers hop ashore and run up the rocks to catch the best camera angle as we pass.

We land on a tiny sand beach, just big enough for all our kayaks. In minutes the Tentipee tents are raised like pyramids on the flat grass. Out from the hatches come the Primus stoves and the food packs, water bottles and wine sacks. 

While some change from paddling gear into the warm and dry layers provided by Didriksons, others fire up the stoves. Christina pulls a Grandfors axe and a saw from somewhere deep in her Whisky16 and begins to prepare a woodpile. She saws logs and branches into short pieces then splits them into sticks. We’ll have a fire but we don’t need a furnace. 

Then sparks fly! We each have a “Light-my-Fire” knife with its special magnesium bar in the handle, and a stick of special wood, aromatic with its natural oils, to peel into tinder. One stroke of the magic stick with the back of the blade sends a cascade of sparks to the tinder, and in no time we have fire. 

Finally we all gather to eat. Christina has brought smoked salmon for tonight, reindeer meat for tomorrow. Swedish design comes forward again with dishware by “Light-my-Fire”. We eat with “Sporks”.

The Scandinavian Outdoor Group (S.O.G.) was created in 2000 as an industry initiative to help outdoor retailers and manufacturers in the export market. It is a collaboration of main players in the Outdoor industry from all five countries; Norway Sweden Finland Denmark and Iceland. Here in Bohuslӓn with the Outdoor Academy of Sweden (O.A.S.)I have the pleasure to meet not only representatives from Scandinavian manufacturers but also journalists, retailers and tour operators from around the world. Around the fire my companions are Swedish and Japanese, Korean-Swedish and French, German, English and Russian. I love it!

Some of us rise before dawn to catch the magic light of first sunrise. While the professionals catch their digital magic I climb the island and stroll along the top. Here is a boulder-field like a beach of lichen-crusted heads with a rose bush heavy with red hips, and some blonde grasses. Suddenly the first of the sunlight hits the tops of the heads with a wine-colored glow. I’m stopped in my tracks. One moment like this is a thousand songs. When I turn back against the sun I’m captivated by the subtle snake-path of a slight ridge between two ice-smoothed slopes. On side one the crystals and tiny lichens are casting shadows, while the other for the moment is just in shadow, highlighting the curves between.

For a full day of sun we explore the islands, stopping by a small town where small rust-colored houses cluster around a church with a spire. Fjӓllbacka is the setting for writer Camilla Lackberg’s crime novels. Already one of the hottest crime writers in the world, Lackberg is likely to become even better known soon. Later this year the first of a new collection of 10 TV movies based on Lackberg’s books and filmed here will be released. 

We weave a different route north than our way south, finally finding our place for the night on the tiny island Kӓften, where Jean Marc beckons me across the rock to see the last glow of fire in the sky from sunset.

I am woken by wind-driven rain against the Tentipi. It’s still dark but O.A.S. has plans for today that mean we must launch at first light. I fumble to pack in the dark with my tent-mates until finally I feel my headlamp and set it glowing. Then we drop the tent and load our hatches before breakfast. It’s rainy and windy and a struggle for the least experienced paddlers but we arrive with smiles at Grebbestad by 9 am. Once the gear has been sorted we all leave for the business side: meetings at a special location, Nordens Ark. 

Nordens Ark is a place dedicated to the preservation of endangered species. Our tour is rapid due to the rain, but we see snow leopards and white backed woodpeckers and lynx on our way to dine. It’s a very special dining room with long windows. It’s located in the wolf compound, and the wolves, feeling safe in their enclosure trot around right outside the window as we eat.

It’s a fitting end to a wonderful islands experience, because it reminds me how fragile this world we enjoy is. The wildlife is part of the whole experience. We have seen seals and birds and with the start of the lobster fishing season we have watched all the small boats head out to set their pots to reap their harvest.  We have landed in places that hold no footprint and taken away photos and mental images and friendships, yet without our care these islands would change for the worse, and quite rapidly. The experiences and networking within our group can only serve to help.

Satisfied we left Bohuslӓn as we found it, I know I will return. I love this place. Thanks O.A.S!

See another perspective with the Outdoor Academy of Sweden blog

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