Note: My 15-year old son participated in a 10-day Swedish canoeing trip with his school. With very little preparation and unaware of who might be attending, this is his story of the journey. The school runs this trip each year.
At 1 pm in mid June, I arrived to the Bahnhof packed and ready for an adventure. I had chosen to participate in the Sweden Canoe Trip with my school where we’d canoe the lakes and rivers. I was filled with nervous excitement for what lay ahead. Despite my many years in Scouting, I had never taken a trip of this caliber.
The Long Journey from Germany to Sweden
We set off for an over-24-hour journey to Sweden. First by an ICE train, nothing out of the ordinary. Then we met up with our guides in Hamburg, Germany, who would join our group for the adventure. Next, we took an overnight ferry to Sweden, and this was a new experience for me and many others. We boarded the ferry, ate dinner, and then had time to stand on deck. While admiring the view and sunset, I got to know the people I’d be spending the next eight days with.
We went to sleep in rooms, and woke early the next morning to eat breakfast and depart the ferry. We then rode another six hours on a bus to the canoeing base camp. About halfway through the bus ride we stopped at a supermarket, where we bought snacks and food supplies for the week to come.
Getting Ready at Base Camp in Sweden
By the time we arrived to our final destination in Värmland, Sweden, we’d been traveling for 26 to 27 hours. Our time spent at base camp wasn’t long. We received our supplies for the week of camping: a box of food to share with a partner, a shared stove and gas, tents, paddles, life jackets, and the canoe. We paired up for cooking and tenting. Since I was paired with a rising senior girl, I had to tent with another kid who had no partner and was very inexperienced with camping.
After pairing up and receiving our supplies for the week, we took a quick paddling test in the bay-like area by base camp. After 20 to 30 minutes, we began the trip to our first camping spot. I was impressed with our efficiency at leaving. On many trips like these, we spend so much time waiting, testing and coddling of a sort. On the first day they placed the more experienced canoers with inexperienced ones to keep everyone together. They checked that everyone could paddle, and then we left.
Avoiding the Infamous Island Ants
After roughly an hour and a half of paddling, we arrived at the first island. This island was infamous with other campers and returning students for being covered in ants. We set up our tents a good distance away from the nest, but in the morning there were a few which made their way to the outside of my tent. Our cooking area was very close to a nest so we were unable to walk without at least a few finding their way onto our legs and feet. Around the campfire we built, we reflected upon our first day in the wilderness.
The next morning I woke up around 8:30 a.m. (a miracle considering the latest I normally sleep is 7 a.m.). We ate breakfast and broke camp before setting out to the next campsite. Pretty soon we all fell into a routine: arrive at an island, set up camp, eat a small lunch, spend a little time relaxing, talking, playing games, then gather firewood, build a fire, cook dinner, spend a little time on our own, reflect on the day at the campfire before going to bed. Then the next morning wake up, break camp, eat breakfast, pack the boats up and depart to canoe to the next island.
A Swedish Summer with S’mores, Stick Bread, Natural Baths
We roughly followed this same routine for the entire week. There were certain days where things were a bit different. The third night it rained, which disrupted some things. Rather than pouring for an hour and moving onto sunny skies, it rained gently for hours on end. It rained just hard enough to be an annoyance. After the campfire, my friends and I broke out the chocolate, marshmallows, and cookies we bought and made s’mores while talking with the adults.
The next day we had a longer journey to the island, and many people, including myself, bathed in the lake. For many of us, it was long overdue. After our natural bath, my friends and I helped make bread dough for “stick bread” with the flour, yeast, sugar, and salt brought by the adults. Once we made the dough, we attached to a stick and cooked it over the fire. I would be very excited to do this again. The bread turned out pretty well, however, with a bit more sugar and a little cinnamon, it would have been amazing! The sunset that night was beautiful, until storm clouds came in and chased us off with an hour of rain.
The Joy of the Great Outdoors
Our second to last full day, I left early with a scouting group to find a campsite. Many of the campsites were already taken, and so we walked across an island to find one, but it would be easier to have canoed. My friend and I held the campsite while the adults went back and canoed with our boats and gear. After setting up our tents, the adults hiked to an adjacent campsite and decided it was better. We had to quickly take everything down, throw it in the canoes as fast as possible, and paddle to the new site.
By the time we arrived, it was only noon, so we had a lot of free time. Our group pitched tents away from the others, and we had our own fire pit. We washed our clothes in the lake, a good thing too, since many of us were running low on clean clothes. My friends sunbathed while I set up my hammock and read. We had a good time being on our “own.” Later we built a fire, cooked hot dogs, sat around and talked. Then after our traditional reflective campfire, we finished our s’more supplies at our own campfire.
Learning the Value of Teamwork
The next morning began our final day. We had a very long trip back, and what we had covered in five days of canoeing had to be done in two. After paddling for about an hour, one teacher realized she had forgotten her solar chargers on the island. One of the guides took two students to retrieve them, and we continued on without them. With three people in one canoe they made good time, and arrived to our camping spot only a half hour later than we did.
We set up camp and sorted out some misplaced items, but nobody was able to find the shovel used for burying food leftovers. After a bit of fruitless searching, we realized it too had been left on the previous island. The same guide took a teacher and a different, yet capable student and set out for the shovel. It had taken us three and a half hours to get from the previous island to where we were, and this group of three made the round trip in four-and-a-half hours. That’s good teamwork! The rest of the day passed without much incident.
Mars Bars for a Job Well Done
Finally, the last day before leaving for home had arrived. We woke up early, only to discover we wouldn’t be leaving until 2 p.m. Since we had no idea about the firewood availability, we sawed wood for base camp. Then we hiked to the Swedish-Norway border. We took pictures standing in both countries and had a mini border restoration ceremony.
When 2 p.m. rolled around, we packed up camp, making sure we had the shovel, and began the final canoe trip to base camp. After about two hours of singing and paddling, we finally arrived.
Immediately, we unloaded the boats, pitched the tents, set up for our last camping night, and then began the cleaning. We had to clean the boats, scrub the sandy bottoms, empty the food boxes, wash out the food boxes, cook what we had set aside for dinner, then clean the stoves and pots. When finished, everyone received a congratulatory Mars Bar (one of the few food items worth its weight in gold on this trip). During our campfire that evening,we reflected upon what we enjoyed and appreciated about the week, as well as thanking people whose actions particularly stood out to us. It was very nice, and a good insight into what people thought about the trip.
Heading Back to Germany
The next morning we woke up, packed our bags, ate a quick breakfast from a communal food box created the night before, and left the base camp. We stopped at the same supermarket on the bus ride home. People bought junk food as though it had been months rather than a week. We made good time to the ferry and had to wait about two hours before we could board the boat — time spent playing cards, watching movies, and listening to music.
On the way home, the ferry experience was similar. However, rather than standing outside and talking (we had been outside enough), we explored the sauna and pool. One perk I greatly appreciated was getting to choose who we roomed with on the way home. I stayed with three other guys whom I knew wouldn’t stay up till 3 a.m. I had slept well on the trip, but I’ll always sleep better in a real bed.
The final day of travelling had two more train rides and some waiting. I decided at the spur of the moment to listen to podcasts to pass the time and found myself liking them more than I had expected. The train rides passed quickly, and we arrived home at 3 p.m.
Overall, I enjoyed the trip a lot. People who enjoy nature and camping will have a blast and experience many new things not possible in other camping areas. However, for those who have never been camping or don’t enjoy it very much, this may not be the best adventure. It goes from 0 to 60 pretty quickly. If interested, I recommend starting with weekend camping trips to see if you like the experience before heading into the wilderness for a week. That being said, those who do like the outside will likely have a great time on this trip. It is a wonderful bonding experience and allows a chance for citizens in this age of technology a chance to step away from it all.
All Photos from Frankfurt International School