Honeymoon From Hell!

I got married a little while ago. I can't imagine it was similar to many other marriages, which appear to be planned and organised events. Ours occurred because Jenny (my delectable Swede) and I have been daring each other further and further out on the tight-rope of commitment for over a decade, culminating in a surprise proposal on a frozen lake in Östa.

Then through a series of last minute scrambling and nerve-wracking improvisation, we managed to pull off a pretty fantastic wedding on Djurgården, one of the prettier islands that make up Stockholm city.

I think most of the guys reading this post will belong to one of two groups, the guys that are already married, and guys who are only vaguely half-aware of marriage as some kind of abstract semi-possible future concept, something that might conceivably happen to them in the mists of time yet-to-come, like getting cancer or travelling to Iceland or having kids. I transitioned from the latter to the former group during the ceremony without any gap in between. One second I am a slightly confused guy who is doing his best to get through a stressful situation, the next second I'm a husband. Tungsten wedding rings aren't in keeping with the ultralight philosophy either. The one pictured below was my second one and I've already gone and lost that one as well.

The wedding was great, despite having become massive and costly. 100 people came and Stockholm is crazy expensive and I'm technically still a student (24 years in education and counting!), so the extravagant cost of the wedding would be matched perfectly oppositely by the homeliness of the honeymoon. C'est la vie! Who needs month-long trips to Greece when you have love, right? We decided to rent a pair of kayaks and head out to the beautiful Norrköping archipelago. Yr.no said it was going to be calm, a little cloudy and no wind. Looking back on the weather we had, I think Yr.no should lay off injecting crack cocaine and battery acid into its stupid eyeballs for a while.

We left land and headed out against the slight breeze, heading West, and passed by the island Kupa-Klint, which had a high black cairn on its peak, offering a great view over that area of the archipelago. We picked the island directly west of its southern tip, which was an unnamed island in a bird sanctuary. The bird mating season was over and it was now OK to camp there. Seeing the high black cairn reminded me that a year ago I had been to the same island with friends. It had been a pretty stormy adventure.

We had headed out amongst the islands in perfect weather, relatively blue skies and no wind.

There were eight of us, with no plans except to eat food lazily and lie around in the sun. I was playing a lot with Cokin filters at the time, hence the occasional strange colouring and vignetting on these pictures.

That night we camped out on a little island, and had a little rain, all the better for my ski-instructor and wedding master-of-ceremonies Sofie to test out her all new Klättermusen kit.

I was in for a long night, about to learn the idiocy of sleeping under a tarp without a bug net in mosquito season.

A few ominously dark clouds towered over our island in the morning, and the wind started to pick up with a mean intent.

We tried to outrun the worsening weather by heading straight back to port, which was around two hours away in good conditions. Once we were out away from the islands I distinctly remember getting the feeling that I was kayaking under a bridge, because it felt like there was some roof just over our heads, but it was the very low and horribly threatening black clouds. Rain began to bucket down and the wind grew more viscous. The storm intensified, and during our dash across a large open body of water, the rudder on Sofie's kayak gave way. Two of our party were in fibreglass kayaks, which are faster, but much less durable and stable than the plastic kayaks the rest of us were in. You can see the fibreglass kayaks in the background of the picture below (taken a day before this storm), with the plastic in the foreground. Plastic kayaks stick in the water, while the fibreglass kayaks easily slide, and in rough weather can flip without much warning.

The fibreglass kayaks led the way south-east, back to the port, but Sofie was blown further and further off course, directly East towards more open waters. Our group of eight kayaks was now spread over the entire strait, Michi and I were staying with Sofie to try and help her get to land. Without her rudder she had little control over the craft and the intense wind constantly altered her course, heading her straight past the few islands that were between us and the mainland. Paddling on one side only, she just managed to beach the kayak on the most northerly tip of the last island, and Michi and I pulled in beside her to help.

The rudder was trashed, the shitty old lines used to control it, previously broken and tied in a dozen places, had given way entirely. We managed to make contact with the two friends in fibreglass boats, they had also landed on an island and called for help from a local they knew, who would be able to come out and ferry them back to land. The problem was his boat had room only for two kayaks. Sofie wasn't totally sure about continuing, but I had fortunately packed down around fifteen metres of 2mm dyneema cord. I figured we could double it from my kayak to hers, and if she started to have her course altered the cord would jerk her back into line.

It took a little persuading, but in the end we headed back out onto the water, my kayak following Martins, Sofie behind me, connected by the 7 metres of doubled cord, and then Michi. Most of the time Sofie was well able to paddle along with us, I didn't notice her there and the cord trailed in the water. When she was blown off course though, and the cord pulled taut and my kayak juddered under the tug and pulled her back in line, it felt so frustrating to lose momentum. The whole kayak shuddered to a halt and I had to grit my teeth and start digging deep to get it up to speed again.

It took a few hours, but in the end we made it back, with considerably better weather than earlier. A great adventure, but horribly undocumented, nobody had had a moment to snap a picture during the rough journey. I did learn some lessons, one was to always have dyneema cord with me. This kind of cord can take huge loads compared to its trivial weight. The one I had was Exped tent cord, 40 g for 15 m. So useful to have in an emergency, as well as coming in handy for many duties around the campsite.

Back to the honeymoon! My wife and I (it still gives me a kick to say that) pulled our kayaks up and had a wander around the island we had picked. It was small, but most of the larger islands have sheep on them, which are nice to look at but a pain in the ass to pull bits of your tent out of. It was large enough to have a few trees in the centre, but there was no real soil anywhere, so we'd have to put the tent up by tying the two tie-outs needed to trees or rocks.

I put the tent where it was sheltered from the slight northerly breeze. Later when the wind picked up I took one of these handy Exped tie-out bags (which have a lighter cord than the tent-line from Exped) and used it to reinforce the north-facing tip of the tent. The south-facing tip was tied out with one of these dyneema cords to a peg, shallowly dipped into the meagre soil and held down with a large rock.
We had mainly fruit and vegetables to eat, which is totally unlike what I normally bring (dehydrated or tinned food), and I remembered why I don't bring fruit and vegetables once an army of ants and wasps and flies and weird caterpillars (see below) arrived to assault our food bag.

At least we had champagne! I figured the champagne was allowed because I'd done some more weight-cutting. The 2.5 kg Klättermusen Mjölner was resting at home, while a 556 g Huckepacke was taking its first trip with me.

I'm sure I'll talk about this bag later, but just in case anyone is on the fence about this pack from Laufbursche, I have mention this thing is so supremely well made, so beautifully designed, and so admirably minimal.

I had two identical bags made in red VX-21 with nice open mesh outer pockets.

One for me, and one for my protégé in ultra-light, Jenny S.

I also had left my Exped downmat at home. I use it all year around normally, but whenever I go kayaking I find everyone steals my mat so they can lie comfortably on the rocks and read books. I'm sure it can take it, the downmats have such a tough exterior compared to most airmats, but I don't want to fuck it up needlessly. So a hopefully tougher CCF Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Mattress is here for summer-duty, 390 g compared to the Exped downmats 860 g. Definitely not as comfy, but comfort is low on the list for me.

Now and again I checked Yr.no because I didn't yet realise Yr.no was a congenital liar who hates me and wanted me to die. It had a big picture of a smiley giving a thumbs up with the text 'Everything is going to be fine!'. I would look at the cheery forecast, and then look at the darkening skies, at the surface of the black sea beginning to be ripped up into foamy confusion by gusts of the ever-strengthening wind, and get a little nervous. I had a short snorkelling session in my new wetsuit, the water was a toasty 19.2 °C, but gave up once the weather started to deteriorate even further.

We ate and watched from our relatively high vantage point, and saw thick black clouds gather out to sea, coalescing into a black ribbon moving from the far North-west to the North-east. We could hear distant rumblings, echoing their way to us, but couldn't see any flashes. The storm grumbled its way West. Night came on and we breathed a sigh of relief as the storm disappeared inland. I tensioned the tent to snare-drum tightness, carefully stored all our gear in the vestibule and went to bed. I have to admit that I had a tiny sliver of disappointment in my breast, seeing a thunderstorm up-close has always been something I have wanted to experience, and cruel Mother nature was not going to treat me.

Although it turns out, Mother nature was going to treat me, she was going to treat me like a Berlin dominatrix treating the first customer of the day and shove treats down my throat until I gagged. At around nine we realised the storm was still in the area, and rain started to fall as a little lightening flashed. We counted between flashes and thunder; 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and then a distant rumble. Ten seconds meant the storm was around three and half kilometres away. We chatted and read our books by torchlight, but the lightening came more often, and brighter too, and the thunder had a little more volume, and soon the time between flashes and thunder was only 5 seconds. And a little later it was only 3 seconds. At this point the thunder was visceral, it was a physical blow that jiggled our organs inside us. The flashes lit up the inside of the tent, green plastic backlit in the vestibule, bright yellow inside the inner tent, a big black shadow highlighting where the tent pole was. For some reason I started to wonder how attractive aluminium is to lightening, and tried to distract myself by counting the number of flashes in one minute (thirty-three). Then the rain intensified, as if on some invisible cue it doubled and redoubled its force, blasting the tent so hard even between the rolls of thunder we had to shout to be heard. It was hitting the ground so hard it blasted the lichen off the rock and rebounded it under the tent edges onto all of our gear. Now the lightening was coming so often it was impossible to discern which thunder went with which lightening. The wind was so strong it whipped the rain under the fly and through the mosquito mesh panel on the top of the inner-tent door, soaking us. I started to think about a few things now. Were the kayaks pulled up high enough to escape the waves. How strong were the tie-outs securing the north-side of the tent? Why had I put the tent up on top of a fucking hill? And just what kind of monkeys were hammering away at the Yr.no weather-predicting typewriters?

Above you can see a lightening-illuminated video-still from the storm. The time was midnight, I sneaked out of the tent one time to take the large ten litre water-bag and place it over the North-east corner tie-out, and then came back in, soaked to the bone. There was nothing visible at all beyond two or three metres, since we were in the cloud itself, the flashes of lightening glowed indistinctly in the fog, to the North, South, East and West of us. I tried to video the storm from the vestibule of the tent, pointing the camera in all directions, but the result is not so clear. Below is an edit from three minutes of original footage, I took out all the boring black bits and just left in the lightening.

I wanted to run over to the other side of the island and check the kayaks, but figured it would be a potentially lethal trip. Going down around the shore would mean risking a slip on the wet rock, and being carried off by the roaring, surging sea. Going over the top of the island with lightening flashing every few seconds was maybe even more dangerous. Fuck the kayaks, they were only rented anyway. I headed back inside, crawled under the down, and stunningly enough, we both drifted off to sleep despite the continuing storm. Afterwards we found this storm had been reported by SMHI as having caused over 40,000 lightening strikes.

We woke up to relatively blue skies. Everything was soaked, and lots of bits of lichen had been smashed through the various mesh panels of the inner-tent and covered everything in squishy grey mulch. It took a few hours to get all of the food and gear reorganised, but at least the storm had passed. Like a big dumb eejit I even checked Yr.no again! It predicted no wind, nor precipitation and only slight clouds for that night, which I stupidly believed.

I went over to check the kayaks. I was striding over the grass, when in one instant I realised I was striding over a snake, in the same moment of realisation I leaped up high in the air and shouted 'oh SHIIIIT!', and the snake curled up and swung its head around to face me and hissed loudly. We backed away from each other, and as the snake slunk away into the undergrowth I kicked myself for not having a camera with me.

The kayaks were fine, and we decided to take them across the narrow strait to Kupa-klint. From there we would get a nice view of our own little island.

As we walked up to the high spot on that island, Jenny led the way, striding over the wet green grass. Suddenly she jumped up in the air and shouted 'oh SHIIIIT', and below her a dark green snake curled up and hissed. This time I had the damn camera ready. Both snakes were common European vipers, not terribly poisonous but enough to give you a bad day.

He too slunk off pretty quickly, and we continued up to take a look from the peak, happily unbitten.

The weather looked decent, and we headed back for some vegetable stew. This time we took the kayaks to a ridiculously high spot for the night, it felt a little silly but I was not taking any risks after the previous night.

I took the opportunity to realign the tent, pointing more North-west, out to the open water, just in case by some unimaginable twist the magic-8-ball that powers Yr.no was not going to be correct about the lack of wind.

I checked all the tie-outs and flaps and carabiners to make sure there was no damage. The carabiners on the tent are the worst part of it, cheap shitty shoddy crap that should shame Exped. I deeply dig the Vela 1, it's a super tent, very light, pops up in seconds, only needs two tie-outs, full of the useful and unusual details that Exped manage to squeeze into their gear (like the excellent no-zip fly). These fucking little carabiners suck shit though, I can literally bend them with my bare hands.

I have replaced all but one of them with lovely little Edelrid crabs instead, the remaining one was the least fucked up one (above) in a not very stressful position, although you can see the gate no longer catches on the nose and it will soon be as stretched out and useless as the rest of them.

The replacement crabs are from extremtextil.de, and are super little things, they weight 3.7 g and can take up to 150 kg, compared to 2.6 g each for the Exped carabiners which can take around half a wet fart before breaking. I once again pulled every strap, tensioned every line, and secured three more tie-outs on the north side of the tent. We head to bed, totally exhausted from the previous nights adventure.

We were woken early by the screaming of the wind. It was unreal, the previous night had been dominated by thunder and lightening and the incredibly heavy driving rain, but it seems the wind had been an unhappy second-fiddle. He wanted top billing. I was just thankful the kayaks were pulled up so high. The tent was flapping a little, so I decided to pop out and check everything was OK. Outside, the wind was so powerful it was whipping spray off the wave tops and throwing it up on land, salty splatters mixed with the biting rain. It was difficult to walk, so I nearly crawled downhill to the kayaks and pulled them a little further out of the wind. Then I realised it was blowing from the South! I went back up to the tent and could see that the little bump I had sheltered the tent behind was now useless, the wind was blowing from the open South and tearing at the fly, secured only by a single thin cord on that side. I crawled back in to the tent and before I could say a word the cord gave, and the tent flew up wildly, flapping itself around us like an angry wet plastic ghost.

Above you can see the thicker Exped tent cord on the bottom, and the thinner cord they supply with their tents on top (both shown here), complete with the yellow stuff sack and little grey cord-tensioner. You might secure your tent with only one piece of this thin cord if you are camping somewhere very sheltered. If you trust your tent to one piece of cord while camped on the peak of a low-slung island that lies on the edge of an archipelago in the Baltic in storm season, you may be an idiot. Pictured below is the point of failure, probably from a combination of the force of the wind catching under the fly, and abrasion on the cord as it rubbed on the rocks. There was no damage to the tent at all.

I crawled out of the collapsed tent, bollock-naked. Jenny stayed inside and the tent flew up around her. A few plastic fold-a-cups and sporks and some dishes that had been in the vestibule flew off in the gale-force wind, flying away to have an adventure together in a cheerful day-glo green, blue and yellow group like some demented Pixar movie. I grabbed the south-side carabiner and held it down, re-erecting the tent and preventing the wind from catching under the fly, the wind contented itself with blowing rain and sea spray up my arse instead. Nothing like a forced sea-water enema at the crack of dawn to really wake you up.

It was a little bit much, and I wasn't sure what to do. I asked Jenny to come and sit in the southernmost tip of the tent, so I could let go of the carabiner, and then I started to shove all the gear willy-nilly into my rucksack and Jenny's big roll-top dry-bag. Then I grabbed my clothes and dragged them on, all I had were my Klättermusen pants, a Röjk Tvister and a woollen jumper. It was all soaked instantly. Annoyingly I could't find one of my socks and that foot started to freeze. Jenny came out then, she had all her clothes on but the jacket was quite short and she got soaked in minutes. I rolled up the tent with the quilt still in it and stuffed it into another dry-bag. We managed to get everything loaded into the kayaks within around fifteen minutes, but at the end of it we were drenched.

The wind never let up, and one look at the stormy seas was enough to make me realise the only logical explanation was that Yr.no had become sentient and was trying to kill us. The waves were high, surging to the North, whipped into a disorganised foamy frenzy by the wind. We had to scream at each other to be heard, so we left the kayaks and moved to the pitiful shelter offered by a short cliff-wall on the top of the island. This area was swamped, but at least we were out of the wind. I was totally unsure what to do, it was around 07:00, and there was no way in hell I would be happy letting Jenny kayak back if the weather was even remotely likely to stay this rough.

I stood there, a little shocked, soaking wet, Jenny was crouching down hugging her beautiful little knees, also soaking wet, and shivering in a very cute and sexy way. That image kicked my ass a little and shook me out of inaction. I called Michi, he was working early shift at the hospital and might be up already. He answered and I asked if he knew who it was that had rescued the two friends in fibreglass kayaks a year ago. He gave me a number and I hung up quickly, my battery was almost dead. We called the number, but no answer. We could ring the coast guard ... but the situation was not really an emergency, just very uncomfortable. I went back to the kayaks, the wind spraying me with salty wave-tops, and I dug the tent out of the dry bag. Back in the shelter of the little cliff I rolled it out and stabbed two pegs into the flooded boggy ground, and erected it again. During this time we saw the coast-guard boat fly out from behind Kupa-klint, heading South-East in a hurry, I guess some people in the archipelago were having it worse than we were. Jenny crawled in to the tent and got under the quilt, and I tightened the lines up as much as I could and joined her.

Inside the wind was still howling, but we were both exhausted from the previous nights adventure and within ten minutes we were asleep, curled up together under the down like two half-drowned rats.

We were woken up by the phone ringing at 10:00, the would-be rescuer was up and ready for action. We told him the situation and gave him our co-ordinates. He told us to get the kayaks to a sheltered side of the island and he would be there in thirty minutes. We packed up the tent again, packed the kayaks and carried them to the sheltered North side, and in no time at all the boat roared into view, rammed its rubber-shielded nose into the stony shore and a grinning tanned face beamed at us from behind the cabin-glass. We heaved the kayaks onboard, I jumped on and secured them with some line, and Jenny shouted at the captain if she should push the boat out.

"I have a hundred horses pushing the boat in", he shouted back, "It might be a little tough for you".

A few minutes later we were zipping back to land, the small boat leap over the top of the heavy swell, smashing down into the valleys, both of us so relieved that we hadn't tried kayaking back. The waves in the more open parts of the sea were huge, and the wind never let up, streams of tears rolled down our faces as it screamed around us.

All in all it was a little bit of a strange honeymoon. The nicest thing about it was that one of the vows we had had in our wedding had been to be each others "partner in adventure", which I'm pretty sure was put in as a nod to my tendency to go on hiking trips. Now Jenny had truly held up her end of the bargain, a good omen for our future together.

14 comments:

  1. Hi! I've read your blog for a while, though I think this is the first time I comment.

    Anyhow. Really exciting write-up. Like your leisure writing style.
    Camping in the archipelago truly is another thing than camping inlands. I camp on the other side of our little pond.
    All best luck to your relationship. I'm a firm believer that going through trips like that every once in a while is a good thing for a relationship.

    Daniel Sandström
    Finland

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  2. Thanks for the comment Daniel! I totally agree about camping in the archipelago, it's stunning in Summer with the added benefit of having a million times less mosquitos than inland. Even an occasional storm isn't as bad to me as mosquitos :)

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  3. Tomas, congratulations, on your wedding, your adventure and your Huckepacke! I have the little brother of the Huckepacke coming in the next couple of weeks.

    Surely titanium would be the wedding ring material of choice for the ULer? ;)

    Your writing style is one I have admired for quite a while. Keep up the good work!

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  4. Johnt5.8.11

    That's no weird caterpillar. That is the very rare giraffe caterpillar :D

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  5. Congratulations! That's some story to tell your kids!

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  6. Reading this id almost want to get married.

    Once again thanks for a fantastic story.

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  7. And congratulations!

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  8. What a great writeup! Loved it.

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  9. Joe: Titanium would be a good idea, I guess I am going to order a new one soon anyway, so maybe titanium would be good. The tungsten ring was 21 grammes, a similar titanium ring is 3 grammes! Maybe I can have a special one for hiking trips...

    Helen: Thank you, I guess kids are the next step to take... A scary thought!

    Thanks Steffen and Thomas for the comments!

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  10. Don't be scared. Kids are a lot of fun. The scariest part about my kids is how precious they are to me. If you don't find reproduction truly revolting, I recommend them. And I think they'll go well with your light spirit.

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  11. Congratulations Jenny & Tomas =) A truly awesome way to celebrate your honeymoon, and I applaud you to getting two huckePACKs!

    Personally I prefer white gold (nine gram) over Titanium (which is awfully expensive - 3k for one ring!). You also could go with a dyneema cord ring for the hiking trips, and keep the Tungsten one for civilization.

    Love your writing, btw. I think you're writing one of the finest blogs out there at the moment, your prose is unmatched, and usually am all smiles when reading. Keep up the great work!

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  12. Maybe I should have looked up the word prose before... Didn't mean that you're writing is dull & plain, more the exact opposite :/

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  13. Great idea with a Dyneema ring Henrik! An ultralight version of those paracord bracelets maybe...

    Thank you very much for the compliment on my writing! Very nice to hear it from a dude as skilled as yourself!

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