Europe N to S: The Refuge (8/26/16)

Today’s Miles: 23.6

Total Miles: 1,286.6
Setertjønnhytta – August 26, 2016

The morning sun burns away mist hanging over the lowlands as I walk a hard packed dirt road into the mountains. The sky clears with every step until the sun glows alone against a giant blue canvas. 

I find a thin, muddy trail and follow it up until the trees thin and give way to high, open peaks and sunlight that warms my skin.

Above the treeline, the wind grows to a roar, pouring over the open mountain, pushing me on each step, ripping at every loose thread of fabric. I hide behind boulders and ridges to catch my breath as a line of clouds slips across the distant horizon. They race forward, carried by the wind until they stretch overhead and beyond, swallowing the blue sky whole. 

I stop in a low depression between rocks to collect myself, to slip on rain covers and pack away my electronics deep inside layers of plastic.

The first drops of rain begin to fall. The wind pushes them sideways, sends them splattering under my hood and into my eyes when I dare turn to look at the incoming storm. Huge black clouds flood toward me. Mountains disappear underneath them, sunlight fades. 

My rain jacket gives up in less than an hour, the once waterproof lining too worm from the last thousand miles to do anything but soak through. I ignore it, fighting forward as water runs down my back and soaks into my skin, as heat peels away from me, because there is nothing I can do now but walk, to keep moving, keep generating heat.

It has rained almost every day. I am used to it now. It comes in pieces, most only last half an hour, the rain falling under pockets of angry clouds then giving way to grey skies. But this is different. I stare up at the clouds and know there is no end to them. Not today. 

I stare at my map, set my compass, and keep walking. 

“Seven miles to a cabin,” I tell myself. 

The wind and rain batter at me as I pick my way forward, slipping behind ridges and trees, descending down a broad valley. I stumble over herds of water-soaked sheep and reindeer, their bodies pressed down into the ground, hiding in the brush, crouched in pockets if sanity. They bolt as I pass, bitter at being forced up, their neck bells ringing in the haze of the storm, protesting the strange, wet creature stumbling forward as miserable as any of them. 

Rain pours into the earth. Mountainsides bleed white as every gully fills with flowing water.   The wind pushes on me, ripping away heat, shoving me sideways, yanking trees back and forth, swirling through the grass in endless waves.

I stumble on, through bogs and low brush, through a forest of thin trees, counting steps, staring in the grey haze for something to follow, thinking of the miles between me and the cabin, knowing that every step brought it’s walls closer, that I would make it, that I just had to keep moving, that the compass would get me there. 

I reach a water-soaked clearing and see a private cabin through the trees. The doors are locked but the outhouse is open. I dive inside and slam the door shut behind me, standing there, staring at a picture of the English royal family on the wall as I catch my breath, as I steady my mind against the wind, as I check my map and set my compass again. 

I take a breath and burst out again, into the mad wind and sideways rain. Whitecaps race and crash on a distant lake. I find bits of trail and lose them again. I stumble over a fence, through bogs, and across a river. I keep on my compass, following it from mark to mark until the roof of the cabin appears through the trees.

I light a fire in the wood stove and peel off my clothes, layer by soaked layer, hanging them above the heat, laughing at the rage-filled wind shaking the walls, smiling at the rain splattered glass windows, feeling the heat dry my skin. 


I later found out that this same storm killed hundreds of reindeer in a lightning strike to the south. The moment I heard the news, I knew what storm it was. It rains a lot, but this storm had a different edge to it:

3 thoughts on “Europe N to S: The Refuge (8/26/16)

  1. How very sad about the reindeer. How very glad you weren’t among them! Yeah, being out in Nature isn’t always pleasant. Thank Goddess for cabins with dry wood on such a day! Whew! What a struggle just to get through this day!

  2. Delighted you are ok and had a cabin to take refuge and dry off. Hope you get a new rain jacket soon. So sorry about the reindeer! Thanks for the NY Times article, never knew about lightning and how it could kill so many animals like that. Hope Theodore Jones is ok! Glad you are, too!

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