I think I have decided upon where I am going to journey this summer. Although I love Iceland and would love to circumnavigate the island, my original desire to cycle to Nordkapp is captivating me more. I love the idea of travelling through Europe’s last true wilderness.
Due to the nature of where I intend to go, it will be necessary for me to wild camp on a regular basis. To this end, I have been looking further into what treats may lay ahead for me if I pursue this course. As I delve deeper into researching my route through Scandinavia, I have started to uncover something that I had not contemplated before, dangerous animals. It was actually in conversation with a Swedish friend last night that alerted me to the perils that I might encounter on the road. The list runs from nuisances, such as mosquitoes hordes, which are particularly prevalent in the north during the summer. Although they are most active around dawn and sunset, I will be north of the Arctic Circle for a couple of weeks, truly in the land of the Midnight Sun. So, this means that if I camp along the way, I am likely to be under attack most of the night.
Other insects that may provide me with issues are Gadflies, with painful but mercifully non-poisonous bites. In addition, Sweden is home to large plagues of wasps, so I will need to be careful with any foodstuffs that may attract them. A more serious issue will be ticks, widespread in southern Sweden and northern coastal regions. Ticks can transmit Lyme’s disease and more serious TBE (tick-borne encephalitis) through a bite. I have the choice of either staying inland with the mosquitoes or on the east coast with the ticks. Tough choice…
Sweden does have a venomous snake, the European adder. Fortunately, the snake is not very common, although ubiquitous throughout Sweden except for the north.
Then there are the top two mammals on the bloc; the brown bear and the wolf. This worried me considerably as I will be headed through the areas where both species are most commonly located. I did take solace in the fact that bears in Sweden have killed no more than a handful of people since 1900 and that wolves have not killed a human being since 1821. This information was marred by the accompanying caveat of how to deal with a bear encounter in the woods. Evidently, the done thing is to walk slowly away from it whilst talking loudly. This I could probably muster. The tough bit is what to do in the event of a bear attack; the answer, to play dead, protect your head and make yourself as small as possible. However, once could adopted the opposite approach and start screaming as loud as possible at the creature, jumping and making oneself as large as possible. Always a worry to be presented with such conflicting options.
I just read an article that brown bears mate between May and June. During this period bears are active both at night and during daylight hours. Young males are searching for females at this time and cover long distances in their search, while last year’s cubs are making their first independent forays into the world. I am likely to be on the road towards the end of this period, so I will be vigilant.
To round up then, I will have to be acutely aware of various animals including the brown bear, wolf, moose, wolverine, lynx, the very rare Arctic fox, reindeer and perhaps even the golden eagle. Don’t misunderstand me, I’d love to see all of these animals, just from a safe distance and not whilst trying to sleep in my tent, completely along in the absolute middle of nowhere. Then, I may take issue with such beasties dropping by for a snack, which could ultimately turn out to be me!
Putting all of this jeopardy to one side, one of the truly exciting parts of the expedition will be once I reach Lapland, or Sápmi, on the northern side of the Arctic Circle. Here lies the ancestral home of the Sámi, or Lapps, indigenous people of the region. The Sámi people are among the largest indigenous ethnic groups in Europe. They are renowned for tended their herds of hardy reindeer for millennia. I aim to visit an old Sámi settlement to find out more about their culture and way of life. I may even succumb to the touristy urge to stay in a traditional Sámi tepee. It should all make for some stunning photography.