“That’s it,” I said, sitting back and looking round at my friends. “That’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to live in the woods”.

It was the early autumn of 2012, three of us sat in my friend’s room having just watched ‘Into the Wild’.

The other two agreed enthusiastically. Phrases like “it would be great”, “totally amazing” and “me too!” were thrown around. Let’s be honest, there had been a few beers, people were in an enthusiastic mood. They didn’t mean it literally. They liked the idea. Who isn’t attracted to the prospect of freedom and the open road? But to them it was just a cool idea.

Perhaps because I have always loved camping, wet weekends on the Norfolk coast are among my favourite childhood memories, or perhaps (a much more likely “perhaps”) because I had just dropped out after my first year at university and was desperately searching for something to do, some direction in life, I actually meant it.

I daydreamed in overdrive. The location would be Sweden. I have family there and have spent practically every summer of my life playing in the pine forests and swimming in the lakes and love the country’s space and natural beauty. Plus, the frankly brilliant Allemansrätten (Swedish for “all man’s right”) law makes it legal to camp pretty much anywhere. provided you respect people’s property and, above all, the nature.

The plan developed. I wouldn’t just sit in one place whiling away the days, I would travel. An adventure needs a start and a finish. But where? And when?  Sweden is a long, thin country, why not a long thin walk?. I would go from one end to the other, see the country top to bottom (or bottom to top as it turned out) from Mälmo at the southern tip, to Kiruna high above the Arctic circle.

At this point, life did what it does best. It got in the way. Slowly the idea was buried by the mundane: bills to be paid, work to be found, a million little everyday things to get done. The plan slowly faded into the background, not forgotten but relegated to the status of vague future plan.

Then, in August of 2013 my mother passed away. The heart condition which had so long troubled her finally took its toll.

This, in a way, brought back to me the need for a direction in life. I was tired of living day to day, week by week. My life was happening but I wasn’t really living it. Sure, working behind a bar was fun, and I met some great people, but it didn’t feel like I was going anywhere. A year had passed and I had no new memories.

Nine months later I ran my first 10K to raise money for the British Heart Foundation. Two months after that I was writing university applications. By December I had my acceptance letters, things were starting to happen.

But first, there was something I had to do. The plan, so long neglected, came forward. Now, however, it had a greater meaning. It was time to really experience the country that played such a large part in forming me, to reconnect with my mother and, after years of taking things easy, to challenge myself, prove that I could. A metaphorical middle finger to the failures of the last few years and to the disease that took my mother and which forces me and my sister to the heart hospital for a yearly battery of scans and tests.

One thousand five hundred miles, three and a half months, two woefully unprepared legs and one crazy idea. I was ready to go.

Which brings me to here, sitting outside a town called Östersund, about halfway to my goal. Staring out across the icy waters of the lake towards the mountains of the Swedish-Norwegian border, the next stage on my trail.

There has been some blood, a lot of sweat and yes, a few tears, and I’m looking more Grizzly Adams than the gentleman adventurer. It’s been a strange, hard road but I’ve seen some incredible things: the seemingly endless roads across the impossibly flat Sköna grasslands, stunning sunsets over hilltop lake and rain showers so heavy they quickly soak through not one but two layers of waterproofs…  And I’ve met some wonderful people: the Mancunian outdoor activity instructor/theatre light tech/English teacher with an endless supply of stories, encyclopedic knowledge of comic books and supply of bacon sandwiches that nearly made me weep with joy (man cannot live on muesli alone), the Armenian PhD student who could hold a conversation on anything from global politics to literature, to the wildlife of Jamtland, the Swedish botanist turned organic farmer on whose farm I worked and learnted about self-sustainability, growing the best tomatoes, and just how hard it is to plough a field by hand, or the German girl who I worked and walked with far too briefly and who got on her coach to Oslo, to continue her own adventure, taking with her just a little piece of my heart.

Nothing I have ever done has approached this experience and though my story started with sadness, I do not wish to imply this is the only way. Quite the opposite. Get out there and do these things whilst you still have the ones you love. Do it with them, share it with them. It was the loss of my mother that brought me here but it is the thought of sharing it all with my father, sister and friends when I get home that pushes me forward. Putting one foot in front of the other until I reach the end of this trip, and can begin to plan the next.

Image Credit: Kjell Eson