For several hours a day over the course of two months, S could be found locked-in on the screen of his phone, zooming in, out and around a grouping of islands just off the western coast of Sweden. After braving the placid waters of the Chesapeake Bay on one of our first trips together in 2011, we had become obsessed with the idea of kayaking abroad. After a few summer trips where the timing just didn’t work out to fit in some kayaking, our entire trip to Sweden was planned around the goal of getting out on the water. We picked a great little hotel right on the North Sea in a town with several rental companies and stocked up on waterproof cold-weather gear. We pictured ourselves zigging and zagging around the beautiful light-house bearing islands dotting the coast, smiling, laughing, snapping photos. For two months this was our dream. For two months, S studied these islands and plotted our course, dreaming about the great adventure we would have.
When we were finally sitting in the kayaks in Grundshunds harbor, we were filled with excitement, if not a few thousand butterflies at the prospect of going out on the open water. The women from whom we rented the kayaks suggested we exit the harbor the opposite way that S had planned and, assuming she was the expert, we didn’t hesitate to take her advice.
When we eventually got out of the harbor, it was complete terror.
September is not the ideal water sport month in Sweden. Also, we’re not very good at kayaking. First of all, it was freezing. Most Swedes vacation in July…. This was September. And we knew from recent experience exactly how cold the water was. Earlier that morning, mid-way through our morning sauna (when in Rome!), S and I had followed the lead of several senior Swedes, immune to the cold after many a hard winter, and jumped in the North Sea for a period of about half a second before struggling back up the ladder like a cat clawing its way out of a bathtub. I have never felt water that bitterly cold. Memories of this feeling were fresh in our minds as we sat in our kayaks using every muscle in our bodies to fight the wind, waves, and current to make it to one of those beautiful, peaceful, little islands that S had studied without capsizing and being instantly frozen or swept out to sea, inevitably to be eaten by the Loch Ness monster. Because at that moment, she was definitely real and definitely in the North Sea.
The rough weather tested our endurance, as well as our relationship. “Where are you going?!” “What?!!” “I can’t HEAR you!!” “Why are we out here?!!” “Why do you always leave the cap off the toothpaste?!” “Don’t leave me!!!”
To add to all of this, it really helped our sense of security to zero humans for several nautical miles. The off-season is the perfect time to be lost at sea forever.
After about ten minutes on the water, we considered turning back, but out of pure stubbornness, made it to one of the islands for a terrible, but life-affirming lunch of tuna, crackers, and teriyaki beef jerky – the cuisine of kings. With some food in our stomachs and a lot of nervous laughter, our engagement remained intact and we headed back for the harbor. A mere five hours after having left, we were never so happy to be back on dry land and return the kayaks that surely would have carried us to our deaths had we been out there a minute longer. When we saw the woman who rented the kayaks to us, she said, “I’m surprised to see you. I was pretty anxious about you guys with this rough water.” Umm, what? Maybe that anxiety should have kicked in a little earlier? Say, before you let us paddle off into oblivion?
Looking back at the photos (which were all taken either when we were parked for lunch or about to reenter the harbor in much calmer waters), the day looks a gazillion times more beautiful, peaceful, and fun. And yet, our minds replay a terrible journey filmed in the style of the Blair Witch Project – memories (nightmares) we’ll have for a lifetime.
On the front end of our trip, we made a stop in Copenhagen. What an amazing city! We rented bikes and cruised around the town, taking in the world famous architecture and well-traveled bike lanes. By far, our favorite part – and say this completely un-sardonically – was a warehouse containing a bunch of gourmet street food vendors and bars. We rounded up a duck burger, some tacos, a crazy-good soup and a couple of IPAs, plopped down in some sun chairs outside on the water, and completely relaxed into modern Danish hipster culture. The whole day was a complete joy!
Hotel in Sweden (We ate at the hotel restaurant both nights because everything else was closed, but it was fabulous!): http://www.gullmarsstrand.se/
Hotel in Copenhagen (The hotel was fine, but the location was great because there was a bike rental shop just around the corner.): http://hoteltiffany.dk/
Copenhagen street food warehouse (could a phrase be more hipster?) (also known as the papirøen): http://copenhagenstreetfood.dk/en/