It is a clear, but slightly chilly early summer morning in the forest. The night mist lingers like minute clouds in the deep valley of the Laisälven river. The rays of the sun have yet to reach all the way into the valley. Fredrik Andersson lowers a yellow canoe from the roof rack of his car, hikes it onto his shoulder and approaches the river. He dons a life jacket and puts his dog Nansen in the bow of the canoe. After a while he is in the rapids, busy with nature, lost in himself and his encounter with the water.
Teacher and canoeist Fredrik, from the south of Sweden, has paddled all his life. He became a whitewater paddler as soon as he was able to. But the fact that his interest would lead him here, to the north and a house in the forest between Arjeplog and Sorsele, ten kilometres from the nearest neighbour, was not exactly outlined on his birth certificate. It happened for a lot of reasons. The way it often does in life.
– But of course, without the river Laisälven and the Sadeforsen rapids, I might not have stayed here.
Fredrik paddles as often as he possibly can. As soon as the ice breaks and fills with melting, eager spring water, through spring and mountain floods and the low waters of autumn, all the way until the waters turn to ice again in the freezing cold winter.
– To me, paddling is the meaning of life and me being here. I think I should try to teach others the same thing, he says and winks knowingly at me, as I am trying to regain my balance.
Fredrik in Laisälven
Teacher and canoeist Fredrik, from the south of Sweden, has paddled all his life. He became a whitewater paddler as soon as he was able to.
The big four
Waterways. It is impossible to miss all the water in Swedish Lapland. The four great national rivers – Torneälven, Kalixälven, Piteälven and Vindelälven – all have their area of origin within the boundaries of this region. The Bothnian Bay archipelago under the light of the midnight sun is a sea paddler’s dream. Big and small, flowing or still, there is something here for every kind of paddler. In fact, one of Sweden’s best-known brands, Icehotel, started in the tourism industry as a canoeing centre. Its founder Yngve Begqvist is a passionate paddler, but because there were so many canoeists who were not able to read tour descriptions, he had to rescue one canoe after the other up in the mountains. He got tired of it and started with white-water rafting instead, as one of the first large rafting companies in Europe. These days rafting is not the biggest business in Jukkasjärvi. However, there are still several rafts at Icehotel, and you can go white-water rafting in a lot of other locations in Swedish Lapland, even if kayak and canoe rentals are more common. There is plenty of water, just pick your vessel of choice!
The canoe is probably the quintessential craft of summer. An evening trip to a sandy islet, fire and a barbecue, then a dip in the river while the summer night is still warm and the beer is chilling in the cool box. Small adventures grow with a canoe. It is also something you can do every single day, as long as the light of summer lasts into the autumn. A couple of hours in the canoe, right after work, just to get away from everyday life and the TV news. There is something so crystal clear about this. A lake or a water system, in all its simplicity, is transformed from land into another universe by a couple of paddle strokes. From being a passive spectator in front of a beautiful lake, you suddenly become part of it. Your paddle draws the patterns in the water. This is when you notice the scent of seaweed and reeds; your paddling makes the heron take off, and whooper swans complain, as they lie white like shimmering stones in their nests. Suddenly, as you land on the other side of the lake, you can see what it is that your everyday view looks back at – every day. Everything seems different from the other side.
Any time you can
Oskar Hederyd works as a business developer at Luleå Business Region. He also rents out canoes and kayaks from his centre in Kängsön, where the Råne River meets the sea.
– What do I prefer? I’m not sure. It’s impossible to choose. Canoeing down a river, or through a lake system, both are amazing adventures. What lies behind the next bend in the river? Is that island a good camping spot?
– At the same time, what could compare to kayaking in the Bothnian Bay archipelago on a quiet summer’s night? When the midnight light lasts forever, and it seems like the end of the world can be reached with only a few strokes of a paddle. Light, water and horizon – and yourself, sat in a vessel made for that very purpose: getting there.
– No, I just can’t choose one over the other. It’s the same for fly fisher’s; I think when they’re asked: “When’s the best time to go fishing?” The only obvious answer is: “Anytime you can go”.
Oskar and two of his friends have gone paddling together for a long weekend every year for nearly 20 years now. They have travelled to several water systems, sometimes in the mountains, but even more often in the forest land. The forest provides shelter from the wind, which can be nice when you are in a canoe. The reason why Oscar resides by lives near, and paddles the Råne River is something beyond the mere fact that it is an ideal place for it. “Anytime he can go”.
A driftwood diary
From small fishing shed in Kängsön, Oskar Hederyd at Canoe adventure north, runs a shop that serves paddlers all over the destination Swedish Lapland.
To some, paddling is simply something ingrained in their DNA.
– When we were children we lived in a boat and travelled around at sea. In a way, sea kayaking has become something like coming home, home to your mother’s embrace.
– At least it makes me feel calm, the sea, Sven Burman says when we ask him about kayaking.
Sven has not paddled his entire life, but he has been in and on the water since he was a child. He goes there as often as he can. Before work, after work, on weekends. Sometimes with friends, but just as often on his own, a kind of mindfulness in motion.
– It’s an extraordinary advantage we have in the north, our bright nights, the summer lasts forever.
– Even if it’s windy during the day, it usually calms down at night, and then you have all the hours you need for a great run.
In many ways, the Bothnian Bay archipelago is undiscovered land for paddlers. It is a bit of a shame, of course, but it gives paddlers here an opportunity to discover their own favourite spots.
– That’s true, Sven says, but really the biggest advantage of a kayak is that you can get to places no other vehicles can reach. It makes it very easy to have your own favourite places. You just have to get out there and find them.
Kayak in the Baltic
Sven has not paddled his entire life, but he has been in and on the water since he was a child. He goes there as often as he can.
Back in Laisdalen valley. The misty clouds have dissipated. I have managed to clear some smaller rapids, following Fredrik and Nansen, and I feel exhilarated. I have paddled quite a bit before, as I belong to those who take a canoe to the little bay where I live just to barbecue some sausages for dinner. An everyday adventure to make summer better and filled with more experiences. But here behind Fredrik, I understand that canoeing on rapids is another means for a journey of discoveries.
– We are doing well, says Fredrik.
– We are, aren’t we? Should we continue down to Mariannelund?
– Would you like to? Yes, why not? We can always hitch a lift back to the car.
– Yes, or we can paddle back. We have the whole summer to get there.