Waiting a few extra days for our water filter has turned out to be a wise choice. Once we got a couple of days north of Gisela's house, the population drastically decreased. No longer are we passing through several towns a day nor are there frequent houses for us to get water as the land has transitioned from agriculture and livestock to largely uninhabited forests in varying stages of growth and destruction for the logging industry, rivers and lakes. Though we've been told on several occasions that all of the lake and river water is safe to drink, we remain a bit skeptical as it's the color of root beer, a light brown where it cascades over the rocks and a deep black anywhere it is more than a couple of feet deep. It's likely just a harmless algae but we feel much better drinking it after it's gone through our filter and we've learned to plan our water stops more than we used to if we want clear water. Though there's rarely restaurants to stop at, our map shows every town with a church and in Sweden, if there's a church there's always a cemetery surrounding it. I've never seen such well manicured cemeteries with fresh flowers on every site, but the good thing for us is that it means there are water spigots as well. They're easy to spot as there are racks of water cans and gardening tools alongside the water, so as of late the majority of our drinking water has come from cemeteries. We figure we'll get to drink enough river water in the weeks to come.
Root Beer River
With the decrease in number of people came an insane increase in the number of gnats. We expected the mosquitoes to be horrible but the gnats have far outdone them and proven to be pure torture, far worse than even the worst tabano incidents in South America, which we thought could never be topped. Our first night in no-man's land taught us just how bad it can be out here. We got to camp, set up our tent and by the time we were ready to make dinner it was virtually impossible to remain outside. We were fully covered in shoes, jeans, rain jackets and hats yet were were being eaten alive. I would have killed to have a bee keeper's suit and a pair of chemistry goggles. We decided to cook dinner inside the tent but with us entered several hundred gnats. It wasn't a very relaxing meal as we had to deal with the biting gnats while trying to cook and eat. By the end of dinner we each had dozens of bites but at least the tent was void of them. We let our food settle for a minute and then realized we had a bit of a problem. The sky outside was gray and swarming with millions of insects but we still had stuff to do out of the tent, like washing the dishes, brushing our teeth, going to the bathroom and putting the rain fly on the tent. It was like we were prisoners in our little mesh bubble, stuck inside a snow globe, only we had flesh biting gnats rather than beautiful white snowflakes swirling around us.
A tiny corner of our tent.
We didn't have much of a choice, we had to get out. It was a 2-man project to exit the tent as fast as possible. One of us had to unzip the door as the other literally dove through the opening and rolled on the ground outside while the first person proceeded to zip the door shut as the second person's feet were leaving the tent. Try doing chores, or better yet going to the bathroom, when you can't stop moving in the spastic movements of a child throwing a tantrum, legs running in place, arms flailing and head shaking side to side, for even an instant without feeling the prick of a bite somewhere on your body. It's impossible. They were so thick that when we slapped at one that had landed on our faces, our hand ended up covered in dozens of tiny black corpses.
As soon as our chores were completed we dove back into the tent only to find that it, too, was swarming with the ruthless devils. Several hours later we had a clean tent and were able to go to sleep, but shortly thereafter I awoke with a dilemma, either lay awake all night having to pee or go out into the torture chamber. In the dusk of midnight it appeared as though they had calmed down a bit so I chose the latter but it turned out to be a big mistake. In the 20 seconds I was outside I got at least a hundred bites and let another 100 gnats into the tent with me. I spent the next hour scratching at my skin uncontrollably like a drug addict coming down from a high while Mike played gnat killer in hopes we might get a few more hours of sleep that night.
It was an unbelievably miserable night and now I understand how Sweden can have the “Every Man's Right” and not worry too much about their land getting trashed. What's the fun of camping when you're confined to a tent? I now look like I have Chicken Pox and we've found ourselves wishing for two things cyclists never want, wind and rain, but we learned a very valuable lesson. The next day we bought a little orange bucket with cute fish on it and made a rule: You get one entrance into the tent every night so once you're in, you're in for good. You can either severely dehydrate yourself every night, lay awake and uncomfortable having to go to the bathroom until morning or swallow your pride and use the bucket.
Mike with our bucket (before it was used).
Close up views of our nicely decorated bucket.