2220 was a 56 day 2392 km journey around the coast of Sweden in the summer of 2005 by sea kayak. The idea came from my wife Louisa, a globe trotting, kayaking Swede who I met in London two years earlier, fell in love with and married. Louisa had wanted to paddle around Sweden for some time and was pretty much ready for it.
I was another story. I have never been a sporty type: used to skip games at school and only played one football match in my life (I was sent off early for fouling – stupid rules!). I realised that if Ii was to see much of Louisa, I would have to overcome a deep rooted fear of drowning and learn how to kayak. Being a serious gamer (video!) and never one to pass up on a challenge, I decided to try and join her on the expedition to paddle around Sweden. That gave me 16 months from when I first stared out across Stoke Newington reservoir in a tiny plastic 'bucket' with an unwieldy paddle in my hands. A few months later, I took my first leap into the seat of a sea kayak in Jersey, Channel Islands. My family are from the Channel Islands and I knew several people who drowned in the extreme waters. I was certain I would join them. The Jersey trip came and went blindingly with plenty of thrilling and technical sea kayaking and my remaining in the land of the living. Autumn and winter were filled with training, some very cold and wet safety courses and a wilderness survival first aid course where I did my back in and was laid up for three days. With only 4 months to go before the expedition, pain killers, a good chiropractor and a large measure of determination pulled the vertebrae back into an acceptable state. A month before 2220, we moved to Sweden, I started a new job, we finalised our arrangements and prepared ourselves for the adventure.
All that remained was to get up every morning and paddle until we reached Haparanda and the Finnish border. In the meantime, we had to keep ourselves well fed (this was to prove more difficult than expected), avoid injury or worse and I, as the photographer, was to take plenty of photos. The process of documenting the expedition was an additional challenge: the camera, cards and batteries had to be kept dry, the camera was always on my lap, turned on and stopping to take a shot meant having to catch up ground paddling. Batteries had to be recharged, the lens wiped before each shot and a big measure of faith put into both kayak and paddles when attempting shots in demanding seas. At times, it felt like an endless chore but those moments were vastly outweighed by the delight at experiencing and capturng the extraordinary situations and environments that we encountered.
A few additional thoughts that relate to the experience of spending 2 months existing along this interface between sea and land:
Firstly, resources: it was extraordinary how difficult and how different the journey was from our prior expectations. The best way to describe much of the experience was a thrilling resource management game: balancing distance to be travelled against the amount of food and water we could carry, our energy levels, the wind and sea conditions and the level of risk we were willing to deal with.
Second is viewpoint. Travelling around an entire country at sea level is odd. Seated in a kayak, head height is about that of a 9 year old and the viewpoint is inverted: the usual experience of the coast is looking out to sea, possibly from an elevated position, from the kayak, the view is along the coast or back to land. Several people since have commented that now we have seen all of Sweden. That isn't entirely true, some days it was foggy, sometimes we paddled in the pitch black, at other times we were far from land, what I can say is that wherever I stand on the Swedish coast, I can look out and know we paddled past that point.
Thirdly is best described as lightness of being. The zone in which we existed was ephemeral (even though it didn't seem so at the time): being in kayaks, we could travel in areas inaccessible to other craft, conversely, we were next to invisible to other craft. We camped in out-of-the-way places leaving no trace of our being there and often travelled at night or far from other people. We were not in regular contact with anyone, could only use mobiles when we had reception which was sporadic and only used maps and compass after our GPS became waterlogged on day 2. This, coupled with the modest amount of gear we could carry led to an extraordinary feeling of freedom, of being disconnected from the usual baggage and detritus that makes up everyday life.
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We would like to thank our sponsors and supporters, without whom 2220 would not have been possible: Kokatat (protective clothing), Point 65 (kayaks), Lendal (carbon paddles and splits), Suunto (wrist computers), Roni Reklam, Wide Sport and John and Edna Bichard (financial support).
We would also like to thank the following for additional equipment and support: Outside, Snugpak, Sandisk, Cameras Underwater (Ewa marine camera cases), Leatherman, Dashmount, Deep Sea, Eat Natural and Navionics. People we would like to thank include: Olaf, Jon and JR for coaching support, Richard for time and a phone, Magnus and Mark for hauling everything over form the UK. Mike at Scottish Paddler Supplies and Dave at Knoydart. Last but not least: Pernilla and Christian for their support throughout the expedition. Further details can be found at the 2220 expedition site.