Wanda Catsman writes a hiking blog and Isabelle Franssen is a passionate hiker, but the two Dutch women didn’t really know each other before taking off from Selånger. However, eleven days on S:t Olavsleden have forged a friendship, and by the time they reach Östersund they are laughing and interrupting each other, making you think that they have known each other well for years.
– I have done a few pilgrim trails in the Netherlands and last summer I hiked the Camino de Santiago, says Wanda Catsman, who writes about trekking in her blog Wandawandelt.nl.
– Last year I was invited on a short press trip on the highlights of S:t Olavsleden, and I decided that I had to come back and do the whole trail.
Wanda had met Isabelle when they were both part of a judging panel at an outdoor fair and invited her to come along. They took off from Selånger at the end of July and spent two weeks on the trail. Wanda couldn’t be away from work any longer.
– I’ll walk two extra days from Östersund to Nälden and Isabelle will go to Stockholm. Then we’ll meet up and fly back home together. But the plan is to come back next year and continue where we left off – I know there are some great sections ahead.
Generousity and kindness along the trail
The two are enthusiastic about their hiking experience so far and talk animatedly about the colourful houses, perfect gardens and friendly people they have come across along the way.
– One day, we were walking along the road when a car stopped and a woman jumped out saying “Ah, you must be pilgrims!”. She invited us to stay at her pilgrim accommodation down the road, so we did and had a lovely long talk with her, says Wanda Catsman.
– You don’t meet as many people here as on other trails, but those you do meet are so generous and kind, says Isabelle Franssen.
While some pilgrims walk for religious reasons, Isabelle says she simply likes walking. Wanda, on the other hand, likes the stories she hears along the way:
– I’m not religious, but there is something spiritual about walking in nature and going inside yourself. And I’m really interested in the historic aspect of the trails; I love the signs telling us about the churches, and finding out the roots of village names, and other interesting facts.
Next time – pack less!
When asked if they will do anything differently when they come back, they unanimously say: pack less.
– I packed in a hurry! When we got to Matfors, I sent three kilos of unnecessary stuff home, says Isabelle Franssen.
– Now we are carrying 17-18 kilos each, which is OK because we have good packs. But the tent will stay behind next time – all the camping areas have had nice huts we can rent, so we haven’t pitched the tent once.
The trick of walking together
Has sticking together been hard, what with being relatively new friends and all?
– We decided right from the start that we would be straight up with each other; if it didn’t work out, we would go our separate ways. I think it’s important to talk about it, says Wanda Catsman.
They also decided that it was perfectly fine to separate during the day.
– Wanda is quicker than me in the mornings, so finding the same pace takes a little while, says Isabelle Franssen.
– And Isabelle is like a diesel engine; she needs to warm up, but once she has she can keep going forever, laughs Wanda Catsman.
That said, they have only chosen different paths once, when Isabelle decided to take a day off and go by train, while Wanda continued walking with an Italian trekker they had met along the way.
– You need to give each other freedom to make your own decisions on a long walk like this, says Wanda Catsman.
Read Wandas blog from St Olavsleden here.