The two old men hunched wet and cold in their canoe as the icy hail beat a rattling tattoo on their clothing and the skin of their aluminium boat. The rain had turned to ice and the hail lashed at them spitefully, yet for all its chill the weather was windless and the lake they sat upon was mill pond calm.
Stroke, dipped the paddles as in unison they dug into the water and shoulder muscles straining pulled the canoe forward.
The day had started dark, the weather forecast received over the phone had predicted sun (sadly the trust placed in the person on the other end of the phone was misplaced as later they found out the forecast they were given was for Stockholm a 100 miles away - so you know the moral of that story) ............ but the skies, devoid of blue, stayed leaden and grey. They, the only two people on the lake for many square miles, felt the oppressive silence.
Fortunately the entire trip hadn't been so gloomy.
The old, ex sergeant Major and his trusted army buddy had been travelling since 0430, independent travellers they had arrived at Arjang in Sweden 11 hours later. The rain was heavy and the omens dark.
But the smiling face of their old friend who drove up to meet them quickly dispelled the gloom and soon bad jokes and chuckles filled the car taking them to the canoe centre.
Upon arrival at Risviken they were taken up to the big house and a tasty traditional Swedish meal of fajitas with whisky chasers was enjoyed - much welcomed after a long days travel but not to clever on a near empty stomach. It was good to see old friends looking so well and the party atmosphere lifted spirits ............ as did the whisky.
Dawn ........... heads throbbing a little, kit is packed into waterproof duffles, canoes and live jackets signed out and carried to the waters edge. The skies have cleared, a lightish breeze ruffles the water as our adventurers set off into the watery wastes before them.
Their course is true, old hands both, as they silently slip pass the small island that houses the massive nest of a "fishing eagle" ......... silently maybe by still the male spies them and launching itself on huge wings circles the canoe calling out its warning.
This trip is all about chilling out so our pair set a casual pace as they cruise ever south down the lake past old campsite and old happy memories ............ the younger one, in the front of the canoe chuckles aloud, calling back, "Always makes me laugh. I am scanning the trees waiting for the first musket round." He then shakes his head and smiling adds, "Its like last of the Mohican's! Haven't you got anything better to do on the lake today major."
Two comfortable hours paddle into a slight wind and they arrive at the place they want to camp. The shelter there stands on a rocky cliff over looking the lake with a majesty not lost on your friends. One sad find however was that the previous visitors had hacked and slashed a lot of young trees to pieces - ignorant people scaring the very thing they came to see. To add to the insult at the camp the guys find the fire pit full of green wood and three entire boxes of matches burnt and discarded below it.
Camp routine is a comfortable thing and here the routine was, as ever, quick and efficient. The right side of the Dano (a lean too type wooden shelter) becomes storage (in the shade out the sun light) while to the left personal gear is stashed. I fishing rod appears as the Sgt Major prepares to gather sustenance. The bearded old warrior smiles knowingly as the fisherman departs, his is the mundane task of setting up camp and cleaning up the previous visitors mess.
Was a fish supper enjoyed?
Sleep that long forgotten friend now returned as warm hazy lazy days drifted into one another - morning paddling, afternoons setting up camps. Meals cooked, spoons carved, birch bark containers crafted and the days merge til oh so soon it is the final morning ..........
Sadly, the canoe is loaded for the last time and the pair begin their long slow track back to the world.
The annual May/June canoe trip for them is a pilgrimage, a chance to talk, remember and bond. The weather was indifferent but the warmth of that friendship was as heart warming as ever. Old soldiers never die that just group in Valhalla.
Another great trip - time spent with a very good old friend. We chilled out and we enjoyed ..........