By Jörgen Johansson
|My camera broke when the pack tumbled, so all photos are of course taken before that and do not depict the actual area described in the text. Still, I have tried to choose photos that support the narrative.|
That was a great relief. At least I would have most of my gear. In what shape remained to be seen. Bending over the pack I could see that the things that had been strapped to the outside of the pack were gone. Most noticeably my closed cell foam pad and my tent. However, my homemade stuff pocket attached with carabineers in six places was still there. The pouch I had been wearing on the hip belt I had already recovered, but the belt buckle next to it was gone.
Closer inspection also showed a 15 centimeter rip in the fabric on the side of the pack, near the bottom. I left the pack and scouted around briefly for the lost articles. It took me only a couple of minutes to see the grey foam pad resting among the rocks some 20 meters above the snow bridge.
Checking my watch I realized I had spent a couple of hours more than I had realized trying to work myself along the steep slope. It was now 2 pm and it certainly was a good time to count my blessings, have lunch and take stock. Some 30 meters upstream I found a shelf of gravel and silt where I sat down and cooked my lunch.
Things could have been a lot worse, but imperative was of course to find my tent. I was still 3-4 days away from a known airstrip, the Marsh Fork of the Canning River, where my resupplies waited. There might be other airstrips closer, if needed a sat phone call to Coyote Air would no doubt inform me of that. Still, spending a couple of nights without a tent was not something I looked forward to.
It was not that I was really scared of this prospect though. Unless it rained continuously, it would no doubt be more unpleasant than really dangerous. I felt pretty certain that I could manage this until I could be picked up by a plane. But it certainly would cut my vacation short, and that I did not want. Which of course is a bit strange considering how scared I had been less than an hour ago. It goes to show how hopelessly depraved you can become if you get into wilderness backpacking.
After lunch I searched the rock-strewn gully that had conveyed me and my pack down to the snow bridge at the bottom of the ravine, albeit separately and at different speeds. I found some odds and ends of my gear scattered. My camera tripod had fallen out of the outside stuff pocket of the pack. The legs remained, the attachment for the camera was smashed to pieces.
My binoculars, attached to the shoulder strap, was also broken into several pieces. I had already checked the belt pouch and found the compass smashed and the camera not functioning. Also, the Spot satellite transceiver attached to the top of the pack was fatally damaged. But zigzagging my way slowly up the steep incline I could not find my tent.
It was packed in its original olive-colored silnylon stuff sack. I had sewn on a couple of loops and attached it to a couple of the compressor straps of my pack. Another color stuff sack that did not blend quite as well with the surrounding rocks might have been a good idea, I realized. Next time.
I went all the way up to the sort-of-ramp where I had let go of my pack and seen it tumble out of sight. Still no tent. Well, it had to be somewhere on this slope or below in the creek perhaps. I had already checked if I could see anything under the snow bridge. I had plenty of time. I would simply spend the amount of hours it took to find my shelter.
I started downhill once more slowly criss-crossing the slope and almost immediately saw the tent behind a small rock, where I had missed it going up. I spent the next hour in my Spartan little haven of rocks and silt beside the creek doing some repair work. The rip in my pack felt most urgent and important, I did not want it to get any bigger.
Using dental floss and a needle I did a pretty good job, at least in my own opinion. After this I wrenched my rain pants inside out and looked at the seat, which had a huge number of small and big rips. For these I cut small and big pieces from the last of my Dupont Tyvek Ruban tape.
This is my favorite tape for water-proofness. It had been recommended by Alpacka for mending packrafts with the kind long slashes that their original repair patches did not cover. The right thing if a grizzly should trash the raft or an underwater rock should gut it. Ideal for my backpacking and packrafting trip to the South Nahanni a couple of years ago.
I since had found that the tape stayed on waterproof clothing for seemingly any number of washes. I have used for prolonging the life of ex-waterproof stuffsacks and I was pretty sure it would keep my Montane Minimus Rain pants alive for the rest of my trip.
Time to move on. The upper part of this horrid, no-name canyon gave me no trouble and the pass over to the next drainage was just a bit of a slope. This had me a couple of hours later descending a canyon in what gave the impression of twilight, probably because of the overcast sky, since mid-July north of the Acrtic Circle is not really twilight time.
It was a wonderful canyon, it felt very peaceful after this rough day. The sculptured limestone mountains on both sides were riddled with caves, big and small. Between them pinnacles and outcroppings, big and small, gave the valley a fairy tale aura.
I loved these faraway, desolate valleys with their artful rock sculptures, so like and yet so unlike the mountains of Scandinavia where I have my particular roots. The sense of immense space surrounding this nameless valley and its nameless mountains could have been scary, but was not. I felt at home and counted myself blessed to be here. So fully alive.
The camp by some willows with a creek running beside it could have been perfect. And maybe it was as perfect as you can reasonably ask for. One obvious drawback can be inferred from the fact that it will always stay in my mind as Camp Mosquito. The other smudge was a re-run of the night before.
As close to the same time, about 7 pm, when I had finished cooking my noodles and grabbed the spoon to dig in, it started to rain. So I made the same hasty retreat into my tent as I had in Camp Magic.
The following day led me through a decidedly more mellow landscape than the day before. And I was not, I repeat not, complaining. I made good time for the first couple of hours, out of my mosquito-infested fairy tale valley, across a wide expanse of meandering river branches and gravel bars, going up towards another passage into another drainage. If I did not screw up or ran into some other awful ravines I should be able to reach my food cache on the Marsh Fork of the Canning River tonight. Right on schedule, which felt good. Maybe I wasn’t totally out of my depth.
This passage was a bit of a high valley with low mountains around. Some brushy willows and some tussocks covered the ground, leading me past a small lake and then a bigger one. Lakes had not been plentiful along my route, in fact the map shows precious few lakes in the Brooks.
This bigger on one even had some fish, making their widening gyres on the zink-colored plate of water. I stopped for lunch where the creek I would follow for the next goodly number of hours excited the lake. While the freeze dried course from Backpacker’s Pantry was rejuvenating I tried my luck at fishing.
Following the creek downstream began tussocky and topsy turvy, forcing a slower pace than I had begun the day with. After a couple of hours the creek had widened but so had the river bed and I made good time on some of the driest and widest gravel bars I had so far seen. They seemed incongruously wide for such a medium size creek, but I made good time. In fact, too good time.
The map had shown me that I would pass a wide tributary coming from the left and then reach the Marsh Fork also coming from left. There I would turn upstream and should be able to reach the airstrip and my cache tonight. But I was too confident and got sloppy.
Willow thickets along the banks and on islands in the river bed contributed to making route finding a bit complicated. It took me a surprisingly long time to reach the tributary coming from the left, but around 4 pm I reached it. It was sizable and braided, but the main channel looked a bit intimidating. Excellent time for a cup of coffee and some calories.
The ford turned out to be a slightly easier than expected; it was another 80-percenter. Continuing downstream towards the Marsh Fork I made good time. I found some flat ground with a game trail exactly were a slope coming off a major mountain turned into flat ground. After about an hour, and checking the map now and then it began to dawn on me that something was not right.
The valley on the left that I could see coming some three-four kilometers ahead should have been the Marsh Fork. But the mountain on my left was too high and steep. Once my eyes had opened to this I realized that the ford I had made an hour back was in fact not a tributary to my creek, but the Marsh Fork of the Canning River itself. I had made good mileage, but away from my food cache.
I began realizing that I would not reach the airstrip tonight, unless I wanted to walk very late, which I saw no reason to do. So I went back and forded the Marsh Fork again, followed it upstream and camped some five-six kilometers away from the resupply spot.
A plane passed over me while I was having supper and I waved, but got no sign from it. I was not certain if it was the plane from Coyote Air that had flown me into Joe Creek many days and miles ago.
It only took me about 1,5 hours the next morning to make my way up to the area marked on my map where I thought it would be fruitful to keep my eyes open for the airstrip. I zigzaged in long sweeps back and forth, continuing upstream, but the airstrip took further to materialize than expected. During this scan of the area I scared a red fox, which rapidly disappeared among the low willows, brandishing its beautiful, red tail.
I had just decided to swing back and make a search further away from the river, going back downstream, when I saw a plane on the ground. At the other end of the airstrip I could see what I took to be my food barrels. I could also see some tents a couple of hundred meters away from the plane.
I had opened my barrels and was checking my things when I saw two people approaching. Before them ran a friendly pup that I recognized as belonging to Dirk and Danielle. I was sitting on a barrel petting the dog when the dogs people arrived, welcoming me and handing me a spare compass, which I had asked for after my own got totalled going down that steep slope at an illegal speed. The GPS was in one of the barrels.
Dirk and Danielle were on a couple of days vacation with their kids and some friends. Poor weather up north had made them decide to go here instead. This turned out to be a very fortunate coincidence, at least for me.
I pitched my tent close to a little creek away from the runway and dug into my food supplies. Some luxuries were waiting. I had a can of beef and potato stew, a welcome change from the freeze dried dishes and the mashed potatoes. After lunch, and for most of the afternoon, I munched off and on a can of peach halves in syrup and finally drank the syrup, wallowing in the calories that would not have time to settle around my mid-section before I would be trekking again.
I spent quite some time trying to mend the remaining buckle of my waist belt, one part of which had gone missing when the pack careened down the steep slope a couple of days ago. I used some of the soft wire from my repair kit for this.
Towards the end of the day I sat down with Dirk and discussed route options for my continued hike. My planned route along the spine of the Brooks Range to The Road was in many ways the ‘high route’, the spectacular route.
This had so far put me in a number of spectacular situations that I had absolutely no wish to repeat. With the help of Dirks knowledge of these mountains we plotted a new route that would avoid the steepest areas and passes.
This route would take me further north than originally intended. I would leave my earlier route at the Ivishak river and use a less precipitous pass towards the Ribdon River. After having followed this river for a couple of days I would cut across from Elusive Lake towards the Sagavanirtok River and then let the Atigun River and Atigun Gorge take me out to The Road.
This route would be slightly shorter than the original one, as well. One problem was that this would bring me outside the maps I had printed for my original route, but Dirk let me have a big map for fliers to give me an overview and as a backup, should my GPS somehow fail.
The next morning I forded the Marsh Fork of the Canning River for the last time and slowly made my way up the steep slope on the other side. My pack was full, with food for the next two weeks it was once more back to some 23-25 kilos. My goal for the day, more or less, was one of the few lakes along my route, it even had a name, Porcupine Lake.
Up on top of the steep incline from the river I encountered my first tussocks of the day. It would be a day of tussocks. So far I’d encountered tussocks off and on, and felt that the more common, medium sized tussocks to be more of a problem for me than the infamous giant tussocks. These latter ones had usually covered smaller areas that sometimes could be bypassed, but otherwise left space between the tussocks for decent footing.
This was something different. These were the more common medium tussocks. That is, the size of these varied between that of a handball and that of a football, with a few exceptions outside this range for good measure. They covered the entire valley ahead.
Walking among them and on them would have been a lot easier if they had not been more or less covered by what seemed a mesh of, for want of a better word; organic growth. The tussocks showed through this tightly woven net as small bumps, usually with tufts sticking up. This made every step very exciting.
When you step on an elastic, but fairly unyielding ball there are five basic options with an infinite number of slight variations, all around the clock, on this theme. The five options are that you can put your foot down forward of the balance point of the tussock. This will of course make your body weight shift forward, for which you have to compensate in order not to fall on your nose.
The second option is that you your foot will land slightly to the rear of this jello-ish balance point. You have to compensate for this or you will fall on your back. Of course putting your foot to the left or to the right of this balance point will require similar adjustments.
Now we come to the fifth major option, that you will put your foot exactly in the middle, on the balance point, of the darned thing. This will also mean that you will need to do some readjustments of your own balance point, if not for any other reason, simply out of surprise.
Now, when a person is walking on a flat and reasonably unyielding surface, which is almost always the case, your foot and body knows what will receive it and how this will have to be managed to propel you forward into your next step. So, before your foot actually has reached the spot of terra firma where you have decided to place it, you have already begun to plan and execute your next step.
This is of course never more obivious than when you are running and both feet sometimes are in the air at the same time. Needless to say this is very far from tussock walking. Very, very far from tussock walking. Astromically far might be a slight exaggeration, but only a slight.
For tussock walking I had invented, as a way of keeping my sanity, what I called ‘tussock mode’. Tussock mode is a mental attitude. It means that you should not expect to get anywhere at your normal pace. Walking on tussocks, as you might have guessed, is something that parents would classify as "builds character".
Now, patience is not my strong suit. My youngest son once told me exasperatedly: "I’m exactly like you, dad, I have no patience whatsoever".
Perhaps one of the things I like about backpacking is that it is glaringly obvious that nothing in your vocabulary can even slightly influence the natural world surrounding you. This is of course glaringly obvious for most situations in life, but that, I am still working on.
What worked for me, particularly on this tussocky Alaska day, was to regularly remind myself that rapid progress through this was just not possible. The only thing that would get me to The Road was, as usual, putting one foot in front of the other until I got there.
But I digress, there are parts of the tussock mode of ambulation that are still to be told. We have established that in order to manage the fact that you must have compensated for whatever tilt of the surface your forward foot has encountered, before beginning to move your rear foot. In order to do this, walking poles are a wonderful and literal support.
The poles keep you on your feet, even if you stagger like a drunkard even with their help. However, when you put your weight on the poles, or your weight is put upon them simply by reflex action to keep yourself from falling, they penetrate this mesh of organic growth that blunts out the details in the tussock under-world.
How much these sticks penetrate depends on what is below the mesh. It might be the middle of a compact steady tussock, which only means an inch or two of penetration, or it might be in between two tussocks, which might mean the poles goes down a foot or more. If you have small baskets on your poles this will give them added flotation and make them penetrate less.
The real fun occurs when you take your next, hesitant step forward, your body prepared to outbalance anything it encounters. You will then need to move your walking poles forward. This however means that you have to pull first one up through the organic mesh-mess, which is not cooperating.
Sometimes you have to rip the pole with the now obstructing mini-basket out with a considerable effort, since you are in mid stride and know you will have to get that pole forward pretty quick in order to support yourself when the foot lands on…something. This pulling out is of course particularly invigorating if you have baskets on your poles. I had baskets.
Of course, it is very obvious that you now have to do the same thing with the other walking pole, but I will not bore you with an account of that. I think you get the message that tussock walking is the kind of thing so beloved by phys-ed people; a full body workout.
These kinds of musings kept me occupied on this most tussocky of my days in the Brooks. Towards evening I was pretty tired. I had some hopes of reaching Porcupine Lake and finding a nice camp spot with a view. However, as the day wore on I was beginning to worry about finding any spot anywhere that would be tussock free enough for me to pitch my tent.
When I was some 1-2 kilometers away from Porcupine Lake I encountered a creek meandering through the tussocks. This meandering had perhaps, when the water ran high, managed to flush the tussocks away down to gravel with a nice flat area beckoning between the welcoming arms of the meandering little waterway.
I had no problems recognizing that this as Camp Oasis and put my pack down in this slight hollow in the tussock expanse. Even if the area itself was reasonably big, finding a spot where I could sleep comfortably was not that easy. After having pitched my tent in the flattest spot I could find, I realized that the front opening was exactly where one of the holes to an Arctic ground Squirrel warren was situated.
This gave me some thought. Dirk and Danielle of Coyote Air were much more worried about ground squirrels raiding their food supply than they were of bears doing the same. And I had heard other stories about tents and stuff sacks having been gnawed by these rodents.
I usually kept all my food more or less insode the pack in my fore tent. The exception being the things I would eat for breakfast, which were on hand right outside the zip of my inner tent. Most mornings the weather and the bugs made breakfast, sitting in my sleeping bag, inside the tent attractive. If the weather was nice I would sit outside, usually in my sleeping bag to stay comfortably warm.
I did not overly worry about bears. The normal procedures for me in bear country is to either hang the food high up or use Ursacks tied to a sturdy tree. This is what I did while hiking in and packrafting the South Nahanni River a few years earlier. For that trip I had also brought a Cuben fibre tarp under which I did all my cooking some 50-100 meters away from my tent.
For backpackers in the Gates of the Arctic National Park, also in Brooks Range, just across The Road some 200 kilometers away from where I was, bear canisters are required. The park ranger in Coldfoot had given me the impression that he would have liked to be able impose that rule on me as well. But since these regulations do not include the ANWR, I could fortunately do as I pleased.
|The hourly snack; cup of water with chocolate, raisins and nuts.|
For a shorter hike with less food and weight to transport I would maybe have brought Ursacks, but it is a bit doubtful since there are not many trees to tie them onto. However, I had the impression from a number of sources (among those people that had crossed this area before me, like Buck Nelson, Andy Skurka and Kristin Gates) that bears would be less of a problem here than in many other places.
The arguments for this seemed pretty good. First, we are talking about a very lean Arctic area. This is not the salmon rivers of southern Alaska, where you can see 50 bears at one go along a stretch of foaming water. Bear density is lower in the Brooks. Also, few people hike and move in the ANWR. In case I actually encountered a bear up close I would most likely be the first human this bear had ever encountered.
A normal bear encounter in the Brooks, and in most other places I think, is that once the inquisitive and clever animal identifies you as human, which is mostly an unknown entity and certainly not part of the regular menu, it runs away, often literally shit-scared. Andrew Skurka’s great Youtube video ("I scared the shit out of a grizzly bear") testifies to this.
The bus driver I had ridden with from Fairbanks to Coldfoot had been a biologist that worked for a month every summer at the McNeil River bear sanctuary of southern Alaska. She had given me some advice about too-close-for-comfort bear encounters, the main one being: Stand your ground.
According to her, attitude was extremely important, both in bear to bear and bear to human encounters, as she had seen hundreds of times along the McNeil. Do not show fear, do not act as a prey. Try step up higher than the bear, but keep your pelvis pointing squarely towards the bear so as not to indicate any flight tendencies on your part.
I also mentioned Svante Lysén, a Swede who wintered on Svalbard in the1990’s and had recorded 130 polar bear encounters, some at very, very close range. At none of these 130 encounters he felt that the bear acted threatening. Now, polar bears that are NOT threatening do not make the headlines and do not bring in sponsors. So far as I know Svante is still an unsponsored and honest guy, and quite happy about that.
Anyway, Svante had found that among all the rifles, bangers and flashers that he had used to scare bears, banging two metal pots together was the most effective. His theory was that shots and other explosions were commonplace for polar bears living next to breaking ice and calving glaciers all the time. Besides, bang of a warning shot from a rifle spent most of its bang close to the shooter, and not close to the bear.
|Part of food supply before being repackaged.|
The sum of all this was that I felt that I had the statistics on my side. The bears would be few and far between. If encountered the probability that they would run away when identifying me as human would be close to 100 percent. If not I would stand my ground, say my prayers and aim my pepper spray. At the eyes and nose.
The conclusion for food storage in the Brooks, based on the above, was that I slept with my food in the foretent, which is standard practice for Scandinavia, because I thought this would be the best protection for it. And, please remember that I would not do this in an area infested with people habituated bears, like some popular parks in the California Sierras or similar. Both because it would be stupid and because it would be illegal.
|Breakfast cerals repackaged into daily 100 gram portions with dried milk added.|
I was pretty happy to have camped in Oasis, because there was not an abundance of camping spots to be seen around Porcupine Lake. Still in tussock country when I continued my hike. When I reached the lake itself I found the best passage to be more or less in the water along the northern shoreline.
The sun was shining most of the morning as I made my way walking in a narrow strip of sand or shale between the water and the tussocky and rather steep shore. Sometimes the strip narrowed down to something that only allowed one foot on dry land. Sometimes I was almost waist deep in water. Still usually better than the tussocks.
The creek flowing out of the lake was small to start with and did not have much of gravel bars to walk on, so it was a bit of tussocks for a while. When the creek had put on some weight, easy walking on gravel bars was back on the agenda. As usual these bars alternated from side to side, depending on how the creek was meandering.
So I also kept on going from side to side, crossing the calf deep creek every five minutes or so, making my way downstream towards the Ivishak river. I hade a nice lunch break on a gravel bar, the sun peeking out and with precious few mosquitoes that wanted to get involved with my mashed potatoes and beef stick sausage.
The weather stayed nice as I continued downstream. For a long stretch the rocks and gravel in the river were so red that the water seemed to be crimson as well. This was enough for the old song Red River Valley to wriggle itself into my mind and stay there for a while.
About halfway to the Ivishak the small creek became surrounded by truly gigantic gravel bars. Areas the size football fields surrounded the slowly growing creek for kilometer after kilometer. If this was anything to go by, the spring flood in this area promised to be something else.
There was a really cold wind blowing, but during my hourly breaks I usually managed to find a nook among the willows with two wonderful traits; out of the wind and in the sun. Nice enough to nod off occasionally.
Around 4 pm I hit the Ivishak River and stopped for coffee. This was the sixth major river with a name that was on my check list. Three more to go. The last hours following the Ivishak upstream were cold going, against the wind. I had to add my rain jacket with a tightly cinched hood on top of my wind shirt in order to stay warm comfortably warm.
After numerous fords in various channels, all of them easy, I made my way into the willows along the shore to find a camp out of the wind. I found a pretty good but nondescript spot in the thickets, not that close to the water. I was very careful to take note of my surroundings when I scrambled out to the Ivishak to fill my water bottle for the night. The risk of not finding my tent and gear was imminent.
Like so many other evenings it started to rain when I was cooking, so supper was taken in the tent. I spent some time carefully plotting my way to the pass across to the Ribdon River that Dirk had shown me. It would take some care not to miss any of the tributaries that I would have to pick in the right order tomorrow.
I was not exactly zipping with energy the next day. It had rained a lot during the night and the mountains around were white-shouldered in the chilly and greyish dawn. I started hiking around 9 am and fortunately the rain stopped after an hour or so. I made good time along the gravel bars in spite of the heavy pack and had no problems finding the first tributary that I would follow on my way to the pass.
After another three kilometers there was the next turn-off, also easily identified. A GPS has its advantages, although I felt that I had done pretty well without it so far. After lunching under a haphazardly mounted Trailstar hung from some willows in case of rain, I found myself going upstream a narrowing creek with steep canyon walls creeping up on me.
Not something that I wanted, considering what was behind me in the shape of narrow canyons and steep mountainsides. The landscape was a bit weird with cliffs and canyon walls looking like something out of a cowboy movie set in southwestern United States. The snow-covered peaks served as a good reminder that this was Alaska, though. Summer in Alaska, no less.
There were a couple of tricky fords in small, narrow canyons that had me a bit worried that I would have to leave the creek bed and climb. Nothing like that materialized, though, and the sun was shining peacefully as I made my way up along the numerous narrow canyons that never seemed to end.
The fords chilled my feet eventually, so I put on my Neoprene socks. I had used them quite a bit, they kept my feet warm when needed and also gave a bit of protection to feet and ankles in scree and talus.
It was a beautiful afternoon, and on several occasions I could feel tears coming out. Tears of joy, because my ‘Alaska summer’ had become reality. I was right in the middle of it and living what had been a dream since I was a boy. To travel a huge wilderness on my own for weeks on end. This felt truly like the jewel in the crown of all my rambling and backpacking years. A memory to keep and cherish. Not something that I would try to outdo.
Not that I would not like to return to these mountains, but likely not on a hike of this scope. That is how I felt that afternoon. Now I am not so sure…
There was a bit of bite to the air when I made Camp Wild West in a lovely spot where the valley widened on one side of my ice cold creek. Sun, with a bit of wind, and supper outside the tent with a nice view made it a memorable evening.
The following day was ‘pass day’. Now I would see what the ‘easy pass’ looked like in real life. It was also the birthday of my youngest son.
It took me about an hour to get to the foot of the pass. In this case the creek continued up towards a glacier blocking the valley further ahead. This explained the cold water and need for Neoprene socks yesterday.
But on my right, a steep slope between some sizable mountains with sharp pinnacles, was my way out of this particular rut. I took a break and had some snacks before tackling the slope. The sun was shining and it was a glorious spot to be at and to feel alive in every fiber of my body.
The slope was OK, I had expected something worse. No matter, it was a steep slog with a heavy pack, akin to the one I had bitten off and chewed when leaving the resupply camp at the Marsh Fork. Topping out, however, the flat high passage indicated by the GPS map did not materialize.
I was beginning to learn that some contour lines seemed to be missing in these digital maps. Enlarging did not bring further contour lines, just white space that could hide an awful lot of vertical meters.
What I saw in front of me was undulating mountain sides with some deep, but thankfully not too steep, ravines. It would be a lot of ups and downs before I came out on the other side of this passage where the Ribdon River was beckoning.
I took the first ravine in a long, wide semicircle, and managed a slow decent that saved a lot of energy in spite of being longer. I kept the semicircle going up the other side, slantwise up the steep, green hill. Another similar descent into a slighly more rocky but not as deep ravine followed. At the bottom my watch, belly and the briskly running water signaled lunch-time. Due to the time difference it was also, due to the time difference, a good time for an evening call to my 15 year old back home in Sweden, to wish him a happy birthday.