Vendor dodges frostbite and horned owl attacks in 3000km trek across Sweden

Throughout #VendorWeek (1-7 February), we will publish some of our favourite stories from our international network of street paper vendors. Today, we begin with a long-distance tale of horned owls, abandoned saunas and gritty determination.

By Jonas Füllner, Hinz&Kunzt
Photos by Stefan Nolervik

It started with an idea – a journey to the Arctic Circle, alone and on foot. Curiosity and the lust for adventure was what drove Torsten Meiners on. His motto? “Let’s see how far I get.”

The long-time Hinz&Kunzt vendor first attempted the trip one year ago. But after 10 days, bad weather forced him to turn back. Luckily, his second attempt was more successful.

The 50-year-old is fond of such adventures. In 2010, he hiked through Germany for many weeks. He wandered from city to city, to read children’s books aloud at elementary schools. This time, his travels took him to the outlands of Lapland, which is why he needed a good stock of provisions.

Hinz&Kunzt vendor Torsten Meiners pushed this hand-made cart 3000km across Sweden, and slept in it overnight. Photo: Stefan Nolervik

Along the way, Torsten collected about 5,000 bottles from the side of the road, which he recycled to cover the greater part of his traveling costs. “While I was at it, I gave Sweden’s roads a good cleaning,” he jokes.

Since Torsten didn’t have money for hotels or hostels, he needed to take a weather-proof shelter. So he made himself a specially designed handcart that transformed each evening into a warm and cozy place to sleep. “Only my feet hung over the edge a bit,” Torsten recalls.

On foot or on roller blades, he pushed his 100-kilo cart through the landscape. To take advantage of the silence and solitude, he sometimes broke camp at 4am, taking a longer break later in the day. This was Torsten’s secret to covering about 30km a day. “Many drivers gave my rolling UFO some mighty strange looks,” he says. Every now and then, a driver would slow down to talk to him.

When Torsten reached the town of Mariestad, a journalist interviewed him about his journey. The ensuing article made him a minor celebrity. Drivers would greet him cheerily, encourage him and occasionally even give him money or food – all of which were greatly appreciated.

Each morning he massaged his cold, frozen fingers for some time. His mood was close to hitting a low point when he discovered an abandoned farmhouse with a functioning sauna. “That was a true relief,” says Torsten.

His journey covered around 3000km. Every stage became more arduous and time-consuming than the last. Finally, on 9 June, he reached his destination. The days were so long now that the sun only disappeared behind the mountains for a short time each night. But it was cold – ice cold. Frost lay thick on the ground and without his equipment, Torsten would have been lost. “I was so excited, I could hardly sleep anyway,” he admits.

The vendor spent one night and one day at the northernmost point of his journey. Then he started on the way back. It would be another 1,500km but it never occurred to him to give up, he says. He only became frustrated on the days he didn’t make good time. On the early part of his southbound journey, Torsten felt downright inspired.

“There was an explosion of green. In one week, I experienced spring and summer together,” he recalls. On his way home, the buds on the birch trees kept pace with him, unfolding everywhere. All at once the entire landscape was in bloom.

Travelling 3000km across Sweden on foot and sleeping rough proved a struggle for vendor Torsten, especially when horned owls were involved. Photo: Stefan Nolervik

Then one day, the rain set in. It was no longer possible to sleep. Each morning he massaged his cold, frozen fingers for some time.

His mood was close to hitting a low point when he discovered an abandoned farmhouse with a functioning sauna. “That was a true relief,” says Torsten. And then the sun returned, and he was once more well on his way.

One night, a great horned owl threatened him, circling above his head, and Torsten wisely chose another place to set up camp that evening. All the same, he felt at home in the wilderness. “It’s totally different than when I move through the city. In the country, I notice what belongs and what doesn’t.” His experiences with nature and joy of hiking carried him many kilometres.

It also distracted him from a long-time addiction: he didn’t gamble once during his journey. Back in Hamburg, Torsten had a weakness for playing on slot machines. In Sweden, however, gambling is strictly regulated. Torsten would have found a way to get around that. But he didn’t need to. Instead, Torsten bet on his feet. “I didn’t have the slightest desire to play,” he says.

Shortly before Gothenburg, Torsten finally decided that he’d had enough. He was gradually becoming aware of aches and pains in his hips and Achilles heel. When he finally boarded the ferry to Kiel, Torsten was relieved. He’d made it. But as soon as he reached Hamburg, he felt drawn back to the North. He had met three Husky breeders, and even received job offers. There was the promise of a new adventure; he could stay longer in the North. Torsten considered it for a moment and said, “The days are terribly short in winter. I don’t know if that’s really for me.”

Translated from German to English by Ramey Rieger / Translators Without Borders

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