Matus won a Next Challenge Grant for his idea of circumnavigating Sweden’s largest island, Gotland, on foot.
He hit some trouble along the way though which meant he couldn’t complete his trip. When he got back home, he tried give his grant money back but I encouraged him to share his story instead.
I am glad that he has. Here it is:
The Next Challenge Grant
Matus’s trip was supported by The Next Challenge Grant, an annual bursary for aspiring adventurers.
It’s funded by me – Tim Moss – several other adventurers and crowdfunded public donations.
Since 2015 it has supported 50 different expeditions with awards from £50 to £800.
Circumnavigating Gotland on Foot
by Matúš Seči
On the 3rd of August 2018 I embarked on my first expedition. Unaware of what was awaiting me, I said goodbye to my mum and dad at the airport. I was worried but even more excited. I was going to walk in the wilderness, sleep under the stars and take amazing photographs for more than 30 days. However, sometimes our plans do not work out exactly as we would like them to.
I discovered the Next Challenge Grant by chance but I fell in love with the idea right away. It took me some time to gather enough courage but I decided apply with a crazy idea to circumnavigate Gotland, the largest Swedish island. I could not believe my eyes when I got the email from Tim after a few months. Knowing that someone had recognized my idea felt wonderful. After booking my flight tickets for August there was nothing stopping me. My summer plans were complete: a volunteering experience which I have planned for a long time in July and an amazing adventure in August.
Unfortunately, the first part of my summer plans did not go exactly as I expected. At the end of my stay in Greece I fell ill and lost a significant amount of weight. That was just about a week before I was supposed to go on my first big adventure. Nonetheless, I decided to carry on with my plan. On the 3rd of August I took my evening flight from Krakow to Stockholm from where I would make my way to the final destination – Gotland.
In the morning I finally arrived to Visby, the largest city on Gotland. Visby is one of the best preserved medieval fortresses in Europe. I immediately forgot that I had slept for only a few hours and started to explore this gem. The medieval atmosphere could be felt everywhere in the city and the beautiful buildings on every corner made it a joy to walk around. I managed to get all the resources I needed, a good map and by the afternoon I was ready to start walking.
The first few kilometers of walking led me out of the town. I slowly started to feel the overwhelming weight of my backpack and realized I was a bit afraid of the unknown. I stopped at a rest stop to check my progress on the map, set a goal for the day and continued walking. Gotland has incredibly well built cycling paths so navigation was not problematic at all. Where possible, I took a stroll down a forest path or tried to connect my itinerary with the landmarks marked on the map.
Nature on Gotland was truly unique. I always had a beautiful coastline on my right and boreal forest or vast fields on my left. As I live in a landlocked country (Slovakia) I tend to think of these ecosystems as opposites. On Gotland the sea and the forest existed in harmony. Even though Gotland was experiencing one of the hottest summers in the last 100 years, the cool breeze from the Baltic Sea often accompanied me. However, the most amazing part were the clouds. There has always been something special for me in looking at the sky and watching the world go on but on Gotland clouds took all shapes and sizes imaginable.
I walked several kilometers south when the clouds started to accumulate above me. While attempting to find a place to hide before the rain started, I found my path blocked by a military area. With the imminent threat of rain, rather than try to figure out whether I was allowed to cross it, I decided to go back to an old wooden bus stop which I had passed earlier. I managed to get there just in time. Then the storm began
At that moment I started to panic. While I expected that after being sick I could have problems with carrying the backpack I would have never thought that I would feel so anxious and stressed. I started to doubt whether there was any chance I could finish the expedition. At the tempo I was going, it was clear I would not make it in the designated time and I could not extend the trip as I had flight booked. I decided to wait until morning and not make any quick decisions yet.
I was woken up by the morning sun. I made myself a breakfast, stretched, packed everything and set out to give it another try. Unfortunately, after a few kilometers I realized my physical abilities started to reach their limit. After a proper lunch in the closest village I sat down on a beach and after a few phone calls with my relatives I made a decision to return home.
This was an incredibly difficult decision for me to make. I did not want to give up but what I needed was a rational point of view. Now, when I look back, it is clear that I underestimated the preparation and overestimated my abilities after being ill and losing a lot of weight.
The same goes for my mental wellbeing. You can be on the most beautiful place in the world but if you do not feel that that is the place you should be then there is no helping it. I could not even take out my camera and capture the amazing scenery. I was constantly in a bad mood. My mum and girlfriend made me realize that there is always another time and that I should not be beating myself.
Afterwards, I spent another two nights on Gotland. I spent a night in a beautiful Nature Reserve and met some wonderful people that lent me a helping hand with directions, water supplies and gave me a ride on my way back to Visby. The last day I spent in Visby where The Medieval Week event was taking place. People in period costumes, vendors with crafts and food and happenings were everywhere. After midnight I took ferry back to the mainland and then I made my way to the airport.
Back at home
Even though I failed to finish the expedition this experience taught me lessons I will never forget. I am dedicated to return to Gotland and make the circumnavigation a reality. I cannot thank enough Tim who supported me all along, my relatives who helped me when I did not know what to do, and very importantly the people who donated money for this splendid cause that the Next Challenge Grant is. Thank you very much.
The Next Challenge Grant
Matus received a £100 award from The Next Challenge Grant.
The money came from me, other adventurers and members of the public.
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