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I just get so tired. Lord knows I love a good nap, but I just can’t seem to wake up here. Gregory, who rarely naps at home, has been joining me for three, four, six hour naps here in Finland. Our first night in Lapland we laid down at 6:00p, got up at 9:00p, stayed up until 1:00a, then slept in until noon. And getting out of bed at noon was like pulling teeth as I could hardly open my eyes. It’s strange- though the days are the shortest I’ve ever experienced, they seem to last hours longer than days at home.
On our first full day in Lapland we finally managed to get moving about 1:00p and we set off for a hike up Kiilopaa but lost the trail after maybe a kilometer so we gave up and went to the lodge to have a spot of lunch instead. After lunch we went to walk the shoulder of the groomed ski track. BIG MISTAKE. We were careful not to walk in the cross country tracks or in the middle where people were skate-skiing- only on outside shoulder where we figured we wouldn’t be a bother. After ten minutes or so man yelled at us in Finnish as he skied by. “In English?” I asked. “DON’T….. WALK…” We turned right around and headed back toward the lodge where I inquired about a walking track which I was informed was “just through the gate”. We headed out through the gate and were almost immediately bombarded by a woman in heavily accented English “SKIERS ONLY. NO WALKING.” So we turned around again and stood in the parking lot until we saw a sign for walkers. We took that trail as far as we could without running into another ski track, then turned back for our cozy cabin. It was dark by the time we got home and we were exhausted.
I asked Greg what time it was. 3:00p. We both felt like we had hiked all day when in reality only two hours had gone by. After about an hour in the cabin we turned in for our daily nap and slept until 10:00p. Time here just moves so…. slowly…. We had some dinner, turned the sauna on, then went kick sledding on the walking path. Kick sleds are like dog sleds without the dogs unfortunately. They’re a little squirrely but a lot of fun. I’ll think I’ll invest in one so that Greg can push me around town. As we were walking around exploring after kick sledding we came across a tiny cabin and Greg offered to carry me across the threshold. The moment he picked me up I knew what was going to happen. I was thrown into a snowbank and had my hair “snow-washed”, which is a real pleasure for someone who can’t stand being cold and wet. Here I thought he was being so sweet.
But even I don’t mind getting cold and wet when there’s a hot sauna waiting for you at home. These Finnish people have got the cold down. The houses are super well-insulated and cozy warm, and there are over three million saunas for a population of 5.4 million. We haven’t had the pleasure of a wood-burning or smoke sauna, only electric, but coming out of a sauna (sow-oonah) is one of the greatest feelings in the world. You’re warm, like putty, and your skin is soft and supple, and your face is flushed and you feel the most beautiful and relaxed you’ve ever felt. Saunas are one of man’s greatest creations, and we can’t wait to have one in our future home.
After our long nap and going back to bed at 1:00a, we were both up and raring to go at 4:30a, about five hours before the “sun” which was really just “dusk”. We passed the time with breakfast and coffee and PowerRangers in English with Finnish subtitles. I probably haven’t watched PowerRangers in twenty years and with good reason- that is about the most ridiculous show I could ever imagine. We just laughed and laughed, then Greg jumped around in his underwear, karate-chopping everything in the cabin and calling for his spirit dinosaur- the CHESTHAIROTOPS. Greg makes me laugh until I cry all the time, but that one really got me.
Our cozy little cabin was only available for two nights, but they offered us a hotel room for the third night at the same special rate of the cabin, and with breakfast included. The staff here at the Fell Centre has gone out of their way to accommodate us, and we will most definitely be back. Hell, Greg’s ready to give up flight benefits and go work there. We checked out of our cabin and stored our bags in the lodge office, then went to rent cross-country skis for the day. The rental shop girl, Maria (who happens to be Kristina and Mike’s landlady), set us up with half-day rentals for €16 each and offered recommendations for trails for beginner Munsons. I had XC skied a few times before, but Greg had only tried it once and did not have a pleasant experience so we started off on a groomed, illuminated 3km trail in case we couldn’t handle it. Well I was just so proud of us because we ended up skiing nearly 12 km out to a Lapp hut and back, and loved every minute of it.
I’m here to tell you XC skiing is some of the most fun you can have on two legs. It’s nearly as easy as walking if you can keep your balance, except it’s faster and more of a full-body workout. If one were to XC ski every day for a winter one would be ripped come spring, and I’d love the opportunity to test that out. In a lot of ways I think it’s actually superior to downhill skiing. For one, it’s a lot cheaper. You can buy a full XC setup with skis, boots, and poles for what you’d pay for a pair of downhill boots. There’s no need to buy an outrageously priced lift ticket or stand in lift lines for 20 minutes, no freezing lift rides to the top of a windy mountain with zero visibility. XC skiing warms you immediately and works out not only your legs, but your arms and back and core too. If there’s snow on the ground and you’re willing to break trail, literally every building you stay in could be considered ski-in, ski-out. Sure, XC skiing isn’t as fast as downhill, but going down even a small hill on skis with no edges, praying you stay in your tracks but bracing yourself (and your camera) in case you don’t, is no less exhilarating than a groomed black, and a lot easier on your quads. Plus it’s a lot easier to teach a loved one to cross-country ski than it is to teach them downhill or snowboarding, which I would never recommend to anyone ever. Luckily Greg and I both already knew how to ski and board before we started dating so we remain close friends on the mountain. Now don’t get me wrong, I LOVE downhill (Greg’s a knuckle-dragger by the way, or “snowboarder” to the lay person), but XC is a super fun, easy, cheap alternative if you’re looking for some winter fun.
We had a leisurely, albeit cold and boring lunch at the Lapp hut next to a roaring fire. We packed in rye sandwiches and cheese and almonds, but everyone else who came in had fat, juicy sausages to throw on the fire and Greg and I sat, salivating like Pavlov’s dog and watched them sizzle and plump. We were obviously surrounded by professionals- in addition to sausages, some people made grilled cheese sandwiches, while others packed in marshmallow forks, wooden mugs, cushions to sit on, most had vodka, and one man even packed in a tea kettle. But you know what not one person had? An oven mitt or anything to protect them from the fire- they turned their sausages and sandwiches, and even adjusted the fire with their bare hands. THESE FINNS GET IT. Winter here is long and cold and dark, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy being outside. The track we were on is lit from 6:00a until 10:00p for your skiing pleasure. Of course we were spent by about 2:00p, when it starts to get truly dark up north.
When we got back to the lodge, we were informed that another guest had requested a hotel room, so we were upgraded to a newer cabin at the same rate. Amazing! I’ve taken pictures of every aspect of both cabins we’ve stayed in for ideas for our own future cabin in the woods. Life does not get much better than heading out for a ski after breakfast, having lunch in a fire-warmed hut surrounded by laughing Finns, then settling into your cabin, exhausted, next to a wood-burning fire with a bowl of popcorn, a cup of Earl Grey, and a good book (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). Ugh, I actually lived it and I can hardly stand it. I’m sure the memories and photos from this trip will make my heart ache for years. We’ve already agreed to reserve a cabin in the Montana woods for January so we have something to look forward to when we get back, and to lessen the blow of leaving this magical place.
After our ski an exhausted Gregory napped on the couch for five hours while I read and typed, then he woke up gung ho to go jump in the “frosty fountain”- an opening in the frozen creek down by the main hotel. We cranked the sauna up, sat in it as long as we could stand, dressed in our warmest clothes and sat in it again as long as we could stand, then boogied down to the creek while we were still super-heated. I made a weak claim that I would attempt a jump as well, since we were in Finland and all.
The moment he got out he told me not to even think about jumping in. As if I was actually considering it anyway. Another sauna when we got home, then lots of snuggles to celebrate a time well spent in Lapland. We’ll definitely be back, and for much longer next time.
p.s. The sun set on Kiilopaa on December 5th at 12:15p and won’t rise again until January 7th at 12:03p.