I must admit I have been dedicating a lot of time to practicing the art of procrastination in regard to this particular report. I have been attempting to convince myself that tomorrow, the next day, the words I require will slam themselves down in front of me, then I will write. Two weeks have passed since Alan and I caught a bus, southbound, from our second supposed point of resupply, Inari. Two weeks and I have been left fumbling for a format with which to present the details of our travels to our concerned world. I struggle in my attempt to present an agreeable blend of the facts and events with the emotions they elicit(ed). The ease of this post is unaided by the feeling that something sacred, some tender trust, is being spoiled in the act of description.
Below is outlined our unexpectedly brief frolic through a harsh and beautiful land.
We planned an expedition, we prepared and researched and trained, many people and resources were utilized for our benefit. We paid our airlines hundreds of dollars in excess baggage fees and FedEx more than half that. Our Finnish hosts accompanied us and translated for us at various businesses to enable us to buy groceries and other supplies, in addition to driving us 750 KM one way to our starting point, with a few detours.
We begin unloading the car with the very intimidating Russian border in sight, we say farewell, we clip into our skis and attach our sleds to our harnesses.
For the next three days, we ski. Being substantially weaker physically than Alan, I follow his trail. We spend the entire days inside of our own heads, seeing one another for a few twelve minute breaks during the day and around camp during the evenings. Both of us haul books and a few other entertainment methods that remain untouched, we are so exhausted by the end of each day that we cook, eat, and sleep. Each night, we drape our four dirty, soggy, and horribly smelly socks over our bare chests, beneath our baselayer so we may be human-dryers. Each morning we scrape, shake, and brush the frozen condensation from our sleeping bags and tent. It is difficult to do anything that requires dexterity, it is difficult to drink water, the days are long and the mornings are most challenging. We must ski with the fronts of our clothing stuffed full of anything we wish to eat for the day so that it does not freeze. It is difficult to motivate ourselves to begin dressing inside of our sleeping bags and then to finally extract ourselves from the depths of their promised warmth. My sleeping bag, rated to -40 C becomes my most important piece of gear next to my skis.Day two, after following a snow mobile trail laced around a smattering of power lines, seeing reindeer prancing through chest deep powder (they do prance), and taking a brief side trip to the top of a fell and an incredible view, I am gently coerced to consciousness from sweet, sweet sleep to find that the lower half of my body is strangely chilled. To my absolute horror, when I send a curious probing hand into the recesses of my sleeping bag, avoiding the drying pants, jackets, and boot liners, through the thin fabric of my glove, I feel moisture. I feel wetness. I realize my feet and an entire leg are soaked, a third of my bag is soaked. The liter of water I was sleeping with to retard the formation of ice is now less than a half liter. This is the part where I panic. My sleeping bag is wet. My base layer is wet, my socks are wet, my bag liner is wet, my gloves are wet. Moisture means cold. Cold means miserable. I frantically attempt to soak up some water with my bag liner. I am transformed into a sobbing child. Alan handles the situation seamlessly, telling me to go back to sleep and that my body will do exactly as it is supposed to and reheat the cold parts.
Day three, the coldest night yet. After pulling the frozen block of a sleeping bag from its stuff sack, inserting myself and cooking and consuming a dinner only so delectable because the hunger felt by our brains tells us so, I undergo an almost sleepless night.
We cruise into town on day four, sunburned and sore, to find the low of the previous night -30 C. We check into a hotel to dry, rest and warm ourselves. We are worthless during these hours spent indoors and watch bad reality shows on the television that reads, “Welcome Alan Goldberg”. My body is thrashed. Every muscle is sore, my feet are covered in blisters, the skin on my face is pink and raw. It feels so good to sleep inside, to rest. Repacking the following morning is a chore.
Day five is beautiful. The terrain is flat and the skiing easy. Our bodies are fresh. I begin to enjoy this thing we have chosen to undertake. Just before we pass from the last dregs of Ivalo back into the woods, we see in the distance a mass of cars parked on the same river we are skiing on. I can see a man walking some large dog, a huge dog. Upon advancement, I realize we have happened upon the PoroCup, the local reindeer racing championships, and Alan might as well be jumping out of joy. There are vendors selling reindeer sausages, furs, and hot drinks. We stop to watch a few heats before skiing on. We set up camp on the warmest night yet. I cook dinner outside of my sleeping bag and we leave the tent door open to watch the blue of dusk turn bluer, then bluer, then finally dark. We sleep, content.
Days six, seven and eight and we have a system. We have a rhythm. We enjoy ourselves. We ski across lakes, over rivers, and through woods. The variation of scenery and terrain keeps our minds clear. We climb a few steep, but short hills frustratingly before wisening and taking time to halt forward progress to reapply skins. Within these days, it feels as if we traverse a place that does not exist in reality. There are multiple times I look around and must convince myself this is not as surreal as it seems. We pass a large group of Porsches driving in circles on a track in the middle of a frozen lake, miles from any town. We are passed by Sami people; by people wearing green camo one piece suits, riding snow mobile with automatic weapons strapped to their backs; by a pair of men cooking breakfast over a fire on the ice. They tell us about a group of 50 men about 15 KM away skiing for Finnish Army training.
On day seven, we eat a hot breakfast for the first time during the trip. We steam like standing cattle from the heat and moisture off our bodies. The mornings are much easier than they were in the beginning but there is still room for improvement. I wake, stiff. I begin to notice a part of me is more prone to this than others and that it happens much more quickly.
Both of the last two nights spent in the woods, we spend in huts, simple wooden structures with four walls and a wood stove in the center, an outhouse and fully stocked woodshed outside. The time we save setting up, cleaning, brushing, shaking, folding our tent; in addition to the rapidly increasing amount of daylight allow us to crush the skiing part by day and our scotch by night. We realize we will reach the next town, Inari, in a third less time than we allotted for. The promise of a bed and of warmth is comforting, though not nearly as much as during the approach to our first town.
On day eight, I limp into Inari. What was a stiff knee only requiring a bit of a kickstart to soften up has quickly become quite a hinderance. The pain is sharp and can no longer be ignored. The signs read “Inari 2 KM”, “Inari 1 KM”, my threshold for pain is tested.
Alan checks us into a hotel, we park our sleds outside and I promptly, grimacing the entire way, make my way to our second floor room, remove my boots and collapse onto the bed that will become a close friend for the next two days of emotional dilemma.
Two days and an important decision to board a southbound bus. Six hours and we are lounging in Haapavesi where this all began. One hundred and twenty euros to hear a professional say no more skiing this season. Ten days of one of the most incredible learning experiences of my life. Two weeks and the sting that parades itself as failure is only just beginning to fade.
Scans of my trip journal can be viewed here. They are quite telling of the mental state as it corrseponds to each day.
Our thanks to everyone involved in the process.