March 8, Saturday
Suorajärvi to Kuusamo, 43 km
Boy, I’m pretty shot after the first day! And to think that if this were day 4, I’d only be half-way…
Weather today starts out pretty horrific: rain, drizzle, sleet, and a SW gale blowing at a sustained 15-20 mph. The first 20 km are a true slush fest, slow, slow, slow. My grip tape is doing ok, but just that. Maybe it should be called “barely-grip” tape. Or “work-out-your-upper-body-today” tape. Or “character-building” tape. Waxless would have been the way to go. Some people here have Atomic Skintecs and they are happy campers today. On the wishlist for next Christmas!
Luckily, the gale is actually a front moving through, bringing in sliiiiiighty colder air. For the last 15 km we even have sunshine, and the tracks into the Kuusamo area are hard and slightly glazed. Finally, glide! Who cares about grip now! I’m doublepoling the last 8 km and truly enjoying the ride.
Highlights of the day: Yummy hot soup in the middle of the day; some beef and potato thing; and a dogsled team coming towards me in the afternoon. Beautiful, eager huskies, tongues a-lolling.
March 7, 2014 – Friday
Late-night arrival, after a 24-hour journey which went without a hitch. Meet Jeff at the Helsinki airport – we are on the same flight to Kuusamo. He has a bad cold and sounds terrible. In Kuusamo, there is a late bus going to Oivanki from the airport, organized by the RR folks – nice and very convenient.. Just ready for bed by midnight – but then my two roommates arrive! Both from Barcelona, one a Spaniard, one an expat Finn. Very nice, and I can talk to one of them in French and the other in English. Get to sleep late, and not well, jet lag. At least I am reassured about my waxes – they seem to all have made it! This time I put some crap waxes into my skibag, and packed the nice fluorinated ones in my duffel, in a stuffsack with underwear. It worked – no confiscation!-
When the alarm rings at 8, getting up is hard…
The place is bustling with wave 2 skiers, who start today. I see HHS-Anna at breakfast and say hello. She is there with a bunch of people from her Rödöns ski club, and we exchange a bar of Lake Champlain chocolate against a Rödöns patch. Once they are finally off, I take a ski inventory and do another wax check. To my chagrin, I managed to do myself this time what Finnair neglected to do. Yes, true to form, I forgot some critical items, namely the just-in-time-obtained grip tape for the warm conditions, and my sandpaper. Bummer!!! Jeff and my roommates are driving to Kuusamo and promise to try to get me some though.
I have 3 pairs of skis along: one with some grip tape on it (thank goodness) but on a very small area (30 cm); one with binder; one with just a sandpapered kick zone. The weather this time is super difficult for waxing, right around freezing with old snow but fresh snow in the forecast, and everyone talks about little else but klisters and zero skis. Anna had on two layers of different klisters, and two different hardwaxes on top of that – it is getting complicated!
I give the grip taped skis a test for 5 miles or so, and they are pretty amazing! Surprisingly fast given the weather – great glide. So I keep out of the wax room, and have some lunch. The Oivanki is a hostel-type place, and they have salmon-potato-dill chowder, very tasty. After two bowls of that, I head out for my afternoon ski, towards Ruka. It must have warmed up a little, since the going is noticeably slower, but I have a great ski anyway, even though it’s gray on gray and drizzly. I get all the way up to the Pyhävaara lookout just before Ruka, a wicked climb at the end. We actually skied through here last year on the first day of HHS. Back then, it was bitter cold, sunny, blue skies, and the spruces were white cones – it was a magical white winter forest. This time, fog and drizzle and a view of gray soup from the overview. Still nice to be out here though, and how could zipping back down the mountain not be fun?
At dinner, I get to meet all of my HHS friends who are here this year! Lauri, Kirsi, Tomi, Seija, Teija and of course Jeff. Then we have the first “info” session – turns out that we are not starting at the Russian border, because a crucial river is not frozen anymore. This takes 20 km off the first day. We also get a weather forecast which sounds pretty dismal – a warm night with rain and maybe some mixed precip. Hmmm….
Yup, I must have landed in Lapland!