Thursday, March 20, 2008

Special People

Along this adventure, we got to know so many special people. We started as strangers, but day by day, we became friends. We weren't 14 separate countries at the end. We were the 2008 RRH#1 Group!

The staff of RRH was super!!

- Georgeanne

Someplace Special - RRH

Wow! What an adventure! I don’t think any of us knew exactly what we were in for. The ski tour not only offered an endurance ski challenge, but an unique experience where several Finnish communities worked together to provide participants a unique blend of sport and culture.

This was my first time traveling outside North America. It took several days for me to adapt to the sensory overload, especially at the start of the ski tour where we were engulfed in the Finnish countryside and its people. Not feeling especially confident in my use of limited Finnish phrases, I relied heavily on “body language” (smiles, thumbs up, waves, etc). (Although the Finnish language was predominant, many other languages filled the air by the 13 visiting countries participants.)

I am grateful for having this opportunity to travel with the Marquette group. They were experienced skiers, as well as, seasoned travelers. I learned a lot about skiing, travel and life from them.

I skied 5 out of the 7 ski days. Each day was unique. The terrain was very diverse. The first day was especially challenging and dramatic as we traveled over steep downhill and uphill trails that led us away from the border Finland shares with Russia. My five days of skiing went like this:
Day 1 - March 7 - 46 km
Day 2 - March 8 - 29km
Day 3 - March 9 - 25km
Day 4 - March 10 – As the toes swells – rest day
Day 5 - March 11 – 33km
Day 6 - March 12 – 37km
Day 7 - Chillin in the Bus
TOTAL: 170km = 105.50 miles

Prior to this event, I usually skied under 8km per ski outing. Doing the 25km Noque and working hard on strength training with my trainer, Shanna, at Design Fitness was very helpful. I am very happy RRH efforts. I plan to do it again! I learned so much by participating.

The skiers involved in the RRH loved the sport and “art” of what they were involved in. People were “dancing” across Finland on skis. It was not a race. It was an endurance test that led you through some of the most beautiful, challenging, majestic, calming, and unpredictable trails. (Sometimes roads!) We were each trying to get to the end of a treasure map and we each found our own pot of gold. Everyone who participated in this event accomplished a lot whether you did every kilometer or 170km like I did.

As others have stated on this blog, the U.P. and the area of Finland we traveled across share many geographical similarities. As I skied across Finland, my interest in learning more about this country and its history grew. My father’s father and mother left different parts of Finland during a time of Russian Oppression in the late 1800s and met each other in the United States. I tried to imagine what could lead me to leave my homeland. I visited the National Museum of Finland in Helsinki and realized there is much for me to learn about my Finnish ancestry and Finland’s history.

When Frida and I first spoke about her plan to ski across Finland and she extended an invite to me, it did not take me long to confirm my interest. I eagerly said, “Yes”. After all, I was Fifty and Fearless! I encourage everyone to be fearless!

To everyone pondering between hesitation and action toward trying something new take it from me via Eleanor Roosevelt…..

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.”

AKA: SISU (guts)

- Georgeanne

Sunday, March 16, 2008


We were back in Marquette Saturday night March 15 by 10. 6 of us (Amy, Lyle, Jo, Georgeanne, Ron and I) traveled from Helsinki to Marquette together. Mike left ahead of us for an earlier flight. We hit Paris and right away our freshair noses knew we were in a different country. The chaos at Charles de Gaulle airport seemed at an all-time high. In fact, our luggage seems to still be on the east side of the Atlantic. Everybody got some bags in Detroit except for Ron and I. All 4 of our pieces are still in transit and expected to be delivered tonight. Unfortunately, if some Frenchman opens up that ski tube they may NOT be offended by the smell of those dirty clothes. So it goes. As much as I would like to have my skis to go spin a few K's at Blueberry--or as Amy says, "See if I can double-pole the whole outer loop," I best keep resting my ankle. It swelled from sitting so long in the air and I'll have to nurse it back strong before we head to New Hampshire next Monday for NASJA and a trip to Tuckerman's Ravine.

If you are ever traveling to Helsinki, don't hesitate to book at the Sokos Vaukanas Hotel. Apparently, weekend rates are more reasonable since many folks exit the city for their getaway cottages. From the moment we arrived Friday morning we were welcomed with class. The desk clerks spoke excellent English and were very accomodating. But then again we made quite a site in the quiet cosmopolitan lobby with all our ski tubes and luggage. No wonder our rooms were ready. We checked right in and headed to breakfast. The rooms were spacious and immaculate but still those little single beds that Ron always shoves together. Breakfast was on the 10th floor, a huge buffet, that gave us a wide-eyed view of the city and helped put our plan in place of where to walk and what to see.

Since Mike and Georgie stayed on the in-bound leg at the Sokos Presidentti (you could see it from the Vaukanas) they said the Vaukanas was a step up. We missed that stay because of the bad weather that delayed our arrival but knowing the caliber of Finnish accomodations, you'll never worry about cleanliness, even at the Hostel in Oulu where we all bunked that first night. Finland ranks a top notch country for adventure travelers.

When we checked in I asked if there were any messages. Nope. Hmmmmmmmmmm. The day before in Kemi I had a tough time checking email, blogging and sending a news story out about the conclusion of our ski, so I was wondering if we would connect with Airi Jillmark and Anita and Oscar Isaksson.

Airi had done so much for us when we had to cancel our inbound plans. She has a heart as big as Nebraska and I first met her in Marquette when she came in 2002 with the sister-city delegation from Kajanni. She's also the wonderful friend who helped Eryka and I so much when we went kayaking in 2003 for Suomi-Meloo. She and Antti Pulliainen, who skied with us in RRH, have become great Finn friends. And now Antti and his sweet Liisa are favorites with all the Americans on RRH.

Oscar and Anita are my relatives from Stockholm. Oscar's father and my grandmother Frida were brother and sister, born in the far north near Lapland on the Swedish side of the Tornio river. Oscar grew up in Kirna Last I had heard, Oscar & Anita were going to take the boat from Stockholm to Helsinki. I tried desperately at breakfast and in our room to log on to get word, but no luck. The back country in Finland seemed more wired than the capital city.

Then at 10:30 a.m., when Ron was in the shower, I heard a knock at our hotel room door. There were Oscar and Anita, fresh from the ferry. Ron could hear me shrieking so loudly that he thought I was being robbed. What a surprise. As Amy said when she met them later in the lobby, "I could tell your heart was bursting."

We split from the group to spend the day touring the city but we all ended up at the stone church--we arrived just in time to hear an orchestra rehearsal and quartet of singers. Ron had heard so much about Oscar & Anita and now he knows it's all true. Their smiles could melt the Greenland ice cap.

Oscar's appetite is legendary. It gave Ron a run for his stomach; he could barely keep up with the tall Swede's fish sampling, especially after 2 Jaggermeister shots in the waterfront Tori, or marketplace. Anita and I just kept smiling as our "boys" got to know each other. We left O & A late Friday night after dinner with hopes that we could connect our families for a reunion. From their two daughters, Katherina and Madeline, they have 6beautiful grandchildren. Oscar has skied the Vasa Loppet in Mora, Sweden, 16 times and he brought information to lure us to the starting line with him. His son-in-laws Pere and Mikel--who brought him to the Vasa Loppet in Mora, Minnesota for his 70th birthday--often race with him too. And grandson Frederick is a snowboarder who needs to meet up with Ian. We all vowed Granny would be the spark to that cross-the-pond commotion.

Before dawn in the drizzle we caught a taxi to the airport. The poor driver was trying to fit all our gear into his oversized shuttle. Then at the airport is was a scramble again to unload and organize. Next trip we'll all lighten our load. I was paying attention to moving luggage and didn't even see the woman come up to our group and grab me for a hug. It was AIRI! At 5 a.m. she was at the airport to see us. I had not seen her posts, nor any emails. "But if I was going to see you I knew I had to be here," she said. Tears again rolled down my cheeks with the thoughtfulness and depth of friendship this woman brings to life. I was beyond words.

We had a short visit in the airport coffee shop. She brought so many fine gifts including books about the Kuusamo area and how it relates to the history of the country's Epic poem, the "Kalevala." She told Ron how pleased she was that we care so much for her country. She also told me about a bike tour through Finland. Now that we've kayaked and skied, that's next on the radar screen. But before we get to Finland again, Airi must come paddle Lake Superior. Just the mention of our Big Blue Lake takes her breath away. When she was here in 2002 she swam every day. The water is never too cold for her hearty Finn blood. She stayed watching as we made our way through security and I waved my last to this friend with a heart that has a new respect for the power of connecting. To be the last Finnish friend to share with on this trip was so fitting. Airi capitalizes the warmth we all felt from our new friends. We have all learned that when you make a friend with a Finn, it's for LIFE.

Travel is not for everybody. It can wear you out physically, mentally--and Lord knows with the dollar dropping against the Euro--financially too. But life is all about memories and what we do with the time we have on this planet.

So many times during our week of skiing, when I was in the "Finnish Conga line" poling behind Germans, Austrians, Swiss and Alberto the Spainard, I felt that the we would live in a much more peaceful place if we could all become skiers and take part in this synergy, this community of snow lovers, and not just from border to border cross Finland, but the world.

And I know I'm not the only one. You'll hear agreement from the Marquette 9 that this journey has written new chapters in our life story about cross country skiing, in the truest form of the word.

Finland; the place, the people and their passion and pride will not be forgotten.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Helsinki -Amy

Hei Hei,
The adventure continues. Last night we spent the night sleeping on a train in sleeping cars. 11 hours of sleep and I needed every minute of it. Getting all of our luggage plus ski bags on teh train is quite the challenge. We have 4 minutes to make our move when the doors open, after 4 minutes they close, what is on is on. We made it but it is quite the site. I will be happy to hand over the ski bags at the airport in the morning and be done with them. Our rooms had 2 bunks and enough space for suitcases and to get in and out of bed. I have come to realize that a bed is a bed and room size does not matter. We all slept well.

Today we are at a great hotel in the middle of Helsinki..........we all just buzzed around all day sight seeing, shopping and eating. Our bodies must be trying to restore calories as we are hungry all the time.

There is much to do and see in this city snow! After days and K's of snow , kick and glide, it seems so strange to have no snow. There are so many stores and people that I find it overwhelming after being in peace and quiet all last week.

0400 wake up call tommorow for our flight accross the pond. All is well in Helsinki is all I can say. Amy

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Jo: Final stage

Hei Hei, We made it. Most of it anyway. Now to travel home. Having no blog the last few days we are all filled with stories. Stories of seeing the miles and miles of railroad grade melt before our eyes with us trying to ski it. Stories of dinners of bologna soup, oh my.. sharing a room with 6 other adults after the soup. Stories of beautiful trees so bent with the weight of snow, we were told a tree can hold 4 tons of snow. Stories of friendships made and pictures swapped. Bus rides, ski strides, hauling gear and hauling a.. We are each happy to be heading home with smiles on our faces. Each one of us glad we came and took part in the 25th Rajalta Rajalle Hiihto or Border to Border ski across Finland. Jo

It's done

Rain and drizzle couldn't dampen our spirits yesterday as we finished this amazing journey. The route was cut short because of open water on key river crossings, but the ski still took 5 hours.

Ron and I started the day with spirit. The trail was the best of the week for me because it rolled and I finally felt momentum under my legs. We were close to the end and when Amy came up behind singing and Lyle right behind her. They had started later and were in no hurry to fly through the day either. This journey, after all, has been nearly a year in the making. Ron reminded me of that when we hit the 10k mark and he said, "Just think, in an hour we'll be done." \

We powered along talking about the meaning of this adventure. "I'm clean from the inside out," says Amy. It has been such a physical, mental and emotional crossing of this amazing country.

I choked through the Star Spangled Banner with a lump in my throat the size of a dinner plate. Amy said she had goosebumps but it had nothing to do with the outside temperature which was reducing everything to slush.

When we saw a glimpse of the finish line through the trees, we stopped to wait for Jo. Of the whole group, Jo has skied the most miles. She's been so determined, even if it has meant popping "vitamin T" (Tylenol) every 2 hours.

We took a picture of our skis on the snow huddled together and then, "got'er done."

Kellie and Jeff had already finished. At one point on the trail Jeff shared a "coffe break"--Chocolate covered espresso beans. Seppo came flying by as we were stopped and I handed off a bean or two to him, smiling that it was an American go-power secret.

Mike was close behind and he came to the finish smiling. So much of this journey has brought life to his family roots.

We have to catch a bus to Kemi, then a train to Helsinki. Time to finish packing. Stories will continue to flow on the blog as we make our way west.

Frida, and so proud of her Finnish heritage.

What a ski!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

HYVAA PAIVA............. well it's Friday and we all made it!!!!!!!!!!! The ski was both physical and emotional. Sometimes, we all were so tired and hungry, but affter eating something, you just kept on going......... anyway its over. I skied everyday to my maximam for all 7 days, and acheived what I was looking for in the event. Now is the time to start heading home........Schlepping all of this equipment is arduous but we have the routine down..... Off to Kemi to see the ice Hotel and then a sleeper train to Helsinki tonight.........Tomorrow shopping in Helsinki and then the Saturday flight back to the US..........Nakemiin, Mikko