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


We did it! It is done, finished yesterday afternoon tearfully and happily.

We all agree it was tough. Stayed in camps and schoolrooms the previous 2 nights with no internet accesss.

Georgeanne is the international musical chair champ and even took down a Finish Gentleman with 2000 plus K under his belt. She felt her success was due to a subtle hip check. She did us proud.

Mike spoke for all of us in Finish at the closing ceremonies.

Gotta run, have a bus and train to catch. Amy

we are alive well, still hungry and moving forward!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Making tracks across Funland

Greetings from the frozen north...........Well we've finished four days of this acventure with no accidents....amen......... some of the dawnhills are quite a challenge, but the old snowplow technique has been keeping me alive! My new best friend is the sweep driver on the snowmobile. He's watching that I don't get left behind in the dark.....After four days of this treck, my legs are actually getting used to the workout.........I don't do the whole program, because I cannot physically. But, we go anywhere from 25to45kms which can take from five to nine hours to do. That is plenty enough for me. There are a few of us in this microgroup and it works out just fine Tomorrow is a 44km run, but I can get out at 34kms. It's snowing now and the weather is to get worse tomarrow. This group is amazingly physically fit........Today, was a 87.5km distance and the people were coming in after 7 hours. We skied through national park that was absolutely sprectacular, with snow covered trees that looked like huge stone statues all white. I have never seen anything like that before.......Anyway,three moredays of ski, so over half way there.........MIkko

Burning up LAPLAND

I have experienced a number of different methods of transportation sInce arriving in Finalnd. Plane, train, bus, taxi, skis, and an American made Polaris snowmobile.

After my crash on the hill and ride in on the snowmobile (which was very cold) I got a taxi from the hotel to take me to a hardware/co-op/grocery store, They had everything in there including ski equipment.anyway it was a wild icy ride, Kiimi Ricconin's relative must have been the driver, the roads here are glare ice, all I could think of was that I was glad Amy and her sister Heidi did not witness this as it ws true black ice and their biggest fear.

No luck, I could not fix the boot so I had some calls made to a ski shop a few hours away and they were there in the morning, I was so damn mad at the old ones I threw them in the garbage this morning.

Yesterday was my longest ski ever, 58K, it hurt, at the end we had to ride a T-bar way up to the top of a ski mountain to the lodge, it was pretty cool as this was quite the resort.

Tom and Vicky you would be loving every minute of this, lots of pain, endless K's. All kinds of weather and long gliding.


Our EFI intentions dissolved today, ironed out by a daunting 84 kilometers. Imagine skiing from Marquette to Gladstone, and yet quite a crew accomplished that feat under gray skies threatening to dump snow.

No one is regretting the decision to quit early. We are all doing what our body can endure. . .and still enjoy. The fitness level of these skiers--many older (decades even) that us--is remarkable. We'd love to have them come race the Noquemanon.

Our ski started at 7:30. Lyle, Amy, Jo, Kellie and Jeff all started from the top of the ski resort on a cat track that put some spirit in their legs. We had been warned it would be steep and icy so Ron, Mike and I took the bus to the start and started off with medium rolly-polly. Hindsight, we should have started with the rest of the crew because Amy was beaming. Regardless, my day started as sacred as church with Enya on my headphones surrounded by a cathedral of snowcovered spruces. In minutes I was weeping with thoughts of where I was skiing and those who have gone before me. Yes, Freddy Waara you were so close to my heart. Grandpa Axel and Uncle Bill were smiling at me too. I'm so grateful my parents were passionate about skiing and passed on that love. Ron and I hugged on the trail appreciating that we have also instilled in Eryka and Ian a love for a white landscape and the joy of glide.

The whole feeling was capped off when Amy paid tribute to a friend and I'll let her tell that story. It ranks the most heartfelt moment of the trip. And if I even try to hint at it, I'll start bawling again and Ron says I'm already too dehydrated.

Our trail took us through a National Park, equal to Finland's Yellowstone, and aside from the spectacular scenery we were hosted with that classic Finnish smiling hospitality. We can't really communicate because of the language barrier, even with the snowmobile driver who Mike says follows up like a mosquito.

We stopped at a hut for Munkki (donut) and Kahvia. (I think they use a cardomon batter.) And later we had soup, boiled kahvia and pulla (cardomon rolls) in a tee-pee.

Jo did 44km and got a look at a wild reindeer. I'll let her tell that story too.

We got to our hotel. Ron says what's so fun about a trip to Finland is you never know who you'll be sleeping with. Room assignments are a toss up but tonight Lyle and Amy have their OWN room and Jeff and Kellie have arranged to be alone too. The energy of those youngsters.

We get to go shopping at 19:00.

I'll leave battery for others to post their thoughts about this life changing adventure.

The more miles I travel this landscape the more I appreciate the values of these people.


Saturday, March 8, 2008


the computor stopped. Anyway, the ski started with rhe first 20km going uphill 2400 feet with some of the hills looking like rocket at mqt mtn!!!!! then there were the downhills but no falls....There are 265 total skiers this year, with 80 is our group. We began first. If you don't get to certain time by 2,30 they have a bus to take you to the next hotel so no one is left out on the trail.....This place is like we are out in Siberia........... It's huge expanses with so people and just snow and pine trees....pristene..So first day I skied 46 km in 9 hours. Yesterday, Frida and I only skied 3o km because the bus was at that position. Three of us in our group ski more slowly, but it is the max I can so at this point. Yesterday, the distance for the other skiers was 61 km. MOst of the people do the total distances. today ia another 60 kn day ana tomarrow is the big one at 81km followed by a 71km day!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!I do as much as I can. This is hard but fun with everyone being very friedly and helpful WE are from 14 different countries so lots of nice people to meet. There are 9 others U.S. skiers,so mqt has a uniquique delegation. well bye for now........ Off to the trail for today.............Mikko

Seney Stretch

If you are a Yooper, you know the Seney Stretch.

Yesterday we SKIED it. Not 28 miles, but 28k of perfectly straight single track. In Finland it does you no good to buy a vowel, but I was hoping to buy a HILL, even an UP. As Amy's post will prove, I shouldn't have bailed at the Tee-pee in Sarkela. I missed the mountains. But Georgie kept the folks entertained at that last service stop when sipping her fish stew she slipped back on the bench and nearly took down the tee-pee. What a hoot. We always find something to laugh about.
This night of rest was in a hotel with fine food, good beds, a sauna and swimming pool with all kinds of massaging jets. The water felt better than the 1/2 hour massage I paid 20 euros for. No one massages like our experts back in Marquette.
We're all feeling the distances we've covered on the start of this 3rd day. The sun is shining brightly and no bus ride this morning, we can start right from the hotelli.
I'm going waxable, with Amy's guidance on kick, and I'll try out Jeannie's heel lifts for the first time on Finnish trails.
Ron's suitcase has fallen apart, but we brought duct tape and he got a thick garbage bag to hold it together. More for the scrapbook.
MoJo's card got us all tickled again at breakfast. What a girl. So many times we wish for her antics here to keep us giggling. We're so connected.

What a workout!

Hello,.......... well we have finished the first two gauntlets and all are still alive with minor accidents. Lots of sore muscles and only five more days to go!!! The trip to Helsinki was uneventful with arrival on time on Saturday. I visted the relatives that I had met before, and then several new ones. I'll explain that another time. The ski started on Thursday a.m. with an hour bus ride to the Russian border. They brought us to a Finnish gaurd building for last minute bathroom calls and we were off........More later

Friday, March 7, 2008

Hei Hei from Georgeanne

Kyllä, minusta täällä on mukavaa
[Translated that means...Yes, I like it very much.]

There are some challenges in regard to time, money, language and temp system, but this is a very pleasant country. Also, the darn computer keyboard I am using has just a few things different on it that getting out an e-mail is a bit maddening.

My time in Helsinkli was quite mellow, even with the backed up drain in my hotel
room, as well as a fire alarm being sounding early in the morning of my departure
day. My hotel location allowed me to walk to many places of interest.

My favorite part so far was the train ride North. There came a point when I
looked out and places in the U.P. came to mind. My Finnish immigrant
grandparents setting in the U.P. found their HOME AWAY FROM THEIR BIRTHPLACE
HOME. Birch trees, evergreens, lakes, streams and snow. I felt at home the more
North the train and then bus took me. Being in my father's family's homeland is a priceless gift.

Finnish people quickly recognize my last name. I now know the correct pronuciation of it. This trip may not provide me the opportunity to visit actual relatives, but I have made connection that will help in my future efforts.

I have met many wonderful people. I met a young lawyer, Cary Turtinen, on the train to Oulu and as well as, serving as my interpreter with the conductor, we had a wonderful lengthy conversation about Oulo, my father's family's birthplace. I wish to thank him for his help.

The ski tour started on yesterday. I may not ski the tour's total 440 KM (270 some miles), but I will ski each day. My first day I went 46K and today 29K. (A new blistering toe has me being cautious. Afterall, I am on vacation.)

In a couple of days, we will spend the night at a schoolhouse. (School's are closed for a winter ski holiday.) I found out that Finnish children start to learn English in their schools staring in the third grade. I have brought some children's books about Michigan and the Upper Peninsula to leave at the school.

- Georgeanne

Dancing with the long shadows

The snow is like silk, as we step on the dance floor with our brightly colored fiberglass shoes to begin the day, we all feel some apprehension. Soon we are skiing between trees and their shadows, the sun never clears the tree tops but hangs low in the ski so the shadows they cast are long. Their sahdows mix with ours as we ski along. The trees are folded like umbrellas with the weight of the snow, they are beautiful.

At the end of the day we are dog tired, sitting around the table sharing stories of our day, trying to rub our aches and pains away. Frida is treating herself to a massage. AHHHHhh....

Tomorrow we head out again but the day is a little shorter, 49K. A reprieve. I will say at hom we ski here they ski "K" it is hard to believe they ar the same measured distance.

Best laugh in a long time

Finland is not flat, do not let anyone try to tell you it is.

Lyle and I had quite a day today. It started perfectly, we were gliding along, had the skis waxed to perfection, great kick, we were in business, g

ot to about 50 K and knew we were gonna make it.

Then came the black diamond caution sign, Lyle came to the hill first, not really a hill, really it was similar to Rocket on Marquette Mountain. It was wild, down he went and ended up in the snowbank, I made it down and when I came upon him it was quite a site, there was even snow sticking out of his ears. He found no humor in this at all, I on the other hand went into a fit on uncontrollable laughter, I admit I am dead tired and emotional and just could not quit laughing, actually I could hardly stand up. He just kept saying that he was really happy that I was having such a good laugh over this.

Finally he pulled himself togeher and we got ready to go and found that he had bent the part on his boot that connects to the ski and was going nowhere, next enters a snowmobiler who tried to ue tools to fix the boot but it was not happening so Lyle had to leave the trail skis and all by snowmobile, it was quite the site.

He has new boots being delivered in the morning. Some guy is bringing 2 pair for him to try from antoher city.All is well, we are tired at the end of the day is all I can say. Amy

p.s. Margaret Twitchell I would be in big trouble without theneck guard.

Linda Derocher, if you are reading this I have to tell you this is getting pretty close to topping the dificulty of the Grand Canyon.

What a beginning

Day 2.
I apologize for not posting yesterday, but it was all I could do to drag myself to dinner and to bed. I've never been so exhausted.
The day started cold (-22 c) and crystal clear with a whoop-dee-do through a fabulous forest that hugged a river. Because the area is so wild, the trail was laced with poro (reindeer) tracks and browse signs. Later we saw many places where hirvi (moose) had pranced and rested.) But enough sightseeing, within the first hour we had a doozey of a climb. Mike thinks we climbed 2400 feet in the first 20k, including a near vertical wall that gave us a good view of the Russian lookout tower. The closest we would get to the border.
The sweep snowmobile was nipping at my heels so when I pulled in to lunch I realized my pace was too slow to make the last aid station--they call them "service"--by 17:00. Ron had been patiently skiing with me but it was time for him to bust loose and make tracks to catch up with the rest of the group. He went on but Mike, Georgeanne and I hopped the bus and skipped 15km to start at the next service spot, Rukajarvi, home to the blueberry soup. That's where we caught Jeff & Kellie. They were making good time at the head of the pack.
As Georgeanne, Mike and I took off from Rukajarvi, we expected Jo, Lyle, Amy and Ron to catch us, but we never saw them, even with darkness falling. I was getting worried wondering what had happened. Georgie and I were passed by a German fellow, Jentz, and he was so kind to stick with us. He was an older fellow who had skied RRH many times and knew what was ahead.
We made it to the last service spot with 3 mintues to spare, but we couldn't find anyone at Nissinvaara for a hot drink so we pushed on.
Jentz lead the way and it was dark by the time we reached Petajalampi, the finish for the day. We saw Antti Pulliainen, our friend who has visited Marquette, and he told us that the skiers were so delayed that they put them on a bus at Rukajarvi and brought them back to the hotel. No wonder we weren't passed. Lyle chose to take the bus but Amy, Jo and Ron were still on the trail. But where? It was full darkness. And then, I saw Jo's smile skiing up the last hill. Right behind her were Ron and Amy. They finished the whole 61 k, as well as Jeff & Kellie.
What a site to see them. Ron was most surprised when 10 k back he thought he was skiing alone and stopped to eat a Gu, and who does she see skiing toward him, Jo and Amy. He was so happy. Moments like that are the asterisk on this trip.
After that trio, we were still waiting for Mike. About 15 minutes later we heard the sweep snowmobile and there in front was Mike skiing to the finish. I ran out to greet him with hot juice. We are a family and taking care of each toher. He was the last one off the trail, talk about SISU! The snowmobile that had followed us most of the day brought him in about 6:45. 9 hours on the trail.
Be proud of your Marquette team. Antti said in Rukajarvi when they tried to convince Amy & Jo to take the bus they wouldn't have anything to do with cutting it short. Ron either, although he was skiing alone and had no idea Jo and Amy were still on the trail. So out of the 80+ skiers at this event, the Marquette team was the last in because as Amy would say, "Not 'til the last dog died."

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Jo's post

Hei, We are here, trying to navigate the euro, celsius, and food. But tomorrow is the real test navigating the ski... it will be -20 celsius or -4 F... yikes that's cold. Also the first ski day of 61K takes us along the Russian border, we were asked not to leave the trail and warned there are wolves in those trees. So look but don't wander.. So far the food is great, with lots of it (2 dinners) and so is the comradery with 14 other countries also represented. We talk a common language of wax, snow, food and skiing. There is always someone who can interpret someone else for you.

We had our info meeting tonight and were shown pictures of what I envision to be a lunar landscape with Dr Zeus type trees, stunted and covered from tip to tail in snow. We will see this tomorrow also. We are excited and like the night before Christmas who can sleep. But it will all start early with a bus ride to the start and before we know it the "k" will be under our skis we will have a song in our heart and and a big smile on our faces. Hei Hei, Jo

Let's get started

It's 21:15 and we're lining up for our second dinner of the night. We'll need it. Tomorrow will be a good test.

We've just come from our first meeting. They take the time to introduce everyone and tell where they are from. We also met the couple who started RRH Leila and Vaino Voutilainen, they will be skiing for the 25th time.

Some 331 skiers from arond the world will participate in the 25th RRH. In our first wave there are over 80 of us from 14 countries. Even a woman from Japan and a man from Spain have come to this remarkable opportunity. At least that's how we are thinking now.

Weather will be cold in the morning at -23 degrees celsius. We have been warned to watch out for frostbite on ourselves and our skiing companions. We have to plan for a long ski too, 61 kilometers with no aid station until the 20 k mark. It's also expected to be colder down near the river where we will ski to in the morning. I heard there's also a long climb.

We were also told to stay in the track and not make a right turn when we get to the Russian border. These folks are fun. Jaako is called the "snow grasshopper" and Jukka says if we aren't off the track by 17:00, "the wolves come running."

I'm using my no-wax Salomon's but we put a fresh coat of wax on the tips and tails. Ron was hard at work in the wax room.

It was so good to see Georgeanne and Mike. They, too, have had an eventful time traveling with lots of stories they will share in this blog.

Jeff Shipkey and Kelly Stahl are still on their way. Their skis didn't arrive with them in Helsinki so they stayed behind to make sure they could get their skis. We will wait for them before we go to bed so they will feel welcomes. We've met some more Americans from Idaho, Montana, and Minnesota.

I feel as excited as a kid at Christmas anticipating all that's ahead. I hope to sleep off this last bit of road weariness tonight. We have single bunks and Ron and I were lucky to be put in a room together. Lyle and Any were separated into a boy's and girl's cabin. I think they'll find a way to sneak out and snooze together. Always something for us to laugh about.

Years back when Eryka was little she accused me of thinking "Skiing is more important than school." To this day I believe it is and my reasoning is still the same. The most precious places on this planet you must ski to see!

Tomororw at 7:45 we begin.

from amy

I have never been so happy to see a bed, we slept 5 in one room of single beds, better than spooning on a airport bench. As we flew into Helsinki it looked just like flying into the UP.

I really enjoyed travelling by train, seats were really comfortable. No snow Amsterdam but we have snow now! Yippee! tommorow at this time we will be skiing a long. more later, gotta ctch a bus. Amy

p.s. Sis............get those glas from LA on skis and we will come back anpther year. Kim Lawson that means you :) Dad....You would be having a great time with us!

The best laid plans

We arrived in Oulu last night at 21:30. I need to add FINALLY to that sentence.

Our adventure began Sunday, but not as planned.

Bad weather canceled the NWA flight fr0m Marquette so we were bussed to Green Bay in the rain and fog, slept for four hours on the benches at Austin Straubel--love the all night music and blaring lights--an early flight to Chicago with an 8 hour layover before the flight to Amsterdam.

We took advantage of the Chicago visit to tour Ron's brother Denny's new condo downtown and see the city. A walk in the cold rain was delightful after too many hours breathing used air in the airports.

The flight to Amsterdam was smooth and we tried to sleep. When we arrived in Helsinki yesterday at 13:30, we still had 9 more hours of travel, 6 by train and 3 by bus.

The good news, we have all of our luggage, 10 pieces including Lyle and Amy's ski bag that looks like we're traveling with a 8 foot long black cordura covered pipe 20 inches in diameter that Lyle lifted from the project at work--but it's really Jeff Stasser's body bag.

We're a group to watch loading the train. Jo says we look like gypsies. I think we're even making the Finns crack a smle.

Once we got in the country, however, things started looking up. We were on the bus to the train station in less than half an hour. Then on the train within 30 minutes it just took some time to figure out our seat numbers but their transportation system is like clockwork and it seems folks take advantage of it. We have lots to learn in this country by reducing our carbon footprint.

The train and bus stations are also identified by the bike racks. They have as much snow as the Copper Country and still bikes are lined up outside ready to roll.

Instead of salt they put pea gravel, apparently lava rock, on the streets and sidewalks.

Again, we have lots to learn.

But now to finish our transport to Kuusamo.

We are all refreshed from a night sleeping horizontal and a shower.

More to come,


Saturday, March 1, 2008

Less than 12 hours to go

It's less than 12 hours before we fly out of Marquette. I guess I should start packing.

Mike Orhanen and Georgeanne Nikula left Friday night so they are probably seeing the sites of Helsinki by now, almost half a world away.

The journey has begun. . .but I can't help but think back to how it actually started.

How did 9 people say "Yes" to this crazy adventure, anyway?

Never underestimate the power of girlfriends.

Last March seven of us were at Stokely Creek north of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, on a girls' cross-country ski trip. We went to ski the annual Wabos Loppet (coming up Sunday, March 9). After the long ski we were gathered around the dinner table swapping stories when a friend from Manistique, Lynn Olson, joined us and shared her experience skiing the Rajalta Rajalle Hiihto in 2005.

The movie started making as I was listening to her. I was hoping the rest of my friends could picture themselves on that wintry blue and white set too.

Adventure is contagious, especially with those women. 5 of them were already leaving to bike Ireland in September. Timing was right for Amy Michaels and Jo Samuelson to add Finland to their travel plans too. Momentum was building. I just had to sell my husband.

I didn't waste any time when I got home. "You know Ron," I asked, "we've been skiing our whole lives and we've never cross country skied."

That comment got his attention. He turned to me shaking his head, "Whaddaya mean?" (We got x-c skis for Christmas in 1975 and have been skinny skiing ever since.)

"Oh sure we Nordic ski," I replied. "But we've never crossed a country." That's when he gave me that side-ways look. You know the kind, if you could hear it, it would sound like a semi truck grinding gears up a steep hill.

But once I shared Lynn's tale and passed along that our dear friends Dr. Don and Georgie Hurst had also skied it, he sat down at his computer and started googling information. He was in.

I'm not sure the tactics Amy used to convince her husband Lyle, but when work schedules allow, those two are like horses in harness mountain biking and skiing the back country together. He wasn't going to miss this fun.

Watching Jo ski you'll swear she's dancing on snow. Without a doubt her spirit was packed and on board too. Jo is an Intensive Care Nurse at Marquette General Hospital and I know skiing is her winter time tonic for job stress.

Mike has been our dentist for decades. Years back when I needed my first root canal I begged him, "Can't you do open heart surgery instead?" I am a wimp. But to ease my anxiety during the procedure, he employed an effective anaesthetic--adventure stories--and told me about riding a mule to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. He's also a Finn and we used to take language classes together, no way could we go to his family homeland without him.

Last summer life changed for Georgeanne. In fact, she'll admit she's put the left turn signal on and left the pavement for the "road less traveled." "I'm 50, fearless and Finn," she says with a grin. With that attitude it didn't take much convincing when we met by chance last fall in the post office.

Results posted on cross-country races in the Midwest, ususaly have Kelly Stahl and Jeff Shipkey at the top. Kelly also ranks one of the top mountain bikers in the region. Like Amy and Jo, she's also a nurse and Jeff works in health care too. I'm not sure who convinced who about taking part in the trip but the talk all started in a yoga class.

So there you have how this group began, less than a year ago. Now to see where it all leads in the next week.

When Ron and I married 32 years ago we had a line in our vows to "Keep alive spontaneity."

I think we're still good on that promise.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Lousy timing

Part of my preparation for this trip has been to think differently.

Not just about taking a Nordic ski trip when our best buddies--Jeff & Carrie--are in Whistler whooping it up gliding downhill and giving in to gravity. But this ole word mason has had to do some math.

First of all, converting miles into meters, or rather kilometers. Over and over I wrestle with the distances we'll have to travel daily--46 to 84 k. Yikes. That's roughly 28 to 52 miles a day on my legs. . .certainly more miles than I put on my car.

And then there's the temperature, converting Fahrenheit into Celsius. Panu wrote today from Oivanki near Kuusamo that the temperature this morning was -20 c which equals -4 f. A bit chilly, but we know how to dress.

And then there's the issue of converting currency--not just where to do it--but where to get the best exchange rate?

After a Public Radio story this morning I wish we could skip that part. We don't need to know two days before departure that the euro has hit an all time high against the dollar, 1.52 to a greenback. I can see Ron's expression, shaking his head, thinking about losing such a hefty percentage of his buying power.

Dang. What lousy timing to travel abroad.

So why would we go? And why now?

Because, to my knowledge, no where else on the planet can you actually ski a groomed track across a COUNTRY.

Leave it to the Finns.

We live in Marquette County in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, a skier's paradise. And it has been for over a century. After all, we're home to the US National Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame. Yoopers (that's what we call folks who live in Michigan's U.P.) grow up with a passion for the outdoors and skiing and it's why we have miles of groomed trails that in the summer turn into world class mountain biking. But even as fanatical as we are about adventuring under our own power, we don't have a trail that crosses our county from end to end. The closest we get is our annual Noquemanon marathon the last weekend in January when we groom a 51 k trail from Ishpeming to Marquette. That alone takes hundreds of hours for an army of volunteers to prepare. . .I can only imagine what a 440 k trail from the Russian border to the Swedish border must entail.

Once again, leave it to those Finns.

And to top it off, this is the 25Th anniversary of the Rajalta Rajalle Hiihto. When I stop to think, that means they've been doing this week long event for longer than I've been a mother. Even before cell phones. (Yes, Virginia, there was a time when you went out in the woods to explore WITHOUT a telephone. )

Granted, this may not be the most cost effective ski vacation Ron and I have ever taken, but I'm banking that traveling at a steady rate of return this 440 k will deposit some very rich memories in our "long term" savings account.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Ski skeletally

As this journey gets closer the encouraging messages from family and friends are like warm hugs of confidence. Susan Brian, an amazing skier here in Marquette, sent me a note saying, " If it gets tough, think of me, telling you, 'Frida…relax, focus on your technique, don’t use your arms too much, ski skeletally….and smile ‘cause, after all, you’re skiing!'”

That word "skeletally" jumped.

Jeannie Thoren used that word too last Sunday when we were skiing with our husbands at the Blueberry Trails.

Jeannie has spent her career helping women ski better by changing alpine equipment to work with the female body. Years back she convinced me a heel lift in my boot, foot beds, and moving my binding forward would improve my downhill skiing. She was right. I had more control. And I've been sold ever since. Now, thanks to her encouragement, I'm making the shift in my Nordic gear too.

Here she is with her Hot Pink Heel Lifts for Women on Skinny Skis.

Because Nordic ski boots (particularly my Salomon classics) are so shallow, there's no room to insert a heel lift under the foot bed. We had to go more drastic. So last Monday Jeannie's husband Tom Haas put the 1/2 inch heel lifts under my binding.

It's a little nerve wracking to make changes so late in the game, especially when I've got such long miles ahead, but just in the short time I tried Jeannie's skis I could tell the new position was getting my weight forward. My heels didn't feel like they were in the backseat.

So girlfriends, check where the heel of your boot lands in relationship to the camber on the ski. If it lands where the ski starts to slope down (mine did) and folks are always telling you to get forward, (I've been there) maybe you need a heel lift too to help "skeletally" transfer your weight to the fronts of your skis.

It's all about improving kick and glide.

Jeannie & Tom are known for "secret weapons" but none of us want it to be secret. Like Jeannie and Tom I want ALL women to enjoy skiing even more.

The epoxy is dry so I'm heading out to do the test.

A week away

A week from today we begin skiing.

How did this happen so quickly?

Last night our local WLUC-TV 6 did a story on our journey. You can see the broadcast piece at

Tomorrow Dr. Mike Orhanen and Georgeanne Nikula fly to Helsinki. Amy & Lyle Michaels, Jo Samuelson along with Ron and I will fly out Sunday night. Kelly Stahl and Jeff Shipkey leave on Monday, March 3. We'll all meet up Wednesday night in Kuusamo for the pre-trip meeting. That's also where we will meet the other skiers in our group.

I'm brushing up on my Finn listening to CD's of dialogue while driving. I know the most important word, "Apua." I learned that in 2003 when my daughter Eryka and I went to Finland for the Suomi Meloo kayak relay. It was written on the bottom of a kayak. It means HELP!