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.