There are the days that you can write an entire book about. This is a story about one of those.
As already noted earlier, one cannot leave his passions behind when moving to a different place on this planet. Well, for rock climbing, compensations can be found on blocks scattered around and about; but then, at some point, inevitably, winter hits the screen and buries even those possibilities in, if lucky, powdery white. What does one do when those conditions occur, normally? Strap the skis on and powder down! But now, this is only really fun when the steepness is exceeds a certain percentage (yes, there is still cross-country, that’s correct). So, problem arising: way too little steepness in southern Sweden to be found. Flat sucks. That’s what I used to think … but wrong!
Flat + lot’s of water + closeness to Baltic sea + sustained long minus temperatures = one of the World’s best spots to: Långfärdsskridskoråkning! Nordic ice skating, that is (took me about a week to be able to pronounce the sport I’m intending to discover) and fun, that is!
After a few lakeside-trainingsessions, some crazy locals (case will be argued), the big day came and the call to head out into Stockholm’s archipelago. Wow, the real sea, the real deal! Previously, I lacked even knowledge that open sea does freeze, except around Antarctica and such places; But here, down in Stockholm? Apparently it does. From now on, the day is bound to teach me one surprising lesson after the other; let’s start to discover:
#1: Ice is significantly bendable. So much that standing upon an ice surface will give you the feeling of being on a boat, exposed to waves. It goes up and down, following the swell; with you standing on top! Now that feeling can’t be put into words properly (although have a close look at Mat’s brilliant video footage of the day, right at the start, to get an impression), but believe me, it’s something else. Seeing the ice you’re skating on doing waves. A totally new face, once again, of that way-too-under-appreciated element of them all: Water.
#2: Ice is even more fascinating than previously dreamed of. Having a perfectly (!) smooth surface, mirroring your undoubtably insignificant shadow on a for Austrian standards endlessly wide, open space … something else.
#3: Skating 40km is easy, having the wind in your back. A new means of transportation altogether; Distance skating, långfärds!
#4: Swans can’t start without water. And are somewhat bigger when on land. The iceberg principle, perhaps. Anyways, we found two of those majestic birds trying desperately to start off and join their loved ones way out in the open water, but they just couldn’t; We all felt pity (probably all except me, I was still too fascinated from everything to actually feel pity) so Frederik and Anders were brave enough to unleash their hunter-and-gatherer skills and attempted to help them survive. What a scene. One could be helped into a bigger pool of water, the other swan resisted successfully. Spotting seven sea eagles on the horizon gave little hope to the creatures. Cruel nature. But: sea eagles!!!
#5: “Just thick enough” means scary. Here comes Mat’s philosophy: “Well, if it holds, it holds, so there’s no actual danger” and “Thick ice is boring”. Also, it has to be pointed out that skating on new ice that just froze overnight makes for some memorable sounds. Tsschhhhhhhhhh. Brr.
#6: Ships are not an ice skater’s friend. Nope, because they break the ice. And that means an abrupt end to your ice skating porn, shells and open water. Now, there are two ways to solve this problem: First, you go way back to where the ship came from; or, if you’re Swedish, you just swim through the ice water. You might go to the nearest island to search for a big tree to support your paddling (but optional). So, Anders and Fredrik told us who’s the Swede in the house and … swam though ice water. Wet, cold, wind and all. Well, couldn’t but conclude: Swedes are crazy. Fullstop.
#7: Sweden actually has a military. Probably wasn’t a good idea to attack the Swedish fleet with my ice pole. After all, lucky to step food on solid ground (even more solid than our ice, that is), the only position possible (see #6) was a Swedish military base. Counting on the status of neutrality and our appearance not too Russian-like, we tried to get back to our car, some way; However, surveillance is king and we were stopped and confronted with an very military-looking general which talked serious about the offense we committed and that apparently, the maximum penalty for our crime is one year in prison. For skating into a military base. I stood back and smiled; Our personal data was collected and we were released; But NEXT time … !
But, best of all: not seeing a single human soul all day. But a fox. And deer. And sea eagles. But no humans; What I take from this implicit observation is that what we’ve done was special. It was especially so for me, a ‘first time’ in many ways, and endless thankfulness to be an unexperienced part of that. Once again, the conclusion can only be: being out there, that’s what counts, that’s what makes you feel alive (according to Mats, multipitch tradskridskor, nails it). And now I know that it doesn’t necessarily need to be in a mountain setting; a frozen archipelago works just as well.