8 May 2018
After days of strong winds and the occasional heavy snow fall, today is magnificent. No wind, all-but clear blue sky, pushing 10C in the sun.
For the last couple of nights Antonin, a young French cyclist, has stayed with us. A benefit of the Warmshowers.org network of cycling hospitality.
Two days ago when he was to arrive the Norwegian Wind, Tormentor of The West Coast, had broken free and charged over the mountains which normally spare us extreme weather. I get a message early Sunday evening “I’m halfway I think. But I stop a bit. Wind is harder”. Poor buggar camped 80 km west of Kiruna the night before after climbing from sea-level to nearly 900 meters. That’s 80 km today into Kiruna, pushed by a beautiful tailwind. Only to have another thirty into that ferocious Norwegian Tormentor.
“It is” I reply, “Will come and pick you up” and drive off to find our hapless adventurer very grateful to see me as I pull up.
“Oh thank you so much” he replies.
“I’m really looking forward for a shower” he tells me.
Part of the message Antonin send me via Warmshowers told me ‘this is a last hour demand but I’d love to take a shower and be able to wash a bit my gears. It’s been a long time since I had access to a proper house ! Hope to see you tomorrow evening 🙂’.
“How long since you had a shower?” there’s a pervasive whiff of smoke and trail about him, his fingers and hands etched darkly.
I can see he’s thinking, calculating … “Three weeks, I think”
I laugh. “We have a real good shower. You’ll enjoy it”
If he hasn’t showered for three weeks I’d hate to guess the last time he washed his clothes. “We have a good washing machine too. You’re welcome to use it”
“Thank you very much” with undeniable sincerity.
It’s pretty obvious he can’t shower, wash all his clothes – I loan him some of mine during the process – and ‘wash a bit my gears’, meaning clean his bike, and leave the next day.
Which is really fortunate for The Next Day, yesterday the 7th, it is a howling gale complete with snow-storm …
“Sure you don’t want to leave today?” I ask cheekily.
He laughs as he watches in quite amazement the snow pile up “It is very nice sometimes to stay in a house”. Can’t agree more.
But it doesn’t last for we have Makara! Makara is a Finnish fenomenon (yes, I deliberately misspelt that) … it’s a highly processed sausage that reminds the consumer of absolutely nothing in the real-world. It comes in a vast array of flavours and dominates entire sections of supermarkets. In Finland. Every Finnish person who goes outdoors for anything from a short hike, a walk with the kids, a long day’s cross-country skiing, even during that other Finnish fenomenon – the Sauna – packs a pack of makara, makes a fire, trims a thin young branch of birch into a spear, spears the makara and places it over the fire and when suitably cooked – itself a subject of HUGE debate: When Is A Makara Ready? – chew away!
Melina, Queen of Winter – check out her FB page ‘Team Northern paws’ – visited from Finland a couple of weeks ago and delivered us this haloed delicacy. And today, in a howling gale and quasi-blizzard Antonin is going to experience Makara.
Getting the fire ready requires clearing the snow from the fireplace, making a snow-wind-break, bringing some nice dry wood, using a knife to shave off some kindling, pealing some bark of birch trees and then trying to actually light it. The wind has the upper hand for quite a few attempts, but eventually we have a fire.
As the fire settles I cut two thin branches from a birch tree and delicately whittled fine points on both of them. I explain there are two ‘how to cook makara’ camps. One spears the makara lengthways, the other straight through the middle. Then there’s the ‘numerous tiny cuts along the length of the makara’ vs ‘no cuts’. It’s more art than science and each technique has it vigorous proponents. I go lengthways and Antonin chooses in the middle. We both do the little knife cuts.
“Do we eat it with bread? enquires Antonin.
“Bread!” I retort. “It’s makara, not hotdog!” But he’s not to know, he’s from France and this is his first makara.
Ultimately we eat four each. I relent and we eat two with focaccia that Ram made last night. The wind continues to howl, the snow gives way to light rain and eventually disappeares into sun. We do not sit down, since there is nowhere to sit that’s dry and comfortable.
Back to today, the 8th.
Seems I’ve become an early bird. Not quite sure how that’s happened. Perhaps it’s the fabled ‘old folk don’t need as much sleep as young folk’. But I never slept long when I was young either. It’s just I’d go to bed waaay after midnight and consequently get up waaay after dawn. I use to train my bosses to not make any appointments for me before 1000. Nowadays, I got to bed early (well, at least earlier), and find myself with quite a bit of time on my own in the mornings.
I feed Nannake and Ainu. Getting the hang of it anyway. I clean their shit from the dog yard.
We go for a walk down the strip of land conveniently made into a road to access the stugas (summer houses) on the näs. There’s new ice on the pools of water and a layer of fresh snow from yesterday.
Courtesy of the freeze last night the snow is compact and hard and we – Nannake, Ainu and I – wander up the hill, turn right onto a track one of the stuga owners made through the snow, pass said stuga and make it to the rapidly de-icing shore of the Kalix River.
It’s a man and dogs moment. No wind, the sun warm, the air breathlessly fresh. Ainu and Nannake race past on the remains of the ice on the Kalix accompanied by a fly-by of two geese, for all the world as if it is orchestrated.
Bit by bit I’m learning how to manage the dogs. Yesterday for instance Ainu did a runner and I had to go get him from Sweco’s house. I was ear-twisting, deep growling firm with him and dragged him home by his collar. A few days ago Nannake did something similar and got the same treatment. They test the system and the system – me – retaliates. Tough love it may be but the alternative leads to lost dogs which cause trouble and consequently every walk requiring the dogs to be on a line.
Today, line-free, they are racing everywhere. Nannake’s the hunter, sticking her nose deep into the snow or under newly emerged bushes or the various paraphernalia people have left scattered about. Nannake tends to walk as she checks out things. Ainu in comparison simply races everywhere, back and forth back and forth back and forth, often accompanied by Nannake. And they come to me when I call.
They are a joy to watch and the idea of restricting this by using lines means I’m prepared to use a mix of tough love and reward to train them to come when called allowing them and I to enjoy their shear unadulterated enthusiasm for simply racing around enjoying a day.
Back home neither Antonin or Ram have emerged. I actually check to see if Antonin’s bike is still here, thinking perhaps he’s already left. But no, bike is still here. Ram turns up, wild of hair and in desperate need for coffee. At 10 Antonin finally emerges. I make a joke that yesterday he planned to leave by ten, not wake up at ten. Antonin love coffee. He too needs a coffee.
I’m babbling away, asking questions, telling what I’ve done and planning the day. Four bleary uncomprehending eyes stare at me, totally lost. “Max’s has been awake for hours” Ram explains to Antonin “I can barely think and he’s asking too many questions.” OK: wait for the coffee to take effect.
Antonin tells me he plans to ride 130 km today and tomorrow to keep to his schedule. Wha … Lemme get this straight, I think to myself, it’s past 1000 in the morning and he’s still gonna do 130 km today! Wow, love the unbridled fit youthful energy that three months cycling and being 24 creates. Added to near limitless light over a 24 hour period – no longer gets dark now – he can ride off and do 130 km and still not run out of daylight.
Plans change again, over the course of breakfast – a hearty mix of bacon, riisipiirakka (Finnish rice cakes, a savoury thing), OJ, oodles of espresso, jälkiuunipala (Finnish rye bread, very yummy), eggs, tomatoes and salad. After all, if you’re gonna work night-shift – Ram – or ride 130 km – Antonin – an energy source is needed. I have my walks but am not sure it competes with the power output of the breakfast. Tastes damned good but.
Ram will give Antonin a lift to Kiruna. Saves him 30 km and an hour and a half of riding. There’s a but, Ram will take him at 1400 in the afternoon, four hours from now. I do the maths … at around 1500 Antonin will attempt a 130 km ride. Saaay 15 km/hour … that’s nine hours riding. An 2300 finish. I have no doubt Antonin will do his 130 km today, and the 130 km he needs to do tomorrow to keep to his schedule.
Breakfast done I suggest a walk. The day is the complete antidote for the clouds, winds and blizzards of yesterday.
Across the short causeway, up the hill till the path, along the path to the stugas, past the stugas until the Kalix, along the Kalix until we run out of time. Back track to avoid thigh deep slushy snow lurking deep in the forest, all the time using a mix of cajoling and bribery to train the doggies, sharing thoughts and feelings, and simply enjoying a wonderful day.
“Get a good summer” I tell Antonin “it’s pretty much like this every day”
“Get a bad summer” I tell Antonin “and it’s pretty much like yesterday every day. Only no blizzards, just rain”
There is nothing more awesome than a good Arctic Scandinavian/Nordic summer. Endless sunny days never too hot to worry about getting fried, never getting too cold coz the sun’s always up, little wind.
Back home it is, apparently, time for lunch. Lunch! thinks I, we’ve only just had breakfast. I decline and watch Ram and Antonin eat more riisipiirakka, jälkiuunipala, egg – this time hardboiled then diced – salad, espresso, OJ, cheese, and more.
As we sit and eat a Toyota Avensis drives past along the causeway heading to the stuga that’s being built there. We watch it for a moment, because we know what’s at the end of the road and it’s not favourable for a two-wheel drive front wheel drive Toyota Avensis. “Hit that boggy patch and we’ll need to rescue them” I point out, somewhat needlessly. We’ve all negotiated That Boggy Patch.
Ten minutes later there’s a knock on the door. Sarah, a young Sami woman. Yup, they are stuck. I, we, don’t have much time as Ram’s godda go to work. I do explain to Sarah that a Volvo V40 is hardly a strong rescue vehicle, but we’ll do what we can.
The Avensis looks in dire circumstance, almost all the front wheel lost to mud. This’ll either work. Or not. Back up the V40, dude attaches a toe-rope, a quick strategy meeting – don’t hammer the gas to avoid spinning the wheels, and take up the slack slowly – and we give it a go. Sarah asks if she and another woman should push (there’s a weird gender disparity thing here: the guys should be out ready to push and the women operating the vehicles). A nice idea but they’d get covered in mud. “We give it a go like this. If it doesn’t work, then you push.”
It works. Just a touch of spin and out pops the Avensis. I am heralded as a hero. I wish them well and return to our house to find Antonin and Ram ready to go. Gear loaded, they leave.
Truly enjoyed hosting Antonin and wish him well on his journey … from south-west France to Loforten across norther Sweden before heading down Finland to end in St Petersburg. Great trip.
Puoltsa, 8 May 2018