My Finnish madness
It was well below freezing; and I mean WELL below. I had taken temporary leave of my senses. I was about to jump fully clothed in to a fast flowing river that emptied the Kärenjärvi in Kuhmo, Finland. The Pajakkakoski Rapids were a maelstrom of white as it cascaded over the rocks; ice clung to the rocks on the bank and to any low hanging branch within reach of the splashes. The idea was to shoot the rapids but without a raft or kayak. This was more than “up the creek without a paddle”; this was “up the creek with no paddle and no kayak or raft”
On previous visits to Finland in winter I had seen the craziness of the Finns. They carve a swimming pool out of ice and then have races in it wearing a wooly ensemble of hat, gloves and socks with their speedos. They plunge naked into freezing lakes or roll about in the snow in the buff after a sauna. Now I was joining a bunch of Finnish crazies who were about to voluntarily jump into a river fully clothed in the middle of a Nordic winter.
Okay, before I am hauled off by men in white coats let me say I was taking precautions, lots of them. Firstly there were extra layers of clothing in to form of fleece jackets, thermal socks and trousers. Extra layers I was told to keep warm. Extra layers I thought to get wet and heavy and pull me under the swirling water. Next came an all-in-one survival suit of the kind used aboard oil rigs and Arctic or Antarctic survey ships. I climbed into the suit which incorporated both gloves and boots, and was zipped in. The watertight seals around the neck I was assured kept the water out. However, they also kept air in. I felt, and looked, like a tangerine coloured Michelin man. Curling up in a fetal position and holding my knees while some one held the neck seal open expelled most of the air.
Around the outflow from the lake the water was not frozen. This was where we were to practice how to maneuver using our hands. I was surprised to find out how buoyant I was and how warm I was inside the survival suit. Already my fears were subsiding and I was beginning to relax. Then I saw the river…
The water was hurling itself downstream intent on smashing itself to smithereens on countless unseen underwater obstructions otherwise known as rocks.
The safety talk didn’t help allay my fears.
“Always have your legs out in front of you and downstream. If you hit a rock it’s better to break a leg than your skull.”
As with kayaking we were told to keep paddling with our hands to keep a modicum of control. Control? It looked as if we would be going with the flow, like it or not.
I eased myself down the snow covered bank into the water and launched myself backwards into the current. I back paddled furiously but it seemed futile as I was being swept down stream at a fast rate of knots. Lying on my back the standing waves barely half a metre high appeared like tsunamis. Far from being terrifying – it was that as well – it was also exhilarating. I yelled with excitement and swallowed half the river as I went through a curtain of spray and water. When I had finished spluttering I found myself floating slowly in an eddy pool.
Where we up for more? You bet. Next time round we rafted up. Feet under the arms of the person in front we were hurled down the river in what can only be described as a human raft.
The Finnish day, close to the Arctic Circle, soon comes to an end so we had to leave the river and head back. Peeling off the survival I discovered that apart from a slightly damp collar everything was as dry as when I donned the suit.
Maybe the Finns are not so crazy after all. What other crazy activities are there in Finland in winter? Let me know in the comments below.
Wild Taiga offer the euphemistically named Rapid Floating as part of their adventure programme.
Declaration: I stayed as a guest of the Kalevela Hotel, Kuhmo as part of a press trip from where the above activity was organised. However, I always maintain editorial control and write what I experience be it good or not so good.