Leaving Muonio.

This morning, after a cold, easy classic ski, we said goodbye to Muonio. We packed our skibags, packed our duffels, swept the floors with the funny little angled broom, and put the dishes to dry in the cupboard rack above the sink for the last time. Finally, we got in the car and drove away from Lomamaja Pekonen.

We had no idea what our living situation was going to be in Rovaniemi, but I knew I would miss the perfectly-designed little cabin, which really made the most of its tiny space. I’d miss the heated floor in the mudroom, the mini-sauna to dry your clothes in, and the cute little cup-size shelves over the stove.

Okay, so I wouldn’t miss the stove. It was a terrible electric two-burner system which took forever to cool off and burnt almost everything. I won’t miss that.

But almost everything about Muonio I already miss. I certainly miss the skiing. We were just beginning to explore the possibilities in Muonio – they were starting to groom the long trails to other hotels and ski areas, and Lauren and I had explored a new trail this morning. I had seen my fifth reindeer on the trail (the first four were all together), and I wish I could ski the high loop around the windmills one more time.

I even miss the racing. Yesterday I felt like I began to figure things out. It definitely wasn’t one of my best races ever, but it was just a normal race. I went out there and I skied, and I went pretty hard, and that was that.

I have never been an excellent early-season racer, but I think with a few races under my belt I might have the early-season blues out of my system (hopefully). Luckily, there are races here in Rovaniemi, but I wish I could keep racing against the better field from Muonio now that I’m feeling more confident.

Here in Rovaniemi, we’re back in a city. We’re definitely outside the city, but you can no longer walk out of your driveway and be anywhere in town three minutes later. That was nice.

As ski racers, we travel around the country and the world, rarely spending more than a week or ten days in each new place. It was a treat to get to enjoy Muonio for that long. But you learn that you can’t be too sad when you leave somewhere and head to the next race; you have to think of what was great about it, file it away in your memory, and then look forward to what’s next. If you really love it, you’ll make it back someday.

Will I make it back to Muonio? I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll come back to race here next year, and maybe I won’t. It’s not something I’ve decided yet. But my first experience above the Arctic Circle was a great and interesting one, and I want to come back to this circumpolar region in the future for sure. I’d like to explore more in the winter, and I’d like to see it in the summer, too, when it’s the land of the midnight sun.

Suomi love.

The consensus here is that Finland isn’t the most exciting place in the world. Which isn’t to deny that there might be much more exciting parts of Finland than Muonio, being in the middle of nowhere as we are, or that we aren’t actually excited to be here. We are!

But, well, things can be a little drab (just check the lighting in the photo above).

Nevertheless, there are things I love in Finland. First of all, the skiing. We were on great snow at the end of October, how cool is that?

Here’s a list of seven other things I love.

1) Sparks. Referred to in English as kicksleds, these things are sweet. They are the little red wagons of Scandinavia, only better. Every day we see old people kicking their sparks home from the grocery store, laden down with the night’s dinner ingredients. We also saw some very cool camoflage-bedecked high school students sparking home from school, which was awesome.

Photo: Nordqvist.fi

2) Nordqvist Tea. Our first black tea selection at the grocery store was “The Emperor’s Bride”, which despite its funny name turned out to be excellent. Excitedly, we finished the box so we could try more tea. Other varieties have names such as Faithful Friend, Tiger’s Daydream, Carribean Sun, and non-sequiturs like The Wisdom of Stay and Cheery Rainy Day. Carribean Sun is my current favorite; on the Nordqvist website, its picture is captioned with “Memories are like sand in swimwear.” Very profound.

3) Lingonberry Jam. On our first grocery outing, we bought a tub of Dronningham lingonberry jam, and it’s been one of the best things to happen to us so far. It goes on toast, in oatmeal, and even into the homemade applesauce I cooked to disguise some rather rubbery pork. You can find lingonberry products in the United States, but they are expensive. Here, they are commonplace, and that is a very good thing.

4) Sunsets (and sunrises). I think I mentioned this before, but because the sun hangs so low in the sky all the time, sunsets and sunrises last forever. They are beautiful. In fact, unless it is cloudy, the light is generally beautiful here. So maybe I should change this one to “The Light.”

5) Reindeer. On the drive to Olos, the ski area, we have seen reindeer crossing the road several times. Reindeer are pretty cool. They come in different colors! And the best thing about this was that the first time we spotted the reindeer, Hannah became completely frantic trying to catch a glimpse of them from her less-than-ideal seat in the van. Luckily, she managed to see them. If not, there would have been tears, I’m sure of it.

6) The Info Board at Olos. I didn’t realize I loved this until today, when it no longer displayed just the date and time, but some other messages as well. The information cycles through, with several messages in Finnish, several in English, and universally understood schedule for racing. My favorite message is posted below.

7) Life. Finally, as part of my new job for FasterSkier, I have had the opportunity to interview some really incredible athletes. The first of these interviews, with Swedish biathlete Bjorn Ferry, was posted today. Check it out. I have the best job in the world – or two of them, actually!

That’s all for now. I promise I’ll try to write more frequently.