The day began as usual, sweating with other large pink sometimes wobbling naked bodies, all crammed into a tiny overheated space. Some of them would race out this confined ritual (pronounced ”saaoona”) and down a short path to a little jetty to plunge, still naked, into the cold lake. Others more modest would don swimming togs first.

Finland’s lake district is a pretty place, particularly in summer when the temperature might soar to a searing 25 degrees. The trees are all silver birches or a mixture of pines and spruce. Around the forest floor and even on the roadside the place is carpeted with wildflowers, mainly blue and white, but occasionally yellow. Walking along a road we saw a team of slow moving  bumblebees going to work on some purplish cornflowers.

There is however, a serpent in any Eden but in this case the pestilence is airborne. Mosquitoes swarm like a nano-sized Battle of Britain. They are large brutes too and go to work drilling your veins with the determination of an oil rig.

As if sacrificing both sweat and blood was not torment enough, we decided to take on something else, a form of masochism known in Finnish  as ”Oravareitti.” In English it translates to The Squirrel Route and requires people to canoe or kayak down a chain of lakes linked by fast flowing narrow streams, peppered by even faster patches of rapids. There are few stopping places that are easy to access, and the whole thing goes for 52 kilometres.

 There are those wildflowers on the bank, pink and yellow waterlillies, as you might expect in the water, and the occasional head of a duck, beaver or tortoise popping out. There are also fallen trees and in some of the tighter places, walls of granite with harsh surfaces, guaranteed to tear off any skin that might come in contact due to a misdirected boat in the fast water.

We both fell out of our kayaks, Jill due to hitting one of those fallen trees and me trying to get back in after we had to pull them out and walk around a bridge too low to go beneath.

In the end we only went about half way to a point where most people stop and camp. It took us six hours, but we had the satisfaction of getting there before some considerably younger groups.

I think you become more secretly competitive when you get older. Do they have races for walking frames?

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