Like many, or most, small boys, I, too, had ideas about the future, and what the world would look like when I grew up. Well, I had one idea. I thought it would be neat – that is the technical term for it – if the roads and streets of Finland were covered by a similar electric ceiling like the bumper cars at Linnanmäki, the amusement park in Helsinki.
I also thought it would be neat if all the streets in Helsinki would freeze over so I could just skate to school every day.
Yesterday, I went for a skate on a lake close to our house. I’ve been there before, of course, because it’s something of a must-see around here. Wife, who’s originally from the other side of the lake, took me there for the first time our first winter.
That time, I wore my hockey skates, and I may have even worn my hockey gloves, even though you can’t really play hockey on that pond. But, I was a hockey player so I brought my stick and gloves.
I know I had my stick, because on the home stretch of the shorter track, the three-kilometer one, after we had sat in the snow and drunk hot chocolate and eaten our sandwiches, Wife had some problems with her skates, while I was still going strong, or at least trying to look like it. So, I towed her back in. I held on to one end of the hockey stick, Wife the other, and I picked up speed. And then I picked up some more speed. And then some more – “I’ve never seen anyone skate that fast,” said Wife – and then … my skate got stuck in a hole in the ice, and I fell, and I pulled Wife down with me.
But we survived, and we’ve been back to the lake many times every winter.
That first time, I remember thinking that it was just like my dream of skating on the streets. There are two wide tracks on the lake making it look like a street. I remember the wind on my face, and how fast I seemed to go – and did, ask Wife – and how that must have been the way we were actually supposed to travel here in the North.
I had been looking at the other skaters jealously as they took one stride while I took four, but I simply took it as a challenge. Besides, I only skated around the shorter track anyway, and I could do three kilometers in my hockey skates any day of the week. But just as I always talk about running the New York City marathon, I kept talking about skating on lakes, and apparently somebody heard me because last Christmas, in 2011, that is, I got a set of long blades, and a thermos, from my brother-in-law.
And last weekend, while rummaging through some boxes in the basement, I noticed a pair of winter boots on the shelf, and decided to see if they would fit in the bindings on my blades. And they did. Off I went.
My first few strides are a little cautious. My winter boots, while continentally stylish – since I bought them in Vienna four years ago – don’t have the same ankle support as my hockey skates, which is actually the way I like it, it just took some getting used to.
I put my gloves on, adjust the backpack and take the first real strides, and by the time I reach the “start” sign, I’ve already adjusted my goal from skating around the short track to going for the full 14-kilometer lap. Double digits.
The track is empty so I have all the space in the world. I pick up speed and by the time I turn around at the nook of the lake, up towards the end, I’m flying. I listen to the sound of my blade cutting the ice, and the rhythm of my skating was in harmony with the rhythm of the talk in my earphones.
I feel the wind on my back, and I smile a little, until I realize I would have to skate against the wind on the home stretch. But I decide to worry about that when I get there. I step over and around a few big cracks on the ice, and then return to my steady rhythm as quickly as possible.
Left, right, left, right, crackle, right, the signs says two kilometers, left, right, left, right, left, right, then suddenly another sign marking three kilometers.
I feel like I’m actually traveling. I know that to get back home, I’m going to have to turn around, but I push that thought out of my mind again, and imagine going from one place to another because I have to get from here to there.
Everything around me is different shades of white, mixed with some light shades of blue, and in some places, although these spots are few and far between, the ice is black and I can see down to the depths of the lake, reminding me of the fact that I am indeed skating on a lake, not a Zamboni-flooded artificial ice that’s painted white.
This is real.
Then I feel the smell of yeast, and without the signs or Google Maps, I know exactly where I am. I’m at the yeast factory, and I think of Wife and her stories of her old classmate who declared in classroom that in a case of war Sollentuna would be a target for bombs, because of the yeast factory.
Just as I get to the turning point, I see a black dot in the horizon, and I assume it’s another skater. Even though I tell myself to just keep skating, and sticking to my rhythm, I accelerate and soon I’m a little out of breath, but I’m also just a few strides behind a man.
I pass him and I keep pushing a good while longer so that I get a nice distance between him and me, so that he wouldn’t think I passed him just to stick it to him. I glance behind me and see him a few hundred meters behind me so I stop skating and just raise my fist for a second or so.
12 kilometers says the sign, and the wind, my friend just a half an hour ago is now my enemy, blowing against me. I remember being ten years ago and walking to school in a snow storm, with the wind on my face, and how I then imagined being Prince Valiant, and I laugh at myself, and then I imagine being a messenger with an important letter in my backpack and I accelerate so I can deliver it on time.
The shorter track joins the longer track from the left and the two tracks merge into one, and right there the ice is soft. My blade gets caught in the slush and I ran a few steps across, and then keep skating. I can already see the red huts on the shore, and I now I decide to cut a few seconds from my time.
And I skate as fast as I can, and I zig zag a little to go around the many cracks, and when I get to about thirty meters from the Start sign, I let up, and glide towards the benches, blow my nose, and when I get to the bench, sit down.
I take off my blades, walk to our car, throw my blades in the trunk, and drive home.
It’s not a bumper car, and I’d rather skate home, but it’s as close to my dream as it can get.