Ice hole survival
Today started quite normally, walking to the university in the snow, moving quickly to keep warm, and slip sliding in the usual fashion. I went back to my flat for a lunch of fried rice – one of my two staple meals since I arrived. At the end of the day I headed to Erkki’s house to find something to do. After a good session of computer games with Anton and Clint, Erkki and Pavi came back from dinner and immediately Pavi suggested that the next activity should be a trip to the ice hole. I had heard, in disbelief, about these ice holes, where a hole is cut into a lake for people to jump in. The reason for this was unfathomable to me, and remains so! Anyway, Pavi was pressing Clint to go who had cunningly forgotten his towel and trunks, while I tried to laugh off the idea. There was no way I wanted to put my body anywhere near ice cold water.
Sometimes, though, you have to make sacrifices for your country when you are in foreign places, and I didn’t want to be seen as the weaker party – especially in the presence of a fellow American. But this was not a sacrifice, this was suicide! However, with my ancient roots, I had to honour the Gale motto: Never let the side down. So I casually went along with the idea, and Pavi kindly prepared the necessary equipment for the mission. When your path has already been chosen, or your sentenced passed, the only thing you can do is accept it gracefully and enjoy those last moments. As such, I confidently strode out into the night air ready for whatever I would have to suffer.
On arrival at the ice hole there was some confusion as to whether it was still open. For a few moments I thought that God had intervened, but He was just torturing my kilesa. My hopes were dashed, the damnable hole was open! I had used the bathroom before leaving the house, but now I needed to go again. Slowly I put on the speedos and headed out into the cold night air. Pavi was striding confidently towards the water, while I surveyed the icy surroundings. Luckily madness got to me before fear, and I pushed on quickly to the water. My feet touched the surface and before I could feel any sensation I had dived in.
Seconds later shock, pain and feared took hold of my brain. I was several metres from the edge and an odd burning feeling was attacking my limbs, the ice eating away at my skin. As the sensation engulfed my entire body, I was swimming as quickly (and as coolly) as I could back towards the edge. I pulled myself out with the ladder which was completely covered in ice – just like my body! Then it was a case of getting to the sauna as quickly as possible without passing out.
The sauna was warm, but I was shaking from the cold. For once, I actually wanted the sauna to be unbearably hot! After 5 minutes of intense heat I was still only half defrosted. Pavi advised me not to dive in because if you get your head wet then you can get cold – as if the rest of the experience was not intended to make you cold! A short time later I was warming up nicely and singing the praises of the sauna.
Unfortunately, we had to take another dip before going home. I prepared myself, took the long walk down to the edge and then plunged in. This time I did not stray far from the edge and I was out again no time, sprinting towards the sauna once more. I did not even hear Pavi saying we should go now. Apparently I was not allowed in the sauna again. But Clint followed me in, and we defrosted a second time. However, Pavi insisted that we must take a dip in the ice hole last, which meant that a third attempt on my life was necessary.
I readied myself. Then, at once, I dashed out of the sauna with a mind focussed completely on the mission. This approach was the most successful – there was no thought of pain, no hint of like or dislike, no desire to return to the sauna (well maybe). It was like meditating past the pain barrier. And after it was over I actually felt quite good. My skin was tingling on the way home, but generally I felt relaxed and satisfied. Maybe I even enjoyed the experience – in some strange Finnish masochistic way! The good news is that I do not think I will be afraid of swimming in the English sea after this – nothing could be colder than a Finnish ice hole.