March 18, 2019

Living Well With Dystonia – Skiing from Border to Border- Rajalta Rajalle Hiihto

8 – 17 March, 2019

Springtime had already announced its arrival with snowdrops and crocuses around our home, when Lilo and I, together with 13 colleagues of ours started on a trip northward on March 8, eager to participate in a special skiing event, called ‘Rajalta Rajalle Hiihto’: Crossing middle Finland from the Russian to the Swedish border by ski in 7 days. A stopover in Helsinki enabled us to visit the market hall at the port and also the Dome. It was a rainy day. When we arrived at the Oivanki Outdoor Education Centre in Kuusamo shortly before midnight, it was snowing.

On Saturday we test and prepare our material. Wax or no wax? That’s the question. It is still snowing and the weather forecast for the next day is alike. As it is pretty cold, most of us opt for waxed skis. At lunch we enjoy lohikeito (salmon soup) and before dinner, sauna at the shore, just a few steps off the ice whole. Dinner and information at 8 p.m. 

Next morning transfer by bus to Suorajärvi. Along its shore in wide turns at first, then through open fields with scarce pines. It is a sunny day. First stop at Uuttusuo (km 21), where we enjoy soup and coffee.

The last service point is a school in Nissinvaara (km 35), where a retired teacher offers mehu (juice). Pictures of all the Finnish Presidents since the independence (6 December 1917) hanging on the walls. All except the only woman – a social democrat. 

During our daily trips of several hours we are served with juice, pickled gherkin, raisins, chocolate, coffee and sometimes Makkara (sausages) from the open fire. On the second day we move for almost 25 km on a narrow-gauge railway embankment, built by war prisoners of the Deutsche Wehrmacht during World War II, not in use anymore – but still dead straight. 

I arrive at the service station Pirinlampi Laavu (little open wooden hut) in the afternoon sunshine. It is a wonderful place. I sit down and I really enjoy sandwich, juice and cocoa. There is Finnish music. I know the sound because I was a member of the Finnish Choir Zürich some time ago. Climbing up in the afternoon sun for quite a while, up and up again, I am just about to reconcile myself with the never ending rise and to inhale the spheric afternoon mood, when a snowmobile approached from behind and as I move aside in order to let it pass, the driver does not agree. He just collects the signs of our route. So am I at the end of the tail? No, there is somebody behind me. 

A ski lift takes me up to Pikku-Syöte, where I arrive completely frozen but admiring the twilight, which picturesquely lowers itself in cold pink to the seemingly endless expanse of this sublime view.

Sports journalists would call the 4th day’s stage of 88 km “queen stage”. But tonight I will not be crowned, because I took a short cut and I skied only 36 km.

So I missed the reserve Ahmatupa (wolverine hut). But I passed it twice 20 years ago. I like the expression “ahma”, since it means glutton in German. And as Skiing requires a lot of energy, I feel a certain affinity with this animal in my habit of eating. 

Next day the 46 km track leads through wide plains. A brisk wind, from behind and from the side, spoils the already not very stable track. In diffuse light, the trace is often difficult to recognize, especially when no trees do not throw any shadows. Pines are all around, hardly man-high. Could be wetlands? I usually decline when Lilo asks if she should walk with me. Today I don’t. I gladly accept the offer to be with her and I am grateful for that. 


Short review on some keywords after stage 6 from Hosio to Honkama (60 km) at dinner:

  • Conditions difficult due to growing snowfall and relative warm temperature. 
  • Kaspar puts the question of meaning
  • Kurt faces calf problems.
  • Hansjakob had to abandon today’s stage
  • Marianne forgot her professionally prepared skis at the place where we slept.

The list is arbitrary and incomplete.

At the beginning of the last stage (55 km from Kallinkangas to Karunki) the track is in good condition  and I move quite fast. At Lautama (km 23) it is very loud, music and dance. I prefer coffee and Munkki (sort of donut). Weak snowfall sets in and the journey is getting longer and longer. 

From behind, excited Finnish Palaver approaches. This is not to be misinterpreted, I love the Finnish language: the unvoiced, sharp “S”, the rolling tongue “R”, the “L” far back in the mouth and the sonorous bass voices. Nevertheless, I speed up my step and try to escape the feminine dialogue. It’s useless. The two cross-country skiers stick to my heels. I step out of the lane and want to let them pass. But they do not. They are wearing official jackets in blue and white. If they were not allowed to overtake, I ask. They affirm. Aha, these are the “broomwomen” – and I am at the end of the skiers’ chain. With a little bit more distance they keep my pace. At the Maali (goal) I thank them for taking care of me. With a charming smile on their faces, they say that it was their job. 

A bus brings us to Tornio. It’s a long way and the time schedule of the day is getting tighter and tighter. 

It is part of the tradition that the individual country groups introduce themselves the last evening, performing with all sorts of different productions like sketch, quiz, song, dancing performance. 

Before returning to Zurich via Helsinki we spend a few hours in Oulu. It is raining, but we are all happy for having finished the Rajalta Rajalle Hiihto 2019.

I am happy having been able to participate in this adventure again. For hours and hours my blepharospasm disappeared from the focus of my thoughts and feelings – due to other ‘pain’ in my body ☺

Erhard Mätzener
Treasurer, Dystonia Europe