All year, I’ve been writing about world-class runners and world-class hosts. I now want to introduce you to a third type of world-class influences on this trip: my nearest and dearest friends from home.
Other than a few special occasions (like this, this, and this), their presence this year has been confined to email updates, Skype chats, prods for NBA (non-blog-appropriate) info, and the occasional revamped Sisqo song in a video message.
Armed with two weeks of vacay time, hot-off-the-press Masters diplomas, and a globe of possibilities, two of my best friends from Dallas jetset all the way to Scandinavia for a supersonic spin through Copenhagen and Stockholm and a full week of Finnish fun with their girl B. Not your average vacation or reunion destination… nor your normal amount of fun or folly.
Claire and Matt’s arrival in Helsinki coincided perfectly with Midsummer’s Eve, one of Finland’s biggest holidays that empties cities as Finns flock to countryside cottages for a weekend of grilling, eating, drinking, sauna-ing, swimming, boating, mosquito-slapping, and celebrating this special time of year in which the sun refuses to fully set.
After we rented a cottage online and I wrangled up some new Finnish friends, we hit to road to Kangasala, Finland, population: Pia and Bob Taylor (but don’t even play like you’ve never thought about vacationing there).
Once we settled in and got the lay of the land (by which I mean that Claire and I napped hard while Matt trudge-trudge-TRUDGEd through thick fields and patched up a sinking canoe with a homemade grass plug), our Frinns arrived and kicked the weekend off right with a good ole stranger-on-stranger prank.
Ice broken and respect established, the night rolled on with more sauna time, branch whacks, and wieners-in-a-cup than most holidays call for. But Midsummer mandated it, and we love it for that.
I woke the next morning bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, all ready to forage in the shrubs and moss for our breakfast. The hordes of mushrooms the Badger raved about never materialized, but we did make a tiny strawberry skewer (serving size: 1 small rodent).
More importantly, the Badge got a second opportunity to prank us by hiding a package of mushrooms under some moss and waiting until we found it. Tricky Badger!
A long run, some breakfast tacos, and one last bro-sauna later, easily the best Finnish Midsummer celebration we’ve ever had came to an end as the Badger, Antti-Pekka and Kari hit the road, leaving three wannabe Finns to brave the elements on our own for the rest of the week.
What didn’t come to an end was our excessive use of Badger’s trademark “Come on, MAYNE!” Not even close.
For the next five days, Claire, Matt, and I alternated between quiet, leisurely cottage time and aimless explorations through nearby towns, filling the in-betweens with Suomipop, Yksi (“one” in Finnish and a highly recommended change from Uno), and more scrambling to catch up on all the scandals and happenings from last year.
The Finnish countryside must be one of the most underrated destinations in the world, and I’m so thankful that the three of us got to reunite and unwind in such untraditional, picturesque surroundings.
Other than one refueling mishap (don’t even talk to us about Finnish gas stations), our rental car was perfect for scooting around the countryside and taking day trips to nearby towns. Tampere and Jyväskylä offered nice glimpses of less touristy towns and both had a few jewels tucked inside. Also, 10 bucks to anyone who can pronounce the second one without sounding like a fool!
For the last two nights of Claire and Matt’s visit, we rolled back to the Sink to do a little city-exploring and island-hopping. Though I was awestruck for the second time by Helsinki’s massive churches and cool Russian architecture, the highlight for me was Suomenlinna, an 18th century sea fortress that spans six islands and contains elements from its time under Swedish and Russian control. The whole area teems with molehill-hideouts, dark stone tunnels, and mossy crags, and made me want to do a little defending on Finland’s behalf (but not in the winter, for more than a few hours, or for real).
Matt and Claire’s visit ended way too abruptly for my liking, but not without one last “Come on, MAYNE” as they strutted their stuff out of our criminal-infested hotel (my bad! or good?). Our entire week was wonderful, but the best part of it all (fine– besides the popcorn fridge) was having two easy-going, joke-cracking, long-time buds by my side who I felt not one speck of pressure to be polite, serious, or guest-y around. They reminded me that my eagerness for home is justified and cemented the fact that I do indeed have the world’s most loyal, fun, sincere, and witty friends. So thanks, you two, for spending your precious vacation time getting very jet-lagged, sleeping in a mosquito-ridden hut, “showering” in a sauna, and brightening up last week and the end of my trip in a way that only close friends are capable of. On a scale from Sheep to SKG, I love y’all a RatchDaddy amount and will forever be thankful for our awesome, unusual, Finnish reunion.
For my last two nights in Helsinki, I crashed with Venla Paunonen and her boyfriend Mikko for the second time, and got to know the lovely Paunonen family a little better through Venla’s impressive speed session and a day in nearby Porvoo.
They were my last true hosts of this trip and I couldn’t ask for a better family to end on. Thanks for the meals, bed, tours, and 5am ride to the airport, Paunonens, and I hope and believe that we’ll cross paths at some races or training camps in the future!
As of last Sunday, I can FINALLY say that I’m happily reunited with my dear Mom and Pop after a year apart. We’re last-hoorah-ing in France this week before storming Dallas on July 9th, and I’m delighted to get to share the tail end of my Watson journey with them. I can only think of three elements that would make this reunion better, and their names are Matt, Rachel, and Luke. Fortunately, though, in less than a week we will all be inhabiting the same state and timezone and boy, am I ready for that!