Friday, January 27, 2006

Ice paddling

On Sunday, the sun was out so it seemed like the perfect day for a mid-winter paddle in the heart of Stockholm. As I wandered along to the train station the ordinary had become exquisite. The low sun cast a golden glow and the newly fallen snow glistened. I felt as though I was on the cover of a Christmas card. As I walked along I had to keep my camera inside my pocket so that the battery wouldn’t get cold. However, every few steps something would to catch my eye and out it would come again.

On the train, the locals stared at me. I had on my down jacket, gloves, scarf and hat, but so did everyone else. It was the paddle and life jacket which made people stare. Outside the train window the sea was frozen and covered in snow and here I was going paddling. No wonder they thought I was crazy!

The sun may have been shinning but it wasn’t warm. Some people in the club had shown an interest in a mid-winter paddle but the high of -8 had put off everyone except David. With a few taunts like “Are you Swedes not tough enough?” I had managed to persuade him to come along with me.

And it was really was cold. It was the sort of cold that takes only a minute to make your hands tingle with pain. At the get in I had stopped to take a couple of photos, and by then I was unable to get my deck on by myself. One of the curious bystanders, who had interviewed us for his home video, had to help me with it. By the time we dropped into the water quite a crowd had formed to see what these crazy people were up to.

In the water it didn’t take long to find a sizeable block of ice to take a picture with. Yeah, there was ice everywhere. A bit later we found some broken ice and practiced our play boating moves to try and get on top of some of the pieces. We also found a traffic cone in the water, slowly drowning. David, like a true Swede, decided that we must rescue it so we carried it on our head like a huge orange witch’s hat until we reached one of the stone walls.

Unfortunately there was so much water flowing into the sea that the play wave wasn’t really doing much and the water was so fast we couldn’t get up to wave. So we had a couple attempts at a small hole and satisfied ourselves with some flat water play boating. It was like playing with fire. Even with a hot head on, the cold water would make you head sting when you rolled. Once I missed my first roll and then it took several minutes for the pain to subside. I didn’t want to be swimming there!

As we headed back to the club house we were hanging out for our warm sauna. We had doubled checked that we had turned it on because today we really needed it. By now we were coated in a layer of ice as was our boat. The strap on my life jacket was frozen solid. I could see why water sports and negative temperatures don’t mix very well!

After a final photo we carried our boats to the club house, with David laughing how the keys were in his pocket and the zip was frozen shut. When we got to the club house we discovered we really did have a problem. The pocket wasn’t going to be wrenched open, and he couldn’t even get the jacket off! I offered to pee on it but he declined.

(To understand this last comment you must read “Popular music”, a Swedish classic about life in the north of Sweden. There is a story at the start where the main character gets his lips frozen to a plague when he tries to kiss it. It describes how he rescues himself using the cup that all Swedes carry).

Luckily, some kind people nearby helped us out with some hot water. So, we ended the trip with a touch of luxury. A lovely long hot sauna, and the compulsory can of lite ├Âl.

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