Together Alone

Nothing makes me happier than introducing someone to their first overnight outdoors experience. Well, perhaps there are some other things that might make me happier, but it’s up there with the best of them. On this occasion, the inductee was my friend Antoine’s daughter, Lilja. As the weather here in Helsinki has been tentatively tip-toeing towards summer, we thought it would be nice to get the kids out camping, and after a last minute cancellation because of some sudden weekend storms , we decided to make the most of a mid-week holiday during the last week of school (I know, international readers, it’s only June, but for unfathomable reasons Finland’s school summer holidays are inexplicably long and start ridiculously early).

To keep things simple, I decided to head back to Nuuksio National Park to the same general area I took Enni on her last trip. To keep things fresh for myself, we’d head to a different, hopefully less popular campsite a little deeper into the park. We piled into the car (we recently swapped our gas-guzzling Volvo for an older Prius, so I can feel smug and self-satisfied at being slightly less evil) and glided eco-tastically over to the trail head near Siikajärvi.

As I’ve said before, I think when you hike with young kids you need to make the experience a pleasurable as possible, so I abandon all pretensions of good parenting and fill my food bag with sweets, biscuits, and other treats to dangle carrot-like in front of their noses. It is, however, much easier to hike with two similarly aged kids – they pretty much entertain each other, and consequently the number of whines per kilometer are also greatly ecologically reduced.

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Of course, short distances and regular breaks are key to maintaining kid-friendly happiness on the trail, but I was happy to see them chattering along and leading the way, It’s good to give them little challenges such as spotting the trail-blazes and figuring out if we are going the right way. Stopping to look at plants, bugs, and spiders is also to be encouraged, but avoiding the fearsome crocodiles that reside under the duckboards is undoubtedly the most fun.

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As with last time, we reach Holma-Saarijärvi (which I amusingly explain means “Stupid Island Lake”, in English, although my dazzling wit is lost in mis-translation) almost absurdly quickly, however this was all planned. We planned to see how it was going and decide when we got there whether or not we would continue onwards to the more “remote” destination. (I put “remote” in quotes, because, you know, we’re within shouting distance of Helsinki.) With everyone in good spirits having consumed Tuc biscuits, we agree to move on. This is more exciting for me as we are heading off on an un-marked trail, and I’m delighted to find it actually necessitates some awareness of the landscape to follow the map. So much so that I forgot to take photos.

It was a good trail, meandering up over the low, rocky hills and cliffs, past a wildernessy lake, and down through some odd rock formations to the destination, Iso-Holma (which you can’t really translate as “Really Stupid Lake”, but let’s do that anyway).

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There were two camping areas to choose from, and to our surprise, both were completely empty. We found a nice area with a private campfire, and set about putting up the tents. Antoine had borrowed a tunnel tent which seemed good, but I have to say I continue to love the simplicity of my WickiUp. It takes about five minutes to erect.

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After we got Antoine’s shelter up, we settled into the site. The kids had fun exploring and “spying” on me as I filtered some water. The lake water wasn’t the clearest, and there were lots of microscopic creatures flitting around in it, but the Sawyer Mini got rid of everything except the colour, albeit rather slowly.

Time seemed to fly as we heated our wee-coloured water, prepared our food, and chopped wood for the campfire. As we ate, a few extra people arrived and found pitches elsewhere, but by the time we had finished our quiet, solitary outdoor experience had been invaded by about 4000 teenagers on some kind of outdoor initiation experience. Tents and other forms of shelter were being hastily thrown up all over the place, and before the sun set there were a good twenty other tents and hammocks, some of which were pitched a little too close for comfort.

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As the evening wore on, a few bikepackers arrived (the Reitti2000 passes nearby), and the group of teens broke out the jams on their stereo, so we could all enjoy whatever passes for music these days. “Awesomez!”, as the kids don’t say these days.

I mean, honestly I’m torn in what to think. I want people to have a chance to enjoy the outdoors, and I think it’s great and important to get kids out there. And teens are teens; they need their space to express themselves and where better but the outdoors? But at the same time, most other people go outdoors to get some peace and quiet, and to enjoy nature. Usually there’s a common agreement that after 10pm people shut the f**k up, but this went on until 11.30, until eventually their group leader (I guess) finally encouraged the main noisemakers to move further away to party.

Well, in the end it quietened down and I got a pretty good night’s sleep, dreaming of waking them all up in the morning by blasting my Merzbow albums at them. The temperatures were supposed to drop to a realfeel of 1ºC, but I was fine in my light summer Therm-a-rest quilt and mat.

As usual. Enni woke around 6.30, so no lie-in for me. I mooched around the camp checking out other people’s tents out of curiosity. The award for the most interesting shelter goes to one of the bikepackers (obviously) for a Zpacks freestanding Duplex (I think).

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It looks a little overcomplicated for my taste, but nice... And expensive!

The rest of the tents were more traditional, from the ragged and hodge-podge…

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To the classic pitch with excellent views…

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And a nicely “pro” feeling MSR tent for the group leader…

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One sneaky soul escaped far from the madding crowds by pitching on the nearby cliffs, where technically you’re not really supposed to camp, but I won’t tell anyone if you don’t…

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I was pretty sure Antoine and Lilja, being sensible people, wouldn’t be up for a while, so I decided to take Enni for an early morning walk around the lake. There were some nice opportunities for cliff sliding and pretty views back to the camping area.

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Enni had fun traversing the dangerous chasm of death multiple times…

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I found some grass…

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…And we arrived back just in time for breakfast with the others. This was the first time I’d eaten freeze-dried yogurt, which was surprisingly good, although Enni preferred the oat-bread and cheese. Lilja’s porridge was apparently delicious, even though she doesn’t usually like oats. See what the outdoors can do for you?

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Think what you want about partying teens, in the morning they were up at the crack of dawn. While we were eating, everyone else miraculously packed up and left, leaving us alone peace and quiet.

I took a look at the map to find us an alternative route back. Generally I don’t like to take the same route if possible, and there is a lot of Nuuksio I’ve not explored so it’s always nice to take a new path. The one I had in mind added a kilometer to the journey back to car, but I thought we’d be fine as we were all well fed and rested.

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Looking at the map now, it seems I unfortunately took a wrong turning and added another kilometer to the route, which in retrospect was one kilometer too many, as the whines-per-kilometer were steadily racking up as we progressed.

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Nevertheless, we persevered, fuelled by biscuits and candy breaks whenever possible. We took a break at Stupid Island Lake, crossing the infamous Stupid Bridge to the Stupid Island, and found that had we stayed there we would also have enjoyed much teenage company, and even what appeared to be a portable smoke sauna. Judging by the frowny, haggard expressions on the faces of the young lads we passed, I suspect some alcohol might have been consumed.

As we moved on, Eagle Eyed Enni did me proud by spotting a resting dragonfly on the trail, and near enough for me to get a nice close up.

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I think Enni would have liked to adopt it, but I explained that dragonflies don’t make good pets because they keep setting fire to the furniture, so we left it to rest.

By this point, little legs were getting tired, and it was with some relief that we got back to the car. I’d managed to twist my ankle twice in the camp, and as a consequence my foot was hurting too, so I was also secretly happy to give it a rest.

It was a lovely night out though – just enough to leave me wanting for more. Back home I’m eyeing up the DuoMid for further adventures. I have much more time available this year (though regrettably no work and therefore much less money) so hopefully there will be more trips this year – perhaps sooner rather than later…

The kids seemed to enjoy it, and we talked about adding one night to each future trip, so we gradually build up to something longer. I think they’re ready to do it, and having a friend along for Enni made the experience much more enjoyable for her. Sometimes it’s nice to go it alone, but there are benefits in enjoying the outdoors together too.

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