Long skate

Long skates!

Matt and I joined some friends yesterday for a long skate on Norrviken, a freshwater lake north of Stockholm city proper, out in the ‘burbs.  We headed out on an empty commuter train from T-Centralen, late Saturday morning, in order to arrive by noon after a 10-minute walk from the Häggvik station.

The place was packed!  Sollentuna community’s taxes go towards ploughing the  14-km (8.7 mile) loop around the lake. Parking is free (the lot was full, I’d say with close to 100 cars), and the picnic tables at the head of the course were filled with kids and adults, coming and going. People had sleds they could tow, with bundled children under blankets (we even saw an elaborate sled with tinted green windshields). Dogs in vests and on long leashes accompanied some skaters.

The crowd, getting ready to go near the ice café.

The track first heads south past houses, then u-turns to take skaters past the wooded, undeveloped east side of the lake (and against the wind, yesterday).  Skaters can take turnoffs to go on shorter loops, or all the way down to a frozen slough at the north end, and then back around, past a guy with a hotdog cart and a coffee stand, and finally back to the start.

Coat wide open, despite the cold. (Note the chasm on the left.)

I wore my hockey skates, so I felt a bit less stable than my crew on their long blades. Despite the grooming, cracks in the ice caught me a few times — but I didn’t go down. People on long skates flew by, with poles akimbo (I kept feeling like I was going to be impaled!) or pulling hard on the ice.  Other folks were more leisurely, chatting with friends or on their cell phones. (!) It was shockingly sunny and bright, and so cold; while I may have been hot under two wool sweaters and my long johns, I had to keep stopping to wipe my running nose.

The high for the day was forecast at -12°C, so we had layered up quite a bit, and packed fortifying coffee and snacks.  (We didn’t need them in the end, stopping only for some of U&M’s tea along the leg back for a few minutes).  We also assumed the ice would be thick enough that we would be okay without the requisite equipment for long-distance skating on lakes and in the archipelago:  Ice picks that hang around your neck, an airtight backpack that can float, and a long line with handle to grasp, to pull someone out of the water if the ice fails.

I have a hard time really imagining skating as that hazardous, somehow. That feeling stems from learning to skate mostly on ice rinks on land.  As my Canadian companions pointed out, there’s not much lake skating in California.  Still, they said they were impressed by my flailing about — and that I worked twice as hard as they did on my short hockey skates.

I’m happy to agree with them — 14 kilometers felt pretty far by the end of it, and we were all cold and tired and happy to go back to U&M’s house for fika (leek and potato soup, followed by coffee and apple pie drizzled in maple syrup and vanilla ice cream!). An excellent, icy day!

An army of people at the end of the trail. Matt was marveling at how many people had come out to skate, kids and all, and how uncommercialized the setting here was: no fees, no parking tickets, just people coming to skate outside.

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