Yesterday, I went skating for the first time in about two years. Prevented by a warm winter and then a sabbatical abroad, I have to say that I missed it. I thought I would start by hitting the local ice rink at the Östermalms Idrottsplats (the IP, or “ipp” as in “yip”), then graduate up to a local lake. I have my hockey skates, purchased at Canada Tire several years ago. I felt ready to ease myself in, as the cold weather has held out over the past few weeks.
And then my colleagues E and A decided it was time to try the ice around Lidingö. To skate on the Baltic.
Well, my colleagues laugh when I say that, as it’s really not out in the Baltic proper. Still, we were going to “put in” near Trolldalen, on the north shore of Lidingö, a huge island community to the east of Stockholm. Then my colleagues planned to head north and around a tiny island that has about 100 permanent residents. It may not be the real sea, but this was no lake.
My mind raced — what if the ice was too thin? Under the bridge to Lidingö, the water looks wide open, and the ice lurks black and forbidding at the edges of the open boat channels.
I thought: I haven’t skated in two years! What if my skates don’t fit? Or the blades are too dull? I’m going to fall so many times! I should wear pillows in my pants!
And finally: It is so cold. It’s been -10°C (15°F) for days.
That last point was the kicker. Of course the ice is frozen thick. There could be some thin patches and places to look out for, but I would be with colleagues who had grown up skating (one of whom had lived on that tiny little island for years and commuted across the ice regularly). I couldn’t back out.
So yesterday morning, I packed my warm clothes and hockey skates and took them to work. E’s impromptu lesson after lunch on how to use ice handpicks (isdubbar hang around your neck, and you are supposed to have the presence of mind after you have fallen through the ice to grab them, take them out of their loose holder, and stab them into the ice and pull yourself out of the water) to self-rescue didn’t help ease my butterflies, but at least I felt prepared. Plus, I had her son’s backpack (filled with a sealed plastic bag) as a float on my back, just in case. We packed up the car, drove out to Trolldallen, parked at the harbor, and walked out to the ice.
The boats along the pier were frozen solidly into the ice. Motorized sleds and skidoos were parked at the shore. A pack of kick-sleds clustered at the pier’s end. I sat on one to put on my skates, as E and A used other sleds to strap on their long skate blades. And then we were off.
The first patch of ice was bumpy and lumpy and cracked, and we moved slowly. Then we had to traverse a patch of ice that looked like it had boiled and frozen, or like ice lava with cracks and tiny mountains, where A said someone must have driven their boat right before the solid freeze and left a frozen wake.
And then suddenly, smooth ice lay before us as we rounded the other side of the island. In some places, paths were laid out like highways by the skidoos and hovercraft that we saw go by earlier, and these made for easy gliding. My colleagues took off on their long skates (search for långfärdsskridskor and you will find images of the blades and what look like hiking shoes that strap into them), and I pumped my legs to keep up with them in my short hockey skates.
The light across the ice and the views far off to the suburban shores were stunning.
Two hours later, after passing people walking their dogs, a woman pushing a baby carriage (barnvagen), and commuters returning from school or errands (pulling a child’s sled full of food and even a car battery), and being passed by other skaters and sledders, we returned to the pier. We saw one patch of open water around some rocks along the small island’s shore. And A pointed out an extremely black patch that should be avoided. Otherwise, I felt extremely comfortable and safe — and sometimes just clumsy and slow!
I felt elated.
Last night, after a hot shower and cup of tea, I resolved to by my own pair of long skates this weekend (hopefully in an end-of-season sale or slut–rea — but the cold is not over yet!). I am not exactly ready to take a long multi-day excursion (you can, with outdoor groups), but I’m ready to get back on the ice on the Baltic. Cautiously.
Don’t be fooled by this blithe note: ice touring is dangerous stuff. Check out some of the safety reports — in Swedish — at http://www.skridsko.net/foreningen/sakerhet/. The safety folks strongly suggest that you have the right gear (including a helmet and the ice picks to pull yourself out of the water), never skate alone, and know your ice (check out this list of “ice words” on the “Think Ice” site: http://www.thinkice.com/glaciology/sv/isordlista.htm).