One of my colleagues joked with me over lunch last Friday that I could only buy long skates (långdskridskor) if I planned to retire in Sweden.
That gave me pause.
His comment means a lot of things: learning how to skate well takes time, and a lot of opportunity. It takes time to learn how ice behaves. And it simply takes time to get out to it and enjoy it. You have to be a retired person to do all that — to have lived a lifetime with the ice and your skates and … well to have the time and experience behind you to invest in some expensive equipment.
You also have to live in Sweden a long time to get enough good winters to get that experience! And don’t forget: the planet is warming. It could be years between good skating seasons.
It’s been so cold the last few weeks, the ice has grown thick and fast. That hasn’t happened in a few years, and perhaps not since we moved here five years ago.
And sure enough, the weather changed as soon as I started thinking about buying skates: it warmed up over the weekend and was spitting rain by Monday.
But it’s too late. We bought our skates (at the Mål, as you know already if you read my post from yesterday).
And we’ve used them!
Saturday evening, we headed over to the Östermalms IP (idrottsplats, and “IP” rhymes with “yip”) to take a few turns on the ice. It was so much harder than I thought it would be. I’ve grown accustomed to my Bauer hockey skates and leaning forward. Wearing the free-heel (fri-hel!) skates with the long blades is totally different: I could not relax and lean back, and my shin muscles were clenched so tight, I thought they would cramp. I couldn’t lift off the ice to step-glide, step-glide. Instead, I would push off with one leg and then glide on both feet, then push off with the other leg and glide with both feet again. Not very efficient.
But after about half an hour of talking to myself (“Relax! Relax! Relax!”), I finally got comfortable — on my left leg at least. I could get some speed up for short bursts. Still, I was happy to call it quits after half an hour and head for the bastu (sauna) in our basement.
The next day, on a lazy gray Sunday afternoon, M and I walked over with our new skates to a small lake in the Norra Djurgården, under the ski jump that’s called the Fisktorget (fish tower!). The ice was groomed with a 1-kilometer loop. We joined a bunch of parents and their small kids at the dock on the southeast edge of the lake, struggling to put our skates on without a bench to sit on.
But Sunday was easier than Saturday (we figured out the locking mechanism for the boots, which are like cross country ski boots). We took off down the lake into the wind on one side, around the end and back up the other side with the wind at our backs. Three loops later, I was feeling more solid, able to push off, with the opposite leg up off the ice, and set it down to push off again and glide.
It’s hard work though. And I was freaking out about the dark black circles with radiating star cracks. My colleagues assure me these are fishing holes, but wow, thinking about the cold water under the thick ice freeeeeeaks me out.
I don’t have to worry about it much at the moment. The temperature has been rising steadily since Sunday night; today it warmed up to 6°C (43°F), and there’s still ice, but everything is melting and goopy.
If I skate again soon, it will be at the IP for some practice. But I really want to get back out on the “natural ice” as soon as I can, to recapture the feeling of being able to go anywhere, walking on water.