One day in the fall of last year, I was wandering around Ilmomasiina when I came across a particularly interesting entry. Athene camping committee was organizing a trip advertised as a "Revontuliretki - Northern Lights Adventure." I flipped it open and read the fine print: "It will be ice-cold and blah blah.." but that didn't put me off because I REALLY wanted to see the northern lights in Lapland, and a camping trip sounded like a lot of fun. A few hours later, registration would close, and only Finns would have signed up. Immediately I contacted the organizer, the legendary Jasse Ahokas, who promptly replied that everyone, including internationals, was welcome to attend. After seeing that my friend Elina's name was on the list, I filled out the registration form with cautious optimism.
After that day, the hunt began for all the required gear; I was missing nearly everything. I was prepared for my time in Lapland after frequenting XXL and Stadium and asking numerous questions of (and receiving sufficient reassurances from) Jasse. It was crucial to take all of the organizers' instructions to heart to avoid dying in the cold. The day of departure was drawing near, and expectations were dwindling: Elina had fallen ill and deregistered, so I was beginning to worry that I wouldn't be able to complete the trip after all. A few days later, however, I found myself on a bus driven by a crazy driver and rapidly approaching Lapland. The next thing I knew, I was in a parking lot in the middle of nowhere, packing up to head out to the forest where we'd set up camp.
The Finnish passengers on the bus began to wonder why an international participant would travel there alone to take part in such an event sometime during the trip. Where did the thought process go that led me to accept a similar scenario? I wasn't quite sure why, but I felt compelled to act nonetheless.
After making it to our destination, we set about pitching the tent. The work wasn't too difficult, and we were able to retire to our "warm" (probably around 8 degrees) tent in a matter of hours.
We spent the next few days exploring the Riisitunturi National Park, opening our road in the snow, eating bad premade meals warmed in a Trangia, and boiling snow for drinkable water. It wasn't too cold while we were moving, but when we stopped for a break, we could feel the chill set in. During a break, I also thought it would be a good idea to fly my drone and film a few clips; the results were spectacular. I lasted 5 minutes before my hands became too cold to continue. No amount of hand warmers helped. That's when it finally clicked for me: when Finns predict an extreme cold, they mean it.
I met a guy named Jere who goes to school in Tampere while I was there. I can't remember why, but he came along on the trip with us. He was very nice and walked alongside me the entire first day, during which we had many conversations about my time in Finland. He taught me a lot about Finnish culture and nature. He was also curious as to my motivations for going on this trip, seeing as I'd never gone on anything like it before. And then he said something that took me completely by surprise: "Well, you are doing this trip very well, and I admire your courage in doing this. You've got real Sisu, man". The other Finns' recognition of my bravery on the trip boosted my mood even further.
With each passing hour, the journey became more trying: poor sleep the night, waking up in the middle of the night to tend to the Kamina, poor food, and no showers. A few days later, however, we finally made it. In the parking lot, awaiting the return trip with the same bus driver. However, the bus driver appeared to be having some difficulty getting there (here's the full story: https://t.me/c/1065733921/49126). The cold was unbearable during those few hours, but he eventually came and rescued us. With mixed emotions (regret for the end of such a wonderful adventure and relief to be home again), I watched Revontuliretki come to a close. The trip was life-changing, and I made some great friends with whom I bonded over the four days. I learned a lot from them about Finnish wilderness camping, nature, and cold weather survival from them. I appreciate it so much that they welcomed me in this, especially considering how little hiking experience I had and how slowly I moved along the trails. The most meaningful part, however, has been the experience of solidarity in the face of adversity.
You may be wondering if I saw the northern lights at the conclusion. No, of course not.
Sincerely, Davide (International Advisor '23)