I’d initially refused to go in, dismissing any suggestion as ridiculous. I defiantly announced to my Instagram followers on Stories that “I’d do most things on a press trip but I definitely wouldn’t be dipping even a toe in to those icy temperatures”.
I was in Finland, in Ylläs, about an hour’s flight from Helsinki, and then another hour’s drive from Kittilä airport. We’d emerged from the car into a full-on wintry wilderness with houses, cars and snowmobiles all around blanketed in snow. It was 5C, with blue skies and a vibrant fresh air only found up in the Arctic Circle.
As my eyes adjusted to the brightness reflecting from the snow after sitting in the dark upholstered car, I looked up to see a red wooden cabin. It was absolute picture perfection set in the wilderness of Finnish Lapland with snow flanking every side and a tight pathway shovelled for us to walk up.
I was wearing snow boots, jeans, thermals, a jacket and a hat. I was ok – happy with my current temperature. So when I saw the ice hole, accessible from a short pier jutting out of the cabin, a chill travelled through my body.
My newly found fear of the cold took over.
A few weeks ago my friend Jen came to stay with me in Southsea, where I live on the south coast of England. She was determined we’d go in the January sea for an 8am dip. I joined her on the beach, captivated by her enthusiasm, but when it came to stripping to my swimming costume from the layers I’d worn to protect from that day’s particularly harsh wind, I panicked. I knew I couldn’t do it. I knew it wasn’t going to make my life any better, so I did something I never normally do, I bailed.
That day I stood on the beach in my warm tracksuit bottoms, my jacket and scarves while she and my housemate went in for the few seconds they could manage. As they tried to get back into their clothes – wet, cold and with the coastal winds lashing at their exposed skin – I had absolutely no regrets.
That day I learned that I could say no to things and it’d be ok.
So, I decided to use that little lesson here. There was no way I wanted to plunge into a hole made in the ice, down to unknown freezing waters.
I duly took the photos of the other travel bloggers I was with, Monica from The Travel Hack and Susi from Black Dots White Spots – standing around and dipping their toes in – and then went in the cabin to change for the sauna. I’m always up for getting warm, it’s the cold I fear.
I sat in the traditional Finnish sauna, with its blackened walls, sweating. Feeling sick from the heat the guys were currently stoking up on the coals. Wishing for a cold release from the overheating…
And that voice in my head, that familiar one that’s encouraged me to do all the things I probably shouldn’t have over the years, led me astray.
‘Shall we just do it?’
‘It’s a once in a life time experience’.
Oh my gawd, it was FREEZING. Absolutely freezing. The metal steps going down froze my feet before I’d even touched any ice water, holding onto the sides to make sure I didn’t fall froze my fingers and the cold air caused the sweat clinging to my neckline to turn to ice, or so it felt like. The apprehension of touching the water froze my legs before they’d even touched the water.
My toe tapped the surface.
“I can’t do it”
I retreated up the steps, seeking the warmth of my dressing gown.
But then Monica did it. And she told me to do it. And I didn’t want to miss out.
Toe snapping, leg chillingly, bum bitingly cold. I was cold in places I didn’t know I could be. I went in up to my waist, had a photo and then jumped out as quickly as possible. Swearing all the way up the pier, barefoot, until I got to my towel. The water gathered on my contact lenses had frozen over, it was that cold.
I’m not exaggerating.
I dashed back into the sauna, pulling the heavy door closed behind me, and crawled up on to the place I’d sat before, when I was warm and happy.
The warmth enveloped me like a big hug. I’d quickly thawed out but I’ll admit, I felt invigorated from the icy dip. We had beers, we regaled the stores of how we’d felt dipping in, while our Finnish friends and ice hole swimming pros told us we needed to do it at least three times for the full effect.
My sense of achievement evaporated like the lumps of snow we’d placed on the hot coals. I looked out through the tinted window to the ice hole, knowing, that someone, one of my new five friends, was going to suggest we go again.
Any second now…
Of course the ice hold hadn’t warmed up between between round one and two, I hadn’t expected it to. All that happened was that I’d got braver. Knowing that the sanctuary of warmth in the sauna balanced my temperature in seconds before, this time I dared to dip in up to my chest.
I’d been comforted to learn that it’s actually not recommended to put your head under, so I wasn’t going to be culture tricked into that at least.
Again I dashed back out again, retreating straight into the sauna for warmth. More giddy laughing, and instantly planning the third and (thankfully) final, dip.
This time I wanted to film on my drone that I’d hauled over on the plane.
The plan was to have Monica walk down the pier to the ice hole and I would follow with the camera. She’d get in and I’d take photos and video from there. Then I’d do the same. It was going to be great.
But what actually happened, with the bloody drone that other than a few weeks of joy in Philippines has been a nightmare, was that with all the blanket of snow, I lost all sense of perspective.
I’d been stood in the snow – wearing snow boots, a swimsuit and a dressing gown – for 10 mins trying to launch despite an array of battery warnings. I was flustered and cold. I’d taken out those frozen contact lenses for comfort.
My sense of distance on the white backdrop was seriously flawed.
Crashed it straight into a tree didn’t I?
The fun didn’t end there though. The propellors got stuck in the branches and then it gave up and cut out, hanging halfway in the tree, half out, beyond the ice hole, in DEEP, thick snow.
I ran to reach it about 30 metres away – still in boots, swimsuit and my dressing gown – but the snow was up to my knees. I came back into the cabin balcony where the others were standing half laughing / half feeling bad for me, almost crying from the cold. I couldn’t do it.
Cue two strong and sturdy Finnish men.
Haari and Jaane dashed out WEARING JUST THEIR SHORTS. As in NO SHOES, and went knee deep into the snow over the hill to rattle the tree to make it fall out.
Honestly, after being unable to do even three steps in the snow in my boots because it was so cold, I realised that this was one of the toughest things I’ve ever seen anyone do. Ever.
They got the drone, no questions or problem, and bought it back to me, wet, sad and probably damaged for life.
And so, with that little distraction, I didn’t have the time, or the inclination to manage that third dip, instead packing my stuff up full of awe and amazement at how the guys had just marched over barefoot in the snow to pick it up for me.
I realised that there was definitely something in this hot / cold malarkey that the Finns seem to like so much. From our chats in the sauna it’s staunchly and nationally believed to be for strength of the heart, and character. Seriously, I would’ve left that drone. There was no WAY I could’ve got it.
So maybe, if I practice what they preach out in the waters of Southsea, I could toughen up to be just like them. In my line of work you never know when you might need to be tough enough to stomp through knee-deep snow without any shoes on to retrieve your drone from a tree.
My sauna and Southsea sea regime starts tomorrow.