Sunday, March 04, 2007

Ice Swimming in an Orderly Fashion

Ice swimming is one of those things that you may feel like you just have to do if you go to Finland because everyone asks if you've done it. That's not why I did it. I didn't do it for six months. It was kind of fun to be so rebellious, but then I started to wonder what all of the hype was about. The vast majority of people who talk about it love it. Today, I gave it a try.

There is a public sauna located on the shore of Nasijarvi, the same lake that I ice skated on. It's a wood burning sauna, which is even better than an electric sauna. There were at least four levels that I could sit on, depending on how scaldingly hot (almost literally) I wanted to be. I tried them all, but preferred level two, about a meter off the ground. The person sitting in the hottest part of the sauna earned the distinguished position (at least I thought it was a distinguished position) of throwing the water on the hot rocks. This person also has some control of the temperature, lots of water throwing = hotter sauna.

There were about 30 people in the sauna at any particular time, though there were many more present at the facility. People were constantly coming and going as I looked for a place to squeeze into on level two. I came up with some good guesses, but never asked anyone about the peculiar sauna outfits. To me, the most notable items of clothing in the sauna were the ski caps that several folks wore, and the socks that I saw one guy wearing. So far, almost everything has had a purpose in Finland. I have no doubt that the sauna hats and socks are no exception. I went ice swimming with a group of international students, organized by Leasa (the expert ice swimmer among us). Something that I love about the international student community is that we're all ready to be mobilized. At any given moment, you can always find 10 or 12 folks to... do whatever you want. We hiked over the frozen lake to the sauna facility.
The reason people were constantly coming and going from the sauna is because they were swimming in a hole cut out of the frozen lake. There are even aerator machines in the water that keep it flowing so it doesn't re-freeze. It's that cold. Here is the sequence of events for ice swimming:
  1. go in the sauna and stay there until you're uncomfortably hot
  2. walk outside
  3. hold on to the railing, and go down the steps without thinking very much about what you're doing
  4. keep walking until you're body is completely submerged (keep you're head above water so that you don't die)
  5. follow the railing until it ends
  6. walk back up on the other side of the railing
  7. go back to the sauna and repeat
This process is important. I'm not quite sure why, but I know it's important. I got reprimanded by a fellow sauna patron when I tried to walk up the wrong side of the railing to avoid a bottle-neck in the cold water. I think there might be safety issues that aren't obvious to my sunny Southern California brain. These are the steps and the railing down into the icy water.

Ice swimming was great! I'll do it again. I felt the same way that I imagine I would feel after running a marathon. I was very relaxed, but very exhausted. I swam three times in the icy water. I was a little nauseous after swim number three. One or two times is really enough for me.
Look at all of these bright, shiny, and very relaxed faces!
I have had many interesting, fun, frustrating, happy, sad, and exciting experiences in Tampere. Throughout all of them, Lake Nasijarvi has always been beautiful. Tonight was no exception. I'm glad I can count on it.

3 comments:

Leasa Weimer said...

This entry made me laugh. I didn't see the dude with socks on...maybe it's because that is the ONE part of your body that is always out of the line of heat. Heat rises and your feet get no love from the 87C heat. Poor little piggies...

I'm glad this was a highlight for you...more to come. Watch out RUSSIA!!!

Laura G said...

Wow - when I started reading this post, I thought you were crazy! But it seems like you had fun, so it must just sound crazier than it is...

Stu said...

I read that some people wear socks to protect their feet from sharp objects when walking between the sauna and the ice hole etc.

Sounds great... I'll be dipping in the hole at Kaupinoja Sauna in 7 weeks time! Looking forward to it! (Is that the same sauna that you visited?)