Day 1:
100% Natural Ice
Day 2:
On Lake Mälaren
Day 3:
Race Day in Uppsala
Day 4:
Baltic Sea Islands
Day 5:
Tailwind to Sigtuna
Skating the Baltic Sea Islands ... Sunday, February 14
In the bright morning sunshine we walked out on the pier, across the gangplank and onto the Waxholm, a passenger ferry serving the islands of the Stockholm skärgård or archipelago. I had four companions -- Johan, Carina, Carina's friend Oscar Nässil, and Dutch skater Arjen Meurs. The ferry backed away from the pier and crunched through the ice in the bay. It was a short trip to the island of Sollenkroka Ö. As we jumped off the boat and clambered over the rocks, I noticed a long row of wheelbarrows and garden carts tucked in under the trees and bushes. We plunged into the woods on a hiking trail, and we saw pairs of narrow wheel tracks in the snow. This island has no roads, and no cars -- only footpaths. Everyone uses carts to carry their groceries home from the ferry landing.
Oscar, Carina, Johan and Arjen in the Stockholm archipelago
We crossed through the middle of the island, past summer cabins tucked under the evergreens, until we reached the far shore, where we sat down on a dock to put our skates on.

Skating on the Baltic Sea? I had always distrusted salt-water ice, dating back to my childhood on Cape Cod. On those rare occasions when the bays froze, the ice was soft and mushy, and the rise and fall of the tide broke it into chunks separated by wide fissures. You can't skate on sea ice, can you?

You can on the Baltic. There's no tide to break up the ice, and the water has only one-third the salt content of ocean water, so it freezes harder and faster. That combination means excellent skating. So, off we went, skirting the north shore of the island. Johan took the lead, and he stopped frequently to thrust his ispik into the ice. The rest of us followed cautiously at 30-foot intervals, with Carina in the rear. Every Swedish tour has two leaders, one in front and one in back.

We stopped for our fika or lunch break in a sunny sheltered spot along the rocky shore. Out of our backpacks came more gourmet treats. As we ate, across the bay sped a propeller-driven airboat just like what you'd see in Florida's Everglades. It whizzed across the ice, suddenly plunged into a hole, plowed through the jumbled floes, then climbed back on top of the ice and sped away.

Reversing our route, we skated, hiked, took the ferry back to the mainland, and caught a bus to Stockholm. But Johan and Carina had a surprise for us. "Let's get off here," they announced. The bus stopped and let us off in the middle of nowhere. We walked down a narrow dirt lane, and there at the end was a secluded cove, frozen solid and lightly snow-covered. Along the shores, sailboats sat at docks frozen in the ice. We clamped on our blades and off we went, past a pair of ice fishermen with their hand-powered auger.

At the mouth of the cove, Johan stopped, jabbed his ispik into the ice, and water erupted from the hole. Thin ice! "Time for a detour," Johan said. We unclamped our blades, tossed them in our backpacks, and scrambled up an icy cliff. There at the top, a stunning vista opened before us, a wide bay dotted with rocky islands. We slid down the back side of the cliff with a gravity assist. Out of our backpacks came our blades, and we were underway again. It was late afternoon, and the setting sun illuminated our faces as we glided past a reedy marsh along the shore. Skating to the head of another cove, we came ashore at a public beach, walked across the parking lot, and along came the bus to take us back to Stockholm.

On the bus, I asked Oscar how far he'd skated in a day. "Nine or ten miles," he replied modestly. I didn't know it at the time, but a "Swedish mile" equals ten kilometers. So his distance record surpassed mine. As it turned out, among the five of us, it was Carina who held the record on Swedish ice, 170 kilometers in 15 hours. But Johan and Arjen had both skated the 200-kilometer Dutch Elfstedentocht!

Copyright © 1999-2015 by Jamieson L. Hess. All rights reserved worldwide.
Originally published in two Vermont daily newspapers, the Sunday Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times-Argus.

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