Swim Tour – Part 2. The Arctic Circle

After experiencing urban entertainment at Allas Sea Pool and Löyly in Helsinki, we flew to Kemi/Tornio with my British guest to take part in Swim the Arctic Circle event on Saturday the 16th of July. Anne, a brilliant lady from the Juoksenki village and a event volunteer, fetched us from the airport. On the way to Juoksenki, we stopped at Aavasaksa, Lapland’s oldest tourist destination. Up on the Aavasaksa Hill we visited an old hunting cabin, built in mixed style and with Carelian style ornaments, but the most impressive view was true wilderness, which  started just below us. There was forest all around and you could smell a scent of dry coniferous trees in the air. We walked a short trail down the rocky hill and enjoyed the landscape and the cleanest air you could imagine. No wonder a Finnish-British couple has moved to the area and started Aavasaksa Experience, a basecamp for adventure with accommodation, equipment rental and guiding services.

It was a hot day and when we arrived Anne’s place, we jumped immediately into the river. Water level of Torne River was very high due to heavy raining in recent weeks. You could feel the strong current and swim at one spot, not moving forward at all. Like a huge endless training pool! I realized it could be also dangerous to swim without knowing how the river behaves. Luckily Samuli, a local triathlete, stayed next door to Anne’s and guide us during the weekend. It’s always good to have a local swim guide and Samuli was the best guide ever. Born by the river and trained by the river. Anne’s family had a nice transportable sauna by the river, which by the way Samuli had built (he is a sauna genius and has a sauna business called Keisus) and we enjoyed sauna and swimming all evening through.

Next day it was time for the first swim in Swim the Arctic Circle. 2K pre-race during the day on Swedish side of the Torne River. Juoksenki/Juoksengi is a twin village and Anne told that particularly this swim event has brought villagers volunteering and working together. Water temperature was round 18-19 °C. We swam without wetsuits and 2 kilometers took only 23-24 minutes. Strong current helped a lot. Big floating barrels marked the course for the swimmers and it was quite easy to swim straight the whole distance. A bit rainy and grey weather didn’t bother anyone, nor the swimmers or the volunteers, and at the price giving in a camping site house, atmosphere was really warm and cheerful. And we both did quite well, coming on third and fourth place, there were very few swimming without wetsuits…It was then time to eat and relax and concentrate on the midnight swim.

I haven’t swam a race at midnight before, so had to work a bit to keep myself going. But when people started to gather to the river bank and sun was shining from the opposite bank, it was just exiting and exhilarating to enter the water. This was THE Swim the Arctic Circle race and it started from the Finnish side of the river and ended to the Swedish side. You were supposed to cross the mighty river! It was easier said than done. The strong current did few tricks to the swimmers, but there were boats and life guards to make sure you don’t “slide” too far from the course. You might end up in dangerous white water, if you let yourself go too far downstream…This time we had wetsuits on, but in spite of  them, it was much tougher swim than the previous one. It wasn’t that much longer distance, only 1K, but swimming cross the strong stream and much more challenging sighting took energy a lot. But even then I could enjoy the midnight sun, the full moon and the beautiful landscape. We had swum over the Arctic Circle, travelled back in time (there’s one hour time difference between the two countries) and from Finland to Sweden and under the midnight sun. What a great night! Samuli as high performance triathletedid well in both races (first and second) and after the event round two in the night he and Jonathan decided to swim back to Anne’s place, while I took the motorboat. We were on the Swedish side and it was white night.

On the last day in Juoksenki and on the way to the Kemi/Tornio airport, Samuli introduced us among other things Luppioberget, a lookout and a mountain of rock broken into several different layers. Luppioberget has been a popular tourist attraction ever since the 1800’s – and Aavasaksa even from the 1600’s.

I had the best time in Finnish Lapland. Swimming in Torne River is an experience you don’t want to miss. We didn’t have time to explore lakes in the area, so that’s one thing that draws me back there. Swim the Arctic Circle is a unique event, that I recommend highly – you can race hard or just enjoy event’s exceptional setting and atmosphere.

Thank you Anne and Samuli, Juoksenki/Juoksengi Byaförening, Swim the Arctic Circle Event and Aavasaksa Experience.