Life in Swedenwinter

The Winter Of Distraction

Holiday On Ice The Real Thing

Mid January. Light is returning: it’s dawning around 8:30 now, but even if the sun keeps shining the next seven hours, it doesn’t yet provide any warmth to my face. The foot deep snow we had before Christmas disappeared before New Year’s Eve, and the ground lies barren, frozen a second time.

The sunshine over the lake is reflected in the shiny ice cover and makes me squint and smile. A week ago, the ice was covered with an ich of water from the snow that had melted away. Now it’s an even, polished blue-black surface that reflects the sunlight with eye-hurting intensity. I want to get out there, on skates with a backpack full of inflated plastic bags, a thermos flask with coffee and a few cinnamon rolls or sandwiches. And my trusty, unfailing partner Ziggy lightly trotting by my side!

Lake Vänern is large – if it wasn’t for the channels held open by the iceboats, you could skate about 100 km in a straight line to the opposite shore – theoretically, that is. In reality, it wouldn’t be a good idea, since you would probably encounter areas with weak ice and “wind wells”, even if the ice where you start is 30 cm thick and safe for a car, or a truck.

But before I can even think of getting out on the lake itself, I need to have Ziggy re-trained. The first tours have to be short and slow, allowing him to adjust his gait to running on ice. And I might need some training too. We’ll have to do the refreshment on a mile-and-a-half-long pre-prepared loop on one of the bays close to town, no more than two laps the first day, then three, and so on. Ziggy loves it and barks of pure joy when we approch the ice. But running on the slippery surface will strain muscles he hasn’t used much since last year. He’ll be awfully sore the next 24 hours, with hurting muscles and joints. But the soreness will be gone next day – dogs recover amazingly fast! And remembering last year’s ice outings, he’ll get hang of the technique pretty fast, soon covering distance in a fast and steady trot.

Thomas and Ziggy on IceBut we won’t try to cross lake Vänern when we’re ready, instead we’ll settle for shorter tours between the islands, avoiding places where creeks run out, known shallows, and capes, where the ice always is thinner. Still there’s always a risk: there are lots of shallows I don’t know about… That’s why my backpack is full of inflated plastic bags, to keep me afloat if the ice should break. The iceprods on my chest will enable me to get back up, and I have dry clothes in some of the plastic bags. And this year, I’ll buy a life vest for Ziggy, with a handle on the backside, just in case. We’ll be prepared, in many ways.

On the lake, all troubles are forgotten. The wind carries me forward effortlessly, and I don’t bother to worry about the struggle in the opposite direction. I’ll take a break for fika on a distant island, and, of course, there will also be a sausage for Ziggy.

What if? What if we get lots of snow next week? Well… there are things like skis. Cross-country. Different, but similar.

Tried Nordic skates? It’s fun, and easy to learn! Nordic skates are low and long, extending in front of and back of your foot. They’re made for high speed over frozen lakes, not suitable for tight turns. But be careful – don’t try this on unknown waters without the correct equipment and most important of all, an experienced companion who knows…

 

2 Comments

  1. Claudia M
    January 15, 2013 at 17:19 — Reply

    What is an ice prod? I assume it’s something that will stop your chest from sinking as you said that is where you had it, but what is it exactly, and where can one get one?

    • Thomas
      January 16, 2013 at 00:48 — Reply

      Hi Claudia!
      No, ice prods won’t keep you afloat, but they will help you come out of the water. An ice prod, a.k.a ice claw, is nothing but a sharp spike with a handle. They come in pairs, with a cover over the sharp end. Connected with a string, you hang them around your neck, readily available on your chest if the ice should break. If that should happen, you use them to get hold on the surface of the ice when you’re trying to get back up. It’s very difficult to get up without ice prods, even if it can be done (if you know how). However, the very best life insurance is to have a buddy around who can throw a lifeline to you, and pull you out of trouble.
      Having looked around, I found a US site where you can check out the safety equipment you need: http://nordicskater.com/safety.html and also Nordic skates: http://nordicskater.com/blades.html. You’ll want to look for the clip-on type, and skating boots. Try it, if you can, and have fun!

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The Author

Thomas

Thomas

Thomas is a retired IT professional, who lives alone with his golden retriever Ziggy Stardust in a small townhouse in a small town in the southern half of Sweden. He has two grown-up kids and at least five grandkids – "as far as I know".


Thomas enjoys daily long walks with Ziggy in the forests around town, he loves cooking for his guests, and he likes to make things with his hands. He says he loves good food, good wine, people who smile and make him smile.

Having spent most of his life developing things, methods and organizations, he's passionately interested in all kinds of technology, natural science, politics,... anything that raises a problem, whether it can be solved or not. Consequently, he is consistently short of time.

While he was professionally active, he lived in San Francisco a few years, working as software engineer down in Silicon Valley. He claims that he did leave his heart in San Francisco, and is constantly planning to go back and pick it up. Quoting Hoagy Carmichael's Hong Kong Blues, he says "... every time I try to leave, sweet opium won't let me fly away... ...i.e. my opium is Sweden, my kids, my dog, my friends, my forest,... you know, I'm Swedish."