Early on in my pregnancy, I decided that I would use this time to open my horizons to activities I would otherwise not necessarily do. I can’t remember when I last didn’t travel to climb rock or ice or to ski. Now was the time. After biking in California and kayaking in the Bahamas, ticking off one of my bucket list wishes was next on the list: seeing the Northern Lights and cross-country skiing in Lapland.
I hadn’t taken a trip with my mom in many years, and with our little girl on the way, I was excited to have some motherly time with her. My parents have lived for traveling and I don’t know that I would have the bug this badly if it wasn’t for them. My mother is always game for an adventure. We decided to head way north in Lapland, close to Santa’s home turf, to get the best chance of getting hypnotized by the wild, greenish northern lights. With only two hours of daylight this time of year around the Arctic Circle, we felt like we had put all the chances on our side to make this dream come true.
Yet, a week before leaving, I felt like author Bill Bryson in Neither Here Nor There when he journeyed north for the same quest: The forecast was for clouds and snow, which were less than ideal conditions to see the mysterious glow. On top of it all, the Levi, Finland, tourist office website was advertising for 9 kms of maintained cross-country ski trails (out of the 240 kms usually open by this time of year). Well, it didn’t look like we were going to amount to much—a much dreaded fact for type-A people like my mother and I. We were nevertheless committed and flew to Helsinki and northward to Kittila and finally Levi.
Levi is a tiny ski resort that runs 24/7 in the winter months, with all the pistes lit up by electric lights. On our first day cross-country skiing, we realized that the advertised 9 kms were really just 4.5 kms one way and the same 4.5 kms the way back. We resorted to doing the loops a few times to get our daily fix of exercise. Although I really have no idea how cross-country ski well, I thoroughly enjoy the intense workout it provides—it is after all the most calorie-burning sport you can do! But I also love the terrain it takes me through and felt it was really good for me at this stage of the pregnancy.
You can, however, only cross-country ski for so many hours in a day—especially when doing the same loop over and over again—so we spent the rest of the day visiting EVERYTHING there was to visit in Levi: Lappish souvenir shops which offered reindeer everything, from skin to hooves to glasses with reindeer drawings on them to bottle openers with reindeer antlers for decoration, etc. We booked a husky sled ride trip on a nearby frozen lake: nothing spells winter and Christmas like riding a sled Santa-style. We visited hotels (yup, that’s when you know you’ve visited everyhing else the town has to offer!) and eventually made our way south to visit Rovaniemi, home to Santa Claus’s headquarters, post office and museum, located right on the Arctic Circle, and to the Arktikum, a resourceful museum on Arctic life. The museum offered a show and thorough explanation of the Northern Lights, because when you can’t see the real thing, you might as well resort to the alternative, right?
For the adventure seekers that my mom and I are, this was a pretty low-key trip and we were a little frustrated with how little we got to do. It was a good learning experience in that having high expectations prevents you from enjoying what could be seen as the trip of a lifetime for some. We had come to ski miles and miles of cross-country ski tracks and watch the breathtaking glow of the northern lights. We got to experience neither. But as always, perspective is everything and making that shift is what makes or breaks your time anywhere. Looking back on the trip, I was grateful to be forced to rest more than I know how to and spend time being pregnant with my mom, hearing her stories on giving birth and motherhood. And I now realize that this connection—more than cross-country skiing or northern lights—is what I had come to find throughout this journey to the deep north. I will remember these shared moments of intimacy with my mother more than anything else.
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