July 4

4 July, Finland – ‘All Over The Place – Europe, Part 2’

As Chris headed home on Thursday the rest of us had a day off in Reykjavik to re-charge our batteries and visited a local community swimming pool with water that comes direct from hot springs underground. Don’t think I’ll ever have a better swim in my life. Then yesterday it was time to board a plane and make our way to Finland.

I’ve never been to Finland before, and the first thing I noticed as we came in to land over Helsinki was trees. Lots and lots of trees. The same tree, over and over again. The humid hot weather as we stepped off the plane came as a bit of a shock to the system after cloudy Iceland, but within no time we’d met up with my co-presenter for the next block, Naomi, and were boarding another plane to the northern town of Kajaani.

Kajaani airport is about a quarter of the size of my local supermarket and sits surrounded by yet more pine trees, so it feels like you’re visiting somewhere pretty remote. Once we got to our hotel beside a lake I was feeling a bit too rinsed out from travelling to make it to the fairly basic town over the water, so I tried to get an early night, once again battling the fact that we were in a place where they don’t see a sniff of darkness in the summer.

In the morning it was time to embark on our sole mission here in Finland – the Sonkajarvi Wife Carrying contest. An hour’s drive through the thick forest, Sonkajarvi began to put itself on the map in 1992 when it staged a competition where men try to see who can carry a woman over a 250m obstacle course the fastest. After a short sprint at the top you have to jump into a chest high pond of water and then run the rest of the course, which includes negotiating your way over 2 barriers made of logs. It’s become a big deal in Finland, and the rest of the world’s media have begun to descend on the place as well. I think it’s mostly to do with the fact that the fastest method of getting about the course is to carry your woman (who must be over the regulation 49kg) in the “Estonian” position – upside down with her legs round your head and her face pointing directly at your bum. This means that the “wives” get a fairly comprehensive dunking as the runners hurl themselves into the pond, and then look quite funny as they hang upside down trying to recover from the experience and hoping they don’t get their noses broken on a log.

An injury prone scrawny ectomorph like myself is not nearly man enough to carry another human being round a course like that, so Naomi and I were set to go head to head being carried by 2 previous event winners. Since we were scheduled as the last event of the day we joined the sizeable crowd in the arena gasping as various men tripped and fell into the water or collapsed from exhaustion, whilst angry looking “wives” emerged from the pond gasping for breath (on one occasion a nose was broken).

I decided that as a tall man the Estonian method was looking a bit too risky for my liking, so I chose the less popular piggyback style. Naomi crossed her fingers and hoped for the best going upside down, but once our head to head race began it became apparent that our runners weren’t going to go at it hammer and tongs and we were in for a less scary ride. As my runner Yoni carried me into the water at waist height I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t as cold as we’d been led to believe, and we kept pace with Naomi for the majority of the course despite me packing about 20 extra kg. But towards the last fence Naomi pulled ahead and it was game over. I congratulated Yoni on still being 100 times the man I’ll ever be and slopped my way back to the car in my soggy plimsolls.

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