This May I had the first proper holiday trip since 2011, and the first proper holiday since the summer of 2012. We headed off to do some bouldering in the island of Åland, and back to the mainland for a demo scene party in Tampere, Finland. There was nature, sports, cabin stuff, science, history, art, making art, geekery, partying, geocaching, coding, achievements, learning new stuff, sauna, relaxation… The only thing that could’ve made this 100% perfect would’ve been one day of diving, but let’s leave something for the next one.
My last couple of years have been interesting and exciting, but hardly relaxing, so when we booked a bouldering holiday to Åland for this May, I was really expecting it. My last purely holiday trip was our dive trip to Åland in the summer of 2011, and the last time I had an actual time off with no national holidays or other interruptions like that was in the summer of 2012. This has been a year of physical and mental well being for me, I’ve dropped a shit-ton of weight and about a month before the trip I finally leveled up in bouldering, starting to do 6As with some level of confidence. So, obviously my stupid goddamn geek body decided to give up and my elbow got sore as hell. Lateral Epicondylitis it was, so that was it for any sport requiring my right arm for the months to come. Just to fuck things up properly my bum knee, that has been painful for most of my adult life but calmed down only a year ago, started hurting again. Nevertheless, canceling the trip didn’t even cross my mind.
Heli and I started our trip by hopping on a bus and heading over to Turku to spend the night at her climbing buddy’s apartment, from where the bunch of us woke up in the morning far too early to catch the booze barge to Mariehamn. The trip went mostly to napping in a cabin, and when we reached the little autonomous island of Åland, we went and blew few hundred euros for food that would carry us through most of the week.
Our accommodation was a totally awesome two-storey rental cabin with almost all the bells and whistles. The cabin wasn’t recommended for kids, and when we got there, the reason became evident – it was on a very very steep rocky shoreline, with slippery rocky steps and cliffs that lead straight down to the sea. I fell in love with the place on the first sight. I couldn’t help myself but spent a big chunk of the evening exploring the northern edge of the island of Geta, where the cabin was situated, with the excuse of looking for net reception to check some things online. The only way to get the net working in the cabin was to take some cell phones outside and hang them on a tree wrapped in mittens or something, and make them share wifi. The data reception was from unreliable to non-existent in the area, which wasn’t an altogether bad thing.
Day 1 – Rain in Djupviksgrottan
When we arrived, the weather was rainy, and on the first actual climbing day there was this misty rain that didn’t as much fall as float suspended in the air. Our first bouldering location was Djupviksgrottorna, which was a little drive and a whole lot of walking away. The trip to the location was very beautiful and atmospheric in the bleak, rainy weather. The ground was rocky and very open, there were small cairns dotting the route, and sometimes covering it totally when the tourists had apparently not realized the idea behind them.
I didn’t dare to put any pressure on my arm, so I spent the time mostly watching people try and dry out the holds with magnesium, brushes, pressurized air and a certain amount of cursing. Even though I couldn’t climb, the hours flew past for me – there was a lot to explore in the labyrinthine rocky area of crevices and boulders, all of which kept crumbling in amazingly regular brick-like way.
Back at the cabin Heli and I hopped on the small motor boat that came with the cabin and went for a short fishing trip around the bay. We got nothing apart from a wet butt and fresh sea air, and a beautiful moment on the seas. After that there was sauna sparkling wine to celebrate some birthdays and new routes, and carousing ’till late in the night.
Day 2 – Gorillas of the Mist, With Some Terns Thrown In
I woke up feeling messy from the previous evening. Having lived la vida healthy for the spring the couple of whiskey shots had hit me on the head like a mallet. I had left the last revelers to it and turned in, but not early enough. It was Heli’s and mine turn to cook that day and we had opted for BBQ and burgers, and I spent the morning making the marinade for a ton of tofu and helping fix the breakfast.
To the delight of everyone the morning started turning sunny and beautiful. Our day’s location was again quite the drive and walk away, and the drive there was agonizing. I had been feeling well enough right to the moment when we hopped into the warm car and went to a seemingly endless roadtrip on small winding forest roads. I barely made it there with my breakfast intact, but the walk through the beautiful, sunny forest cleared away the last of the wrath of the grapes. The first boulders were on an incredibly picturesque shoreline. There was red granite worn smooth by the waves, sunshine filtered through misty yet bluish skies, and air that was just warm enough to be comfortable.
I started off with a nap on the warm rocks enjoying the sound of the sea, but later when we moved to another location, I went on the prowl in the surrounding area. The geology was an awesome mix of smooth rock with soft lines and huge boulders and cracks and crevices with really sharp edges. Jumping around on the rocks I almost landed on the largest viper I’d seen in my life. It was far more startled than me, coiling out and leaping down step by step towards the lower ground. I fat-ass-parkoured after it, trying to get some video, but in my haste and joy of seeing the beautiful animal I did the classic fuck-up of pressing rec when I was moving, and then pressing it again when I tried to film the snake, which meant effectively pausing the video.
When we moved to the last location of the day, the weather turned again in an awesome way. A thick mist rolled in from the sea with a vengeance, making the world beautifully unreal. You could see the sheets of mist racing through the forest with staggering speed. The sun was a watery and silvery glow somewhere high up, and the mist damped all the sound, creating little pocket universes of people. On the next shoreline terns circled high up in the air, their screeches sounding like the sounds of small flying dinosaurs. In the location there was a freshwater pool a couple of meters above the sea level, and with just a couple of meters of rock separating it from the brackish Baltic Sea.
The boulder people climbed was a huge chunk of rock on the shoreline, but me and Heli climbed up the tall steep rock face using a handy, smooth ramp of sorts carved in by some geological anomaly. When we were sitting up there watching the others top the scary as fuck routes, the mists rolled out again and the world flooded with bright sunlight glittering on the seas. Everything was so beautiful I almost felt like crying.
Day 3 – My Body Is Ready
The location of the third day was Kasviken. It was in middle of the woods, yet another steep rock wall with huge slabs of stone that had flaked off, creating really deep crevices and the Finnish variety of caves. I spent a lot of time climbing and hiking up and down the rock wall, wondering about how irrationally the fear of heights works. I could be five meters up a rock wall fastened to a rope that can literally hold a car and be scared shitless, but then again I can scamper around on sneakers looking down from equally high walls and crevices, and be totally okay – even though in the latter case just one slip of a sneaker would’ve meant broken bones and brain pastrami on the rocks. Towards the end I actually climbed a couple of easy slabs, which didn’t mess up my elbow too much. It tasted like victory.
When we got back at the cabin the sun was shining and wind made the sea restless, and that restlessness was infectious. I told Heli I’ll just go to the shoreline for a bit, but ended up spending a good 2-3 hours exploring the island. The whole shoreline turned out to be a mass of convoluted cliffs, fields of stones and boulders, expanses of undulating granite honed smooth by the ice age and the waves – all in all a rather demanding area to move in. I started by climbing on the nearby rock walls and found a nice shelf to sit in, watch the sea and read good old Edgar Allan Poe, many of whose poems I still know by heart from my teenage. The sound of the waves had turned the words “by the sounding sea” from Annabel Lee an earworm for me, so I ended up checking how it goes, and reciting it under my breath as I explored. Poems and lyrics do that to a me, it’s some sort of literary humming that I do a lot, just repeating some phrase, poem or lyric endlessly, especially if distraught. “He took a duck in the face at 250 knots.”
As I mentioned, this has been a spring of exercise for me. I had lost a lot of weight and I’m probably in the best shape I’ve been in this millennium. I’ve been surprising myself with the stuff that I can do physically, things I thought were left to a younger age. I hadn’t yet put this new flesh to the test, but the shoreline was a prime area for it. And fuck me, it felt excellent.
I spent two hours climbing, running, jumping and just feeling awesome. I found out I had no trouble jumping down from the height of couple of meters landing on both feet, something that has felt like my kneecaps will explode and my feet will split from the impact. I could “parkour run” by picking a route on the fly and just running on tops of the stones and the granite waves, I could mantle up and shimmy around and vault over rocks. Fuck me, that felt simply exhilarating after having been a beer marinated sack of lard and aches for far too long. It really felt like I’ve been given a new body to play with.
It’s worth noting that after the first day spent walking around, my knee had calmed down again. Because of the elbow I hadn’t done any sports for almost a month, which suspiciously coincided with the knee starting to act up, and a certain sort of exhaustion requiring three hour naps after work to crawl back. I’m not totally ready to draw conclusions, but it looks like more sports might be a solution to much many personal problems than I had suspected.
I ended my trip on the northern edge of an island, where I noticed a small forlorn structure on a high point on the shore. If you are alone on the northern shore of a rocky island and notice something that looks like an abandoned tower, of course you have to go and explore. It turned out to be a solar powered navigational light, which I had never seen up close.
During the trip the Torsobear: Yarns from Toyburg comic project also nudged, or rather leaped forward. It felt so deliciously surreal and banally cyberpunk to handle the international PR campaign of a comic project using a small handheld computer, while you yourself were on a rocky island where the only net connectivity came from a cellphone hanging on a tree.
Day 4 – Cave Detours and Geocaching
Heli had wanted to have one day of not climbing to recuperate a bit, and we had planned on some geocaching and some cave exploration. We heard that there is a cave in the Djupviksgrottorna area and as the rest started off towards the boulders, Heli and I went to get a geocache from the Soltuna sightseeing tower and went to search for the cave.
We ended up making quite the hike, going off the hiking routes we had followed to the bouldering location and ending up in the shoreline of a very beautiful bay. Heli and I are not master navigators, and Heli was quite bushed from days of climbing and walking, so I left her to rest and went searching a likely location of the cave. There were some really massive rock walls with huge chunks of rocks cleaved off them, some of which apparently caused an earthquake to be reported a couple of centuries back. I finally did spot the cave, and heard some noises – and saw our people climbing a route right around the corner. The full stupid of what we did became evident when we realized that the cave was indeed literally around the corner from the boulders of the first day. I had even been staring at a sign that said “grottan”, cave in Swedish, on the first day, but just didn’t connect the dots.
The cave wasn’t massive, like no caves in Finland are. It has been used as a hideout during Isoviha, when Russians had terrorized the civilian population of Finland. When we were exploring the cave, we noticed something strange: there was an USB device of some sort bolted on the ceiling about three meters high. With a bit of contortionism, boosting and clambering we reached the stick, which was bolted on a piece of metal and couldn’t be taken down. That got our interest, but we didn’t have any sort of USB device to check it with.
After we got back to Soltuna, we grabbed the car and went to a more leisurely geocaching tour, and sat down for some burgers and coffees. It was a fun, sunny little roadtrip, very welcome in middle of all the climbing action.
Day 5 – The USB Compliance of Mountains
On the last day for me and Heli we returned to Djupviksgrottorna for some climbing, and this time I took part carefully. I managed to climb three routes, which was a mix of happiness accomplishment, and being bummed out, since it reminded me how fun it would’ve been to climb more and how much I still suck at outdoor climbing. Nevertheless, the that made the trip end up on a definite high note on the sports side.
This time we brought Heli’s laptop with us, as well as all the USB extension cords we could scrounge up. I boosted Heli to the cave ceiling, she attached the cables and we connected the cable to the computer feeling exited. Alas, it didn’t mount. The device, whatever it was, just gave us a hardware ID, but we didn’t have a driver. “10c4 Cygnal Integrated Products, Inc. 0002 F32x USBXpress Device”, whatever it means in this context. Apparently, in a previous year, something had been flashing in the cave, so the mystery remains!
We ended the evening with some gaming, Heli continuing the Telltale’s Wallace & Gromit series, and me finally delving into the IF classic Babel, and switching to reading City of the Iron Fish after I got hopelessly stuck.
Exit Through The Museum Ship And Off To Tampere
The next morning Heli and I were off to the ferry that took us mainland, while the others stayed for a couple of more days. We got dropped off at the terminal well ahead of time, because we had planned on eating something and visiting the maritime museum, which had been closed every time I had been in Mariehamn for a diving trip. We ended up going through the museum ship Pommern and took a peek in the maritime museum’s shipwreck collection, especially the items raised from Plus, to which I’m determined to take Heli once she gets her OWD. Unfortunately I had forgotten that the ship terminal area of Mariehamn is totally dead, no hope finding any place to eat there.
The ferry trip was totally relaxing. We went to have burgers, enjoyed a good nap, had some champagne mojitos, and we were in Turku harbour before we knew it. Then it was just a short jaunt to Tampere for the demo party.
Stream Ten – The Full Demo Party Experience
When I was a kid, I was really into coding stuff on my Commodore 64 and Amiga 500. I followed the demos and intros with huge interest, taught myself to code in assembly and dreamed of making games and demos. Unfortunately the chance conspired it so that I never ran into a suitable group to do that stuff with, so I started looking into different things. Missing the Finnish demo scene is definitely one of those twists in the trousers of time for me, a big what-if and a big regret. Well, it’s never too late to have a great childhood, so when Heli suggested that we’d spend the weekend in Stream Ten party in Tampere, I was immediately interested.
Stream Ten took place in a big industrial hall that was used for indoor golf. It was two days of demo, graphics, video and photo compos, sauna, coding and getting blitzed. The best of all, if you didn’t feel social, sitting at your computer typing away was a socially totally acceptable way of whiling away the weekend. On a total damn Heli and I decided to form a crew and whipped together a video for the compo really fast, reaching the glorious last place – but who cares, did it anyway. I spent a big chunk of the time making progress in my next interactive fiction game. It was the best possible environment to concentrate on coding that, and on Saturday I stayed up ’till six in the morning hammering away the code, that miraculously still compiled in the morning, even after the Deaths in the Afternoon and having had to watch through Manos: The Hands of Fate. I also found out that there’s a honest to good demo coding course/club in the Helsinki area, one which I’m determined to take part in. Childhood dreams, here I come!
On Sunday I woke up to a crescendoing roar and a bright light. I sat bolt up, not knowing if this was the current me, the past me or if it was the future. The only thing I knew was that I was in an industrial hangar, surrounded by body bags, me in one of them. A door was open, the containment had been breached! There was white light streaming in and I knew it was the time to go and leave everything I had ever loved behind. It took me a moment to realize that I was in the sleeping area, the incredible chorus of snores from people in the sleeping bags all around me had synced into one glorious roar for a second, and someone had just opened the door to the sunny outside world.
After that, it was just the matter of breakfast and taking the Stream party bus home.
Having a Good Time
As first holidays in a couple of years go, this one was awesome. Probably overall the best holiday week I’ve had in my adult life. It had a little bit of everything, from one end of the stuff I love to the other. Even the low notes on the trip were good starting points to something new. I can’t wait for my stupid elbow to knit itself back together again, so I can continue the exercise regime.
Life is good and this summer looks like it has the makings of awesome.