For a long time I’ve wanted to take a week off from life and go to a remote location to get away from everything and everyone. Just for a week to breathe, to think, to relax. I wanted this more than anything. One particularly bad day at work, I got depressed and spontaneously booked a week long stay at a remote cabin in the woods of Finland.
I was looking at several different cabins, and this one was a 3-4 hour drive north of Helsinki. I chose Finland because it was relatively close, I had never visited the country before, and It had large areas of wilderness and low population.
I wanted something remote, remote enough that I wouldn’t see people in any direction should I walk outside. I wanted something rustic. I didn’t want “a nice modern cabin, but somewhere remote” I wanted rustic frontier. Some place without fancy stuff like running water and electricity, some place where I could abstain from everything and meditate by the water.
That was what I thought I wanted. I had some romanticized image in my head of lying in a hammock by the water, in 15c degree (60f) weather, reading a book. I imagined warm nights next to a roaring campfire, enjoying a bottle of scotch and the silence around me. I really just had these two images in my head, like 3-5 second video of each scene and how I imagined it. I didn’t extrapolate those 3-5 seconds into the week long time frame I had booked…
I picked the beginning of May for my trip. I read that during that time, the weather in Finland where I was going would be in the 50s-60s and that the ice usually melts in April. I didn’t want to go too much later in the year because A) I was desperate for a vacation from everything and B) I heard the mosquito swarms in the land of a thousand lakes is legendary during the summer.
It quickly became apparent to me that I’d need to rent a car. “Remote cabin” doesn’t exactly jive with “easily accessible via public transportation.” I rented the cheapest automatic I could from a budget rental place near the Helsinki airport. I booked a cheap ticket on AirBerlin to Helsinki, departing early in the morning on Saturday, the day after I was scheduled to take my CCNP Switch exam. The return flight was scheduled for Sunday night, to give me the maximum amount of time at the cabin. I’d be able to sleep in on Sunday, pack, and make my way down to the airport for an evening flight home.
It was all a series of bad decisions.
I should not have booked a flight immediately after my CCNP exam. It gave me very little time to get ready for the trip as I was spending all the time running up to the trip on my exam. I was exhausted after finishing the exam, but had to immediately get ready for the trip that night and next morning. I should not have booked the return flight for Sunday night when I would have to be at work the next day. It would have given me no time to recover from my vacation and get ready for work.
Most importantly, I should have checked the weather more closely and understood what I was getting myself into. My romantic notions of a relaxing cabin in the woods were not realistic at all.
The night before my trip I started to pack and lay everything out that I’d need. I packed 2 of everything. I had medicine, flashlights, multiple backup batteries, a solar panel charger to charge the 2 battery packs I was bringing, a backup phone, extra warm clothes, books, backup glasses, headphones, a bottle of scotch, etc…
My flight out of Berlin was delayed, but luckily I had enough time scheduled for the drive up from Helsinki to not worry. After landing in Helsinki and getting my bags, the adventure began…
I didn’t know where to go to get pickup my rental car. Because I used a super cheap rental car agency, they didn’t have a spot at the hotel. Instead, their office was 10 minutes drive from the airport. The instructions said “take the shuttle bus from the airport to our offices.” I looked around all over for the shuttle bus platform, but couldn’t find it. I thought I was at Terminal 1, but I was actually at Terminal 2.
As it started to snow, a feeling of panic started to build in my stomach. I showed a bus driver where I was trying to go, but he shook his head. Then some guy came up to me and asked if I had rented a car. I said yes, thinking he was from the company to pick me up. He helped me get my stuff and into his private car, and it became clear to me, I was not who he was looking for. I tried to explain, but he didn’t understand me very well. After calling his associate, he realized the mistake and I got my stuff and got out of the car to go back to the platform where I thought the bus was supposed to be.
There was still wifi from the airport out by the bus stop, so I used that to skype call the car rental company. “Free bus! Free bus! look for free bus!” the man on the other end told me. I finally realized I was at the wrong terminal and found the correct platform.
By this time I had already burned 2 hours walking around the airport trying to find where to get my car. I stood at the bus stop as bus after bus went past me. Behind me was a bus schedule for when the bus would come every hour. I looked, the next bus wasn’t scheduled to arrive for … two hours. There was a giant break in the middle of the day and I had missed the last bus when my plane landed. There was no way I could have known. I called the car rental guy back and told him. He said he’d come pick me up, which was great.
He took me to the car rental place, which was just a room in a hotel. They park the cars in the hotel parking lot and rent cars out of a single office room on the ground floor of the hotel. The whole thing felt really sketchy to me, but I had already paid and didn’t have another option.
He showed me to my car, asked me to fill it up when I return it, and told me to have fun. I spent about 30 minutes getting setup in the car. There was a navigation computer in the dashboard, but it was in Finnish.
The panic and feeling of hopelessness when confronted with trying to get to the car, then trying to translate the options of the nav system so I could find the language settings, everything reminded me of how I felt on my first day in Berlin. It wasn’t a good feeling, but it made me feel slightly nostalgic nonetheless.
I was planning on using my phone for navigation, but the car’s power outlet doesn’t charge the phone faster than the phone uses battery, so my phone was slowly dying as I was driving. Eventually I pulled over and managed to find the correct language setting and changed the nav screen into English, which was my first success of the trip.
My first stop was 3 hours north of Helsinki, a town called Mikkeli. In this town I was going to stop at this large Prism shopping center to get supplies for the week.
The place I went into is a bit like a Walmart/Kaufland and it quickly became apparent that I couldn’t buy a week worth of food and supplies, and that I’d have to make a trip back at some point. I bought three days worth of food and some candles in jars and headed towards the cabin.
Throughout the entire drive I was fighting a rising sense of dread. I was supposed to be on vacation! I was finally doing this! I was alone and free! And yet I felt sick. Part of me was excited, but another part, a growing part, was thinking “What the fuck are we doing?!?” This was made worse as the weather continued to get worse.
It was cold, around freezing, and the wind was pushing my little car all over the road. As I got close to the cabin, the snow started to come down more and more.
I texted the host that I was close and his father drove out to the road to meet me. I followed his car for another kilometer through a very rough and narrow dirt road through the woods, the car sometimes bottoming out on the road.
When I got there the cabin was dark. The host’s father showed me all the rooms, where I could find stuff, where we were on the map, and where I could go to get some more fresh water. I lit up a fire and tried for force myself to be in good spirits.
Here is outside the cabin:
Here is inside the cabin:
Here’s the inside again the next day when it was a bit lighter out:
I cooked some dinner with my flashlight and tried to enjoy the solitude, though a rising feeling of homesickness was already starting to take hold. I blew out all my candles, put another log on the fire, and tried to curl up under all my blankets.
I awoke a little while later, cold.
I opened my eyes and it was like I had not opened my eyes at all. It was pitch black before, and pitch black after. The fire was out and the cabin was very chilly. In a panic I reached for my flashlight and clicked it on, forgetting that I had set it to turbo bright mode before going to bed. (In case anyone or anything broke down the cabin door when I was sleeping) I instantly blinded myself when 1000 lumens erupted from my flashlight.
After a few moments I recovered and crawled out of bed to try and start the fire again. After 5 minutes and a lot of smoke and blowing, there was a healthy flame, light, and heat. I piled some more logs on and crawled back in bed.
I would awake several times throughout the night to restart the fire. I was exhausted and miserable. The thought of more than an entire week of nights like this made me feel sick. This was not the romanticized, relaxing vacation I imagined.
I had to do something about illumination at night. The cabin was too dark. I couldn’t read or see without my flashlights. The jar candles I bought gave off almost no light. (I later would find out they were gravestone candles)
I got back in the car and drove an hour to Mikkeli to the large store I visited the day before. There I just felt sick. I couldn’t do a week. I don’t know what I was thinking. There was wifi in the store, so I called AirBerlin and rescheduled my flight for Wednesday. (It was Sunday at the time) I wanted to go home. This wasn’t what I had in mind. I could maybe do 3 days here, but not a week. I told Insa I’ll see how Sunday night goes, and decide.
The snow let up, and started to melt, but it was still very cold and the lake was frozen over. I couldn’t setup my hammock because the weather changed every 5 minutes. It’d rain, then stop, then rain, then stop.
I walked around the grounds of the cabin for a bit and just tried to take in the sights and sounds.
I decided to give the sauna a try.
The green container holds water, that you heat with a fire underneath. The red container has a 2nd fire underneath to heat the rocks. There’s a 3rd bucket full of cold lake water to pour over yourself. It took me a while to gt the fires going under the red and green containers, but eventually I was able to steam up the place.
The sauna was nice for an half an hour or so. I sat in there with my bottle of scotch (which I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to drink in the sauna) and listened to an audio book on my phone.
Sunday night was much the same as Saturday night. I had some more candles and supplies that I bought from the store, so light was a bit better, but I still kept waking up every few hours to restart my fire.
I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t sleep during the nights, I was exhausted, bored, and homesick. The thought of being trapped there for an entire week just made me want to scream. This wasn’t at all what I had in mind, which sucks because the location was beautiful. I just wasn’t happy. I decided to cut my loses and just go home.
Monday morning I awoke at 4am with the sun (3am back in Berlin because of the time difference). I cleaned up the cabin and texted the host that I was terribly sorry, but something had come up in Berlin and I needed to go back.
After making sure the cabin was clean and ready for the next guest, I got in the car and started the drive back to Helsinki. The plan was to try and re-book my flight for the next flight out of there, or stay in a hotel until Wednesday if I had to. I called Insa on my way back to the airport and had her try to re-book my flight while I was driving down. Luckily there was a flight back that night, and I could re-book it for 105 euros, so I did.
The flight left at 7pm though, so I’d have several hours to kill in the airport. I must have looked like a homeless person. Dirty, smelling like smoke, with way too much luggage, and a plastic bag full of empty bottles and trash. I caught the very last bus from the Car rental place/hotel to the airport, and tried to find an isolated bathroom in a little used corner of the Helsinki airport to change in.
After freshening up, I hoped I didn’t look like crap or smell like a camp fire. I then wandered around the airport for 5 hours waiting for my flight home.
I still had the week off, and I spent it how I should have spent my vacation, doing what I really enjoy and what I find really relaxing: sitting at home in sweatpants, playing video games, eating take-out. I could have saved myself a ton of money and headache if I had just done that in the first place.
Lesson learned I guess.
I’m not giving up on Finland, I think it’d be a cool place and a lot of fun to visit again, but I bit off more than I could chew with first time solo wilderness camping for a week straight.