23 June 2024

Two trails with one starting point

After our ski resort adventure we wanted something quieter. And my sister found a loop not too far away that looked like it would fit the bill. So we went! And it was clear from when we got out of the car it was rather mosquito-infested. But also very beautiful. 

We had read a warning that the path wasn’t maintained; that seemed to apply to the infrastructure that takes you over water and swamp, and also the markings. Soon we found out that was true. On the swampy stretches, you tend to get ‘duck boards’; two parallel wooden beams on sleepers. If you don’t maintain them they rot through and break. And grow slippery algae to boot. And they had. Some bits were challenging! And I got wet feet. 

Whoever had said there was room for improvement regarding maintenance wasn’t kidding 

Pretty mushrooms 

Interesting duck boards

Decorative stump

High ground

View on merging rivers 

The markings were fine, as they were elsewhere. You just follow dots of paint on trees. I was impressed with how you can rely on that! Very reassuring, as getting lost in endless Lapland could be uncomfortable. Although you often get 4G, so your phone can often get you out of that. But I am only too aware that reliance on phones can be a bad idea…

We didn’t see a soul, and it was very beautiful. Exactly what we wanted! It was a great day. And I did my running and swimming thing afterwards. What a day. 

We had enjoyed this so much we did it again the next day. There was a trail going in the other direction from the road. And that had had some maintenance! Some of the duck boards were brand new. Others not so much, though. And again we didn’t see a soul. And we only had to really search for the route once. This location was quite the find. It was another great day! With the usual rituals. 

The tiny path

You can’t hike Finland without skirting lakes

Walking a ridge-what would have created it? 

Lovely weather

How the routes are marked where there is a rare junction

By then our trip was approaching the end, so after dinner we started cleaning the cabin. That would make things more efficient in the morning. We would still have a full day, but without access to the cabin after noon. It had been our last day having dinner outside with a view over the lake…

22 June 2024

Gorge and ski area

Hiking in Lapland is different from hiking in Wales. In Wales you probably want to just stare at a map and design a route from all the possible paths. Lapland doesn’t have the population density for that. There are very few paths! So you are probably best off finding a signposted route. If there is a path, it’s probably because there is something so special somebody made such a route. There aren’t many around. 

We relied on these established routes. The second day we chose one in a nearby canyon; not sure what is was called but is was just a bit SE of our lake. That was beautiful! We did a loop and extended it a bit on one side. We even saw the remains of another log chute in the river. This clearly had been logging terrain for a while!

A waterfall and some snow on the canyon wall

The landscape above the canyon 

Some badly maintained infrastructure 

The landscape in the canyon 

The mosquitoes here were quite bad. We sprayed liberally with insect repellent, but it was still a bad idea to stand still. As long as you keep walking it was ok. Luckily we found a picnic table at the top of the gorge where there was such a breeze the mosquitoes mainly stayed away. And we also had the murder machine with us. So we had lunch in comfort.

I had also brought a good bara brith and birthday candles. It was already three days after my sister’s birthday, but this was the earliest suitable opportunity to bring them out. It was festive! 

After our walk we did what would be routine: we went back, I went for a run and a swim, and then we had dinner. Another successful day!

The next day we wanted to go to a nearby national park, and find a route there. And we found a circular one by a ski centre: Iso Syöte. We figured the bit by the ski centre would probably be ugly, but we had high hopes for the rest. Unfortunately we hadn’t noticed on the map that this route was also indicated as a cycling route. So it was very paved! And busy by Finnish standards. For neither of us, this was the favourite day. But one learns. And we were home so late I skipped my run. But the swim was good…

Making lunch the Finnish way

The path was a bit over-engineered to our liking 

Some swampy terrain 

Hike selfie

Here the path was inoffensive 

A cabin along the way where we (read: I) could briefly hide from the mosquitoes 

21 June 2024

Nature trail and cabin

We had reached the middle of Finnish nowhere, but a touristic bit. There was an amazing log chute (disused), and people had clearly decided to make a feature of it. There was a nature trail that started and ended there, and there was a cafe, and a shed that was carrying the grand name of museum. 

We decided to have lunch in the cafe first. We had lovely salmon soup. Then we set off on the trail. My sister suggested doing it twice: once clockwise, once anti-clockwise. It was a short trail, and otherwise it would be a bit unsubstantial. But it was beautiful! And there was quite some history too, like some Second World War trenches.

The cute cafe at Uittoränni

The log chute at Auttiköngäs

The log chute from another angle

We got to a viewing tower on a hill, and while we were in it, it started raining. That changed things. We waited for the worst to pass, and then walked back to the cafe. No second loop needed after all! We admired the museum with its logging-associated objects, and then went back to the cafe for tea and cake. 

The trail

Sister selfie in the viewing tower

Some old trailers near the museum

When we were done we went to pick up the cabin keys, and then went to the actual cabin, on the shore of Auttijärvi, near the village of Autti. About an hour east of Rovaniemi. It was gorgeous! And bigger than I had guessed from the pictures. We wouldn’t get in each other’s way there. Except in the kitchen. That was just a gas stove in the vestibule of barely more than one square meter. That would be a bit tight…

We also checked the sauna building, and the well near it. That was our water supply. And there was a little building that was wood store at the front and loo at the back. And from the sauna, a steep path went down to the lake. That was our bath! It was beautiful. There also was a rowing boat at our disposal. 

The cabin (with some of my damp/smelly kit already hanging over the railing)

The interior (after we’d made ourselves at home)

We unpacked our bags and made the beds. And I figured there was time to go for a run. I only wanted to go some 4 km. I had to slowly build it back up after having run my knees into the ground in May. I had not managed to run any distance without knee problems since, but now I had started my physiotherapy exercises. It went well!

After my run I went for my first swim in the lake. It was lovely! And then I was ready for dinner. My sister had offered to cook every night. And then I claimed the dishes. That worked well! I suggested to bring the mosquitoes-chasing-away-device (colloquially known as the murder machine) and have dinner outside. The suggestion was accepted! It was absolutely lovely. We were sitting in the fresh air, with a view over the lake, and you couldn’t hear any sound made by humans other than us. I felt the post-run-and-swim glow and had a beer. And my sister cooks well. Bliss! 

That night my sister blocked the windows (she likes to sleep in the dark, which you have to bring yourself in Lapland in June) and we went to bed. First successful day done!  

20 June 2024

To Lapland

It is quite a distance from Wales to Finnish Lapland! Getting there would be a trip with many stages. It started early, but I got to the airport without problems, and onto the flight without problems, and into Helsinki without problems. I had snoozed a bit on the plane!

Somewhere along the way 

In Helsinki found the bus that goes past my sister’s office; she had told me which one to take. All went well with that as well. I even had a little bit of time to kill before she would finish work. And a few minutes after that should be the case I rang the bell! 

She opened the door and with that holiday had properly begun. We hadn't seen each other for quite a while! She showed me into her therapy room. She had some things to round off, but I was quite happy to sit in a chair and drink tea for a bit. When she had rounded off we decided we would have another snack, then make our way to the railway station, and then have dinner on the train itself. That meant we wouldn't have to hurry. And that's how we did it.

I had hoped that we would have dinner while the beautiful Finnish landscapes would roll by, but we seemed to have to wait quite a while for some other train to do something, so our views were on a decidedly unromantic shunting area, but so be it.

We talked a bit more, but after not much time I wanted to have a shower and go to bed. I had got up at 4 am! So that is what we did.

In the morning we had plenty of time for breakfast on the train, as it was delayed by 90 minutes. And we reached Rovaniemi in the pouring rain. There we picked up the rental car, and we took it to nearby big shop. My sister had prepared a lot of food, but it seemed efficient to not lug everything all the way down from the south, so we needed to buy additions here. And then we could make our way east, to our cabin. Or rather; first to where we would get the key.

Arriving in rainy Rovaniemi by night train

The landscape in Lapland tends to be a bit on the monotonous side, but it was beautiful anyway. And there were the obligatory reindeer on the road, of course. 

Lappish traffic

We wondered a bit if we should first go to the cabin, or whether we should already do a bit of a hike along the way. I thought we might as well do the latter. My sister knew some nice nature trail along the road. It seemed silly not to do that! So we parked up by the start, where there also was very scenic café.

I said the actual holiday had already begun, which is true, as the most important thing was to see my sister. But now we could start hiking around in the empty landscape. Or start in the cafe. I figured we would have a whale of a time there!

15 June 2024

Lapland-inspired blogging break

When I am in Lapland I do not expect to have signal, so the blog might be silent for a few days! I am not dead, I have not given up on blogging; I might just be in the middle of nowhere for a few days. It will snap back into action upon my return!

Getting the house ready for the catsitter

The advantage of getting a catsitter when you travel is: you don’t have to worry too much about the cat. The disadvantage: while you have to get ready for your trip, you also have to prep the house for the house-sitter. 

I am not really a domestic goddess! There is dust everywhere, and I occasionally remove cobwebs, but the spiders tend to put them back as quickly as I remove them. I have a coffee mug in the kitchen that I drink coffee out of every day. Given that it is only coffee that goes in, I don't bother washing it very often. That's all fine for me, but if someone else lives in my house, it has to be different!

I forgot to take a "before" picture, but trust me; that would have involved a lot more dust and cobwebs 

I had to think about what to bring to Finland and pack it, I also had to dust and clean and tidy. And write a document in which I explain where the router is, where the thermostat, how the infrared panels work, what to do with towels and bedding, how often the cat needs what kind of food and where it is kept, what bin day is, and a whole additional list of details. I'm not sure I was very smooth and enjoying all of that. I think my catsitter can tell I am a first timer!

I suppose it might be good for me to sometimes be inspired to be a bit cleaner than I normally am! I don't want to spend endless amount of time cleaning and tidying; life has better things to offer. To raise my standards a little bit might be a good idea.

Result of sweeping the stairs

The next test is: what my catsitter says to me, and what sort of review she leaves behind on the house sitter website! One way to find out…

14 June 2024

Slateman Sprint Duathlon

It was a month after limping worried over the finish at my last race. My knees had been hurting and I wasn't quite sure why. And only four days after having had an appointment with the physiotherapist where I found out what the problem was. Not much time to sort anything out! But I would have to see how things would go. At least I had the blessing of the physiotherapist to do this race.

This was going to be the very anticipated duathlon! I registered for that, because I decided that most of the training for my runs is done on bike anyway. Why not try to cut out the middleman? And just compete on said bike?

I had registered for the sprint, as I wanted to find out if I liked this sort of stuff at all. So that was: 2.5 km running, 20 km biking, and 5.8 km running. I figured these 2.5 km are so short I couldn't really hurt myself. My knees would be fine on the bike! And if my knees were unhappy during the second run, I could always walk. It's only 5.8 km. 

It was a 9 am start, which was late by the standards of the event. There were both duathlons and triathlons happening, both in several distances. The first batch started at 7 am! So even though we were the most leisurely cohort, it was an earlier start than you generally get. And I suspected it would be busy, so I wanted to arrive in good time. I also still needed to get my race number. So I got there before 8 am. I parked at the parking lot out of town, where I had also gone for wild swimming with Kate, and biked to the start.

There I first got my race number. There was no queue whatsoever! And with that number I could now go and park my bike. It needs to be labelled up beforehand. And every number came with a designated spot for the bike. I could have guessed! But I was clearly new to this. I was also told I needed to have my helmet on, and fastened, when I parked the bike. This is clearly ludicrous, but I had been warned by the physiotherapist that this is the sort of rules they impose on you when you do an event like this.

My commuter bike among the other steeds

I had a chat with Jenny’s daughter who I spotted; she was cheering on her husband. Nice! And I checked where the bag drop was in case I needed it. And then it was time for the race briefing. At the same time, Jaco and Marjan arrived, but of course I had to be in that briefing. And when it was over it was only three minutes to the start. Not much time for socialising! And such a small group doing the sprint duathlon. 

At the start; pic by Always Aim High

We set off. Maybe I went a bit too fast. It was hard not to, given that we only had 2.5 kilometres to go! And when I got to the bikes I dutifully put my helmet on, turned my race number around, and ran the bike to the road. I saw Jaco and Marjan cheering! And then I got to the bit I had come for. 

It starts quite flat. It is quite forgiving! I was just pedalling along. I'm not sure I do racing very well! But stubbornly getting to the finish is something I can do quite well. And I knew I stood out with my bike; I don't think anybody else had a pannier rack. Or mudguards. And I know why; the mudguards were rubbing like the clappers. Maybe someone had accidentally tugged them, as they hadn't been rubbing between parking lot and event terrain. I stopped make it go away. And then I was back on.

I was overtaken by quite some fast people in one of the more diehard races. I didn't see anybody else with the same colour race number as myself! And I could just enjoy the views. This road is very beautiful, and it was closed for the occasion to motorised traffic. It will never again be this lovely.

Promo pic from Always Aim High showing the beauty of the road

A first: me on a bike in a race

It wasn't that arduous; my commute is not dissimilar in distance and elevation. Even though I don't do that in one go, of course. So I got to the pass, got down on the other side, but not that far down. Back up the pass was ok, and then I could do the long descent. I was a bit careful! That road has loads of blind bends. And you might just have errant sheep on the tarmac. But nothing like that happened, and I got back into Llanberis. I dutifully dismounted by the designated line, and went to park my bike again.

When I got off, I noticed my knee was not happy. Oh dear! I still had almost 6 km to go. I did a little ITB stretch, had a sip of water, and was off. Fingers crossed.

I was scared I would have to walk the whole way. My knee really wasn't enjoying itself! Luckily though, it was only the right knee. Nothing like the double knee malarkey of the previous time. But I jogged to the bridge. When I hit the first slope I walked. Uphill you don't go fast anyway. If you don't run, you don't lose that much time. And there is a lot of uphill there.

At some point there also were some mountain bikers standing by the course. I suppose they were waiting for the runners to pass so they could use the path again, but they were also cheering people on. One of them was my physio! So I gave him the brief update that my left knee was holding up but the right one wasn't. And that I was going to manage to finish anyway.

When I got to the top I tried to run again. Carefully! And I tried to run in ways that would be least detrimental to my knee. And I got away with it! I ran quite a lot. Nothing really fast. A lot faster than walking, though. And a lot faster than towards the end of the Snowdonia Half Marathon.

Not too far now! Pic by Always Aim High

I managed to run over to finish! And that was the end of my duathlon adventure. 

Jaco and Marjan were looking a bit cold and wet. It had started raining! So I suggested we run away and go for a hot coffee in town. And we did. For two of us, the hot coffee turned into hot chocolate. It really wasn't very summery weather! So it was nice to warm up again.

Then we went each our way. I needed to retrieve my bike. It was frustrating I hadn’t been able to race at full capacity, but at least I have now done a duathlon. And I kind of like it! I might do it again next year. But I really hope I can then properly race, rather than hobbling along, trying not to hurt my knees too much. I am very dedicated to my knee exercises. I hope I will be back in fighting shape soon!

13 June 2024

Carneddau with Kates

Kate was going to be in the country again! After quite a while. She had moved to England, and since then we had only seen each other once. But several months ago, we had put our diaries together and looked for a weekend in which she could pop by again. And this had been the one. And fortunately, this time, other Kate was there too. She travels a lot, but this time she would just be around. So we could go for a hike with the three of us!

I had told her that I probably wasn't going to be up for something huge, as I had this race the next day. And when the weekend approached, I had an additional reason for not wanting to do anything major, as I had caught a cold. But I often recover quite quickly from these, so I didn't think it would stop us.

We also had to think logistics. In a weekend in June, there are many places in the area you just can't park unless you get up at the crack of dawn. And that wasn't an option for us; Kate first would have to drive in from quite far away, and I didn't want to cut a night of sleep short with that cold still lingering. So we made a plan; the Kates would be travelling by bus, and I could have done the same, but I hoped to be able to pick up my race number after our hike, and I needed the car for that. So I just loaded my bike into the car, and thought I'd just park reasonably close to where we would meet, and bike the rest. I had faith that would be successful! I could have biked all the way, of course, but that would have involved getting up rather early again.

The last time I had done that had been many, many years ago! I had been considering it a few times, even the week before, but there had always been reason to reconsider. 

I met the Kates at Ogwen Cottage. It was good to see them! We didn't waste time, though, and went up the hill. It is quite a sustained climb! I wasn't sure how I would feel with my lingering cold, but I was okay. And the weather started a bit gloomy, but we did get some sun partway up.

Chasing the clouds

Views over Llyn Ogwen and Llyn Idwal

Pretty flowers

When we go to the ridge everything changed. It was windy and foggy and cold there! We had climbed up sheltered, but that was over now. The weather was coming for us! So we basically stomped on. We had made sure to have a coffee break below the ridge, as the ridge itself wasn't a good place for stopping. There are wind shelters there, of course, and although none of them was empty all of them would have headspace, but we chose to just keep going. We would get another break when we would get off the ridge again.

Peak selfie

It is a bit of a trek from Pen yr Ole Wen to Carnedd Llewelyn. That would be where we would start our descent. Luckily, the mist retreated before we got there. So some of the walk was actually with very nice views!

On the ridge early on

The ridge later on

Shortly after we started descending into Bwlch Eryl Farchog (the pass of the knight’s outlook, I think?) we sat down for lunch. It was a bit late in the day for me to normally have lunch, but although my energy levels are back to normal, my appetite wasn't! So I was okay to eat, but not as voracious I would've been under normal circumstances.

After lunch we continued our way. We had decided to go up on the other side, To Pen yr Helgi Du (the hill of the black hunting dog). Kate thought it was a bit silly to go up that mountain without bringing her black dog, hunting or otherwise, but so be it. It was a nice last ascent.

Down into the Bwlch

Up on the other side

After that we only had the gradual descent back into the valley to do. And then get back to our transport! The Kates just saw their bus drive past in front of them. That means they had time to walk to the next bus stop with me. That was nice! 

I will probably see one Kate again quite soon. We acquire quite some inspiration for upcoming adventures along the way. With the other one it will probably take a longer while, again. But there are interesting developments going on with her in England, and it will be great to go and one day visit her there. And now we had an epic day in the mountains under our belt! 

12 June 2024

To the physiotherapist

When my knee issue from my last half marathon didn’t quite go away I decided I wanted to see a physiotherapist. The one who had sorted my ankle problem clearly had a good precedent, but I had heard there were good sports physiotherapists closer by, so I asked at work if anyone knew one. And someone did: Adam from the Physio Room in Llanfairfechan, who seems to specialise in runners. And I managed to get an appointment in before my next race, be it only just. 

I was really keen to see him. I hadn’t run for a week to give my knees a break! And that’s long for me. The runs I had done since the race had all been quite short and careful. I really wanted to get back to proper running. 

When the moment came and I sat in his eponymous room I explained to him what my background was, what symptoms I had had during that fateful race, and what had happened since. And that already sounded good to him. He said he figured there was nothing wrong with my knees. That's good to know. Then he needed to find out what else might be the problem then.

He first asked me to do some things like walking on the spot, standing on one leg, standing on tiptoe et cetera, both facing him and facing the other way. Then he put me on his treatment table and checked out my strength and flexibility. He noticed the excessive flexibility in my knees, but was not worried about it. And he also spotted some insufficient flexibility. He figured my legs can move the desired distance forward, but not backward! And he figured that that was where the problem might lie.

It seems that if, when you stride, your legs don't move behind your centre of gravity enough, your ITB never gets to relax. And if you then run too fast or too far, or especially both, it will start hurting. And that seems to have been what happened to me doing the Snowdonia half marathon.

He said that the answer would be to do exercises to become more flexible. And for upcoming races, make sure to run slower, but a bit longer, as training. I hadn't done any training runs longer than 14 km for a 21 km race. And then on the day I had overdone it! So if I can improve the situation with flexibility exercises, I can probably at the same time slowly crank up the running again, until I am to my old level. I sure hope so!

I also asked him if I was making the situation worse if I did my upcoming duathlon, and he said no. I was glad to hear it! I was looking forward to it. And I knew my knees would be okay with the biking. And the running was only a 2.5 km stretch first, and a 5.8 km stretch last. That's not much! And if my knees would hurt too much, I could always walk part of the second stretch (I didn't think I would make my knees hurt in only 2.5 km.) I would still easily make the cut-off time. And then at least I would know what it is like to competitively ride a bicycle!

I immediately started the exercises at home. I hope I can feel the difference soon! And there already is the next race in the diary after the Duathlon, so that will be the evaluation point…

Not entirely sure what this has to do with flexibility, but the the easiest exercise to photograph: banded crab walk

11 June 2024

Late academic integrity wave

The last time I mentioned the amount of academic integrity cases I had to deal with after coming back from the Netherlands, things weren’t looking so bleak. I had barely written the blog post or the floodgates opened. There are clearly a lot of members of staff who only now found the time to look into their marking work, or maybe already had done the marking, but had forgotten to look for possible cases of academic poor practice or even academic malpractice. I basically got a year’s worth in four days! Just before the marking deadline. I did manage to keep up with evaluating the cases and informing the students and supervisors, but at the end of that I was behind on documenting everything. Obviously.

As one of the people who had flagged cases with me was the assessment officer anyway, we had a little chat to see if we could think of a clever way to avoid this thing happening in the first place. You don't have to wait with evaluating academic integrity after you have marked! You can do that straight away. Because nobody benefits from me getting that many cases in such a rush. There were assessments that had been set in April, that I was only alerted to in June. That just isn't necessary! And we did have a plan. It's not a perfect plan, but it is better than what we have. We'll see in January, at the end of the first semester of the next academic year, if it works! Although the real proof of the pudding will be in a year time. The vast majority of students graduate in summer, so there is much more pressure on getting all the grades in at the end of the second semester than at the end of the first one…

10 June 2024

Socrates op Sneakers

I got through another book! This one was another one I had been given by Roelof. My whole reading started pretty much with Sapiens, which he had also given me. And in between I had read Summertime, which was a book he had lent me.

This book is not a novel; this is a book about asking better questions. I don't think you are intended to read it like a novel, but I did that anyway.

The reader says it can be very useful and entertaining to ask questions beyond what one normally does. Both the type of questions and the approach to them. In the first category you would have questions such as ‘is it ever ok to lie to friends’. In the second category you could start with some normative comment someone makes, such as ‘person X is such a good parent’, and then keep asking questions in order to find out what the people in the discussion think a good parent is, and why exactly. That sort of stuff! 

I like things like this, but I’m not quite sure I’m in the right country for it. I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut. But maybe this book can help me open it again, in a way that is societally acceptable. It does go into how to not piss off the people you are asking these questions. Although it also discusses why annoyance can be the sign you’re onto something! 

I think my first opportunity to put this to practice will be a walk with the Kates that’s coming up. The Kates are not very English in their communications. And then later the Finland trip with my sister. I’ll try out my new skills! 

09 June 2024

More garden progress (and some setbacks)

It had felt very good to manage to fight a lot of chaos in the garden. I am totally not of the English lawn persuasion, but there are limits as to how wild I think a garden should be. And I was well aware I wasn't finished yet! And to make things worse, I was well aware that while I would be in the Netherlands, my garden would not be sitting still. So there will be plenty of work still to go when I came back! And they indeed was.

Obviously, the grass needed cutting again. And I wanted to finish the work on the main raised bed that looked all terrible before I started on it in the first place. And there were the other beds! And the bit of the upper garden by the fence! And lots of other things!

Tidy front of the house! Although my acer seems to have died…

Upstairs garden looking quite tidy

Main raised bed looking decidedly acceptable 

I didn't even make any progress on the raised bed that I had mostly cleared of ivy. Too many other things to do! But I was okay with the final result. At the end of the weekend I felt like I could show my garden again without shame. And that is quite something. Although I am sure I will have to do another one of those rounds after I come back from Finland!