We’re off to Lappeenranta, about two hours east, to attend Jukolan Viesti 2016. We woke up bright and early at seven in the morning (yes, that qualifies as early) and drove out at nine. With a lot of help from Tuulikki and Anton’s family, we were able to gain VIP parking among a plethora of other luxuries and shaved 1.5 km of walking distance off our walk, which we have many thanks for. As rain drizzled down upon our heads and bags, we walked through lines of store-tents and sleeping tents, as well as a trail leading up to a giant rock that probably presents some spectacular photo opportunities, until we arrived at our tent. They were all circular, greenish-brown, and featured a hole in the top that was supposed to be for fire in the past (fire isn’t allowed anymore at Jukola) but now just made things wet. Erin brought a tarp this year, something we all ended up being very excited about, and we placed all our bags on it until they were all moved back off in favor of a dry sleeping place.

The Jukola tents!

At this point it was a little after noon, and we went out to explore Jukola a little. Michael shopped for shoes, Colin got a mattress, and I was left to browse the stores. There were many cool things to buy, like some cool hats based after country flags or what looked like the Finnish equivalent of Gu, but in the end no money was spent on my part. At two, Julia ran the first leg of Venla for a Helsingen Suunistajat, with Izzy running afterwards on the second leg. There were around 1,300 teams running in the Venla relay, so running the first leg must have been quite an amazing experience. Julia managed to run 346 people on her leg, and as people spread out more Izzy took out another 83. Overall, it was a pretty good showing for the United States in the Venla relay. The team finished in 599th place, although Izzy did manage to bring it to 304th in her leg.

Once Venla was finished, the race everyone was waiting for became Jukola. The mass start would start at 11, so we had a lot of time to kill. Sleep would be crucial for the early runners, but it’s quite difficult to force yourself to sleep hours earlier than usual. Before dinner, we passed the time by playing a variety of card games, trying to sleep, or just sitting around. Everything went by rather quick. Out at dinner, we saw Amanda, who will be running with us at JWOC in Switzerland, and her brother. We also said hi to Eero and his team, whom Michael will be joining to take the seventh Jukola leg! The dinner was superb, but the weather was still being relentless, which is a shame because I forgot my rain jacket (I got sick today, so now I know that not bringing a rain jacket to Jukola is a bad idea).

Anton keeping warm in the USA tent.

Finally, at eleven, as Colin and I, the 2nd and 3rd leg runners, were trying to catch some sleep, we were jolted awake by the sound of rapid gunfire. The race had begun, and Erin was off. Our starting place was 1701 out of around 1707 teams, so we had a lot of ground to make up. However, as Erin was warming up, he gave his jacket to Tuulikki to get ready to start. His jacket happened to contain his compass, but when Erin noticed, he couldn’t find Tuulikki. Erin ended up running the race without the compass. That’s not all though. Colin forgot his compass at the cabin, so the plan was to use Erin’s compass when he finished his leg. Colin didn’t run with a compass either.

Jukola mass start!

From there, thing’s went a lot more smoothly. I ran the 3rd leg with the early signs of sickness, Asne ran the fourth, Julia ran the fifth, and Anton ran the sixth. We didn’t have a seventh leg runner. Our team finished just under 700th place thanks to an amazing run from Anton. For the rest of the morning, most of us just slept. Michael and Anton went and used the sauna for a while. Erin sent us out a few times to get us to eat food. In the state we were, most of us weren’t erally thinking about food, so it was good that Erin was making us get fuel for our bodies.

As streams of cars slowly left Jukola, it became our turn to leave the party. We packed up our goods slowly, said goodbye to Asne and the Canadians (they will be joining us for training the day after Jukola), and walked down to get closer to the main road. With our packs, we all sat on the side of the road as Tuulikki, Erin, and Michael got our cars towed out of the muddy parking lot. Finally, we saw their cars approaching us, we got in, and we got on the road.