Lithuania. The homeland of cranberries

It was basically the first time I actually tried cross country skiing and postponing it to an age of a young adulthood is a sin in Lithuania, a country that has a snowfall every winter. That year the winter was exceptional with lots of great powder and decent cold temperatures, most of the people I know spent their free time enjoying the pleasure of skiing in frozen forest, rivers, swamps and fields. I observed their social media feeds with a grain of jealousy and started to create an action plan for my first cross country skiing experience. The options I had varied both in length and difficulty, from an easy several hour tour around the neighborhood with friends to a hardcore several days skiing insanity with professionals.

So here I am, standing for the first time on borrowed cross country skis with 20 kilogram backpack in a swamp, prepared for 3 days of hike around the wetlands.

On the first day of the trip I was happy as a moon carrying my monstrous backpack and a pair of skis to the meeting point. What could go wrong? I was convinced that skiing is not very complicated and that I will learn it in seconds, also I was promised some tips and help from one of the best skier, whom I personally know.

My confidence was gone once company saw my skis. Well, you know, not really good ones, but oh well. Guys took their time to put some wax, prepare the kick zone for me and make them more usable.

After a short car ride I stood on my skis and was already regretting this decision. Companions blew with the wind and I saw only tracks in a snow. Falling once in a while I slowly pushed forwards, trying to keep my skis straight and thinking about every more I make. No, it was absolutely not as easy as promised, instead it was the hardest work out I have ever had! With a violet face and sweat soaking my clothes I sometimes reached the party, sometimes lost it.

With the pity on their face guys waited for me and in my mind I imagined how of a pain in an ass I must be. I just wished for them not to run too fast and leave me all alone. As I was cursing and feeling like a cow on an ice, the forest road ended, not we had to maneuver though a gap between the trees avoiding branches and bushes. Surroundings got wilder and less ski-able. Like skiing was not hard enough soon we had to crawl under or climb over fallen tress, as the forest went completely wild and no pathway existed.

After a piece of time we struggled our way out and a real swamp started. The sun was already setting and the forest, now behind us, turned pink. There was not even a single soul around. So we continued further to the first swamp lake where we planned to camp.

We had to camp on ice as in a swamp itself it is impossible to stand, walk and sleep: without skis you sink in moss and water at least until your knees, if lucky. I tried it and it was quite wet. I was dead tired and not very able to stand straight, but oh how good it was to put the backpack down. Without weight I practiced my skiing technique which improved since my first moments and after the filling dinner we enjoyed the clear sky and Milky way in its all beauty.

The next day something terrible happened, temperatures raised above zero degrees by Celsius and snow became wet and clumpy. We traveled from one lake to another lake carefully, trying to reach most of them, even if they were of a size of a small backyard. At some point we left our backpacks and made a loop completing our ‘see them all’ quest with some remote and not-really-on-the-way lakes.

The snow kept melting and at some point it was impossible to ski. Also not very possible to stand without skis. The thing we had to do is to get from one snow island to another to try to wiggle out of a wetland. As we traveled quite far, we had to hurry to reach the dry ground before sunset. Others fled first, without waiting for me, to find a suitable spot to roll our seeping bags and I had to follow the thin line of marks left by them. It was getting darker, I was getting more tired and the line was less and less visible by minutes. I was absolutely alone in this vast swamp, where, if lost, I wouldn’t trust my senses to navigate back. But strangely enough it was calming to see darkness getting the sky and distant forests around.

When I arrived guys already had had a good rest and started the meal preparation but I was not able to move any further. I ripped skis from my feet and just sat by the tree for a good half an hour. I have never been so done before.

Food during hiking is always amazingly tasty and dinner lifted my soul. Everybody shared almost last pieces of snacks, we spent almost all night outside as it was quite warm. But the next morning the warm night brought the warm day and even less snow was left in a swamp. We had to choose either torture ourselves trough the rest of the swamp or go straight back to the nearest village. As nobody found pleasure in snow- and freeze-less swamp our skis were directed to the nearest bar.

As we traveled the last bits of the melting swamp we spotted huge and beautifully red cranberries. Frost and snow made them unbelievably fantastic. All of us ducked on their skis and started to feast. Maybe lack of snow was not the worst thing that happened. The rest was smooth: I was still dead done after previous days but I was quite better at skiing. We took almost all day to reach the nearest town and the snow god was good enough to provide our route just with enough snow to be able to ski. At the end I had to carry them as I got fed up of falling and loosing the track but I knew where to find my companions. We all met at the local bar to celebrate successful adventure (for me) and a nice warm up (for them) before a real skiing hike in Finland. Of course, this time I was invited for two weeks trip but I believed I had to decline (still fresh memories of skiing), even if I was convinced (again) that it is not as hard as it looks like and I would manage it easily. Damn these guys, they are good at pursuing!

On February 2nd the World is celebrating the day of wetlands. On this day in 1971, at the shores of Caspian sea (Ramsar, Iran) the Convention on wetlands was adopted. Its mission is to spread the awareness of dangers swamps are facing due to extensive human activities and global warming. Hundreds of events are happening world wide, join them and spread the awareness. More information here.