Winter adventure comes in a myriad of forms, some close to home, others far away. This March will mark the 35th year of Finland’s “Rajalta rajalle – hiihto.” L.L. Bean employees Tom Armstrong, Joel Hinshaw and myself were there for No. 34.

It is a pretty simple assignment: start at the Russian border and ski across Finland to Sweden.

The event hosts four groups of cross-country skiers with a maximum of 100 skiers in each group. Each group starts a day apart. Our group contained only 34 skiers, allowing a very relaxed and intimate tour. Seven countries were represented in our group in addition to seven skiers from the United States.

Machine groomed ski tracks were set each night by local volunteers. The tracks often were a single track that made it a little harder to get around a slower skier. But after a few days, we all settled into a group of two or three skiers who skied at about the same pace and chugged along together.

We ate whatever appeared before us, from reindeer soup, to trailside rest stop pickles, to sausages cooked over a fire on the trail. We also managed to master, with clear memorization by Day 2, the Finnish word for thank you, “kiitos.” That was about it for conquering the Finnish tongue, which is very hard to master.

Over seven days, we skied 250 miles, the longest day covering 50 miles and the shortest 25. The first two days featured gently rolling terrain interspersed with a few moderate hills. The last five days traversed flat terrain through bog and farm country. Each day featured rest stops every 6 to 8 miles, staffed by Finnish volunteers providing needed calories and hot drinks to keep us going.


The first five nights, we stayed in upscale hotels. On the sixth night, we stayed in a former school on bunk beds, then night seven was on mattresses on the floor of a summer youth camp. Each overnight stop had a sauna that helped relax tired muscles.

The route stretched just below the Arctic Circle. We were amazed at how the warming influence of the Gulf Stream moderated the climate enough to allow the growth of tall pointed firs and groves of birch trees. It was like skiing through a giant tree farm.

Three happy Maine skiers pose at the Swedish border at the end of the 250 miles – Joel Hinshaw, Michael Perry and Tom Armstrong.

On the higher ridges, tracts of sharply pointed fir were covered with thick mantles of creamy snow, often bending over the smaller trees into various forms like sea horses or caped super heroes. The imagination ran wild. Hay and dairy farms dotted a portion of the route. Contrast that with the landscape at the Arctic Circle in North America: windswept tundra with dwarfed vegetation. The temperatures dipped into the upper teens most nights, but quickly climbed to near freezing and often into the mid-30s by noon, much warmer than we expected.

A skier from Moscow and a Swedish skier, whose son was on the Swedish Olympic biathlon team, were ahead of the pack each day. The Swedish fellow double-poled the entire route, and the Russian skier skated much of the course.

On the third day, we stayed in a hotel at the top of a ski hill. Our day concluded at the base of the hill, where we carefully settled onto a T-bar and took the lift to the top of the hill and our night’s posh lodging. In the morning, we boarded our bus for the short ride down to the bottom of the hill to start whittling away the 50 miles ahead of us – our longest day, with 10 hours of skiing for most of us except the Swede and Russian, who probably finished by noon. Thankfully, a brisk afternoon tailwind allowed us to double pole easily across the vast open stretches of bogs and meadows. All in all, it was about the “easiest” 50 miles one could have.

The bus was truly the mother ship. We’d load our gear into it in the morning, knowing that we would see the bus at the midday lunch stop, where we could change clothes or change to waxless skis if the waxing was too much of a mystery. Usually, the bus would be at the last rest stop as well, offering an option for tired skiers to call it a day and ride to the overnight spot, bypassing the last 7 or 8 miles of skiing.


A sturdy Finn with full gray beard skied in a cotton short sleeve T-shirt in all temperatures, even in stiff cold winds across open expanses. His philosophy was – don’t sweat, don’t get wet, don’t die. With his skimpy get-up, sweating was the last thing he needed to worry about. He was a man of very few words and kept to himself. He had one pace, called “all day.” If there had been a brick wall between him and the next rest stop, he would have skied right through it without even noticing it was in the way.

Another Finn was the life of the party. The first day, he introduced himself as Arttu, as in “R2-D2” of Star Wars fame.

Arttu should have been a stand-up comedian instead of the owner of a tire rim company. We had a great time bantering back and forth since his English was so good. He kept trying to convince me that the trailside sandwich was the sole reason that one could successfully complete the Border to Border.

He almost had me convinced that if I was not carrying five sandwiches in my fanny pack made at breakfast that morning, then I would be found dead along the trail later in the day. By the sixth day, I had capitulated to the pressure and was carrying one spartan sandwich, which I must confess did hit the spot at some low caloric moment.

So what makes a great, memorable event?

It is already a success if you are outdoors all day, and better yet, a week putting a picture to a place on a map. There’s nothing like meeting people from other countries and reaffirming that we all pretty much yearn for the same simple things, and that it is the politics that complicate things. And there’s satisfaction in going from here to there by your own power, then returning to loved ones at home with fun stories to share.

Michael Perry is the former director of the L.L. Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools, and founder of Dreams Unlimited, specializing in inspiring outdoor slide programs for civic groups, businesses, and schools.

Contact: michaelj_perry

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