Sweden – Karesuando ~ 2013
“Live a little” – what does that phrase conjure up in your mind? For me it used to be something I would attribute to getting out, and doing things, experiencing, you know…living. I thought it was usually coupled with things that are a little reckless, or less than mature – for example; perhaps you may think it is a bad idea to have another ten drinks when you have work the next day, “live a little!” your moronic friend will cry…and you do it. Or maybe someone suggests you go on holiday with them, but you really think it is best for you to make the rent payments you owe – “live a little!” says the friend with no money-worries, and therefore no understanding of what you are going through. AND YOU STILL DO IT.
Well sometimes you do, it feels good to throw caution to the wind sometimes – just to do something, even though you know it is stupid…perhaps it is the fact you are going against societal expectations? You are acting out of character for a split second – so for a moment you feel free, as if you are in complete control of your choices…then the next morning happens. Shit. All that responsibility starts flooding back…hello, old friend.
Anyway, this is a story of one of those times – those silly moments where you go against your better judgement, and just act irrationally for a change…it feels good! Then it feels terrible! Then…well, just have a read, then you’ll understand:
Back in early 2013, whilst working at a Finnish lodge in the arctic circle – I had one of these situations…which forever altered the typical “live a little” sentiment for me, to something more…or less…depending on how you look at it. I was working in the bar on the day in question, which was a breeze – as during the day all of the guests were out on activities; probably ice fishing, riding the husky dogs, or whatever else they were scheduled to get up to! A couple of hours passed by pretty slowly, I had rearranged the cups about ten times, and had lost count of the amount of times I had wiped down the same varnish…I feel like a few more rubs would have begun to take the varnish off! I kept giving myself little jobs to do, but in truth there was nothing to do other than to wait for dinnertime, when a flock of people would come up ordering drinks we don’t have, to tell me stories about the activities I have heard 100 times already.
That’s when one of the cooks kicked the flapping door through, and grinned as it wobbled on its hinges – it was the most exciting thing to happen since that gust of wind an hour ago. “What are you so happy about?” I asked, half-hoping he had some menial jobs I could get on with to pass the time – “HUH-HUH! I’m gone! Snowmobiles to Sweden!” he replied in a thick Russian accent, whilst accelerating an imaginary handlebar excitedly. I stared with a thinly veiled pretend smile, until I couldn’t take it anymore and released a heavy groaning sigh. “Why don’t you come? Yeah, come on!” I gave all the excuses I had, which were honestly valid reasons…the first one being that I am working, and cannot just leave whenever I feel like it. That’s probably in the contract somewhere one would imagine. He looked around shaking his head, and then motioned for me to look at the emptiness of the room…“No one. Not one. Come on.” He then suggested that I ask one of the managers in the next room if I could go with him…there was no possibility of any customers, so surely he wouldn’t mind? What difference is it where he sits down and does nothing? He was very enthusiastic about this idea, and cheered me on as I meekly shuffled into the next room to ask for permission to leave my boring post.
But all that tremendous build-up was for nothing, as I came back defeated.
Despite the fact he was sitting with his feet up, slurping on coffee, and flicking through a glossy celeb magazine – he decided he was “too busy” to help me out, and insisted I need to stay at my station in case a person from around the doors showed up…there were literally three other buildings in the surrounding area – one was a gas station, the rest was just bleak winter wasteland…why would any Finnish person would trail up the hill to an overpriced hotel for a sub-par drink? Well they wouldn’t. But his decision was final.
I explained all of this to the cook…he didn’t accept it as a valid excuse…he STILL wanted me to head out with him, “pffft! Let’s go anyway!” I looked at him, and hesitated..“LIVE A LITTLE!” Those words stirred something in me, it was weird…I felt like if I said no now, I was basically not living life – that I was a boring bastard who didn’t ever grasp experiences; so that if I was knocked over by a moose the next day my tombstone would read “JOHN LEE TAGGART – DIDN’T EVEN LIVE A LITTLE – DEFINITELY DIED A LOT THOUGH” – well I couldn’t have that now could I?!
“FINE! Lets go – but we have to go out of the kitchen’s side door so he doesn’t see us!”
We ran out as fast as we could, giggling and snorting the whole way down the hill to the snowmobile garage…I am not sure what I expected to happen here, it could only ever end badly…but I was living a little at least. Right?
Before today I had only been on the snowmobiles with old age pensioners in tow…which means that I had dragged myself along the snow at the same pace as a high-powered lawnmower. Not exactly action-movie-esque, I know. Today I would be with the big boys, half of the outdoor activity staff had the afternoon off, and had decided a snowmobile trail in deep snow over to the Sweden side would be dangerous enough to be classed as “fun.” Of course they sneered and poked fun, asking if I even knew how to ride one…I replied that I could, or more precisely “of course I can, fuck off.” You have to stand your ground with these people, people. They looked at each other and nodded, I guess I was in…SUCKERS!
We geared up, and headed out – they needed to help me turn the thing on…but I told them it was difficult because of my gloves…and hand injury…cover blown already. After a short while of driving on well worn snow-tracks, we stopped and someone pointed at a church steeple in the distance – “WUH-HEHMMN-FAH-THAM-WUN-URGHKAY” I guessed at what he was saying, I could barely make it out through the crash helmet. One after the other, we burst forward, and I watched person after person disappear into a swirl of snow…I would have to follow suit soon…
VRUUUUUUUUUUUUUUM! I shot forward on to the open plain – I could only see flashes of the others, through the scattered flakes of ice that were coming out of the other end of their snowmobiles as they carved from side to side –this was amazing – I basically had no idea what I was doing…but this was insanely exhilarating! Before I knew it we were far out on the fresh deep snow, the ride became incredibly smooth – the snowmobile felt like it floated across the ground’s surface, it would peel across the ice-cream like surface, bobbing from side to side in a relaxed tide like fashion – someone shouted that we had to veer right…this was easier said than done…I turned as far as I could, but nothing really happened, the thickness of the snow just meant that I bobbed along, only vaguely changing direction – all of this with snow flakes still swirling into my face, clouding my vision entirely!
Thankfully it started to clear, perhaps the other guys had went a different direction – I could finally see tha-OH GOD FUCK! Tress were right in front of me, dead ahead – TURN, TURN, TURN, I shouted at myself in a strange fit of panic – as if saying it aloud, would change the fact that despite having the handlebars twisted the whole way around, NOTHING was happening…just bobbing forward, further forward…trees getting closer and closer…
“TURN!!!!!” I heard someone scream from behind me – yeah, thanks a lot – this certainly isn’t fucking intentional, you dim witted OAF! I don’t just see trees, and think – hmmm, let’s ram into these shall we? Let’s see what happens if I drive this snowmobile into a nice big pine tree. Pfft, some people.
“ARGH – IT’S GETTING…IT’S RIGHT THERE…IT’S-“
The snowmobile piled into the tree, and threw me off the back like a Buckaroo piece – I didn’t really fall…just kinda slid off slowly and awkwardly – until I found myself flat on my back, sinking into six foot deep snow. I waved, and kicked – probably made some rather deformed looking snow angels in the process – usually that is a fun activity, but yeah, not this time…
The feeling of having someone pull up, saying “you stupid bastard!” Is never really a good one – especially when you know you have messed up…I just had to nod along, as I lay on the freezing cold wishing I hadn’t even came out in the first place. The guy hopped off, and began to crawl over to me…I instantly laughed….he shot me a look that said he wasn’t in the mood for any levity, fair enough I thought. He began to yank at the snowmobile, trying to release it from the tangle it had got itself into – I attempted to pull myself out of the huge John shaped crater I had formed, easier said than done – “CRAWWWL – FUCKING CRAWLL!” Jesus, I only crashed a snowmobile in deep snow, out in the frozen tundra of the Arctic Circle, in -30 degree temperatures…no need to get pissed off with me!
It turns out once I had forced myself out of the snow’s grasps, movement was only possible by the ridiculous crawling method – that way you have a wider surface area (or something like that), and you are far less likely to sink in – naturally this didn’t work out for me, who probably looked like a wretched specimen as I dragged myself through sinking knee, after sinking knee…as I groaned and grunted, and flailed my arms desperately just to move forward – I imagine I very much looked like one of Dr. Frankenstein’s failed experiments, just a horrible mess of unwieldy limbs.
Eventually I reached my snowmobile (it couldn’t have been more than ten feet, but had felt like a trek in itself!) and we managed to pull it free and on to a more level surface…finally – just get myself back to the lodge, and never do this again…“FUCKING HELP ME MAN!!” It became apparent that in helping me, his own snowmobile had became stuck in the deep snow – I thought about leaving him, but then imagined the newspaper headlines: BIGGEST DICK IN THE WORLD LEAVES HEROIC GUY TO DIE! I would probably get interviewed and accidentally tell the truth: “well I just didn’t really like his tone with me”.
Once we got his free, we had to pull mine out of the snow again…as it had sank in…this could go on forever. There were now screams from every direction, everyone was in the same situation – just a back and forth, of helping the other, and then helping with the other snowmobile, repeat, repeat, repeat. That’s when the Russian cook rolled up, smirking and laughing as usual – he had just been pulled out, and had left the other guy to fend for himself – dammit, so I could have got away with it! The three of us drove to the nearest vaguely worn snow track – where the cook and I were instructed to stay put. Great…alone in the middle of the snowy tundra, half-frozen, with busted up snowmobiles…and we just had to wait here.
After about 30 minutes, it was clear that no one was coming – or if they were, it wouldn’t be anytime soon (possibly they would dig us up with a mammoth or two, when they felt like it). We had heard their snowmobiles leaving, but none coming anywhere near back towards this way. My fingers were frozen mitten shape (despite wearing gloves), so I was demoted to the grip of a weak crab – incapable of any kind of dexterity. The wind chill, had blown away any humour that had once clung to the situation, and we had stopped trying to chuckle, or pass little comments to lighten the mood. After all, this was sheer pain – every part of me felt like a sheet of thick ice…but at the same time it had the sensation of burning. Just agony.
“We have to fucking get out of here.” I whimpered. I spotted his purple nose nod in agreement. I gathered up what was last of my energy, and pushed on by nothing but sheer adrenaline, and I WANT TO FUCKING LIVE instinct. We pulled around our snowmobiles so that they were facing the right way…and drove out of that icy cemetery. I didn’t even look back, just relied on the whirring engine to know he was still with me. The snow began to lash at my beaten skin with a new, and renewed ferocity – but I just held down the acceleration, and trusted that at some point we would begin to see signs of life again. I felt at one with the vehicle…not because I had some kind of spiritual bond or anything, but literally I was conjoined…cemented on with the ice. I didn’t even feel like my body was my own at this point.
The wind continued to punish me, and against my will my nose began to leak out…as the wind brought the salty bogey sludge down to my lips. I was so frozen…so paralyzed from the icy conditions, that I couldn’t even manage the energy to wipe it away…I just carried on forcing myself forward, hand on the acceleration, and arms shaking .
Finally…the lodge came into view…
We pulled in, and I tore myself off the snowmobile – we patted each other on the back (literally), and he reminded me that we were already incredibly late for dinner service…can you imagine a restaurant without a chef? Without a barman to serve drinks while you wait? Yeah…version of hell, right?!
I waddled into the equipment hut to put away everything, I had absolutely no mobility, and couldn’t feel the outer reaches of my body…all I could really feel was my heart beating out of my chest, and my shoulders shivering dramatically…that’s when I ran into one of the chirpy staff members there – one of those talkative types, you know? She asked if I was okay, but didn’t really want to know – she then began on this huge story about daily drama that had went on…she probably thought I was nodding, which is why she talked for so long…but really it was just me standing there shaking, and shivering, feeling like at any moment my fingers may just drop off – and that at least it would ease the pain if they did so.
She got a call that they were looking for me, so off I went to the restaurant, to see what destruction had taken place in my absence. The walk up there was horrific, despite only been a short way – everything was magnified a million times, everything was made more difficult.
As I walked into the building, I was greeted by that manager…“JOHN…WHAT THE FUCK?! You went on the snowmobiles…DIDN’T YOU?!” I stood there, well tried to stand – but I was wavering on the spot…I still had snow all over me, I still had all of the equipment on me for some reason. I stared into his eyes, and didn’t say a word – I felt like I should, but for some reason they didn’t come out. I then spotted the lounge, where some of the guests were relaxing, reading books, drinking cocoa…you know the usual…it then struck me that they have an open fire, and that it would be a great way to warm up! So without any word, I made my way over there…waved at the guests, and proceeded to shove my entire right foot into the fire. Cue gasps from just about everyone. Then when it was toasty enough, I shoved my entire left foot in the fire. Cue people pulling me out, and asking what I was doing. You see, I didn’t know it then – but I was in the early stages of hypothermia…your mind only works on track, it’s the weirdest thing – so it’s like; I’m cold – there’s a fire – fire is hot – put myself in fire.
I then remembered I was supposed to be in the restaurant, so I wandered over to there. The Italian restaurant manager ran up to me, red in the face – and clearly beyond irritated…“JOHN! WHAT THEE FUCK?! His hands were waving in a mad dance, the creases on his head went up, and down, every time he shouted something…it was really funny to behold…so obviously…I laughed. This isn’t normal behaviour of course, usually you would hold it in…but oddly again, I wasn’t able to control my own body. If I thought it, I did it.
They finally understood something was off (took them long enough!) and had me sit down with a warm drink. Eventually I felt more like myself, but was still shivering, and my feet still felt like blocks of ice. Oddly…I still had to work that night, so as I poured people’s wine, and beer, there were a lot of spillages…and any small talk was me announcing, “I NEARLY DIED TODAY!”
You are probably wondering what my punishment was…well for about three weeks after that I had a red nose, so everyone would call me Rudolph – fair enough. And my fingers were in the early stages of frostbite, and consequently peeled like bananas, as layer after layer of dead skin tore away. And also…possibly the worst punishment, was that I was put on toilet cleaning duty for the rest of my employment contract.
That phrase “live a little! Popped into my head, every single time I was scrubbing the shit off someone else’s toilet. Don’t live a little guys…it isn’t worth it.
p.s. yes this really did happen.
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