Look Who I Found!

Heartfelt gratitude to all of my supporters: whether you helped with raising funds or have shown your faith in me in other ways, you are the reason I am able to drop everything and undertake this  journey.

A few people wanted to come along!  I have printed photos of all of the Kickstarter backers who donated $100 or more, and am trusting Finland to let me know when it is their time to accompany me.  You can check back at this page from time to time to see who has popped up beside me next…

Not Pictured: Brian Dollard, Kristine Jagdeo
One is a good high school friend with a heart of gold, one is a mystery woman from NYC, without whom this project may not have been possible.  I thought about both of them quite often on my journey, always with gratitude.  I hope you both felt it.

“We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that bounty is enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words – to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.”
– C.S. Lewis

Thank you.  Thank you for being a part of this journey. ❤

Chelsea Wilson (Baker)
Somewhere in the clouds above Europe, October 14th

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Want to know why Chelsea’s picture is from an airplane?  Well, this picture from our skydiving adventure together is one obvious reason:


She sent it to me before I left with this note:

That was probably the scariest thing I’ve ever done, but also one of the most exhilarating.  I imagine your trip might feel scary at times, or maybe just confusing, but I know you’ll remember to enjoy the exhilaration anyway!

P.S. You’ll notice the tandem instructor is pointing at the camera in this pic.  She kept trying to get me to look at the camera for good pictures, but I was oblivious to it most of the time.  All I could do was squint at the horizon and yell “Gaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!”

All of it, especially the last line, felt so true.  Sometimes that’s all you can do.

I flew back from Finland to be the Maid of Honor in Chelsea’s wedding, and felt truly honored to be the one she looked to to support her in her newest, biggest leap.  I left Chelsea, and a note for the next person, tucked into the San Francisco page of the airline magazine:


Congratulations Chelsea and Patrick!  If you get any emails from randos, I’m sorry-not-sorry.

Meghan Arnold
Copenhagen International Airport, Denmark, October 13th

I don’t know enough about Meghan Arnold.  I know that she appreciates adventure pants at weddings (like Marley and Dan’s), and dancing, and bikes, and good food.  Given the fact that our paths have crossed a limited number of times, I was floored, humbled, and honored by the way Meghan jumped behind me in this project, and the pure faith she had in me.  My entire trip, I was saving Meghan’s picture for a place or a situation that was unfamiliar: I figured what better place to take someone I want to get to know better than somewhere I want to get to know better?  Meghan joined my on a 24-hour adventure in the Copenhagen airport.  I knew little to nothing about Danish currency, language, culture, food – anything, really.  She was the perfect adventure buddy.  Together we ate a Danish danish, which was the most delicious danish of my life:



staked out the best recliner chairs the airport had to offer, learned to say “thank you” in Danish (super easy. “Tak.”), flirted with the (gay) coffee barista, and I left her to snuggle the iconic Danish mermaid before I boarded my flight to San Francisco.  I feel like I left knowing Meghan AND Denmark a little better.  Thanks for turning a layover that had the potential to be miserable into a fun adventure!



Svetozar Fung
Fall foliage on Suomenlinna, October 11th

Zar and I met in Ithaca, NY playing ultimate frisbee.  Ithaca, in my opinion, is most beautiful in the fall months when the leaves start to turn brilliant shades of orange, red and yellow, and the nights get crisp and cool.  Fall is also prime frisbee season, which was probably another reason I loved it – it marked the time when, after a summer away, everyone came together to play this sport we love, governed by spirit of the game.  In the time that I’ve lived in San Francisco, the thing (besides the people) I have singly missed more than anything else about the east coast has been the autumn.  What a coincidence that the same time Zar reappeared in my life because of my project, so did my first Ithaca-like fall in six years.  My friend Tuukka took me to the island of Suomenlinna, and despite all of the impressive military battlements and breathtaking ocean views, all I wanted to do was gawk at glorious foliage and roll around in color.  Thank you, Zar, for this moment of home.

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Paul Peek
Finnish Parliament, October 10th

Paul just embarked on a grand adventure of his own: he moved to Port-au-Prince, Haiti to become the Deputy Consulate General!  Soon after his new appointment was announced, I was invited by Heikki Autto, a young, ambitious Parliament member, to visit Finnish Parliament.  Naturally, I took Paul with me to advise me on government matters.


He advised me to renegade ride the Parliament-only elevator:

IMG_7997 and as diplomats do, he made some friends.


Livingston Ordway and Rachel Holz
Zetor Bar and Restaurant, Helsinki, October 9th 

Liv and Rachel don’t even know each other.  They are ultimate frisbee friends of mine – one from New York, one from San Francisco.  And more than any ultimate frisbee players I know, I love to make them dance.  With Liv, sometimes it’s a challenge.  Minnie and I work hard to convince him, but usually all it takes is getting over the initial inertia: once that man gets going, he’s a dancing machine.  At the Lemmenjoki gold miners’ support party at Zetor, Liv and I started the dance party when no one else was dancing.  We helped other people get over their inhibitions:

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 When the band finished playing, it was Rachel’s turn.  Rachel is a little firecracker of a woman, and for years at every ultimate event or party, the two of us have been working on helping her perfect her favorite dance move – the booty shake.  In Rachel’s honor, I taught the band members how to booty shake.  They half thought I was nuts, half loved it.  Thanks to Liv and Rachel, everyone at Zetor had more fun.  And now Finland is a little dancier.


Tom, Ally, and Matty Noble
Oulu Museum and Science Center, October 8th

Matty Noble entered our family recently, and all of a sudden we had a ball of running, laughing, nonstop energy to look after.  He is pretty much the best, which is no surprise because his parents are also pretty much the best (I’m only slightly biased – Tom is my cousin).  My Mom gave him a guitar, which he played with wild abandon.


Hey Matty, did you know that Oulu, Finland is the Air Guitar Championship capital of the world?  You three were with me when I was left to explore the science museum on my own.  This happened.  And then I left you all there, as a secret for the next aspiring air guitarist to discover and wonder at.

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John Eleby
Raahe Recording Studio, October 7th

John has a voice like God and plays a mean guitar.  We like to record songs with soul together whenever we hang out in one National Park or another.  All of my best adventures in Finland seemed to begin with a ukulele, and a song from my soul.  John was present so many times – around the campfire, jamming with friends, and finally in the recording studio when we professionally recorded a song I wrote for the Lemmenjoki gold miners.  We are even making a music video!  Thanks for joining me so often, and in such a wonderful way.  I am excited to create some new music together soon.

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Marley, Dan and Winter Parker
Oulu, October 6th

Marley and Dan Parker, the heartbeat of the Rocktopus, recently had a life-changing experience: they gave birth to little miss Winter. (I’m sure she’s grown a LOT since this picture was taken…)

unnamed-2While traveling northward to Lapland, I met two new friends named Olli and Hetastiina and spent a day with their huge, awesome family before they gave me a ride to Oulu.  A few weeks after I left, Hetastiina gave birth to a baby girl!  On my way back down south I met them again, and had the pleasure of spending the afternoon with them and their beautiful newborn baby.  Marley and Dan, you were there in spirit.  I think you are turning out to be amazing parents. (Not to mention you are raising a hula-hooping, dancing, ultimate-playing MACHINE!)IMG_2255

Nic Barajas
Newspapers all over Finland


Can you find Nic?

Nic sent me this picture from his housewarming party in NYC.  He is continuing to live out his own adventure right now, working at the New York Times and going on retreats to learn and continue to grow and challenge himself.  As one who had the (somewhat odd) experience of being the subject of multiple news stories across Finland a fair amount during my journey, I couldn’t help but think of him each time.  Maybe one of these days it will be me writing them.  Maybe one of these days it will be Nic!


Greg Yachuk
Tankavaara Cabins, October 5th

“Upa?!  Upa!!!”  The people handing me the key to my little cottage at Tankavaara couldn’t understand why I was so excited.  Why should they?  UPA used to stand for “Utimate Players’ Association,” which Greg has been a member of for god knows how long.

IMG_4295As it turns out, “Upa” is also the dark sand with gold in it left at the bottom of a sluice.  This was clearly Greg’s place so I went to leave him in a good hiding spot, but when I slipped him behind the mirror I found someone had already beat me to it!  Stuck in the same crack was this awesome picture:

IMG_4301  I consider it a fair trade.

Brooke-Ray “B-Ray” Smith
Tankavaara Mustikka 2.0, October 4th

B-Ray’s creativity astounds me!  She spends her time at work innovating systems and that create positive change and interesting places in Palo Alto, and she spends the rest of her time coming up with new costumes, themes, puns, team names, cheers, song lyrics, games, ideas.  Sometimes I think it’s not so much the things themselves as the sheer joy she gets from creating them and sharing them with her community.  Somewhere on a shelf in a pub in Tankavaara, Lapland, B-Ray sits discoing over all the patrons.  She guards a bottle of Mustikka 2.0: a drink I dreamt up for my friends at Tankavaara.  Made from Koskenkorva vodka, sugar, lemon, and berries I picked straight from Lemmenjoki, it’s not just a bottle – it’s also a promise.  B-Ray will sit on that shelf in all her glory until I return and we take it down and drink it together.

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Billy Olli and Mari Oshiro
The Infamous Soccer-Playing Reindeer, Inari225962_987537125659_1078437300_n

Earlier this year, Billy and Mari took a trip to Peru, where they hiked the Inca Trail with my good friend and favorite Peruvian mountain guide, Jefferson.  Knowing about my complete obsession with Llamas (especially ones with pancakes on their heads), they sent me this photo of their trip to take along with me:unnamed


What Billy and Mari don’t know is that with Operation Pancake Llama behind my belt, I tried (and failed) to successfully carry out Operation Pancake Reindeer.  I chased many a reindeer with many a pancake trying to place it on its head while not getting mauled, and though my dream never came to fruition, I met a reindeer that played soccer.  Which is probably better.  Thank you Billy and Mari for accompanying me on my quest, for being such a huge support in this journey, and for sending me with a picture that made me smile literally EVERY time I pulled it out of my bag.  This reindeer video is for you:

Ozzie and Dave Cooper
Hetti the Dog, October 3rd


Aunt Ozzie and Uncle Dave are two of the most devoted dog-lovers I’ve ever known (and that includes my immediate family, who are hopeless dog people).  They take care of Ruby and Coco as if they were their children, with utmost consideration and love.  Hetti is the semi-neurotic, hilarious dog of my friends Vesa and Venla, and she too plays her part as “surrogate child” to a T, whining and snuggling and making everyone laugh.  I introduced Hetti to Ruby and Coco.  She thought they were delicious.


Paul O’Connell
The Closest Thing to and Adirondack Chair on the Shores of the Ivalojoki, October 3rd

Nine times out of ten when I see Uncle Paul it is at the lake with a beer in hand, enjoying stars and exaggerated O’Connell stories in an Adirondack chair.  In the midst of my transition between Lapland and the journey home to San Francisco, I found this chair by the side of the Ivalojoki and took a moment to watch the “ruska” and enjoy where I was.  Thanks, Uncle Paul, for the reminder (as you would say) to “chill.”

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Ginny and Jay Chambers
Ivalojoki Boat Film Shoot, October 2nd

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Ginny and Jay Chambers are boat people at heart and the parents of Steph, one of my best friends, college roommates, and fellow music majors at Ithaca College, so they will definitely appreciate that (though you can’t tell from the picture, because it was taken after we were safely on shore again) they popped up next to me during a shoot for a music video.  The director’s vision was to have me majestically driving his little motor boat down the river with Hetti the dog on the front.  “Do you think you can drive my boat?” he asked me. “YES!” I said, as I always do.  “Have you ever driven a boat like this before?” “No.”  As it turns out, we now have a full-length film of me driving a boat into a river bank.  So, Ginny and Jay, when are we going sailing?

Tiffany Fields
Sauna on Ivalojoki River, October 2nd

Tiffany Fields is the healthiest, and not in a bran muffin way: in a shining body-mind-soul-I-want-to-help-other-people-be-healthy-too way.  I celebrate how well she treats her body, and how she inspires other women to do the same.  I, for one, can say that chasing after her on an ultimate field is THE WORST.  In Finland, Sauna isn’t an option.  It’s a religion.  It is time specifically set aside to nurture your body and soul, to be naked and drink a beer and sweat out everything you don’t need.  Girl, thanks for the TLC.  You should totally incorporate sauna into your personal training business.  This is your jam!



There was even lettuce growing outside of this particular sauna, which is extraordinary because a) green vegetables are not popular here, and b) there was frost on the ground that morning.

Kyle Boswell
Pehkosenkuru, Lemmenjoki National Park

If you want to get to Lemmenjoki National Park, first you have to travel to the Arctic Circle.  From there, you take a 5-hour bus, followed by a mail taxi outside the Inari K-Market, followed by a 1.5 hour boat ride upstream to Kultahamina, or “gold harbor.”  When you get off the boat, you hike a bunch of kilometers into the wilderness…and then there’s a home-made disc golf course!  I met Kyle Boswell playing ultimate frisbee.   Kyle is tall, athletic, fun, and loves all things competitive.  Have I mentioned he also has a killer mustache? (Well, he did 4 months ago.)


Kyle at Lei-Out, Santa Monica CA

I wasn’t holding his picture because I had to leave it on the sidelines (I was playing too hard), but Kyle was with me in spirit for every soccer match, disc golf game, or even real-life Angry Birds, which my Lemmenjoki friends had built out of balls and sticks.  Thanks for fueling my competitive energy, Kyle – I will chalk the women’s win in the women vs. men World Cup match up to you.

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(photos by Tytti Braysy)

Cam McLeod (and Kim Orsolini)
Vuotso Primary School, October 1st

I have known Cam McLeod since I started at the Point Bonita YMCA 6 years ago.  It has been an absolute joy to build a relationship with her and Kim, her counterpart.  Both of them are so positive, so caring, so smart, so experienced, and they pour absolutely everything they have into their students.  It shows.  I was asked to speak at the Vuotso primary school about my journey, so I took Cam and Kim along for moral support.  I explained my journey to the students, including my tried and true method for learning Finnish: writing ridiculous notes to strangers and leaving them in mailboxes along my route.  Together, we wrote letters to make someone’s day, and they went off to spread the joy.  So glad I had two of my favorite elementary school teachers of all time with me for inspiration!

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Nathan Knight
Wilderness Lake in Lemmenjoki National Park, September 18th

Nathan sent me this picture of him with a fishing pole (note the lack of fish) to accompany me on my journey:


I tried using you as bait, but they didn’t bite…

Now, I feel it is my turn to send him these two back:

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Nathan, you were here in spirit, but maybe if you were here in the flesh I would have caught more than grass and feathers.  Hopefully when your new baby grows up, (s)he will have better luck.  Congratulations, Dad!

Jim Nevill
Litmuorvaara to Janispäät, September 13th

Jim is the director of LifeSchool’s GoAdventure, an outdoor education company that is deliberate and created with a lot of care and love.  He isn’t really a boss so much as a leader, because he operates with zero ego.  He works hard to recognize and call upon the strengths of those he employs, and with all of those skills combined creates a much more powerful program.  I adore his zest for life, passion for what he does, and sense of humor, and I love working for and with him as a boss and a friend.  GoAdventure has a whole resource guide dedicated to helping people educate themselves on wilderness skills, so naturally Jim popped up the day we crossed the Inari-Kittila road and entered the Lemmenjoki backcountry, compass at the ready.  By this point Annukka and I had gotten lost enough times to know what we were doing, and we rocked it the rest of the way to Lemmenjoki. 🙂

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Hawaii Mike
Lost Somewhere between Appisjoki and Kuttura, September 10th

Hawaii Mike, your picture isn’t actually from the moment I thought of you.  See, you don’t take so many pictures when you are lost.  (Unless you are lost in Hawaii with Eric Richardson, and then you take 2: one of a psychedelic toad and an “oh my god, we survived the waterfall!” picture).  One morning during our trek the dog ran off, we lost some gear, and got completely turned around for 4 hours.  I felt exactly how your picture looks.


(I recreated it later:)IMG_4319

We camped on top of a cliff, and the next morning hiked down to the river bank, where there, waiting for us in the morning sun sat a beat-up, cold, completely full can of Lappish beer on a log in the middle of the wilderness.  We had no idea where it came from.  Of course we drank it.  The last time I got completely lost and had a cold beer waiting for me when I returned, you were on the other end of it.


Caitlin “Sister Tall” O’Connell
Ivalojoki overlook, September 9th

Cait, my other (sometimes better, definitely more punctual) half, I llama you.  You have been with me the whole of this journey, but that’s nothing new – you’ve been with me for 24 years before this trip, and will be for the rest of our lives after.  You already know what I’m thinking and feeling 99% of the time, so much so that I don’t even have to explain these pictures to you….

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Charlie Simkin
Favorite Sit Spot on the Bank of the Ivalojoki, September 9th

Charlie reminds me amidst the chaos of my mind and the world to sit, to take a breath, to notice everything and just be happy because it is beautiful.  This was my favorite spot on the Ivalojoki on my rafting trip, and I came back to it on our trek to Lemmenjoki. I sat here for two hours and wrote.  One of the things I wrote was a letter to Charlie.  “Charlie,” it said, “you are my Klaus.  Maybe not on this particular journey, but in life.”  I love you my friend.  Can’t wait for our next hug and the following adventure.


Nico Sherwood
Old Steam Engine, Pahaoja, September 8th

Nico, have I told you lately that I think you’re brilliant?  IMG_3730

I think you’re brilliant.

Nico Sherwood works in Research and Development for plasma and other scienc-y things that a right-brained writer/musician like me doesn’t completely get, but he dances salsa with all the fiery passion of a Puerto Rican trying to melt through the snow. (He lives in Ithaca, NY).  Nico sent me a picture of himself by the river, so when I found this awesome, ancient steam engine by the river bank at Pahaoja, I knew he had found his home.  I don’t think this machine ever really worked, but I bet if they had Nico back then, it would have.  I left him as a little surprise in the boiler tank for someone to find and wonder about.IMG_3732



Owen Butler
Hymer RV Convention, Papinhamina, September 6th

Remember that time you flew to San Francisco just to celebrate 11/11/11 at 11:11am and 11:11pm, and we commandeered a backhoe and kidnapped an English tourist who stayed for 3 days?  Me too.  Now what if I told you I hiked 15km into the wilderness and accidentally stumbled upon 100 people at an RV convention who gave me a funny hat and way too much wine and demanded a speech and put us up in their RVs for the night?  Yup.  Life has a beautiful way of coming full-circle.  Thanks for being there for that.

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Annie McNally
The First Steps of My Journey, and Reindeer Mayhem, Lapland

Annie, you ended up in not one but two different places, and that is not surprising.

IMG_3593Adventure pants and backpack at the ready, in my first few steps on the epic journey from Hirvasvuopio to Lemmenjoki you were there with me.  The reason?  As long as I’ve loved writing, you have been there for every first step.  You encouraged me, challenged me to write, gave me books on craft.  You are an excellent writer yourself, and your creativity inspires me to be better and weirder.  When this journey presented itself, you floored me with the love and support you gave without any hesitation.  Of course when I met a soccer-playing reindeer who chased the family kid into the house, you were also there.  You’re a ridiculous human being, and worthy of the adventure pants you wear.


Bill and Kathy Sharrar
Lake Pielpajärvi Wilderness Church (near Inari) early September

Trips to Philadelphia, PA to see the Sharrars when I was little were defined by shenanigans in the kids’ basement, basketball out back, and usually a visit to the nearby cathedral for Sunday mass.  I took Bill and Kathy on a little hike (well, I thought it would be little but it ended up being 15km) to the Pielpajärvi Wilderness Church outside of Inari.  The church was built in 1760 by the shore of this wilderness lake, and is one of the oldest buildings in Northern Lapland.  We walked through the dark, abandoned pews, climbed the belltower to ring the bell for all the reindeer to hear, and I left them in the guest book.  A little different from a cathedral in downtown Philly perhaps, but I felt like my extended “family” was there all the same.  So good to see you here!

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Shelley Zansky (and Emily Gage)
Hiking Trail Near Inari, early September

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Reminiscent of Five Rivers, this hike just outside Inari brought me back to my Albany roots.  Shelley, Emily and I enjoyed the late afternoon sun, and the “ruska,” or changing leaves.  To be honest, I  was both surprised and humbled by how much of an interest Shelley, whom I mostly knew in high school as a dedicated soccer mom, has taken in my project.  Every time I pulled her picture out during my journey I was reminded of the strength of the AHS community, and how some things never really leave you.  The best part?  I left their picture in the guestbook of a nearby cabin, and a month later my friend Tytti came home from work, excited.  “JENNY!  MY FRIEND WENT HIKING AND FOUND IN THE GUESTBOOK TWO WOMEN FROM ALBANY!  THEY WENT TO PIELPAJÄRVI THE SAME DAY YOU DID!  WHAT ARE THE CHANCES?!”


Shelley Zansky: confusing locals everywhere

Nadine Noble
Norwegian grocery store and Inari, Lapland, August 30th

Aunt Nadine and Uncle John own an incredible beach house in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.  It is their pride and joy – they will retire there one day.  My childhood visits to Rehoboth were full of crashing waves, sunburn, jellyfish, and crab or some sort of delicious seafood dish for dinner.  On our road trip to Norway in August, Tytti and I ate Italian grapes and Finnish sandwiches in Norway, bought Norwegian fish, and then brought it back to Finland to cook it (it made total sense at the time).  Aunt Nadine, you were part of one of the most delicious things I’ve eaten in the past 4 months!  Thanks for showing up in spirit!
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Emily Brown
Varangerbotn, Norway, August 30th

She always talks about her “hot Norwegian cousins” – it’s no small wonder Em showed up on our road trip to Norway!  It was the first time I had smelled the ocean in months, and I was almost beside myself.  You don’t realize how much you miss something that you see every day until…well…you don’t see it anymore.  I love and admire Em’s tireless energy and enthusiasm for everything oceanic.  Her husband, Pete, is a dedicated surfer but she is content to don a wetsuit and go “bob,” as she calls it, just to watch the marine life.  Em is the longest-working Naturalist at the Point Bonita YMCA, and yet I’ve never seen her lose her spark when she gets to poke an anenome or show a kid the ocean for the first time.  Today, I took her tide pooling in Norway.  Can’t wait to watch the sunset over the Pacific and hug you again, girl.



Jeff Clewell and Bill Cromie
Ivalo River Kayaking Trip, August 25-27th

Don’t be fooled by the double post – these river rats showed up to support me at the same time, but for two completely different reasons.  Bill Cromie was one of the first to start running the Hudson River, and is a tireless adventurer both now and in the “good ol’ days” that I hear him talk about with my Dad.  Jeff Clewell is a good friend and the man who inspired me to begin river rafting with a trip down the Nolichucky River (he also knows where the find the best ice cream in Erwin, TN and has musical stairs in his bungaloo).  I am now a raft guide, and completely in love with running wild rivers.  IMG_3311

This trip down the Ivalojoki was the first time I have ever taken a kayak on whitewater.  I did that thing I’ve become known for:
“Jenny, can you do this?”
“have you ever done it before?”

I strapped Bill and Jeff to my kayak for good luck and courage, and they accompanied me down the biggest rapids.  WE KILLED IT.  I LOVED IT.  I AM HOOKED.  THANK YOU.


Mary Whitehead
Morgamin Kultala Bridge, Ivalojoki, August 25th

This suspension bridge over the Ivalo River is wobbly, terrifying, and therefore all sorts of fun.  It reminded me so strongly of the one I hiked over with kids about once a week over the past 5 years while leading programs with the Point Bonita YMCA.  That, of course, reminded me of Mary Whitehead (the photo she sent me with was even one of her kayaking!).  Mary works part time at the Y taking donations, organizing business, and doing whatever needs to be done.  But it’s not what she does that is unique, it’s how she does it.  I’ll put it this way: if I was a paperclip, a webpage or a budget number out of order, I would hate to be in Mary’s warpath.   That woman is efficient, selfless, and she does it all with a smile and the utmost appreciation for her fellow staff members.  Mary, thanks for all you do for us.  I hope you feel appreciated today, for once.

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Volker Neumann
Tankavaara, mid-August

In Tankavaara, there is a man named Seppo Mauno.  He is the 2014 Veteran Goldpanning World Champion.  I think he might be Volker’s spirit animal.  His beard rivals Volker’s dreads (can you imagine what they would look like if they combined hair?!)  He practically bleeds kindness out of his eyes, and he rides a golden bike everywhere that he goes.  He also has a golden toothbrush: like Volker, when he has a passion in something, he goes all out.  His hair is also the envy of the town.





Adele and Peter O’Connell (Mom and Dad)
Pihlajamäki, Lemmenjoki, late July

I can’t possibly describe the support you’ve given me on this journey of my lifetime in one little paragraph, so I am not going to try.  In Pihlajamäki when the hurricane that was Tankavaara and Solange’s visit settled and I was left with silence and questions, you were there.  You are always there.  I made us a pie out of blueberries I picked (not as good as Mom’s, but nothing ever is) and we sat down and had a family dinner, and it made the missing in my heart just a little bit better.  When things get hard, I think of you.  (When things are easy, I think of you too.)  And every time I think of you, I know I can do it.

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Leigh Blair and Luis Rivera
Morgamoja, Lemmenjoki, late July

These two are kind of where it aLeigh&Luisll started.  Their son, my friend Ricky, is the reason that I ended up building a treehouse and sharing stories around the fire at the Ranch, which is the reason I met Solange.  When Solange and I visited Lemmenjoki, we both agreed that so many things about it reminded us of the Ranch…the wooden buildings, the small river, the remoteness of the journey.  We sat around a big wooden table, as we have done so many times with the Riveras, and shared stories with friends.  Leigh and Luis are old-time friends of Solange, and knew and loved Annick (aka Petronella).  They were with us there at Morgamoja, where Petronella lived and worked, in spirit!


choosing a stone from the river to place on the Gold Miners’ Memorial


Jesse Hooper
Pijlajamäki, Lemmenjoki, early August (I wasn’t counting the days)

Oh Mr. Hooper, your love of wild places and passion for living off the land crops up (pun intended!) so often here.  You and Charlie have forever been teaching me how to sit still, how to listen, how to have thanks for the little things, how to simply be.  One thing I’ve always loved about you is how much care you put into preparing your food, and more recently, how much joy you and Mel get from living off the land.  In Pihlajamäki while gathering wild blueberries for a pie, you popped up next to me so strongly I wouldn’t have been surprised if a bear lumbered into the thicket and gave me a hug.  I brought those berries home and spent the next two hours making a beautiful pie.  Thanks for spending a few hours with me, and helping me remember to go slow.


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whoops!  How did that get there?


Tuukka Heikura (with Eija and Hannu Heikura)
Tankavaara, Finland, 8/2/14

Tuukka found my project on Kickstarter back in November, and ever since has dedicated an unbelievable amount of time and effort to helping me research Petronella’s story in Finland.  He has translated multiple Finnish sources for me, and he and his wonderful family are responsible for a lot of the understanding of Finnish culture I had before I arrived.  Last weekend, they traveled to Lapland to attend the 65th Anniversary of the Lappish Gold Prospector’s Association, where Petronella was inducted into the Association as an Honorable Member and Solange served cake – 65 years after her mother served coffee at the first meeting.  I am so grateful for the Heikura’s hospitality, friendship, and ongoing support in my journey!


Kimmey Hardesty (and Rocktopus founding members Bini, Drew, and Sweeney)
Tankavaara, Finland, 8/2/14

Kimmey Hardesty is the definition of Type A.  Whether it’s her career, the ultimate field, or having ridiculous amounts of fun, she takes it seriously and ultimately (ha) ends up overachieving.  I consider myself an extrovert, but Kimmey is absolutely fearless in talking to new people.  Oftentimes on this journey I’ve found myself asking, “what would Kimmey do in this situation?” which has been followed up by a wonderful adventure.  In this case, in the most charming way possible she would have made friends with this table full of ancient gold mining champions, and with Rocktopus behind her she would have partied with ’em.  I ain’t sayin’ she a gold digger.


Iisakki, 83 years old, and the oldest Finnish gold miner has won 3 gold panning  world championships. Kimmey, I’ve found you a husband!


they are my favorite.


Bini Lee (and adorable niece)
Santa Claus Village, Rovaniemi, 7/22/14

I lost Bini’s photo somewhere in the bowels of Finland, so she sent me another one.  When I went to print it, being my normal technologically-savvy self I ended up with 6 copies, all black and white.  OOPS.  “Where’s Bini?” became a fun game I invented with some duct tape at Santa Claus Village, and I had way more fun than I would have had alone.  This is funnier when you consider the fact that Bini likes to roll her eyes at me for being bad at technology, AND for being easily over-excitable.  Thanks for keeping the wonder alive, Bini Lee and your adorable niece.  I think you’ll like what I signed for you in Santa’s guest book.

(Can you find all six?!)


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Aiza Abelon
Somewhere Along the Road to Oulu, 7/15/14

When Aiza sent me this picture of her backpacking, she said she chose it so it would seem like she was adventuring alongside me.  On Wednesday evening I had walked about 18km, and though I didn’t yet know I had Lyme disease, I was feeling exhausted and a little off.  I pulled out Aiza’s smiling face, and lo and behold!  This girl is always dancing, laughing, beaming, eating strange food items…110% positive.  She lights up a room (or a frisbee field) just by walking into/onto it.  That Wednesday night when I needed it most, I felt her presence next to me, giving me a lift (and maybe a little dance party, too). Thanks Aiza!




it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s…Aiza?


this is what a shadow dance party looks like with a backpack on when you’ve walked 18km. Aiza Abelon for the win!!

Alan and Kate Morse
Pirttisaari Island, 7/9/14

Just before I left New York, Uncle Alan came to visit me at my family’s Camp on the Sacandaga Lake.  He brought journals from his travels when he was my age. When he sent over a picture of him and Aunt Kate, he said “make sure you take it near water!  She’s a water girl.”  He didn’t really have to tell me.  Alan and Kate’s love for rhodesian ridgebacks, main coon cats, and family is rivaled only by their love of beautiful places.  They have been coming up to Camp for as long as I remember, where we’d sit out on the deck with a cup of milk with ice cubes in it (no milk is too cold for Uncle Alan), and he would beat me at backgammon, again.  Of course they showed up at Joni and Saana’s lake house on Pirttisaari.  You have to row a boat out to the island just to get there.




Arlen Flanagan
Suomen Neito in Lahti Harbor, 7/8/14

“One of these days, I’m going to quit life and buy a sailboat and sail around the world,”  Arlen has been telling me for years.  He was the natural choice for my 7-hour boat trip to Jyväskylä, not  because he used to say that, but because he finally made it come true.  He’s not exactly sailing around the world, but he just took a huge leap and moved to Hawaii – where I have no doubt he and his brother and his girlfriend and maybe even Hawaii Mike go sailing all the time.  I am proud of you, my friend.  Can’t wait to come visit and get out on the water together again.  Aloha!



Patricia Suflita Wilson
Batman at Camping Messila, 7/5/14
Patricia is the Executive Director of Bay Area Make-A-Wish, and one of the prime orchestrators of the Batkid Phenomenon that swept the world last November.  More importantly she is an invaluable part of my family, life, and heart.  Our bond is incredible, and grew even stronger when she invited me to live with her for the past 6 months as I prepared for my journey – without her, I would not be here.  So of course when I saw Batman at Camping Messila, I had to stalk him until I got a photo.  The resulting adventure was wonderful and ridiculous, which is quite fitting for Patricia because we make each other’s lives wonderful and ridiculous.  Just ask the opossum in the dustpan or the skeleton in the refrigerator.


Finnish Batman loves MAW!



Sean Frick
Hotel Rantasipi Disc Golf Course, 7/2/14
Sean Frick is my co-captain and co-creator of Rocktopus, the most spirited, fun ultimate frisbee team I have ever played on in my life, and probably ever will.  One of my best friends in San Francisco during his time there, Sean took it upon himself to teach me the finer art of disc golf, which I sometimes sucked at but always loved since it seemed to be accompanied by good friends and good beer.  Determined to follow Petronella’s footsteps by golfing in Aulanko, I chose to play disc golf, which is a little more my style.  I made some great friends and sent the winner home with Sean’s picture.  Joona even gave me his octopus disc golf disc, in honor of Rocktopus!

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Joona can barely contain his excitement!

Daniel East
Aulanko Tower, 7/1/14
East was one of the few who didn’t send me a photo before I left, so I took the liberty of choosing one for him.  He is an absurdly colorful, fun, and sparkly human being, so the picture I chose reflected that, as did our afternoon together storming the Aulanko tower.  East, Aulanko called and said you can storm it’s tower any day.  Thanks for making my life a little weirder.

IMG_1385 – Kopio   IMG_1373

Lucy Burns
Monnikala Manor, 6/30/14
Lucy Burns is the queen of puns, naps, and lefty frisbee throws.  She used to have a high-paying (well, relative to my outdoor ed work) internet job in San Francisco, and in an act of bravery that I will always admire, she quit to go follow her true passion: poetry.  She has been studying poetry at the University of New Mexico for the past two years, and over that time I have watched her grow as a person, a teacher, and a writer.  It just seemed natural that she joined me at Monnikala Manor, home to Helen af Enehjelm, a famous San Francisco-born writer.  Thank you, Lucy, for the added courage your picture gave me, and for your undying support in all parts of my writing journey.


Lucy hangin’ out with Helen af Enehjelm’s writing collection


Outside the Monikkala Manor

Steph Chambers
Drainage Pipe, Malmi, Helsinki, 6/24/14
Last week, Tuukka and I found a geocache in his neighborhood drainage pipe.  I braved the stinging nettle on the bank, took my shoes off and crawled in about 20 meters, dodging giant spiders and trying not to think about what I couldn’t see.  Steph loves geocaching more than anyone I know – it was immediately clear where she belonged.


Today, Steph and I went for a walk in the neighborhood, back down to where the geocache was hidden. IMG_1970


To my dismay, the spiders had multiplied, and on the wall at the end of the tunnel there was a leech the side of my middle finger.  “STEPHANIE CHAMBERS, THIS IS HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU!” I yelled, and left her there.


Sam, Kyyio and Ember
Seurasaari Juhannus, 6/20/14
My first friends to find me on my journey!  (Which is fitting, because they were also my first friends in San Francisco.)  This one was a no-brainer.  Sam and Kyyio got married Midsummers Weekend.  I was supposed to sing in their wedding, and it broke my heart to not be able to join.  Yet their spirit accompanied me all throughout the traditional Finnish Midsummer celebrations, and mine accompanied them as they danced, laughed, sang, and got married in the redwoods.  Congratulations to my Headlands family!  I love you.

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2 Comments on “Look Who I Found!

  1. What a wonderful way to return to Finland! Of course you knew that we were with you in spirit every step of the way! Give us a heads up as to where/when you’re going to have email contact again and/or a snail mail drop and we make sure you’ll have an update from PA. Uncle A. and Aunt K.

  2. So awesome!! Is there a guy peeing in the background of one of those batman pictures? Check it out!

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