We made it to Helsinki four days ago.

This seems like a terribly anticlimactic way to announce the completion of our trip, but I’ve forgotten to write an update for four days, and now it seems stupid to try to drag it out any further. Hopefully people saw the facebook posts, but if not I apologize for any confusion this may have caused. We had our rest day on the third, and then we paddled to Helsinki on the fourth. We landed, we loaded, we explored; there was no great tragedy, failure, or incident in the final chapter of our trip. Everything went according to plan. It’s always great to see comments and views from our friends, family, and everyone else out there reading, and I apologize for my distracted mistake. Thank you so much for all of the support!

With that aside, on to Helsinki.

After cleaning, organizing, and packaging our gear and kayaks, we tucked everything into its shipping container, kissed the boats goodnight, and sent them on their way stateside with wishes of luck. Hopefully we still only have ten kayaks when we unpackage them on the other side. With the boats gone, we’ve all become hopelessly lost and despondent – after four weeks of nothing but paddling it becomes hard to remember how to do anything else. I often wake up paddling, feet pressing against invisible pedals and hands adjusting a non-existant skeg. Somehow we’ve all adapted to our new lives, but getting used to the crowds, noise, and chaos of city life has proven equally problematic. I’ve attempted to distract myself from this issue by immersing myself as deeply as possible in Finnish culture. Below is a list of everything I’ve learned thus far.

-Finnish people drink more coffee per capita than any other country, but an espresso typically costs at least three euros. The pricing isn’t really all that interesting and is probably unique to Helsinki, but I find it incredibly frustrating.

-There are hoses next to most toilets in Finnish restrooms. We believe these to be bidets, but our group has yet to come up with a suitable method of testing this theory.

-People here say “you’re welcome” before you thank them for things. I haven’t yet decided if this is a strange discrepancy between the two languages, or if Finns are all just very presumptous.

-Santa Claus lives in the Northern Finnish resort town of Kakslauttanen. He resides in this Lapland retreat with his wife and, evidently, the Gold Elf. Santa takes visitors around Christmas, but leaves his friend the Gold Elf to pan for gold with children in the nearby creek during his summer vacation.

-Reindeer sausage is delicious.

That’s about it. I’ve gone to some museums, churches, and galleries but none of them have taught me anything about food or Santa Clause, so they’ve been left out. If I find a museum with something I deem as important as the gold elf’s summer duties I’ll be sure to let you know.

Thanks for reading, following, and bearing with us while we neglected you the last few days! More updates to come.


A rest day, by Emily Heeren

(7/3)We sit here on an island only fifteen miles from Helsinki, and we have decided to take a rest day. It’s the opposite of the barn door effect, in which the minute they’re opened the animals rush forth with no other thought. Instead, despite how excited we all are to be so close to our final destination, we can’t help but drag our feet slightly to make it last a little longer. You’d be suprised how quickly 30 days go by.  While we’ve had other rest days, this one has undoubtedly been the most restful. Last night we took advantage of the old wood burning sauna (we’re actually staying at the island owned by the Helsinki Paddling Club who’ve been extremely supportive and helpful in organizing our Finland-side logistics), and spent the evening running up and down the little pathway between the hot steam and the cold Baltic water. With no town, there is no sense of obligation today to explore, take pictures, visit museums: no responsibility to talk to people, go food shopping or check email. Though I enjoy all of those things, I am thankful for the opportunity to sit by myself on a rock in the sun with my crazy creek chair and my feet in the water. It’s a quiet day – just us and the island. People are on sort of a sleep, read, eat, repeat schedule, doing our best to finish both our books as well as what’s left of our food supply. There’s time to air out our boats, catch up in journals, and try to wrap our heads around the fact that in two days we’re all just going to go back to sleeping in beds, having to figure out what to wear in the morning, and everything that comes with that.A little later we’ll look at the charts in preparation for our last day on the water.

Tomorrow, Helsinki.    


We are currently posting up in a small cafe in the small harbor town of Inkoo for lunch on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. We are sticking to our regular routine of clearing out the pastries and capitalizing on the refillable coffee. The best part of a unique group flowing through a town throughout the day is that once someone sees one of us, they are able to recognize us all. We frequently are met with the response “oh you must be with those American boaters!” and when laughing and asking what gave it away, the most common answer is “oh, you are the hungry looking kids with salty hair, really tan faces and pale arms”. It is clear we are leaving a great impression.

In other news, we are only less than 40 miles away from Helsinki! We hope to float into the harbor on the evening of the fourth in all of our American pride and glory- we are on the lookout for a giant American flag to attach to a few of the boats as we sail in. Also, it should be noted that with our marathon-a-day boat hobo lifestyle, our metabolisms have skyrocketed to the point of 2 pounds of pasta a night is slim for each cook group of 3 people. Parents, plan accordingly.


Happy July first everyone!!!

A Note On Scandinavian Hospitality

A Note About Scandinavian Hospitality

Although I’m sure it comes as no surprise to many of our followers that the Scandinavian peoples are a generous lot, our team has been lucky enough to be the beneficiary of this trait on many occasions. What may come as a surprise however is the extent of this generosity. What follows are a few examples of the lengths that our countless new friends have gone to help us out.

The day before our big, epic crossing, we wanted to stay at a nice, comfy campground in order to get fully rested. Our maps indicated that there was one available in Grisslehamn, the town which we would be using as the launching point for our crossing. Upon arrival however, we were informed that the campground was geared more for RV camping and generally did not allow tents. However upon hearing what we were attempting to do, the campground manager immediately decided to make an exception for us and allowed us to set up our tents in an available trailer spot (the irony being that it was an absolutely perfect grassy lawn for sleeping on the ground. As if that wasn’t enough, he also locked up our kayaks in the boat storage warehouse on the site.

Midsummer is a very important holiday in Scandinavia. For a bunch of countries which get only a scant few hours of sunlight during the winters, the longest day of the year is definitely something worth celebrating. The Holiday itself is a lot like our Fourth of July. Although Sweden celebrates the event on the actual solstice, the Finns do it on the following Friday and Saturday. We shot to be in Nagu, Finland for the event.

Looking for accommodations for the Saturday night, we had been told that there was a campground right on the water in the middle of town. What we hadn’t been told, however was that every youthful soul in a 50-mile radius was planning on using that campground as a place to party for Friday night. Needless to say, when Kris and Steph went to scope it out, there were still many, many poor souls recovering and it was slightly messy. It was just about then that our disheartened recon team struck up conversation with the person managing the event. Although he first told us that it was 40 Euros per group, when we told him what we were doing, he looked around and said, “For you, it’s free.” He then proceeded to reassure us that all but a few revelers would be gone that evening, then helped us find a clean spot for our tents, carry our boats over there, and promised to have people keep an eye on the boats all night. This all on but 4 hours of sleep over the previous 3 days. All in all, with the sole exception of a killer base line accompanying our dreams, the night went very smoothly.

Now I shared these anecdotes out of order because this last one, although it actually occurred on the Friday night, is hands down the best example of Scandinavian hospitality.

The Friday of Midsummer we left our campsite off the coast of Finland in the late afternoon, heading for the town of Nagu with the hope that some awesome celebration would be occurring. After several hours of paddling, we started pulling into town in the late evening. We paddled past many houses full of revelers enjoying the long day of sunlight. However around 10:30 at night, as we were looking for the campsite we would stay at the following night, we paddled by one house that was exceptionally friendly and struck up a conversation with us as we passed by. They were very excited to learn that we were from the U.S. and before we knew it we were out of our boats and sharing cake with them. Then, before we even finished the cake they so generously offered us, we were invites to just set up our tents in the back yard and stay the night.

Toni (our gracious host) and her friends were sure to inform us that to continue to paddle on Midsummer, the most important Finnish holiday, would be a little nerdy, so they decided to take us all into town and show us what the holiday was all about. We stayed up the night watching the sun rise over the ocean at 2am, having never really set, from the deck of the local pizzaria-cum-pub boat (America, why don’t we have these?). Then, tired out, they grilled everyone up some 5am sausages and we crawled into bed. When her parents sailed in the following morning, the attitude from the previous night was only accentuated even more, her parents seeming even MORE excited to meet some intrepid, bold American sea kayakers. But to crown it all, we discovered that the whole crew of friends are from Helsinki and offered to show us around when we get there.

These stories are by no means all of the awesome examples of Scandinavian hospitality, but some of the best. It all seems to stem from a larger philosophy of being a good neighbor (so to speak). We mentioned this in an earlier post as well, but both Sweden and Finland have laws that allow anyone to camp on anyone else’s property for one night, as long as there are no fires and you stay at least 100 meters from the house. It’s characteristic of the Scandinavian philosophy that we all need to watch out for one another. A very inspiring way of life, and something that has given us a lot of fuel for reflection these last weeks.

And in other news, we’ve just learned the fate of the honorable, glorious Celtics. Team morale has suddenly taken a nose-dive. We may or may not be coming back home.

Ben “Destroyer of Waffles” Swanson

How to sneak into another country

A DIY guide by Emily Kohlbrenner

If one wishes to arrive in another country without the hassle of border patrol or passport stamping, I would suggest drifting in by boat. Preferebly one paddle by your arms that is easily undetected. It may seem like a long jounrey at first, so the beat approach is to just take things day by day. For your reference, I willl provide the synopisis of a typical day on the water so teh stealthy adventurer will know what to expect.

Always have one early bird in your tent group that likes rountines and tight schedules. We have Emily (H) for that purpose. The remaining inhabitants of saggy tent Alpha one slowly roll out soon after to the sound of Muslix and afternoon sun. After packing up and eating, the dreaded gear assembly begins, to which one can refernce below. People handle the slipping into damp smelly gear in the cold mornings differently- a common coping mechanism is turning your actions into a fun song that brings cheer to an uncomfortable activity. Once we are on the water, the daily paddle begins as the elected navigators for the day direct the pod of red and blue boats across the water. Expect the first 30 minutes to be slow as every muscle in your arms and shoulders will protest and refuse to cooperate, but once the juices are flowing you will fall into the rhythmic nature of distance paddling. It becomes hyponitc and I would reccomend to allow your mind to wander from that blotch of sunscreen that looks like a heart on your glove to what food your group needs more of. I would suggest cake. You would be surprised how much you can miss cake in away from civilization. Off in the distance it is not uncommon to here the melodious vocals of our very own Sinatra Swanson wafting in the breeze. I would recommend to any traveler to be sure to bring along a singer as gifted as Ben, it improves any paddle experience. Take the time to observe the environment and the people around you too. For example, you may notice that Nessler paddles like a swimmer and Emily’s stroke is as flawless as her morning routine, and you have a couple acrobats that like to stretch as they paddle. In a rare moment, you may even see a lone red kayak drift to the side as its paddler tries to open the pound of honey bag unnoticed in his hatch and dump it into his Tupperware to consume later in the day. Tucker don’t think I didn’t see you.

I must also provide some advice and warnings before anyone sets off to cross countries. If you are traveling by boat, be sure to carefully monitor the balance of water intake and sweat excretion. Even eating a few nuts can plant the seed in your mind that you might need a bathroom break, and that demon seed is the worst possible one to allow to grow. Trapped in water tight suits, in water tight boats, in a sea surrounded by water, the thought that you might need a break sends panic through the veins of even the most experienced paddler. Try paddling profusely to induce sweat while simultaneously building up the weaponry to destroyy the deadly seed of uncertainty that you have planted. If you are thinking of creative ways to fix this problem, let me save you the struggle and advise against using a sponge. That individual will remain unmentioned. In addition, military zones are frequent in the Baltic, so when paddling through one just be aware of your surroundings. It may look peaceful, but the consequence of romping around on a beautiful rock may be unpredictable.


Best of luck, and happy paddling!




This entry is dedicated to explaining all of the gear on our bodies and in/on our boats. I will attempt to provide a somewhat-accurate picture of our daily dressing and gear-sorting routines, beginning with waking up to the sound of John and Russell chatting over a mug of coffee. 

I wake up on the left edge of a 3-person tent with the view of 75 mosquitos trapped between the tent and rain fly. The fly generally keeps rain and dew out of the tent, but I occasionally find myself in a damp sleeping bag on a wet pad. I muster the energy to unzip the door and brace my sore body against cool morning wind. 

Nessler has usually already started a pot of boiling water, and Ben and I grab the yogurt and musli (if we are feeling particularly fancy we will cook up cheesy mashed potatoes with bacon or pepperoni chunks). We clean our breakfast Tupperware with boiling water and pack them with lunch-an assortment of fruit, nuts, small sanwiches, peanut butter, etc.

We then begin packing and dressing for a day on the water. I’ll begin with the dressing: 

I typically change into a short sleeved polypro top and my Patagonia baggies shorts before putting on my bib. I would describe our padding bibs as a mix between rain pants, a neoprene wetsuit, footsie pajamas and overalls. The bibs haven’t quite dried out from the previous day, so I force myself to slide into a damp bib that smells like old musty algae water. On top of the booties of our bibs we wear neoprene/rubber water shoes. On our torsos we wear either a short or long sleeved Palm spray jackets. The jackets are basically fortified rain jackets with rubber gaskets at the wrists…very difficult to get off and on…Emily has had to help me pull mine off my body on numerous occasions. Our team has a wide assortment of headwear, ranging from visors and baseball caps to headbands, skull caps, knitted beanies, safari hats and blue/yellow Swedish themed Viking hats. Before getting into our boats we put on our PFDs and spray skirts. My PFD (personal floatation device) pockets are filled with chapstick, sunscreen, and various emergency items like water dye, a light, tow lines, etc. 

Once my clothes are on we lather our bodies in sunscreen and slide on our paddling gloves. While we dress we pack all of our gear into our kayaks. The boats have four compartments with water-tight rubber lids. There is a front hatch, back hatch, day hatch and whiskey hatch. We have additional storage in deck bags and inside our cockpits below our feet. 

We are able to fit an incredible amount of gear into these spaces. We each pack two water dromedaries, ten days worth of food, tents, poles, pots, pans, stoves and fuel, sleeping bags and pads, toiletries, warm clothing and shoes, charts, cameras, “town” clothing, crazy creeks, etc., etc. We also pack a couple of the large plasticky IKEA bags to transport our gear to and from boats and campsites. 

We will try to post more in the morning before we leave the island of Nagu where we spent an incredible rest day during the Midsummer festivities.


A clarification

The blog posts up to now have been incredibly misleading, and I would like to clear up some confusion: we are kayaking, but this is not a kayaking trip. Our route was carefully chosen with one goal in mind: maximizing exposure to European coffee and pastries. As the team’s unapologetic glutton – and one of the driving forces behind this soon-to-be primary objective – I have been tasked with bringing you up to speed.

Sweden and Finland appear to have only three pastries: pancakes, jelly doughnuts, and chocolate cake. In retrospect, Scandinavia may have been a pour choice for GRAB’s maiden pastry voyage, but it’s too late to change things now. The chocolate cake is like a dense brownie and the doughnut is a doughnut – if you were expecting more you aren’t alone. Slim pickings out here.

The pancakes – pankakke – are interesting, however. I’m still not sure how to pronounce the name because every time I try I’m met with a smile and a gently mocking repetition of my exact pronunciation, so for now they’re just “swedish pancakes”. They look and taste like large spongey rice pudding paddies, they’re covered in whipped cream and jelly, and often come loaded with several pounds of cardamom. I feel this decision to be questionable because cardamom tastes like a cross between a chai latte and a retirement home, but the risk keeps things interesting; every first bite will either be delicious or inedible. It’s like Russian roulette with higher stakes.

Despite the lack of selection, it’s interesting to see the variations between pastries from island to island. That was a lie. They all taste pretty much the same, but they’re delicious with coffee and when I pretend to notice minor differences it makes me feel fancy and culturally aware.

The purpose is the pastries. The kayaks are just our vehicles. Two weeks left to eat our way to Helsinki – wish us luck!