I’m Glenn, and I love saunas.
I have been enjoying the sauna experience for over 25 years: from my first saunas in Scandinavia, to building my own saunas in Minnesota. The funny thing is that I’m not Finnish or Scandinavian, I am Joe American from Upstate NY, living in Minnesota. I never grew up with a sauna, but from the first time I took a sauna, I was hooked. Now is the time when more folks can benefit from the sauna experience: health and wellness benefits, the ability to escape and replenish, and even the ‘green’ efficiency of saunas. Today is your day for a sauna!
My first sauna, a cold start:
It was the summer of 1985. A friend and I were hitchhiking around Europe, up into Scandinavia. It was an especially cold, wet summer. Our clothes were soaked, our sleeping bags wet, we were hungry, tired, and we were out in the middle of nowhere where the only sign of life was a thick swarm of extremely aggressive mosquitoes. I don’t know how things could be any worse, but thankfully, they were about to get better very quickly.
A Volvo from heaven:
A lone car appeared on the horizon, a first in what could have been hours. Even more amazing is that it stopped to pick us up. I was ecstatic. Finally out of the cold drizzle rain and away from the mosquitoes! I remember squashing with pleasure the few extra aggressive ones that had followed us into the car. Upon hearing of our lack of agenda, dry clothes or any common sense, the husband and wife brought us to their home. He was the dentist in town. His practice was on the main street, their house in the back. Above his office, facing the street was a quaint apartment, conveniently vacant and seemingly ready for our arrival.
A turn of the timer:
After a welcome tour of the apartment, the wife pulled out a couple bathrobes and with a smile and a heavy accent said “you can enjoy a warm sauna before dinner in a couple hours” With that, she turned a timer on a wall and excused herself down the stairs. I looked at my friend John with a look of “can you believe our fortune?” and began unraveling my soaked clothes from my bag. He was busy scratching his mosquito bites. This was to be my first sauna. After a few minutes of the stove clanking away it felt mighty warm, which is all the encouragement I needed to shed my wet clothes and hop in the sauna room. The first blast of dry warm air felt wonderful against my clammy skin and as my tight muscles started to loosen up, I quickly realized that I just found heaven on earth, in a small cedar lined room in a little town in the middle of nowhere. After a couple 15-20 minute rounds, showering between, I felt clean, refreshed, and as an even unfathomable bonus, all our mosquito bites were miraculously gone. Gone!
You know a sauna is great for your skin if it can get rid of mosquito bites!
So, John and I did our best to advance American diplomacy. Even if just the roof over our heads was enough, we were incredibly grateful for the hospitality. We were hosted to a wonderful meal, and a home baked cake for dessert. I kept on looking for the hidden cameras because it was all surreal. We slept great, were treated to a great breakfast, and sent on our ways refreshed and recharged with dry clothes in our packs.
Sauna on the island
Days later, we were on a ferry cutting through the islands in the Baltic Archipelago. On the ferry, we ran into a guy who was heading off to help his buddy rebuild a house on one of the islands. We joined their work crew. Four of us. We’d knock off work in the evening and head to another Uncle’s island by boat. On that island, me and Gunner would fire up the sauna stove and begin peeling potatoes. John and Thomas would pull up Perch and Flounder from nets, and clean them for dinner. We’d sauna and jump into the Baltic. Between sauna rounds, we’d drink a beer and stretch out from the hard day’s labor on the roof or on scaffolding. We’d eat our home cooked dinner and afterwards they’d pull out the vodka and John and I would look out and marvel over the cove as twilight lingered. This was a formidable experience for me.
Kicked out of Europe
After too long in exile, I returned to the States and felt like a fish out of water. I decided that in order to keep sane, that I needed to continue the vibe of discovery and vagabonding, so I packed up my belongings and drove to Minnesota. I knew Minnesota called for me and for the right reasons. Hockey, nature, and Minneapolis is one of the closest cities to a European city I could muster. I moved in Summertime, and remember doing the backstroke in the middle of Lake Calhoun and as I looked past the Northern Shoreline, I could see the skyline over the trees and I convinced myself right then that this would be my place. And Minneapolis became my place.
The summer 1988: a summer of lake discovery
My first summer in Minneapolis, I rented an apartment and worked two jobs and saved a bunch of cash. I met a foxy great girl right away and tried all summer not to like her as much as I did, because the idea of settling down was far from my mind. It was the summer of 1988 and a drought summer. Hot, dry, sticky. She and I would take road trips to different lakes on the weekends. We had identical interests. I’d look at the map and zero in on a lake area that looked cool and ask her what she thought about checking it out. She’d say yes, and we’d go. We’d camp on an island or rent a canoe or a boat and just be young and free about the whole program. It was fabulous.
Found my lake, found my island
September came upon us and summer wained. Her boss suggested we check out Lake Vermilion and she called me. “He says it has islands and is close to the Boundary Waters and Canada.” I got out the map and I thought, wow, now THIS is a lake! Big. Not round. Lots of bays and inlets. Dotted with Islands. We drove up, and as I got out of the car and looked at the lake I felt it right away. It felt like I was sipping vodka after sauna on the Baltic Archipelago. Birches, pines, granite outcroppings, islands, bays, inlets. Same vibe. We had a great weekend, and that was the end of the lake season. Winter came and I skated on Minneapolis lakes and kept thinking about nature and the North. That spring, Julia’s boss put an add from the local paper on her desk:
“For sale, Island. Wooded. Small cabin. Dock. $25,000.”
We drove up on a Thursday evening and I bought it that night. I found my lake and found my island.
The realtor turned out to be a great guy. He’d come pick us up and take us to other folks’ cabins. He was a sauna nut, too and he’d invite me to sauna. It felt and looked like the Baltic Archipelago. I could not have been happier.