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Sauna Days 2023: a day in the life

light steam graphic

Part 2 of 2 of Sauna Days 2023. Click here for part one.

New friends and contacts made

You could say that the 12 saunas at Sauna Days 2023 were each like their own stage, each presenting different thermal goodness, like the eclectic artists performing at the different stages at the Coachella music festival.

Slavic Sauna posse: Sauna Days 2023
Slavic Sauna posse: Sauna Days 2023

This is all real and true. Another way to imagine Sauna Days is that we are all kids again, with a weekend pass to our favorite amusement park.

I had a few “rides” in the Viking Floating Sauna, accompanied by some well orchestrated Grateful Dead through the floating sauna sound system. The heat was perfect. The triple bench system in the Viking allows for the sauna bather to have their feet above the rocks, (law of löyly: one of the more exhaustive “rules” of sauna. Even more vehement than “close the door!”). Sitting on the top bench, one can imagine tossing some water on the rocks while taking in long lake views. Deploying sauna on a fresh cold lake. Sauna on top of a cold plunge vs. next to a cold plunge. Of course. That’s a hell of an idea! The floating sauna revolution is being televised right here at Sauna Days.

Sauna enthusiasts converse outside the Viking Floating Sauna Saturday, May 6, 2023 during the annual Sauna Days at Larsmont Cottages near Two Harbors, Minn. (photo: MPR Radio).

Sauna Days 2023 Banya action

I am drawn to the carnival lighting and Eastern Europe vibe next door inside Alex’s barrel banya. He’s hauled himself, his assistant, and his banya 1,200 miles to be part of Sauna Days.

Alex seizes his opportunity. “Lie down” he instructs. Like a doctor in the examining room. I choose to lie on my back. Alex is the World amateur Venek champion, so I have complete trust.  The whisks circle overhead and land on my chest.  Then syncopation slapping all the way down to my toes. The oak branches are a Venek masters tools. Air movement. Bringing the heat down to the body.  Stimulating the skin. And then compression, borrowing the heat from up towards the ceiling to compress the steamy oak whisks to the body.

This is a short summary of a Venek body massage.

Heat and steam play an integral part.  Emerging dazed and otherworldly, after some Siberian wind whistle dry steam from his Grill’d sauna stove, I ease my way back outside and center myself underneath his fresh bucket shower and pull the cord.  “Woosh” comes the water rinse. I am completely dejankified. All my skin pours are completely rinsed and all my sweat is gone.

Too many hashtags for one sauna experience.

Time for a rest? Only briefly. I engage in non verbal communication with Alex’s Ukrainian partner. It’s ok that he doesn’t speak English. In this moment not can I.

Sauna Days 2023, the Upper Village
Sauna Days 2023, the Upper Village, Alex’s BSaunas Barrel Sauna on left.

Digging the Deep Wave

After a few minutes of euphoria, I start to walk again, and again with no real destination. I find myself being drawn in by the genuine smiley face of Keegan and his Deep Wave sauna. “Sure, let’s go for a ride here” I say to myself,  and in I go, like it’s a fun house at the theme park.

The talk on the bench in Deep Wave is “who’s going to be up for a cold lake plunge.”  There’s a debate about water temp. The consensus is that “it’s no more than 40.” There’s no debate, however, about how euphoric it feels to lake plunge. “Indescribable” is the best description.  “Who is in?” It’s middle school aged fun house encouragement meets college age concert party time. It’s as if being handed a puff on a semi legal libation while watching Tinariwan under the Gobi Tent at Coachella. Who could say no?

But we have some work to do before our body gets up to serving temp.“Psssssst” goes the sound of water on the rocks. Eyes closed. We all take in the steam and become unified with the release of any care in the world, at this present moment. After the heavy wave of steam passes, I open my eyes as if emerging from a roller coaster’s deep descent. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch a thumbs up and knowing smile from Deep Wave carnival barker host Keegan. He is congratulating us from outside the hot room window. We’ve taken a löyly ride with his kick ass Kuuma stove, and we’ve all become more human in our journey.

The holy trinity of good sauna smiles upon us. The heat is perfect. The steam is perfect.  The ventilation is perfect. Nobody move. It’s our time. This is our sauna moment.

“Next one to speak loses” is what I’m thinking. We are seasoned sauna goers, this spontaneous collection of sauna bathers on this sauna bench. I am brought back to my backyard sauna and am grateful we are all taking this moment to listen to the soul of this sauna.

The lake plunge

Many are coming to sauna through the cold. Cold plunge brands and offers proliferate our social media feeds, but we don’t need Huberman quotes as hooks and reminders of how fucking great a Lake Superior cold plunge feels.

Dating back to 2013, when I was one of the few to navigate the rocky Larsmont Cottages shoreline for a Lake Superior dunk, I knew what it meant to be one with Hard Nature. No wimpy garden hose for cool downs at Larsmont Cottages. This is full Monty cold plunging. And unlike 2013 and before, when I felt I needed to hide my cold swimming, seemingly everyone here at Sauna Days 2023 was celebrating the thermal goodness. There was a steady stream of sauna goers finding their way to the natural cold plunge pool.

Sauna Days 2023, the voyage to the Lake Superior cold plunge
Sauna Days 2023, the voyage to the Lake Superior cold plunge

No filtration, sanitation, or circulation needed. Lake Superior has got our backs. And then some. The cold water will take everything you have to give it.  And then some.

A little Jesse Coomer “sniff, sniff, poo” or box breathing can help the cause, but ultimately the best way to handle the cold Superior water is, much like if banging one’s head against the wall, knowing how good it’s going to feel when it’s over.

More sauna action

A serious 218 vibe (the area code for Northern Minnesota) is happening in the saunas at lower Larsmont. Katie from Sisu and Löyly is showcasing her new Timber Arch Sauna. Some say that sauna is a church and we get this feeling inside the tall arched ceilings. Ben’s Bear Naked is producing serious heat. This is how sauna builders in cold climates build saunas. Major league lämpömassa.

Several thermal efficionatos are giving Deep Wave high marks, and yet in true 218 spirit, Ben commands: “Please. Give me some constructive criticism. I am here to learn.”  From my perspective, as a builder of a dozen saunas with my own hands, this is like bumping into Josh Allen at Duff’s in Buffalo New York. Then, he asking: “any of you want to help me throw a football?” But Ben is from 218, and just like how outgoing Finns are known to stare at your shoes when talking, many 218’ers are equally humble. A wonderful attribute.

Good sauna karma

Megan is out front guarding her Du Nord sauna.  “They’ve got one more after this.” She and Ben have adopted the Lithuanians. “My sauna is their sauna.” In true sauna spirit, she had offered up her sauna for Lithuanian pirtis private sessions.

I had tried to help get the Lithuanians settled but they were vahta’ed up and imbalanced. Larsmont’s brick and mortar sauna benches were too narrow to have guests lie down. So we needed another sauna and fast. Below, you can see and sense how comfortable Biruté is with her new adopted pirtis home: Megan’s Du Nord sauna.

Biruté Pirtis treatment, Du Nord Sauna, Sauna Days 2023
Biruté Pirtis treatment, Du Nord Sauna, Sauna Days 2023

Sauna generosity abound

The sauna universe smiles upon Megan at Du Nord sauna in Duluth, Jackie at Cedar Grove Sauna in Maine, Ben for picking them up at the airport and Garrett for welcoming them to US and A. 

They made it! Ben meeting the Lithuanians, Minneapolis Airport, May 5, 2023
They made it! Ben meeting the Lithuanians, Minneapolis Airport, May 5, 2023

Back to Sauna action

Here we are, back at it. Hitting the North Shore sauna tents and then the North Up for a translucent sauna experience, with waves crashing just off the rocky shoreline. The North Up wins the most photographed sauna award. There’s good heat, steam, ventilation. And, after some löyly and casual conversation with other guests to Sauna Days, one can step out, ask when next year’s Sauna Days is happening, and wave goodbye to warm new friends. Comfortably hot!

NorthUp sauna action, Sauna Days 2023
NorthUp sauna action, Sauna Days 2023
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