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“If you heat it, we will come!” – Four Unique Sauna Experiences in Five Days

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Guest post series continues. Please welcome Geoff and Kristin to Saunatimes. If you’d like to see and hear more about their journey toward their horse trailer mobile sauna build , and road trip, please check out their Youtube interview here.

The rig.

Geoff and Kristin here. Our sauna journey began a few years ago, in Antarctica. Both Geoff and I work at McMurdo Station, a US research base on Ross Island, Antarctica. Down there, we live in dorms, most of which are equipped with an electric sauna – perfect after a long day of working in the cold. This was one of our first introductions into the world and life of sauna, along with a few previous encounters with the standard fitness center sauna. After meeting in Antarctica, Geoff and I spent some time together in Michigan, my home state (Geoff is from Texas… where sauna is not much of a tradition). I took him on a trip to the UP for his first time, where we partook in a little accidental mini sauna tour. It was this trip that we learned of the true love and enthusiasm we had for this interest of ours. As some may know, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan has a culture rich in the tradition of sauna.

Grinding out rust on this 1969 trailer.

Fast forward a year and Geoff and I are living in northern Colorado, where we decided to build a sauna of our own. Kinetic as our lives tend to be, we decided on a sauna build that would suit our ever mobile lifestyle and would be able to travel with us… one on wheels. We found ourselves an old horse trailer on a ranch near New Mexico, ground out all the metal partitions, patched the rust, and lined it with beautiful Western Red Cedar.

From here, so began another inadvertent, unexpected, impromptu, unplanned rendition of a sauna tour from Northern Minnesota near the Boundary Waters, to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We traveled with our little two horse sauna trailer, 1600 or so miles from Clark, Colorado to Kalamazoo, Michigan, with a stop planned to pick up our beautiful Kuuma sauna stove in Tower, Minnesota. And along the way, we hit up four saunas in five days. Each having their own unique style, personality, and lesson to teach us about the power and community of sauna.

Act I: Cedar and Stone Nordic Sauna in Duluth, Minnesota, overlooking Lake Superior. Geoff and I were walking along the shore when we smelled that smell; a wood burning stove. We look to our left to see a sign advertising the upcoming community sauna session set to take place the following evening. Now, I know we are getting back to normal life since the height of Covid times, but that being said, I was a little leery of the community sauna with a handful of strangers. Geoff and I went with an open mind, and what a lovely night it was in a beautiful setting with a sunset overlooking the pier in the distance. We wouldn’t know it yet, but this sauna session led its way to another sauna session, as I sort of just happened to overhear a conversation with two of our sauna peers sharing about a recent sauna they had visited. I’ll come back to that.

Cold bucket shower.

Act II: The following evening, we found ourselves at Lake Vermilion with now new friend, Glenn Auerbach. Geoff and I had been in touch with Glenn since we first purchased his e-book, before we began our build. Since in Duluth, we were near his ‘hood, and he invited us up to his lake house on Pine Island. What a pleasure! Admittedly, as we were building our sauna, referring to Glenn’s e-book, and occasionally exchanging emails with random questions, Geoff and I would joke about what if someday we were to meet THE man himself?! He just seemed like such a dude, with such genuine and sincere enthusiasm for this activity. Well here we are, on a boat, on our way out to his cabin to enjoy a night of sauna and dipping in the lake. This moment was our very first experience with a Kuuma stove… not unlike the very one we had purchased and were due to pick up at the factory the very next day. I have more to say about this scene, but will digress in another paragraph.

Boat ride to Glenn’s Pine Island cabin on Lake Vermilion.
Authentic Pine Island

Act III: PICKING UP OUR DING DANG, HIBBITY DIBBITY, MA’TRUCKIN CUSTOM MADE KUUMA STOVE!!! I know that was really corny, but did I portray our excitement there well enough? We actually weren’t even planning on picking it up from the factory initially, but are we sure glad we did! I mean, truly, that was an exciting experience all in itself. We met the Lamppa family, including the youngest, 5th generation member, Daryl’s grandson, Leif. Additionally, Garret Lamppa gave us a tour of the new factory and the original one where it all began. It was such an honor and a privilege. Not only did they assist us with getting the stove into our trailer, but they took the time to talk to us about the history and legacy of the Kuuma difference, and the culture and joy of sauna. We left there with hearts filled and feeling like we became a part of a community, a family, and the history that is Lamppa Manufacturing. This family is the real deal, and if you have the time, I highly recommend checking out their website, because I just cannot say enough about this hardworking and innovative family.

Loading it in!
Three generations of Lamppas.
She’s really a beaut!

If we could have had a sauna on this day to make it five saunas in five days, we would have, but ours was not quite ready to go (note the lack of chimney), hence four saunas in five days. But I must add a little side note to our story, that all along our travels we had been sleeping in our not-yet-finished sauna trailer as to avoid paying for hotels or motels. That evening, once our stove had been secured in its place in our trailer, we drove a few hours from Tower, MN and pulled over at a secret little spot near a lake in the UP of Michigan. We crawled into our trailer for the night and simply put, it felt different… tranquil. As if the yet to be used stove were wrapping us in its warm embrace, even as it were. Corny as that may sound, it was a sensation, an awareness, as if we were already experiencing the lämpömassa of the Kuuma.

Moving on…

Act IV: Taking it back a few paragraphs, when I mentioned how the convo in the community sauna with Cedar and Stone had innately led to another such experience. Geoff and I still had a few days of our road trip left, and of course the best way we know how to occupy and enjoy our time to the best of our ability is to sauna. I remembered overhearing this convo about a place in Republic, Michigan called Pinecrest, where there was a sauna and a lake… and that’s all I recalled. So I began a little internet search and indeed Pinecrest came up. I would come to find out later that this [omg, jaw-dropping, amazingly beautiful, serene] property was recently purchased by a young, vibrant, and super lovely couple. I rang them up, asking if we could park our truck and trailer on their property, campout for the night, and use their sauna. To their wonder, they had never had this question before… someone seeking them out based primarily on their sauna.  A short discussion later, we came up with a plan and figure for our use of their provisions, and made the short drive from Marquette to Republic. We briefly met the couple, who were busy busy busy, had some quick formalities, then Geoff and I got to work getting this [omg, jaw-dropping, amazingly beautiful, unique, old world, traditional and original Finnish] sauna warmed up. I’m not even sure that my inundation of adjectives can accurately depict the splendor of this property, so I will let the photos say the rest. This property is a sauna enthusiast’s destination and I want to get that word out to others, who like Geoff and I, seek an authenitc sauna experience. To say it was a “feeling” that we had when there is not enough; it was the sensation, the emotion, the phenomenon of time and place and mood, the character of the cabins, the solace, the peacefulness, the imagination of stepping back in time, the impression of being in a real life children’s storybook… the essence of being.

The sauna house at Pinecrest.
View of the lake from the lodge at Pinecrest.
Inside the hot room.

Not only is this a sauna worth seeing, but this is a property worth taking the drive to seemingly the middle of nowhere for. To forget the world as you know it, and unwind. I get passionate about this stuff.

Moving on to our final sauna before back to reality.

Act V: A repeat. A place Geoff and I had visited on our first accidental mini sauna tour last year. This is a place our love of sauna continued to flourish. The place is called Second Street Sauna in Marquette, Michigan. A public sauna house, in operation since the 1920’s, the longest continuously running sauna house in the UP, and the only one to use steam radiators. A truly lovely place to pay a visit to. The family that runs the sauna also lives in the building, and because of that, the place has all of the quaint feels; like you are walking into an old friend’s home… because you are! As the story goes, the couple actually had their second date at this public sauna house, and just so happened that Second Street Sauna was for sale when they were looking to move back to Marquette after their first child was born. It’s the story of time and place, the community and tradition of sauna bringing people together that makes this place feel so special. Add it to your list of must-sees if you’re anything like Geoff and I and feel like once you’ve seen one sauna… you want to see them all!!!

Lower level of hot room with shower.
Upper level of hot room.
Another hot room with claw foot tub for cold immersion.

This concluded our tour. As we finished our road trip back to my hometown of Kalamazoo, we reflected on our last few days, the people we interacted with, the relationships and connections we made, and the new lessons that sauna brought us to understand. Sauna doesn’t have to look fancy and high end; it doesn’t have to be pretty to be a beautiful thing. It is what you make it. It is your version and interpretation. It is an old ceramic pitcher with a sock for a tea bag that you pour over the hot rocks to give the most euphoric of löyly. It does not need to be a perfect picture to be picture perfect. Each sauna I have experienced is authentic, unique, and has its own story to tell. Sauna brings on conversations with friends and strangers alike because you have a common interest within a unique tradition. Sauna is health. Sauna is community.

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9 thoughts on ““If you heat it, we will come!” – Four Unique Sauna Experiences in Five Days”

  1. Fun read! Thank you for taking time to write it. It’s always fun to hear about different sauna experiences and I (and likely many others) are looking forward to hearing how your’s turns out.

    A friend is an occasional helicopter pilot in Antarctica and I hope to go down with him sometime. It’s been on my list for a couple of decades but the closest I’ve come if Punta Arenas. How were the sauna’s there compared to others you’ve experienced?

  2. It’s always nice to read a story of others who share the same passions. Funny enough, I too am in the process of converting an old horse trailer into a sauna. I’ve been on the search for a wood stove and was wondering who Geoff and Kristin are enjoying their Kuuma or if they had any other suggestions/concerns/ ideas from their build.

  3. Awesome story, I’m planning a build in northern lower Michigan, but grew up in the UP. Sounds like I need to plan a road trip.

    thanks again,

  4. Hi-Great read! We are planning to build a sauna in our yard this fall/winter. Wondering if the Kuuma stoves are readily available or is there a long wait time? I know there are long wait times on many things with supply chain issues right now….

  5. Sending you an email, Chersten. The cool thing with a Kuuma, wait, that’s an oxymoron.. I should say the good thing with a Kuuma is that the manufacturing is mostly not prone to global supply chain issues. Lamppa Mfr. is as local as it gets, reason #7 why I dig the Kuuma stove

  6. Glenn
    I have purchased a medium Kumma sauna stove.
    My question is why do the instructions that come with the stove indicate running a stove pipe damper. I cannot find anywhere where it is applicable. I have purchased one . I cannot find in any pictures that anyone else has installed one. Is it necessary
    Ps the e boom is a great resource thanks

  7. Hi Jeff,

    Glad you are digging the ebook!

    Damper: I know, so few of us install one with our Kuumas. When I build saunas for others, I have asked them, and most look at me like deer in headlights. Both my Kuumas are damperless.

    The main gig is that if there’s a chimney fire, you can cut off oxygen from the firebox to the chimney. But Kuumas, my Kuumas, burn so damn clean that i’ve never had to clean out my chimney’s as 0 creosote forms with the clean burn (and smokeless action).

    Now there is a faction of wood burning enthusiasts who are big on dampers. They say that closing it off keeps more heat in the firebox. My experience and opinion, and i’m open to all opinions, is that with a Kuuma, the damper is an additional gadget that is redundant to the program (but again, i’m open to other thoughts on this matter).

  8. Nice to see the completed horse trailer sauna! I’m in the finishing stages of building on the same platform – the (expensive at this time) western red cedar is purchased and ready to be installed.

    A question to Geoff & Kristin and the Saunatimes community.

    Did you insulate your horse trailer sauna?

    I’m considering installing foam insulation (with foil on both sides) in the space between the cedar and the metal exterior. Thoughts on using foil bubble wrap – in place of, or in conjunction with the foam? Alternately, I could just leave the air gap (will be 1” – 1.5”). Any recommendations/suggestions?

    I’ve bought the ‘Build Your Own Sauna’ book – insulation is covered in detail – thinking that insulation is a must.

    Wanted to drive from SW Ontario to northern MN to get a Kuuma stove. Couldn’t get across the US border (pandemic) and found a manufacturer in Toronto that makes authentic sauna stoves – check out Fenno Manufacturing. Thinking this stove will be more than enough for a sauna the measures 10’l x 7’h x 5’w.

    Cheers. Bill

  9. Hi Bill:
    One way to roll with insulating your horse trailer sauna is to spray foam the horse trailer, then foil sandwiched by 1×2 firing strips applied to the metal framework of the trailer with self tapping screws. I like this method as you have a thermal envelope, and an air gap. I suggest straight foil vs. the foil bubble wrap as it’s less coin, and is easier to work with. eg. you can overlap it.

    Good luck on the build, Bill!

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