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Locked Out

Locked Out

Well, it only took 8 months and a day for my 4th worst fear of owning a cottage in the middle of the Finnish woods to come to fruition: 

I locked myself out.

At midnight.

In winter.

And the rental car keys were canoodling with the cottage keys while the rental car was perched on some icy snow half in and half out of the driveway.

How did I find myself in this situation you may be asking? Well, a lot of things had to come together to allow me to confront and overcome this fear. First, let’s start with the fact that the cottage came with three sets of spare keys. I gave one set to my sister, one to her parents, and I had a set. Mine was destined for a safe and secret location on the cottage property. That way if I did lock myself out on an outhouse run one night (or forgot my keys back at home in the U.S. …), then I would be able to save myself.

As the saying goes, the path to hell is paved with good intentions. Ok, so being locked out of your house in the middle of a winter night when you are afraid of the dark isn’t exactly hell. And I had survived that previously blogged about outhouse experience. But it still sucked. And I was kicking myself constantly for not putting the spare key somewhere, anywhere, on the property. Yes, it seems like such a simple thing to take care of… so here’s how that happened, or didn’t happen.

At the cottage in the summer, I would see my spare key in the key house as I grabbed my cottage and rental car keys to go somewhere and think, ‘Oh, yeah, I have to do that. I’ll do it when I get back because I have my arms full.’

Then I’d get back, put the keys back in their house, see my spare key and think, ‘Oh, yeah, I have to do that. But I just got back and I took my shoes off already so I’ll do it next time I go to the outhouse/workshop/pump house’. (After the pump house was built that is. Because for the first few months the excuse was ‘that’s where I’ll put the key once it’s built.’) And, off course, since I never needed the key to go to those places, I never opened the key house and was reminded I needed to do it. Once the pump house was built and winter came along, there was the new excuse, ‘its cold, so I don’t want to get bundled up to do just that’.

So, now you know how that happened.

Spoiler: First thing I did when I got in the cottage was grab the spare key and hide it somewhere on the property. (Not the pump house.)

So, there I was sitting in the car, in the dark, mentally kicking myself and formulating a plan. I sent my sister a WhatsApp, “Heeeeey, call me when you get a chance.” On the off chance she was still awake, she’d call. But I was pretty confident she had fallen asleep in the 20 minutes it took me to drive home from her house. Add that to the time it took to get the car stuck, trek up the driveway, go in the cottage, change coats, get the shovels from the warehouse, then trek back down to the car… She’d see my message when she woke up to a crying, hungry 12-month-old in a few hours. I was sure I could survive in the dark until then but for good measure, I messaged her husband and my parents back home in the U.S.

Blue car stuck on a snow pile at the end of the driveway before I got locked out.

Then I decided to live Tweet my adventure. Because, you know, if the boogey man living in the woods was going to get me, at least the Twitterverse could enjoy a crazy story. Plus, someone I follow had live Tweeted a film the day before at about that same hour. She had said she’d do it again so at least I’d have some entertainment for a few hours! As long as my phone stayed charged without me killing the car battery. It was at 19% when this whole debacle started.  

The week's calendar with graphics and details about travel plans for each day leading up to the night I got locked out.

You may be wondering why I was getting to the cottage so late in the first place. ‘Wouldn’t it be smart to plan to arrive in the daylight so that these types of things don’t happen?’ Yeah, yeah, keep your thoughts to yourself. Ok, so you’re right and usually I do plan my arrival in the winter months this exact way. However! This particular arrival I didn’t have much flexibility… Ok, maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. Here’s the quick of that. The only reason I was even in Europe was there were a bunch of things I wanted to attend going on within the same week. I also needed to do some paperwork for the cottage (so I could finally get a bank account…) so I decided to make the trip. A picture’s worth a thousand words so here:

While I sound a bit flippant about this whole scenario, let me reassure you, I was not being naive about the actual dangers of my predicament. The car was 1/3 in the driveway but the back 2/3 was in the road and there’s a pretty decent curve on one side of my driveway and a hilled curve on the other. That’s a bad combo, especially in the dark so I had the flashers on. I also grabbed my Finnish reflector vest while I was in the cottage to hang on the back window for anyone to see. (But yes, I forgot all the keys.) Drivers in that area expect to see people on the road in vests more so than intermittent orange hazard lights. 

I had made a mental inventory of my supplies:

Food: 2 generous slices of birthday cake (because my sister wanted to spread the caloric wealth); 1/4 loaf of Small Food Bakery bread (from Nottingham, UK); and 1 square of Divine chocolate (left over from London concert)

Water: Could be easily made from all the snow outside. 

Warmth: Three suitcases full of clothes.

No, I don’t usually travel with three suitcases of clothing. I’m a ‘6 weeks in on carry-on’ kind of traveler. Remember that empty international moving suitcase I dropped off? I picked it up, plus a second one Friday morning in London. My status on Delta gets me 2 free checked luggage when I fly, so I was helping move a friend to Baltimore via a weeklong scenic route: London > Finland (cottage) > Miami (work conference) > Baltimore. I know what you’re thinking, “Thanks for the useless details…” but I assure you, this is important. 

My flight from London to Helsinki was on Norwegian instead of a SkyTeam airline. I still had two free checked bags with my Flex ticket except! the weight limits are different (less!) for Norwegian than for Delta and SkyTeam. Which meant that Saturday morning I found myself repacking the two suitcases and shuffling things from one to the other at the automated check-in counter in London Gatwick. This is where expert packing skills come in handy.

Two suitcases over filled and open to be repacked. The contents came in handy when I got locked out.

I had already repacked a little bit at the hotel the day before because my friend isn’t nearly as practiced of a packer as I am. I was able to repack in a way that allowed me to remove the 4-inch zipped out extender. But at Gatwick, I was shifting for weight. Mixed in with all of this, was a pair of new mid-calf height Hunter boots in my size. She was going to donate them and I decided they’d be perfect for outhouse runs so I stuck them in my carry-on. Well, they posed a problem in the re-shuffle of stuff. They were almost abandoned on the floor of Gatwick airport. But after getting both bags checked-in at 0.1 kgs underweight each (booyah!) I decided to just give it a go and see if I could hand carry them through.

So, there I went through security with a pair of rain boots hanging through the handle of my roller-bag. It wasn’t convenient but it worked.

– I promise we are getting to the point. –

Fast forward back to being stuck in the cottage driveway.

The ice-topped snow that beautifully blanketed my driveway was a little higher than mid-calf. I was wearing nubuck boots. They did fine making one trip to and from the cottage but they weren’t waterproof. And even though my Smartwool socks kept my feet warm when I fell through the ice and into the river in Banff (I’ll get to that post one day…) they weren’t going to keep my feet warm forever with wet boots. If only I had a pair of waterproof boots… 🙂

I hadn’t intended to lock the keys in the cottage so I didn’t change the first go around. As soon as I realized what had happened, that was the first thing I did – protect my feet! The Hunter boots were worth every annoyance of logging them around sans bag. Otherwise, this may have been a much sadder tale. 

Last point on the warmth topic – I couldn’t run the heat in the car because the keys were in the cottage. The cottage was too far away that the car knew the keys weren’t close enough to turn on. Oh, yeah. Have you ever driven a keyless car? You know, the gasified car with the button to start it? Yeah, well, if you have, did you ever notice the little flashing warning, “Vehicle will automatically lock within 30 minutes without key nearby”? Yeah, so there was that. But! as long as you keep opening and closing the door, it will stay unlocked.

So, I was working that system. I decided if it did lock and set the alarm, it would probably go off on the next door open and I would end up meeting some of my (very annoyed) neighbors… but hey, they’d probably let me stay inside for a bit soooo, I really didn’t have much to lose going with the randomly opening the door system. It’s not like I had anything else to do. Well, except live Tweet this whole adventure while I charged my phone in the car and debated on when I could reasonably start eating the birthday cake tempting me from the passenger seat. 

Yep, you read that right, I was in the car.

Yes, it’s very dangerous to stay in a vehicle that isn’t fully out of the way of traffic especially given the curves and hills. However, I deemed it the best place to be. If a car came, I would be able to see it and ask for help. For the time being, it was warm enough. It was where most of my supplies were. My other options were the warehouse – which just screams horror story plot but it did have light; the outhouse – also lit and the small space plus compost should add some heat (right?); and last but not least, there was the pump house. From the heat perspective, this was the best idea. It is actually heated to 50F so the pump won’t freeze in winter. If I curl up in a ball, I can fit in there.

As I type this, I just realized that means the boogey man could also curl up in there… great… now I’m going to be scared every time I open the pump house door… As I was sitting in the car trying to decide what my threshold would be for when I had to go curl up in the pump house, I got a message. 

My sister was awake!

It had been two hours and my wonderful godson was awake wanting a bottle! After some back and forth, my plan of waiting until 7 or 8 in the morning for her parents to wake up and then walking over there to get my spare key was kyboshed. They sleep until 10:00 or so. We settled on I would call a taxi to take me to her house. I’d either sleep there and we’d sort it in the morning or I’d get my spare key and drive her car back to the cottage, sort it all and either drive the car back that night or in the morning.

I had always wondered if taxis would come out that far so I supposed that was probably as good a time as any to find out. Given that I don’t speak Finnish, actually calling a taxi was out of the question. I opened up the MyTaxi app I had fortuitously downloaded in London to order black cabs (I won’t use Uber). Just as I was about to tap the “current location” icon, the thing happened that we were all worried about happening with me inside the car with there being a curve in the road.

A blinding light came in through the driver’s side window…

Three thoughts ran through my head either simultaneously or in such rapid succession I couldn’t differentiate: Don’t hit me!; The boogey man in that car is going to kill me. I’m going to be one of those true crime horror stories.; Yay! A person who might be able to help!

The car stopped. It hadn’t been going that fast I just had no way to know. The driver pulled a head enough his headlights weren’t aimed at my window. I squinted out the window trying to decide if it was worth the risk of the boogey man being the driver. And that’s when I saw it – a glowing beacon from the roof. “Taksi”. It still could have been a taxi driving boogey man but I was at least a little hopeful things would be resolved easily. And then that hope went away. The lovely older gentleman who was very confused and concerned about my situation spoke no English. 

Using the few Finnish words I know and a lot of gestures, we concluded my car was stuck. My keys for the cottage and car were inside my cottage. My sister has keys to my cottage. He would drive me to my sister’s house.

Happily, I grabbed my wallet and phone then jumped in to the front seat of the taxi with this nice man. Surprisingly, this was all resolving quite easily. Until he put my sister’s address into his GPS and it came back as somewhere like 100 kms away. I said nope, not the right one. He tried again. Same thing. And then I remembered… despite her road having been around for more than a decade, Google Maps doesn’t have it on its maps. A brief panic set in until I realized, I drive there all the time. Without GPS. We don’t need GPS, just me pointing fingers at each intersection. 

I would love to hear how he tells the story of that night. He was baffled that it was my cottage. That I was an American and that it was my cottage. Once he understood the entire predicament, he shook his head and laughingly said, “women”. So, I hope he was able to regale his wife and friends with the story of how he helped the crazy American woman who owns a cottage in Finland and managed to lock her cottage and car keys in the cottage in the middle of the night…

Despite our massive language chasm, I learned a lot on my taxi ride. He taught me how to say, ‘go right’ and ‘go left’ which increased my Finnish vocabulary to about 30 words. (10 of those are 1-10…) But with those 30 words I did manage to express my devestation at the fact the nearby “town” which I translated to be called “coffee town” was a) not really a town and b) had no coffee.

That conversation went something like: 

Me in Finnish: “Oh, Coffee Town. No Coffee. -Angry Face-“

Him: Chuckles a little, “Kahvi, Coffee!”

Me in Finnish: “Yes.” 

Him in English: “Coffee land. No coffee.”

Me: Google translated ‘land’ and became even more annoyed it is in fact the land of coffee but doesn’t have coffee. That’s way worse than a coffee town without coffee! 

By then we were at the next turn and I forgot all about coffee; back to practicing “go left” in Finnish. I also learned he has two children and a stepchild. All younger than me. When we got to my sister’s he said he could take me back to the cottage. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that in the first place… it definitely resolved all of the car returning issues of me borrowing my sister’s car.

While he took a smoke break, I ran in, grabbed my spare key off the couch where she left it for me. I also quickly used her bathroom. (She had gone back to sleep as any good mother of a one year old would do at that hour.) I had been holding it for a while. I wasn’t 100% sure I could get to the outhouse, pee and get back before the car doors auto-locked. Also, I knew the minute I squatted in the woods, the boogey man or a car would come around and find me. 

Back to the cottage we went.

I continued to practice my left and right on the drive. 30 minutes, €67 and a generous tip later I was back inside the cottage with both the cottage key and the car key zipped securely into my coat pocket. My kind taxi driver waited down on the road to make sure I had the keys and could start the car before heading home.

I’m assuming there. A woman called right as we got back to the cottage. Best I could tell, he was supposed to have been home already but wasn’t so she called. He hit ‘home’ on his GPS as I got out to run up the driveway to retrieve my keys. With a wave, he took off when I successfully turned the rental car on. Did I already mention that before I realized the car keys were in the cottage, I had shoveled out the ice/snow the car got stuck on? Yeah, I realized I didn’t have the car keys when I was finished doing that and went to open the door to put the shovel in the back seat so I could move the car…

By 04:00, I was in my PJs, tucked into my nice comfy bed, in my warmed up cottage – because in the whole 5 minutes I was in there the first time, I did manage to turn the thermostat up from its “while I’m away” setting of 10C/50F to 18C/68F.

When I woke up at 10:00 it was light out and I was pleased to find the car right where I had left it the night before – pulled off to the side of the road just past my driveway, not blocking traffic at all.

No longer locked out!! Cottage at night with the front door open and lights on inside. Snow is deeper than the porch.
The morning after I was locked out, the blue hatchback car was safely parked on the street at the end of my snow covered driveway with a neon reflective vest on the back windshield.

I spent two hours shoveling a narrow path up the driveway so I could walk more easily up and down to the car while I was there, but I harbored no false hope that I’d be driving the car up to the cottage that trip. The snow had such a thick layer of ice on top of it. I was able to walk on top of the snow in a lot of places. And then the next step my leg would sink in, almost up to my knee. That being said, my carry-on was the only one that made it into the cottage.

Walking up a snow covered driveway with suitcase balanced on my head and a neon safety vest on