Random Walk: Mystery Trip

Random Walk: Mystery Trip

Our next installment of the Random Walk Series is brought to us by Evan Coughenour, who went on the Mystery Trip. The Mystery Trip is designed such that all first-year students and their second-year trip leaders do not know their destination until they arrive at the airport on Day 1 of Random Walk. All they receive prior to the trip is a list of recommended items to pack! Based on what Evan has shared, it sounds like this was the trip of a lifetime!

August 18th, 2012: I arrive at Chicago O’Hare Terminal 5, with no idea where I’ll be flying. Bags are packed with “casual/comfortable clothing and comfortable shoes for touring/activities” suitable for temperatures that will be “comfortable during the day, cool in the evening.” The fifteen other bold (crazy?) souls who have also opted for the Mystery Trip have packed similarly. We know little about each other and nothing about where we’re going.

Reactions on hearing our destination

Fast forward eight days. We’re flying back to the US from Helsinki, the sand of two countries on our feet, a fair amount of pickled herring (and Finlandia) in our stomachs, reindeer antlers in our bags, and the native Sami Yoiks of Lapland still ringing in our ears. We feel as if we’ve condensed a month of travel into just over a week, and the strangers whom we left with now feel like our new urban family.

The decision to opt for the Mystery Trip was an easy one for me: I’d traveled previously to most other Random Walk destinations, and I’m generally thirsty for adventure. Never before and never again would a similar opportunity come my way – so I jumped and didn’t look back. The Mystery Trip was my number one choice; I later learned that this was (perhaps unsurprisingly) the case for the large majority of our group.

After a morning bike tour and “Slow Sunday” brunch overlooking Helsinki harbor at Restaurant Saaristo, we wandered into club Namu, where a Finnish Reggae ensemble was about to take the stage. Our first night quickly set the tone for our trip: unexpected and awesome. While I don’t usually associate Finland and Reggae, the group was remarkably solid.

Crystal feeds reindeer in Lapland.

Two days later, we journeyed by coach bus into Lapland – the Finnish version of the Wild West, where reindeer roam free and the native Sami people regale their visitors with powerful songs/chants called yoiks. We visited a bona fide reindeer farm, managing to hand feed the gentle animals while dodging their freshly grown and still felt-covered antlers. Our hosts then treated us to a Lappish cultural experience, complete with tasty coffee-warmed cheese, a giant teepee, and a selection of the greatest hits of the Sami yoik genre.

We awoke the next morning at the placid Petäys resort, surrounded by the deep blue waters of Lake Vanajavesi. We proceeded to row to a campsite on the small island of Leppäuluoto. Surrounded by nature, our guide heated up coffee and an apple-pie like dish to satiate the appetite we’d worked up during our vigorous row.

Upon returning to the resort, we transitioned to the origin of all things Finland: the saüna. We detoxed for a few hours, feeling like true Finns, proud to have extended our Random Walk into the toasty heart of Finnish culture.

Safety first in Soviet Tallinn.

On Day 5, we crossed the Baltic to Tallinn on a monstrous cruise-ship ferry. Upon landing in Estonia, we were promptly thrown into yet another mystery as two locals in full Soviet gear “abducted” us, cramming our 16-person group into a tiny Soviet-era diesel bus and transporting us to the notorious Patarei Prison. Once a detainment and execution center for political “undesirables,” Patarei now stood starkly abandoned in much the same state as it had been left in 1992. It was not a tourist site, and we were fortunate to have the opportunity to experience this vestige of the Soviet-era. Our hosts balanced a good amount of humor with the gravitas required by such a sad venue.

Photo hunting in Tallinn

We kicked off Day 6 with a photo scavenger hunt of Tallinn’s picturesque old town. Our three teams explored the city on film, acting out pre-ordained shots in creative fashion. After the photo hunt finished, I had a chance to explore the city a bit on my own, dodging tourists and managing to take in a fantastic performance of Bach’s “Little” Fugue in G Minor at the organ high above the city in the old Toomkirik.

Violinist at Dom Party

After polishing off a massive medieval feast, our group made the most of our Friday night in Tallinn at a party sponsored by Dom Perignon. Earlier that day, a few of our intrepid leaders had scored tickets to the event from its star performer – a Russian violinist who managed to give a stand up performance on amplified violin over some strong house music from 2 stellar DJs. We danced the night away, capping it off with a tasty Estonian burger.

At Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

I enjoyed these parts of the trip tremendously, but by far the best part of Random Walk was getting to know some of my future Booth classmates and hearing about the amazing experiences our four second-year leaders had enjoyed during their first half of business school. We shared planes, meals, stories, rooms, teepees, longboats, busses, ferries, drinks, dance floors, concert halls, tour guides, reindeer food, fresh salmon, and an adventure. Most importantly of all, we shared each other’s company.

I fully expected the Mystery Trip to attract some of Booth’s most colorful characters, and it didn’t disappoint. Our group combined 16 adventure-seeking personalities – entrepreneurs, engineers, financiers, techies, consultants, equity research analysts, and explorers – into a veritable smörgåsbord of adventure. Our leaders were flexible, competent, and caring – making sure that the group stuck together (no easy task) and that each and every one of us had the time of our lives. I’d take the trip again in a heartbeat.

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