My way to the starting line

Inka Isotalo is an adventurous all-rounder who embraced motorsport as an adult, and by chance. She spends her time balancing between family life, AI consulting and travelling. During winter weekends, she's off to snowy trails, with a race number taped on her sled for the first year running. In 2022, Inka will try to attend all Finnish national championship snowmobile sprints and enduros to gain maximal experience for the next season. When the races are over, she will head to Lapland to pick up the last rays of spring sunshine, where else but from the back of a snowmobile. 

I’m lying on the table of an operating room in the hospital of Monaco. The surgeon gently suggests directing my thoughts to a serene place, where I feel happiest. I seem confused and he coaxes me to think about beaches, waves and nice scenery. I try to focus. I’m not on the coast, but actually in a forest. It’s cold. I see trees whizzing past, something powerful is dancing beneath me in the powdery snow and I feel exhilarated – liberated of any stress and responsibilities. It’s just me, my snowmobile and the arctic nature. I focus on breathing in happiness and freedom, and just before the lights go out, I realise that this feeling is something I need more of, urgently.

Photo: Jouni Jormanainen



Two years later, I have moved back to Finland and find myself travelling to Lapland whenever possible, since that’s where I can ride my snowmobile. While my friends depart on weekend breaks to metropolitan cities, I’m off to the woods. Because I want, or actually NEED to ride. Slowly all free time begins to focus on snowy activities and even though I live far away from Lapland, I find myself longing for more. When summer arrives, I already miss snow and riding. I’m always the last of the pack on trail, since most of my riding pals are professional athletes of various forms of motorsport, and all male. But somehow, through a peculiar mix of will and persistence, I manage to hang in there and hold the pace.

One day, during a break amidst heavy riding, I get asked why I haven’t considered competing in this sport. Laughter bursts out of me, since I find the idea completely absurd. I live in the city center of Helsinki, with no access to a proper training environment, no garage and absolutely no mechanic skills. I’m nearly forty and drowning in work, family life and physically a lightyear away of an athlete. I have no background in motorsports and my schedules are a mess. I finish my coffee, pop on my helmet and head back to the trail, but a small seed of thought has been planted and I come to realize, that I can’t get rid of it.

Snowmobiling friends start to appear in to my life, more than ever before. I love hanging out with people who share the same passion, and even though I’m exhausted after every trip, the mental energy gained during those adventures keeps me going for weeks. I need more of this, says the voice inside of my head. When the year is rounding toward it’s end, I have set my mind. I’m not sure how to justify it, even for myself, but I have made a decision to start competing. Finnish championships in snowmobile sprint, to begin with. People around me react by laughing, reminding me of realities and the fact, that competing on a national level is no joke. But something has already happened and my body starts to adjust.



I start waking up naturally before 6 am, sans alarm. First a session on the spinning bike, then a superfood drink, stretching and off to work. Every morning, as if programmed by some invisible force. Tights, headphones, pedal, drink. Repeat. I manage to stay healthy and happily notice, that my condition slowly starts to improve. I take up the subject of racing again among my closest, but still face puzzled looks and shakes of the head. Then and there I decide, that succeeding is also a matter of attitude and a strong mindset. I choose to resolve the part of missing physical strength with exceptional determination, as this is not the first time I jump towards the unknown. To think of it, I haven’t seen traces of my comfort zone for years anyway. The risks and challenges involved make the opportunity seem tempting, as nothing is worse than a life full of vanilla. As the song goes, you’re not living if you don’t feel alive.

The months roll past and the pandemic hits hard our race calendar of sprint competitions. First I feel relieved, but then the frustration arrives. I’m not ready to quit, I want more. I join a riding event for ladies, organised by Lynx. We get lots of good tips and advice on riding techniques and the hunger for riding keeps growing. A friend of mine suggests signing up for a snowmobile enduro race and I suspect he’s gone a bit overboard on optimism, since I really don’t have what it takes. But he pushes me onwards and announces, that training on suitable grounds will commence now.

The first time on a proper enduro trail is a huge shock. I manage to mess up in all possible ways during one day: the sled is stuck, buried sideways, flipped over and even wrapped around a tree. I feel like a swimmer, who has been dragged out of the pool’s safety to face Atlantic tides for the first time. My friend reminds me, that the snowmobile has actually been designed to excel in difficult conditions like this, it’s just the rider who has some adjusting to do. I sleep through my frustration and decide to perform better tomorrow. When the sun rises on a new day, I have learnt my lesson. The deep ditches, melted lakes, swamps and stumps aren’t able to beat me and my Lynx any longer and I feel the thrill- this might actually work after all. After checking the distance covered, I realise that I would need to carry this on for five times longer to endure one race day. The thought is too much and I bury it back to where it appeared from, luckily motorsports is a head game anyway. At least that’s what they say.


Suddenly I’m on the starting line. “10 seconds”, booms the marshall. And GO! My first stage of snowmobile enduro makes me wish I never signed up for the whole damn thing. A variation of curses and laughter ring inside my helmet as I jump up and down the first kilometers of the tough race trail. I feel like I’ve come to play in the wrong league and it was all a really, really bad idea. But somehow I manage to stay on board and ride my way up to the first service break. Ten minutes of mercy, and back to it. Even though the weather is horrible and conditions really challenging, somewhere along the day I begin to believe that I could actually pull this off. I manage to complete the final stage of the day, total effort of 215kms, without mistakes. I’m floating in a sensation of disbelief, ecstasy and pure exhaustion, but I know the worst is now behind. On the second day of the race, I come to face the huge lack of power I need to deal with. Oh, how I wish I’d had time to go to the gym, everything is hard and hurts. The kilometers are endless. But then the sun comes out, and I find the rhythm and feeling again. If I made it this far, nothing will stop me now. I manage to cross the finish line with a broad grin on my face, bewildered to find myself in fifth place. I did it, my Lynx did it, we did it! I sign up for the next race before I go to bed. We have some adventures to attend, my Lynx and I, our journey has only yet begun.


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