We thought that the Thon Hotel in Kirkenes was really good. It had a wonderful outdoor area on the fjord and great views. We made full use of the Nespresso machine downstairs available for guests and had a great breakfast. Moisture from rain had seeped into Mike's cycle computer and it was slowly dying. We don't really need one as we have the GPSs but it is valuable as an odometer. We looked around two sports stores in town for one but then thought we would leave it for the Intersport store we had seen on the way in to Kirkenes yesterday. The weather today was great; perfect blue sky with white fluffy clouds. We left at 12:00 pm for what would be mainly a backtrack, all the way to the Salmon Fishing Bushcamp on the Neiden River. As we left the hotel the road signs gave the options: Alta, Tana Bru... and Murmansk! We will be heading south through East Finland and the Russian border will not be far away.
We picked up a simple bike computer at Intersport just out of town. The road was much quieter than it had been on Monday morning, less truck traffic. Also it seemed easier. Clearly a bit of pampering in a hotel i.e. comfy bed and shower, make a difference to performance! We had a rest after about 30 km and then passed the fishing spot where we turned left immediately towards Finland. The border crossing came after about 8 km or so without much fanfare. We then came across our first shop in Finland in Näätamö and bought some cooked meals from the deli; lasagna and chicken. The guy who served us was one of the fishermen we met at the Neiden River! What a coincidence! He even showed us a photo of the 17 kg whopper he had caught last month! About 5 km further on we passed a lake and a track turned off. We camped just off the track and had an ICY swim in the lake, watched quietly by a statuesque white reindeer stag with an impressive set of antlers. I write to the pitter patter of a million sandflies that have gleefully taken up residence under the tent fly sheet. They like a bit of shelter from the wind as much as we do! Just being in Finland things are different already. The road runs flat and straight before us. We will not see the sea now until Helsinki which is fine with us as we have spent a lot of time along the coast in Norway. It felt quite sad to leave Norway. We cycled 2,980 km in Norway in the end and every pedal stroke was worth it. An amazing experience!
We felt tired this morning and ended up leaving around 8:30 am after a slowish start. We remain on the same road today that we took over the border yesterday, and would not meet one intersection the whole day. No roads will meet this one at all! It feels remote, and makes navigation quite easy! There are distance markers to Ivalo, which we will go through tomorrow and later Kaamane. The fact that there is a distance marker lulls you into a false sense of security. It does not mean that these places have any facilities, shops, etc. We would only pass one shop/petrol station today, Sevetin Baari, after about 27 km. We have learnt to look for petrol stations rather than shops on the GPS in these remote areas as the petrol station often has a shop as well. The road continues flat and straight through pine forest and birch grove. We had some light rain this morning and passed under some huge dark clouds throughout the day, but the heavy rain only fell in the evening when we were in the tent and that is fine with us!
Around 10:30 am we noticed something strange! The GPSs were telling us it was 11:30 am! Clearly we had entered a different timezone without knowing. So our 8:30 am start was actually a 9:30 am start! Around this time we happily arrived at Sevetin Barri only to find that all the services on the road service board had been blakced out, even the name of the place! Looking through the pine forest you could see some buildings but they were all closed. Oops! So much for our shop! We backtracked a few hundred meters to a sign for a campsite that advertised a restaurant, thinking we could pick up a warm meal. It was a little off the road along a track. We went into the restaurant and saw coffee pots, biscuits and waffles set out on some tables. Further in was another area where a lady was cooking. I went through and asked her what food they could prepare but she could not understand English. Another lady came in and managed to communicate that they had a group coming in at 12:30 pm so no service for anyone else. We had some coffee and biscuits and filled up our water bottles.
Onwards we went, our goal being around 80 km when we would look for a bush camp. We had seen some fabulous ones today, along lake edges on the floors of pine forests. We had no doubt one would present itself we we needed it to! We passed two campsites and had a look to see if they offered meals, but they did not. The landscape started to change, the big lakes and rocky or sandy shores gave way to scrubby bush and boggy swampland. Not so easy to find a camp spot. Eventually we hit the 100 km mark and also rode our 8,000th kilometre of the trip! Then we suddenly crossed a bridge over a big river and on the other side was a flat, dry spot to camp. The place is under seige by mozzies. Thousands of them. We somehow managed to jump into the river before being eaten alive much to the suprise of two fishermen in a boat on the other side of the bridge. Nothing nicer than a cold river swim to soothe the mozzie bites! Also, if you can stay in long enough hopefully your skin cools down enough that they cannot sense you. It's a theory anyway. I was almost dressed when the fishermen came under the bridge and welcomed us to Finland! They had driven from Helsinki yesterday and it took 15 hours. I said it would take us a little longer! We took shelter in our tent and the mozzies and sandflies have moved in too.
We had rain again in the early hours and slept in a bit, managing to rouse ourselves at 7:00 am. Adjusting to the change in timezone is our new excuse! Took a bit of effort to get going and do battle with the blood suckers, but they are never as bad in the morning. The weather today was really nice, cloudy but no rain and the sun came out every now and then. We also had some views today, passing many very large lakes. The road was not as flat, but gently up and down. These things make for more interesting riding. We planned to ride 80 km to Ivalo, splitting the day nicely at Inari after 40 km. We decided to book into a campsite tonight as bug avoidance is tiresome, and a hot shower is nice too. When bushcamping in Finland, you will usually have bugs to contend with in summer and this means that you can't really enjoy your campsite, you really just get in the tent and stay there. A campsite might offer indoor seating and of course a hot shower which means you do not have to expose your vulnerable bits to the insect world. The distance between river's edge and plunging into the depths can be all it takes...
After about 15 km we made a left hand turn at our first Finnish intersection! We are now following the E75/Route 4 but it didn't really get any busier. The road is a good one. We passed a cute curio shop at a layby which we had a look at. Beautiful hand-made crafts. We arrived at Inari which is home to the Sámi Museum and some other souvenier stores; all promoting Lapland. Over the road from the museum is a silversmith's shop with beautiful items on sale. I spoke to the silversmith and he apologised for his poor English and phoned his wife to ask her to come to the store; they live behind it. I had already made my selection of a pair of earrings when she arrived. Noting that no help was needed she laughed and said that she had had to jump out of the shower and get dressed in a hurry when he called! They kindly gave us a piece of pure silver stamped Inari as a momento when they heard about our journey. The pure silver can apparently be used in a water bottle to remove impurities, although she was quick to advise us that there is no scientific proof for this and it should not be used as a purification system! It now lies peacefully at the bottom of Mike's mould infested water bottle. We are conducting our own experiment to see if it works!
We were most excited by the supermarket in Inari and bought Cornflakes and milk which we devoured at a nearby bench. We then pressed on to Ivalo, a larger town. The route passed many picnic sites and beautiful river spots. It was nice to be back in the pine forests and out of yesterday's bogs and swamps. We did a larger shop at Ivalo and then checked out both campsites. The first was a bit off the road on a river with a herd of reindeer grazing the edge, but the kitchen was a bit grimy and it seemed very quiet. We went on the the second right on the road and it offered wifi and nice campsites along the river. It had been nice to sit outside in a relatively bugfree environment. The hot shower was one of our best trip to date!
We were both tired last night but after an hour woke again and could not sleep. We read for a bit and chatted and then fell back to sleep but were woken by people walking right past our tent and talking at 2:00 am. Not sure what they were doing as our tent was right at the end of a strip of gravel road which made up the camping area. After this it still sounded as if there was someone around in nearby bushes and long grass but it must have been our imagination. Eventually we fell asleep again and woke at 7:00 am thinking "What? I can't get up yet!". We wondered about a rest day but it wasn't a great spot for one so decided to sleep on it and rethink later on. We woke up again at 9:00 am and decided to have a leisurely start, our old theory that "Some distance is better than none" coming to the fore. We knew that we would have a tail wind today as it was blowing north and also that we would have some rain around midday. We decided to aim for Saariselka, the next town and then hopefully go on from there to Kakslautten.
We left at 11:00 am which is a record late start for us, but actually time of day does not mean much here. Sleep when you need to, eat when you need to, ride when it feels right! The sun is actualy setting and rising now and there is noticeably some darkness at night, but I still find it best to use my eye mask all night. To our suprise we had a climb to 350 m today! Who knew, Finnish Lapland does have higlands! No trees up here, just reindeer. Could we be back in Norway? Nice descent after that into Saariselkä. There were many motorbike riders converging on the area and throughout the day we had a stream of them coming towards us, which added to the truck traffic and usual campervans, made for a busy road. We found out later that the biggest motobiking event in Finland was on this weekend. We don't really know what that means. We went to visitor info to check out some maps and then to the supermarket for some food for the day.
We went to an outdoor store to try to get some more benzine (Coleman Fuel/ White Gas) for our stove as we are running low, but they had none. Mike bought a cool shirt though. As we left the heavens opened and a heavy downpour started. We took refuge under a nearby shelter, drank our coffee and ate bananas. We donned wet weather gear, and then the sun came out. We put the flasks away, another downpour commenced! Mike spotted a place called "Design Centre" up the road and we went to check this out whilst waiting for the rain to abate. Finnish design. Say no more. Cycle tourists have to employ the highest self-discipline as "There is no room for it". Whatever it is. Which is why I limit myself to tiny items like jewellery. And stickers for my bike. In honesty there hasn't been much that I've seen and really wanted, Norway did not have much to tempt us and neither did the UK. Finland is another story. Who would have thought that you would have found a "Design Centre" in a tiny place like this in Lappland? Amazing. I bought a fabulous tunic top/dress and Mike got a wallet. As we are now in the last 6 weeks of the trip and do not have to traverse the highlands of ... anywhere really, carrying a bit extra seems okay. It was a great store and they are happy to ship anything to me at home! "Arctic Queen" is the name.
We had some rain now and then but it was a quick 32 km to Vuotsola, leapfrogging Kakslautten with it's fabulous glass Igloo Village accomodation, including glass Lavuu! We stopped at Tankavaara for a late lunch which we enjoyed at the National Park Visitor's Centre picnic area nearby. We arrived shortly thereafter at Vuotsola which is the southernmost Samí town. We found a spot to camp on the river edge and had a bracing swim. The water here in Finland is very cold! There were mozzies but we dealt with them quick smart with our can of Raid. We have often debated it but never done it, however in the interests of surviving to Helsinki we bought it. And it works. A few sprays and the mozzies lurking under the flysheet gave up and disappeared. Yay for us!
It seems that 7:00 am is our new wake up time! We are not sure what became of our 6:00 am wake up time and can't believe that we had days when we were on the road before 7:00 am. Must be the changing seasons! Today Finland served up the typical Finnish ride; flat as! Average speed was around 23 km per hour for most of the day! We still had that fabulous northerly wind and were heading south for the most part. No rain! Still only 10 degrees though. The pine forests stretched flat and wide on either side of the road. We were still on the E75 until Sondankylä, after which we took the E63 or Route 5 towards Kemijarvi which we will reach tomorrow. We stopped for a delicious meal at a Neste petrol station on arrival to Sondankylä. Petrol stations can be relied on up here for good meals for travellers. We shopped at a Lidl! Haven't seen one since the UK. Back to those old favourites, Stracciatello yoghurt, etc. We chatted to a Belgium cycle tourist who has been on the road for a year and cycled through Turkey, Morrocco and Russia!
We had about 14 km to ride after Sodankylä to a picnic site on the GPS. We turned off a little early and found ourselves faced with a steep, chunky gravel road. We left the bikes at the top and walked down the hill, and then up through a beautiful pine forest to the lake shore. There we found a brilliant Laavu, with freshly chopped firewood for burning and seating all around. Also a toilet and further firewood store. On top of this there were wooden steps down to the lake for swimming. Perfect! We then spotted that there was a road further on from where we left the bikes, for more direct access. We walked back to the bikes and rode a little further on and then set up camp at the shelter. We even made a fire; the first time on the trip. The smoke sure does get rid of the mozzies! We had another cold swim and ate a supper of veggies which we are both craving now. The skies cleared towards evening so we are hoping that after 5 days in Finland we will have warmer weather. We have only one more day riding north of the Arctic Circle, having crossed it going northwards on 17 July. So we have spent a month of the three in the Arctic which is quite amazing. We are starting to notice the undergrowth really coming alive; berries and mushrooms sprout everywhere. You can just pick blueberries as you go along, they grow everywhere. It's a world in minature under your feet; the tiniest flowers and lichens and mosses. Beautiful.
It was hard to leave our beautiful campsite, especially as we woke to see mist rising off the lake and clear blue skies. It had grown cold and darker overnight, it feels that the seasons are changing now and that we are shifting closer to home with the days and nights behaving as they should. We noted that now there is a definite sunset and sunrise and the night is suddenly longer; sun setting at around 10:00 pm and rising at 4:30 am. We had a wonderful quiet night's sleep and today we were off to Kemijärvi, just short of 100 km away. We looked forward to the metropolis! The day started with rolling hills, but nothing too arduous and then from Pelkosenniemi we followed the Kemijoki (river) so once again made brilliant time with an average speed for the day above 20 km/h. We passed a monument to the Finns and Russians who fell in the Winter War of 1939.
Shortley after this we passed the turnoff to Pyhä-Luoston National Park and a beautiful picnic spot. We raced into Kemijärvi and arrived at the campsite at 2:00 pm. It had really good facilities and was very quiet. We might stay for a rest day here tomorrow. We made the best of the facilities by walking into town and buying fabulous pepper steaks and then making a big fire in the grilli and having a braai/barbecue! Wow! What a winner! If we stay here tomorrow we will do the same! Next to the campsite is a summer mogul ski jump and we watched some crazy Finns zoom down, do double somersaults and twists in the air before whacking skis first into the lake! Our campsite was also visited by four sort of tame reindeer which was a bit of a surprise!
Also, after checking in we noticed that the french flag was taken down and replaced with an Aussie Flag to partner the Finland, Sweden and Norway flags. A nice welcoming touch!
We decided to spend a rest day in Kemijärvi and we were quite excited about having another braai/barbeque in the grilli. We were unfortunately kept awake during the night by some or other critters marauding under the tent and racing around all night. In the morning Mike noticed little well-worn tracks in the grass all around the tent from the nearby hedges, clearly the critter race tracks. We would move the tent the next night!
We went to buy steaks and other food we would need for the day and the deli in the supermarket had fresh cloudberries for sale. We had seen cloudberries since the islands in Norway, but very few and never ripe enough to eat. I was really pleased as these are an Arctic berry and we had been wanting to try them. I think you need to know where to find them and behind forests is best. We bought some and ate them later with vanilla frozen yoghurt for dessert. They are a tart berry with a creamy texture. The lady at the deli said that local people pick them and sell them direct to the shop.
Apart from a second, delicious meal of tender steaks grilled to perfection, I also had a hair cut and did some washing. Mike downloaded the Google Translate app to his new GPS and so now we understand stuff we did not before. We had a very relaxing day under blue Finnish skies. The weather is set to remain good for a while. The hairdresser was a little unhappy as she had had a month off for her summer holiday and had had bad weather.Then, the day she came back to work summer arrived. I can appreciate her frustration!
We had a critter-free night and woke to another beautiful day. We left before 8:00 am and stopped on the way for food for the day and also more cloudberries which we would eat on the road with Greek yoghurt for lunch. We were still on the E63 (Route 5) and throughout the day climbed at a low gradient to over 300 m. We had a bike path for about 10 km after leaving the town and on the way we saw a small boy waiting for the bus in brand new school gear, so school holidays are over too! Quieter roads and campsites for us. Kemijärvi has a railway line that runs between it and Rovaniemi and this is the first time we have seen a railway line since Bodø in Norway. After about 45 km we crossed the Arctic Circle. We have been in the Arctic since 17 July so that is a large chunk of our time here. We expect the weather now to remain perfect and the mozzies to disappear!
We stopped for lunch after about 80 km and were expecting a bush camp on a river at about 100 km. Unfortunately, although the river was fabulous, wide and quick flowing, there was nowhere suitable to camp. We kept going, stopping here and there to check out potential spots. Eventually we came upon an info board and saw that there was a campsite about 4 km further on. It is a lovely place in a pine forest by a lake, small and very reasonably priced and had all we needed such as outdoor cooking areas, grilli and our first authentic Finnish smoke sauna; the kind where you light a fire to heat up the rocks and pour water on top. Right outside was the board walk to jump off into the lake. Unfortunately the day had been long and I wasn't really up to lighting a fire, etc. for the sauna. As we drank tea overlooking the lake two reindeer visited the campsite. We saw reindeer today as usual but not as many as before. Maybe they know where the Arctic Circle is too!
Another beautiful summer's day in Northern Finland! We are really appreciating this weather! We passed through Ruka with it's gondola's, ski lifts and huts and stopped at Kuusamo for breakfast and shopping. Kuusamo is quite a big town, seems much larger than Kemijärvi. We visited a great souvenier store with big candles in the shape of cloudberries and other amazing things that you think you want because you've been living out of two panniers and a rack pack for 5 months. We also spent some time at the fabulous visitor's centre as we had two camping options, a campsite right at the Kylmäluoma National Hiking Area, or a lean to/laavu in the hiking area. This was important as we were deciding whether to take the risk and buy steaks to barbeque. We were pretty sure there would be a grilli or campfire, but not sure on a grid or wood being available. We went to Lidl to shop and threw caution to the wind and bought some steaks which were vacuum packed. Then Mike found those single use BBQ grills so we bought one and were happy in the knowledge that come what may, we had steak for dinner!
We had a further 55 km to ride after this and the road was still quietish, still lined with fir tree forest and still dotted with reindeer from time to time. Cycling in Finland sure gives you time to think of other things. From time to time Mike uses his new app to translate stuff we see on signboards and things become clearer! We had seen a sign showing where a "Veenenlaskupaikka" was since we arrived in Finland and now we know this is a boat ramp! Cool, but pointless, hey! We are becoming fluent Finnish speakers! Then only 2 km before the turn off to the campsite we came apon a great bush camp. We pitched the tent high up on a pine needle-strewn piece of earth and had a good swim in the lake. Then we got our grilli going and, tiny thing that it was, it was able to cook 4 steaks, toast two cheese and tomato rolls and roast a bag of marshmallows! Pretty efficient stuff. It was lovely sitting out in a bug free environment. It was a warm, dry afternoon and evening with a slight wind.
We woke to the sun peaking through the pine trees and glimpsed two reindeer making their way up from the lake below our tent to the road. After these two though we did not see another reindeer for ages until shortly before the end of the day. Could be a sign that we are moving further south. We are starting to see birch tree leaves changing colour and also more and more berries, especially cranberries now. Autumn is coming, but fortunately we still have wonderful weather. Bit of a headwind today and the road wasn't flat. Still, Riding in the Finland does make for numb hands which is a sure sign of flat riding.
We have to say that the day's ride was boring. We had hoped for a shop which was marked on a roadside map at about 35 km but there was no sign of it. We stopped at a picnic site at a river with a small memorial of the place where the Finns defeated the mighty Soviet Union in the Winter War 1939. We expect to see more of these markers after Suomussalmi. It is interesting to read about the history of Finland, particularly pertaining to independance from Russia. Then about 30 km further on we passed a closed tearoom with an amazing installation artwork in the field next door, entitled "The Silent People". It was very effective and pretty creepy. It is 1000 people made of wooden sticks with grassy mounds on their heads. They are faceless and dressed in old clothes and all facing the road. Kind off like a crowd of scarecrows. How weird, or perhaps fitting that on a stretch of road with nothing going on, this thing emerges!
Suomussalmi surprised us by being a lovely town with a good visitors centre and fabulous swimming place on the lake shore. Beautiful lawns and a frisbee golf course. All in use by sun-hungry Finns. The Frisbee Golf courses are really nice to see and they are always well used. They are common in Scandinavia. We whiled away the afternoon on the lawn after shopping at the large K-Supermarket. We filled up with plenty of water at the visitors centre and around 7:00 pm we moved round the lake to a little beach where we made camp for the night.
Beautiful sunrise over the lake at 4:00 am this morning and the day dawned clear with blue skies. We have forgotten what it was like to be cold and wet! Long may the weather last. We are seeing many more berries now, cranberries as well as blue berries and much of the vegetation on the roadside is starting to display autumn colours.
We have been riding along a section of the E63 called the Via Karelia since Kemijärvi. Karelia is an area of Finland and also forms part of Russia. Today this route turned off the E63 onto a smaller road, the 912. Here the forest grows right up to the bitumen and you can imagine bears and wolves in their local habitat. We started the day passing interesting monuments and memorials to the soldiers of the Winter War between Finland and Russia. In particular there is the Winter War Memorial which has a wonderful bell tower with 105 bells representing the number of days the war lasted. Surrounding the bells are rocks laid out in a circular grouping. It is a moving memorial. The bells are arranged to move in the wind. There are also tanks on display and information boards. There is a museum building but it was not open when we were there. We passed Ala-Vuokki shop and bought milk. Later on we turned off the 912 onto an even quieter road towards the Russian border at Vartia. We came within 2 km of the border here. We ended our day at the campsite in Lentiira as there was not much bush camping available. The weather was good so it was easy to press on a bit further and have the convenience that a campsite offers.
We did have a very close call today when a campervan (we call them "idiotvans") came up behind us and overtook us, slowing to a stop whilst doing so centimeteres from bumping us off the road. I yelled and Mike yelled and they just stopped, for no apparent reason. Mike went round to a window and gave them a piece of his mind.
We took a while to fall asleep last night due to manic husky dog barking on a farm nearby. It sounded like 10 dogs and they were crazy. Eventually they stopped and we had silence. Maybe they were being pestered by wolves? We had a later start as we had a shorter day today. Shortly after we got on the road we came upon hunters. Must be the start of the season. They were sort of spaced at intervals along the road all looking into the bush, fully kitted out with camo gear and rifles. They were pretty serious, waiting for the go ahead perhaps? We kept up a high speed. We arrived in Kuhmo at about 11:00 am and did some grocery shopping. We bought some cooked chicken for lunch and went to the nearby swimming hole on the lake to eat it. It was a beautiful day and the swimming hole area was lovely. Green lawns and the beautiful lake. We left Kuhmo on the bike path and then turned onto route 75 to Lieksa and Nurmes. A few kilometres on we came to another War Memorial for the Winter War. It was very interesting as there were restored trenches and the original bridge defences were in place. There were also tanks and various other military bits and pieces to look at. Explanatory boards were placed here and there to provide more information. We turned off onto a gravel road which we rode for 10 km towards Luotso National Park and our campsite. We had found a campfire pit on the GPS in the State Forest and thought it would be a good campsite. It was amazing! A little shed with chopped firewood, a campfire with grid and metal skewers (for toasting our marshmallows!), lovely level ground under the pine trees, and a toilet. It was so quiet and sat on a strip of land between two lakes. It was perfect! We had bought chops to braai/barbeque in expectation and had a great fire and a relaxing afternoon.
After reading in bed, we were about to fall asleep when we heard gun shots in the distance. We put it down to hunting season and didn't really worry about it. As we were in a National Park we assume the hunting can't be done here?! We then heard a car pull up along the access road to the campsite and a car door slam. Then a person walked right past the tent and kept going. It sounded like a hiker/hunter in boots with gear as stuff jingled as he walked by. This didn't worry us either after 2 months in Scandinavia; people use the forest just as we do, just at different times.
It was dead quiet in the forest and the silence was deafening. It was also dark when we were woken up by the sound of something big being thrown or landing in a lake far away. This happened about 4 more times and we were racking our brains trying to work out what it was. It had to be louder than a fish jumping and hitting the water; at least any fish of a normal size. Could it be a bear thowing rocks into the lake? Could it be that the shots we had heard were people being executed and now their bodies were being thrown into the lake from a dizzy height? We do not know. Strange things happen in the forest at night! Eventually we got some sleep.
On waking we had 3 km to go along the gravel road until we reached the main road. Then we had a choice, we could take a very quiet tertiary road south to Lieksa but we were unsure of the road quality, or we could ride to Lieksa via Nurmes which would be longer but at least we knew what to expect. We chose the latter. The day was long, very long, with nothing to see along the way. We rode 115 km without seeing a shop or a petrol station or a point of interest. It was pretty boring and after a while of being in remote areas we might have had enough of it! There is only so much you can mull over in your head as you ride to remain conscious. On the plus side, the road was good, as was the weather and it was easy riding. We both started to feel the effects of a long day on the bike however and were very pleased to arrive at the ABC petrol station at Lieksa where we had a meal. We settled in at the campsite which has a free sauna in the mornings and also access to a lovely bathing beach. We will have a rest day here tomorrow and will also relook at our route as we want to plan to end at campsites from now on. We will still use a bush camp if a good one presents itself but we don't want to have to look for one.
We ended up having two days in Lieksa; three nights at the campsite. I really enjoyed the lakeside sauna which was open each morning from 8:00 to 10:00 am. The intense heat of the steam sauna and the cool lake swims were rejuvenating! When we checked in the manager explained that the sauna was male and female mixed so "put something on". This was clearly not what three young male German hikers were told for as I showered myself in my swimmers before entering on the first day they wandered out starker's. They couldn't meet my eyes after that when we saw them in the campsite!
We had wonderful braais/barbeques at the grilli on both days and went down to the bathing beach to swim. It was very relaxing. We also bought two kupsa's, which are traditional drinking mugs carved from curly birch bark or birch trees. We have admired these since first visiting Scandanavia a few years ago and it was great to get them at such a lovely spot, something to remember Lieksa by. We had three beautiful sunsets and even a red moon on the last night. The pine trees above our heads were a riot of red squirrels collecting nuts for winter. Another nice thing was that we met a Finnish man who lives in Wodonga, Victoria, and he came over for a chat. He has a house on the lake in Kemijärvi and invited us to stay! Pity that we had already passed that town a week ago!
We have seven riding days to Lahti, where we will catch a train the short distance to Helsinki. Mike replanned the route and we will have five days where we will end at laavu's which is perfect as it means we still have the bush camp experience with no hunting around! We were on quieter roads today and some gravel road riding as well, about 16 km of it. The weather is still good although rain is forecast for the end of the week. By definition Finnish lavuu's or lean-to's have to have a campfire place, wood supplied and a toilet. We bought meat to cook on the fire again this morning and set off. We do not see reindeer anymore and will drop below 63 degrees North by tonight. There are still bugs but far fewer. We passed 9,000 km today for the trip to date!
The GPS map showed us to turn right off our gravel road to the laavu. All we could see was a house and letter box and it looked like a driveway, but we went for it. At the end, the track continued to another house and we could see the shallow lake behind it. No laavu. We left the bikes and back tracked to a hiking path which we followed and sure enough, there the laavu was on the lake shore. A proper platform for sleeping on under cover (we don't use this as we pitch our tent, but it's a great idea if you have a mozzie net), a good fire area with seating, toilet up the hill and as much wood as you would need. Mike set to work chopping it into smaller pieces and we got a fire going. We each had a "bucket shower". This entailed standing next to the lake and filling a slightly holey metal bucket we found at the shelter with water and throwing the water over ourselves. Quite effective. We were dressed and getting ready to cook, when down the hill came a walker carrying a sausage! He was probably in his later 50's and as he approached said "No England" to which we answered "No Finnish!". He then took a seat at the fire, stuck his sausage on a stick and put it in the flames to warm it. Quite happy, he told us all about his hike, hand signals mainly. We could not understand a thing but tried to sound encouraging. He then took out his phone and we understood he was trying to phone someone who could speak English to translate. We told him we were from Australia and he said things like "hop hop hop" and "Sydney?". Anyway, at least he made the effort! When he got through to the person on the phone it seemed they did not want to translate, so he shook our hands and went off on his way. This is the second rule of bush camping: someone will ALWAYS come along. The sausage angle was a new one though.
Rain woke us in the early hours of the morning. It was quite light at first but got heavier. We packed up a bit and moved to the lean-to shelter and watched the rain from a safe place; the lake and forests looked beautiful. It's amazing to see mushrooms that just popped out yesterday are fully open today. Many berries around here too, all ripe and good to eat. We got going around 9:30 am as by now going out into the rain is not something we are prepared to do! We even discussed breaking the day around 45 km at Joensuu and then continuing tomorrow if the weather is too bad. We have a rest day up our sleeve and 6 riding days to Lahti. Soon enough the rain lessened and then stopped. Before we would even start the ride however, we had to push our bikes back along the rough footpath we came down last night which was a bit of hard work but did not take too long.
Luckily we had only a few 100 m of gravel road and then rejoined route 73 to Joensuu. Although we had ridden on this road yesterday, it was much busier today with a lot of truck traffic and many logging trucks. Also it started raining again and a busy road in the rain is not a good thing for a cyclist. About 18 km before Joensuu we had a cycle way and this was great, continuing into town. Joensuu was probably the biggest town we have seen since... we can remember. Even a McDonalds which we did not see at all in Norway or Finland up to now. We stopped at a few outdoor stores, as usual trying to track down the elusive Coleman Fuel (white gas) for our MSR stove, but it looks like we will have to resort to using dirtier petrol. Yesterday we had even boiled water on the fire! We also did some food shopping and ate a late lunch. We chatted to two French students who were interested about our trip and also a Swedish man and Finnish woman who updated us on the social issues in Gothenburg (we were there last year and liked it).
The weather had by now improved somewhat and we decided to push on. The second 40 km seemed to go very quickly, probably because half of it was again on dedicated cycle ways which was unexpected. The countryside is certainly changing, a lot of farming and the route is a bit hillier. The birch trees are rapidly changing colour to golden orange and losing their leaves. We had planned to camp at a laavu, but 6 km before we got there we found an uimaranta (swimming hole) on the lake with enclosed shelter, fire place and toilet. It was perfect so we decided to stop here for the night. We made a bit of a fire with damp wood to create smoke to chase away the bugs. We had a swim and then a local man stopped by and seemed concerned that we did not have enough wood! He also told us we could use his rowing boat that was there complete with oars. The Finnish are a considerate lot!
The weather forecast predicated a storm of sorts which would arrive this evening with wind speed up to 9 m/s and 22 mm of rain. It was drizzling on and off as we got ready and we made the wet weather gear call, which was the right decision as the rain moved in and stayed. It was too wet even to stop for a snack but we eventually did after about 30 km at a bus stop with a shelter. We gazed out at the road and the rain seemed to fall harder still. We began to consider our options. There was a campsite noted on one of our maps at a nearby intersection and we decided to head for that, perhaps even to hire a cabin as sitting this out in a wet tent would not be much fun either. We just do not feel motivated enough to spend hours in the rain anymore. We laughed as we remembered our days in Irish "Eight Hour Showers" when we just went out and rode through this nonsense day after day.
A few 100 m down the road we came to a sign showing a hike and pointed to a gravel road turn off. This correlated to a shelter symbol on our GPS map. We decided to turn off and came across a map of the area on an info board. There was a wilderness/nature school with quite a few facilities marked and also a beach with toilets, and further on the shelter which looked like a kota. We left the bikes a bit further on and walked along the track past the beach (not quite the day for it) and presently came to the kota. It was a fabulous totally enclosed building with central fireplace and glass windows all the way round. There was a store of wood and a toilet. Perfect! To think we would have paid for a cabin and this one was better and for free! We walked back for the bikes and pushed them along the track. There is an abundance of red cranberries covering the forest floor and so many kinds of mushrooms. We got the fire going and even hung up our wet gear inside. The storm whipped up the water in the lake outside but we were snug inside our little home! Not sure if we will get to pitch the tent tonight as the water is pooling all around. We might just try to sleep in here.
The rain continued hard all night and we were grateful for the dry warmth of the kota! It stopped in the early hours of the morning, but judging by the wind when we got up and the dark clouds, it still had a way to go! We walked out of the bush from the kota and filled up our water bottles at the nearby nature school which was very impressive in itself. It had a laavu, kota, and fire pits, etc; all very nice. A few kilometres down the road the rain started again and we were back into rain gear. I guess it is to be expected when you are almost into September in Finland! The riding was good though and we stopped for coffee in a bus stop shelter and then shopped in Kerimäki where we also ate lunch. About another 10 km on we came to the Punkaharju Resort campsite and checked in. All in all we were lucky with the weather today and hope for a clearer day tomorrow.
The sky was a little cloudy but no rain in sight. Our campsite was perched on the edge of a beautiful lake and just over the water was a nature reserve that we rode through first thing. It was a lovely little ride with great views, a very pretty area. Being a Sunday, the supermarket in Punkaharju would only open at 12 pm. We had had a good breakfast and had some snacks to keep us going. The thing about being on the road this long is that the whole shopping for food issue becomes a drag. I should actually say "The thing about being on the road this long in REMOTE places is that...". This eastern part of Finland is tricky when it comes to food availability and it is not assisted by the fact that we have to be on sleepy backroads to avoid highly trafficed roads. The sleepy backroads do not take you past shops or anything else much for the most part. We knew this when we undertook the route and we would not have changed it, but you have to be continually aware of when next you will be able to shop. It may be that you have a shop at 10 am one day and actually will not see another one until 9 am the day after next. So you need to be able to figure out what you will want to eat in the next 36 hours. Then of course one is not always hungry at this point so one tends to forget what hunger will do later! Anyway, one aspect of real life that we are looking forward to is going to the fridge or the cupboard and just having what you want when you want it!
We were on a minor road today which was good quality and despite its size, it was actually quite an important through route for traffic. Being a Sunday it was quiet. We stopped at a church around 30 km for a coffee break but then hopped back on the bikes as there were HUGE mozzies there. Nothing like really feeling like a coffee and then you end up as breakfast. As an aside, very unusual, finding a church to rest at! We don't see many churches in this part of Finland. Anyway, we managed the break about 10 km further on where we just sat on the bitumen at a bus stop with no shelter. The weather was good, the road was good, but we were... bored? Apathetic? Just wanting the day to be over? We don't know why we feel this way. It could be the length of the trip, or the remoteness of our days here in Finland, or just needing a break. We don't know. Normally when you ride along and don't have much to occupy your mind eg. jaw dropping views (Norway), crazy 14% climbs (the UK) or the myriad of cycle routes (the Netherlands), you tend to think of things in your life or sing songs. I've now exhausted these options; my life is now riding a bike (albeit only for a few more weeks) and I am bored of my songs not having listened to anything new for 5 months. So lately, well, there is just nothing going on in my head. Perhaps this is what people strive for when they undertake these sorts of trips? Anyhow, one thing is clear, we have Estonia and Latvia still to go and need to start with a fresh burst of enthusiasm. Maybe tomorrow?
As the day wore on we both had energy deficiencies causing empergency breaks for bags of nuts, mint chocolate, strawberry dreams and cornflakes made with powered milk on the roadside. We passed a great lean to/swimming hole complete with grilli and wished we had steaks to braai/barbeque as we would have ended the day right then! As soon as we turned back onto the main road 6, and then onto the cycle way into Imatra, things improved. All of a sudden you have things to look at and the distance goes faster. We shopped at Lidl and then arrived at our little campsite on the HUGE Vuoski River. Imatra seems like a nice place. Even though we had a tiring day we are pleased to have completed almost another 100 km. Tomorrow we plan a short 50 km day to a laavu so we will be sleeping in!
After yesterday's "going through the motions" approach we decided that a rest day was in order today! In order to still make it to the train in Lahti on 3 September, this meant now riding as far as Kouvola and catching the train from there to Lahti and on to Helsinki. We were the only campers at Vuoksen and it was a lovely spot. We had breakfast sitting in the sun on the boardwalk jetty and apart from going to the local supermarket and train station, we spent the day reading and watching geese on the river. We also had a late start on 1 September as we had a short day to the laavu. We rode along the river and stopped at the site of the Imrantakoski (rapids). They were dammed in the 1920's and now the sluice gates are opened every summer evening for 20 minutes which is quite a spectacle. This was not happening when we were there as we were a few days too late. The Russian royal's used to come here to admire the rapids. Imranta is only a few kilometres from Russia and there were many Russians in the town. Something interesting is that many of the supermarkets we have used along the eastern "border zone" route provide instructions on tax free shopping and I couldn't understand why at first, but then clicked that of course this is for Russians claiming tax back on their groceries! We did this too in Imranta; who would have thought that the local K-City Market would stock the exact Finnish llitalo drinking glasses we could not find online? Hope they survive the remainder of the trip in my rackpack.
The ride today was really enjoyable and we were suprised to be on dedicated cyclepaths throughout, even after passing through Lappeenranta. This is fabulous and makes for relaxed riding. We were in two minds about whether to stop at our laavu or go on about 25 km to the next campsite, but we have only two nights of camping left in Finland and we love using the laavus. There was about 2 km along a gravel road to get to it and it was on a lake with a lean-to, campfire and even changing rooms! Wasn't quite as spick and span as we have become used to, one always finds some litter when close to towns. We got a fire going with some difficulty as there were only very big logs of wood (1 m long) and no axe to chop them up with. Then... yes you guessed it... down the road came two guys on motorbikes! We smiled and they came over to the campfire with... yes you guessed right again... A PACK OF SAUSAGES! They asked if they could warm them up and of course we said yes. We chatted with them for a while, they were nice guys as Finnish people always seem to be. I asked about these lids covering up holes cut out of the jetty at the lake. I assumed they were for ice fishing as they looked convenient! They said that they were for washing carpets!! I was quite suprised. Who washes carpets? And anyway, what were the chances of the carpets comnig out of the lake cleaner than when they went in? He added that now it is illegal to wash carpets in these things but people still do it. So there you go. I also asked about the paper mills as this area seems to have many mills and goods trains as well as trucks carrying logs. He said that there are 3 large mills here in this area and a fourth in Russia in Svengorsk (this is just over the Russian border). The one in Svengorsk is aparently managed by an American who lives in Imatra and travels into Svengorsk each day.
Unfortunately our excellent cycle path that we enjoyed yesterday, which promisingly indicated Luumäki at 37 km away when we turned off it last night did not continue today. We had the choice of either the busy-looking E6 or a 26 km stretch of gravel of varying quality and gradients. As it was difficult even to cross the E6 at 8:00 am to get to said gravel road, we think we made the right choice by going for the gravel option! We took it all in our stride, or shall I say revolution? This was after all, our last cycling day in Finland and she offered up a smorgasboard of cycling!
We had good weather and a slight tailwind all day and the route wound through birch groves and pine forests with thick ground cover including furry lichens and forest floors strewn with ruby red berries. You could have just stopped and eaten berries all day. We stopped and bought Cornflakes for breakfast at the first available shop. We then had some riding along a cycleway but it was not long before we were on the E6 at Luumäki which had an interesting design feature. The road was wide, almost wide enough to be a dual carriageway with a fairly narrow shoulder. Just on our side of the white line were continuing corrugations as rumble strips, to let motorists know when they were veering off the road. This left precious little room for us to cycle on as you can't ride on the rumble strips. Sometimes the bitumen had a drop off and then we would go over the white line leaving the shoulder. We had to concentrate quite hard, no gazing around at the scenery. For this reason we opted for the gravel road cycleway when it reappeared. Later on we used the E6 again and the shoulder was wider. It was all a bit ad hoc but generally okay. There were no signs advising which route was intended as a cycleway and as usual we were guided by the GPS maps which clearly show suggested routes.
We intended to camp just short of Kouvola at Tykkimäki, which is a huge summer water park area and had large amusement parks. The campsite was open for winter camping from September, but when we got there we were advised by a sign on the reception door that this was only for mobile homes with advance booking. There was no one about. We filled up with water and headed off to Paatkoski laavu shelter which was 2 km away. It was tricky to get to it as often these shelters are intended for hikers or kayakers and so not so easily accessible by bike. We managed to ride almost all the way there and it was really worth it, a special place for our last night camping in Finland. The shelter was great and we will probably have a go at sleeping just inside without pitching the tent as there are no bugs. The place had a pristine pit toilet and fireplace and wood store, with instruction guides for everything. It had the feeling of being really cared for. The river swim was quite cold; there is a nip in the air now. Autumn is here!
We had a great last night's camping in Finland, sleeping in the shelter of the laavu last night! We had only a short ride to the train station in Kouvola for our 11:27 am train to Helsinki. It is quite a junction with trains stopping en route from Moscow. The train trip was 90 minutes and was very fast and smooth! From Helsinki Central Station we had only a 2 km ride to our hotel, the converted prison of Katajanokka. We stayed here in 2012. We went into town and had a look around the flagship stores of well-known Finnish brands. We like Helsinki; it has a good atmosphere. We had booked two nights at the hotel so spent 4 September in the city again. We had great weather and went out to the Sibelius Park to have a look at the sculpture. Bit of a let down really as it was a lot smaller than expected, and no wind to make a tune. Then we took advantage of Stockmann's (major department store) tourist friendly shopping! We also looked around some other stores. It is truly amazing to have spent all this time in remote Finland and then come to a major city like this one! It is full of tourists who I suppose think they are having an authentic Finnish experience, which I suppose they are, but we can't help but think of the pine fresh odour of the forests that we have been living in for the last few weeks. We get the ferry to Tallin, Estonia on Saturday 5 September, when further rain is forecast.