19th JUNE 2018
For my last breakfast in Norway I have a huge pasta with tomato sauce and ham, followed by half a tub of strawberry yoghurt. With the remaining ham I make some rolls for the journey. There’s so much on my plate I almost can’t finish it, but I slowly continue munching to give me enough energy for today’s cycle.
I’m quite looking forward to my first border crossing of the trip and pack my passport so it will be easy to access. I also try unsuccessfully to get my hands on some Euros at the last ATM before Finland. Being typically under-prepared and under-researched, I’d completely overlooked the fact that Finland, like pretty much everywhere on the continent, uses the Euro.
For the first twenty or so kilometres out of town I follow the Karasjokha River, which leads me nicely up to the border crossing. As I’m crossing from non-Eu Norway into European Union Finland, I’m expecting some standard questions and scanning of my passport. As it turns out I just ride through the border without a glance in my direction. I take a picture of the ‘Welcome to Finland’ sign and have a leisurely food break. Not a single vehicle is stopped as I stand there eating.
Two hitch-hikers are trying to thumb a lift just past the border and High Five me as I ride past, before I’m welcomed into Finland with a long, steep, tree-lined climb. Once I get to the top I start to speed along with next to no effort at all. I’m in a high gear, the sun us shining and I even have a slight tailwind helping to push me forwards. If I had to create my own conditions for today, then this would be pretty damn close !
Towards day’s end my pasta energy is wearing off and the road begins to undulate. There’s a series of downhills followed by similar sized uphills, so I just coast down the slopes and crawl up the hills. I’m looking for a place to wild-camp tonight, but it looks like every second dwelling has a statue or sculpture of a bear at its driveway. I’m not even sure they have bears here, but this puts enough doubt in my mind so that I want to find a proper campsite. I reach a petrol station in the tiny settlement of Kaamanen which looks like it could also have camping spots available out the back. The old duck at the counter says I can pitch a tent and that it will cost twenty Euros. Bloody Hell ! That’s more expensive than Norway. It’s my first dealings with money and camping in Finland so I really have no idea what the price should be. I pay her anyway, but can’t help feeling that I’ve just been ripped off.
That said, the camping grounds are very pleasant – lush, cut grass running down to a calm, tranquil lake. The early evening light giving it an almost dream-like quality. However, this visual spectacle is quickly interrupted by the arrival of hordes of hungry mosquitos. At over a centimetre in length, I have never seen mosquitos as large as these beasts before. In the time it takes me to locate my jungle-strength repellent, I fall victim to almost a dozen bites. The next time I venture outside the tent I make sure my arms and legs are covered. This is ineffective against these creatures though, as I soon discover they can bite through socks and cargo pants.
Lying in my tent at night it is only my head that is sticking out the top of the sleeping bag. The mosquitos must sense this as they have all taken up position on the outer canvas next to where my head is safely protected inside. I can hear their insidious whining every time I wake during the night.
The next morning I leave amidst a flurry of mosquitos and cannot wait to get back on the road as they can’t land on me while I’m moving. I’m cycling alongside the massive Lake Inari for most of the day, stopping only for lunch and to try get some Euros from the only ATM in Inari. I’m always a little apprehensive about whether teller machines will play along when I’m abroad, but it dutifully churns out my first Euros of the trip. If all goes well I won’t have to change currencies again until Poland.
The cycling is quite easy today, but I can’t help notice some very dark clouds up ahead. The road twists and turns so sometimes I think I’m moving away from them, but as I near Ivalo it becomes apparent I’m heading straight for them. About ten kilometres from town the first spits of rain start, which gradually become heavier and more frequent. I get to within three kilometres before I decide to sit in a bus stop shelter and wait for the shower to pass. As I’m so close I’d rather wait thirty minutes if it means arriving dry.
With a population of about 4,000, Ivalo is the largest settlement I’ve cycled through so far, and a roadsign tells me it’s just over 300km to Murmansk in Russia. I check into the Ivalo River Campsite which is part of a pub / petrol station and on the noisy main road. It seems like it’s more of a truckers and fishermen type of place, rather than for tourists. However, I’m only charged fourteen Euros for the night here, which means I definitely did get ripped off yesterday.
At breakfast the next morning I get talking to a German truck driver who’s job sounds really quite interesting. He’s just driven two Seat cars and assorted parts all the way from Barcelona so they can be Cold Weather Tested in Northern Finland. I had no idea that this happened, but apparently all manufacturers test their cars this way. Even in summer cars are brought up here as they have a huge hangar-like building that mimics winter conditions. He’s transported Bentleys, Bugattis and cutting-edge prototype cars, although has to sign secrecy disclaimers and can’t take any photos.
Dutch Hanna messages me to say she is just up the road in Inari, so drives down and checks in. We have a Shepherds Pie type meal for dinner, but with reindeer mince instead of beef or lamb. It tastes like normal Shepherds Pie. It’s also Midsummer Night, which seems to be celebrated here with bonfires and alcohol – a bit like Guy Fawkes and New Year rolled into one. Because of this tomorrow is an unofficial public holiday. It means the roads will either be lovely and quiet or plagued by drivers still drunk from the night before.