“You like Sow-Nah ?”

22nd JUNE 2018

As it was Midsummer Day yesterday everything is closed today and the roads should be nice and quiet. Hopefully everyone is in bed hungover and not out driving. I take a while to get going this morning with not much sleep and campsite arrivals about 1.30am.

Even though I don’t start until almost noon, I’m flying along again. The sun is shining and I have a fresh tailwind helping me. I meet a couple of cyclists going the other way into the wind and try not to look too smug. I’ve given myself two days to cover the 160km to Sodankylä (Sodan-Coola) so while I have the wind with me I’d like to do more than half of that distance today. However, as easy as the cycle has been, I’m pedalling towards some ugly big black clouds again and the temperature is dropping. I get to the village of Vuotso, which is just under half distance and decide to stop. I’d rather give up twenty kilometres and stay dry. It will be next to impossible to dry wet clothes inside a tent in the woods.

The campsite operates mostly as a B&B which is housed in a large two storey wooden structure. This building was a former government administration centre for the area and hosted the Post Office, telephone exchange and police. The old Finnish owner tells me it was built in around 1947 as Vuotso was another town that was burned to the ground by retreating Nazis.

There is a lot of rain during the night which vindicates my decision to stop yesterday. It also vindicates my decision to remain in Vuotso and have a ‘Rain Day’ today. I go into the big building to pay for another night when the owner asks “Have you ever tasted Finnish Sow-Nah ?” At first I think he means Salmon, but my confused look prompts him to carry on – ” You know, the Hot Steam Room ?” Ah, he means Sauna ! I’ve certainly never tasted one. He tells me he goes for a Sow-Nah every evening and invites me along to see how it’s done in Finland.

In the meantime Dutch Hanna messages me to find out how far I’ve got and is checking in half an hour later. This is starting to get a bit stalky. I’m chatting to her in the Laavu – a big teepee style hut with a fireplace and seating round the wall – when the old bloke appears in his dressing gown and announces “Sow-Nah in fifteen minutes.”

I’m not sure of the protocol for this so I just arrive as if I’m about to go for a shower. The old guy is already in there – “Is that you Rob ? Come in and take all your clothes off.” He says to have a shower first then to go into the Sow-Nah and join him. One of the more surreal experiences of this trip will be sitting next to a seventy year old naked Finnish bloke while sweating my bollocks off in a Sow-Nah. As they don’t have a plunge pool to achieve the hot / cold shock, we just sit outside with only towels round our waists while the rain tips it down. Back in, one more round of eighty degree heat, then a final shower and I’m done. For a Finn this is a normal day, but for a Scottish guy this is anything but an everyday occurrence. For all the weirdness though, I do feel extremely relaxed afterwards and am told I will sleep like a baby tonight.

At night we get the fire going in the Laavu and are joined by about ten Germans who are taking part in the Baltic Sea Rally. This is basically driving through about eight countries round the coast of the Baltic Sea in a car that has to be at least twenty years old. It’s not really a race, but more a charity drive as they’ve all had to raise 750 Euros to take part. There’s seven guys and three girls who make up four teams and they seem like a good bunch. They bring out a catering sized tin of chilli con carne, spend ten minutes trying to open it with a minute tin-opener and then just chuck it in the middle of the fire to heat. They also have some Austrian Chardonnay and some Icelandic Craft Beer that they insist I must try.

So, what had the makings of a boring day waiting for the rain to pass has turned out quite fun and interesting. I can still hear a few showers on the tent overnight, but I’m hoping it will clear up enough to make it to Sodankylä tomorrow.

And I might just be imagining it, but I think the mosquitos are actually getting smaller as I travel further South.

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