24th JUNE 2018
There’s a lot of showers overnight, which always sound amplified when splattering onto the roof of my tent. I need to leave Vuotso today though, and my task is to get to Rovaniemi in three days time as I have a Warm Showers host who is putting me up for the night. Warm Showers is a bit like Couchsurfing, but specifically for cycle tourers. It also means they understand the hardships that their fellow cyclist is going through !
I’m up early but get delayed slightly by having breakfast with Dutch Hanna. I leave well before her, but she catches up with me and toots her horn as she passes. When I round the next corner she’s waiting in a lay-by for me. I feel a bit like Inspector Clouseau must do every time his little oriental friend Cato jumps out and surprises him. I never know when she’s going to show up. However, she does give me some chocolate to keep me going, so I can’t really complain.
The wind is against me all day and I have to plod up a couple of slow hills, but I’m travelling pretty well. The day after a Rest Day never seems too difficult. The scenery is starting to change too – there’s still fir trees lining the road on both sides, but now there are more houses and even farms. This constant avenue of trees means the scenery never changes much, but they do a great job as a wind-break. Any time I have to cross a bridge or open ground I get a real blast.
About ten kilometres from Sodankylä I’m able to join a cycle path, follow what looks like Jaegermeister Street and book into Nilimilla Camping. It’s across from the river, has big shady trees, lovely cut grass and ground that tent pegs just glide into. I go shopping for grub and pass Sodankylä Old Church on the way. I was given some tourist information by the campsite, so I can say with certainty that it dates from 1689. Looking at the small, dark church I can hardly imagine how a wooden building could survive for over 300 years in Lapland.
In stark contrast to my windy cycle, it’s a beautifully calm and sunny evening. I go for a stroll down to the river about half past ten and find the sun is still gleaming above the waters. Even though it’s low in the sky I can still feel the warmth from it. This leads me to realise that I haven’t yet seen the midnight sun, so I make plans to come back down to this spot just before twelve o’clock. I go back to my tent where I close my eyes just for a minute. When I open them it’s after 2.00am and cloudy.
The following morning I try my trick of having a huge pasta meal for breakfast to give me energy. I also have a tub of potato salad just to make sure. All this gluttony has no real affect as I struggle a lot more doing 70km today than I did doing 90km yesterday. The main culprit in my battle is the wind – it blows straight into my face, strong and constant all day. Instead of being able to freewheel, I have to pedal every metre of the way. In turn, this constant contact with the saddle means my butt is getting sore. I’m shifting position all the time, even though I have two gel seat covers and padded shorts on !
I see a sign for Karvala Camping and pull in. I’ve only cycled 70km, but I don’t care. I’m just getting knackered riding into this wind. The woman who checks me in tells me her mother was English and father Finnish, which has left her with a surprisingly plummy English accent. I’m glad I did pull in as the campsite is a little gem, situated on its own lake and surrounded by forest. The owner’s kids are even swimming in the lake, but I can only imagine what the water temperature must be like.
When I go for a shower I notice my face is quite red, which it shouldn’t be as I covered up with sunscreen. Then it hits me that it’s Wind Burn. I was beginning to think I was a bit soft pulling into the campsite, but my crimson face somehow justifies my decision. For dinner I have a chilled pizza that I have just transported all the way from Sodankylä.
I’m awake at midnight tonight, but when I step outside the tent I find the forest that circles the campsite is too tall for me to catch a glimpse of the midnight sun. I can see sunlight shining on the highest branches, but not the sun itself.
The next day I’ve only got 60km of cycling to get to Rovaniemi, but am not taking anything for granted after yesterday’s wind-fest. In the end it’s nowhere near as windy. My main worry is that the road is getting busier as I near town, with plenty of two carriage logging trucks speeding past me on the narrow road.
The main point of interest for me today is that I pass below the Arctic Circle again. When I started at North Cape I was 71 degrees North, and now I’ve cycled a few degrees down the globe to be 66.33 degrees North. This line round the earth marks progress for me, but also marks the point where I’ll no longer be living with twenty-four hours of constant daylight. I’ve not seen proper darkness since I got to Norway three weeks ago. It also means I can probably give up on seeing the midnight sun.
There is a gloriously tacky Santa Claus Theme Park that straddles the Arctic Circle, and it takes me a while to find the exact location of the line in question. I get a French cycling couple to take a gloriously tacky photo of me being a tourist under a huge colourful Arctic Circle sign. They are starting their journey from this point and heading towards North Cape. With quieter roads and this wind behind them they should be fine.
A huge, fast downhill rushes me quickly to the outskirts of Rovaniemi. With a population of 60,000 this is by far the biggest town I’ve visited on this trip. Google maps do a sterling job of getting me to the home of my Warm Showers hosts. Taina welcomes me in to her household comprising of husband, two boys (eleven and seven) and two cats. They have just been away at their cabin for the Midsummer long weekend and are cleaning round the house as I chat to them. In the evening she takes the kids out for a cycle and I get talking to her husband. He’s quite small, about 35, bushy beard, very entertaining and could talk for Finland. I learn an awful lot about Finland’s war history – “We’ve been really lucky” – from an enthusiastic Eddie Izzard fan. I also find out that Finns treat Easter in much the same way as we treat Halloween with kids dressing up and going round trick-or-treating.
Taina returns and we all sit and chat till about midnight, while drinking some Chilean wine that has a bicycle on the box. I’m sharing the lounge with the cats, but after two weeks in a tent this is the softest, comfiest, most beautiful sofa I have ever slept on.