Winds of Change

27th JUNE 2018

I make a couple of decisions while in Rovaniemi. The first one is declining an invitation to spend a few days at Dutch Hanna’s sister’s cabin in the woods. I have a feeling it’s an excursion that could lead to all sorts of awkwardness. The second is that I’m going to shoot straight down the middle of the country rather than using the coastal route. The coast means busier roads and getting through Oulo with its population of 300,000. Usually cycling through cities isn’t much fun, so if I can take quieter roads to achieve the same goal then I’d be daft not to.

The positive thing about leaving Rovaniemi is that the wind has moved round to a Northerly and will be blowing me onwards for the next few days. I think it’s sometimes difficult for a non-cyclist to understand the difference that wind direction makes – after all “it’s only wind.” To a certain extent that’s true, but on a long trip you could be out there for six or eight hours per day. You could also be cycling for five or six days straight. That’s when it starts to wear you down and begins to make a huge difference.

A big slow hill greets me as I leave Rovaniemi, then it feels like the whole day is spent gaining height ever so slightly. There are no big climbs to speak of, but it just seems like I can’t get going at all today. I only do 70km to Rauna, where I have a choice of campsites. One is at the zoo, which I figure could be expensive because of the novelty factor. The second option is on a lake at the other side of town, so I continue on, cycling an extra five kilometres in the process. A sign tells me it’s two kilometres, then shortly after another sign says ‘A 1.7.’ I take this to mean ‘Another 1.7km’ or even ‘About 1.7km,’ so I plod on. I reach the park and go to reception where I’m greeted by an electrician who’s busy wiring the building. It’s not even open yet.

I retrace my tracks to the zoo, which cheers me up no end as it has now started to rain as well. I’m afraid to report that I swear out loud on a number of occasions on my wet, grumpy cycle back. When I’m checking into the zoo campsite a guy on reception with little dreadlocks in his beard is telling me about the Wi-Fi. He tells me it’s an open line and it’s under the word ‘Avoin,’ which is the Finnish word for Open. It’s about this point I realise that the ‘A 1.7’ meant ‘Open on the first of the seventh.’

It rains most of the night in Ranua, which leads me to re-naming it ‘Rainua’ in my head. In addition to hearing water droplets hitting my tent there was a strange cacophany of animal and bird noises emanating from the zoo overnight. Most of these calls took place at the volume of a howler monkey, but it made a lovely change from the whine of mosquitos.

Today’s cycle is only a short 60km which is easy and straightforward with the wind at my back. At one point I pass two ladies cycling in the opposite direction who are struggling horribly into the wind. They both look to be about seventy, but are trudging on gamely. I reach my campsite much earlier than planned, having misjudged how far it was from the next town. When I get there the gate is closed and a sign in Finnish seems to say that the owners won’t be back till 5.00pm. However, I’m not going to wait two hours till they return and I’m not about to do a 30km round trip into town just to kill time. I just wheel my bike round the barrier and set up my tent beside the river away from any campervan electrical boxes. I feel a bit naughty, but it’s great to have the campsite beautifully quiet and all to myself. I shower, shave, cook pasta and drink tea. Part of me is worried that the owners will be annoyed when they get back and ask me to leave. I’ve washed and eaten though, so it wouldn’t be disastrous if they did.

At about quarter to five I see movement in the reception building, so I go to introduce myself and hope they don’t mind me setting up early. The owner looks a bit like the former Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel and couldn’t be more affable. He tells me his regulars know to just move the barrier and let themselves in, so it’s no big deal. I have a chat and a cuppa with him in the kitchen, with its cute little Three Bears table, chairs and vases of flowers. I stay in the kitchen for a while after he goes back to reception, squishing about fifty mosquitos over the course of the evening. It’s a lot warmer in the kitchen too, as the North wind that has been helping me all day is also starting to make it feel cold. The result of this is another night where I’m wearing two pairs of socks inside my sleeping bag.

After a cold night I have breakfast and say goodbye to the owner bloke. Today is going to be my first 100km day of the trip, and although this mileage is standard for some cycle tourers, it’s a big day for me. The distance isn’t so much the problem as my legs can keep spinning all day. It’s my butt. After about 70km I start to get achy in the rump and just can’t get comfortable. So today I don two pairs of padded shorts in addition to my two gel seat covers in an attempt to protect my arse.

The first 15km pass quickly to Pudasjarvi, where I stop to stock up on travel food. Then, annoyingly, the road veers east for about 20km into the wind before once again resuming it’s southerly course. I’m in a weird zone where I’m not really thinking about the distance today, which is probably a good thing. A bit like the way a four hour shift at work can seem to drag, whereas a normal eight hour day can sometimes fly past. Towards the end of the day one long, steady hill has me crawling along. I’m going so slowly that mosquitos emerge from the forest, are able to keep pace with me and try to have a bite. Luckily downhills and flat sections are speedy and mosquito-free with my tailwind. I get to Puolanka about 6.00pm, a combination of bananas, rolls and Snickers Bites seeing me through to my first 100km day of the trip. And, as a bonus, my bottom seems to have survived the journey.

At the Puolanka campsite I ask if I can put up a tent. The young guy at the bar reception suddenly looks very nervous and says he’ll have to speak to the boss. When she arrives she tells me the annual Hard Rock Festival is taking place on the other side of the lake and it could get quite loud. In addition, most of the festival-goers are staying at this campsite so there might be some drinking and singing when they return. I say that it’s fine as my accommodation choices are limited and I really don’t fancy carrying on after already cycling 100km. She tries to show me the most out of the way, quiet part of the campground so it will be a bit less noisy. About 9.00pm the Hard Rockers start to walk round to the other side of the lake for their gig and the campsite becomes strangely silent. From the music they were playing before they set off, it sounds more like 80’s big hair rock rather than hard rock. I decide to keep that opinion to myself though.

It’s 2.00am when the music finally stops and it actually was pretty loud to be fair. I can’t get to sleep for ages after that and hear people gradually drifting back from the festival, but thankfully they are remarkably civilised for Hard Rockers. They must have been cold at the festival because I’m bloody freezing in my sleeping bag with my standard two pairs of socks on again.

With the morning sun my tent goes from feeling like an ice-box to an oven in no time. I go to the bathroom and notice a couple of blokes just sitting and staring straight ahead with bleary, morning after eyes. Otherwise the campsite is peaceful so they must all still be sleeping it off.

With my lack of sleep, the long gradual hill out of Puolanka isn’t really what I wanted to see. I crawl up it unbelievably slowly. Today I’m aiming for a town called Ristijarvi, based purely on the fact that it’s a nice cycling distance away from Puolanka. It also means getting off the main road and taking a smaller side road for a change. This road is a bit rougher, but the quality improves as I change districts. There also seems to be a lot more downhills than uphills, and again a tailwind which makes a short 60km day even easier.

I get to the Ristijarvi campsite by mid-afternoon and am met by a chain-smoking guy in his forties who manages to check me in between cigarettes. I ask him what it’s like here in winter, to which he replies “The snow was …” Then he hesitates as if he’s thinking of the English word to properly describe the quality or the beauty of the snow. In the end he just shakes his head, takes a draw on his cigarette and finishes his sentence with “fucking everywhere.”

I work out that I reached the milestone of cycling my first 1,000km of the trip today. I feel like I’m starting to make some progress and am now only 600km from Helsinki and the end of Finland. To celebrate my achievement I decide to give myself a day off and remain in Ristijarvi tomorrow. It’s a lovely spot on a huge lake, and with a forecast for twenty-two degrees and wall-to-wall sunshine I can think of worse places to spend the day.



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