3rd JULY 2018
The day before I leave Ristijarvi, I’m treated to a spectacular sunset show over the lake from a slow-sinking orangey sun. Unfortunately, the day I do leave is cloudy, oppressive and still. Low clouds are just hanging there in weird swirly shapes, looking like the underside of an enormous grey duvet. My target today is 98km away at Lohiranta Holiday Village and I’m trying to get a bit of a move on as I have a Warm Showers offer to host me in a place called Pieksämäki. I arranged to arrive there on Thursday, which means I’ll have to put in a decent effort to cycle 265km in three days.
I try not to think about the kilometres and just get on with it today. Time always seems to pass more quickly that way. There’s a few hills to contend with but in general I’m travelling along nicely. I even have my first dual-carriageway to speed me up through the ugly looking industrial town of Kajaani. A sign at the start depicts a walker and a cyclist with a huge red line through them, meaning I shouldn’t strictly be using this road. But I can’t resist as it’s so fast and has a wide, safe buffer zone at the edge to keep me and the traffic apart. This margin comes and goes on normal roads, which is always a worry when two-carriage trucks are commonplace.
I get to Lohiranta to find the road it lies next to has major roadworks taking place. This probably accounts for me being one of only three guests tonight. On my way to the shower I pop my head into the kitchen just to check it out. I actually say ‘Wow’ out loud when I look inside. In every respect it looks like a standard kitchen – tables, chairs, cookers, sinks, cupboards. What sets this kitchen apart is the eight foot tall stuffed moose that is mounted on the wall. It looks down on me rather disapprovingly as I gorge my way through two sets of noodles.
Handily for the owners, the only place that has Wi-Fi in the campsite is the bar. I want to check my messages but I feel I can’t just sit there without purchasing something, so a Finnish beer called Olvi keeps me company. I get talking to the owner and once she hears of my trip she tells me about a guy who tried to canoe from the very North of Finland right down to the sea in the South using the huge network of lakes and rivers. However, the summer in which he chose to attempt his feat had been very dry, leaving some of the rivers with just a trickle of water. She tells me the poor bloke ended up carrying his canoe as much as paddling it. She also tells me of a campsite in Kuopio that I wasn’t aware of. The only problem is that it’s 125km away.
What will be my longest day of the trip provides a mixed bag for me weather-wise. I have a tailwind which is good, but it’s also very warm which means I’ll be sweating buckets. For some reason – and I’m still not really sure why – I decide to try and ration my water to see if I can make my two bottles last the whole day. I know it’s not going to put me in any jeopardy as I can always ask at a house or buy extra if I do get desperate, but part of me still wants to find out.
The first 30km to Iisalmi are easy, then another flat, fast dual carriageway speeds me onwards. I begin to think I’m going to make Kuopio in record time, but a motorway soon puts a stop to that. I can ignore ‘No Cycling’ signs on dual carriageways, but there’s no way I can scam my way onto a motorway. I have to rely on Google Maps to negotiate my way through the city via cycle paths and smaller roads. I’m stopping every few minutes to make sure I’m still heading in the right direction. Sometimes a cycle path follows the road initially, but before I know it, I’ve been transported into leafy suburbia. And, my goodness, I’m savagely thirsty now !
After many stop-start Google Map consultations I eventually pass through a big junction under the motorway and see my first sign for the caravan park. It’s now 7.30pm. When I get there I find a huge site with motorhomes, caravans and swarms of screaming kids. It reminds me of the bedlam of a UK holiday park in peak season. The first thing I do after checking in is to go to the kitchen and fill my water bottles. I managed to stick to my rations, but dehydrating myself wasn’t perhaps the smartest move. I drink two litres almost immediately. I love how something as simple as water can taste so delicious and good when you’re thirsty. And, with all my thirst and navigation distractions, I’ve almost missed the fact I’ve just cycled 125km. Maybe I’m getting used to this again.
The next day rain is forecast. Lots of it. If I didn’t have my Warm Showers host to get to, I’d probably take this as a rain day. My host had even said to arrive on Friday if I wanted, but I’ve built it up in my head to arrive today. The rain starts about an hour into my cycle, but at least I’m now South of Kuopio so don’t have the hassle of trying to get through the city. I even have a tailwind today, and the rain is unusually warm so I zip along smoothly despite the wet.
The first part of the day is spent on quiet roads again to avoid the motorway, but then I have to run the gauntlet of a busy road which all traffic getting between the motorways uses. This road has no safe margin at the side, so with its narrowness and the water spray it feels a little dangerous. If I see a truck coming towards me and hear another one approaching from behind I just pull over. I only need things to go wrong once and I’m toast. One strange sub-plot today is that when I take a drink from my water bottle the mouthpiece tastes salty. I can only imagine this is still residue salt on the road from winter which is now being dispersed as spray. I was told that reindeer spend so much time on roads because they get minerals they need by licking salt from the surface.
Thankfully I have to leave the busy, dangerous road for the last section to Pieksämäki. The road is smooth, flat and quiet. I keep thinking that this would be a lovely cycle without the rain. As I get closer to town I can only check Google Maps inside bus shelters due to the steady downpour. It’s not a huge town so I find Jim’s flat pretty quickly and he welcomes me in. I’m absolutely soaking and water is dripping off me and into his hallway. My top, shorts, socks, shoes, gloves, seat covers, panniers are all sodden wet. I’m under the shower within five minutes and all my wet gear can go in the drying room. It wouldn’t be a proper cycle trip if there weren’t some days where it rains non-stop and you end up drenched. On this trip I’ve taken days off when the forecast has been rotten, but I’ve also been insanely lucky with the weather I’ve had so far. Only one soaking in a month is absolutely amazing.
It turns out Jim is a top bloke. From Wolverhampton originally he has lived in Finland for about a decade with his Finnish wife and young daughter. A veteran cycle-tourer himself, he keeps me entertained with travel stories from the seventy or so countries he has visited. He feeds me pizza, spring rolls and a beer, which is just what I needed. He’s trying to twist my arm to stay till Saturday to watch the England World Cup game with him, and I may not take that much persuasion.
I go to bed tired, but satisfied with my efforts in the last few days. I’ve cycled seven out of the last eight days and covered over 600km, so I feel I’ve earned it if I do stay an extra day. This warm, comfortable mattress might sway my decision too.