6th JULY 2018
I’ve had a big week of cycling, covering over 600km and only having one day off in eight. As a result of this I notice a few small pains as I’m going to sleep on my first night in Pieksämäki – my thighs and my knees (especially my right) have developed a dull ache. And unexpectedly, so have my hands. I put this down to hours of constantly gripping the bike’s handlebars. So now I want to let my body recover a little, and a couple of days of relative inactivity should do the trick.
Jim, my Warm Showers host, has other ideas. He wants to go for a long cycle, but that is really the last thing I want at this moment ! In the end we opt for a short circuit round town so he can show me a bit of Pieksämäki. He tells me the town’s name translates as ‘Spank Hill,’ but he could just as easily be pulling my leg. Within five minutes of his flat there is woodland where wild blueberries and forest strawberries grow. The blueberries taste just like ones you would buy in a supermarket, but the tiny forest strawberries are amazingly sweet. They taste like a cross between normal strawberries and Love Hearts sweets. We continue on towards a huge lake which has a little sandy beach where locals go swimming in the summer months. It’s hard to picture this lake freezing so thickly in winter that cars can be driven across it.
For starters tonight we have Finnish blood sausage with lingonberries cooked in beer. The blood sausage looks like a skinny black pudding. Then it’s stir fried veggies and noodles for seconds, washed down with fish bites, calamari and more spring rolls. As Jim’s a diabetic, I end up eating the majority of the food. A wonderfully lazy day is then rounded off with a couple of beers while watching two World Cup games. Meanwhile, downstairs in the drying room, my boots, sleeping bag and ground mat are all still damp from yesterday’s soaking.
I was originally only going to stay two nights in Pieksämäki, but Jim has been such a brilliant host and has persuaded me to extend that to three. His wife and daughter are away visiting relatives, so I think he’s happy to have someone he can talk football with while the England game is on tonight. In the afternoon he goes to play Refugee Football with some Afghanis, Iraqis and a Nicaraguan while I take a wander into town to stock up on road food for tomorrow. It rains during the day again, which means most of Jim’s footballers don’t show up. I’m sure Pieksämäki must be the rainiest town in Finland.
Tonight I am treated to Sunday Roast on a Saturday night – Roast beef, potatoes, carrots, sausage, bacon and broccoli. All of this is washed down with a few beers as we watch England progress to the World Cup semi-finals. Jim listens to a slightly delayed UK radio commentary while watching the action on Finnish TV with the sound turned down. After the match the radio phone in has a very ‘Three Lions, Football’s Coming Home’ vibe to it. I can see how excited Jim is by the prospect of his country getting to the World Cup Final. For me, there is the more pressing matter of applying Sudocream to my rear. I’m starting to get that ‘grazed knee’ feeling on the skin above the bones that I sit on.
I leave Pieksämäki the following morning, but not before Jim has fed me with enough porridge and toast to keep me going for most of the day. He has a tradition of taking a photo of all the guests he hosts, so he carries this on and snaps me before I leave. The two days of not cycling were exactly what I needed, although I’m sure to be a bit slow today with all the food and beer consumption. Jim has been a great host and a top bloke. If everyone I met was like him then the trip would be almost too easy. Pieksämäki is a little out of the way, but it’s a nice alternative to just ploughing along the main roads. If I hadn’t noticed there was a host here on the Warm Showers map, then I doubt I’d ever have reason to visit. I’m bloody glad I did though.