8th JULY 2018
The day I leave Pieksamaki I’m undecided about how far I’m going to get. I’m going to see how I feel as the day progresses, but my choices are Kangasniemi at 50km or Timpanmyyly Campsite at 85km. My journey will be solely on quiet side roads today, which will mean a safe trip but also means it will be hilly and slow. As it turns out I get to Kangasniemi in no time, aided by cool, cloudy conditions and a tailwind. I briefly think about staying here, but it seems silly to stop when all the cycling conditions are in my favour.
I continue on, but there are lots of little uphill / downhill peaks and troughs later in the day so I slow down considerably. I’d seen the location of the campsite on Jim’s laptop but can’t find it on my own Google Maps. I know it’s about ten kilometres before a town called Joutsa, but I can’t quite remember which road it’s on. I think it’s this one. As I edge closer to Joutsa I reason that it must be a different road after all and I get ready to look for places to wild camp. I’ve almost accepted spending a night in the forest when I see an old battered sign for Timpanmyyly Camping. It’s about 500 metres down a dirt track and situated beside a lake. When I’m filling in the nationality section on the registration form the lady owner sees where I’m from, but then to my surprise says I don’t sound Scottish. Her main point of reference is from the TV show Monarch of the Glen and she looks mildly disappointed that I don’t sound like any of the characters.
When I leave the next morning she warns me not to carry on South on the road I’ve been using. I’m told the next 20km are too dangerous as there is no safe margin for cyclists and the road becomes very narrow and busy. So I’m off on the side roads again, turning a relatively easy 70km day into a slow, hilly 90km.
My first target is the quiet little town of Pertunmaa, then I need to get to a place called Kuortti where I can rejoin the main road again as it’s now safer for bikes. Or that was my plan. I’m just about to get back on the main road when I see a big ‘No Walkers or Cyclists’ sign. Bollocks. I spend the next few minutes consulting Google Maps to try and find a way through that avoids the motorways and busy trunk roads. There seems to be a way through by heading for a tiny village called Imajarvi, so I trundle off in that direction.
Very quickly the road deteriorates into the worst of the trip so far, with a narrow single lane and mostly loose gravel as a surface. I have to keep checking Google Maps to make sure that I’m still going the right way. Apparently I am, but it just doesn’t feel right. It’s so silent and out of the way that I keep getting Wrong Turn horror movie scenes popping into my head. I’m convinced that my tyre is going to puncture because some flesh-eating redneck has lain spikes on the road. My imagination wanders off – I’d be fixing the tyre when a group of tattily dressed country hicks with no shoes would appear and then help me out. They’d be really friendly and ask if I wanted to fill up my water bottles and have some lunch back at the farm. I’m sure the hot sister (of course she’s probably their cousin too) is flirting with me so, like a fool, I agree. When I get to the farmhouse there’s a big black pot boiling on the stove, so I ask them what’s for lunch. At this point the head of the house leers over me and laughs horribly – “What’s for lunch ? … Why YOU are boy !”
The tall trees that line both sides of the tight road make for a great sunshade to keep me cool. However, they could just as easily house a family of crossbow-wielding maniacs. Needless to say I pass through Imajarvi quickly, but thankfully without incident. The track then improves slightly, joins a larger road and before long I’m back on the main road again and heading for Heinola. I get to a large campsite that is set, once again, on a lake. The sunset over the lake is an absolute cracker, with an orangey-yellow sun taking ages to set and casting golden reflections on the lake. This tranquil scene is spoiled somewhat as the lake is spanned by an ugly great bridge that carries one of the main motorways to Helsinki. Any time a heavy double-trailer truck passes, it makes the bridge supports vibrate slightly and causes tiny waves to ripple into shore.
I spend an extra day in Heinola catching up on washing, food shopping for the road and sending off a handful of Warm Shower requests to see if anyone can host me in either Helsinki or Tallinn. I’ve got about 140km left to ride till I reach Helsinki, so I want to do about 90km today which will leave me with a nice easy 50km to finish. I’d much rather deal with getting into a city at the end of a short day. Thankfully the route doesn’t appear all that complicated as it looks like I just have to stay on a road that runs almost parallel to the motorway. This will take me to within 20km of the city, by which time I’ll be able to use cycle paths.
For most of the day I can either see or hear the motorway as my road runs so close to it. The only time the roads part is when the motorway bypasses the city of Lahti, whereas I have to cycle right through it. By late afternoon I reach Mantsala, where I’ll find a campsite just outside town according to my trusty old Google Maps. The place is supposed to be about three kilometres away, so I know something is amiss when I’ve travelled twice that distance with no sign of a camping ground. I double back and start asking locals but no-one has even heard of it. This means I’m definitely wild camping tonight, so I get my water bottles refilled by the last person I speak to and head off to find a spot for the night.
I return to the road I’ve been on all day and figure I’ll just keep cycling till I find a good spot. At least it’s going to knock a few kilometres off tomorrow’s total. I must see about five possible sites, but somehow there’s always something that doesn’t feel quite right – too close to the road, not enough camouflage, ground too hard, too much undergrowth to push the bike through. Eventually I go round a drawn gate and down a grass track that leads to some kind of small electrical generator. The track has started to sprout tiny bushes and fir trees so clearly hasn’t been used for a while. I’m well hidden from the road too. I’ve found my spot. I set up tent, chain my bike to a tree, have most of my remaining food and bed down early in preparation for my final days cycle into Helsinki. I get into my sleeping bag fully clothed, but it’s such a warm night that I’m down to only my boxer shorts by morning.
The heat has really started to kick in by mid-morning. I pass an electronic sign outside a warehouse that tells me it is currently +28C. The fact that the ‘Plus’ has to be specified shows how regularly the temperature in Finland drops into minus figures. However, a combination of the heat and drinking most of my water at camp last night leaves me feeling fatigued. I’m rolling along painfully slowly so I stop at the first shop I see for refreshments. A snickers bar, a banana and two litres of strawberry water have me revitalised in a matter of minutes.
Having perked up, I simply continue to follow the same road I’ve been on for two days. A cycle path then appears and runs alongside the road, even though I’m still fully 30km from the city. I wish all countries were as cycle friendly as the Scandinavians. I have to Google Map my way through the suburbs, but it’s pretty straightforward as my campsite is on the same side of the city that I’m approaching from. I’ll tackle getting through the city on the day I leave. The camping grounds are an oasis of green amidst a motorway, flats and a train station. They are also full of motorhomes, tents and families with kids. There’s even a couple of fellow cyclists.
I’m settling down later in the TV Room to check on-line when I see I’ve got another message from Dutch Hanna. That doesn’t surprise me too much. What shocks me is the content of the message. She says she has just checked herself in to the very same campsite I’m staying at. Bloody Hell ! I make a mental note to give my bike a thorough check for any hidden tracking devices. Despite this spooky reappearance, I’m sitting there feeling pretty satisfied. I’ve just cycled 1,600km (that’s 1,000 miles) from the Arctic to the Baltic !
Part One of the trek has been officially completed !