Thursday, 19 June 2014

Trail magic on Aland Islands

Cable ferry
Aland Islands are called a cyclists' paradise in every tourist brochure and guidebook - and therefore I had high expectations. The first thing I realised is that going to Aland with a bike is a real cheap deal. Passengers are riding for free on the ferries - you only pay for your vehicle. The three hour ferry ride from mainland Finland to the main Aland island costs only 6 € - free wifi included. And you can break the trip on one of the smaller islands on the way for free. I stopped at Föglö where I found an idyllic stealth campsite, cooked a long dinner outside because there were hardly any mosquitoes - too much wind. It was still sunny in the morning when I cycled the length of Föglö (which takes just a couple of hours) and it was just as I had imagined: Hardly any traffic, nice views onto the sea and pretty farmland interspersed with some forest. This was great.

Aland road
But things changed when I stepped off the ferry on the main island: traffic here was rather heavy and despite bike lanes and paths it was not particularly great cycling. You didn't see much of the coast either and to make things worse it started to drizzle. Still I urgently had to get to Mariehamn, the capitol of Aland: I had developed a bike problem and needed a spare part! So what was the problem? Before I left Germany I had had my bike checked thoroughly - and left a fortune in the bike shop for spare parts and repairs. Two new rims, spokes, sprockets, chain and a brake check up. The tires had been considered good - but the Baltic dirt roads had been too much for them. My back tire was in a miserable state with hardly any profile left. I couldn't see this tire surviving another 4000 km. But unfortunately I had not brought a spare tire. I had been in Turku on a Sunday when all the bike shops were closed, so now my best bet was Mariehamn. As Aland is a popular cycling destination I was hoping for well equipped bike shops. And then the big negative surprise: almost all tires were 28' and not the 26' MTB size I use. In the second bike shop I could at least find the right size, although not the durable quality I wanted. But I was so scared of the worn tire blowing out in the middle of nowhere that I bought a cheap tire just in case. Unfortunately this was only a temporary fix - good for my peace of mind but not a long term solution. I needed a new high quality tire - and had no clue where to get one. Also I was going up North were there would be less and less shops. I definitely was not happy about the situation and could have kicked my ass for not bringing a decent foldable spare.

Village church on Aland
The weather forecast wasn't great either and the future looked rather gloomy. Cycling the former mail road wasn't as great as described in all the tourist brochures either: there was way too much traffic. Little did I know that the solution to most of my problems was already on the way - in fact it had already passed me in the form of fellow German cyclist Jürgen. But soon I caught up to him and by the look of his panniers he was a long distance cyclist like me. I asked the usual questions and after a brief chat we decided to call it a day and stay at the nearby Puttes campground. Even for me the decision was easy as this was a very cheap campground for Finnish standards: only 5,50 €, but you had to pay extra for showers and even warm water. But who needs warm water anyway....

My hero Juergen
Jürgen and I were chatting over dinner and amongst exchanging trip details and comparing gear I also mentioned my bike problems. Together we examined my bike and I did not believe my ears when Jürgen said that he carried the exact same tire I was looking for as a spare - and wanted to give it to me. Not only did it have the exact dimensions 2' x 26'', but it was a Schwalbe Mondial, the very long distance tire. Jürgen explained that his trip was coming to an end and his  tires were still fine. He also wanted to lighten his load. Maybe I had dispensed to many UL equipment tips... But the most unbelievable thing was that he refused to take any payment from me - and this high quality tire isn't cheap. To sum it up: this was an incredible example of trail magic on a bike trip. I tried to give back as much as possible in the form of travel tips and we ended up chatting until midnight. Thank you so much, Jürgen - I'll never forget your help.

Inside the cooking tent
The weather forecast was gloomy and I had been deliberating back and forth what to do. I didn't like cycling on the main island: too much traffic and too many tourists. Therefore I decided to stop at another small island with a campsite. Wild camping is easy on Aland but no fun in pouring rain. Hasslebo guesthouse and campground on Kumlinge offered a campsite for 8 € per person and a cooking tent with a sofa. This sounded like luxury to me. Of course it started to rain as soon as I started cycling. It was only 14 km to the ferry but I was soaking wet when I arrived - like all the other cyclists. I also want to mention that daytime maximum temperature was a balmy 11 C - nice summer temperature...

From the ferry landing it was another 5 km to the campground and its cooking tent. I immediately put on all my dry warm clothes and was still cold. I needed a treat which came in the form of a sauna for 6 €  and was heaven sent. And while I was slowly thawing out in the 80 C sauna even the sun came out. Life is much better now but not quite perfect: the whole next week temperatures aren't forecasted to rise above 15 C max. Hopefully it'll at least stay dry while I am now heading up the Baltic Sea coast to Oulu.


Anonymous said...

Guess what: In Utajärvi we even had snow in the morning of 17.6.2014. The temperature is much lower than it is in the average in June. However, next week the temperatures are rising again. With best regards, Thomas

German Tourist said...

I have heard that it has even snowed a bit in Helsinki. What a summer! First too hot and now too cold. Hope you are right with the weather improving. Right now it looks like I'll get to Utajärvi before you leave for Aland. Looking forward to meeting you and getting some more tips for Finland.