Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Summer in Finland

Next on my schedule was to visit an internet acquaintance. I had posted a lot of questions about Finland on a German bike forum - and had received a lot of information from Thomas, a German living in Finland. Finally he had even invited me to visit him in Utajärvi where he worked in the nearby Rokua Geopark. I had announced my visit for Thursday morning and Thomas had even taken a day off work to show me around.

Oulu library in the rain
But now Wednesday when I had to leave Oulu to see Thomas in time the weather was plain miserable. The forecast was for a lot of rain the entire day. I could either leave very early in the morning before the rain or late in the evening when it was supposed to let up. I decided to trust the meteorologists and wait for the rain to stop. This meant I had to spend the day somewhere dry in Oulu and my choice fell on Oulu public library. This turned out to be an excellent choice: there weren't many customers and I was allowed to use the internet for several hours which gave me the chance to update my blog. But this fantastic library had a lot more to offer: I found German newspapers and even the American "Backpacker" magazine and spent a very relaxing afternoon reading. And before I could finish all the magazines the rain had really stopped. At 6.30 pm I finally left Oulu preparing myself to cycle late. It was 11 pm when I finally set up camp - in an unexpected rain shower. And of course it rained the next morning when I cycled the last 25 km to Thomas' home in Utajärvi.....

Thomas at Rokua park
But as soon as I arrived things improved dramatically. Thomas had already an early lunch waiting for me. Then we had a look at my bike where another surprise was waiting for me. When Thomas checked the tires he discovered that I had a broken spoke - a fact that had so far escaped my visual inspections. And what came next is another example of unexpected trail magic: Thomas did not only have the fitting spoke but also showed me how to change it. Even better: he had a device for truing the wheel and gave me a spare spoke. This broken spoke could have caused me a lot of trouble (especially since I didn't have a spare) if Thomas hadn't found it in time and fixed it for me.

Rokua park
But Thomas helped me even more: I had several route options for continuing through Finland and with the help of his great bike maps and all his info I finally decided on one option. With all that work done we could eventually do some sightseeing in Rokua park. With Thomas' explanations the hills and forests transformed into an interesting history. Rokua has some unique geological features: the park covers the remnants of the last Ice Age. The ground is all sand that has been left by retreating glaciers that has then been blown into huge sand dunes. Now these dunes are covered with light pine forest. And the lakes that dot the park are leftovers from melted dead ice blocks.

Camping in Rokua
We took a little stroll through the park before we came to the highlight of the day. Thomas had brought some sausages and we lit a fire in one of the campfire sites to have a little barbecue. Like before in Nuuksia the installations were total luxury: there was a firewood shelter, a cooking shelter with seats and barbecue spits and even a toilet. And all this next to a beautiful lake and virtually mosquito free due to the dry sandy ground. We even had some fantastic cake as desert - leftover from a business meeting earlier that day in the visitor centre. When Thomas left to return to his home and family I set up my tent on perfectly flat ground, kept the fire burning and enjoyed one of the best evenings of the whole trip. This felt like paradise and a flash of deep happiness came over me.

Next morning I met Thomas again in the park's visitor centre to get some more geological explanations and route info before I finally set off at noon. I had enjoyed me evening in the park so much that I was now heading to Oulujärvi, a different section of Rokua  Geopark, but with similar camping installations. Again the lake area was delightful and I had dinner in a cooking hut where I lit a fire just for the fun of it - something I hardly ever do. Again there were no mosquitos and I enjoyed a great evening. Unfortunately the nights wasn't very quiet because some Finnish campers nearby decided to go skinnydipping at 2 am and their alcohol induced screams of joy were carried across the lake and disturbed my sleep.

I was now cycling through the Finnish Lakelands, an area right out of a Scandinavian picture book. Of course it helped a lot that summer had finally arrived. No more rain, sunshine every day and temperatures above 25 C. One night I camped in an old overgrown meadow with no shade- something I regretted in the morning when the strong sun turned my tent into a sauna. It was impossible to sleep after 7 am and I got an unusually early start. I don't know whether it's the great weather, my great physical shape or just the higher pressure in my tires after Thomas bike repair: I am doing high mileage days now and end up with 100 km plus. The terrain is rolling hills: lots of up and downs, but none too long or steep.

The warm weather is driving people onto the beaches - and brings out the weirdest bike fashion. Cycling into Kuopio I saw a guy only wearing sandals, one tiny piece of men's underwear - and a bike helmet. Safety first!

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