Back to the Tornio: The Rubberband at Work

2017/07/28 (Friday; Evenskjer -> Pajala)

Every motorcyclist goes on the road to escape, echoing a wanderlust that has been a fundamental part of mankind since our ancestors left Africa.  And yet, however much time we manage to arrange off, and wherever our personal limits are, nearly all of us return home in the end.  It is almost as if we are bound there by a rubberband, which may stretch but does not break.  Sooner or later we succumb to its pressure.

Here I was, along the same road where only three days before I’d been eagerly traveling out, now returning as inexorably as if I were following a physical law.  But if the trip has been a good one, this return is usually taken in the proper spirit — as part of the journey to be savored for its own qualities, rather than a sad time focusing on home and loss of the here and now.  Which is still here and now, when you get right down to it.

This morning I slept long and late, until 8:30. That’s actually saying something during the Scandinavian summer, when the sun can start shining into a tent from 4am.

Today the plan was to head southeast into Sweden and get all the way across to the Finnish border. On the way I hoped to stop and do some of the hike I’d seen the beginning of between Abisko National Park and the Norwegian border. This would take some time, so once I was up, I hustled about getting my breakfast made and my things in order. It was still gray and foggy as it had been the night before.

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I strongly suspected that as soon as I went a mile inland it would be clear, and I wondered if it ever was sunny here. And sure enough, I didn’t even have to go a mile, or even inland for that matter. Just about a kilometer north and all was blue skies.

The first part of the ride went smoothly, though the distance to cover in Norway was longer than I expected, and the transitional zone on either side of the Norway-Sweden border was spectacular as I remembered.

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Soon enough I came to the spot where I was planning to hike, and I pulled off.  It was none other than the spot with the refreshing stream and the “Navvy Trail” that I’d lucked onto on my trip out past Torneträsk some days earlier.  But now I could add planning to luck and give myself some time to actually do a bit of walking.

I got down to changing and getting ready. My day-hiking approach was minimalist and wouldn’t work on any but a day with foolproof weather — a water bottle and a bar in my pocket, a long-sleeved top tied around my waist. But it had worked in Norway and worked again here, and soon I was on my way.

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I started out by heading up along the stream to the falls I’d seen from the road before.  Given confidence by the fact I hadn’t gotten sick from my tentative drinking the previous time, I emptied and refilled my water bottle from it at the spot by the bridge.  Then I climbed on.

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And climbed.  It was easy to make rapid progress when I wasn’t carrying a backpack to weigh me down!

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This time I went up for an hour instead of 45 minutes, but there was no obvious place to bring the hike to an end, so I found a rock with a better view than the immediate surrounding area when the hour was up and had a sit-down and a drink.

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Then there was nothing else but to head down along the stream and get back on the bike.  Rubberbands again!

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As yesterday, the hike used up a lot of energy and I was a little worried about the rest of the ride ahead of me, which was more than half. But a longish lunch stop at a Burger King helped me through the first part, and a pause near a lake towards the end got me through the rest. At the end of the day I found myself back to the main branch of the Tornio river, close to a main bridge which actually did not go straight over to Finland, since the border actually ran west of the river for some reason here. My campground, again checked on Google rather than my map, did exist right where it was supposed to, and this time there was no fog. In fact it was the most beautiful I’d been at so far, both because of the idyllic spot along the river, and its neatly arranged red-painted cottages amidst the trees.

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The proprietor of the place spoke English, but seemed to prefer Finnish, so we ended up switching back and forth between those languages while I signed in and paid. I didn’t have a tremendous amount of energy after the long day so focused mainly on the basics — getting my tent set up, taking a shower, and cooking my dinner. One nice benefit of being so close to Finland was there was actually a sauna on the premises, and I wasted little time in availing myself of its comfort.

It is a curious idea, the Finnish sauna, at once simple and yet profound. One can easily imagine the attraction to a people inhabiting the cold, far north in the days before insulated homes and electricity: heat up a small enclosed space, strip off all of the cumbersome skins and furs, and just absorb the heat. And yet still today when we live and work in amply heated buildings, so we can be in shirtsleeves even in winter, we still find ourselves going to the sauna.

And as with many other pleasures, it has been embellished into an art form. Only a certain kind of wood should be used for the walls, and another for the benches, which should be a certain depth. Wood-burning sauna stoves are considered superior to electric. Rocks should be piled over the heat source, and the more the better. Water is thrown onto these to make steam, and if there are many deep nooks and crannies the steam will be generated more slowly over a longer time, producing a “softer” heat. The softest heat of all though is produced in so-called “smoke saunas”. In these, the heat is produced by burning wood, and some of the smoke is deliberately kept from escaping through the chimney. The smoke mixes with the steam and either “softens” it directly or holds it in the air longer. Smoke saunas are highly prized by Finns, but from my perspective they seem to be a bit of an acquired taste. It can be rather difficult to breath smoothly between all of the steam and smoke, and often the overall temperature feels too hot. I avoid them as a rule.

In any case, this version was a humble electric sauna, lowest on the totem pole but most convenient. Most home and apartment saunas in Finland are electric, and they get the job done. This one did as well, and I had a restful sleep with all of the kinks from sitting on the bike removed from my body.

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415 km

 

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