Departure: North Norway


2017/07/23 (Sunday; Espoo -> Kokkola)

[Note, if you just want to see the photos, go here.]

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to get on the road. It’s true, life looks like it’s tougher out there and that can be intimidating. When you’re on the road you’re not only without the comforts of home, but there isn’t even so much as a place you can call your own and occupy freely, at least with any degree of comfort. It can be lonely. And if you’re on a motorcycle, you’re exposed to the mercy of the elements on top of that. Even when you stop at night, if you’re camping you might be dealing with rain, wind, bugs, dirt and grime, you name it. And laboring to prepare meals and clean up with meager equipment. But despite all that actually being on the road is not that bad. You get the hang of it soon enough and don’t really miss as much about home as you thought. You might even say that things take care of themselves out there. But actually getting started, that’s another matter.

It’s not just because you’ve got all this packing and preparation to do, time-consuming and thought-requiring though it is. Nor is it even mostly because you’re going to miss your wife, or your child. It’s because you’ve got to take that step out of all of your habits and routines, and give them up for something else, perhaps something unknown.

Of course, eventually, if you go on the road enough, you’ll find yourself developing a new set of habits there. More likely than not they’re even related in various ways to the ones you have at home. But even so, making that shift, that jump from one set of habits to the other — it’s a hard thing.

Never are you more acutely aware of this fact than when it comes to a spur of the moment trip. Many times, when things are hard at work or tedious at home, we wish nothing else than that we could be going on a vacation. And yet sometimes the tables will turn, and the road can be ready for you and you are not ready for the road.

So it was this time. Work schedules were light in the summer in Finland, and I’d asked for and received permission from my boss to take a week off at some unspecified time during that period to go on a motorcycle camping trip. After having had earlier planned trips end up being in some ways less than enjoyable owing to rain and cold showing up on the appointed dates, I’d decided this time to wait for good weather to come and then pounce on it.

And yet, as it turned out, I’d fallen into the trap of letting other factors determine it anyway. Oh, work was too busy this week, I couldn’t go, oh, my sister and brother in law were coming to visit, and, oh, really what I needed most to feel more relaxed was a weekend at home to catch up on things. All good reasons, but the energy barrier of giving up my accustomed habits was doubtless playing its role behind the scenes and helping me come up with all of these excuses.

Finally I noticed in the weather reports that the weather was looking unusually good for unusually long a period of time for the north Norway region where I was planning to go. At first I was like, oh, let’s see if it lasts as we get closer — thinking it wouldn’t, and so making no moves whatsoever to prepare. But the forecast stayed good, and when even things at work seemed to be clearing up a little I suddenly found myself facing the uncomfortable decision of whether to jump and go now, a week earlier than I’d been subconsciously planning. Because, by the way, the one thing that can really help break out of habit is a plan. Such and such a trip is going to start on such an such a date, and everyone has been told about it and so forth, to the point that it would paradoxically be harder to break the plan than to break the habit!

But now I was contemplating giving up that crutch. At least to an extent. Because the minute I decided to go, I immediately decided to delay the most desirable Saturday departure by one day. I needed the time to get ready. But also I could now have a plan: I will leave this Sunday at such and such a time. But still I’d been hedging my bets, telling people at work I might go or I might not go, and of course this just made it harder to make the final decision. Even my wife wasn’t much help. “You want to go, then go,” she said. Not just “Go,” or even “Don’t go,” either one of which would have been easier.

And so I just put my head down and made my lists, bought my groceries, and started tossing various pieces of camping equipment onto the couch. I’ve done a few motorcycle trips now, and I know roughly what I need. It was only a question of what to put where on this particular bike, which I’d only bought this year. Eventually, at the appointed day and somewhat later than the appointed hour, I was ready. And finally, getting going was one last rubber band to break. My wife almost had to push me out the door. But then I was on the road.

Sunday traffic in July is about as mellow as it gets, and I made good progress northwards. I had had to divert my original plan to go to Oulujärvi because of a huge swath of rain sweeping out from Russia into Finland’s midsection. Instead I’d head up towards the west coast, and stop just short of the advancing front in time to get settled and into my tent by the time it got there. Not that going west did me any particular good given that I was trying to get to Norway’s eastern border (actually slightly east of Finland’s), but at least I’d be getting somewhere.

Kokkola was the destination, coincidentally the place where one of my work colleagues came from originally. Helsinki was a city of internal migrants, and it seemed the rest of the country was rather rapidly emptying out. In today’s day and age there is farmland and major metro area; there’s no socioeconomic place for small or mid-size towns that aren’t close enough to somewhere else to commute to. And Finland, with less than six million people to start with, isn’t able to support that many major metro areas. Helsinki and Tampere were the first tier, and there wasn’t much after that. There were a few areas like Joensuu and Jyväskylä that at least weren’t shrinking, but I wouldn’t want to bet on their fates.

I concentrated on making progress on the ride, selecting the most major highways with only a couple of exceptions that didn’t add much time to the journey. (Adding 5 minutes to a journey of 6 hours might count for google maps, but not for me.) I stopped once for gas and a snack, and maybe once or twice more for a short walk around, and that was it. On a motorcycle you can make some of your own luck, and in this case it worked, as I rolled dryly in to Kokkola just as the clouds were starting to gather more seriously overhead. I checked in to the town’s campground, which was unfortunately situated next to an open paved area by the marina where the town’s youth apparently came to amuse itself noisily every night, but otherwise nice. I had my shower, my dinner, and a relaxing walk past historic red boatsheds before coming to write this account. Old habits of the road, coming to awaken as they were before.





520 km


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