Alppikierros Day 8: Outing for the Italians


I got up early in the morning and had a nice run up the valley to part of an Alpine walking trail network.


Today was to be a long, 300 kilometer  day trip around the area, but several of our group bowed out pleading fatigue from the rainy transfer trips the two days before and wanting to gather their strength for another one the next day. Two of us were enthusiastic to do some riding, however, but to compromise by cutting the day’s journey short. After some discussion, a third joined us. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, we were three out of the five Italian bikes on the tour: one 2004 Aprilia Caponord ETV 1000, one 2016 Ducati Monster 1200, and my 2015 Aprilia Caponord 1200 Rally.


We left a little after the others for some spirited riding. You might think that this meant some exertion of physical strength or quick reflexes, but in fact it was mainly a matter of concentration and focus. Motorcycling is above all a mental game. For example, when I traded in my Kawasaki Versys 650 for the Capo 1200, one of the biggest differences I noticed was how sluggish the new bike was to turn. At first it felt like I really had to work to get the bike leaned over to any extent at all around curves. I attributed this to the heavier weight of the bike and figured I’d just need to muscle it around more. Fortunately though, I soon discovered the difference was not one of strength at all, but of timing. Before long the bike was tilting in and out of curves practically by itself, all because I learned just how far in advance I needed to shift to get the bike to move.

Likewise when approaching a curve, everything is about choosing the speed and the line, which are matters of judgment, not reflexes. And of course the range of speeds even available to choose from depends upon what you’ve been doing before that, so you need to plan ahead. Riding in the Alps — or any mountain roads, for that matter — is all about focusing on the moment. Just allowing your thoughts to wander for a second — if it’s the wrong second — can mean an accident. I caught myself a couple of times in the first few days lapsing momentarily, and then having to scramble to recover. The last couple of days I’d gotten better.


I had the concentration thing down. Now I was working on relaxing. The most efficient movement comes from the smoothest action, and smoothness is difficult to achieve when tense. I could manage it at lower speeds and easier roads, but only occasionally when the going got tougher. We would see. There was still over a week left on the trip.


230 km


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Alppikierros Day 7: Back to Tyrolia


The next morning dawned dry but with the forecast of rain in the afternoon. We had a longer ride than the day before ahead of us too. Despite all that our company managed to muster up some optimism, and we oiled our chains and headed off in good spirits.

The first part of the journey went smoothly. We had to backtrack over the road where the blockage had been, but it was clear though covered with remnant dirt and gravel, and the pass road following it was dry and manageable. Then came a much trickier pass where the road was narrow and in poor condition to boot. There was a constant worry about oncoming traffic coming around blind corners. We eventually made it down from this and decided to avail ourselves of a longcut option that would really be a shortcut by cutting off some further and even higher passes. We took a two-lane highway followed by A roads (high-speed freeways here in Austria, rather than unlimited-speed autobahns) for about 50 kilometers, then did one final, more minor, pass and then a B road to the Bikerhotel Schönauer.




260 km


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Alppikierros Day 6: The Dolomites

day06_IMG_0300 Today the plan (after my morning run, part of which shown above) was to head west and south into Italy and ride the Dolomites down to Arabba, a skiing-related town set amidst mountain pass roads 50 km due west of Bolzano. Things started smoothly enough — it was another beautiful day, and the roads alternated between wide sweepers and occasional straight sections and hairpinned ascents and descents on minor passes.



On the Austrian side the roads were a bit thinner than yesterday but still in excellent condition. Once again cars and other vehicles were quickly left in the rear view mirrors, and only buses presented any serious problems. But once we crossed over to the Italian side a nuisance that had been present but minor in Austria became a major one — cyclists.


Yes, there were three species inhabiting these Alpine roads: drivers of cars, trucks, and buses (collectively, “cagers”), motorcyclists, and finally, cyclists. The latter were total animals, physically powering their way up these grades of 10% or more that lasted for miles, all with just a pair of water bottles on their bikes and perhaps a couple of energy bars in their jersey pockets. I have no idea how they made it even a few kilometers on that amount of provisions — the calories burned and the amount of water sweated must have been prodigious. I don’t know what they must have thought of us motorcyclists blasting loudly by them with just a twist of our wrists, but to my unending surprise not a one gave us the finger or even so much as a dirty look. In turn we riders did our best to give them a comfortable berth, which was much easier for us than it was for cars. The only problem was we were busy trying to watch out for cars ourselves, especially ones coming the other way and sliding out into our lane — perhaps due to passing some cyclists. But we couldn’t simply hug the right side either since there could be cyclists just around the next bend.

Some areas were populated by a fourth species as well — hikers. Obviously for the most part we didn’t see these at all, but there were various transits between trails, and parking lots and trails, where they needed to walk along the road. They also amazingly did not shout or shake their fists at us, even when they were obviously standing waiting to cross the road as we were blowing past. In any case, it was good that everyone got along harmoniously, because when some cyclists were weaving through side pedestrian traffic, cars were stopped or waiting, and a bus was coming in the other direction things were close to getting out of hand.

Around 1 pm Päivi and I stopped to decide whether to take a shortcut to the hotel. Thus far the weather and been beautiful and the riding not too taxing.


So we decided to take the long way, which was still only an extra 70 or so kilometers on the map. Wrong move though. Hardly had we gotten going when clouds started looking ominous above the peaks to our left. They moved in steadily until finally they opened up. We stopped to wait the rain out in a restaurant, but after a coffee and a snack it became apparent that waiting wasn’t going to do much good. We just had to press on and push through.

Heavier and heavier the rain came down until at one point it started hailing like mad as well. We stopped again, then resumed during a respite. The rain soon returned, without the hail, thankfully, but now we continued. Supposedly only a few kilometers more. Finally we hit the town of Arabba, but our hotel was apparently out on the other side. Soon we came to some stopped cars and pulled into the left lane to go around them. Only to run smack into a black rushing torrent coming down from the hillside that had thrown a low wall of black mud, stones, and logs across the road. Game over.

We retreated back to the edge of the town and collected ourselves under a building overhang. There was basically no practical way around at this point, only long, soaking wet pass roads. Eventually an SUV from the Carabinieri came rushing through, then an ambulance, and, finally, a bulldozer. At that we started to have some hope that we might get through after all. Around an hour later, we did, and five minutes later we pulled in in wet and bedraggled state to the Hotel Alforte, where kind though excessively talkative staff greeted us with Italian warmth.


240 km


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Alppikierros Day 5: The Großglockner

This morning we woke up somewhat refreshed, though still not feeling completely caught up on sleep, grabbed breakfast, and rushed off on our bikes at 9 to hit the Grossglockner. Grossglockner, or Großglockner as they prefer to write it here, is the highest mountain in Austria, as well as the name of a toll road that runs past its base. We started off with a couple of other guys from the group, but soon lost them as their pace exceeded Päivi’s comfort level on our first full Alpine ride. We slowed down as we rode past 1000 meters, to 2000 and finally 2500 meters up off on a side road from the main pass. We parked our bikes and looked out across a valley to a glacier.


Below us was a wash of loose stones and pooled water, evidence of what one of our companions said, that the glacier had come much lower in earlier years. Not much time for discussing the finer points of climate change, however. Back on the bikes and onward and upward. We ended up stopping once more at the highest point of the main pass around 2500 meters, and then down to Zell am Zee, celebrated base for Alpine skiing in the winter, but a snarl of traffic now in the summer. There we had lunch, then turned around and headed for home, arriving back around 3:30 to the hotel.

Motorcycles rode almost universally aggressively. There was not much of an attitude of cruising through the scenery here. Campers, small trucks, and cars alike were dispatched with little mercy; only buses were paid a wary respect, primarily because took up more than their lane (and were long) and were therefore difficult to pass. Furthermore they had a tendency to swing out into the oncoming path when taking hairpins, which meant they had to be watched out for.

I doubt it was the riders themselves to blame for all the aggression though — the roads were so full of delicious curves and teeth-sinking slopes as to drive even the most mild mannered of motorcyclists into a frenzy.


Twisting throttle, upshifting, downshifting, engine braking followed by opening it up, just blasting through the terrain. Finally, we had found what our bikes had been born to do.


150 km


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Alppikierros Day 4: Into the Tyrolian Alps

We awoke after five hours of sleeping like the dead. We had to get up and on the road, but I would never forgive myself if I left here without seeing the Festspielhaus. Fortunately its location within walking distance and in the middle of a park made it ideally suited as a running destination. It was a lovely morning, and I saw only two other souls in the park, one a dog walker, and the other another “culture runner” like myself.


Back to the road. After yesterday’s poor experience with the big, main autobahns, and more jams promised since this was Germany’s big vacation road travel season, we decided to change things up and do some B-road riding. For the most part this worked — the scenery was much better and we didn’t even go that much slower much of the time. We also saw a lot more motorcycles than we had on the autobahn, so it seemed we weren’t the only ones who found the great superhighways wearying.

But sometimes we ran into long stretches of crawling through towns and lights, and once we hit a road closure that left us with a 45-minute detour. At last when we had drawn to within less than an hour of our destination where we’d meet up with our merry band of Finns, one last complication arose. The road came to an end and the GPS seemed to be directing us to put our bikes on a train! While we were waffling over whether this was really what we wanted to do, the train left and the next one was a full hour later. We ended up waiting it out, for the ways to go around this turned out to be quite limited indeed. So sure enough, we rolled our motorcycles onto flat rail cars where an attendant strapped them down.

day04_IMG_4208 - Version 2

A fifteen-minute ride later and we were off on the last part of the journey. Thankfully this, at least, went smoothly, and we were just in time for dinner and some beers with our group.


515 km


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Alppikierros Day 3: Riding the Autobahns


Up for breakfast at 7 and then on the road, the first of two days riding to the Alps in Austria. My GPS didn’t take a great liking to the route I wanted to give it this morning, persisting in doing something different no matter how many via points I put into it. Eventually it led us into the small harbor town and onto a short ferry.  (It was of the type that is always free no matter where you find them in Finland and Sweden, but here in Germany we were made to pay.) Then we got onto some small roads winding through farmland that were quite pleasant.


 The landscape was full of windmills, and, later on, fields of solar cells as well. Germany seemed to be moving into the future regardless of whether other countries were coming along or not.


I wonder whether the situation had been similar leading up to World Wars I and II. Had Germany also been so far ahead of everyone else back then that they eventually lost patience waiting for them to catch up? Certainly something had gotten Nietzsche and others alternately praising and damning German culture but always focusing on it as if there were few other developments worth noting in their contemporary world.

All of this was rather ironic considering how things stood 1500 years before that, when the Roman Empire represented everything civilized, while the Vandals, Goths, and other rough-living German tribes were like packs of wild wolves tearing away at its flanks. An East German colleague of mine in the research community had once laughingly remarked that “The wrong side sure won that war!” But in the story of human history, victory goes always to the strong. The Roman Empire was decaying from within, and there was some vitality in the Germanic culture that led them to defeat it despite vastly inferior technology and military discipline.

We finished up with the small roads in the morning and got onto the big A roads — the autobahns. My GPS had the speed limits stored for all roads, but once we hit the on ramp the display just disappeared. Indeed, cars were just flying by in the left lane. We stayed to the right, Päivi’s 500cc machine not being up for the exalted speeds that were possible here. But surprisingly we ran into problems when cars came in from the on ramps in front of us, because, however fast they liked to drive, the Germans did not particularly enjoy accelerating and would take their sweet time to come up to speed.

But in general things ran pretty smoothly and the drivers seemed pretty good, handling the large disparities in speed that tended to crop up with aplomb. Unfortunately, all of this smooth flowing meant that when things broke down, they broke down badly. Somewhere along the A9 southwest of Berlin there was a major accident in the morning, leaving at least one car in flames, which in turn lit a brushfire and caused the road to become blocked off. Traffic built up behind while the police inexplicably didn’t close off the entrances further up. Passage was only prevented for an hour or two, but the resulting jam-up lasted for the rest of the day. It was so bad when we hit it in the afternoon that traffic would literally halt for several minutes at a time, then advance one or two hundred meters, then halt again.  We did this for almost four hours. It was hard to believe that there was absolutely nothing blocking the highway, but that was indeed how it was when we finally crawled up to the trouble spot at the end of the afternoon.


 We hit a few more jams after that, totalling up to maybe an hour all told. The late summer sun slowly set on what had mercifully been a beautiful day, and the land rose up as we coursed into the northern foothills of the Bavarian Alps. Soon we found ourselves speeding through black night on the German autobahn!

Finally we rolled in to Bayreuth at 10:30, a total of 14-1/2 hours one road, of which 9-1/2 were actually traveling. We were bushed.

Our arrival was a study in contrasts. Bayreuth was a German town about halfway along our journey to the Alps, suitable for breaking our journey, but we’d chosen it because we’d been toying on and off with the idea for a while of attending the Wagner festival held here each year. A week of Wagner performances at the opera house that the great composer himself had had built during his lifetime. They were presented without any sort of subtitles as far as I knew, and there was a ten-year wait to get tickets. You had to be pretty hard-core, and I was still in the process of figuring out whether I was that hard-core. But anyway the hotel we were at was within walking distance of the hallowed Festspielhaus, and opera lovers from the world over would be coming to stay here within the month.

Indeed, it seemed like they were already here, judging by the number of tuxedoed individuals walking in and out of the lobby when we arrived. Meanwhile we climbed off our bikes and tramped up to the desk wearing our sweaty leathers. To the staff’s credit they didn’t bat an eye, but courteously went about efficiently checking us in. The man at the bar even fixed us up some sandwiches after the kitchen had closed, and brought them with two steins of Bayreuth’s finest local brews. Our coasters proudly proclaimed in enthusiastic letters, “Das ist bierkultur!”  I guess that doesn’t need any translation.


650 km


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Alppikierros Day 2: Landfall in Germany

We got up in the morning around 8 feeling much restored after 10 hours in the horizontal position and made our way out into streaming sunshine on the cafe deck for a morning coffee. What a difference a night’s sleep makes! While being on a boat made it different — so that we didn’t get that full refreshing sense of freedom that you reach already that first morning out on a motorcycle trip — there was still a pleasant sense of a clean break having been made from our life back home.

The boat had an interesting meal arrangement in which an extended “brunch” was served from 9:30 to 1 in the afternoon, which you could re-enter as you pleased. We elected, like many, to dive in at 9:30 for a late breakfast, then return just before 1 for lunch. Two meals for the price of one, though it was not particularly cheap nevertheless. We wouldn’t arrive in Germany before 10:30pm Finnish time so we’d have to make it some time before another proper meal.

All in our group but us were planning to bravely sally forth and ride 200 kilometers straight off the boat, allowing themselves to make it all the way to Austria with a single, big 800km day after that. Päivi and I, especially with her 500cc bike, lacked the appetite for this. We’d check straight in to a local hotel on the first night, then do the ride to Austria in two 500-600 km days. We’d miss the first day of riding in the Alps, but hey, we’d be on our motorcycles anyway, so who cared? Besides that I’d noticed that a certain town by the name of Bayreuth happened to lie around halfway along our route. I booked us a hotel within walking distance of the famed Festspielhaus where the Wagner festival was and has been held since the great composer’s own time. I was still deciding myself whether I wanted to embark on the 10-year wait to get tickets to see the Ring in its original birthplace some summer, in German without subtitles and all, but in any case the chance to walk on those hallowed grounds where great art held the highest place was an unexpected bonus to this trip.

The brunch on the boat was a tremendously rich feast by any standard. Here is but a partial list of all that was on the tables:

  • Salmon caught off Norway and served uncooked, fileted and salted
  • Thin-sliced roasted game from Germany
  • Yoghurts of various thicknesses made by collecting milk from cows, probably in Finland, then fermenting it
  • Carrots grown in the earth, pulled up, cleaned, and grated
  • Seeds harvested from oat grass, collected, dried, and then sliced to flakes, and finally boiled in water with salt
  • Other seeds harvested from wheat grass, ground up and baked with microorganisms that give off gas to provide a fluffy consistency
  • Sausages made from the meat of animals brought into existence and raised on our behalf, probably in Europe, and then killed to give up their flesh
  • A brown beverage made by passing hot water at a certain rate through beans harvested on the other side of the globe, shipped, roasted, and ground
  • Sugar produced from cane also on the other side of the planet and shipped across the oceans

I could go on to describe the origins of the materials of the chairs we sat on, or the fact that they were painted just such and such a color chosen to be pleasing to our eyes in combination with the colors of the sea outside, and what the highly developed chemistry of the paint was, and so on. But I have made my point. Mankind has reached lofty heights indeed. Moreover I have weeks of leisure ahead of me, all earned by me sitting inside a glass-walled, tiered building tapping little squares of plastic that move up and down in a grid while staring at a glowing screen displaying quasi-repeating patterns of light and dark. Even science fiction authors in the middle part of the 20th century could not have imagined this. And yet.

We could lose all of this before another hundred years has gone by. Even now we are engaged in a race against death although we are barely conscious of it. Death, not of individuals, but of civilization itself. Everything we have built is dependent on fossil fuels we extract from the earth. These ships by which we trade and project goods across the sea, the tractors that groom the fields so that a few people can grow vast quantities of food, the machinery by which we construct our buildings, pave our roads, and ourselves travel to the places where our mental capabilities can best be put to use — all depend on fossil fuels. The vast bulk of the electricity that lights our homes and breathes life into our entertainment and data systems and our very networks of communication, depend on fossil fuels. If a man had to deliver the same amount of work we extract from a single barrel of oil, it would take an entire year of hard physical labor.

And yet the supply of oil, gas, and coal is limited, and we will exhaust it within the next century and perhaps much sooner. Awareness is there, but not in all parts of the ship, and it is a very big ship indeed that we must steer, with the direction it should be steered in not even fully known. We must develop technologies for extracting and transforming energy from more challenging and diffuse sources like sun and wind than the concentrated chemical energy found in fossil fuels.

The book A Canticle for Leibowitz is the best description I’ve ever come across of what might happen if our civilization collapsed. It was written in the late 1950’s and so the nuclear apocalypse which was our greatest fear at the time served as the trigger, but what happened in the aftermath could equally well apply after a failure of the primary engine of our civilization. The story describes a land that is but sparsely populated. Most people are subsistence farmers growing barely more than enough to live off the land. Here and there there is enough extra to support an enclave of monks who do not farm but devote their lives to attempting to preserve what light remains from that past civilization. They spend their days copying books, by hand, bringing the precious contents of their pages before they decay, letter by letter, to new parchment. Parchment which itself eventually degrades and must be copied anew. They do not even understand the texts that they copy, abstruse treatises on engineering and science, except that they know they held the keys to the soaring structures and networks we once built. They are monks, because returning to that better time is seen as bringing man closer to God.

The book follows generations of the monks, over the course of hundreds of years, as things slowly improved. In the end civilization was rebuilt. Not necessarily from the contents of the books, but undeniably from the faith in man’s capabilities and destiny that they inspired. And just as we have in some ways grown wiser since the excesses of the Greco-Roman civilization that preceded our own, the reader got the sense that this new civilization built on the ashes of the old was more humble and less headstrong than its predecessor, and likely to avoid the same doom.

It may be that this will be our own path. We have made it further than the Greeks and Romans, but we won’t quite win the race against declining oil reserves, and that will make all the difference. The period we live in now will be looked back upon as the height and the glory of human achievement, a bright white light shining forward in time to a darker tableau. Let us not take it for granted, which means both to enjoy it and to work to preserve it against what can be foreseen.

The boat arrived in due course at 10:30pm Finnish, 9:30pm German time. We rode smoothly off the boat and had a short 3km introductory ride in Germany to our hotel. It was in the midst of a surprisingly rural area despite the proximity to the harbor.

“The air smells different here,” Päivi remarked as we got off the bikes. I had to agree with her.



3 km


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Alppikierros, Day 1: To the Alps!


Here we are, off on a motorcycle trip to the Alps! The grand and storied land of soaring peaks, winding narrow roads — home to the best James Bond car chases — green slopes, longhorns and pure maidens, cable cars and hikers’ huts, the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc, all this and more in the summer. And in the winter of course the ski resorts. Fortresses of luxury set in mountain fastnesses, outdoor cafes perched on overlooks, and long, challenging ski runs beginning in the thin air of high altitudes. I’d seen this winter world once at Alpe d’Huez more than 30 years before (yes, I’m that old) on a spring skiing trip, and I’d had a couple of brief sojourns in the Bavarian Alps and the Black Forest a few years after that, but that was it for my Alps experience.

As for my long-distance motorcycling experience, I have somewhat more of that. In fact my motorcycle touring started the same time as my motorcycling itself. The year was 2005 and I had gotten started on my mid-life crisis a little early, still in my mid-30’s, prompted by a difficult separation from my wife and generally being ground down by the less glamorous sides of life as the recipient of an ordinary middle class income in Manhattan. I’d sold my car when we’d moved there and had no easy way to escape the city for fresh air / open space breaks other than renting one. Even that was a pain, because I had to first take trains or buses out of the city in order to even get a rental for less than exorbitant prices. Thus it turned that in the winter of 2005 I found myself searching online ads for Kawasaki KZ650’s after reminiscing with my Dad at Thanksgiving over the one he’d had almost 30 years before that. Eventually I found the perfect bike, but in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, no short distance from New York City.

So the next April I packed my soft strap-on side-cases with everything I thought I’d need, donned my riding pants and motorcycle jacket, and got on a plane to Milwaukee. The seller picked me up, I swung my leg over a motorcycle for the first time other than our 125cc trainer bikes at the 2-day riding course I’d taken a couple of weeks before, and I headed off for a 4-day journey through the midwest to Pennsylvania and then down the Hudson into NYC. It was nerve-wracking, it was cold, and it was far more exhausting than I’d expected, but the sensation of freedom out on the road in the open air with the capability to go any direction I chose was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. I was hooked.


A rapid succession of shorter and longer tours followed — NYC DC, Connecticut, Maine, and the Gaspe peninsula in northeastern Canada, numerous day trips to the Hudson Valley, and ultimately the series of visits to upstate New York that culminated in me buying a house and moving up there in December, 2006. That summer I didn’t stop, but got on the bike and rode it all the way out to Colorado, went for a week-long hike with some friends, and turned around and headed back. Six weeks that could not at any point be said to be easy, but absolute heaven through and through.

A few months after that Päivi came into my life and everything changed, but much stayed the same. When you meet a soulmate there are slight adjustments in course to be made, but no major changes in direction. After a period of international travels in too many countries to name we found ourselves in 2013 with two motorcycles and time on our hands. We retraced the first part of my Colorado route from 6 years before — it was that good, running out from the boundaries of New England across the Great Lakes and through the Midwest to the Great Plains, following in the footsteps of the pioneers in the 18th and 19th century. All the way out to Colorado and this time even further, up along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains through Utah, Wyoming, and Montana into the eastern part of Washington State bordering on the Pacific. If you counted states touching the oceans, coast to coast had been achieved. We came back through North Dakota, Minnesota, and Ontario. More than six thousand miles in six weeks, and some hiking and relaxing besides.

The open country lay all around us

The next year we moved to Europe, and after some acclimatization, some longer journeys in Finland, Sweden, and Norway followed. A year ago I had one fantastic week to Norway’s Lofoten island chain and back, rivaling the longer US trips in magnificence if not in length.


Norway is indeed a land of the gods, but in Europe one area rises still higher in reputation among motorcyclists, and that is the Alps.

And so now here we were, on board a Germany-bound ferry boat with my Italian adventure tourer and Päivi’s Japanese cruiser in the hold, relaxing after a hard last week of preparation and eagerly awaiting the trip ahead. All the difficulties of arranging expensive accomodations, obtaining proper documentation for our vehicles and insurance, purchasing highway toll passes and the like now forgotten, only the dreams of white mountain peaks soaring above winding roads fringed by green grass and trees visible ahead of us.

In a new first, we were going to be traveling with a group from our motorcycling club. The entire route through the Alps had been planned in road-by-road detail, along with every night of accomodations. We were going to meet up in Austria, but around a dozen members (out of nearly 40 overall) were on board with us here. We met them while boarding and though we knew we should start getting acquainted, Päivi and I were both just too exhausted from the preceding week to have much energy to be social. We wandered around the decks and cafes on board for a while, ate the food we’d brought for dinner, and went to bed by 10. The thing I was happiest about was that our cabin was completely in the interior without any windows. That meant we’d be able to sleep as long as we felt like and needed without being forced awake by the summer light — like that which streamed into our bedroom windows at home daily from 3am on.

25 km


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2017/07/30 (Sunday; Humppi -> Espoo)

Now this was it, the last day, and although this campground had had the friendliest atmosphere, I was in no mood to sleep late and lounge around. I got up and got rolling early, and then stayed on the bike for 180 km straight before taking a single long coffee stop at the “Cafe 58″ — situated appropriately along Highway 58. When I got there the TV was showing live coverage of the rally and the dining area held half a dozen men glued to the set. I mainly munched my food, sipped my coffee, and minded my maps as I normally did. When I headed back out, I took a moment to insert the jacket and pants liners that I’d left out when starting out. At 8 am it had been sunny and warming up rapidly, but now at 10:30 it was cloudy and cool.

No matter, I got back on the bike and rode another 190 km and was home.


370 km


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2017/07/29 (Saturday; Pajala -> Humppi)

Today I was planning to cover a lot of distance, but I figured that since I wasn’t going to stop for a hike, I’d have more time AND energy to do so. My goal was to get as close to home as possible since nothing is harder than having a long ride on the last day of a motorcycle trip to get home. I knew I wasn’t going to have the energy for a really long ride tomorrow.

Everything started out smoothly and I was out of the campground before anyone else but a couple of dog-walkers were up.  I rode south along the river.  The road was still nice, but somehow not as pleasant as I remembered it coming up in the afternoon almost a week ago. Something about the light, the temperature, and the breezes then had been optimal, and even though mornings can be good times to ride, this time couldn’t match it.  But the ride went well enough, and there certainly wasn’t any more traffic than then. After about an hour or so I came to a rest area marking the arctic circle.  A ring of flags flew representing each nation the circle passed through. Starting from me that was: Sweden, Finland, Russia, US, Canada, Denmark (for Greenland), Iceland (it just touched the northern tip), and Norway.


I carried on, rolling uneventfully south, until finally the time came to cross the Tornio over into Finland. The weather had gotten a bit cloudy by then, and this only increased the tremendous sense of wistfulness that suddenly welled up. This is always the same on a motorcycle trip. You come to that point where you must leave behind whatever strange and new place to which you have gone.  While the turning around is long past at this point and the trip back has been in progress for some time, there has still been a very real sense of being on the road.  Home was still far away and abstract, and the immediate here and now was still exotic and foreign.  But now with the crossing into Finland all that foreignness was gone, and now I truly was just on a slog home.  I tried to comfort myself with the warm feelings of coming back to familiar surroundings, but this never really works — the sense of loss of the whole magic of the trip is just too great.

To add insult to injury, I had only been heading south on the Finnish side for less than an hour when the unrelenting grey clouds started letting down rain. At this point I wasn’t far from Oulu where I planned to have lunch so I thought I’d just try to stick it out without my raingear, but it ramped up until it was nearly a downpour. I pulled off at an exit and spent the 5-10 minutes it takes to struggle into my raingear, the rain of course lightening the entire time. There was just nothing for it — I’d either have kept going and the rain would have kept increasing, or I pulled off and it would be guaranteed to lighten and stop within 15 minutes.

I carried on and indeed, 15 minutes later while I was rolling in to the Raksila section of Oulu for my lunch, it finished dying out. Now I headed in to dry off both my raingear and my self. P and I had lived in this area for our first three months in Finland, but that was nearly ten years ago and in winter and I hardly recognized anything now. I had to follow my GPS in to the very shopping plaza we’d walked to grocery shop. I ate at a Subway and took half the sandwich back to the bike to have for dinner. I’d cooked the last meal I’d brought along last night and decided I’d keep things simple for this evening. After that I rode over to our old apartment (again using the GPS). Everything looked so green and lush. Back then the streets and sidewalks had all been snow and ice. I snapped a selfie for posterity and then got back on the bike to head out.


The radar had shown a few patches of rain on my route, and I debated briefly whether to just don my raingear now, but ended up deciding against it.  Then, of course, maybe 30 minutes later I was stopping to put it on.  I got maybe 20 or 30 minutes of use out of it this time. I kept it on for quite a while after that and dried it out thoroughly but no further showers came. Eventually the sky starting turning blue and it looked like I’d paid my dues. The only rain on the entire trip came on the two days I was in Finland, but hey, on the whole I’ll take my chances here rather than Norway any day of the week!

I’d decided to head east right away after Oulu instead of hugging the coast like I had last time. The route would be shortened somewhat, but I had to be careful not to go too far east, or in particular the straightest route, because the annual rally race in central Finland was taking place this very weekend. Thousands of people would be trying to get in and out of the area to spectate, without a single passing lane in sight.

Apparently I stayed far enough away though, for I made steady progress until in the early evening I found myself rolling in to the hamlet of Humppi and the “Iso Mies” (“Big Man”) campground. Unfortunately there was music blasting out from some speakers next to an outdoor cafe there, and this seemed to be a party place when I was in no mood for a party. I just wanted to clean up, eat, and veg out! I’d stopped the bike in the parking area and was seriously considering turning it right around and heading out to look for someplace else when a grey-bearded man came up and asked me in Finnish what I was on about.

I told him honestly that I’d been thinking about camping but that the looks and sound of the place were giving me pause. “Not to worry,” he exclaimed, “You can just go out to that end which is a bit down a hill and you won’t hear a thing!” I was a bit skeptical whether it was possible to get far enough away for THAT to really be the case, but he was so friendly about it I figured I at least owed it to him to investigate. He didn’t look so official though so I first verified that he actually worked here. “Yes, yes,” he said, apparently not bothered by my poor, stumbling Finnish. “Just go over to the office and check yourself in; I’ll get you set up afterwards.”

And so I did, and a perky young woman got me signed in while he told me about the saunas they had there. There were two wood-burning saunas for men and women and also a smoke sauna, presumably shared by both. Maybe it was time to start liking smoke saunas! After this, the man proved he was as good as his word. He hopped on a bicycle and I rode my motorcycle out a couple of hundred meters to the back of the campground, and, sure enough, it wasn’t too bad. There was an expanse of healthy green lawn surrounded by trees, and not much else. He pulled out a cigarette and started riding back, and I started setting up my tent.


Next up was a trip to the sauna, and the difference between what we had here and my experience at the Swedish campground the evening before could not have been more marked. I’ve already mentioned how wood-burning and especially smoke saunas like the ones here are considered superior to electric ones. But equally important is the location. The campground sat next to a lake, and the saunas were right at the shore. You see, to truly enjoy being hot, you first need to be cold, and one especially efficient way accomplish that was to go swimming in a cold Finnish lake! First you strip down and go into the sauna and warm up, then, armed with that body heat, you head out and dive into the lake. You swim around until you are good and cold (a process that takes noticeably less long in winter), and then get out and head back into the sauna. Thaw out in there until you just find yourself feeling hot again, then go back to the lake and do it all over again. Repeat several times, add beer (only if it’s summer), and enjoy. Extra bonus if you start in the evening and go on until morning, during high summer when it won’t ever get dark.  That’s the art of the sauna as I’ve only ever seen it practiced in Finland.


As for me, I hadn’t brought any beer and the strain of speaking Finnish was began to wear after two or three lake dips, so I headed back up to take a shower and get a beer at the bar. I ended up speaking more Finnish though, this time with the woman at the office, which doubled as the bar (and the restaurant), but she went easy on me so it wasn’t too bad.



630 km


Posted in Lofoten 2017, Motorcycle Trip | Comments Off