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.