Tuesday, 28 August 2012

the Finnish line

Rolling up and down along a busy small road I start to think I’m in England.  On a sunny summer’s day.  We end a long but good ride at a crossroads, wondering where to eat and where to camp.  There’s a church and a cemetery to the north so we head over there and find a tap to draw water for cooking.  Rain is threatening and there are benches under the tall trees overshadowing the graves, so we decide to cook here and now.  Pasta in a tomato sauce.  Bit of oregano.  The chef does a fantastic job of it.  We wolf it down happily.  An old lady comes past as we are eating.  There are a couple of people visiting graves.  The cemetery, like all those in the Nordic countries we’ve seen, are tidy and well kept, with lots of new headstones regardless of the year of the deceased.  She stops on her way back and talks to us a little, explaining she is Swedish-speaking, like many in these parts.  The Finns are known for being rather taciturn, but when we ask for directions or help they're fine. 

all in the same direction?
The next day we ride another long day, and in the late afternoon arrive in a town full of bike paths that are all sign-posted.  We find the one that will lead us out on to a quiet road towards Helsinki.  We cook on a tempting piece of neat grass under trees beside a small factory.  Dark thundery clouds are threatening to the east, where we are heading, so we quickly cut off the road and down a forestry track where we pitch the tent in a small clearing.  In five minutes, while we are still unloading, it pours down.  We get soaked but at least it stops whilst we settle in.  But during the night we are awakened by thunder and the flash of lightning.  Now, anyone who knows about our escapade in the mountains of Romania, will know that I'm a tad wary of thunder and lightning.  And here we are, lying in our tent, next to a big pine tree (how big? is it the tallest? are we on a hill or in a dip in the forest?) as the storm approaches.  I lie awake for ages, counting the gaps between the flash that lights the tent and the rumble and roar of the thunder (One elephant, two elephant, three elephant, four elephant, five elephant. okay, five seconds. Now, is it one mile per three seconds or three miles per one second?) I can't remember how to calculate your distance from the lightning.  Eventually I nod off while still trying to remember the formula.

The morning is horrid - it's still raining and the storm still launches a crack of lightning now and again.  We wrap up, pack up, and set off in the rain.  I hate this - can't see out of my glasses, have to look over my specs through the narrow gap up to the brim of my hood.  Feet are soaked within seconds of riding.  We plod on along the forest road and pass the most alarming roadkill - a wolf, eyes and mouth open and red with blood. (A wolf! There was probably a pack of them prowling around the tent last night.) Gayle asks me "Did you see the dog?" Oh, what does she know about these things.

It rains all day and we're fed up, but if we knew then what we now know two months later we'd have laughed the whole day long and danced in the puddles - this is to be our worst weather day for a long time.  It's not so bad when we find a garage with a cafe selling hot drinks and, although it's only 10.30, a buffet lunch of meat cuts and mashed potatoes and gravy gets laid out.  A load of hungry workers soon turn up and we join in the eat-as-much-as-you-can-stack-up-on-one-plate.  At noon we roll out of the place and get going again.

The ride into Helsinki is painless.  As we get closer to the city a bicycle path appears.  We follow it until it joins another, and then another, and then we get stuck because there seem to be hundreds of the damn things going in every direction.  We hail another cyclist and Gayle charmingly mugs him of his Helsinki Bike Path map.  The sun is out when we roll into the city centre.  It looks wonderful in the afternoon sun.

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