I didn’t bother about Helsinki. I haven’t had the right mind for sightseeing. The delay of the ferry and my misunderstanding that the port is close to the city center crossed out taking a closer look at Finland’s capital. After an unexpected 18 km ride from the port to the hostel, I only had time to get some supplies and sleep before heading out to the Finnish woods.
To make it out of the vast metropolitan area, I decided to take a train to Lahti 100 km further north and start cycling north from there. Lahti is a major winter sports area in Finland, and I could see a colossal ski jumping ramp while cycling out of the city. Before I finally left Lahti for the woods, I was putting a little bit more air pressure on the tires at a gas station; a guy asked me where I was cycling to. I was still hesitant about where exactly I was cycling to, therefore, I just said, I am cycling north, and we laughed.
Eventually, I got to experience the typical Finnish landscape: birch trees and fir trees line the straight roads, and now and then, I got a glimpse of one of the many lakes that make up about a tenth of the territory. Their shores are dotted with, I assume, vacation homes and proper homes. Sometimes only a bunch of mailboxes give away that properties are hiding somewhere behind the trees. Finland is known for its remoteness, and it’s said that very little people live outside of the few major cities. However, I am surprised how constantly I came across mailboxes, fences, and even tiny settlements. What also astounded me was that I had consistent cell reception – thanks to the cell towers looming above the trees‘ green.
The landscape didn’t change for the first 500-600 km. It seriously put me to the test: seeing the next 5 km of road lying flat and straight ahead of you, nothing but trees lining the roads … I kept on singing along to my Spotify playlist. I started to beg people to actually call me instead of texting while I was riding my bike. But cycling in Finland is not always that easy and straightforward. There are different kinds of roads, especially in the first days, I haven’t developed a sense yet of how a road on the map might turn out. There are the major E(uropean)-routes. In the south, it is easy to avoid these roads where huge lumber trucks speed past you. There are more rural asphalt roads meander from town to town (I’d prefer these). There are minor roads that are mostly gravel roads (passable for shorter sections), and there are forest roads that are covered by quite rough gravel that make it almost impossible to cycle (fine for concise sections, preferably in the morning when you are still motivated). And once my bike app sent me off to a single trail that turned out to be a fantastic hiking trail but was a sheer nightmare for a cyclist. 2.5 km took me about 2 hours to lift and push and pull and yell and scream my bike forward. Big shout-out to my boot camp/cross first classes, that prepared me for that quite nicely – not that I knew of what would await back then.
About halfway through the southern half of Finland, the mosquitos started to appear. They are all over you when you stop for a break. In the evening, you escape into your tent to not be eaten alive. In the morning, they seem to wake up the same time you do and make you break your records in packing gear. Along with a few days of pouring rain, it was easy for me to decide not always to camp but to also enjoy the comfort of guesthouses and hostels. What a great decision! Nothing is better than enjoying an authentic Finnish sauna after a day of cycling in the cold rain. Finland is well known for its sauna culture; basically, every house (and guesthouse) also has a sauna. And after having cycled through remote places, it’s the towns and guesthouses where you get to meet people, fellow travelers, and Fins alike. I am okay with trading solitude in nature (that I have while cycling anyway) and socializing quite often.
Cycling in Finland is also a very sensory experience. The scent of lumber is in the air wherever you go. Then, there is the scent of freshly heated saunas, the scent of linden trees. And then eventually, the smell of the Baltic Sea near Oulu. I made it to the Baltic Sea again after having cycled 720 km in Finland. Now, Lapland awaits! I still go north!