Rovaniemi. It took me some time to pronounce that Finnish place name correctly. It’s an iconic place for many reasons: kids send their Christmas wish lists there because everyone knows Santa lives in Rovaniemi.
To be honest, it is a pretty dull town, and the rain I had when passing through did not help make Rovaniemi sparkle. However, it is a significant tourist destination in winter: skiing, dog sledding, watching the aurora borealis, and of course, the Santa Claus village. Also, the Arctic Circle goes through the town, and it is the capital of Lapland. I am not so interested in Santa Claus, but even though I already cycled into Lapland after I left Oulu, now, with leaving Rovaniemi behind, it feels like I really made it to Lapland. Lapland is the most remote province of Finland and borders Sweden in the west, Norway in the north, and Russia in the east. For me, it meant continuing cycling into the Unknown. I heard rumors from other cyclists: as the road network gets really sparse in the north, I will have to cycle along the E75 road. It’s the central road of the north, and colossal lumber trucks, barely any shoulder to cycle on, and road markings with ripples (very annoying for cyclists) gave it a particular reputation. I almost freaked out that I would have to take that road for at least 350 km up to the junction where I would turn right towards the Northeast, and the E75 would continue northwest. But I said I wanted to cycle north, so I went.
Surprisingly, the road turned out great. Traffic was relatively little, barely any lumber trucks. Coffee places every, maybe, 35 km and excellent straightforward cycling. I met Michael, a 79-year-old guy from Berlin who travels back to Scandinavia with his motorhome every so often after his wife died two years ago. I met Kirsten, a fellow female cyclist from Germany with whom I spent two days together on the road. Inspirational conversations over many cups of coffee on the road were a very welcoming change to all those long hours alone on straight Finnish roads. One night I spent in a cabin that was the materialization of a remote workplace I had only ever dreamed about: at Lake Inari, with high-speed internet, right at the lake shore, a panoramic window with an incredible view over the lake, a coffee maker right next to me, a sauna 100 meters away. If I ever want to write another book, retreat from civilization or need some time off the hustle and bustle of life; it will be here.
Eventually, the junction to Kirkenes. I turned right, 145 km to go. The road along Inarijärvi was lonely, lined by beech trees and fir that, after some time, got more sparse. Tundra scenery soon started. Reindeer were trudging through swamps, mosquitos trying to get to me. The area is inhabited by Sami people who herd reindeer. Then, a female cyclist from Norway who has started in Kirkenes. „You are my hero!“ she said. Then, an hour later, the real potential hero cycled towards me: Guilhem from France, who started in Kirkenes to cycle all the way down the European Divide Trail to Faro in Portugal. Laughter, talks about sorrows and pain. But overall, just good vibes. I hope he will have a splendid ride on those gravel roads down to the southwest of Europe.
The next day I get to the border of Norway and Finland. The parking lot was taken over by huge gas trucks and mainly Norwegian car plates. Alkohol is much cheaper in Finland. The tone is stern, faces are wrinkled, barely any smiles, the north is inhabited by rough people, so it seems. I get chocolate. Soon, the border. There is a fence and three signs: a sign stating that this is the „Riskgräns“ (Norwegian for National Border) and a sign saying that people coming from the north are now entering Finland. The third sign can only be read when entering from Norway, states that this is „The end of local border traffic zone for Russian border area residents. “ I cross into Norway by walking my bike over grids embedded into the road surface to hinder reindeer from passing the border. Only a couple of hours to Kirkenes.