Finland: You love it, and you hate it
At 7 am our ferry docked in Turku, Finland, and we were the first ones to roll off of the boat. We had a small map of the city that helped us find a grocery store and then the main cathedral, but we had the hardest time figuring out where to go from there. Our next stop was for a bathroom break, followed by breakfast on the side of the road. This is where I first found the tiny wild blueberries and strawberries that Finland is known for. They were spectacular. Next, we stopped at a bicycle shop to confirm that we were going the right way, thinking we were set with our two tourist maps (remember, we had none in Sweden).
After one more bathroom stop we were finally on our way! As we left the city we passed several groups of cycle tourists, shocked at the number of loaded panniers we saw. We rode for about an hour before we saw a big detour sign. We decided to take a chance because detours don’t usually affect pedestrian traffic. So we peddaled along for about 10k until we got to a big river and a very dismantled bridge. Distraught, we turned around and backtracked for half an hour and then had to take the HUGE detour to get back on the desired road (any detour on a bicycle is significant, but this one was legitamitely quite large). We stopped at a grocery store for some snacks, but ended up extending our break to include lunch. Finally, we were on our way again and ready for some serious riding.
Thank God for our post lunch energy because only 5k into the ride the wind hit us. We were still on the detour, so we hoped as soon we turned onto our road the wind would stop pounding us in the face. Wrong. There was a strong headwind that just about couldn’t get any worse until we got to the first hill of Finland. Then, all of the sudden, we were in the hills. There was a steady one kilometer climb, an immediate descent, and then another immediate climb. It went on like this for hours. We still had pretty high morale considering the unexpected terrain (note: free tourist maps definitely don’t have marked elevations). I impressed Burke with my persistance on the hills, despite the fact that I was clearly struggling on every climb, my secret was singing praise songs in my head. To keep it fresh, I changed the song on every hill, which was actually quite difficult because the hills were so frequent. Once I explained my coping methods to Burke, I taught him an old camp song and we sang it together as we rode (some of us slightly more reluctant to sing than others).
Romans (yeah) 16 (yeah) 19 says (yeah yeah!)
Be excellent at what is good, be innocent of evil.
And the God of Peace will soon crush satan,
God will crush him underneath of your feet (huh!)
Along the way we would stop at the big maps on the side of the road just to see our progress. We looked and talked about where we should stop for the night, I jokingly said I would like to stop in Espoo for the night (it’s right outside of Helsinki and about a day and a half away). Burke said it would be Espoocially impressive if we could make it that far. Instead, we set our sites on Nummi, a town with a lake, and rode on along the peaks and valleys of south Finland. When we finally arrived in Nummi, we were shocked that the grocery store was closed- it was after 10 pm but the sky hadn’t changed since noon. Instead of groceries, we settled for getting water from a nursing home and bathing in the brownest lake we had ever seen. Even with the hills, we managed to ride over 100k that day.
Riding along the next morning, our understanding of Finland scenery was cemented. Tall skinny red pine trees, tall skinny birch trees, and tall skinny purple flowers. There was also a very nice smell all along the road. It was just the same style of riding as the day before: up, down, up down, up down. The worst part was that because it was still very windy, we had to pedal just to keep going downhill. There were no breaks except for when we stopped to get off our bikes. Generally I prefered not to do this as it resulted in a loss of my “bic legs” (beets legs noun: the rhythm and flow of cycling for a long period of time, easily lost by stopping or resting, not easily reacquired).
After riding for a couple of hours, we stopped at a gas station for a break. We saw a clock and were shocked to see that it was 4pm. We thought we woke up around 9, but apparently it had been a lot closer to noon. Ooops.
We rode on for another two hours and stopped for lunch. I was so tired of our regular sandwich lunch I happily splurged on a potato salad container only to discover it was a chicken salad just a little too late. I guess the chicken on the package should have clued me in, but what made it worse is that Finland is even more expensive than Sweden was. So we had our regular lunch in the limited shady grass on the side of the grocery store. Just before we got up, a barefooted man walked up to us and said some Finnish gibberish and then asked us where we were from in English. About one minute into the conversation he invited us to his house and to stay the night. Caught off guard by his candidness, we agreed to watch his dog and think about it while he went in to do some shopping…