How to survive the gigantic backcountry of Finland

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After three weeks of riding more than 5000km up north, it is time to drop south. We are crossing into Finland. The landscape changes immediately. Long straight stretches through the endless pine forests in this northern country. It is a new feeling for us. Pulling the throttle and accelerating on a straight line. The scenery gives the feeling, that as soon as we would leave the paved roads, we will be swallowed by the endless wilderness and never ever find our way back.

The north of Finland, Lapland, accommodates less than 10 people per square kilometer within a total area of a bit more than 100.000km². In comparison, the total area of Austria is about 88.000km² with 90 people per square kilometer.

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To get used to the new country and to find out where we will go, we ride into the closest town to pitch our tent at a campsite located at one of the uncountable lakes of this country.

At the supermarket we are happy about the normal price range of food and we collect all the ingredients to prepare delicious burritos. At the cashier we try to catch up with some of the language, spoken by the people around us. It is impossible to figure a single term out of the sounds. There is no connection so far to any language I have ever experienced before. Swedish and Norwegian was at least a bit similar to German, but Finish seems to be from another world.

At the campsite we enjoy the sunset over the treetops and the light mirroring in the calm lake in front of us, while the smell of the hot and delicious burrito sauce is steaming upwards.

Since we found some decent gpx.-files with gravel roads through this remote area, we arrange the plans for the next few days.

We are now on the road since one month and it is time to catch up with some editing again. The reason why we just take the road straight down south, closer to the point of entrance of our off-road adventure in search for a more suiting place to stay, since this campsite is not welcoming for more than one night. One hundred kilometers more south, a cozy red wooden house on the side of the road, with a big sign of a tent, is occurring in front of our windscreens. After taking a closer look, we decide, that this will be our place for the next two days. Meeting the Finish tradition, the place provides an open wood fire place, with reindeer fur on the benches.

The nights are cold in Finland. It is the beginning of September and the thermostat on the motorcycle is showing a blinking one degree Celsius. The fireplace is giving a nice warmth and with the barbecue rooster we are preparing the Finnish sausages. The sky is full of stars and in the horizon the Aurora Borealis is glowing smoothly like a curtain.

Visiting the supermarket, on the next day, to get some food for our Trans European Trail (TET) adventures, I just realize that this shop is split into one half of food supply and the other half is a huge range of different knifes and fishing equipment. Especially for me as somebody who always lived in a city, it is fascinating to experience how close with nature people in this area are living. We spent one day, resting, drinking coffee, editing and doing some workout, before we pack our stuff and take the road more down south, to the point where the fun is going to start.

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A last stop at the gas station before we enter almost 400km of remoteness. Finland’s road network consists still out of a huge amount of gravel roads. A playground for every trail enthusiast. Riding through the beginning of our first 300km stretch we find nobody. Just reindeer. Those animals are often in groups. Are they dangerous? Well, if you are on a motorcycle, yes. More than once one of those mammals has chosen its escape route into the direction I was riding to. Collisions with those huge animals I would highly try to avoid. Respect and calculate the behavior of the members of the road I guess.

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It is a sense of freedom, being just surrounded by this endlessness, focusing on the road and enjoying the momentum of the ride. Even finding a camp-spot is just a joy. Choosing out of this huge offer of great spots. We are lucky and it is the time for blueberries. As a part of the in Finland ruling “Everyman’s Right” is that the nature belongs to everybody, you can camp and collect berries and mushrooms. Incredible. Even that we are in the middle of nowhere, and at least 100km from the next town, there is a full range 4G Data signal. So if you are looking for a place where you can be alone for days, just in nature and still working remotely…Finland is that place.

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It is surprising how different the people and the landscape is to Sweden and Norway. What we learned as well is, that Finland is officially not a Scandinavian country. It is one of the Nordic countries if you want to put this part of Europe into one pot with Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland.

For me personally a long term trip like this is the pleasure of spending a huge amount of time outside. Sleeping outside in a tent is so different from sleeping in a room. Hearing every sound of the wind and the trees, the reindeers crossing our site in the middle of the night, making a bonfire before going to bed and dealing with the cold during sleep. We warmed up our sleeping bags with stones that we preheated in the fire. Nowadays we don’t experience it anymore but the last month in the north of Europe let me understand. This is part of our human nature.

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The next day I find myself more and more comfortable with the gravel and the gravel in Finland is great, letting us ride up to 90km/h on the stretches side by side through the landscapes for hours.

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We are riding approximately 250km per day, five hours each day. If you think Lapland is just a monotonous area, the spots where we pitched the tent showed us how diverse this area is within itself. So far our most favorite sites, we have found here, in Finland. Our planned route leads us more and more east and at one point we were right at the border line with Russia. Just signs on the our left side of the road marking the line. I stop my bike and give Nora a honking sign to stop as well. We are having a break and a blast by jumping forwards and backwards the line until we can hear a car coming close by. An old finish guy is stepping out, with a big smile, dressed in a blue collard working outfit and rubber boots. He is throwing some words in Finish towards us, making it really hard for us to communicate with him more than just a few smiles and hand signs. He is just pointing on the other side of the line and says “Putin, Putin”. Well yes, the country where Putin rules, borders right here and more than 10.000kms towards east it borders to North Korea and even almost in visual distance to the USA. All of a sudden he is taking out a bag and takes out quite a huge DSLR camera, asking us friendly if he can make some pictures of us and our bikes. I guess in this area you will never know who is working for which side and maybe he was a Russian documenting who is travelling alongside the borders. We will never know and he left with a friendly wink!

Close to the Russian border we find some old relicts from the heavy battels during WWII between the Russians Red Army and Finland. A large site with memorials and monuments, tanks, artillery machinery and other wrecks. Recreated trenches alongside a river let you experience the feeling of moving in between those narrow ways. Just imagining being within a battle and machine gun fire is shooting over your head provides a feeling of fear.

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I think I couldn’t have imagined a better birthday this year. Yes I turned 31 here in the wilderness in Finland, in the middle of a national park alongside a river. Having breakfast that morning on a small wooden bridge in the sun and taking a cold dip in the river in the morning! Nora has bought a chocolate bar for that day as a birthday present and she also made some small flags and sang a song. And we knew that we are going to ride the whole day on gravel!

Reaching the after almost five days the town of Kuopio, which has a really nice campsite and for the first time since we are in Finland we were able to visit a real finish sauna! What a nice surprise after all those days without a shower and even colder nights. The time has come to get more into the civilized areas of Finland. Luckily we are invited at Joergen’s and his Finish girlfriend’s place in Vantaa a suburb of Helsinki.

The last night we spend, well yes again, at one of the campsites. This one is located at a lake and has even a wooden fired sauna! The friendly lady of the campsite doesn’t speak a word of English, but we manage to get along with her. I am surprised how hot the sauna here in Finland is, for the size of the cabin it is quite a large oven and the temperature is just killing, with adding water on the hot stones letting the steam heating up the chamber even more the sweat is just floating! The way to the lake is a wood path and it is just a relieve to dive into the cold lake! What a treaty. I just realize how much I like the sauna, since I used to go to the sauna every week in the winter months back in Vienna.

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Slowly the roads are getting more crowded and we find ourselves on a three lane highway again. Navigating to Vantaa. It is one of those urban development areas. A brand new housing area. A warm welcome by Nora’s old friend Joergen, who moved from the Netherlands to Finland to live together with his girlfriend is hosting us for the next two days. We have a lovely dinner with homemade pizza and some nice talks before we are going to bed. The next day we explore the area a bit and we find some funny looking poles, which are supposed to be the garbage cans. With a key chip the pole is opening and you can throw in the collected waste. A central vacuum pump is sucking then the garbage into the treatment station. Since I am a building design engineer, it is just a fascinating object for me…

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Later that day the four of us are driving to a cabin outside of the city. We start with a run around one of the lakes before we go to the off the grid cabin, without electricity. It is located in front of a lake (of course) and has as well the wooden oven sauna. The barbecue is delicious and we spend the night in the pitch black hut in the bunk beds. So nice! It is a shared place and we are able to experience and to understand the importance of the sauna to the people. It is a social place and it is a kind of treatment to keep them healthy and strong. I think it is also nice in combination with the cold and dark period, because especially in winter the sauna is just a pleasure and the hot cold play is so intense, that your body shoots endorphins. Its almost like an orgasm, heating yourself up for 20min and jumping into the cold lake afterwards to cool down.   Thanks to social media, I had the pleasure to get in contact with a cousin 2nd grade of mine, who is living in Helsinki since five years. Happy to see her as well, we spend one night at her place, making Lasagna and exchanging stories! I am quite impressed, that her Finish is already quite good and she got a job at the university She told us a bit more about the Finish language. The Finish language is as well as the Hungarian not rooted within the European language foundations. It is a one of the Ural languages.

So this is it. The end of the Nordic countries. The next day we will take the ferry, bringing us to Eastern Europe to the city of Tallinn in Estonia.

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