Midsummer Bicycle Touring in Finland – Cycling out of Lapland
Even after 2 weeks of challenging our intestinal fortitude, the weather in Finland wasn’t done with us yet. On the day we were ready to ride out of Rovaniemi, the weather gods let us know just who was in charge of this trip. When we got up at 7am it was literally raining sideways. Accuweather was telling us it was 7 degrees outside but felt like 2! Nice…We had 120 plus kms to ride to Keminmaa….Despite having wet weather gear, we would be soaked to the bone and frozen stiff within the hour and then have to soldier on for another 8 or so……It really didn’t make any sense to us to keep going. We’d been in similar situations before and it inevitably meant one or both of us would be ill within the week.
A thorough examination of a number of weather sites told us that the tempest would be over by midnight. With 24/7 sunlight, there was no reason we couldn’t wait it out till then and then ride all night. As it turns out it was one of our finer ideas.
We actually didn’t hit the road till around 12.30am. There were still a few sprinkles about but nothing really to worry about. We negotiated our way out of central Rovaniemi to the bike path along the E75. It was eerily quiet in the suburbs and the very few people up and about (mainly truckies) were somewhat agog at us riding along as happy as Larry. We got a few hoots on the horn and thumbs up from the locals and even caught a little attention from the local constabulary before they worked out what we were about.
At around the 30km mark we turned left and rode over the Petajainen dam and joined up with the 926. In hindsight we could have taken this quiet little road all the way from town and saved ourselves about 6 kms. It was around 3am and lo and behold the sun decided to make an appearance. What a treat. It wasn’t very strong but the difference in temperature and our moods was measurable.
It wasn’t till around 7am that we started to see any traffic at all and true to the nature of cautious and considerate Fins, there were no issues at all. It was actually one of the more pleasant stretches of road we’ve ridden.
At Tevola, we hung around outside the local supermarket for 15 minutes until they opened at 7am. They were somewhat bemused that we couldn’t work out how to operate their coffee machine which resulted in the manager actually buying our coffee for us. And, absolutely refusing any payment.
Warmer but still needing a rest we headed across the Kemijoki to the nearest service station on the E75 where we rested up, met some of the locals and generally got our act together for the last 40km.
Unless you are oblivious to fairly constant high speed traffic, we’d advise you to avoid the E75 wherever possible. Instead, we took the 9291 which run closer to the river, to the East of the E75. We had a delightful ride through farmland until the heavens opened up on us again about 30kms from our destination. We picked up another bike path about 10kms out of town which made the experience somewhat more bearable.
After 126 kms, we arrived at our Airbnb in Keminmaa and was greeted by our host, Marko. We were soaked through, freezing cold and completely spent. We peeled off our wet gear and entered into their comfy, warm home where his gorgeous mum plied us with coffee and breakfast. Comfortably warm, we had a welcome hot shower and crashed into bed for a 3 hour nap. It took exactly 2 seconds for us both to fall asleep, and according to Marko, blow some fairly musical zzzzzz’s.
Our experience with Marko and his mum was one of those times you wouldn’t replace for the world. It was the equivalent of around 25 Euro for us both to stay and we had two breakfasts and a dinner (which we tried to pay for but were assured it was normal!!). That’s not much more than it would have cost us just to camp not to mention the food.
Marko is a keen cyclist (amongst many other multi sports) and was a wealth of information on routes to the south as well as a raft of other subjects. His mum at 68 is fitter than both of us and without a word of English, still managed to convey her message of welcome and warmth.
Here’s a hint for those on a rock bottom budget. At this time there are no warm showers hosts in the area. If you are cycling this way and are not yet a member of Airbnb, join through THIS LINK and we’ll give you around 20 Euro towards your first booking. We get the same amount added to our account. That means you essentially get the night with Marko and his mum for almost free. Don’t worry. You won’t be ripping anybody off. Marko and his mum still get paid. It’s all part of the Airbnb acquisition program and you’ll get an invite link too once you join up. Invite your friends and colleagues and you may end up with a few more free nights along your journey.
Anyway…back to the trip. By the next morning, the skies had cleared, we had our energy back and we were ready to make the push towards Oulu. We weren’t attempting the whole 120kms today, choosing instead to pull up stumps at Ii, 86 kms away. Marko had showed us the best way through Kemi and out of town, personally escorting us part of the way. Some of the trip can be done on bike paths, and there is a pleasant deviation through Simoniemi that gets you off the E75 for a few kms. BUT, a warning in advance. Much of this trip must be done on the E75 and it is VEEERRRYYY busy. The shoulder is not too bad but there is a very annoying ripple strip just inside the white line that limits your room. My main memory of the trip is eyes down on Tim’s back tyre, trying not to hit the dints! The saving grace was the awesome tailwind we had most of the way. Heading in the other direction would have been most unpleasant.
By the time we reached the campsite in Ii, the sun was shining and the little village along the river was literally sparkling. As we booked into a cute little 35 Euro cabin for the night, we both decided that 2 nights were in order in this special little place. There was washing to be done and judging by the scenery, plenty of pictures to be taken. Here’s the LINK to the lovely little campsite. Ii has everything you need to restock both supplies and energy. Several supermarkets, a couple of restaurants, a cool little pub with live music and plenty of options for walks around the area.
The extra day was both a good and bad decision. We had a good time but in the back of our minds our limited time in the Shengen area was starting to give us some concern. We’d decided to take the coast road (Eurovelo 10) and on current calculations, with the long range weather forecast in mind, it would take us another 2-3 weeks just to get through Finland. A time of reckoning was fast approaching.
It was a quick 30 km ride into Oulu via the E75. Bike path’s start a fair way out of town but you’ll still need to ride on the dreaded E75 for a fair way. With the midsummer holiday on us, shops were shut and there wasn’t much happening in town. We had been given access to yet another apartment by one of our warmshowers hosts. With the weather once again transpiring against us we spent another 3 nights trying to wait it out. In the end we rode out in the rain on the 3rd day towards Raahe. The wind wasn’t too bad for us and the sun finally appeared. We took a bike path along the E75 up to the turn off on the E8. Traffic was light and it was quite a pleasant ride.
The campground we chose is a little expensive and a way out of town. It’s a bit light on with respect to shower facilities, having only one each for women and men. Interestingly it wasn’t a problem to get in and use them as most of the local campers were hanging out in the Sauna. We were finding options to wild camp fewer and further between due to the high density of farms with fences. I’m sure we were still allowed to camp but there isn’t a whole lot of cover in many places.
The next day’s ride to Kalajoki was yet another challenging one.It’s only 60 or so km’s but the weather was foul. When the bike paths disappeared, the shoulder was quite narrow and included the dreaded ripple strip so we were mixing it with the traffic.
We had booked a cabin at the Rantakalla Camping 1, around 8 kms south of town. Sorry to say but it’s THE WORST campground we’ve seen in Finland. It sorely needs some love and attention. The beach didn’t do much for us either as it was dark and cloudy, cold and wet. We always say there’s nothing more depressing than a beach resort in bad weather.
By now the whole thrill of bicycle touring in Finland was wearing off. The locals kept telling us how unusual the bad weather was, but that wasn’t really making us feel any better. Nor was it doing much for our timetable. About halfway to Kokkola I muttered something to Tim about getting on a train to Helsinki and finding some sun. Despite being an “off the cuff” grumpy moment, the idea definitely had some merits and had planted a seed.
Kokkola looks like a lovely little place. Lot’s of cafes. Plenty of culture. Unfortunately the weather was pretty awful and neither of us likes taking pictures in the rain.. They even cancelled the local weekly market which would have given us an insight into local food and culture.
We had hooked up with a local guy, Ari, through warmshowers.org. Once again the hospitality was amazing. With the prospect of sending us out into heavy rain and headwinds the following day, he very graciously asked us to stay another night. With time on our hands to plan, count our Shengen days and consider our options we decided to pull the plug on Finland and seek sunnier pastures. We’re not out to prove how tough or hard core we are. We just want to see new places, meet new people, enjoy ourselves and have some great riding. We made the decision to hop on a train to Helsinki where we would stay for three nights before heading to Estonia. We’re absolutely sure that as soon as we depart the weather will brighten up and Finland will have a bottler of a summer (or not!)……But there’s always a next time for us to see the things we’ve missed. Finland, especially Lapland had been a great experience and one we would repeat in an instance, especially with the prospect of better weather. Judge for yourself from our pics, just how beautiful it is.
At the end of the day we’ve decided on a path and we’ll go down it without regrets. Despite the best of planning and preparation you can’t change Mother Nature. We’ve done our preparation well so are at liberty to choose whatever path seems best at the time. So what do you think? did we wimp out or did we make the right decision? Leave us an honest comment below and tell us what you think.
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