Monday, December 17, 2012

Day 7 of my 1-week, 500 km trike trip

Day 7 - Last leg

Monday 18 June dawned clear and bright, and just after 8.00 a.m. I was having a leisurely breakfast of cornflakes and dark bread sandwiches - Finnish style - with coffee etc. I was also once again able to fill my thermos with hot water for (instant) coffee on the road later.

My gear had pretty much dried out overnight in my spacious three-bed room, and I managed to pack everything back the way it was. I got going just before 9.30, and was passing the turn to our friends' cottage around 10.00 a.m. I had no idea if they were back there, but I didn't want to spend time finding out! I just wanted to get home!

To avoid gravel roads as much as possible I intended to take a left turn soon after the big bridge, and though itself a gravel road, it was only about 6 km to a tarmac road that would lead to the main no. 12 highway (Lahti-Tampere) which bypasses Hauho, and that was my destination for a break and a snack before the final push of 12 km to Mustila.

The gravel road came to an end where it joined road 307 (Pälkäneentie), where I was to turn right, but less than 100 yards to the left I noticed a convenient bus stop, where I decided I'd stop for a coffee break. Another cause for celebration was the separate cycle or light traffic path (for bikers, - and trikers! - mopeds, joggers and pedestrians) beside the road.

Fields and forest are typical of Finnish scenery, as well as lakes!

They don't call it "the land of a thousand lakes" for nothing! By some estimates there are around 50,000 lakes in Finland! Wikipedia actually says: "187,888 lakes (lakes larger than 500 m2/0.12 acre)". My route didn't exactly go through the 'lake district' of Finland, but of course I occasionally had good lake scenery, like when I went over the big bridge I mentioned earlier (above). There was not much that I really felt was worthy of a picture on this last day of the trip, until I saw a certain row of post boxes. They are usually the typical green, red, brown or sometimes blue plastic box, but one in the row caught my eye, and you can clearly see a lot of work has been put into making it.

Eventually I joined highway no. 12 (Lahti to Tampere), and a little while after that I stopped at a roadside cafe, a nice log cabin overlooking a lake, beside the road. It was at Parvoonranta (means Parvoo's shore) just before the Hämeenlinna road no. 57 joins highway 12.

This highway 12 can be quite busy on weekdays, with many lorries going in both directions. Although I had a reasonable amount of asphalted hard shoulder most of the time, just enough to get both front wheels to the right of the white line, I must admit I was a little apprehensive when there were lorries in both directions at the same time. In fact it became a reflex to check my mirrors whenever I saw a lorry coming towards me, in case there was also one coming up behind. In those cases I often pulled over to get completely off the road. Otherwise the traffic would mostly give me a wide berth, sometimes driving completely on the other side of the middle line, which I thanked them for with a wave of my hand. Sometimes they acknowledged it with a wave themselves or some back light signal, from which I could deduce that they were checking their rear view mirror!

Having said all that about the traffic, I didn't really feel unsafe, throughout the whole trip! Even when larger vehicles passed quite close, I didn't notice any 'suction' effect, perhaps because of having three wheels compared to two on a standard bike, where wobble can be a problem, and because of the low profile.

I moved on after my coffee break at that nice roadside cafe, and eventually reached Hauho around 3.00 p.m. Feeling quite hungry I decided to treat myself to a pizza from the pizza-kebab kiosk in the centre. After that there was just 6 km of tarmac followed by 6 of gravel road to Mustila and the farm. I no longer remember what the time was when I got there, but it must have been tea time and I was thirsty, as I had three or was it four cups of tea (they were small cups!) kindly supplied by my sister-in-law Leena, and I was so tired I could hardly move! I hadn't realised how tired I was until I'd completed my trip! I had my daily goal to drive me on. Now it was over, finished, done, almost 500 km behind me, and no need to pedal another inch! Otherwise I wasn't at all in bad shape; surprisingly my legs weren't feeling too tired or my knees too sore.

All in all it was a great experience, thanks in part to the fact that there is usually very little traffic on Finnish country roads, and thanks to good weather which I was lucky to get! I couldn't imagine doing this kind of trip on British roads, nor it being as enjoyable! My next challenge is to plan a similar trip for next summer!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Day 6 of my 1-week, 500 km trike trip

Sunday 17 June:

Today was the earliest I got going! I think I was on the road after 6.30! I was in Vammala by 7.15 and I went round a few caches there (three it was). Markku had checked the weather for me the night before, so I knew I was likely to be cycling in some rain, but I couldn't yet know how much, or how bad it would be. Before I reached Vammala I finally gave in to the cooler temperature of the early morning and dug out a long-sleeved shirt and put it on, after which I felt more comfortable!

Just the other side of Vammala there's an erratic boulder cache I've been wanting to find, and as it was quite close to my route I headed out to it (after a few local caches!). I spent too long there, searching in as many holes under rocks as I could find, even crawling in on my belly almost, and trying to feel round corners and under stones wherever there was space, to no avail! Towards 8.30 am it started drizzling, so I decided to pack it in and head for the Rest Stop cafe back by the crossroads where I would later turn left, or south, only to find it didn't open till 9! Now this is where the story is full of ifs: If I'd skipped the boulder searching, skipped the coffee etc. at the rest stop, I would have been much closer to my destination when the rain started, and wouldn't have needed to cycle in the rain for so long! But we're always wiser in retrospect, aren't we!

So I waited the 10+ minutes for the place to open, had a ham sandwich with coffee, and meanwhile the drizzle stopped. On my way again, the ride was uneventful apart from enjoying the countryside scenery, and seeing some strange place names on the road signs!

I had no more caches lined up for some time, so I don't remember if I stopped for anything, other than for refreshments at a bus stop around 3 pm somewhere between Punkalaidun and Urjala. The bus stop had a bench seat and a roof, so it was nice to be able to spread out my thermos etc. And I soon found out how nice it was to have a roof, as it started raining! I wondered how long it would last, but it looked like it was set to continue for the rest of the day, so I gave up waiting, got out my cape, put the yellow nylon covers (which turned out to be almost useless!) over my side bags, buttoned up and got going.

It wasn't too bad at first, but the longer it went on, the worse it felt. The cape didn't cover my legs and nether regions very well, or the wind/slipstream would just lift it, so I got the idea to put a medium-sized stone on it just between my thighs, and that helped. Every so often though I had to stand up and drain off the pool of rain that formed around the stone! Eventually I reached a major intersection, where I could shelter under a bridge (route 9 and road 230 cross near Urjala). I hung around there for quite a while, trying to get my hands dry, but it proved impossible, and it wasn't very warm either!

I even tried hitching when vans came along, but needless to say nobody stopped! Eventually I realised there was nothing for it but to get back in the saddle, er, driving seat, and press on.

There was one cache up ahead that I particularly wanted to find, at another erratic boulder, just after turning off the main road onto the smaller and quieter 2851 road. When I got there the rain was still coming down as steadily as ever, but I anyway just walked in my cape the 30 metres across a grassy stretch of field to the boulder, and found a bit of shelter from an overhang of the rock. Luckily I found the cache quickly, and with wet hands I opened the container and tried to sign the log without getting it too wet - not easy! I also noticed a geocoin in there, which I decided to move on to another cache.

I guess it was around 5 pm that I reached town and a convenient Rest Stop, where I was able to dry out a little and have some hot food (after some two hours and 35 kms cycling in the rain!). Nowadays so many public toilets have these electric hot air blowers to dry your hands, so no paper towels. Luckily their serviettes were a decent size, so I spread some on the seat when I sat down to eat. I changed them at least twice for dry ones! Even my teeth were chattering at one point! From there on it was only a few kms to the same B&B of the outward leg of the trip.

When I got going again I decided not to bother with the rest stop cache, and headed straight towards my B&B. What a relief to get in the dry, get out of my wet gear and have a warm shower! There was no question of going for a walk after all that, and certainly not in the rain!

Total distance cycled: 108 km, and 4 caches (3 in Vammala and the boulder cache)!

(Author's footnote: Looking back on what a wet summer we had this year, I was very lucky that this was the only day I had rain! Any other week of the summer would have been considerably wetter!)

Day 5 of my 1-week, 500 km trike trip

Saturday 16 June:

I got going just after 9, with Matti and Kaija accompanying me on their bikes for the first kilometre to their post box (actually a newspaper distribution box) to pick up the paper. I texted home just after 9.30 that I was on my way to Kankaanpää town, where I would bypass the centre and head south. At that moment I was pedalling tight up against the right hand verge of an extra wide straight stretch of road which served as an emergency landing strip for planes (mainly military I suppose) to land on in emergencies. It was a strange feeling to have traffic overtaking me on my left but so far away! Felt like I had the road all to myself! You can even see it in Google satellite view! There's a sports track beside it, but I couldn't see it 'cos of the trees!

I kept to tarmac roads on the way back to Marko's, stopping a few times for a cache here and there. One was called Mordor, and the view from there (even without going up the newly built observation tower) is a bit reminiscent of the place of the same name in the Lord of the Rings.

The tower wasn't completed when I was there, but you could climb to the top. One of the flights of steps had no side rail! Going up with nothing to hold onto felt a bit scary! (The cache was an easy find, not far away!)

Further down the road there was another cache I looked for, and found, called Keskimaa which means Middle Earth, and it was located in a museum area of old wooden buildings, so it was a nice setting for it.
An old building near Middle Earth

It was drawing towards evening and I was feeling hungry, so I found a Rest Stop place and had a bite there before doing the last 12 kms or so to Marko's, where I arrived just before 8pm. Total cycled: 82 km.

After unpacking the trike he took me round three of his own caches so he could also check their condition and I could log them as found. A wash again in the sauna and a reasonably early night, so I could get up early for what was to be the longest and toughest ride of the trip, and in some respects the worst!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Day 4 of my 1-week, 500 km trike trip

Friday 15 June:

After breakfast we went into town (Kankaanpää) a few kms away, as M&K had some bank business to do.

They were curious to see a cache so I showed them what geocaching is all about by looking for the one by the church. It was a basic one in the stone wall that surrounds the church grounds, so it was a good one to illustrate how geocaching works.
On the way back from town we stopped at the local military base, where there's a cafe that's open to the general public. Matti offered us coffee with doughnuts, which are famous throughout the land! They were good!

After lunch I gave Matti a hand for a while on his building site. They're building a house/cottage on their plot for their son Jukka and family, and it was at the stage where the wooden frame is standing with the roof on it, and they were adding insulation boards to the outside, before the outer boards could be put on.

M&K's house through the window of the new one
After coffee I suggested it was high time Matti tried the trike, so we went to get it out of the garage. He pedalled out to the road and turned right. I went to the road to watch, and somewhere on the long straight he turned right and disappeared. Kaija and I were ready to take pictures when he came back, but he didn't! "He's got stuck talking to the neighbours'" said Kaija. "Let's go and join them." So we walked down there and met them. One by one they all had a go on the trike, the parents, their grown-up son and then Kaija.

The rest of the day was spent just taking it easy, with sauna again in the evening.
Tomorrow I head back!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Day 3 of my 1 week, 500 km trike trip

Day 3, Thursday 14 June:

I got off to an even earlier start today! 8.45! Still feeling good, knees not too sore at the end of each day, and they feel fine in the mornings!

Now was the acid test of my route planning! Soon afer leaving Karkku there was one short stretch of the way that internet route planners just would not cover (see big circle on the map).

There's clearly some kind of track, but you couldn't call it a road (the dark blue is my addition, showing my intended route). A route planner would send me northeast to Iirola, then left on route 11. But I wanted to keep my route as short as possible, and do only one side of a triangle instead of two. When I arrived at the "edge of the unknown" I could see that certain vehicles have used that track in the past, but it was just a dirt track with wheel ruts where it's soft, and where there are ruts there are pools after rain, and we hadn't long had some rain!

The heading into the inknown started well, but after a few dozen metres it was too soft and wet and muddy to even attempt to pedal through it on a trike; it (and I!) would have just got plastered with mud, and I would have ground to a halt!

Sorry about the fuzziness!

So I had to unload all my bags and carry them 50 metres to the other side of the wet stretch, then go back for the trike, which I also carried (it's only 16 kilos unloaded).

And that was that! The rest of that unknown section was trouble-free, and I soon came out onto a gravel road again. It was the turnaround loop of a forest road. Not far from that loop I came upon habitation, in the form of a reindeer smallholding - right here, in the middle of Southern Finland! There was some kind of paddock, and on the other side of it through the trees I could make out a building or two. In the paddock near the fence on the far side there were three or four reindeer.

It didn't take long to get to Eskola (see map again) and the tarmac surface of route 11! It had been quite an adventure! I guess it wasn't long after that that I texted home: "Too much gravel road but back on tarmac again, 22 kms behind me already!".

Eventually I reached Lavia (a place that always makes me think of Latvia with a spelling mistake!) and started looking for a place for lunch. I didn't fancy the bar/pizzeria, but then I spotted Apusiskot's Kitchen! They specialise in home cooking, and at reasonable prices. Again I should have made notes on the way, as I no longer remember what I ate, but it was good and it filled me up!

When I planned the route I also checked what geocaches might be do-able and not too far from the road. Luckily summer days in Finland are very long, which allowed me time to digress and spend some time looking for caches. So a 10-hour day cycling included 2 to 3 hours looking for caches. I found 5 caches on the first day, 11 on the second, and 7 today. This third day was also the longest so far, 81 kms by the time I arrived at Matti and Kaija's towards 6 pm! You can't imagine the feeling of elation when I got there! After three days on the road, along a route that I'd planned myself, and found my way with the aid of the GPS of course! Now I could relax and rest, amongst friends, whom I hadn't seen for quite many years!

We had a lot of catching up to do, some of it in the sauna, and some over supper.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Day 2 of the 500 km 1 week trip

Wednesday 13 June:

Good weather again when I got up for breakfast, around 8 a.m., an hour earlier than the first day, according to the txt I sent home. I headed into Toijala or Akaa (don't know why the place has two names!) the next town on my way, to pick up something as a gift for Marko at my next overnight stop, and for Matti and Kaija at my final destination. I had to reorganise my luggage to get the things to fit, and had to a shop that sold 'luggage elastics' to strap my sleeping bag on the back behind my headrest. After all that hunting and shopping, time was getting on, and I still had most of my day's ride ahead of me!

I found a couple of caches in the town, one being near the railway station. This cache had been muggled (stolen by a non-geocacher) last time I was there just under a year earlier, but now it was no trouble to find!

I got out of town, and was enjoying the good road surface and weather! I soon came to my next stop, a cache I'd heard about and wondered when I'd get round to looking for, called "Casillero del Diablo", which apart from being the name of a wine, could mean 'Devil's Locker' or Devil's cell. Lucky for me the location was quite close to my route, down a bank and among trees, where there was a pile of big boulders, with holes and cavities under them. You had to find the right hole, crawl in and find the cache, not far from the entrance. I was lucky to find it quickly, signed the log and was on my way. I didn't spend much time admiring the boulders (which I regret now) as I was concerned about my trike and gear up on the roadside (couldn't remember if I'd locked it up - I hadn't!) but luckily it was a quiet stretch of road, far from houses and people, so it was unlikely anyone would pass by other than by car.

Moving on, it was getting close to lunchtime, or I was starting to feel hungry, or a suitable place turned up where I could get lunch, I'm not sure which happened first! Anyway I stopped at a roadside cafe in something of a built-up area (village or whatever). Although I hadn't had any problems with my knees or muscles, it always does good to stop for a break on a longer trip like this.

The rest of day 2 was rather uneventful, if you don't count the caches I looked for (and I was counting them!) but the scenery and quiet roads were nice, despite being gravel roads half the time!

Nokia is not just a company, but also a municipality in Finland!

According to a txt I sent home just before 7 pm I was 5 kms from my destination, Marko's house. He has a walk-in cache on the side of his garage, with a normal-sized door. You just go in, and inside it's like the size of a phone booth, same width but a bit deeper or longer, so there's room to sit on a stool at a desk and sign the logbook. It's probably the biggest cache in Finland! His cache page for that cache welcomes people to stay overnight if they need/would like, so that's why I asked him if I could include his place as one of my stopovers on this trip.

I suggested I could cook us some supper, if that was ok with him, and it was! So we checked what he had for my recipe, then went by car to the nearest shop for the rest of the ingredients. I did a simple pasta sauce and it wasn't bad (although I say so myself!)!

He'd warmed the sauna enough for me (and him later) to have a wash before going to bed, showed me where the kettle was etc. for the morning, and wished me goodnight and a good trip tomorrow, as he wouldn't be up as early as me.

Total kilometres cycled today: 76.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

One Man's Lowride in the Finnish Countryside - 1

The plan: I aimed to cycle from Mustila (Hauho) to Kankaanpää in three days, a journey of around 220 km. Each day's distance was suitably short enough to allow for a flexible timetable, with time to look for a few selected geocaches along the way. I didn't take a tent with me, as the intention was to stay overnight with friends.

The day before my departure I heard that the friends at my first overnight stop would not at their summer cottage, so I had to quickly come up with something! Thanks to the internet, I found a B&B a bit further down the road from my friends' cottage, where I could spend the first night.

Tuesday 12 June:

The weather was warm and dry, shorts and T-shirt weather for sure, and a pleasure to be cycling! I'm not sure now what time I actually started pedalling, but I must have left Mustila village around or just after 10 a.m. (I should have made notes!) Anyway, I had recently put new tyres on the front wheels, and was a bit concerned how they were sitting. They seemed bigger somehow than the old ones, and only just fit under the mudguards. In fact they didn't, or at least the right hand one didn't fit without me adding a couple of spacer washers under the mudguard bracket to raise it a little. That helped, but still it was rubbing against the somewhat broken rubber mudflap on the bottom end of the mudguard, unless I lined it up precisely. Problem was I couldn't get it tight enough and with the vibrations on the road it tended to drift one way or the other and start rubbing again, so I was constantly tapping the mudguard to line it up. Anyway that was a minor problem, and if I had nothing worse than that to worry about, then I'd be doing ok.

I was still concerned that I should have a spare inner tube though, and decided to stop in Hauho (12 kms away) to look for one. That was my first stop, where the hardware store didn't have the size I needed, but another store down the road did, so I took one with me. According to the text message I sent home I left Hauho at 11.40.

I joined the main Lahti - Tampere highway (No 12 on maps) and had a few nice kilometres of tarmac all the way to Alvettula village which is abt 1 km down a left turn (but still tarmac though a much smaller road with no hard shoulder - on No 12 there was almost enough room for the whole trike to be on tarmac on the outside of the white line down the side of the road).

So a little after midday I was having lunch at Alvettula village shop and cafe - the last chance that I knew of for miles! I had no idea when I would find another place where I could get hot food on my route so I thought it best to eat there.

I was soon on the road again, but not for long! It started raining, but luckily I spotted a bus shelter up ahead, so I pulled in there and sat it out. It didn't last long, less than half an hour so on I went again. When I reached road No 57 I stopped for a couple of caches (there weren't many on my route on this first day). One of them was by a large erratic boulder (cache name "- KING OF THE ROAD -": I really felt like the king of the road on these smaller country roads, as there was so little traffic!). There are hundreds of erratic boulders scattered all over Finland by the retreating ice sheet some 10,000 years ago. See attached photo.

This cache meant a short hike through under-growth to get to it, but nothing too thick, even in cycling shorts! And it didn't take me long either! Nice to see yet another of these impressive rocks!

It was soon after crossing route 57 that the tarmac ran out! I now faced some 18 kms of gravel road, which in places was quite reasonable, but sometimes difficult to avoid potholes or loose gravel, with two front wheels! I stopped somewhere on the way for a break and coffee (I had a thermos of hot water and instant coffee with me, and a good selection of biscuits etc). I couldn't know it beforehand, but my chosen route, being the shortest I could do, would include quite many kilometres of gravel roads, so it wasn't as nice as it could have been.

At 3.15 pm I texted home: "A few more spots of rain, but only 22 kms to go to Kievari! (Sun’s shining too!)". Kievari was the place where I'd stay overnight. (See Guesthouse photo) At 35 euros per night B&B it wasn't bad!

There was one more thing of interest I saw on the way, that was worthy of a photo (or 2!) and worth mentioning here: seems the correct term for it is "burl" or birch burl, a kind of growth on the trunk of the tree (photo attached). They're amazing things when you see them, and I've seen a few in my time here in Finland!

I arrived at the B&B around early evening and was welcomed by a big alsation and a much less intimidating hostess/owner, who showed me to my room. After unloading the trike and getting my things up to my room and having another coffee with muesli and biscuits, I went out for a walk towards the town, and to look for the nearest cache. It was called "The Hidden Treasure of Hinkka" (Hinkka being the place nearby) and it was an easy find in the forest not far from the road. And the 3-km walk did me good, after 66 kms cycling!