dinsdag 26 augustus 2014

SCA2014 Day 15 & 16: Simo & Kuopio

As a new day dawned upon this behemoth tour, part of me felt quite confused. I knew I probably crossed a timezone on the way here, but I wasn't sure of that.

All I knew was that the long shadows indicated the start of yet another sunny day.

Time to awake the Beast...

...and gallop further South.

Forgive me if this installment lacks the pretty pictures of most of the prior ones - as it stands, most of the roads in Northern Finland are like you see here.


Sometimes nothing at all...

...but mostly it was just trees, yes.

I didn't mind all too much though. Actually, I felt quite comfortable getting some nice progress in for once. It can get quite tiring if you have to ride twisties everyday for weeks on end, because it takes alot of concentration which in turns saps your energy.

It's then quite nice to just settle in, zone out and do the miles for once.

I guess everything is good in moderation. Just like the day before, I set out to have frequent breaks to make the progress not too uncomfortable.

And to check up on the Beast, as I had been doing the entire trip. The ol' girl was doing just fine though.

Riding was going really well... and every now and then, the road would pass through a set of lakes. I reckoned it shouldn't be that hard to find another camp site at the side of a body of water, so I thought.

When I wanted to fill up though, I ran into a problem.

Up until now I had been paying most of the things with my debit card. It's a Maestro card which should be widely accepted, but on more and more occasions the display would read 'DECLINED' after I had entered my PIN number.

I knew money was surely not the problem, as I had checked my account online the night before.. but nonetheless the card didn't seem to work.

Thankfully though, my credit card worked just fine.

Still, I wasn't planning on using my credit card all of the time... because those things have limits, and in the (ever-so unlikely but yet possible) event I'd breach mine I'd be dead in the water thousands of miles from home.

Thankfully, I still had some cash at my disposal too. Still, I planned to phone up my bank once I'd be close to today's destination.

What that destination was, I wasn't all too sure of either.

On the original schedule it was Sodankyl√§, but as I had already passed that city I figured Kemi, the city at the coast of the Gulf of Bothnia right at the end of this road, would be a better target.

In the mean time, the road widened considerably all of a sudden.

As it turns out, these are what the Fins call 'maantietukikohta', which translates as 'road base'. Basically, they're dead-straight strips of widened motorway which can also be used as airstrips in the event of either an emergency or war situation.

Soon after, I entered Rovaniemi, crossing the Arctic circle as I did.

They had a huge complex at the other side of the road, including the alleged home of Santa Clause. There were shops, restaurants... pretty much everything you could desire.

The whole touristiness of it reminded me alot of the Nordkapp. I tend to avoid places with huge amounts of tourists as much as I can, but sometimes though, you just have to bite the bullet.

Oh well. Off to Kemi!

With the speed limits as they were (100kph whoo!) the miles were tumbling at a nice rate.

I didn't even mind the short downpours I met on the way South.

Not even when they lasted longer than a minute.

Because soon enough, it was time for some actual highway.

Dual carriageway dominance!

In a way, it felt nice seeing the Gulf of Bothnia for the first time. It reminded me of how far I'd come, and the insane progress of the past few days. I mean, yesterday morning I started a mere 130 kms away from the North Cape, and here I was already.

At the next petrol station, I sought out to solve the issue with my bank card by phoning up my bank.

It's quite cool what the sentence 'I'm calling from Finland right now' did to capture the attention of the guy at the other end. I explained the situation, and running the details through the computer he couldn't discover anything out of the ordinary.

As the card itself was also brand new (I'd replaced my old one in May) the only possible explanation was simply that my debit card just wasn't accepted here. I just had to keep trying though... but even when trying to buy something as simple as a sandwich at this petrol station was the card not accepted.

With the prospect of Russia (and with it, further use of the credit card) drawing ever so near, I drew up my usual contingency plan of going to a larger city (in this case the city of Oulu the next day), and try my luck at an ATM of a bank. Nine times out of ten, that solves the problem at hand.

This was exactly why I prefer to do transactions by cash on trips like these... it's no use having money if you can't get to it.

Near the town of Simo, I pulled over. I'd seen the sign of the camp site, and it also said fly fishing was possible. And fly fishing means: a river. Whooo!

Upon the proprietor teaching me the Finnish for 'thanks' ("Kiitos") he asked me what it was 'in my language'.

His pronunciation of 'Dankjewel' was quite good.

As time passed, I noticed the Camper Van Brigade had followed me there. Later though, I saw that there also were some Russian plates amongst the new arrivals. I wanted to know a bit more about the Russian border, so I approached a couple that was just setting up camp.

I opened up with the question whether they spoke English, to which I got the reply:
"We can speak Dutch if you want"

Apparently Roman had a friend who also lived in my hometown of Rotterdam, so upon seeing in the register that there was someone from Rotterdam at the camp site already he'd looked around for Dutch plates, and found mine. It's a small world.

He explained to me that the best way of tackling the Russian border is usually in the morning, as things are not as busy then. The Estonian border was going to be the worst one he reckoned, as alot of Russians go to Estonia to do some shopping, and alot of Estonians go to Russia for the cheap fuel.

I didn't know though how true his words would ring in the coming days.

The next morning, the ever-abundant sun made it possible to dry my swimming trunks.

Then, time to go.

Ofcourse, it took minutes for me to get stuck behind a camper again.

I tell you, if I never see a camper van again it will be too soon for me.

However, the straight roads made for some nice overtaking.

...and as I approached the city of Oulu...

...things got even better.

I'm always apprehensive entering cities, as the traffic usually is a nightmare and temperatures will leave you sweating like a pig.

As it was still early in the morning though, things weren't all too bad in Oulu.

Soon enough, I struck gold, and found myself an ATM.

And wouldn't you know it, my card worked just fine. 

After filling up, time to leave the city, and set my sights for Kuopio.

Ofcourse, I could've stopped in Iisalmi, but as the roads made for proper progress, I saw no reason for an early stop today. 

Besides, I knew that I would be finishing tomorrow's leg in the border town of Lappeenranta anyhow, so the more I rode today, the less I would have to do tomorrow.

Navigation was going really well. During breaks, I just checked whether I was still on the right track.

These roads were quite blissful...

...until I noticed that the Finnish government has a downright love affair with speedcameras. 

The way they deploy them is really sneaky - the speed limit at most country roads is 100 kph, but once you reach a town they'll put a sign saying the limit is 80 kph, and a 100m after that a sign saying the limit's 60 kph. Coupled with that sign there's a camera like this, checking whether you're actually doing 60 kph.

Still being oblivious to all this, I got my picture taken once... but in Finland, the system works the same as in Norway and Sweden; they take a picture from the front, to match up the number plate with your face... which is impossible with a motorbike.

Naturally, I didn't use that as an excuse to go through towns like Ghostrider. There could also be cops in cars, you know.

In the next petrol station, I filled up in more ways than one.

And I also spotted this while I was at it:

 "Some say he never gets prune hands when washing his car..."

Getting nearer to Kuopio, I saw a motorbike at the side of the road. Thinking there was trouble I pulled over to possibly help out, but they were just taking a break.

Not too long after, I reached the outskirts of Kuopio.

Time to turn off the motorway...

...and find a place to stay.

After camping for two nights the batteries of the camera needed recharging, so time for a cabin!

After pulling off all the gear from the bike, I opened up the front sprocket cover to see how the sprocket was doing. 

It was ever so slightly worn, but it would still be good enough for the final ~3000km back to home. The chain had its first dead link in it however... I reckoned I would just keep it lubed up, and hope for the best.

As I was checking up on the Beast though, I noticed there was some loud 80s rock music being played nearby. After bolting the bike back up, I paid them a visit... and much laughter followed (see today's randomness vid for more!)

As it turned out, it was a group of 5 guys on their yearly weekend retreat, basically spending their time drinking various forms of alcohol, eating meat and playing awesome music. Talk of music was the main subject of the afternoon and evening, and when it was subsequently time for dinner, they even had a plate ready for me.

Later I spent some time talking to them about the Finnish war history, and tried to get an explanation of the term 'Sisu', a term which apparently doesn't translate all that well to English. Sisu is what alot of Finnish soldiers displayed during the Winter War, which was their army's finest hour amidst World War II. Vastly outnumbered, they managed to withstand the huge Red army for a prolonged amount of time.

'Sisu', as I was explained, is all about 'not giving up'.

After saying my thanks for the hospitality, I went back to the cabin to rest my weary (and slightly drunk) limbs.

Just I was getting ready for bed though, someone knocked on the side of my cabin.

A bit surprised at this late visit, I opened up.

Meet Matti & Ville - two Finnish bikers who had seen the foreign plated Transalp, and when they still saw some lights burning inside the cabin they wanted to have a chat about the trip I was making.

As soon as I showed them the panniers, they wanted to take a picture. No problem! Soon enough, they gave me an alcoholic beverage and we spent some time exchanging stories.

They liked to tour Europe themselves as well, but rather than riding everywhere, they put their bikes in the van they had with them and did some local touring instead. 

After me encouraging them to do a fully-fledged European bike tour someday, it was time for bed.

The Fins had left a great impression on me. Progress had been tremendous too, but I was already nervous for what beckoned in the days ahead.

The Russian Border.