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A Ride in Finland: February 1994

By Markku Tuomi, 1994
Sunday February 27 was another glorious winter day here, Jyvaeskylae, Finland, above the 62th parallel: clear blue sky, sparkling snow and the sun low above the horizon. Time for a bike ride. After a breakfast of oatmeal, rye bread, oranges and a newspaper I finally get out and rolling around noon. The temperature is very pleasant, -9 C, the wind unpleasant, in my face. Slowly I navigate along bike paths to the north, wondering where all the strollers, joggers and skiers are. But of course, the Olympic 50 km ski race is on TV right now. I am riding on very smooth compacted snow, enjoying the day. I experience an acute need the sunglasses that I left home.

After the last of suburban developments I turn to northwest on a small road and immediately have my first tea break. I place my thermos on a snow bank and consult the map. A young girl on a ten- speed goes by. They never learn: nothing on her head. Next, a guy on a very rusty ladies' one-speed rolls by, pulled by an eager husky. I continue on the road that twists and turns through woods and fields between high banks of snow. Farmhouses and other out-of-the- way dwellings are infrequent. I love these little roads in winter but avoid them in the summer when they are soft, bumpy and often muddy. Today they are wonderful, and hard--I need not pedal at all to go downhill.

The road turns icy but is nice and rough from car studs. My cautious nature compels me to slow down on descents with neat parallel grooves cut in the ice by a road grader. My tires fit in a bit too nicely. I tell myself only to worry about the general direction and let the bike take care of the details. My toes are getting cold and I stop to stuff heat packs in my boots. A horseback rider approaches. She is pulling a skier along. How lazy people are. A little later three large dogs race towards me over an expanse of snow. I get the message, shift up and leave their territory behind. After turning east I hit a series of steep hills and find use for my lowest gear while I wonder whether spinning furiously on a slippery slope constitutes the kind of vigorous exercise the doctor told me not to have yet.

Time for my second tea break. My eyeglasses fog instantly but it is not cold enough for them to freeze. I enjoy a broad vista over the forested terrain, then notice two downhill skiers practicing their Telemark style on the abrupt slopes of a nearby gravel pit. Onwards. A few turns, and I am on a very narrow road where an old Volvo blocks the way. It has hit a telephone pole beyond the snow bank on a perfectly straight stretch. The driver and his friend appear embarrassed. I carefully cross a railroad, ie. deep diagonal cuts in ice, and a major road, then turn south. The road is now paved and quite treacherous. Two young persons blast full speed downhill on their mopeds, both feet firmly on the ice. Later I see signs about some happening on a nearby frozen lake. I consider checking it out but the sound of two-stroke engines turns me off. I do not wish to witness another motorcycle or snowmobile race.

So far, I have been doing fine, spinning religiously and not losing traction. The road is now bigger and there is some traffic. I concentrate on holding a very straight line while my studs bite reassuringly. My final tea break is next to a strangely empty lake. I can see only sticks marking fishing holes. The Olympic race is not over yet, it seems. Soon I hit a suburb east of home and turn west. Fatigue creeps in but I persist, very happy and content. It has been a perfect ride for me on a perfect day. I have covered 45 km in three hours of riding time. It is depressing to learn that the Olympic champion spent only two hours over the same distance--on a pair of skis!