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A Ride in Finland: June 1994

By Markku Tuomi, 1994
Sunday, June 12 started as a nice day, my wife told me. I slept late and had a hard time getting through my newspaper and breakfast. It was again time for a long weekend ride. The weather forecast had looked OK, although there was a possibility for a little rain. I said bye to the kids and ran out of the door.

The temperature is 17C (63F) when I finally sit on the bike and roll out of the back yard. Unfortunately, it is 11:47. The sun is shining from between the clouds. An archetypical summer day in Central Finland. I am heading east, and a slight southerly wind prompts me to add a thin layer of wool over the jersey. Then slowly on bike paths out of Jyvaeskylae, through Vaajakoski where a friendly machine gives me spending money and on the big road (9). Suddenly I realize that I have been a bit overanxious with pre-ride hydration am forced to stop at a roadside cafe where I waste a little time gazing at the lake scenery. Onward again. This road is all too familiar and I drift into a meditative trance while the legs keep doing their thing. The stink of the Lye Pond at Lievestuore wakes me up--this is an old dump site for an abandoned pulp factory. Now paying attention to my surroundings, I see dandelion seeds sailing around. Traffic is not unusually annoying but many vehicles are carrying or towing ultra-lightweight traditional rowboats--another mass rowing event somewhere. A triathlonist rides from the other direction. This one is unusual: does not wobble and has a beautiful pedal stroke. Possibly he is a real cyclist working on his time trialing. The sun disappears behind dark clouds, where did the white puffy ones go? Precipitation alert! After a few drops I make a quick decision and pull over. I manage to get my Chinese PVC rain cape on before the rain begins. The rain feels quite nice. Traffic sprays my legs with dirty water but I am not perturbed. I listen to the sounds amplified by the cape: tires rolling, chain turning. After a while, this ceases to be interesting and start thinking of stuffing my ears with something. At 50 km I stop at my favorite gas station in Naelkaemaeki at 14:18. There is a some kind of local market or event going on. A small helicopter is hovering about, people are milling around stalls selling local produce. Inside, all my favorite tables are occupied. Peppermint tea, a roll and a banana for me. I spend almost half an hour, some of it in the toilet.

Now along the road to the northeast, to Suonenjoki. I watch the scenery with more interest as I do not often ride here. Lots of little hills which I attack with surprising gusto. The sky is getting much clearer now, that must have been the rain that the weatherperson was talking about. Habitation thins out, farms disappear and the forest turns swampy. Pedal and drink, pedal and drink. I enter an interesting region. The road travels along narrow ridges, steep slopes end in long, fingerlike, twisting lakes. Giant boulders speck the forest. I leave the province of Central Finland and enter the province of Kuopio. At Suonenjoki I stop at another gas station where I visit the toilet and have tea, juice, a roll and (terrible!) a donut. It is 16:20 and I am at about 90 km. I reminisce about my first 300 km ride when I stopped here and was wet, cold and happy, and generally have a pleasant time for half an hour. My problem is that I like taking long breaks.

My morale starts sinking once I am outside again. It is cold. The western sky is covered with dark clouds. That is the general direction home. I decide not to explore further but take a more direct route back to Jyvaeskylae and turn northwest on road 69. Rain begins immediately. I pull over at a bus stop and hastily pull out all of my rain gear. Not quickly enough, I get wet. In the end I have on a microfiber suit with the hood up, booties and thin knitted gloves under old cycling gloves with disposable plastic gloves over both. I reach a mental low as the rain beats hard on me and makes me shiver. Home seems so far away at the end of a very lonely road. I snap out of this, clenching my teeth. So it rains, then I will cycle in rain but cycle I will. Once I am pedaling things do not look so bad any more. But I cannot say it could be much worse: in addition to the rain, I have a strong headwind and the road goes up. A very miserable-looking cyclist, obviously on a local errand, comes the other way. I am passing a strawberry farm after a strawberry farm, Suonenjoki is the strawberry capital of Finland. The road is actually very nice and in good repair. I can see parts of the old road and they are much steeper and curvier, dating back to the 16th century when mail was carried on this route by the decree of the King of Sweden. Then I arrive in Rautalampi and go through the tidy town center where nothing is open. I continue past a memorial to the hardy and adventurous pioneers who, centuries ago, left this place to populate the wilderness of Vaermland in Sweden and to inhabit New Sweden right next to Delaware Indians.

The rain is relentless in beating against me. There is no way of enjoying the scenery but my memory tells me it is rather nice. I am facing a long stretch with no facilities or shelter. I concentrate on covering distance but progress is distressingly slow. The road continues to climb slowly but steadily. The good thing is that I am warm and comfortable. Cotton? Just say no! My layers of synthetics and wool must be somewhat wet but I cannot tell. The fingers of the disposable gloves are full of water and I bite them open. At times the rain falls down ever harder, the drops hurt my face and my bell keeps ringing faintly. I see no other cyclists. Sissies. Then the final hills before Kivisalmi, a strait on unusual beauty in sunny weather. I am back in the province of Central Finland. My memory is correct, there is a resting place by the shore with a rain shelter. It is 18:25. I manage to fit the rear half of the bike and the pannier under the roof, then visit the outhouse. Sitting on a bench, I have some banana and dried fruit and take sips from my water bottles. I put some dry socks and plastic bags on my feet. Another half an hour of rest.

The rain continues stubbornly. I ride persistently. A lonely farm here and there. I pass a burned dancing hall. Then I arrive in Konnevesi, a little town that pleases me as little as ever. Everything is closed down. Up and down goes the road. A quick to the bathroom among the pines. My legs are beginning to express a slight protest but carry on. I turn southwest on road 637 and crank ahead towards more familiar terrain. Past a hundred miles now. I stop at a covered bus stop and fish out the rest of the fruit. A whitened cattle skull stares at me on the wall of the barn across the road. I notice why the Brooks has been inexplicably killing me. It is soaked and looks like a hammock now. I guess greasing it was not enough. Oh well, it will be an interesting piece of decoration. I continue. A drunkard tottering across his yard yells at me. I cannot make out if this is encouragement or a manifestation of the non-cyclist inferiority complex. A miracle in Kuusa, golden rays of the sun illuminating the dark underworld beneath the clouds, and the rain stops. The kiosk at the locks of the new Russian-built canal is open although it is supposed to be closed. A merry band of locals is busily having a jolly time. I am happy for the warmth, hot tea and a working toilet.

The final stretch home, only 27 km. My back is hurting slightly. I really should be doing those crunches. A fog rises over the fields. The sky becomes a little clearer. Now I am somewhat worn out. Then Jyvaeskylae, and I am home at 23:39. The temperature is 10C (50F). It starts to rain again. Everything inside the panniers is wet, except inside plastic bags. I feel quite elated after proving myself in the rain again. The distance was 200 km, total average 16,9 km/h, rolling average 20,9 km/h. This is a typical touring pace for me.