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A Ride in Finland: May 1994

By Markku Tuomi, 1994
After a fortnight of a cold spell and cool riding, Sunday, May 29, seemed much better in Central Finland. The thermometer reached 13C (55F) and the sun was shining occasionally. I had gotten up really late, and breakfast, newspaper and getting ready took so long that it was already well past one o'clock when I got my wheels rolling.

Heading east out of Jyvaeskylae I notice there are several menacingly dark clouds on the sky. The wind is not in my favor but is not strong. In addition to the standard cycling outfit, I am wearing a woolen jersey and warm pants. As usual, I have extra clothes, food, tools, parts and emergency stuff in my panniers plus three large bottles of liquid on the bike. Once I am past the suburbs and bike paths I turn south on highway 59. I am trying to take things easy. The shoulder is all of 10 cm. Traffic is light and well-behaved, as always. I see a few other cyclists: two racers, one tourist and several elderly people on their errands. Fields all ready for the growing season, and people are tidying their gardens. I soon trace the familiar hills and curves of this road, then turn off the road, hit Toivakka, a sleepy little town, where I turn southeast on road 442.

This is a real cycling road through the woods. I soon begin the first climb with a sandbox (for winter use), a sure indicator of a steep grade. I make slow progress up the hill, winching in my lowest gear. I wind past a military depot and a dump site, then stop for a lunch of fruit. The road continues in a charming way through tall trees, going up and down, away from human habitation. On an uphill, rain sprinkles on me. The drops are not that many and I am more refreshed than anything else. Gradually the cloud goes away. The dark forest envelops me and welcomes me home. Telephone poles have large heaps of squirrel-processed cones at the bottom. Large boulders speck the forest floor, remnants of the ice age. I am treated to having the narrow pavement to myself for most of the time for motor traffic is nearly nonexistent. I lose count of the sandboxes. From the top of the highest hill of all, cleared for farmland, there is a breathtaking vista of deep green forest undulating from horizon to horizon. Farms and villages become more frequent, dogs bark at me, a horse bolts away. Soon I am in the small town of Kangasniemi, the farthest point from home. I skirt the center, continuing past the inevitable lake to the junction at highway 13, where I find a friendly gas station.

I feel hungry and make a big mistake: pizza. Too large, too greasy, too salty. I eat it all and feel very bad. I take a long break and try to give all of this unhealthiness a chance to be digested but finally I must continue. Another small road (447) to the north. Now I have a slight tailwind and get a glimpse of being more fit. Then the road enters the forest. Nice stately pines with blueberry undergrowth. Last time I rode here the road was a river of sharp crushed rock, now it is very nice. Not for long. Cruelly, there is a sign "Road Construction". Oh well, I really am used to unknowingly hitting the worst spots each year. Time to practice off- road skills. Crawl along, watch the potholes, suffer the washboard, plow the gravel, avoid the sharp pointy ones sticking up. This is why I have 32mm tires with strong sidewalls, after all. The occasional car covers me in fine dust. Suddenly, I have an emergency. The pizza needs room. Quickly, off the bike, behind the trees, relief. More of a bone-jarring rut of a road. Finally, pavement again. The landscape is grim and flat, the sky now overcast. I enjoy the luxury of taking the road all to myself, this is what life without cars might be like. Past peat bogs and run-down farms. Then highway 9, and I turn east to get to another friendly gas station around Hankasalmi, yet another little town, for some tea.

After a lengthy break I take a little detour, then turn on highway 9 to the west and home. The shoulder is wide (1 meter) and the road more than familiar. The old legs seem slightly tired and I stop to eat my last banana. I notice I have not been drinking much. Homeward again. I am feeling quite good and continue at a steady pace, albeit slowishly. Swarms of little insects make breathing problematic. I complete a hundred miles going across another lake on a narrow isthmus. It is eleven and on my right the clouds glow orange from the setting sun. The temperature has dropped to 9C (48F) The suburbs again. I take precautions, loosening my straps, turning on lights and sharpening my senses. I am facing the jungle of the combined pedestrian/bicycle path. At home I feel happy at my first "century" after nine months of ankylosing spondylitis.

Distance was 172 km. Total time was 10:20, riding time 8:15. Average speed 16.6 km/h, riding speed 20.8 km/h. Elevation stuff unknown; we have hills, not mountains.