You are now at post Nr. 06 out of 06 of this trip.
If you want to read my posts in order, voilà:
01 Berlin – Piła (284k) “Muddy Waters”
02 Piła – Zelenogradsk (428k) “Nightrider”
03 Kaliningrad – Riga (402k) “Paved New World”
04 Riga – Valga (EST) (190k) – Narva (275k) “Winds of Change”
05 Narva (EST) – St. Petersburg (RUS)(165k) “Russian Roulette”
06 Vaalimaa (FIN) – Helsinki (200k) “Finnished”
This blog post is an – admittedly somewhat belated – account of the last stretch of my tour: the ride from Vaalimaa on the the Russian/Finnish border to Helsinki. Does this last sentence fill you with an excruciating feeling of emptiness and incompleteness? I have a confession to make; this is why: good reasoning won over my cyclo-tourist’s pride, so I took a bus from St. Petersburg to the Finnish border. I will explain why. And will take you along the most scenic and overall most harmonic ride of this entire tour. I will not draw larger conclusions from this tour just yet, but will save this for the next post.
Yes, it is true… I took a bus. From St. Petersburg up to the Finnish border. A distance of roughly 200km and thus a full cycling day’s worth. Before you leave this website, in tears of disappointment and wrath over my violation of the non-existent yet holy cyclingtourist’s code, let me explain why; actually, the loyal reader of this blog, or at least my last post about cycling in Russia, will already have a basic level of empathy for my decision, because:
The cycling day from the Russian/Estonian border was somewhat adventurous, but not exactly fun. A brief recap: It was a functional ride that made me arrive in the great city of St. Petersburg. While I had planned out a supposedly beautiful route along some supposedly main and major roads following the coastline, these ideas were shattered on multiple occasions when the pavement of the road was either severely damaged or simply not there or even replaced by some creek and swamp. And all that despite the fact that in my preparation before my tour, I checked google street view for many parts of the road and thought the pavement should be really good. Back to the present case: I had applied the same methods for figuring out a nice route leading me from St.Pete to the Finnish border. Again, in my planning I had relied on a route circumventing the highway and leading me through some supposedly picturesque and/or very typically northwest Russian landscape. However now I could assume these plans again not to work out; same methods – same failures; one doesn’t need to be an empirical scientist to get to that conclusion. So, the scenic route: won’t work. Another day on the Russian highway: a waste of a precious day of my holiday, and an increased chance of ending my life in, on and among a truck’s grill, 200km of boredom. NO.
Hence the decision to book a bus ticket. 25€ for escaping the above mentioned inconvenience? Deal! So I got up at 5 am to catch a bus at 6.15am at the St. Petersburg coach station. I had knowingly neglected the term that my bike would need to be wrapped or packed to be transported, and that was not due to any arrogant underestimation of the Russian way of organizing their transport but due to my general experience that usually things are much less bureaucratic and strict than stated in the rules when you face the real situation and a human decision maker (except for in the Netherlands… “regels zijn regels!”, rules are rules). To my surprise the driver did care, and only accepted to transport my bike because he found space in a separate luggage compartment. In any case, my bike was on the bus, me and the rest of my gear, too. I slept almost all of the ride, just sometimes waking up to luckily see my suspicion confirmed: highway, trees, trucks.
Shortly before the Finnish border we (the passengers) had to stop twice for officers to go through the bus and have a brief glance at all our passports. Then, we all had to get off with all our luggage and go through the real border check. Everyone else went back in the coach to continue the ride to Helsinki, because why would anyone want to get off in this no-man’s-land?
Maybe to have the by far most scenic and harmonic ride of his/her bicycle tour! That’s at least what it did to me. So I kept my luggage at the side of the terminal while everyone stepped back in. A short goodbye to the driver some confused looks by my fellow travelers and after half an hour of setting up my bike, dressing and eating some more of the mass of groceries I had bought the night before, I cycled off around noon. Beautiful weather, really. Only pitfall was the west wind; exactly from ahead. Just like through Russia I had planned an alternative route to avoid the highway that would lead me roughly along the Baltic sea; but somehow (certainly a mix of personal preconceptions and general stereotypes) I had more faith in this Finnish alternate road than in it’s Russian counterpart. At first I did a few more kilometers on the highway; strong headwind made me dread that this might become the toughest 200km of my life. At some point I could turn left (South) onto the smaller rural road which lead me very quickly through a tidy Finnish village. Pavement: perfect! I mean really perfect. And when there had been some crack in the surface some long time ago, they had patched it perfectly with black tar. In fact, the patching was so smooth that I anticipated every black stripe from a former crack on the road’s horizon with great enthusiasm; it would have left even the Latvians remain in awe and admiration (who I had some days ago inofficially and prematurely crowned the masters of road patching).
Also the wind was not so bad anymore. Mostly because my route led me predominantly through the shelter of forests and secondly because it was quite hilly: so on uphill passages I was in the shelter of the hill I was climbing and downhill I had some good support by gravity to battle the wind. All in all I would climb ca. 1200m that day.
Until the city/town called Hamina the ride was a dream: sunny, warm, with a breeze, hardly any cars, perfectly paved road with some little climbs and curves that would allow me to play the game of curiously questioning anticipation and surprising answer. Forest and more open fields took turns and sometimes not the road but at least my view touched the Baltic coast line of which the constant supply of fresh air was an accompanying witness throughout the ride. Additionally the spicey smell of soft and needle woods and sometimes even an olfactory greeting from the casually appearing wild flower fields. It looked roughly like this:
…and like this:
…and like this:
In Hamina I had made just 50km or so, but they set the tone for the rest of the day which was considerably less picturesque but certainly still a pleasure: long country roads and occasional forests. 50% of the route was on bicycle paths along the roads, and to my surprise they were really an advantage over the road! In my experience there is only one country where bicycle paths work: the Netherlands. Now there’s a second. (Admittedly in Eastern Germany they had excellent bike paths along he country roads, too. But in any other places, bicycle paths are a disappointment in 90% of the cases with the road turning out not only to grant a more fluent ride but also even a higher level of safety.)
It all took a while… sometimes I was quite exhausted and needed a decent break once in a while. To be honest with you, I think, in the greater context of the tour, by now my joy of cycling was somewhat depleted and this ride would have been really painful was it not for these ideal conditions. At least I know that by now I did motivate myself not only with the idea that my arrival in Helsinki would mark the end of this particular cycling-day, but also the end of my tour. No regrets whatsoever, of course, and I would not have wished to do anything else this day. But still… it was an intense tour and additionally: cycling again after the intensity towards St. Petersburg and then three consecutive days of pure rest, was tough and not necessarily a smart rhythm.
So, I worked my way towards Helsinki, still on the same road number 170 that would lead me straight into the center. Passed the harbor of Vuosaari from where I would take the ferry two days later. Quite suddenly, after a larger junction, the 170 turned into a (real) highway. As you know, in Riga and St. Petersburg I got accustomed to using the highway as if I was a car; so you will somewhat empathize with me not switching to an alternate route into the city. The highway would lead me straight into Helsinki and spare me the time consuming hassle of beating my way through the outer shells of the city whose permeability is usually designed only for cars and trains anyway. Judging by the frequency of the otherwise so extremely peaceful and considerate Finnish driver’s honk-sounds, they did not have the same understanding for my pro-highway decision.
My old friend Janne, who I know from a study exchange in Montréal, would be so kind to host me that night. I arrived around 23.00 h that Thursday eve at his house. This is Janne in front of his house (but a day later when the weather had turned)
We completely forgot to take a symbolic end-of-the day and end-of-the-tour picture. We realized this in the basement where I was going to store my bike and made up for it: Let’s just say, this picture symbolizes the pretended lack of any need for symbols on my tour.
That’s it. For this year I fulfilled my role as a cyclingtourist. The tour is finnished, and I do not at all feel ashamed for making this pun.
This current post will very soon be followed by a conclusion of my tour. So, please bear with me while I leave this one a little open-ended.