To the Arctic Circle

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We’d allowed three days to get to Rovaniemi, touted as the gateway to Lapland , not to mention  the much-hyped “Official Home of Santa Claus”. We had gentle tailwinds, so it was easy enough to do in two days. We hadn’t planned to go any further before sidetracking by train for a week of orienteering, because Rovaniemi is the end of the rail line.

2013/07/02: 120 km to Kemi
Getting out of cities is often a challenge and can even at times be a nightmare; leaving Oulu with its well-signed bike paths was a piece of cake. The route to Kemi ran parallel to the coast, a little inland. Once bike paths ended, we  did a stretch on a major road with a decent shoulder. For some distance, traffic had been stopped due to a container  of asphalt having caught fire during paving works. We sailed by up the shoulder past stationary cars and slipped onto a stretch of bike path.

Later, during a stretch on a small side road, we stopped to admire the high-end insect protection that a woman was wearing. Stiff netting was held away from her face by a peaked cap, and joined a long shirt –also of netting. We are on the strategic lookout for optimal insect protection options as we head north, and as tales of what we may face in Lapland reach our ears. She told us that this was essential gear for berry picking, and that the season for cloudberries (Rubus chamaemorus, aka as “bakeapple” in Newfoundland) had just started.

We rode into Kemi and were led to the tourist office by a local cyclist. Kemi struck us a gritty industrial town, with a hydro dam and a pulp mill, if our sense of smell is anything to go by.  The rain was beginning again and was getting heavier, so we found an “apartment” just north of town for the night, and cooked the one-pot ingredients  intended for a camp supper.

2013/07/03: 120 km to Rovaniemi
We rode a fairly peaceful 50 km before stopping for cake and coffee. Shortly after this, we met an Australian cyclist headed south, who’d started from Nordkapp. He warned us of distances without supplies and of lack of shelter options as we proceed northward.

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It was only when we stopped for lunch that we realized we’d left our ham and cheese in the fridge at the apartment. Que sera. The weather was foreboding again, and we called ahead to book two nights at the hostel in Rovaniemi.

2013/07/04: Tourists in Rovaniemi
I woke feeling poorly and slept most of the morning. When we emerged after lunch, we first visited the Arktikum exhibit with its displays about Arctic flora and fauna as well as about Sami culture. What was also interesting –and less expected– was the primer on Finland’s struggles during WWII as a strategic pawn between two powers.  Later, we visited the Pilke “Science Centre”, a green-washed presentation of “sustainable” forestry in Finland –simplistic industry-financed edutainment. Perhaps it was my mistake to have expected a little more.

2013/07/05: Train to Kajaani
We left the hostel at a leisurely pace since the train didn’t leave till 1 p.m.. At an outdoor café, we watched a three year old happily gallop between the tables on his new balance bike while we chatted to his Aussie father before heading to the station.  Our fully loaded bikes were loaded into the baggage car, and we  arrived in Kajaani at 5:30 p.m. We weren’t due to check into our dorm for our week of orienteering till the next day, so we lurked about town and then skulked off to a nearby wooded area to camp.

2013/07/06: Switching to Orienteering Mode
We started to take down the tent during a pause in the rain, but it pounded again before everything was stowed. We took our soggy selves to the covered breezeway outside the vocational school where our dorm was, and when the administrators arrived we were the eager first to check in. As usual in Finland, there was an airing cupboard provided in lieu of a dryer, and we used it to dry the tent and tarp, and had a rest before the first two flat-mates arrived.

We drove with flat-mates to Vuokatti to collect our race bibs for Kainu Orienteering Week. That part was relatively straightforward, but we’d failed to contact Louise –who had our orienteering clothing– and had no plan for finding the Canadians who were ensconced in the World Orienteering Championships athletes’ residence. We wandered towards the buildings, and I spied a Canadian flag in window. “Louise!!” I called. A familiar head popped out and responded, “Hello Mumsy!”

Louise and Emily after  both had qualified for the long distance final.

Louise and Emily after both had qualified for the long distance final.

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