Having completed her vast and thorough geographical and topographical research
our group’s chief navigator Kaisa Leka presented her travel companions with
a route plan promising varying terrain and interesting sights.
15. Viena Kemi
19. Polyarnye Zori
Our journey begins from Porvoo (1.), the setting of the Diet of 1809, convened by the Czar of Russia. We will gather in the center of this small town, far away from the buzzing atmosphere of Helsinki, at 9 AM, rain or shine. We’ll be heading towards Lapinjärvi (2.), and from there we’ll continue via Kouvola (3.) to Luumäki (4.), the home of former Finnish president Per Erik Svinhufvud. We’ll continue from there to Lappeenranta (5.), a middle-sized city situated in the South Karelia area.
We’ll cross the border into Russia in Imatra (6.), and thus ends the first leg of the journey. Once we’ve left Finland we’ll make our first stop in Russia at Enso, also known as Svetogorsk (7.). It’s one of the largest cities in the Karelia isthmus, and many beautiful old Finnish buildings there have survived the war and the decades following it, such as the cooperative headquarters, a masterpiece of functionalist architecture. From Enso we’ll continue to the northern end of lake Ladoga and a smaller town called Lahdenpohja (8.). We’ve heard that it’s well preserved and the old buildings still stand tall, reminding us of the days gone by. Our next step will be Sortavala (9.). It’s known as one of Karelia’s most popular tourist resorts, and well worth its reputation! In the Sortavala harbor we’ll rest our tired feet in the cool waters of lake Ladoga after a long day of cycling. But we must not rest for too long, as it’ll soon be time to continue towards Läskelä (10.) and Jäniskoski, an important landmark on the northern shore of Ladoga.
Next we’ll arrive at Suojärvi (11.), an area that for a long time was scarcely populated and isolated from its surroundings. The old Karelia lifestyle, with its Orthodox religion, was preserved here at its purest. From Suojärvi the road will take us to the shores of lake Ääninen and the magnificent views of Karhumäki (12.). Next up is Segezha (13.) but we won’t dare stop there, as the legends claim that the most hardened criminals were sent to live there in the old days. We’ll therefore swiftly continue to Sorokka (14.) and Viena Kemi (15.), that offers unforgettable experiences for the traveller. The rivers, falls, hills and rocks won’t leave anyone unmoved, and seeing the old wooden church will bring a smile to every cyclists’ face.
After rolling through Louhi (16.), the capital of the North Karelia district, we’ll once again move into a new world: Murmansk Oblast with its Northern views and extreme contrasts. The harbor town of Knäsoi (17.) is a good example, surrounded by snow-capped mountains in true Lapland style. And even though Kantalahti (18.) may not be the most pictoresque town on Earth, a nearby mountaintop offers a striking view over the islands of the White Sea. We’ll then pass Polyarnye Zori (19.) and arrive in Montsegorsk (20.) which should be the ideal place where to stop and take a break. We hear it’s quite idyllic when viewed from the lake, with its traditional boats and handsome churches.
And even though the kilometers may be weighing on our legs, the thought of reaching Murmansk (21.) gives us new energy. It’s important to remember that the city, with nearly half a million inhabitants, is the world’s largest city above the Arctic Circle! The local museum will offer the traveler an excellent overview of the mammals and birds of the Kola Peninsula, as well as the Arctic Sea expeditions. After Murmansk we’ll head to Petsamo (22.), a mythical place with a colorful history. Over the years many dofferent nations have ruled over Petsamo, but today it hosts a Russian military base.
If we’ve indeed come this far North, it is time to leave Mother Russia and commence the journey home. We’ll travel through Kirkenes (23.) in Norway and head to Ivalo (24.) on the Finnish side.
This is our plan. Only time will tell where the road will lead us. Fortis fortuna adiuvat!
Miss Laura Soini – Captain
Mrs Kaisa Leka – Navigator
Miss Lina Jelanski – Linguist
Miss Elina Salonen – Mechanic
Christoffer Leka – Butler & cook
THE BIRTH OF THE JOURNEY
Finland, or, as the natives call it in Finnish, Suomi, is a country of lakes and islands. It is a vast continent about which strangers until lately hardly knew anything, beyond such rude facts as are learnt at school, viz., that “Finland is surrounded by the Gulfs of Finland and Bothnia on the South and West, and bordered by Russia and Lapland on the East and North,”
When we first thought of going to Suomi, we naturally tried to procure a Finnish guide-book and map; but no guide-book was to be obtained in all London, except one small pamphlet about a dozen pages long; while at our best-known map shop the only thing we could find was an enormous cardboard chart costing thirty shillings. No one ever dreamed of going to Finland.
Through Finland in Carts 1896, Ethel Brilliana Tweedie
Like all best summer plans, this too was conceived as far away from summer as possible. This makes sense, when one reflects upon the fact that this is the moment when both the pain of loss and the longing for that yet to come is at its pitch. It is during times like these that the human mind seeks solace in its despair.
Thus one cold November night in 2010 five persons gathered around a worn out wooden table in the kitchen somewhere in the old part of Porvoo. The temperature outside was freezing, and it snowed lightly.
Some of the faces were familiar, others weren’t. Still, fate had placed them all around the same table, and that very same fate would later tie their lives together tighter than any of them could have imagined.
On the table lay the reason for their rendez-vous: a fragile old map, carefully unfolded. That it wasn’t the from the most recent print run was obvious, as the borders ran much further eastwards than they actually did. But what of the borders! This group was more interested in the roads depicted, and they tend to be of a more permanent nature.
At that moment, as they scrutinized the map they made an agreement: These were the roads they would travel the following summer. Together!
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
How did you come up with this idea of a 1000-plus-kilometer bike trip?
The idea of our trip was born from the desire to take a deeper look at an area that’s very close to us but remote at the same time. And what better way to reach that goal than riding your bike in the beautiful Nordic summer?
Couldn’t you have come up with an easier way?
There certainly are easier ways to get from point A to point B. But we doubt that they’re as enjoyable.
There’s no other method of travel that allows you to experience as much as cycling. You will feel the scent of the earth, rest your eyes in the lush, green forests, feel the rain and wind on your skin and find peace for your restless mind in the quiet rattling of the unpaved road.
Are you all some kind of super athletes?
Absolutely not! We’re mere mortals, whose training is limited to ordinary everyday excercise. Naturally we’ll be cycling a bit more when the snow will clear out in the spring, but the trip we have planned requires no superhuman strength.
We’ve noticed that on a long journey patience and percistency are far more important traits than sportsmanship. And even if we won’t be in top form on day one, we’ll gain strenght with every day that passes!
How did you put the team together?
Our method was very simple: everyone interested in the trip was welcome to join in!
Surprizingly enough the thought of a month-long bike trip wasn’t as tempting as we had expected, and at the time of writing it does look like an elite group of five will be going on the trip.
But why travel to the Russian side of the border? Isn’t it all just abandoned houses and dying villages?
It’s true that Eastern Carelia is a land of contrasts – man-made ugliness can turn into the indescribable beauty of the nature in a few short moments. You can never know what lies behind the next turn, and that’s why it is such an intriguing destination.
Isn’t cycling in Russia dangerous?
That depends on what you’re afraid of. Traffic probably is the biggest threat for a cyclist, but Russians are quite used to meeting the strangest vehicles on the road, horse carriages being no exception. This makes the drivers quite cautious. We’ll also be staying off main roads, choosing more quiet side tracks to pedal on.
Naturally one needs to use some common sense to avoid theft. The bikes will not be left unguarded and we won’t be drawing unwanted attention to our small group. But luckily a cyclist is often considered to be a person too poor to be worth robbing – after all, they couldn’t even afford a car.
What if you won’t be able to reach your destination?
Everyone who’s ever traveled by bike soon realizes the difference between a voyage in prospect and one in stern reality. There are obstacles you can prepare for and others that will completely take you by surprize.
But our main destination is the journey itself, so even if we’ll fail to reach our geographical goal the trip will in no way be in vain.
The traveler must learn to accept the fact that you can never fully know what the road will bring. But it is also a fact that we’ll try our utmost and then some to witness the midnight sun on the shore of the Barents sea in August!