The ride from Georgia, through Turkey and Bulgaria to Romania, was uneventful. Although it was interesting to witness the terrain transforms from high grassy mountains with grazing cattle into cultivated farmland, we were on transit on tarmac, and I did not shoot a single photo. We crossed the Bosporus over the northern bridge, which for me completed the series of crossing all three bridges, as I had walked over the southern bridge maybe fifteen years ago and ridden east a few weeks earlier, over the central bridge.
After reaching Bucharest and packing the bikes into the van, we left early the next morning and braced for the long slog ahead of us. My original idea had been to hop off the van no later than Helsinki, but I still had plenty of time. Juho’s final destination was Rovaniemi in Arctic Finland, and I figured that I might as well head up there too as I had been dying to seen some of the familiar places from a few years back on Arctic Dirt, Fall Dirt, and the Shakedown run for Eastern Dirt. It would be interesting to see how much easier things would be with a lighter bike and much more experience this time around.
The ride was an uneventful 70 hour stretch which was only interrupted by a two hour ferry crossing from Tallinn to Helsinki. We only stopped twice for a nap during the short periods of darkness, but northern Finland was still basking in 24 hour light, so Juho heroically drove the van through the night to his apartment. We took a short nap and went to pick up new tyres and other bits and pieces for service on the bikes. Other than that it was a pretty mellow day with little action.
Our service day included delousing all of our equipment in a sauna, oil and filter changes, valve checks, lubing the mousses and fitting new tyres on the bikes. To take a bit of a break from the riding, the next day we went out to the Ounas River on jet skis, which was the first for me. Especially on a turbocharged 300 HP monster. It was a lot of fun, but I was getting anxious to get back on the bike and ride into the wilderness.
Our ride continued on the next morning and we were soon out of civilisation again. Juho had mapped out roughly 800 km of trail, which should have lasted roughly three days. However, we were much faster than expected and burned through half of it during the first day. It was phenomenal riding, as we were on a similar skill level, on flat gravel for the most part and eager to chase our shadows. The fact that there would be no darkness stretched the day out a bit, but we eventually camped on the bank of a wilderness river, roasted some sausages, downed some Jameson and talked about the trip.
Our journey continued early and I quickly found myself looking at the familiar water crossings that I had so dreaded a few years back on my 690. This time around the first water crossing had been nullified by a concrete bridge, but is was a blessing in disguise as water was pretty high. The second crossing also had deep water, making crossing it the traditional route impossible, but there was a very rickety, partially submerged, plank bridge over rocks, which gave us access to the other side. From there on it was more fast rally trails with minimal technical difficulties. We were essentially cruising the end of the route which consisted of a couple of river crossings and a lot of standing water.
Ultimately, at the northern most area of our six week expedition, our ride together came to an end. Juho would ride home, and I still had to roughly 1000 km to cover until I’d reach Helsinki. Our parting was rather unceremonious, just a quick acknowledgement that the trip had been good, and that we’d keep in touch. And then, with a last fist bump, I was on my own again, watching the dust cloud disappear in the west, as I turned south. Juho was somewhat hard to read, but I had been very happy to ride with him. We were more or less on the same level of riding, making progress swift. He was also a decent mechanic, who knew what he was doing, which makes servicing the bikes much quicker and mechanical issues scarce. And finally he was a real trooper, who didn’t moan and mope. He just rolled with the punches and fought on. I looked forward to seeing him down the trail in the hopefully not too distant future.
As for me, and the ride south, it was a completely different experience compared to the previous six weeks. I was happy to be on my own again, enjoying the solitude, silence and the opportunity to come and go as I pleased. My first stop was at a friends’ cabin in the north, and two days later my journey continued south, after maybe the best meal and the only hangover of the ride. I made my way down south on my old routes, some of which now were a part of the TET which also put some other bikes on the same trail. I probably saw more bikers on that section of the ride, than during the previous six weeks.
My journey paused for almost a week in Central-Eastern Finland where my much better half’s family had summer cottages. And most importantly my much better half was there. So after a happy reunion and a couple of days of canoeing around the lakes, I put on my gear and rode back to the friend’s house where we had kicked off the expedition seven weeks earlier.
I finally put on my gear for the last time for a while and rode the last 40 km to my garage in Helsinki. It was always a strange experience when the engine was finally quiet and the gear neatly stored. Sitting in all that order and a static world was overwhelming after all the chaos I had been through the previous weeks.