A few unexpected free days and a valid Russian multi-entry visa resulted in a decision to head back east. It would be a short trip, a race against the onset of winter. My plan was to ride north through eastern Finland, cross the border and ride back down through Russian Karelia. I gave it a week at most. Weather was still looking pretty good. It would be wet, but daytime temperatures would be on the positive side with subzero nights. It would be getting colder eventually but I figured I should be able to outrun it.
I had ridden all summer in a modular setup, which would not work this time around. This ride called for something that would give sufficient protection from the elements, have enough room for extra mid layers, without restricting range of motion. All this without being a huge bulky bag of a suit and providing an acceptable level of body armor.
It would be interesting to see how my Badlands Pro suit would perform in the harsh conditions of the north. It would also be interesting to find out how my assumptions concerning the modular vs. integrated issue played out in practise.
The bike was in pretty good shape after Eastern Dirt 14, all things considered. It needed a change of oil and filters, air filter, tyres, both front tanks, rocker arms, sprocket carrier bearings and a full fork service and revalve. That, and a few other tweaks here and there later, the 690 was ready to roll out.
DAY 1 / WATER, FIRE AND DARKNESS
11.10.2014 / Helsinki – Rakkinekoski
As I was a little pressed for time, I decided to get a head start on tarmac. It was a very boring first leg, but two hours later, I was ready to hit nice gravel roads. It had been drizzling on and off all day, but further north I was hit by proper rain. I was happy to observe that the suit was still keeping me dry. My feet were dry too, thanks to my Sealskin socks. I was feeling pretty bulletproof.
I stopped to do some filming at a flooded section of a dirt road, passing through a large marsh. It had been raining and the road completely disappeared under the water on short sections. It was nice riding and very picturesque, despite the rain. Stopping to collect my cameras, I noticed the smell of gasoline. My front tanks were full with closed taps, so I reckoned there must have been some overflow from the breathers while the bike was shaking about in the rough terrain. Doing a quick check proved my theory wrong.
I had installed a new fuel filter on the fuel line running from the tail and front tanks to the main tank. The filter was leaking fuel from the connecting nipple. I assumed the hose clamp was loose and checked it’s tension. This made matters worse as the nipple broke off completely. Apparently it had been cracked earlier. It was not a leak any more, but instead fuel was gushing freely from the fuel line. I bent the hose double and secured it with two zip ties. The leak was now contained but I still needed to figure out where to get a new filter or some fuel line. Time was against me as it was four o’clock on a Saturday.
Contemplating my options I realised that I had hit the kill switch on the 690, but not turned off the ignition. This meant my headlight was draining the battery at an alarming rate. I immediately hit the ignition switch and to my huge relief the bike started with a bit of an effort. It was close though, as the clock was zeroed and displayed a fault code. I left the bike running and decided to take a photo of the scene. I walked out a couple of meters and turned around to see flames under the bike.
I had completely shrugged off the possibility of any fuel igniting, as the ground was completely soaked and it was still raining. Apparently there must have been some turf on the exhaust which had started to burn and fallen on the ground, igniting the gasoline. I ran back on to the bike, put it in gear and rolled out for a couple of meters into a puddle just to be sure. Behind me the turf was still burning but there were no flames on the bike. I couldn’t help but laugh at the whole chain of events that had just happened. Some luck.
I managed to find a huge fuel filter at a petrol station that fit the 6mm fuel line. The rest of the evening was pretty uneventful, except that the H4 bulb on my headlight died. It wasn’t really an issue as I was riding with my Baja LED spot light on the whole time. It did start giving me a feeling that too many strange things had happened on the first day.
I rode in darkness for almost five hours, before stopping to camp at a permanent lean-to shelter. These are found all over Finland, and usually have a fireplace with dry firewood. This one was no exception. I had gotten pretty cold, and was happy to get a fire going. I warmed up by the fire and roasted some sausages before turning in for the night.
DAY 2 / FIRST SNOW
12.10.2014 / Rakkinekoski – Jousisalmi
I heard the rapids all through the night but couldn’t see them in the darkness. In the morning, the somewhat lonely beauty of the river was displayed in all its grandeur. Down the stream went the water, as it ever had. Eventually reaching a body of water for a well earned rest, before turning into vapour and taking back to the skies once more. Albeit without the two cups I took for coffee.
The scenery made me somewhat reluctant to pack up and leave, but knowing what was ahead was a good incentive. This was remote central Finland. A maze of endless trails and dirt roads in a beautiful landscape. Some of the trails were familiar as I had been here a couple of times before. It was great riding, but I did not make a lot of progress during the day as I spent most of the daylight hours shooting. Filming solo takes a lot of time.
Just before dusk I stopped for some dinner and to refuel. I also found an H4 at the petrol station and changed it. I was happy to see that it worked, which meant that there was probably no electrical failures in the wiring. The bulb had just come to the end of its days after over 30000 km of faithful service.
It was strange riding some of the familiar trails. I had been through here in June 2013, on my way to the Arctic. Summer had been in full bloom with warm sunny days on dry and dusty trails. The scenery was completely different now. Cold, dark and wet. The lush greens of summer foliage dancing against a blue sky were long gone. Instead the ground was covered with yellow and red leaves, slowly decomposing to join the soil. The nesting birds of summer had disappeared and all was quiet, except for the sound of water.
Every now and then I rounded a bend that I remembered. I also had a vague memory that there was an impassable obstacle somewhere on the route. I thought it was further south, but was reminded of its location when I hit a sign displaying the end of the road. Ahead, there was a river with the sparse remains of an old bridge. I now remembered being here almost a year and a half ago.
The river wasn’t wide but it was deepish in the middle with a rocky bottom. Adding to the challenge were old logs of the foundation of the bridge, running parallel with the river. A pretty nasty crossing even with two people, let alone solo. There were no tracks indicating anyone had crossed there. I had a look around for a more suitable place to cross but found none. I knew there was a way around further south so I wasn’t that adamant on finding a ford by the old bridge anyway. Drowning my bike or getting completely wet would have been a bit of a problem in the cold conditions.
I made the decision to head back a little and take the southern detour. I remembered it being a pretty tricky trail back then in the summer, with green moss over clay on some sections. It didn’t get any more slippery than that. This time around it was a fun rainy ride in fading light. The old forest road had a certain wildness to it, and despite enjoying the ride I was happy to be out of its clutches and back on bigger gravel roads.
It was getting cold and I put on and extra mid layer under the jacket. I needed to cover most of the daily distance in darkness as daylight was spent filming. I wanted to get close to the border for the night and cross over to Russia early next morning.
Further up north I was wondering why there were so many pale rock slabs by the road. I didn’t remember seeing them before. I soon realized that they weren’t rock at all, but snow. It had been snowing in the previous days and soon after figuring this out, fresh snow started falling from the sky. Riding in the darkness while it was snowing was a bit of an experience. It reminded me of the scenes from the early Star Wars movies when the Millennium Falcon entered hyperspace. I mean on the rare occasions when the hyperdrive actually worked. The snowflakes turned into white streaks, lit up by the head light. It looked pretty amazing and I had to remind myself not to focus on the hyperdrive, but the road instead.
I was getting close to the border and it was time to find a place to camp. I had a lot of coordinates for the shelters but some of them were privately owned and some didn’t have firewood. I definitely needed to find a place with firewood or it would be a miserable night. After finding another inaccessible campsite I put on a down vest under the jacket. My hands and torso were doing good, but my feet were pretty cold. I put the bike into neutral and pushed it up hill for a couple of hundred meters. That got the blood flowing and I feeling toasty.
One of the highlights of the search for a campsite was stumbling onto a hunters lodge. The lodge was locked so I needed to keep looking. As I was turning the bike around I noticed a pair of eyes staring at me from the ground, maybe a meter and a half away. It was a decapitated moose head, lying next to a severed pair of hooves. That was my exit cue.
I eventually found a lovely shelter by a lake, and parked for the night. The setting was very nice with a view to the lake from the shelter, dry firewood and an axe. Soon the cold darkness of the forest was pushed back by the warm light of the campfire.
DAY 3 / WINTER
13.10.2014 / Jousisalmi – Kuopio
Winter was here. It had been a cold night and the morning broke with fresh snow on the ground. It was very quiet and calm. Making coffee, I wondered whether crossing the border was a good idea or not. I checked the weather which reported a very cold front heading my way from the east. Subzero day temperatures and close to ten below at night. More snow. This was where the trail ended for now.
Making the decision to head back after two days felt very strange. Riding through Siberia and Mongolia in the summer for seven weeks had been very mission-oriented with focus on keeping moving forward. This felt totally different. Like drifting.
The the eastern border was easily my favourite area of riding in Finland. All the way from the Gulf of Finland to the far north. It had a certain remoteness and wild feeling to it that wasn’t prevalent anywhere else in Finland except for Lapland of course. So I was in no hurry to head back, provided the weather remained relatively sane during the day.
I spent the day filming and enjoying the exceptional scenery. The trail was mostly a dual track of dirt between snow. The ground was still soft, with good traction on the AC-10’s on the dirt. Going a little wide on to the snow while cornering would start to spin out the rear, but not too dramatically. It wasn’t ice after all, just some snow on soft dirt.
I cruised around looking for new trails near the border. Apparently I was not the only one on the road as I stumbled upon some fresh bear tracks. The bear had passed there the previous night most likely. It’s tracks were visible in older snow, with just a touch of fresh snow on top. No doubt looking for the last meals before settling in for the long winters sleep in a week or two. I too decided to head back home and turned south.
The weather turned worse with plenty of fresh wet snow falling from the sky. It stuck on to my riding gear and visor. The snow cooled down in the airflow. Eventually sheet ice started to form on the chest of the jacket, the knees of the pants and boots. I was happy to notice that I was still warm and the ice was not melting, so there was no significant heat loss through the jacket. The D3O armour plates were doing a good job of insulating body heat.
The day had been significantly colder than the previous two. To make some progress, I decided to do a longer push in the dark, but stay in a hotel instead of a shelter. I put on every layer I had and braced for the long ride south. It was surprisingly mellow in the end. I got into the rhythm of warming my hands in the exhaust fumes while riding, every twenty minutes or so. It made the riding quite pleasant actually, with only my toes being bitten by the cold. I briefly considered attempting to warm also my toes in the exhaust. Having cold toes seemed like a safer option, than getting into the necessary acrobatics to get toes warmed up in the exhaust fumes at cruising speed.
I arrived at the hotel in Kuopio pretty late and spent the next half hour in a hot shower. I had been out in the cold for two and a half days. It was not an issue. Rather, getting back indoors always felt more uncomfortable. I was feeling chilly and flushed at the same time. Writing my notes and checking footage I felt a little melancholic. This was the end of the last ride up here for a while.
DAY 4 / WARMER
14.10.2014 / Kuopio – Helsinki
On the way home I rarely have the patience to explore. This time was no exception, and I rode back the last 400 km on tarmac, stopping once to refuel and have a cup of coffee. Weather was wet, but it warmed up considerably on the way to the coast. Arriving in Helsinki, the down vest under the jacket was feeling almost too warm. I arrived safely in my garage, and went through the normal post ride rituals of unpacking, hanging gear to dry and crating equipment.