biking in finland! day 1

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A year and a half ago, I didn’t know how to ride a bike. I’m super clumsy, and I never learned properly as a kid, but had been vaguely wanting to learn for real for many years. In the end what pushed me over was finding a super cute mint green bike to finally learn how to ride. I’m maybe a little ridiculous like that. My ridiculousness can be very strong a motivation for lots of things.

Fast forward to this summer: my cousin, my cousin and I took a 3 day bike ride across the countryside of southern Finland, from Helsinki to Turku, motivated mostly by eagerness to reach Moominworld, the Finnish equivalent to Disneyland, celebrating hippo-shaped trolls that live in the forrest with other oddly shaped creature friends, based on comic books that every Finnish child (and me) grew up reading. I’d been bike camping before, but this was my longest such trip. At night we set up a cute pink tent (Finland conveniently has an “every-man’s land” law that states you can camp anywhere that is not private property) and in the morning we’d eat yogurt and fresh forrest berries. The whole thing was one of the happiest things I’ve done in my whole life.

We had spent a happy 2 days exploring Helsinki before starting our trip. I had brought my mint green bike of course, and my cousin rented a touring bike in the city. The morning we left, our Airbnb host sent us off with a breakfast of karjalanpiirakka (she thoughtfully remembered that it was our favorite Finnish pastry!). We loaded up our bikes with all of our supplies and gear (tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, toiletries, clothes, water, snacks, emergency supplies), and we biked city streets to the western edge of Helsinki until we hit a lovely tree-lined bike path (the one in the first picture!). After city biking, it was such a luxury to bike on this bike path, completely away from cars and surrounded by green, sans helmets, and letting the wind blow through our hair. Sometimes during the 3 day journey, though, the bike path would join the road and disappear, and total, we’d spend about half of our trip biking on the side of the road instead.

The first day, we biked and biked and stopped for an afternoon snack at a small town slightly beyond Espoo. We ate korvapuusti (literally “slapped ears” in Finnish) and piirakka (savory pies not unlike quiche) at a pink-walled cafe. Getting to try new Finnish pastries at little cafes we passed was a huge source of excitement. We also passed by fields and fields of green, aspen forests, and silver lakes. We were particularly excited about the lakes. (We had both packed pink bathing suits). Whenever we passed by a lake, we’d call out to each other “Omg look it’s a lake!” and the other would call out “A lake!!!!!” The same for cows or horses. Or sometimes we’d just call out “Wowwwwww, it’s so pretty here!” and the other would reply “Yes!!! Isn’t it!!?” Any time we’d get tired, we’d stop and drink and eat snacks and take pictures.

My cousin is the perfect traveling partner! I almost went on this trip alone, but I’m so glad she came along. The story was something like this: I had this dream to bike across the Finnish countryside for a bunch of reasons: because I had a dream to see Moominworld, because the Finnish countryside looked so pretty in photos, because I’d been taking Finnish classes (well I started taking Finnish classes because I had dreamed to take this trip, but it turned into a feedback look), because I was fascinated by Finnish art and design. I’d mention this whenever anyone asked about my summer travel plans, and people would mostly express surprise and ask “Finland! That’s so random!” but when my cousin heard about my plans, she said “That sounds amazing! I want to go with you!” And in a few days she’d asked permission from her professor (she works in a university chemistry lab in Singapore) and a while later she had her flights– even before I bought mine! It’s so great to have such a spontaneous and adventurous cousin!

We grabbed dinner at a gas station near Veikkola, possibly the fanciest gas station food we’d ever seen! Open faced sandwiches with hard boiled eggs & shrimp, or fried egg & pickles! I had bought a solar charger to keep my phone (our map) alive but since it worked only up until the trip started, we were grateful that the gas station cafe had outlets. (You learn to be grateful for the tiniest things when bike camping!) We went grocery shopping at an S-market for breakfast and snacks (granola bars! yogurt with real vanilla bean flecks! chocolate soy milk!) for the next day, and set off to find our camping spot before it got too dark.

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