There’s only so much you can plan from Google maps and Google street view, halfway around the world. So on the night of our first day of biking across Finland, my cousin and I had assumed we’d be able to find somewhere to set up camp easily, since we had passed by so many suitable places earlier in the day. We had this dream of sleeping by a lake, and we located nearby lakes on Google maps, and would pass them, but would find that they were situated too closely to houses and private land.
It was starting to get closer to 10pm. We found a lake on google maps that looked promising. We walked a path to the lake and found a sign. GUARDED AREA, SURVEILLANCE CAMERA, it said, in Finnish. I looked at my cousin. “Well, it doesn’t say ‘Don’t enter!’ It’s probably fine!” she said. I laughed. She was much braver than I was.
“Um, I’m not sure I want to be under camera while I’m sleeping,” I said.
“That’s probably a bluff,” she said.
I laughed again. I was still hesitant. We saw a house nearby with a light on upstairs. A pink house. “There’s a pink house over there with a light on. Pink means they must be nice, right?” I said. “Might as well try!” she said.
So we were about to knock on the door of the pink house when the owners stepped out. A couple, about the age of our parents. They greeted us. We explained to them that we were visiting Finland, and biking from Helsinki to Turku, and asked if they owned the property near the lake and if it was ok for us to set up camp there? “Set up camp anywhere you like!” they replied. “Except probably not too near the lake, because those neighbors are not very nice.” They motioned toward the GUARDED AREA sign.
“And actually, you must be so thirsty! Can we get you coffee? Can we get you water? And, you must be so tired! Would you like hot water to shower?”
“Oh! That sounds amazing! But we don’t want to trouble you, we’re just so happy to have a place to camp!”
“It’s no trouble at all, just set up your camp and come into the house, and the shower water will probably be ready then.”
We set up camp, and came into the house and met their 5 super eager dogs. The dogs loved Novi, she is very much a dog person and they could tell! In the middle of my shower, the hot water turned off, and it became freezing cold. But really, I wasn’t expecting to shower at all during the bike camping trip, and my cousin and I had even brought wet wipes to clean up with and no-water shampoos to experiment with, so it just felt luxurious and refreshing.
After we had washed up, they asked us if we wanted any dinner. “We made chicken and… I’m not sure what the English word for this is, but in Finnish it’s called macaroni.” “Haha, in English it’s the same!” we laughed. “Look at that, we just learned a new English word!” they said. We had already eaten dinner at the gas station, so we politely declined. But then they offered us milk and cookies (maito ya keksi) instead and that, we did not refuse. They were so cute. We learned that they had grown up in the countryside, moved to the city for school when they were younger, and back to the countryside to raise a family. We learned that they considered India their spiritual homeland, and had visited 7 times. We learned that they rolled their own cigarettes, very perfectly. They said “This is so funny, this has never happened to us before. Can we take a picture with you?” We laughed and nodded, and got our pictures taken together, all of us. We talked to them until 1am and said good night and headed to our tent.
My tent is pink and covered in flowers, but it is a serious tent. It has an attachment at the top to hook a headlamp for room lighting, slots on the sides to hang muddy shoes, glow in the dark zipper pulls, rainfly, rain tarp. And that night, we really needed rainproof-ness. After my cousin and I had crawled into our sleeping bags, and started dozing off, we heard the patter of rain on the tent. I slept so soundly that night– so grateful for an adventuresome cousin. And for my trusty pink tent in the rain. And so grateful for strangers with hearts of gold.