Thursday, July 18, 2013

Living our Memories

05/24/2013 - Returning to Oulanka

Returning to Finland has been all about remembering. Grinning and hugging in front of the Helsinki cathedral, where we had each been separately, but not together. Recalling our "grocery-store-Finnish" to buy leipa (bread) with voi (butter), cheese (juusto) and lingonberry jam (puolukka). Traveling the familiar landscapes in Lapland with bogs, forests, lakes and reindeer (not so unlike Fairbanks). But the most intentional remembering comes with our return to Oulanka NP.

When we came here in mid-May 2005 to hike the Karhunkierros Trail for our 1st backcountry trip together. Jorma dropped us off at the ski resort of Ruka laughing and shaking his head. The ski lift was still operating and the slopes were still open. In Rovaniemi the snow had melted already but we had neglected to check the conditions here further to the east (and farther from the coastal influence). We hiked over snowy Valtavaara Hill and spent a cold night in a Kota (teepee) shelter. The 2nd day was an exhausting 10km stumble through soft, hip-deep snow drifts. Our saving grace was the cabin we reached at the end of Day 2 - "Porontimajoki". We made a fire in the wood stove and settled in for what ended up being 3 nights with the cabin all to ourselves. We ate, cuddled, played cards, slept lots, and barely left the cabin. We abandoned our plans to hike the full 80km (the log book indicated only skiers had done the trail that spring, no hikers) and bailed out by hiking to the nearest logging road and on out to the highway. There we camped one night in our Lidl tent (a glorified trash bag too short for Markus to straighten his legs in). The next day we caught a bus south to Kuusamo, then from Kuusamo back to Rovaniemi. That trip has become some what of a legend in our relationship - a story we often retell.

Cabins at Porontimajoki
So when we decided to bicycle back to Rovaniemi, we chose an out-of-the-way route that would take us back to Oulanka. Finding the cabin again wasn't easy - we both remembered hiking out a 4 wheel track to a gravel logging road but didn't remember details. Checking out the maps, we decided to take the road to Juuma, cut S on a gravel road "Ryötingintie" (our road?) and try to reach the cabin with either the hiking trail or parallel trail-whatever could be accessed with bikes. After a couple hours of scouting trial & error with our maps (one not-too-detailed plus a blurry photograph of the more detailed one), we came to the intersection with the trail. It was bumpy with tree roots but mostly dry so we pushed our bikes the ~800 meters down the trail and reached the cabins.

How exciting to be back again! Some details we had forgotten but others were photographic memories we recognized right away. Markus remembered the older cabin, a former mill, set right over the flowing Porontimajoki river. I remembered the newer cabin we stayed in with a fireplace to its right and a cooking shed to the right of that. I also remembered hiking along a 4 wheeler trek into a clear cut, and I thought that was our gravel road out but when we came in on the trail it didn't seem familiar. Then when I went to the outhouse, I saw it beyond the track through the clear-cut that I remembered so well. Today we hiked it and found a connection to a road that we might try as our route out tomorrow. The experience is different this time - sunshine, no snow, and other hikers to share with (10 others last night including 2 Finns who shared our cabin). But it also highlights one thing I love about how we travel - familiarity + adventure.

Back in Rovaniemi

We found our way out of Oulanka without any problems and went on to bicycle the last stage of our journey. The next goal was Posio, the only "major" city between Oulanka and Rovaniemi. We needed to stop there because it was Champions-League-Final-Day with Bavaria Munich playing Borussia Dortmund in Wembley. This time we had no luck finding a public place or a family yard to stay at and watch the game. The closest thing we found was a restaurant that had a screen but when we asked the owner about watching the game he pointed out that today was also karaoke day in his place, so whoever shows up to sing would get the screen and soccer would be last on the list. Bummer! Without any other choices we decided to take a room at the only hotel in town. We got some last minute groceries and made ourself comfortable.

Let the game begin
Lars Ricken and Paul Breitner carry the trophy into the stadium
It was worth it, a very good, fast, and technically brilliant game by both teams, which Bavaria Munich won at the end. They deserved it!

The following 130km day was also our last day of biking. After a total of 3500km and two months of cycling we rolled into Rovaniemi, our final destination. Karen and I met here 8 years ago and we always wanted to go back to the place where everything began; to see the familiar places and to visit our friends, the Kantolas, again. The Kantolas were our local "friend family" during our studies in northern Finland. They introduced us to Finish food, culture and family life and we had many fun adventures together.

Candlelight bridge in Rovaniemi
Team Kantola was planning to bicycle towards us, once we are close to Rovaniemi, so we could ride into town together. Although there are not that many roads in northern Finland we managed to miss each other. This little mishap made the later reunion, through the build up of more anticipation, even more exciting and joyful. Coming into town we bicycled by many familiar places like the ski area, the Candlelight bridge and the university campus.

This brought back many fond memories. Rovaniemi, with its warm weather (30°C) - warmest ever May day in Lapland and warmest place in Europe at that time - was welcoming us! During our week we visited Kuntotie, the place where we lived; Doris & Tivoli, the two night clubs where our group of friends mostly hung out and partied; and the Arktikum, where we both took some classes back in 2004/2005. It felt good to be back but also meant the end of our bicycling trip and, at least for now, the end of our travels.

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