Cavorting in Karelia

2/7/17. Happily, when we woke on Tuesday the rain had stopped and we managed to get the tent packed away dry. Less happily, the rain started again as soon as we reached the road outside the campsite and it continued for the next hour of undulating roads that took us to the Winter War museum on the Raate Road.

This road, from the Russian border to Suomossalmi, was the scene of some of the most intense fighting around Christmas and New Year 1939/40. The guidebook gives the museum a good write up so Stephen was looking forward to a visit. There were some interesting exhibits, but the lack of an English guide and all the signage being in impenetrable Finnish left him rather disappointed.

We had said “adieu” to Ian when leaving the campsite anticipating that we would see him again on the road and so it proved. He was arriving at the museum as we left and we played leapfrog a couple of times when visiting the one shop on the road and taking lunch at different times.

For the first hour we seemed to be right on the edge of a shower that was travelling in the same direction and at the same speed as us which was unfortunate to say the least as we were on the “wrong side” of the edge! (You might ask why didn’t we stop and let it blow over? Well, it wasn’t completely obvious at first and we did have quite a long ride to the next campsite as well as the museum visit to fit in.) By the time we left the museum the shower had passed over and for much of the rest of the day we kept dry, but the rain returned just before we arrived at our destination of Lentiira. Nice.

Thankfully, the campsite had a small kitchen in which we could keep out of the rain and, even better, shelter from the mosquitoes which were quite numerous. Their numbers have been increasing as the really cold spell of weather has moved away and have started to become a real nuisance at times, particularly when Stephen takes one of his (frequent) stops at the side of the road.

On a more positive wildlife note, we saw our first (and, so far, only) elk as well as a hare, a fox and a vole, in addition to many birds, most of which we cannot identify!

The rain continued off and on throughout the night. As our destination, Kuhmo, was little more than 40 km away we could afford to take a more relaxed view of when to start riding which allowed us take advantage of a brief window in the weather to get the tent dry before packing it away.

We had last seen Ian when he was taking a late lunch and had been expecting to see him at the campsite but there was no sign of his tent so we concluded that he must have found somewhere else to stay closer to the main route (the campsite being 3 km along a side road). However, while stopped in a layby for a quick snack a couple of hours into our ride, we saw him approaching and it turned out that he had taken a cabin at the campsite as it was raining and late when he arrived.

Just as we approached Kuhmo the heavens opened and we dashed for shelter under a convenient porch. Emerging 10 minutes later we saw the sign for a campsite referred to in the guidebook but as we headed for it we met a slightly bedraggled and damp Ian who reported that it was closed. Together we made our way into town and, at the second attempt, found a reasonably priced hotel.

By the next morning, Thursday, the sun was shining and it was feeling much warmer confirming the weather forecast which we had seen the previous evening. Ian set off well before us and this may well be the last we saw of him. Thanks for your company, Ian. Safe travels.

When we eventually got under way it was a pretty unremarkable day. The next accommodation was in Lieksa, more than 110 km away, so we were expecting to be wild camping somewhere along the road. We stopped for a drink and a munkki (=donut – Stephen’s third word of Finnish after “thank you” and “beer”!) at a small cafe 80 km down the road in the late afternoon where the lady confirmed the nearest campsite was indeed in Lieksa. The 30+ km seemed a little beyond Christine after quite a lot of ups and downs and so we decided to stop at the next likely looking spot.

Based on the amount of climbing we encountered the next morning this was the right decision although Stephen was not so sure when the clouds of mosquitoes and flies descended while he was cooking dinner. It was a veritable Mosquito Metropolis! The insect repellent seemed to have little effect. We combined eating with walking around as it seemed to reduce the numbers of the pesky blighters a little and then, after a very cursory attempt at washing up, dove into the tent as quickly as possible.

This was almost a case of “out of the frying pan and into the fire” (literally) because the sun was shining directly onto the tent and it was like an oven in there for a while! But at least we were spared even more bites.

Not surprisingly, the mozzies were still out in force the next morning so we just threw everything into the panniers as quickly as possible and set off without eating breakfast. We were glad to be away from that spot! We stopped to eat about 5 km down the road but didn’t take long over it as another cloud of insects came to plague us.

The desire to keep moving meant that the hills did not slow us too much and we reached the campsite in Lieksa before noon. We were pleased to note that by then a strong wind was blowing off the lake which kept most of the mosquitoes away so we were able to relax in peace before walking back into town. We visited the very modern and extremely lovely Lutheran church and then found a nice cafe to while away an hour or so over coffee and pastries before shopping for our evening meal in Lidl. Some tasty fresh pasta with a Greek salad made for an excellent end to a day that improved significantly after the rushed evacuation of our impromptu wild campsite in the morning.

The campsite is in a great position on the shore of Finland’s fourth largest lake, Pielinen, so Christine decided to take her pill day a day early which gave Stephen an excuse (not that any is really needed!) to go for a long bike ride. The countryside around here is very pastoral and it was a bit of surprise to see the farmers cutting hay already – at the cafe 30 km north of here we were told they were dog-sledging at the beginning of May! We are also amazed at the number of lupins growing wild around here – they are everywhere. Obviously they are hardy enough to survive the winter.

We met up in town mid-afternoon but were disappointed to find that the cafe we had enjoyed the previous day shut at 2 o’clock on Saturday (how strange) so we patronised the only alternative we could find – and it was nowhere near as good.

However, we again had an appetising evening meal as Christine found a roast chicken in one of the supermarkets which made a very pleasant change from pasta.

We have going to stay here for a third night as the campsite is so appealing and it will give us a chance to plan our future route. The semi-official Iron Curtain Trail shown in the guidebook follows the border closely in a wiggly route that seems to be mainly on gravel roads before heading off towards St Petersburg. Because we do not have Russian visas we are going to Helsinki so we will be going more south west “off piste”.

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