lauantai 3. tammikuuta 2009

Airhead trip to Russian Carelia 2007

A trip to Russian Carelia July 26-30 2007

Trip background

There is only one country between Finland and Japan. That country is Russia, our Eastern neighbour. Russians consider Finland as a Northern, not a Western neighbour.

Please let me first explain why anyone would make a trip to poor Russian (Soviet) Carelia. You can skip it if you like. Carelia is a tiny area in the Russian scale, barely visible on the map.

Finland got her independence from Lenin himself in 1917. Soviet Union was not formed yet and the bolshevic party struggled in civil war. Lenin knew that independent Finland would stay out of war and this front could free valuable resources. According to Lenin’s plans, Finland would later join the USSR either voluntarily or by force. During WW2 there was a war between the countries. The main stage for the war was Carelia, which was partly Russian, partly Finnish. Soviet Union conquered parts of Carelia but Finland remained as a Western democracy. More than 300,000 Finns lost their homesteads and moved as refugees to the main country, 305 chose to stay in the USSR and stayed. Names of lost villages, fighting scenes, fronts, rivers etc. are familiar to most Finns today even if one has no connections to those lost parts of the country. So strong is the influence of the refugees. There are many familiar names but there real location is not clear, they are just names in folklore. One purpose of this short trip was to locate the most famous places on the map.

It is most obvious that Russian Carelia, as beautiful as it may be, has no attraction to others than Finns and for them mainly for nostalgic reasons. Russia is filled with much more interesting places and better service. Carelia was poor borderland for the USSR and most of its villages were abandoned and empty after the war. Practically all previously inhabited areas were declared “places without perspective” and no infrastructural investments were made for decades.

The biggest lake in Europe is Lake Ladoga located close to St. Petersburg. Most refugees came from the area between Ladoga and the Gulf of Finland. This trip was to be made to the less populated areas to the North of Lake Ladoga. From there to Lake Onega (the second largest lake in Europe) and from the Murmansk road to the White Sea and from there back to Finland. On the map: Helsinki (South of Finland), Northern Ladoga, Petrozavodsk at Lake Onega, Kem at White Sea. From there to the West on the Finnish side and back to Helsinki.

Preparations could have been more thorough

The bike is R100 -83 with RS fairing and 207,000 km in the odometer. Pistons, valves, and tranny bearings are changed, rear shocks are Konis (over 100,000 km). This photo is taken on the Finnish side of the borderland. I stayed overnight in a B&B farm:

There was a leakage of oil from the crank rear seal. Due to numerous setbacks it could not be repaired within the strict time limits of the trip schedule. A leaking engine and a slightly slipping clutch is not a very smart combination.

For the first time ever I had a spare part with me. I happen to have an old clutch plate with some life left in it. I took it along and a tool to center it. I planned to take a thinned 27 mm socket too, to help remove the swingarm IF the clutch was to be repaired on the road. Despite the leak oil consumption was so low that half a liter of engine oil was to be enough for the planned 2500 km trip. The engine dipstick showed half at start, I never fill more than that.

I have made two trips to Ukraine a few years ago. For those trips I had modified the cast wheels to accept a tubeless valve insert. This was planned for emergency tire repairs. Much less space consuming than two tubes.

I had an old road map of North-Western Soviet Union. It had no practical value other than for basic trip planning. Plus I had a good guide book of Russian Carelia which contained some maps. Anyway, the roads are few so there should be no major navigation problems unless one is either stupid or overly curious to see the offroads. The rumour had it that there are maps available on the Russian side of the border. In practice: no, there aren't any.

Russia requires a visa. It is relatively easy to get. You need a passport, insurances for yourself and the bike, some other more or less strange documents. The total costs were altogether 85 euros, approximately 110 dollars. That is not very much.

It is said that the gap between the standard of living is wider at this border than anywhere else in the world, US-Mexican border included. This makes travelling so interesting. Sweden and Norway are Finland’s other neighbours and crossing those borders is plain boring compared to crossing the Russian border.

In Russia, practically no other languages are spoken but Russian. To me that is OK due to reasonable knowledge of the Russian language. The alphabet is cyrillic and even if one does not know Russian the alphabet is not too difficult to learn. Reading road signs gets a lot easier!

First day, Thursday July 26

The trip started on Thursday afternoon. There are 400 kilometres to the border crossing and plenty of light to very late evening. Even Southern Finland gives the opportunity to ride till 10 PM without any lights. However, late riding should be avoided as the moose is a major problem. Overnighting on the Finnish side of the border gives you a whole first day in Russia to start with. Originally Friday morning was the planned time to start but leaving on Thursday was actually a fortunate incident. It turned out that the border crossings are crowded with Russians on Friday afternoons and evenings. There are many Russians working in Finland and they travel home for weekends.

Truck queues are a huge problem on the Eastern borders. Russia still has no real sea ports and most cars imported to Russia first arrive in Finnish ports. From these ports, a continuing army of trucks then moves the cars to the East. This time the truck queue on the border was some 20 kilometers (yes, 16 miles) long. The national record is 52 kilometers of queueing trucks!

There are farm houses on the border who accommodate overnight guests at very reasonable prices; a kind of bed and breakfast. The farm host gave me half-filled custom documents to jump start the border crossing.

The first five minutes, still on the Finnish side of the border, showed that this border is not just another border. There was a full home furniture, utensils, and linen, found on the side of the road. Even a piano was there, everything neatly set. Quite a mystery but again, but being so close to Russia nothing really surprises you anymore. The customs people told that this in not the first time. Russian who have worked for a longer time in Finland move back to Russia. Their stuff can be exported freely from Finland but not imported to Russia that freely. Some people find it best to dump their property on the road side than pay the customs or pribes. It is said that the Finnish border of Russia is practically free from corruption. In international studies on corruption Russia is one of the worst countries and Finland either the first, second or third at the other end of the list. This a sometimes a problem: we do not understand that a policeman or clerk is waiting some “lubing”. I’ve travelled a lot in Russia but still I hate the unreliability of official structures. Back at home we would be punished even for trying something like that.

Second day, Friday June 27

The border crossing at Vartsila (62deg 10' N, 30deg 37' E) was easy. Money exchange to get roubles was very fast compared to what is whas during Soviet time. The price of gasoline is about one third of European prices so the tank was almost empty and filled up with 92 octane gas. There was also euro-95 gas available but some lead won’t hurt an old airhead. It was known that the engine will have an easy life so detonation in Northern temperatures, light loading and speed under 100 km/h would not be a problem.

Road got much worse but was completely ridable. An old saying tells that Russian roads consist of two components: the pavement and the potholes. Lake Ladoga was visible only at some places and no way dominated landscape. There were some speed traps, Russian road patrols are famous for extremely strict policy. Fellow road users gave a flash warning in good time. No speed tickets were given for me. Old Finnish factories were still working at some places practically in the same condition as when they were abandoned for 64 years ago. For example, this is a photo of a power station.

There were many people on the road side selling mushrooms and berries. Old ladies or small children may sit there a whole day with their offerings.

When the road to Lake Onega parted from the road around Ladoga, the road was supposed to turn much worse. To my great ashtonishment there was a new very good road. It gave a mixed feeling of good luck and getting bored. The new road was built in the middle of swamp and forest. No villages, no houses.

A small town called Praasa (4300 inhabitants) has a small restaurant which offers an extremely inexpensive but delicious soup, Solyanka. Most Russian towns have this kind of eating places called “Stolovaya”. They are partly state supported. The road got gradually worse but was much better than expected to Petrozavodsk (61deg 47' N, 34deg 20' E), the biggest city in whole Carelia. It is located at Lake Onega and is the uttermost place where the Finnish army propagated during the war. Petrozavodsk is an interesting town and a one hour round trip with BMW was nice. Hotels were very expensive and empty rooms hard to find. So it was easier to turn the front wheel up North and try to find an overnight stay elsewhere. Distances between towns are 100-200 km so one has to find a place well before the night.

Here is a picture of the Praasa "Stolovaya".

There is only one practical way to ride North from Lake Onega, the M18 road from St. Petersburg to Murmansk. Sounds exotic. And it really is for the first 200 kilometers.

In Kondopoga (36600 inh, 62deg 13' N, 34deg 15' E) there were two hotels, both quite horrible places. Local people seriously warned me for thieves. No way should one leave the bike on the street or unattended in general. One of the two hotels was a huge Soviet style building. Its rooms were impregnated with a strong old cigarette odor, wallpapers were torn or paint falling. One odd thing was that no warm water was available in the whole town. The central heating system is being repaired for winter. Central heating system is common in Northern Europe, Russia included. “Central” may mean that heat is generated for the whole town in one place. However, it is not common is that the heating system would be totally off.

I had seen a small motel some kilometers before the town and decided to stay overnight there. The price was reasonable (3 euros, 4 dollars), condition of the room tolerable, there was even warm water. Drains did not work properly, toilet system made a peculiar oscillating noise but this is Russia. It is really annoying that there is a lot of personnel watching TV and nobody does anything to make those small basic repairs.

The photo on the left is from the Kondopoga motel room, the right from the car heating electricity connections:

Some beer and a glass or two of vodka. A nice day, a nice evening!

Third day, Saturday July 28

Weather forecasts told that there will be some rain but only for a couple of hours. The more up North I will ride in the morning, the less likely I will be to get water from the sky.

It was only 6 AM when riding started, very exceptional indeed. The famous Kivatch rapids were quite close. It was a nice place. To my great surprise there were three other motorcyclists riding out of the woods, almost crashed with them. They had tents and were as astonished to meet fellow bikers especially with RS fairing and bags. They were from Austria, Czech and Switzerland. All with bikes better suited for these roads. Their only problem was the availability of fuel. In this part of the world there is fuel available but one just has to know where. Some practice in the Russian way of thinking makes no harm either.

After an hour’s ride I stopped to put some warm clothes on. The side of the road is extremely soft and the bike fell immediately without warning. The sand was like that on the beach and the bike couldn’t be got back on the road without another person pushing it. There was a small cabin and some road repairing machinery on the other side of the road. A man walked to me and asked if he could help me. He asked me to visit the cabin for a cup of tea and maybe a tinsy-winsy shot of vodka.

He told that he had been there already for two days to start pavement work but no-one else had turned up so far. If there is something really Russian in this world it is this very attitude! To his opinion there was nothing strange in waiting for a day or two. Something might happen or not happen, God only knows (“Bog znaet”). In general, Russians have time. I saw many cases where a truck wheel was changed on the road. The first thing they do is an open fire and some tea, a glass of vodka doesn’t hurt either. Those people seem to be endlessly patient.

An empty stomach recognizes small roadside cafes better than the eyes. It was time for a breakfast. There were some truck drivers and a group of three persons: a middle-aged blond lady, a young man and an elderly man. The lady clearly sought an eye contact with me and finally came to express her admiration. She had always wanted to travel around, especially with a train. The lady was of Ukrainean origin although she had moved to the North and lived there for decades. We spoke in Russian. The young man listened to us and started to speak Finnish. It was not totally surprising but quite rare anyway. He worked for the couple and they were heading to the North back home. They insisted that I take their phone number and address and pay a visit to them in the town of Kalevala. The elderly man had ridden motocross in his younger years and warned me about the roads. He was very suspicious whether riding with an RS is possible at all on the roads of their corners. I did not take their contact information. During Soviet years it was a risk to make friends with Russians. They were occasionally allowed to travel to meet their “friends” abroad and they might stay a month, without any money. This is not really true anymore but meeting them again seemed unnecessary. This was a mistake.


The trip was already halfway, road getting worse and still no real road map at hand. A map would be necessary on the back roads. The next bigger place on road M18 is Segezha (63deg 45' N, 34deg 18' E). With 35800 inhabitants it is not known as a metropole but a map could certainly be found. Segezha is not directly a roadside town so visiting it was a nice excuse to ride a smaller road for a while.

Riding to Segezha was like a time trip back to Soviet years. The famous Soviet tools (hammer etc.) welcomed the visitor in the first roundabout. Even with very understanding attitude the place was a nightmare. It was dirty with streets in bad condition and big factories pushing all kinds of stuff in the air. No map was found despite I took some effort. This was bad news because the next possibility to get one was some 300 kilometers away in Kem at the White Sea. Well, the route there was quite obvious with no reasonable alternatives. No panic yet! The 50 kilometers long sideroad through Maiguba village before getting back to M18 was not bad at all. Beautiful lakes and islands, nice gravel surfaced roads, friendly people (for asking the direction at crossroads).

Contrary to Segezha the surrounding landscape is beautiful as you can see.

Trying to visit a monastery that was the biggest prison of all times

There is a famous monastery in Northern Russia called Solovetsk. It is located on the islands in the White Sea (a gulf of the Arctic Ocean). For hundreds of years it was inhabited by orthodox monks. During Soviet reign and especially during Stalin it was the biggest concentration camp of all times. Some novels by Solzhenitsyn tell about life there.

I actually planned to visit Solovetsk. It is possible to get there by boat from Belomorsk (4 hours) or Kem (1 hour). It was not late when I arrived in Kem or I personally thought it wasn’t. In the North it is not easy to tell what time it is due to very slow changes in light. It was actually two hours more than I thought. The first hour came from the time difference between Russia and Finland, and the second from having BMW battery disconnected for an hour to clean the gearbox vent just before leaving home.

The boats would leave at 8 o’clock (AM) only and return at 8 PM. Unfortunately, it was impossible to find a place to stay overnight in Kem. Two small hotels were closed, the third one was open. A Finnish tourist bus in front of it was both a good and a bad sign. On one hand it told that basic things would be OK in the hotel. On the other, the hotel would very likely be full. It was.

The port is 10 kilometers outside the town of Kem (64deg 57' N, 34deg 34' E) so I (air)headed there to find a place to stay. There was a hotel but it was completely full too. Even a modest motorcyclist could not be offered shelter. The receptionist was a strange person: she was friendly and helpful. She told that a private boat would transport tourists to Solovetsk if at least ten persons would pay for their trip. At the moment there were six persons. More information available at port office. There the administrator of the port told that the boat is just leaving and I have five minutes. Her old aunt in Solovetsk would take me as a paying guest for the night to come. Unpacking the bike can be done in two minutes but finding a really safe place for the bike was impossible in that short time. I was warned multiple times for leaving the bike unattended. Taking the bike along by the boat was basically possible but motor vehicles are not allowed in the Solovetsk islands. The port of Kem is not big but charming in its own way. The photo on the left is the kind of boat or ship to Solevetsk monastery island.

Due to these difficulties Solovetsk remains tobe visited the next time. I decided to have something to eat in Kem, look around and continue to the West to ancient Carelian villages. There was (so I naively thought) a 170 km trip to Paanajarvi (Lake Paana) village where some primitive B&B service might be available. If that would not work, there would be two alternatives within close distance (meaning 50 kilometers). I filled the tank, bought some drinking water and went on. The decision to go on was good if judged afterwards. However, on that very day it was one of the most stupid ideas….

I had ridden 10 easy hours that day. It turned out that there were 8 more riding hours to come and: very bad roads, rain, no idea where I am, a puncture, a badly slipping clutch, arguing with greedy Russians, night riding, dropping the bike at a police car.

An adventure or a nightmare?

The road from Kem to Paanajarvi is partly paved. In theory partly asphalt, partly gravel. In practice partly asphalt, partly gravel, mostly potholes. On such roads gravel is welcome because the gravel pothole edges are not extremely sharp and also less dangerous for tires. The last 18 kilometers to Paanajarvi is a byroad in bad condition. A Western passenger car is barely drivable there alike a touring motorcycle, too. It will take about 45 minutes to ride the 18 kilometers. 3rd gear can be used every now and then. The main jets remained dry!

A couple of photos when back on the main road again:

The road ended abruptly at a lake shore. No idea how to ride on. Suddenly an unmanned small wooden cable operated ferry appeared from the opposite shore. Riding on the ferry was a little risky. Enduro and motocross training luckily payed off. The operator told that there is no accommodation facilities in the village but his mother would be pleased to help us and, of course, at an exceptionally low price.

The village itself was a piece of history from at least sixty years back. There was a plan to build a big hydroelectric power station. The Paanajarvi village should have been emptied and drowned for tens of years ago so it had made no sense to invest in the infrastructure. Well, to my eyes there was no dramatic difference to other villages. The inhabitants seem to be either old people or young drunkards. However, there was a certain warm feeling. It is impossible to describe where it came from. Again, a couple of photos of the unmanned ferry and the shore of Paanajarvi village:

The village seemed to offer nothing special so I decided to continue the trip to the next inhabited place, Jyskyjarvi (Lake Jysky, (64deg 46' N, 32deg 12' E)). It was only about six o’clock with at least five hours of daylight left. There were no road signs or maps so I had to rely on local peoples’ advices. The only alternative was to ride back. Riding back the same road doesn’t sound good and is not really the thing to do. If there are such things as stupid decisions this was the mother of them all. No signs, no map, not real knowledge where the next place is located. On the other hand, tank was more than half full, I had food and the distance was barely more than some tens of kilometers. Let's go!

The sky was mainly clear with some symbolic dark clouds. Unfortunately, these dark clouds were not only symbolic.

Lost in the backwoods

Quite soon the road turned virtually unrideable. Road was all slippery sand and strong drive from the engine must be on all the time. If there is a road that is not for 100RS I had definitely found it. Only a chain of miracles and good luck saved me from dropping the bike and breaking bones. The clutch slipped so badly that it was not possible to lighten the front end with a handful of gas. I did not even try it too often: a slippery clutch is better than no clutch at all.

Contrary to the advice from the locals there were intersections. Naturally with no signs. I tried to choose the main direction although it was not always an easy choice. I saw some local 4 WD cars and asked for advice. It was virtually of no help because the people in the cars disagreed how to continue. I soon learned that the only reasonable piece of information was to ask them where they were coming from. Mostly even this did not help because the places were totally unknown to me anyway.

It started to rain and reading the road surface became impossible. Second gear was a luxury. One just had to stop to measure the depth of the holes on the road. Finally, I had no idea where I was. In this part of the world mosquitos are really big and aggressive. It was not possible to ride without a visor due swarming mosquitos. On the other hand the visor was of no use if one wanted to see through it. And then, the stomach gave bad signs and told me to get rid of the stuff I had eaten earlier. Diarrhea under these conditions. Think positive?? No way!!! The only thing that seemed to love me at this stage was the cloud of mosquitos. We Finns are used to being bitten by mosquitos but not this BIG mosquitos, not this MANY mosquitos and not bitten in the delicate areas of the body.

Finally, when my stomach was happy again and the feast of the mosquitos over a Russian jeep Lada Niva passed by. I stopped it. The driver had a very clear view where we were and how to find the main road. It was 13 more kilometers to the main road and a small village. The passenger agreed with the driver so I knew that I have a chance to get out of this hmm… adventure. I had ridden already some 100 bad kilometers and I bet that only the rear wheel had been spinning for more than half of it without any useful movement of the front wheel. I could take 13 more kilometers if I could trust the advice. The guys were right, I found the main road. The road seemed somehow familiar and I understood that I had ridden the very road in the morning. I had made a round trip. There was no accommodation facilities in the villages and sleeping outdoors without a tent was impossible because of the mosquitos. The nearest bigger place Kalevala (5000 inhabitants, 65deg 12' N, 31deg 12' E) was about 150 kilometers away. I had food, I had water, it was about 10.30 pm (not am) so there was even daylight for some time. The only unknown risk was fuel. Theoretically it should be OK but I had no idea how much the continuous spinning of the rear wheel and riding in deep sand had consumed. I knew that on a paved road like this I can ride at least 70 kms on reserve. That is my record on reserve, maybe some more is possible.

If there are mightier forces above us they must have a peculiar sense of humour. First everything seemed to be well again. Then, a huge pothole that the tired eyes and brain did not recognize. After a while the rear had an unpleasant and familiar slippery feeling. Stop! The smell of hot rubber told the truth without viewing. A closer look showed that the tyre is OK. I emptied the emergency bottle of puncture emergency repair stuff into the tube. It helped for 30 kilometers but then I had to face the inevitable truth. I stopped close to some houses. There were three young guys at an old small Moskvich truck. I asked if the guys had a pump. They did. We pumped air into the wheel. My plan was to buy the pump and put some air in every 10 kilometers and make the repair next day. A great plan but….. The guys wanted 100 euros (150 dollars) for the pump. Now they really have free market economy in Russia. In this case, the supply and demand did not meet. I might have got the price down a bit but it turned out that the tube had given up. No pumping would let me ride to Kalevala. I sent the guys away trying to make them believe that there is some other solution. Which one? No fucking idea.

Help yourself

It was clear that the rear wheel had to be removed and the tube patched or replaced one way or another. That is the easy part. The hard part is to do it in the middle of the night without a tube or a pump, with dense clouds of eager mosquitos waiting for uncovered human skin. Well, the sky was clear, it was not that dark in the Northern night. The rims were modified for a tubeless valve. I had never tried to ride the wheels tubeless but I had tested the setup and knew it would work. The actual work was not that hard. The night was warm and all clothing with helmet included had to be worn to keep mosquitos away. Within an hour the wheel was removed, the tubeless valve assembled and the wheel ready for air. Pumping air is hard without a pump. Then some wheel grease was needed to aid the bead.

After a while a big SUV passed by. I stopped it and asked if they had a pump. They did have a big foot pump to fill their rubber boat. Then some non-oil grease… The SUV lady passenger’s hand lotion is not exactly the recommended lube for tyres but this time it was good enough replacement for real tyre lube. The tyre bead did not seat properly with the available pressure but enough to give it a try. It was past midnight and some artificial light would have helped but was not really necessary with only 150 kilometers to the Arctic Circle.

The first meters of riding showed that the bead could be seated better but riding slowly would be safe enough. Some kilometers with 40 kph and suddenly I heard and felt a loud sudden noise from the rear. The tyre was now perfect. However, there were two unknown factors. First, do I have enough fuel? Second, is there any accommodation in the village of Kalevala where I was heading? The first road sign I saw was “Kalevala 111”. So, 111 kilometers left, 70 kilometers is possible with reserve. I was to ride 41 kilometers with the main tank. The bike had consumed less than expected and the reserve was needed when there were only 35 kilometers were left.

Suddenly a police patrol car showed up on the roadside. I decided to stop at them to ask if they knew any hotel or rooms in the village. I had forgotten that roadsides are soft. Of course I dropped the bike in front of the officers. They were very friendly yet a little suspicious. A short explanation of the situation made them laugh. I send a few warm thoughts to my ex-teachers of the Russian language. There are two hotels and the other of them, hotel Velt, is open 24/7.

A glance in the mirror in the room explained why the young receptionist girl gave me odd glimpses. My face was very dirty, filled with traces of rain and mosquito bites, and clothes saturated with sand. It was not apparently too hard for the roadside patrol to believe the story. Perhaps the warm thoughts for the Russian teachers were in vain??

Fourth day, Sunday July 29

The hotel was under repair and rooms had to be emptied early in the morning although it was Sunday.

Sunshine from 4 AM, a good breakfast, plus a nice walk in the village gave a good start for the day. An open barbershop took 2 euros for a haircut. The only problem was the much too short sleep. This is how a barbershop looks in the town of Kalevala. The rainbow theme is NOT what you may think.

I filled up the tank and checked the rear tyre. Everything was fine. The puncture in the tube was not bad but I decided to make some research on tubeless riding knowing the risks. The tube was taken along for emergencies. And, is it more or less safe to ride with a patched tube than tubeless.

Do the bad roads never end, zombie riding

The road for the latest 100 kilometers to Kalevala was reasonably good. This lead to a false idea that those conditions would last forever. There were 150 kilometers to Finland from Kalevala. This consists of three 50 kilometers distances between the villages of Kalevala – Vuonninen, Vuonninen-Vuokkiniemi and Vuokkiniemi-Kostomuksha. The road was just unbelievable and something that my already aching shoulders will remember forever. This is not something for a heavy touring bike. How much punishment does one deserve because of a to a stupid decision?

The villages were poor but beautiful. The orthodox wooden churches are marvelous.

People spoke old-fashioned Finnish. I could have listened them speaking for hours. Most of the men were drunk so it made no sense to risk my health. Finns have a bad habit of killing their friends with knives when drunk. (This is true. Finland is #1 in European Community regarding the incidence of violent deaths. Occasional street violence is, however, very uncommon. It is the bad habit of drinking with friends……).

Kostomuksha (64deg 41' N, 30deg 48' E) is a town with some tens of thousand of inhabitants. It was built within a couple of years when a big factory project was launched in the sixties. The road got better and everything seemed to be fine. The road, the weather, food. The main disaster was still to come. A "good" road is like this. If you only could trust on the sides of the road:

A short stop and letting the shoulders and eyes take a short rest can give you a nice award as a beautiful view. Note the small chapel.

It was late afternoon when I arrived in Kostomuksha. There was a roadside hotel Fregat where I went to dine. I tried to count the coins when paying. The brains just refused to get any reasonable result out of simple calculations. I understood that I must be very tired although my body did not tell it. So I took a room and stayed there overnight. There were only 30 kilometers back to Finland. Hotels are much cheaper here, also eating is so cheap that you do not have to check the prices. Finland is very scarcely inhabited on the other side of the border so it is much better to stay here for one night.

Five hours on the saddle and only 150 kilometers. The roads ARE bad.

Fifth day, Monday June 30

The remaining 700 kilometers were to be a nice one day ride home to the South. Finland is filled with lakes in this part of the country so there are many excellent route alternatives. I chose a scenic route with small ferries across a few lakes. Everything worked perfectly. Even the clutch did not show any signs of slipping. Do miracles really happen?

Across the border to Finland, a nice road through Kuhmo and then to the South. Some tasty chicken in Liperi (62deg 31' N, 29deg 23' E) and feelings so high that the only the sky was the limit.

Suddenly I saw a horrible accident that had just taken place. In Finland, the heaviest traffic consists of big trucks hitching big trailers. They are 25 meters long. There are two load carrying parts: the truck and the trailer. Such a combination had fallen on its side. And under the trailer, there was a car with three people still inside. The couple on front was stuck in the seats and the young boy in the rear seat was taken out of the car. There was some smoke coming from under the hood. People were trying to find a fire extinguisher to prevent the car from burning. I stopped the cars coming there but none had any equipment against the fire. The truck driver was in full panic and could not speak reasonably, he just shuddering and shaking so badly that I even gave him my riding jacket for him. Suddenly the car bursted into flames and the two people still inside burned with the car and the trailer.

There was nothing to do for those poor people.

Finally a rescue helicopter arrived. I guided people and cars away from the landing area warning them from flying stones. What I forgot was my own bike. The propelled air threw the bike into the ditch. When I tried to get the bike back on the wheels a clearly audible BANG came from my lower back with some pain which gradually worsened. The rescue people said that if I can walk and move in the first place, it is likely nothing really wrong with my back. Taking slow and careful movements I could climb on the bike and ride homeward; yet 400 kilometers to go. If you forget the rain, the rest of the trip went more or less fluently. Three minutes dismounting and mounting at each stop is not too much, right? Actually, after such an incident the mind and soul were the problem, not the body.

A video from the same place.


If you are interested in North Western Russian Carelia and need a guide please don’t call me. The whole trip was a school example of poor decision making: getting to unknown places without a decent map, with a bike with a clutch slipping right from the start. Nobel prize nomination committee need not bother. A GS could be a more clever choice.

On the positive side, however, the original target was met. The mythical places do now also have a location, not only a name. In fact, a map wouldn’t have prevented me from being in trouble in the backwoods. However it would have helped in route planning.

Some more homework would have paid off. If I had known the population figures of villages and towns, I would have guessed that accommodation might be a problem. The standard of living is very low and local people do not form a reasonable infrastructure for any acceptable service.

Petrozavodsk is the biggest town in the whole area. As you can see all others are minor places.

Town, village