Finland properly began our wild camping time on this trip. This wasn't because of the lack of being able to do it in Sweden - there were plenty of places we could've camped and it is legal - but because the weather warmed up and our feet were no longer like ice at the end of the day.
The ferry to the Åland Islands was loud. It was a party boat. We took the boat on the eve of May Day so we asked for it, really. A couple of episodes of Game of Thrones and we were set for bed but alas, sleep was difficult to come by.
Nevertheless, we made it a great first day in Finland (if the autonomous and demilitarised Åland Islands counts as Finland, because it technically is, but isn't) and got all the way to our ferry terminal three hours in advance of the boat because the islands are so small. Being May Day, the office wasn't open and it was very quiet so it took us a few asks of a few boat men to establish that, yes, there would be a boat leaving to go to Galtby at 4pm that day and yes, it was the boat which was waiting in the harbour.
We took the opportunity to have a snooze on the dock in the sunshine since it was the first real sunshine we'd encountered since… well… the Netherlands…
We got to Galtby at 9pm - that's a five hour ferry ride between islands! But it brought us to the start of what is kind of mainland Finland. We only needed two more small RORO (roll on roll off) car ferries and a load of bridges to get us to Helsinki. The sun was starting to set, so we quickly ventured into the woods which were right next to the ferry port and found the perfect spot to wild camp with the most f***ing fantastic sunset to sit and watch, completely in awe of the world and the universe.
We took three more days to get to Helsinki and we wild camped the entire way. Yes, we probably smelt quite funky but we had the best, and cheapest time. But Finland is damn expensive. We knew this, we expected this, but the reality of it is quite impressive. A coffee in Finland was about 4 euro, if not more. I can quote Mike as saying, "It's like, y'know, cray cray exponseeve". I think the long days are getting to him.
While Sweden was a brilliant training ground to get used to the weight of the bikes and going up slow inclined hills, Finland was a test of our endurance up steeper hills. I felt like it was Devon or Cornwall on steroids. The hills are steeper and shorter and you really have to be careful not to hurt your knees. It's easy to be in a high gear (low cadence) on the flat and approach a steep hill and not shift down enough to a low gear to spin your way up the hill. It's easy to be in the wrong gear since you think that the hill is short, but you lose too much momentum up said hills to make that gear worth it. Grinding up hills repeatedly will ruin your knees. Change down your gears.
We rolled in (on a quick commuter train) to Helsinki late and had already booked two beds in a hostel dorm room right in the centre so we could easily get the ferry the next day to cheaper-land - sorry, Estonia aka the rest of the world and their normal prices.
The next morning continued the escapade we've had in Europe. Our sponsor, Naked Runner, sent our prescription sunglasses to our friend in Bremen but they arrived a day too late! So our dear friend Nina sent them on to Helsinki to her flatmate's cousin, Ville. Thanks Matti and Ville - we finally got them! I had forgotten to text Ville that we would be arriving in Helsinki that day so he had taken the package home to his house. Me turning up to his workplace was pointless and totally stupid of me. It meant, on a more serious note, that the hostel we had booked in Tallinn for that night and the ferry we wanted to catch at 1.30pm that day would no longer be possible so we lost about 30 euros on the hostel. I am only to blame for this. A trip of this kind really detaches you from the normal day to day things you'd do - like text people ahead of your arrival, or wash your clothes regularly, or … wash…
Anyway, I met Ville at his house after he finished work and we got the boat to Tallinn overnight. If only we had looked at the overnight ferry prices from Helsinki to Tallinn. It's always cheaper to get an overnight ferry! If we had looked, we would never have booked the hostel in Tallinn and never planned to get the afternoon ferry. We could've spent an easy day in Helsinki just chilling out without the internal annoyance at myself that I felt. But hey ho - shouganai. Lesson learnt.
On a more positive note, I'm very proud of myself for having navigated the Helsinki transport system to get out west to meet Ville. There is a western extension of the metro system in the works, but it's not finished yet so I got a bus. Useful information: if visiting Helsinki, get the HSL Mobileticket app on your phone before arriving in Helsinki - you can't get tickets for trains or buses otherwise (unless at a major station).
Beyond the expense, Helsinki is a lovely city - we can't say more than that because it was too expensive for us to do much other than wander around and find Mike a sticker for his bike, sit in the park and sit in a coffee shop stretching one drink over a few hours. We'll certainly go back, but only once we have more disposable income.
So getting the overnight ferry to Tallinn marked the end of leg one. One month into the trip! One month on the road. One month using all of our kit every day. Next time: A kit review!
Posts by either Mike or Helen. Individual authors will be named.