After more than a year away from Europe, it felt amazing to re-enter, cycling beneath the familiar blue sign with a circle of stars that symbolises the EU, at the border into Finland.
Our last couple of nights in Russia had been quite exciting.
The evening after I last wrote this blog we camped in a field full of pale grass tussocks. We had eaten a good dinner (cooked on Arron’s new frying pan) and were winding down for bed. It might only have been 7pm but our body clocks are now well in tune with daylight hours and we tend to sleep long hours during darkness and wake at first light. Arron was boiling the last of our water to refill our flasks in his tent porch as I poured us both a cup of tea inside the tent.
Suddenly I hear, ‘Shit, the tent’s on fire!!!’ I look over and see yellow flames licking at our bright orange tent.
‘Get out of the tent!’ I say as I leap out of my side and run round to his. Arron couldn’t leave the tent as it was only because he was holding it away from the fire that it was not catching alight. He had thrown the stove a couple of metres from the tent and it was now just spilt petrol burning on the ground. I grabbed his brand new frying pan and hit the ground, realising too late Arron had had the same thought and had stopped because it seemed to make the flames spread not slow.
It was at this point that Arron drew my attention back to the burning stove and petrol filled canister behind me. ‘It might explode!’ he yelled.
Not knowing what else to do I grabbed the stove and hurled it away from us into the middle of the field.
Then I helped Arron pull up the tent and roll it away from the fire, all the while he was still inside scooping the sleeping bags, clothes and dry bags away from the flames.
Finally we deemed the tent area safe and somehow managed to blow out the last of the fire beside it. Then Arron’s attention turned to the stove in the middle of the field, still burning bright.
‘Where are my gloves?!’ he asked.
‘Why?’ I responded.
‘I’m going to go and unscrew the canister from the stove to stop it exploding!’
I watched, horrified, as Arron ran over to the stove in bare feet and untwisted the petrol canister. He dribbled the remaining fuel over the snow covered ground and then ran back to me.
We were both barefoot and shaking with the exhileration of such a close call. I’m relieved to say that the fire ruined that particular stove, which had been playing up for some time, for good. Of course, we still had to boil water for the following day, so as one fire burnt out, we lit the other stove to boil the water on, thankfully with less drama this time around.
The following night was our final night in Russia. We collected water from a flowing stream before double backing and hunting for a suitable camp spot. We were about 5km from the border with Finland but had decided to tackle the border crossing the following morning, allowing ourselves the full day for it. Of course, being so close to the border, a Russian official had spotted our strange behaviour and came to check us out.
After a look at our passports and visas (we did not hand them over after so many stories of corrupt officials refusing to return important documents without a bribe) he allowed us to continue our journey. We found a small camp site that evening just out of sight of the border post, but it wasn’t long until an official looking car drove past us on a track just a few metres away.
We had strung our tent up in the trees to dry and I was certain the official had seen us and would soon come along to move us on. We drank tea and worried a little, but it seemed they either hadn’t noticed us, or didn’t care. We slept in peace that evening.
It was with relief however that we crossed into Finland. Almost immediately things felt more familiar, and easier somehow.
We were on a cycle path, an actual cycle path, for the first time since we had set off. It was glorious to cycle side by side without a worry about cars or trucks passing by us with next to no space. (Although this didn’t altogether remove risk – Arron crashed into me spectacularly while on his phone and I went flying to the floor!)
After the cycle path ran out we cut off onto a small road, with almost no traffic. We cycled through woodland, snow on the ground but grit keeping it off the road, and everything felt great!
Finishing early, we cleaned the bikes, had a fire and even a shower (if you can call a saucepan-full of tepid-cold water over the head a shower). We cooked on the open fire and made it inside the tent just as the rain came.
Today too, it has been near perfect cycling. Undulating hills and twisting roads through forest and farmland make for interesting, though not easy, cycling. We are keeping an even pace and finally it feels like we are cycle touring as we hoped to do! Three more days and we hope to be in Helsinki! 🙂