Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A six day Vigu bikepacking course

It was time for the third part of the Vigu mountain biking specialization module. The first one was a four day introduction course in the end of July with me as an instructor, the second one was a downhill course in Åre, where I participated as a student and now the third one was six days of bikepacking in Southwestern Finland again with me as the instructor. The end of October can be a demanding time to be out riding, with shorter days, colder temperatures and a greater possibility of miserable weather. Fortunately, this fall had been exceptionally dry, though that changed a bit during the course. The trails were still mostly dry and hence good to ride on.

When the time closed in, it turned out that the participants got fewer and fewer. Broken bones and sickness explained a few, a new job situation another, but several participants were still missing. Only the two from the hardcore end of the spectrum finally turned up for the course, which was a shame. This also meant that I had to change the focus of the course. There was no point in training leadership scenarios with a total of only three persons, something which would have come naturally if there would have been enough of us. We still covered the topic, but the nature of the course changed more towards personal skill development and challenging one's own limits.

With P to arrive a little later, M and I started from Salo at noon on Tuesday. After 14 km of asphalt road we came upon a smaller road and it was time to adjust the clothing. Road riding is cold...

At Lehmijärvi the actual trails started.

Orienteering was one of the things to practice, not always the easiest, since the real world contains more trails than the maps.


At Sahajärvi we took the rope ferry to the small island featuring a shelter and made some hot chocolate and coffee. The weather was now better, after having started out with occasional light rain.

Another trail near Ängsdal.

We rode trails as long as the daylight permitted, though we took into account that we would return the Salo the next day and preferrably on different trails as much as possible.

We arrived at the Teerisaari shelter a bit before the sunset at six in the evening after having ridden 44km and 6.5 h on rather nice trails. The next task was to make a fire, prepare food and wait for P.

Pancakes felt like a suitable dessert after tortillas.

P encountered some trouble and didn't arrive that evening, so we went to sleep in good time. The night was a bit chilly and I wasn't especially warm in my 600 g summer sleeping bag.

I still slept for surprisingly long, but at eight in the morning I had a fire going and M was also waking up. It was a beautiful morning.

We made porridge for breakfast, and I even ate some, while waiting for P to arrive. The sun rose a bit after half past eight...

... and there was a bit of ice on the lake.

At ten P arrived in shorts, because that is what you apparently are supposed to use when riding a mountain bike.

We soon got going.

The first mire and duckboards caused problems for P, who clearly had not adjusted to all the extra gear on the bike.

The mire Punassuo (the Red mire) probably got its name from the Sphagnum rubellum.

More trails and slippery duckboards along Punassuo.


We rode through a peculiar area with a large number of big ant nests.

A short break at Nenustannokka.

Another oops. P fell and got stuck. I did give some feedback about this, since that was not a risk free place to fall.

A stunning maple road.

A late lunch at Nikkallio.

Continuing though trails...

... and non-trails.

We were now a bit behind schedule and some of us a bit low on energy.

We had to skip the trail route to Salo and just get out on road for 26 km. In Halikko, where we arrived at sunset, we bought some food at a supermarket before continuing. We continued rather slowly and P, despite being young and in very good shape, struggled quite a bit. 1-2 hour rides might not be sufficient training for full day rides at a good speed.

There was a final trail section before arriving at the Lotikonkellari shelter in Marttila. We arrived at nine in the evening after 71 km and 10.5 hours of riding (including some breaks). Though I hadn't had any problems with my speed, I was less than one hour from bonking totally when we arrived. I do know the warning signs by now and I would certainly have stopped to eat something had we not been so close to the shelter.

We were all too tired to bother about a fire that would give no warmth to the shelter. We just made dinner and went to sleep.

It rained during the night and the morning was quite wet.

We started riding a shortish section of trails at Marttila.

P again opted to fall at a place you are not allowed to fall.

After leaving the Marttila trails we now had 45 km of mostly asphalt (and some extremely slow gravel) to the Haukkavuori trail. It was rather chilly and rained all the time. P was rather cold in his shorts, but fortunately we ate in a restaurant, which allowed warming up the toes again.

Eventually we arrived at the Haukkavuori trails, which lead directly to the Kurjenrahka National Park.

It was easy to keep the warmth on the trails. Because of the rain, everything was quite slippery, though.

I had rented a primitive cabin with no water or electricity for two days. A little before the trip I got a message saying that the well was dry due to the low water level, so there might not be a sauna. When we arrived, after 65 km and 7.5 h, an elderly couple greeted us and had put everything in order: The cabin was warm, the sauna was hot and there was plenty of water collected from the rain. All of us felt like arriving at the paradise after a wet and cold day. Seldom has a hot sauna been appreciated so much.

We had plenty of time in the evening and made dinner and played cards afterwards. The cabin was extremely cosy.

Firing up the wood stove in the morning.

We now had a day of riding with only a light day pack, which was quite appreciated.

We started with a slow gravel section.

We now arrived at the Vaskijärvi trails.

Some storm damage.

The duckboards were still wet and in poor shape.


More trail...

... to yet another photo spot, as dictated by tradition.

The western part of the Vaskijärvi trails are quite great. We rode them, before riding into Yläne for a burger lunch and visit to a local store. We left several hours of trails unridden.

After lunch we started the Pirunkirkko (Devil's church) trail back, which is very demanding.

After a while it became clear that it was too difficult and it was better to save the strength for the next day, so at a suitable place we rode to a forest road and took the easy way back to the cabin. Around 40 km and 7 hours made for a shorter day.

The first thing to do was to fire up the sauna...

... and get the pizza dough going.

Ingredients for a good pizza.

P checks on the pizza with candle lights, just like generations of Finns have done hundreds of years before electricity was invented.

The pizza was great and there was plenty of it. We went to sleep in time and woke up to a beautiful morning. The timing of the cabin nights coincided with the rainy days, but now that we were about to leave, we again had sun and a clear blue sky.

We cleaned the cabin and got going a little after ten in the morning, starting with an extra detour on slow gravel roads...

... before arriving at Lakjärvi, another traditional photo spot.

The Pukkipalo trail followed.

P and M go steep...

... though P cheated and removed the saddle first.

More nice riding.

Are we really going that way? (Route closed due to poor duckboards).

The duckboards are getting worse all the time and will soon be totally unrideable.

Closer to Vajosuo the duckboards had been renewed and were easy to ride on.

We continued to Kangenmiekka, where we took lunch and coffee.

The Rehtsuo section was bypassed and we instead rode through Vahto, were we could by food for the evening. P is struggling pretty hard at this point.

Back on trails again. The duckboards were slightly difficult.

Chocolate to keep going.

Arriving at Karevansuo.

We arrived at Kullaanvuori around half an hour after sunset, after 61 km and 8 h.

The Kullaanvuori shelter.

Tortilla for dinner again. And pancakes for dessert.

The final morning.

I had my Salsa Mukluk in 29+ mode, a most excellent bikepacking bike also for demanding conditions.

M had a hardtail 29er.

P rode a 26" full suspension bike.

We rode for 14 km and 1.5 h on Sunday.

That's it. Some fairly long days and quite demanding riding with heavy bikes was now behind us. Thanks for the company. I think we had lot of fun, despite this being rather hardcore bikepacking.

On a personal level, I'm quite surprised that my fitness allows trips like this without problems (except for the back getting a bit stiff the last two day). After all, I've dedicated to last two years to sea kayaking, which I don't think do much for mountain biking fitness. Maybe the longer bike rides I do irregularly still help, in addition to the daily commuting. Still, a little surprising in my opinion.

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