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Anneke's story: Midnight Sun Gravel

BaseCamp alumnus Anneke Prins shared her experience at the Midnight Sun Gravel bikepacking event in Finland.

A ride report of the Midnight Sun Gravel event in Finland. The TL;DR version is: Finland is warmer and sunnier than you could imagine. The gravel roads are maintained to perfection. Go there.

About 50 people were registered for the event (with about 35 finishing). The organiser (an Italian guy living and working in Finland) created an event-specific WhatsApp group which helped to keep people in touch. We also used it to check in at specific points along the route. The start was at 9:00 on Saturday the 18th of June, at the Olympic stadium in Helsinki, with some riders taking an inland route (including myself and my husband) and others taking a route that hops across several islands using a ferry service. We shared the first 250 miles of the ~380 mile route though, before the routes split.

The original plan was to do on average ~70 miles per day for 5 days and then finish with a 30-miler on the last day before catching a train back to the start. However, on day one we faced Biblical rain which set our schedule back somewhat. We only managed 48 miles, with a 4 hour wait in the middle of the day, letting the worst of the rain pass over. It also meant we had nowhere to camp but luckily we found a hotel with a free room.

On day 2 we extended our daily mileage a tad and completed 84 miles before our first wild camp at a swimming lake just outside Fiskars (where the famous scissors brand is from). I took the opportunity to take a dip in the lake. The beach had a changing hut and a composting toilet (fully stocked with toilet paper!) so it was pretty luxurious camping to be fair.

Day 3. We had another designated wild camping spot and we sped on over the gravel and tarmac, past farmlands and forests to reach our destination in good time 73 miles later. This day's swimming beach had a rug washing station at the top. Literally 6-8 sinks with a tap and a large washboard over each sink. On the side stood a long ( 5-foot?) mangle to squeeze water out of each rug. It looked unlikely that anybody used this facility but we were proven wrong when a woman showed up at 7am the next morning to wash half a dozen rugs. (I did a sneaky kit wash. Heavy dew overnight meant I rode the next day in wet kit. Luckily it was warm!)

Day 4. In our original plans we wanted to camp two nights and take advantage of a B&B on the third night (to wash our kit and to get proper rest). As it stood, our schedule was a little out of sync and we were about to enter a place of Great Nothingness where there was mainly farmland - so we assumed we'd have to camp again. But with the assistance of Google Translate (which, at the best of times, struggles a lot with Finnish) we found an Agritourism spot. The riding on day 4 was very similar to day 3, with lots of low flying over pristine gravel (thanks to my husband pushing into the wind ahead of me). We made excellent time to complete 85 miles by 6:30pm. The farm we stayed at didn't provide dinner or breakfast, but we had access to a kettle so we could make some camp food. They also had a lovely little sauna which we used to recover and clean up.

Day 5. I treated myself to a fresh pair of shorts and jersey today. Our breakfast consisted initially of some leftover bread rolls from the previous night's dinner, so we were motivated to reach the closest town (about 16 miles down the road) to have a second breakfast of pastries and fresh fruit from a supermarket. We had a little chat about how fast we were riding and how we could, in theory, finish a day early if we simply spliced the final day's ~30 miles to the current day's 68-ish miles. Our average speeds had been above 12 mph so it was do-able and we both felt ready for a century (which it would end up being). We sped on to our lunch stop, where I had the world's biggest pizza which encouraged me to commit to the century. However... With about 20 miles to go, the route sent us up and down and over some horrendously technical singletrack. We stopped several times to confirm that this was Actually the Route, but each time we stopped we were attacked by clouds of mosquitoes (they are ubiquitous and aggressive!). And every time we checked, it WAS Actually the Route. So we kept on pushing, carrying and hauling our bikes over roots, rocks, drops and narrow planks placed over gullies. At one point I pulled into a clearing and slathered myself everywhere with insect repellent (including over my clothing). I waited for my husband to catch up and did the same to him. We lost our get-go completely at this point. A whole hour of hike-a-bike with fully laden rigs sucked the fun out of the day and we cursed Davide's decision to route us through this. Our ETA was now 9:30pm instead of 8:30pm and we already had 85 miles in the legs. But we had no choice so on we went, trying to mentally reset. I imagined a shower and how nice it was going to be to wash my hair for the first time in 5 days... Eventually, at mile 105, we rounded the final corner and saw Davide in his trademark fox costume waving us on. As we came closer we heard a small crowd cheer - all the riders who had finished before us. It felt like an achievement. We were plied with Prosecco, beer and barbecued chicken and everything felt much better. After a shower we sat and chatted to other riders until the small hours of the midnight sun (not-quite night) before one last camp-out in Davide's backyard.

All in all an amazing experience. We want to go back next year and try the other route (more ferries, less singletrack). This was my A event for the year (the other one has been cancelled) and I feel wholly satisfied. My coach had me doing many, many long rides and a bit of strength work and, while at times it got a bit much, I finished this event with nothing hurting - my legs and knees are fine, and my back (amazingly) is entirely fine. Finland is so underrated. It is a wonderful country. ❤


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