On the afternoon of March 15th, 2015, Kiia-Riikka and I set off for our attempt to kayak across Finland. Below is an account of the first half of our journey.
Our travels across the waters of Finland had three distinct, geographical sections. The first of these sections consisted of interconnected lakes and rivers that started off quite small at the Finnish/Russian border, and grew ever-bigger as we made our way west to Kajaani, the half way point of our journey. While this section was (in theory) the safest and easiest for paddling, it was the most technically demanding and required the most navigation skills. Kiia-Riikka, being in the front cockpit of our tandem kayak, got to play navigator for the majority of the trip. Even though it was a challenging place to start, we only managed to get terribly lost once!
The starting point was actually about 5km of paddling away from our eastern most destination, so after packing up the kayak, we spent our first evening paddling east. Upon reaching Lake Iso Tahkonen, we turned around and began heading back west. While this lake is not actually on the border (about 2km short), it was as close to the line as we were allowed to travel, as there is a “border zone” with restricted access. We did apply for special permission to enter this zone, but were denied.
To make the navigation and paddling even more difficult, we coincidentally started our trip during a week of local flooding. The water levels in this region were the highest they had been in 10 years. Many areas that were shown on the map as swamps and forest were now part of the lakes and rivers. It was a strange feeling to be paddling through forests, and sometimes even over marked hiking paths.
Also, due to the flooding, we had to portage far more often than we had expected. Many rivers were so flooded that there was no longer enough space for us to pass between them and the overhead bridges. What should have been easily navigable rapids were now significantly more (too) serious to paddle through.
It took us seven days to get through this first section. By the end of Day Three I had lost count of how many times we had had to carry the boat. Weather was classic Finnish spring: mostly gray, overcast, and chilly (highs in the low 50s/10s), with the occasional day of sun. Slowly but surely, we were gaining the skills and experience needed to paddle what lied ahead. We spent our nights listening the bird calls from dozens of species and camping wherever we pleased in our Tentsile, or in well-maintained, free-to-use, Finnish lean-to shelters, (laavu) that were commonly found along our route.
On the evening of Day Seven, we made it through the city of Kajaani and spent the night just a few short kilometers away from the start of Oulujarvi (Lake Oulu), where a formidable challenge was waiting for us, along with the start of the second section of our journey.
Stay tuned for part 2 out of 2 of the WTF Trip Report.