Eco-Trip 2000

A four day bicycle tour through the southern islands of Finland.


These are my recollections of Eco-Trip 2000, which took place August 3-6, 2000. Apart from the pictures in this report, there is a gallery of other pictures from the trip.

Day Zero - Getting there

The trip began with the ride to Zurich Airport from my home in Brüttisellen. It's not very far - perhaps five kilometres or so.

Because my flight left at 07:45, I started out at 05:00, to make sure I had plenty of time to get there, prepare the bike for transport and so on. Riding through the fields around Brüttisellen at that hour was very pleasant - the air was surprisingly warm and the morning delightfully clear.

I'd rung the airport a couple of times and even presented my steed - a Windcheetah trike - at the check-in counter a week in advance, because I was a bit worried about whether it would be accepted as luggage. No worries - the trike was accepted without comment. I didn't even have to pay! Apparently SAS usually charge seventy-five franks to carry a bike. Apart from turning the pedals back and wrapping some of the sticking-out bits, the trike needed little preparation.

After an enjoyable flight with a change in Copenhagen, we landed in Turku at about 15:30, where Olli very kindly met me. We stowed the trike in his utility truck and drove to Taitokeskus, a converted nursing home just outside Kaarina, now used by Olli's college as workshops and by startup businesses as a low-cost base.

Saskia and Erik in Kaarina (my Windcheetah at left) A Dutch couple, Erik and Saskia, had arrived that morning by car and were waiting when we arrived. I spent a bit of time bolting some of the sticking-out bits back onto the trike, then made a run into Kaarina to get some Finnish money (about FM 3.8 to the Swiss frank at time of writing - FM 6.6 to the US dollar) and some food for dinner and breakfast.

The evenings are looong at this time of year in Finland, so there was plenty of time to admire Erik's front-wheel-drive lean-steer recumbent and Saskia's more normal above-seat-steering recumbent. Erik built his own bike, a variant of the Flevobike; Saskia's is an ACE Liberator made by Advanced Cycle Engineering in the Netherlands.

Erik had replaced the rear wheel of his bike with a two-wheeled luggage box. It seemed to have endless capacity, though Erik insisted it was "only" 110 litres. The bike is steered by leaning the front wheel to one side or the other using the legs, evidently a skill that takes some learning. Erik was very skilled at it and could be regularly seen tootling along with his hands folded on his tummy or fingers laced behind his head. Look Mum, no hands!

Sometime that evening Max arrived. Proving that the world is a small place indeed, Max is Australian and a member of the PC Users Group (ACT) in Canberra, a group I was heavily involved with when I was still in Oz. Max was living in Paris and hadn't brought a bike with him, but he ended up riding the Green Machine - more on that later.

A trailer-load of bikes in bits. The cars were full too... Also later that evening, the Russian contingent arrived from Moscow by car, led by Alexander Popolov. Alex is a Russian authority on solar powered vehicles and sometime competitor in the World Solar Cup and other similar races. They brought with them literally a trailer-load of bikes!

Alex and his trike The most impressive was Alex's own bike, a huge yellow tadpole trike with 28" front wheels and a linear electric hub on the (26"?) rear wheel, all proudly topped off by the Russian flag. The solar electric-assist part of the trike was not yet completed, so Alex rode the trike as a normal 100%-human-powered vehicle.

The rest of the evening was spent watching people bolt together their bikes and trikes. Max and Olli located an old experimental long-wheelbase recumbent in the cellar, and with a bit of pumping and adjustment and a lot of dusting off, the Green Machine was reborn. With its high "easy rider" handlebars and its vinyl-covered wooden seat, the Green Machine was very probably the single most stylish vehicle on the road that weekend. It ended up carrying Max for almost the whole trip. The tyres were frighteningly perished, but they seemed to hold air. The gears changed very reluctantly, and the brakes - well, best not to think about the brakes. Max and the Green machine, with Mika looking at it the way most people looked at it

Also found in the cellar was a white trike, built to the Russian Berkut design. It too was got into a ridable state, and ended up carrying someone or other - not always the same person - most of the distance. A heavy trike, so it wasn't a popular vehicle, but it was certainly tough. The basic design of the white trike was similar to Alex's trike, except Alex's had much larger wheels. The frames were aeroplane aluminium, rivetted like an aircraft frame rather than welded. The drive train involved long axles and a universal joint for each front wheel, so a rather heavy design, even though tubes, axles and joints were all titanium. Berkut used to be a big military helicopter and airplane factory, until funding stopped due to the end of the Cold War and the bankruptcy of the former USSR. The only reason that the factory uses these materials is that they have them in stock, left over from the former military factory. The reason that the Berkuts have such light frames and such heavy wheels, is that they don't make the rims themselves, so they make do with cheap, heavy steel rims.

The white trike (that's Erik's voluminous boot in the background) Toughness was a feature of the Russian vehicles. I got the impression that they could be repaired in the middle of the Gobi desert with chewing gum and wire if necessary. In fact, a steering rod broke on Alex's trike on Day One, and it was repaired by the highly mobile and exceedingly well-equipped Russian support vehicle by the end of the next day. Alex's stocky, powerful figure driving that trike at most respectable speeds was a familiar sight - one usually seen from behind.

At some stage, Max, Erik, Saskia and I did a brief spin down to the river behind our quarters. The evening was so sunny and bright, sitting looking at our bikes became intolerable. So we looked over the river for a while instead and mused. Actually, I think we all thought it was a lake, and only realised it was a river when we looked more closely at our maps later.

As dusk fell, the mosquitoes woke up. Standing outside became almost impossible. Days later, I still had a hundred spots on my legs. Insect repellant didn't have the slightest effect. Note for would-be tourists in Finland - take some light, baggy long pants and wear THICK socks, it's the only thing that works.

The evening ended very late, as we crawled into our sleeping bags in various rooms through the centre.

Day One - Kaarina to Nagu

The day began at 07:00, after a poor night's sleep. Excitement, I suppose :-) Olli had asked us to be at the Kaarina small boat harbour at 9 o'clock sharp, so we rolled away from the centre at about 08:30 and were there in plenty of time.

When we got there, the festivities seemed to be well under way. Many other participants had arrived, those who lived locally or had stayed the night with local friends. Apart from the riders there were plenty of curious people and a couple of members of the Press who video'd and clicked away. To the sounds of an accordion being played by a splendidly-dressed gentleman, I got my first look at the likes of Esko Meriluoto's Hipparion, the Perspirator, Heikki Matalainen's rectangular-framed trike and Matti Jaakkolas' Eco-Tin.

Matti Jaakolas and his Eco-Tin electric-assist The Eco-Tin is a low wooden box on two wheels with a battery and an electric motor in it. The box has a long steel stem which can be attached behind the seat of a normal upright bike. The motor drives the wheels, and can be switched on and off via a switch mounted on the handlebars. When switched on, the Eco-Tin pushes the bike along. On the flat or downhill, the rider pedals normally and the box follows. A simple and effective idea - the Eco-Tin wasn't fast, but it was very steady.

For the departure ceremony, and at other points along the ride, the Eco-Tin and Matti did duty as Press Station, answering questions and handing out leaflets.

I asked for a ride on the Trice, another trike, taking it for a quick spin around the harbour. A delight to ride, very stable indeed and with very solid steering.

Setting off from the Kaarina small-boat harbour The acrobats, part of the Eco-Trip Travelling Show Our guitarist, part of the Eco-Trip Travelling Show

As part of the show we were all treated to a display of acrobatics and several songs from a guitarist. Olli made a speech, handed out maps and badges to the riders, and then we all set off for Pargas.

The first stage was very easy, with a coffee break along the way. We were riding through trees, chiefly on bike paths. The bikepaths are really very good in that they are ubiquitous, but the surface tends to be unpredictable.

Early arrivals at our first coffee break - Heikki, Bo(?) and Onni

Just after Hessund bridge, we'd been warned to look out for witches. I managed to miss them, though Olli has assured me that they were there in large numbers, wearing long black skirts and with coffee-pans for hats, preparing for the long flight to their homes on the mountain peaks. Brrr! We rode on to lunch at Pargas, a lovely spread which set the tone for the food for the rest of the trip - good food and plenty of it.

Not very far into the ride, it became clear that the Green Machine had a major problem. Max was fighting for every inch of progress, and the more power he applied the more he seemed to need. An initial inspection suggested that the rear mudguard was rubbing on the rear wheel, so two cable ties were applied to hold the mudguard in a more useful position. Another half-kilometre or so, and Max knew this was not the entire answer - there was now a smell of burning rubber and a groove seemed to be appearing in the already dangerously perished tyre.

A statue at the museum at Hessund Lots of cyclists at Hessund, but where are the witches? Closer inspection revealed that the frame, poorly supported behind the seat, flexed when Max applied power to the pedals. The seat pushed back, pressing the mudguard down onto the wheel. Obvious solution - remove the mudguard. This done, the Green Machine was a transformed bike, and Max a much happier chap.

From Pargas, we headed for Nagu. Noone seemed interested in the suggested alternative route to Sattmark via a detour through the woods on the island of Stortevo. The alternative route was supposed to keep us away from traffic, which would have been nice. I'd have liked to take the alternative route simply because it was longer, making more of a ride.

Taking a break at Lofsdal, craft shop in the background We stopped at Lofsdal for a coffee break; there was a neat little shop selling locally made craftwork. If I'd had any sense I'd have bought some - it was very nice stuff. I had a short talk with Marita Reuter; she and a local group are into building straw-bale housing. This is a technique where hay-bales (the rectangular, brick-shaped ones) are staked together on steel bars to form walls. They are covered with chicken wire and sealed inside a thick daub coating. Simple lintels allow doors and windows as needed. The straw is an excellent insulator, and the daub keeps the straw dry and protects it from infestation. Low-cost, low environmental impact, winter-proof and attractive buildings.

The first ferry ride of the trip was the Lillmälö ferry, taking us from Lillmälö to Prostvik. Most of the ferries amongst the islands are free; they seem to be regarded as pieces of the road. Everybody rolls on at one end, waits until the ferry gets to wherever it's going, then rolls off the other end. We got a lot of attention from other passengers on all the ferries we went on - with not much else to do, perhaps we made the trip interesting. For the Finns perhaps, but swanning through those seas on a sunny day with beautiful little islands gliding past on either side was not something I found boring.

A youngster checks out the view from inside a Leitra. Heikki and Esko discuss Heikki's trike in the background The Perspirator seemed to interest people a lot, as did Tero Linnanen's Leitra, possibly because these vehicles are most like cars. Both are fully enclosed. The Leitra is a classic fully-faired trike; the rider's head sticks up into a little cockpit with plexiglass front and sides. The whole front fairing, including cockpit, tilts up and forward to let the rider in and out; soft canvas panels at the sides allow the rider to signal turns. Carefully placed inlets keep the condensation inside to a minimum and help cool the rider. A little heavy, it's somewhat harder to push up hills, but it makes up for it on the downhills, where its very low wind resistance lets it roll effortlessly.

The Perspirator was originally built for two, but was operating on this trip with just one rider/driver. It is a battery-assisted, but chiefly pedal-powered vehicle. A hard fibreglass shell encloses everything; a couple of car batteries and an electromotor provide added horsepower. One special feature is the picture of Winnie The Pooh painted on the back - "Nalle Puh" in Finnish :-)

We gathered at the Esso service station in Nagu; lots of people gathered to look at us and our bikes. We had dinner there - this was the only exception to the "good food rule", the offering here was pretty ordinary.

A traditional Northern seal hunting dance After dinner we adjourned to a local schoolhouse, where we would stay the night. First, though, there was the evening program down at the harbour. Our acrobats repeated their graceful demonstration, our guitarist sang some very pleasant songs (I recognised "O sole mio", but nothing else), and we were treated to a performance of a traditional Northern seal hunting dance. There is a round podium, just one brick high, in the harbour forecourt, and the presentations took place on that. Off to the left, a beach stretched round to some rocks and a promontory; to the right were some boats set up as clubs.

Mika and Paul at Lofsdal During the day - while helping fix the Green Machine in fact - I'd met Paul and Mika. Paul is an English teacher working for ABB in Finland; Mika is a friend of his. Paul rode the Green Machine in the last Eco-Trip, and there are pictures to prove it :-) Paul and Mika share a love of beer, an interest they paid careful attention to for the whole trip. We three went off to the promontory, and spent a restful half hour or so looking out across the harbour and discussing - ooh, lots of things.

After a while the stones grew hard and the evening cooled, so we went back to join the others on one of the club boats. After a drink and some more mosquito bites, it was back to the schoolhouse for the night.

Alex, Vladimir and Sergej working on Alex' broken steering rod While we'd been out relaxing, the Russians had been working on Alex's trike. There seemed to be a solution on the way for the broken steering rod.

Robert Gyllenberg, from Turku, had brought a very special vehicle along for the trip, a Volkswagen Kombi converted to an electric car. With two great banks of car batteries in the back and a big electric motor, it was a bit short on range, but made most of the trip on its own power. Every night Robert would seek out a suitable power source to recharge the batteries, for which purpose he had the longest extension cord I've ever seen.

Robert explaining the intricacies of the electric VW to Max I washed a shirt and some undies, hung them out and showered (a great feeling), then spread my sleeping gear in the gymnasium and hit the sack.

Day Two - Nagu to Iniö

At breakfast, someone showed me the local paper, the Turun Sanomat - with my photo and Heikki's on the front page, in all our glory. It was a snap of us setting off from Kaarina the previous day. I made sure I bought a copy of the paper for my files :-)

We left punctually to make sure we caught the Korpo ferry from Pärnäs to Retais. The country leading to the coast was, as ever, restful and beautiful, the road composed of long curves among the rolling hills of the island.

The weather was somewhat overcast; a storm had threatened for much of the previous afternoon, but we seemed to be outrunning it still. I think it was on the stretch from Retais to Galtby that I saw an old windmill through the trees and made a swift detour to take a look. Like so many of the smaller buildings we saw in Finland, the wooden structure was painted a deep red ochre colour. I doubt it had worked for a while, but it was still a wonderful thing to find.

Åke pressing on with his ultra-low recumbent I think it was on this stretch that Åke noticed a broken weld where the handlebar of his ultra-low-slung bike joined the front fork. It was making steering very difficult, so the bike ended up on the support trailer until he could reweld the break at Iniö. This bike was a very interesting machine; the seat is slung literally between the two wheels - the rider can easily place both hands flat on the ground while sitting in it. The pedals are at about stomach level out front, and drive the front wheel. It's almost a lean-steer bike as a result, since there is so much negative trail on the front wheel.

This trip, Åke was experimenting with two small wheels, one mounted on each side of the seat. The idea was that on very slow sections, such as uphill, these could be pressed down and used to balance the bike. They seemed partly successful. Another modification which appeared later was a tomato-stake stuck in one of the frame members, to make a handle for pushing the bike. With highest part of the bike normally only about 60cm off the ground, it is very cumbersome to push. The handle made quite a difference, and looked very organic :-).

Saskia and Erik waiting for the ferry at Galtby As it turned out, one of the ferries from Galtby was out of service, so every second ferry was cancelled. Instead of just catching the 15:00 ferry, we ended up waiting over an hour for the 16:00 one. Plenty of time for a coffee at the nearby coffee house, plenty of time for the other people waiting to take a good look at all our strange vehicles.

A typical scene on a ferry - this is Gatsby to Houtskär And plenty of time for Riina to fall into the sea! Walking on the smooth rocks by the harbour, she suddenly slipped and landed in the water, sploosh. No harm done, but she was (of course) soaked, and her camera never recovered, nor the film in it. The water shorted it out, so the film could not be rewound. Riina had joined us from Estonia and spent some time riding the white Russian trike. The long wait for the ferry meant she had plenty of time to get into dry clothes before the windy half-hour trip across to Kittuis in the island group Houtskär.

The Russian contingent were swapping bikes regularly - Alex stuck to his big orange trike, but Vladimir and Sergej were sometimes on their blue trike, sometimes on a standard upright, sometimes on a silver-grey trike.

Juhani and his electric-assist bike, with Erik in the background looking for something in the 'boot' of his bike The wild flowers and mosses during this leg were wonderful. Again and again we would roll past a granite (or maybe basalt?) outcrop covered in mosses and lichens, dotted throughout with purple, white and pink flowers. Each outcrop was framed in deep green pines and firs. In a couple of places, a surface was completely covered in lichens and mosses, making the flat rock look lumpy and knobbly, like a dragon's skin. Juhani Kauppila and his electric-assist upright were stopped at just such a spot, and it looked too good to just ride on past. I stopped too, and we shared hazelnuts and raisins and felt good.

Juhani's bike is a remarkable machine. It is basically a washing machine motor (Me:"What make?" Juhani (gravely): "Whirlpool") bolted onto a luggage rack, with a chain driving an oversize sprocket on the back axle. An extra strut running vertically down to the rear dropout on each side supports the luggage rack against the motor torque. A long narrow sheetmetal box running up the forward stem contains the batteries. A very store-bought variometer controls the amount of oomph getting to the motor and apart from a couple of wires, that's it! Very simple, but beautifully crafted. It seems able to maintain a steady 20kph with no problems at all.

Another fifteen kilometres saw us reach Näsby, where lunch was planned at a local college. A few of the locals questioned us closely about our trikes. A couple of our number found some wild blueberries and turned up happily blue-tongued. We lunched in the rather Spartan building while Robert Gyllenberg charged his VW from the plug which normally lit the sign outside. The room we lunched in had two big fish on one wall and grace written in Swedish. We ate roasted turkey thighs and salad, accompanied by rich, sweet Finnish rye bread. Coffee and biscuits followed, and we trooped out well satisfied.

Old, wave-roofed houses on the island of Houtskär During the meal a large man with a ponytail approached me and said he was from the local TV station and would I do an interview? I asked why me, and suggested one of the Finns, possibly the organiser, would be a better choice. The chap replied that an Australian was much more exotic! So after the meal a camera was trained on me and he asked where I was from, what I thought about while riding, what I thought of Finland... I haven't seen any groupies yet :-(

We set off as dramatically as we could (for the camera, you understand). Heikki started it all with a very high-speed exit, then the rest of us followed with as much velocity as we could muster. From Näsby we retraced our path a couple of kilometres and turned right towards Mossala, where we would catch the ferry to Iniö. Along the way to Mossala we took a couple of short ferry rides, then the ferry to Iniö took a full hour.

Stopping at a kiosk for icecream on the way to Iniö

Heikki's trike - note steering wheel, heel loops and hand-brake After a short (5km) ride we arrived at Församlingshemmet, our quarters for the night. I was most jealous of Heikki's ability to do a rear-wheel skid on his trike, a manoeuvre I have been unable to duplicate on my Windcheetah. I tried Heikki's trike, but it is custom made for his somewhat shorter and much slimmer frame, so I wasn't able to do it justice.

Heikki's trike is a fascinating machine; built inside a rectangular frame, the steering is a small wooden wheel, like an old racing car. The wheel turns a belt, and the belt moves the steering. The brakes are interesting too - pushing the steering wheel forward on its supporting arm applies the brakes. It's a bit touchy, but very effective.

Onni on his Dad's trike After I'd ineffectually tried to make my rear wheel skid out, I was standing around when the youngest member of our troupe arrived, riding his father's first generation trike. About nine or ten years old, I'd guess, Onni arrived at some speed and came to a stop while executing a perfect rear-wheel drift. Aaargh! I asked him to show me again, and he did - but a little over-enthusiastically, as he managed to tip the trike. No damage, but I did get the guilts a bit.

Onni's Dad and Pekka Rautiainen making running repairs to the trike The trike Onni's father was riding was designed by a friend of his as a first foray out of motorbike design. While some of the ideas were good, the machine was a monster to ride and had a great many faults. The front wheels were suspended on huge compression shocks, like a motorbike fork - very heavy. The front wheels were plastic, which bent alarmingly in corners. On the first day, chain suck forced major surgery; some time later the surgery resulted in the transfer cluster falling off. Further tender loving care got the trike rolling, but it squeaked most awfully for the rest of the trip. Ah, but for all of its faults, it made the whole trip and looked most impressive.

Drinks at the harbour near Församlingshemmet Our meal was excellent (again) - more Finnish bread, several salads and some luscious marinated fish. The dessert was some sort of grain slice, rather like a very solid rice pudding, with jam. Delicious. After dinner we went down to the boat slips and had a drink. Åke found a workshop and rewelded his handlebars; I think the same workshop was used by a few others to make necessary repairs too.

Afterwards some of us went off to a sauna a couple of kilometres down the road, while others of us stayed at the boat slips and had a sauna there.

Olli's solar boat was moored where the other sauna was, so I went off with Onni, his father, Heikki and another chap (the Trice rider). We looked at Olli's boat - a beautiful thing. It cruised along "beside" us on the water for the whole trip - not bad, and 100% non-fossil-fuelled.

The sauna recharged my batteries too, though the mosquitos took a bit of the shine off the experience. I had a go on the seesaw with Onni; an interesting experience since I weighed about three times as much as he did :-)

When we returned, quite a few people were preparing for bed. Saskia was trying to drape some sort of cover over the end window of the hall we were to sleep in. I didn't see the point - until I tried to sleep, and was kept awake by the bright glow from the west through the window. It couldn't compete with a hard day's cycling, a good meal and a sauna, so I drifted off soon enough.

Max slept outside in his tent; I'm surprised the mozzies didn't eat him, his tent and the bike he rode in on. On the other hand, the squeaky toilet door didn't wake him at half-hourly intervals, grump, grump. Me getting ready to leave Församlingshemmet (photo: Max Mosig)

Day Three - Iniö to Merimasku

Early the next day, the surrounding country was layered in mist. The mozzies either hadn't slept at all or had got up early too, so I went straight back inside.

Massed departure from Församlingshemmet Church near Iniö (it's on a lean because I snapped it while riding) Breakfast was porridge and self-made sandwiches; we made more sandwiches for later and set off to catch the ferry from Skagen. A very short ride after that and we were on another ferry, this one from Jumo to Laupunen. A nice long pedal brought us to Hakkeenpää, a rather unprepossessing harbour.

On the way I had my first and thankfully only flat tyre of the trip. A section of the road was under repair and had been covered with fist-sized pointy rocks. Rather foolishly, I tried to ride through this section and within a couple of metres was treated to a long, loud hiss and a sinking feeling. Windcheetahs aren't off-road vehicles.

I didn't have to lift a finger - Erik and Saskia were there, and Erik took over the repair and had replaced the tube in a jiffy. The tyre had a couple of nasty splits in it, cuts from the rocks, but they were in the sidewall, so I decided to leave the old tyre on. [Post Scriptum: The tyre lasted another 600km]

At this point, we discovered that my pump was a dud - the inner piston seal had broken off and was loose in the pump barrel. Erik had a low-pressure pump which got a few bar into the tube, but luckily Tero and his Leitra trike happened along with a high-pressure pump to really save the day. I took his pump for safety, but returned it at Hakkeenpää when the tyre still seemed to be full. I felt a bit exposed without a pump, and decided to purchase one as soon as I could.

At Hakkeenpää harbour we waited three hours for the ferry to Velkua. First we ate our lunch, the one we'd made after breakfast. Then we spent a bit of time giving people rides on our trikes - the locals seemed interested and some of the Russians also took the opportunity to have a go on the Windcheetah.

Over to one side of the harbour were a bunch of people washing carpets in what looked like 44-gallon drums cut in half lengthways and mounted on steel frames. According to Paul, washing the carpets is a Finnish tradition, and apparently one carried out with extreme thoroughness. At least, the same people seemed to be washing the same carpets for the whole time we were there.

After a while, I headed off to a nearby cafe for a drink. Paul and Mika were (of course) already there, beers in hand. The cafe was very small, painted that red earth ochre color. The fact that it was a cafe was very well hidden from the road; a small sign and a dirt track leading round the back. It had a verandah out in the sun, though, with umbrellas, and was just the ticket. We sat and chatted for quite a long time, heading back when we saw the ferry arrive.

The others had meanwhile done a bit of skinny-dipping behind the breakwater, so everyone had filled in their time profitably :-)

At some stage between arrival and leaving, I had need of the toilets. Behind the carpet-washers was a small toilet, which I duly used. It was typical of Finnish public toilets in rural areas - a stinky long-drop. They are probably bearable in winter, but in summer the stench is pretty bad. There is no earth or lime to chuck in when you're done, so you are perched for the duration of your business over a naked, smelly, fly-ridden pile of poo.

The ride to Merimasku brought the only serious hill of the whole ride - short but steep. Unfortunately the worst of the section was hidden around a corner. Expecting another easy hill, I powered around the corner only to realise that I really should have saved my strength a bit! Oh well, gear down and start treadling.

The hard ride up was made worthwhile by the ride down the other side to the ferry. We rolled over the crest and just dropped away. I was terrified and to my eternal disappointment, braked on the way down. Even so, I still topped out at 61km/h! The Leitra hit 70km/h, according to Tero.

At the bottom, we joined a long queue of cars and other cyclists waiting for the ferry. A long wait for a short ferry. It seems to be very much Not Done to jump a ferry queue in Finland. After half an hour or so it was our turn, and we found ourselves across the water, sitting at a table with drinks in our hands, watching the evening settle over the islands. This time I'd put on a long-sleeved shirt and my rainpants against the mosquitoes.

Dinner was being prepared in a primary school around the corner and up the road, so at the appointed time we all pedalled the few hundred metres to the school and trooped into the schoolhouse for dinner. The room had hexagonal tables, each edge had a child's name on it. There seemed to be quite a lot of children with the same name - then we figured out that it was the word for "adult" :-)

If the feel of a room is anything to go by, it was a nice school to go to. Lots of colour, plenty of space, and lots and lots of books. The toilets were fun - little toilets for little people, and the doors only came up to my waist.

Dinner was potato bake, salads and more of that superb Finnish bread. As always, there were fifteen minutes of silence as thirty-odd cyclists inhaled replacement calories, then the talking started. We talked about the Moomins. Åke Gustavson told how disappointed he'd been when he visited Moomin World in Naantali, because the little houses on the piers were simple round huts, not the hexagonal huts with red and green windows described so clearly in the books.

After dinner we trooped back to the gymnasium, and everyone spread out their stuff. Just about everyone took advantage of the showers, and it was good to feel properly clean again. Somehow the day had been a bit gritty. I washed a shirt and undies, just in case; they dried well overnight.

Alex gave me an autographed copy of his book on solar powered transport. All in Russian, so I don't understand a word, but it's a nice souvenir of the trip and will remind me of Alex whenever I see it on my bookshelf. There is a map of Australia with the main cities marked on it in Russian, which was fun to decipher.

There were quite a lot of gym mats available, so lots of people slept very comfortably. Alex and Antonina claimed the high-jump landing mat, a thing like a huge double mattress, and carried it grinning to where they would be sleeping.

The night was again very warm, so once again I used my sleeping bag only as a mattress, sleeping in my inner sheet.

Day Four - Merimasku - Turku - Kaarina

Breakfast was bread and bits, with thick, hot, sweet porridge. We made extra sandwiches for later, to keep us going. The plan was to have a snack mid-morning in Naantali, then a proper meal mid-afternoon.

Out of the school grounds, a quick dogleg across the main road, and we were once again winding through some very pleasant Finnish countryside.

Our bikes on display at Naantali Our first stop was Naantali, where we grouped all the bikes together and had the usual gawkfest with the locals. To my great relief I found someone who sold disposable cameras, so I could take a few shots around Naantali. Riina and I wandered through the stalls and so on that were set up around the harbour - mostly touristy stuff. One chap had a vast wok and was busy frying up little white-fleshed fish called (I think) "moikki". He gave us a free sample, they were yummy, even if one does eat them head, bones and all.

Sign - this way to Moomin World! Naantali is quite a picturesque little place, though somewhat touristified. The town is home to Moomin World! An entire small island off the Naantali harbour, Kailo, is given over to hosting this cultural experience, which the pilgrim reaches by means of a wooden bridge. Moomins are much in evidence in Naantali - there is a Moomin shop, there were several vans belonging to the shop or to Moomin World roaming about, and a large number of postcards sporting Moomin motifs. Apart from looking at the entrance gate, I didn't feel up to Moomin World, and decided to keep the version in my imagination rather than the commercial version.

The rear of the 550-year-old church in Naantali There is a very lovely church on the hill on the right side of the harbour. A 550-year-old convent church, people used to make pilgrimages there. It has green, quiet, restful grounds, filled with big trees that cut out the noises from the town, leaving just the wind whishing through the leaves. The church cemetery is enclosed in a metre-thick rock wall, about a metre and a half high. From a lookout tower on the edge of the grounds (above the entrance to Moomin World, actually) one can look out over the harbour and see the President's summer house in the distance. About halfway around, if one walks down the hill, one comes to a secluded little sandy beach. Mmmm.

There were lots of boats moored in the harbour; quite a lot of them were wooden boats, too, lacquered and polished, with masts and rigging and brass bits. I couldn't help thinking of the Binnacle in the Moomin stories :-)

Saskia, Erik, Mika, Paul and Max having a drink of blueberry cider in Turku We gathered at the harbour again after an hour or so, ate our packed snacks, and set off on the last leg - to Turku and the end of the ride for most of us. The last leg took a while, and we came into Turku around two o'clock in the afternoon. Guess who suggested a quick trip to a local pub and brewery, housed in what used to be a school. The building was very dim inside, I can't imagine it was much fun being educated there. Outside in the sun, we had a drink under a nice big umbrella. The local specialty is a blueberry cider - while I didn't try it, those who did pronounced it most excellent.

A Finn with a grin tries out the 'Cheetah in Turku Lunch was planned for 15:00, so we cycled back from the pub in time to join the others trooping into a large restaurant along the river. More lovely fish dishes and great salads. After lunch I was waylaid by a Finn with a grin, who said he'd wanted to try a Windcheetah for ages, so I just said "go for it, bring it back when you're finished". He said he'd be five minutes; twenty minutes later he was back with an even bigger grin. He's planning to build one, apparently.

Paul's wife, whom he'd been referring to the whole time as the archetypal "tough Finnish woman" turned up with Paul's mum Doreen. Both seemed perfectly normal, nice people to me, but perhaps Paul knows of hidden, terrifying depths :-)

There was a further "event" planned for 17:00. We found out after lunch that some of the Press had mistakenly reported our planned arrival time (15:00) as the time of the event and that there had been possibly a hundred people or more waiting to see us and our bikes at that time! Since we got in early, we missed seeing them and they missed us. Unfortunate, but at 17:00 there was still a good audience, who appreciated the acrobats, our guitarist and the seal dance. The square we held the event in had a little tent-like structure for band performances and a lot of steps; the local skateboarders watched us from on high.

Olli making a solar-powered phone call Olli gave an excellent speech (in Finnish, Swedish, English and Russian). He explained the benefits of low-power solar electricity for things like mobile phones, cameras and so on, making the point by donning a mortarboard covered in solar cells and taking a solar-powered call on his mobile! A very funny little speech, and very effective. He has a concrete tie, too - he says it comes in and out of style, and it's in as good condition now as twenty years ago :-)

Our most enthusiastic tester - barefoot! We all gave people lots of rides; one young chap made a concerted effort and tried out practically every bike there - barefoot, which must have hurt a bit given the sharp pedals on some of the bikes.

Heikki, Erik, Saskia, Max, Riina, the Russian contingent and I were all staying at Kaarina for one more night, so when the interest and the audience seemed to have petered out, we set off on the 12km ride back to our 'hotel'. On the way we stopped off at a corner store and bought food for dinner and for breakfast the following day. We thought we'd like to give Olli a little thank-you gift, so we bought a six-pack of the local beer and a card. Since none of us spoke or read Finnish, we had no idea what the cards said, of course, so we just bought a likely looking one.

Erik's "boot" swallowed most of our purchases, I bolted the beer to the back of the Windcheetah, and we continued on our way. What with my low tyre pressure and the fragile nature of beer bottles, perhaps the Windcheetah wasn't the best choice of transport, but in spite of several very threatening clinks and clunks from the rear, we made it back to Kaarina without incident.

Erik, Saskia and Max made dinner. I contributed by washing up afterwards :-) Max made a very fine vegetable thing, Erik and Saskia made an equally fine mushroom macaroni thing.

Olli came back at some stage, having piloted his solar boat safely back into Kaarina. We presented him with the sixpack and the mystery card and said thank you. It turned out that the card said "Happy birthday! According to our calculations you are very old!".

After the meal, we played a Scrabble-like game called Rummikub that Erik and Saskia had brought along, one involving numbers rather than letters. It needed a lot of concentration, and after one game it was definitely bedtime. The multitudinous rooms of the old ex-nursing-home swallowed us up for the night.

Day Five - Getting home

In the morning, Heikki was already gone. He had cycled 160km in one day to get to us, and had left bright and early to cycle 160km back home. The rest of us got up much later, around 8ish, and had a leisurely breakfast. Being a weekday, the building started to come alive around the same time as we got up - a course began in one of the computer rooms, and people started coming and going.

We said our goodbyes and I headed off for Turku at about 9. Max had by this time already made one foray into Kaarina and back on the Green Machine; a gear cable had snapped the day before and he wanted to replace it. The Green Machine needs very long cables though, and the right cables were not to be found.

I made a pilgrimage to the same bike shop as Max on my way through, looking for a new pump. The selection was very small; the strongest pump there could only produce 5.5 bar. It was good enough for the bush though, and the guy discounted it 9 Finmark for me, so that was nice.

The ride into Turku was an uneventful retracing of the way we'd come back the night before. Once I reached the river, I turned towards the Harbour, intending to visit Turku Castle, then ride back along the other side of the river on my way out to the airport.

The river Aura is certainly the heart of Turku. Riding along it I passed boats of all kinds and sizes, many doing duty as pubs and clubs. There is a lovely three-masted full-rigger, the "Suomen Joutsen", moored permanently opposite the place we had lunch; the ship is now a small maritime museum.

The fishtail fountain The last chance to cross the river before reaching the harbour is by means of a little ferry called the "Föri". A teensy little ferry for people and bikes only, it crosses the river constantly from dawn to dusk, and costs nothing to use. Near where the Föri crosses is a sculpture in glass and steel and concrete shaped like the tail of a fish. It looks like it should move, but I never saw it moving. From some angles it is quite beautiful, from most though it looks a bit tawdry.

Riding towards Turku Castle on the castle side of the river now) I rode past an old minelayer, apparently on display as part of the maritime museum. It's painted dark sea-camouflage colours and looks forbidding and evil.

Turku Castle is quite small, rising up out of a small hill overlooking the castle. The grounds are pleasant - green sward with big, old trees dotted around, shady and quiet. Amongst the trees are a couple of very old wooden huts, perched on stone supports. I'm not sure if they were once dwellings; they may just have been storage huts. Anyway, they are of very massive beams and look well able to defy a Finnish winter.

The castle has two parts; the enclosed forecourt is relatively new, having been built two or three hundred years after the main part of the castle. The castle was almost completely destroyed in the second world war, but has been very well restored. The result is a bit lifeless though. The staff wear period costume, so they stand out, and there is always someone on hand to direct you if you get lost. But people dressed in period costume shouldn't use mobile phones in public :-)

For me, the highlights of the castle were the very restful grounds and the model castles showing the stages of its construction. There are a lot of artifacts from various ages in the rooms - from great old beam tables and wooden sculptures to motorbikes. Quite an eclectic collection.

Time got away from me a bit, and I ended up hurrying off to the airport well after one o'clock. The ride back along the castle side of the river was fun; the path runs right alongside the river, and flowers were out, people were promenading, and there was generally a happy bustle. I rode upstream; past the square where we'd presented ourselves the day before, past the place we'd had lunch, past the pub we'd had a drink in, and on past flower beds, stone bridges and cafes until the path took me back across the river and started taking me out of Turku. Without the river as a guide, I was a bit less confident of the route; after the third wrong turn I was getting worried that I might miss the plane, but at long last I saw the bridge I needed and was on the right track. The ride to the airport from Turku is actually quite straightforward, my problem was judging distances. I kept turning off too early.

The ride ended up taking almost exactly an hour, so I suppose someone who knew where they were going could do it in a little over half that.

Max was waiting for his flight back to Paris via Helsinki; he'd got a lift into Turku with Erik and Saskia, and had taken a bus from Turku to the airport. We said goodbye all over again while I prepared the bike for the flight. The Turku people didn't want money to carry the bike either. I had a bite to eat and read a tourist brochure about Turku to decide what I'd look at next time, then it was back to Zurich via Stockholm.

Lis was waiting for me at the airport, which was a nice surprise. I spent fifteen minutes getting the bike ridable again, then Lis took a taxi home and I threaded my three-wheeled way out of the airport and home via Kloten and the fields around Bassersdorf.

Counter graphic readers. Last update: 10 November 2002, Karl Auer