Ruska-pyöräily #ruska2018, #ruska2019 & #ruska2021


...Ruska cycling.... Ruska ride...or, just... _the Ruska_

At least for those who know about. What's that? Basically a bike ride across Finland. In autumn to be precise, generally from somewhere south to somewhere very north. And what does "Ruska" actually mean? Well: ’Ruska’ translates to autumn foliage and that is the most beautiful time of the year to be riding across Finland.

ride or race?

After the third time now it seems fair to put down a few words on why and how. (before Mikko makes it mandatory that you have to write one word per km ridden)*. I somehow enjoy riding a bike for few days a bit longer since I ended up being not so bad at it. After that nearby kill just before TransAm2015 it took me a while to figure out if and where I would ride again any event. A few years went by without much hunger to do so. I moved, joined another company, wrapped my head around other things for a while. In between the whole cycling-thing became huge. "Races" appeared here and there, everyone seemed busy to shiny up their insta. Glam pics with the must have of all those goodies you would definitely need. To be considered as the up-to-date-long-distance-cyclist. To make sure you get all the kudos from your hood. Whoever wasn't into gravel or any coffee-ride-community had to put his name on at least one of those many races. For the industry it was springtime on another next-to-gravel-playground. And within a second you would end up spending hundreds of euros to sign up for something. The media played their part, the organizers, the industry. The so called unsupported bike race thing was not the next big thing anymore.

I couldn't make up my mind to sign up for branded checkpoints and page long fine prints about rights on pictures of participants. The whole unsupported cycling thing went quickly towards the usual (insert any sport) full of ads. Second thing which didn't turn me on was - nearly none of those events come without a fixed route. A thing I was already uncomfy when I went to Astoria in 2015. So what's the point of letting everyone just ride the same predefined roads? Is it because whoever is organizing this wants to make sure that their definition of where to ride is the only valid, correct one? It cuts out a whole lot of the "you are on your own" or "it's the complete package of your decisions, even those you made months and weeks before the start". There is so much more in this than just the "one perfect route" - there are many. For everyone there is a different perfect one. And even each single person can come up with a few options - to be picked when out there on the road. It's some sort of chess game in the end. And I grew up playing chess.

Second thing I did not like - blown up rule books. You can come up with pages full of rules, descriptions and definitions plus a fixed route which has to be followed. Or you just leave it to the very few basic rules. If any event gets so big, that you will likely need a rule book with few pages plus few people constantly trying to follow up just to make sure participants are sticking to those rules - you better shrink the whole thing down. Where does it come from in the end? That people are trying to cheat and not even follow a hand full of rules in a way that you implement tons of them? Simply - fame. Fame the organizers want to create, the checkpoint sponsors are eager to use for marketing purposes, the participants want to get rewarded for on social media. As a result you'll see a lot of people on the start line of a race who are just too well prepared on the wrong end of the story but not even willing to actually race. More influenced than self-prepared. But hey, as long as they pay their starters fee...

All in all, there was not much that could make me think of doing a TCR again or any fixed route event. The happier I was when Mikko came up with the idea of Ruska in 2017. Following the colors of the autumn foliage from south to north in (mostly) Finland - wow! I've been to the North Cape in 2008 with my good old trekking bike, mostly trough Sweden and then we cycled around the Baltic Sea in 2012. So yes, Scandinavia again, Finland?! A start, a finish, a few checkpoints in between and maybe one or two mandatory courses? I mean, look at the map. It's huge, it's a lot of nothing. A country sitting in the upper right corner of Europe next to Russia, you don't end up there accidentally often. Just look at the manual, all these "promises" - northern lights, nearly no rain.... After 2017 went by and from what I saw then, I definitely would join in 2018. Thus, I spent quite a while in route planning, trying to figure out the basics of opening hours for shops and gas stations up there. It was nice to get excited again after all. Not so much in terms of "signing up for a race" - which it is not. It is a ride, and the more I was digging into the details I was quite happy about it. To take away that particular label it became more open on what you would like to make it in the end. You could could ride it in a way that would not be short of calling it hard, but you could also just challenge for finishing it at all. There was no particular glory for the fast ones but also no less for the last finisher.


The good thing is, there's a ferry going every day from Travemünde to Helsinki. So getting there is a piece of cake. Having 30h of rest, eating buffet meals all day and calming down (hopefully). Start was in Turku, so easily to do by train. I spent a bit time strolling around, taking pictures and trying to calm down. I stayed in a little hotel downtown and checked out a bikeshop in the morning. The weather forecast was promising on rain and somehow I did not put on mudguards at home. So I bought some and went to the shop for installing them properly. Oh, these nerves.

Each year the ride got more or less a specific theme as a common thing regarding the checkpoints / controls. In 2018 the route was following from Turku to Kuolema, Salla, Esrange to the finish in Kilpisjärvi:

Fun thing each year - there is a quiz about these locations.

Well, it was okay. Until not so much anymore. Start is always on Friday at sunset, so the first night you ride. CP1 and CP2 were quite nicely done with a decent speed in decent time. I remember riding the boring main road heading to Tampere, bit up and down, but luckily not much traffic at night. I was happy not to ride here during the day. Turning north just before Tampere meant hills, but still all fine. A slight tailwind helped as well. Somewhere not far before CP1 I realized a bicycle headlight in my little mirror. Coincidence? It vanished after a while and I forgot about it. With some drizzle I arrived in Kuolema, in the middle of nowhere. Small shop, managed by two ladies, hot drinks, some nice snacks prepared for those to stop. Someone was taking pictures. And - another rider just arrived a few minutes earlier. So the front light I saw earlier was real. Because I opted for the paved roads I just got caught, he took a unpaved shortcut. But so far not so bad. I had no intention on being here at a specific schedule, I just rode my bike on the chosen roads as good as I felt was right. Honestly - I did not had a real plan on stops and sleep. With the rain and the previous night on the bike the next evening came early. At around 575km I took a small room with some hope to dry my stuff while sleeping. The heating did not really work and the blower / dryer just gave cold air. With damp clothes I started in the early morning. And there was the next surprise - just +1°C. I had to put on all my clothes. Poor me - why didn't I bring the Assos Tiburu instead the summerish Evo Equipe? Why only one merino long-sleeve? Damn I was not happy with my preparations.

The second day was still pushed by a tailwind but a bit lumpy terrain. There was a longer parkour to follow with quite a bit up and down. I got a sense of where the Finnish people do downhill skiing in the winter months. What I was a bit surprised about - that Mikko sent us all up a skiing hill. Actually it was a pretty rocky hike. I took off my shoes and put on my hospital socks which I kept for some unknown reason when I threw away the clothes in which I arrived in Finland. Now I knew. I was lapping a bit with the guy from CP1 but was too much focused on that instead of listening into myself. I guessed Esa was riding on a schedule and more or less in control of that while I was trying to catch up with him. Well, this might work to a certain extend but not completely over a longer period. After another 495km and already early morning I needed some sleep, or rest at least. Even that I could not really sleep it was good to rest a bit in the sleeping bag before getting up again 3h later.

Heading west became real work since there was a steady headwind now. When I came back into some kind of flow we were already somewhere north of Rovaniemi and the evening hours started to become cold. I mean, it caught me by surprise. It is quite hard to plan and pack the right clothes when you are at home with nice summer temps in the mid 20°C. You simply don't connect that with "below zero". Riding through the night was not much of an option anymore. So I decided to sleep the remaining nights somewhere indoors and do as much miles during the day. Downside - u need to figure out where to stay early enough to get someone on the phone and convince them to arrange some kind of late arrival. You're simply not the typical tourist checking in during the afternoon before heading for a nice dinner somewhere. So with only 255km I slept in Pello, just before the border. 

The road on the Swedish side of the river Torne älv / Tornionjoki was rough. I remember a similar stretch near Mora in Sweden. It feels like throwing away Watts for no progress. But in general I really started to enjoy the ride. The sun was out, the river sparkling and nearly no traffic. The landscape along the way from Pajala to Vittangi became more and more open. Less and less trees, more and more colors. And every pedal stroke a bit colder. After some gas station junk in Vittangi I met Esa again on his way back from CP3. It was clear now that it wouldn't make any sense to push harder than just to finish in decent time. He was too far ahead. On the other side - I had some good sleep last night. So I went to Esrange, ticked CP3 and decided to get a room in Kiruna. In the end there was no point of going back the way I came when I checked in on CP3, so it was at hand to ride to the finish via Norway. It was some hazzle to find a place to sleep since literally everything in town was booked and I arrived really late. With a bit calling around I could put my sleeping bag in the room next to a sauna in a hostel. Besides 305km my sleep was rather poor, but at least there was some good breakfast in the morning.

The day started with -3°C and some mountain tops on the horizon. Not that I am particular good at climbing, or at least I don't know due to the lack of proper climbs around back home. But the hillier route had definitely some views. And I knew the stretch on the E45 already from my trip back in 2008. I learned, that camper van drivers, especially the Norwegian ones, do not really have a clue about the width of their vehicles. I really like truck drivers since they know the impact when taking over a cyclist going downhill, they give you space. After only 270km I called it a day and stayed in a nice little guesthouse in Rundhaug. The former German owner was really kind and I got a proper reindeer stew plus some sandwiches for the start in the early morning.

Last day with less than 150km - sounds like a piece of cake, right? Well, when you're fresh and nothing hurts. But it took some time. Or - I took the time. Because the views. One could stop all time and every moment just to take in these views. All along the fjord around every corner another "wow". Luckily there was still some rain and the last parkour - from the fjord up to Kilpisjärvi. I must say I enjoyed even that. It's more a steady drag uphill than a real climb. Enough time to enjoy the views. On my way up another rider descended towards me, Saku was enjoying the downhill first since he had taken the eastern option. This fun could wait a few days. I had planned to fly back home from Tromsø, so that I would have to go downhill that climb on my way to there.

In the end it still went well enough to finish 2nd. Really nice when u got a bit spare time to relax and enjoy the place. I got myself a small cabin, had a sauna and time to eat and sleep. 2.043km and a lot of things learned.

I was quite happy with how it went. I finished, quite well actually. And I realized that there are enough things where I could have done better. Warmer clothes, better knowledge of potential stops, not being totally afraid of unpaved roads...

With a bit time I  dived a bit deeper into rethinking what happened. And felt like I had a lot to learn, a lot to improve. I became more and more disappointed with my actually good ride. I am not good in just embracing a moment, a result like this. I look sometimes to much into all those little things where I might have done something not as good as I probably could have done. And by doing so I turn down what I achieved. Stupid, eh? No one said it's gonna be easy, especially with all the headfuck. The good thing is - you are never completely done with doing your homework. And you should not allow this to hurt yourself.

And there we were again. Same nervousness, same stress, same hunger. Start this time was a bit more south, and finish a bit more north. The quiz revealed the Struve Arc as theme with start in Tartu and finish in Hammerfest. In between a few points and parkours:

Again I was taking the ferry to Helsinki, another one to Tallinn and a train to Tartu. I ended up in a little hostel next to a sports facility with a breakfast room in some sort of east-european-soviet-style. Getting some sleep was a bit difficult, especially since I realized, that my Garmin turned off a few times on the way from train to the hostel. I got a backup device but both did not catch up with the correct local time. I guessed some trouble ahead and could not really relax. The weather forecast promised wind and rain. All in all I was quite a bit in doubt.

We met downtown in a bar over some last chatter and food, picking up the brevet cards. We then took off to the start where Mikko held his little speech, a humorous mixture of encouragement and advise added to the inner roller-coaster of emotions. With sunset time we hit the road heading for some parkour with the goal of catching the earliest possible ferry to Helsinki. I recall a headwind and some heavy rain, combined with some freezes of my Garmin. Not a perfect start, but could have been worse. Some four of us managed to hop on the first ferry in the morning, giving us 1h ahead of the bunch. Trying to get a nap and drying the socks we grabbed some breakfast on the ferry. Then off the ferry and through Helsinki. On the way to Porlammi, start on Control 1, I had a few more freezes with my Garmin, some dirt roads and one of those Finnish car rally going on. Never thought they race their noisy wrecks in public traffic, but hey. We stayed pretty close together for most of the time, only little stops let us lap from time to time. With the Saturday evening we were just before the end of Control 1 - which meant to do a few miles on gravel. It did not rain as earlier that day so that it was okay to ride it at night. With the ferry in the morning we all had like a second real start but also didn't make much distance in the first day. I went for a 4h sleep into my sleeping bag just after getting back to tarmac. A few km back passing some rubbish shelter I saw a phone light - Mikko Kainu had found a spot to sleep. So why not, 557km had to be enough.

Next morning just when I packed everything and started the day, Janne flew by. And it looked as if he was pedaling already a while. I always need a bit in the first hour(s) to wake up. So we lapped each other during the day. Generally it it was a bit boring, big roads, some traffic. The good thing - still some tail-cross-wind. So as long as that one was there, just don't stop. And with the time it turned to a crosswind. Right after a needed food stop in Viitasaari it started with some serious rain. Temps were at 3°C...4°C, pretty windy and heaps of water. Honestly, I was not expecting this. Not by gear nor by mind. I ended up in a gas station wrapping my feet in plastic bags, buying some household cleaning gloves to put on top of my "waterproof" ones. Damn I really lost some serious time then. I think this was my weak point in that year. I've been riding in rain quite a few times, but it makes a huge difference if you just ride for fun and can stop for shelter anytime. Here I could not keep up with what's required - just taking it as it comes, just keep on moving. And so I ended far earlier than expected and for the second time in Kärsämäki. Not that I like this place in particular, it was just there and I was fed up. After only 248km. Way too early I tried to catch some sleep after having put all my stuff into the sauna to dry.

This time the next morning was not as cold as in the year before, but still got a lot of rain. It stayed like this for a few more hours. Hours that felt weird, because I had to take the exact same road until Vaala as in 2018. After some hot chocolate and whatever I could stuff down my throat I went for the start of Control 2. As I was, and still am, not fully confident with unpaved roads I once again opted for the longer but paved options. Today I'd say - right, but not under all circumstances. If you just want to ride - fully okay, if you really want / need to gain ground you should consider taking a bit more risk. Not that I took any risk at all - I was running Continental 4Seasons again - bombproof robust stuff. So I stopped a second time in Vaala for food before heading west to Oulu. After having lost miles and hours with my early stop the day before and my conservative route I felt some kind of pressure to ride through the night. On one hand it made sense because the coastal road north of Oulu is a mess during day (at least I recalled from 2012) and I could avoid that. On the other hand - how hard would I mess up myself since there would still be a lot of road left after that. Since that evening I prefer not to stop for these cheap so called "Burger" you can get in a Shell gas station. What a crap to eat! But calories are calories. The road to Tornio was as expected boring but manageable. I could see any traffic quite well, they could see me well. Temperatures dropped and when my tiredness kicked in I did put on my down vest and later my down arm warmers as well. I wasn't moving exceptionally fast but I was moving. Some coffee in a 24/7 gas station did help too. After checking the start on Control 3 I met Janne again on the road. We had some chat at the end of the little parkour to the Swedish side and rode more or less same speed for the next hours. With some rain we had breakfast before riding to the end of Control 3. After that I simply had to take a few more of those little stops you actually not need to have. I think it was simply because I was too tired already. Somewhere before Pello I nearly slept with a half eaten burger in my face. So I recalled some hut next to that rough road upstream on the Swedish side were I would take a 1h nap. What a relieve! After that my legs came back a bit. Stopped for some junk food in Pajala and headed to the start of the finish, another hike on a hill. Next stop would be Kolari for some pizza. With an open, clear sky I took off towards north and was actually hoping a little bit for northern lights. There were none, but when I stopped somewhere on the road I was simply overwhelmed by that anti-noise. I tried to catch up any little sound, any noise from not my breath or blood pumping in my veins - there was nothing at all. Absolutely quiet and nothing to hear at all. Not even an airplane somewhere up in the sky. We humans are some little creatures. With the second night on the road, temperatures dropping below zero I finally stopped at a picnic site next to the river somewhere before Muonio. With 776km you're tired enough to even sleep in a Cumulus X-Lite200 (comfort rated at +4°C) at -5°C.

With 4,5h of sleep I slowly pedaled into Muonio for breakfast. It's actually quite hard to go out again and push on once you're sitting inside with a bowl full of warm porridge in front of you. The day was as expected - hard. Grinding, eating, never really getting warm. I remembered from 2008 that there should be some place before the border where you kind of have to stop for food. Simply because the owner of that place had plastered 10km before and after that location with hundreds of ads along the road. It's really hurting when you can eat all day and read this stuff for half an hour. But it worked, for the kitchen. I think burger again. And some cake. And hot chocolate. Heading into Norway was not much of entertainment, rough landscape, some wind. Kautokeino wasn't a cozy place either. Their gas stations suck, but I didn't fancy to turn around for the Rema1000. With the progress so far it was more or less settled that I would not catch up with Janne again. While I was on my way to Muonio and about to get some sleep he had started again and regained some 3h lead. So how far would I ride? To Alta? Doing that gravel parkour in darkness? It was some quick decision when I arrived at the Suolovuopmi fjellstue - a warm place, some warm soup and fresh baked bread! 241km had to be enough.

I still don't know if I should have pushed on that evening. When I got up early and started the parkour in some greyish daylight it had started to snow. Just a little bit, but soon with some thick flakes. Holy moly. 28mm wide tires on loose gravel itself can sometimes be enough fun on it's own. But no idea what's below that white layer, always only guessing the holes or bigger stones. Yep, nice wake up ride that morning. I only fell twice, not hard, just could not avoid to fall aside due to that loose underground. Besides this - I got probably the most amazing pictures that morning. Arriving in Alta was some work done I told myself. It was time for some gas station junk again. I new that there was some climbing to do after Alta and that there is another windy part without any shelter. But hey, that should be the last bit before finish, piece of cake. Oh dear. Looking back I got it wrong in my head. I counted down with every km. I literally hurt myself with the slow progress and that headwind. There is not much motivation in it when you tell yourself every km that's now one km less. The only good thing was that I had been ridden that part before. I remembered quite a lot, even that this was 11 years ago. And it was crowded with reindeer. Those funny guys. I really enjoyed that a lot. How they just stop in the middle of the road and eventually move a bit, but only after that huge truck finally has completely stopped in front of them. The weather gave it all its best, rain and wind. It was in a weird way okay. There is some magic in the last day - you easily can ignore all these things because it will be over soon. Then that bridge, oh these memories. I did not bother to take the tunnels, the road was already busy enough. So having a few minutes alone on the old road was nice. After endless hours I finally made it to Hammerfest, checked the finish next to the final Struve arc point in rain and headed back to the hotel. With less than 200km that day the water games finally were over. Finished for the second time, 2nd again and ~2.040km again. 

With a warm shower and some hot tea you can repair a lot. There was a restaurant downstairs, kitchen still open, a good reason to put on some fresh clothes. I had booked the hotel quite early since she had holidays too and could come to the finish. Hammerfest is a real tourist spot, mostly due to the Hurtigruten stop. But hey, just not moving for a day. Time to look out of a window while sitting in a café. Having the third piece of cake after having a second breakfast. Life was good again.

Just with some time and distance I started to think and look back at all those little things I still didn't got fully right. I know that I'm still way to hard with myself. But on the other hand - this is how I start to finally cut the big things in smaller parts, turn them around and try to find a better way of dealing with these tiny puzzle pieces. I tried to understand the decisions I made or my options I did not chose. It was a slow process, a constant rethinking of what happened. Just observing, not judging. Easier said then done. The easiest things are the hardware topics - clothes, equipment. I don't look at them to much anymore. I am so tired of all those posts and ads explaining why you need x or y. It matters less and less the more you gain confidence with what you actually ride. I know the ups and downs on my bike, my bags, my clothes. In total it is the setup I am happy with. My bags are all DIY, I know what they are and what they are not. It's up to me to make another one when I figure out what's not the way I want. So if I look at a rule of of thumb which I can agree on - long distance riding is one third fitness, one third equipment and the rest is your head - the picture became pretty clear. 

My equipment is okay. I don't want to waste to much effort in the last tenth of a percent on that. My fitness is okay but also I don't expect much more. I know what it takes to rebuild muscles at all after an accident. I know when I better get some days  to relax and how you can utilize commuting for training your body. I do not fancy to gain the last bit here either. For me the biggest potential is and was on the mental side. Funny thing is - that's the hardest one to own.


What a year. With end of 2019 the world became a different one - only that it took us all with surprise and out of our routines. Covid really changed a lot. As we all somehow managed to arrange with that over the year 2020 it became clear that there wouldn't be a #ruska2020 - at least not for me. Travel restrictions or quarantine regulations are one thing - travelling without vaccination, by train, ferry or plane over such distances just to have some fun? Just for some hobby? Nope. There was not really a reason for taking any remaining risk regardless how good you would distance and care for all those little things. Riding Ruska itself would be the rather easier part. But still not worth to take the risk. Without riding Ruska or at least having the chance I felt not really in the mood for riding a lot at all. With doing homeoffice on top even my daily commuting was down to nearly nothing. These were really hard times mentally and in the end physically too.

2021. With the second Covid summer it felt like ages since one had a "normal life". The 2nd, 3rd wave of high numbers, a few lockdown levels you lose track of what was postponed or cancelled. Or what the usual time for events would be. Not to speak of when one actually should think about planning or signing up. 2020 was a big mess. I did not had many reasons to ride a lot. I'm not good in going out for a ride and returning to the same place. It's the most boring thing in my world. I need a goal. Somewhere I need to arrive. A distance from A to B to cover. It works a bit when I extend the commuting, because I have to go from home to work or other way round. But you don't do big rides that way. 2020 was really depressing.

With April 2021 I finally had a reason to go to the office on daily basis again - our little company moved, I got my own office. What a relive. You become so thankful for a week of shitty weather when you had months without looking at the sky really. But what for? Vaccines seemed endlessly far away for me. Patience was the game of the moment. Work was the main thing in 2021. I mean we were busy as fuck. We turned down requests from clients because we simply couldn't take any more. Few months I was dealing with 6, 7 or 8 projects in parallel. Since there were no festivals this summer and no reasons to take a break I worked since new years.

And then Mikko's newsletter came, and then really often and then urging to only have a few days left. And I didn't had made up my mind at all. I was not moving towards a decision, I wasn't moving away from it. As if I was waiting for something. As someone said to me - "You have to make the order at the universe!". I don't know if I did but it helped me to decide. I had to commit or turn away. There is no "half-pregnant" with that.

When Pompo asked if I'd come I knew I really should start with planning. Looking into the route and all the bits. With my gear I was already fine. I knew what to take and where I had a few little improvements at hand. There was a 800km-ride in spring when there was a lockdown from midnight to 5a.m. - I had a set time for taking a break. It was around zero in the morning, I had plenty of rain and wind. A perfect ride to test a few little bits. As done before I somehow really like to start into a weekend on a Friday after work and ride through the night until next evening. You can easily do a 600+km-ride in that time, you can observe how you handle the tiredness and you can work on how to do well. So heading out on a Friday to check out the Harz at night and being on top of the Brocken in the morning is just another type of commuting in the end. A thing that really was a big unknown to me was my back. For some reason I had some pain in my lower back for weeks. Was it the new office? Was it the bed? Was it a unfortunate move? Two appointments with my favorite physician made it worse in the first few days but by the time I would arrive in Helsinki I didn't had any troubles left. He's a badass, a king in his pain cave but I would go see him again without a moment of hesitation.

Because I was simply too busy at work and maybe a bit naive I did not bother to think about how to get back from Muonio after I would arrive there. I just did not want to fly this year. Quick decision was - if I don't do well I would not push too hard. Which means I could do ride back home. With two route options at hand I would then ride through Sweden and Denmark. With a start in Helsinki things where easy to organize - the usual ferry, a hotel. 

With a good heap of nervousness and lot of doubt I entered the ferry. I really needed holidays. A break from work. Doing something very basic instead. Riding a bike. But first - 30h of nothing but eating buffet, looking at the sea and sleeping as much as possible. It's funny when you know the way to downtown. It almost feels like a welcome itself. I stopped for a short chat with Mikko on the way and got my brevet card. I picked a hotel not too far from the start but also not in the touristic corner as I would like to have a quiet night. Since I stayed in Espoo I could see all those students in their "haalarit" - overalls with a lot of patches. It reminded me of my arrival in Turku in 2018. With a relaxed day I didn't need to do much more than eat, drink and sleep. Next morning I went for some last tire pressure check to Bikeworx Oy after a last breakfast without being in a hurry.

As in the previous years it's difficult to get some real sleep during the Friday. But any rest is better than none. Then for some pasta and time to change. The moment you throw away your normal clothes feels  somehow weird. Almost a bit "final". With half an hour left I arrived at the small museum island I passed the day before. Since there was time left I had a look at a few of these buildings we would not see at any of the checkpoints. The start was really crowded. With 48 on the start list plus all the friends and families and a handful of cycling nerds it wasn't the same small event as in 2018. A few last cuddles over phone to back home and then it was time that Mikko started with his last few words. A mix of black humor and encouragement as always. And then it was time to set off, sunset.

The good thing about Helsinki is that it isn't a really big city. Getting out of town doesn't take too long. And then there is a rather simple rule - if there is a tailwind, don't stop. And there was. One could basically sail all the way to Karuna. But not without a few surprises. At first after 30km my Garmin turned off. Trying to start it again lead to just shutting down. I knew that there was not much to look for the route along the next 70km or so, but you become a bit nervous if this is already the hazzle 1h into the ride. So I kept pushing on, taking out the SD card trying to start the device, all that sort of stuff - without success. There was nothing left to try, I had to take out the backup device. With some doubt I was just hoping that this one would do its job. To not put any risk on that I just tapped onto "go" without pushing the "record" button. I knew that the device sometimes just fucks up over showing the track and recording. I wouldn't need any recorded files. But I definitely would need that thin red line showing where I'd need to go. At least over the first third of the ride. After that I would be able just with what I'd recall from planning or OsmAnd maps on the phone. In the very early days of me cycling around with a Garmin I already had experienced stuff like this. While happy that the backup did do just fine I remembered when complaining about these things during a breakfast at Mt Lovcen in TCR 2014 Mike said that for exact this reason he never records his rides during a race. Worth a thought. At one point there was someone on the other side of the road shouting something I couldn't understand besides the word "ruska". Well, that was nice. I started to enjoy riding after that first little hiccup.

There was less and less traffic on the road, only a few groups of teenagers on their noisy motorbikes now and then. Within a 30s-stop in Salo at some kebab place I had refilled my one half emptied bottle and was back on the road. Until my track lead me away from the 110 onto some gravel road. I was a bit surprised - did I really plan this? Didn't I check this before? If yes then it shouldn't be long or difficult but it wasn't as smooth as I would wish. Damn, nervous again. Was it a mistake, just poor planning, did I put not enough into route planning? Thoughts that don't help much at the moment. Finland is not really pancake flat, it's actually a constant up & down in most parts where you find little lakes on the map. The smaller the roads the hillier and more winding. Luckily no punctures, unclipped a few times before slipping away. Maybe I shouldn't have pushed that much. But back on tarmac again it was time to finally have a look at the cemetery. I was really surprised that I was there first. Not alone since someone had put his tent there for some reporting from the scene. Since there was again some space in bottle I filled in the Red Bull I had in my jersey back pocket since the start. I somehow like to have some Red Bull with water during night shifts. I don't know how much is placebo, but it helps me through the early morning hours. A few minutes after I headed onto the parkour to get my first stamp other riders appeared one after the other one. So there were around ten of us still pretty close. Over the parkour the wind was still supporting. So no need to slow down, if you can sail you should sail. I really enjoyed the parkour. Little roads at night where you can cut corners and use the whole space. You would see and hear any traffic from far away at night. As the green house lights in the middle of nowhere. The unpaved part was really smooth - compared to what I was expecting from Dr. Evil Mäkipää. The first stamp was done quickly and daylight was around the corner. That night didn't feel long at all.

The next hours were bit boring, the same main road towards Tampere as in 2018. Luckily I had planned to leave it soon. After some 337km I stopped in Häijää for some breakfast. When you got a lot of time on the road you run through these stops in your head beforehand. With my mouth still busy chewing, refilled bottles and some sweets in the pockets that day could actually start now. I don't remember much of that day, with some cross-/tailwind and therefore some free speed it was just doing as much distance as possible. The short 6km of unpaved road along my track was as soft as I had seen on streetview. I had planned an optimistic scenario where I would be at around 600km by end of the day. Problem was, the few potential spots where I would sleep at that point along the track were all there - but still in daylight. So I went a bit off my route for some burger at a bar in Lestijärvi. With a full stomach and 640km I could allow for an early night with some luxurious 6h of sleep. 

Next day started quite well, there was not much to do, just keep on pedaling. Short breakfast stop in Haapajärvi where I was happy with the porridge. Damn, I wish they would have these warm porridge pots at the gas stations over here. This should be the first time I would not stop for a second in Kärsämäki. I know I am far from having ridden many roads in Finland, but already in the middle of the country you will end up at the same places when you do Ruska for the third time. Time went by and I had the feeling that I could do the parkour at CP2 still in daylight. I didn't stop until Hyrynsalmi. Got some food at the supermarket and stopped for a pizza. I even took time to sit down and take off my shoes. The first end was quite enjoyable to ride - it had not started to rain yet. Felt a bit weird then to be the first one to put color onto the stamps surface. Next had to be Ukkohalla then. That was the type of stuff I expected from Mikko, gravel up to some nonsense hill with up to 13% gradient. Long enough to make you sweat and steep enough to keep you in the saddle for some traction. With some fog at the top I didn't fancy hanging around too long. I had checked the weather apps and knew that the fun part was about to be over soon. Like Kärsämäki, Puolanka is a place you barely can avoid riding Ruska. This time without a stop I followed the same road as in 2018 - just this time in darkness. Late evening the rain started and thus I stopped at some lavuu I had spotted beforehand not long after midnight. I knew that most of the stuff would stay as wet as it was s I didn't bother with trying to dry anything of that. I just put myself into my sleeping bag onto the mattress and hoped for some sleep. Took a bit but with 413km for the day tiredness isn't far.

As expected things turned a lot with day 3. Northern headwind and steady rain. And that was the good thing now - when you know that it will hurt, that your feet will be wet all day long with temps going down to +1°C it hurts a bit less. You can tell yourself that you've been there before and that it takes a while but it won't be like this forever. Still, when there is a headwind that slows you down to just a bit over 20km/h avg. you really start thinking all those negative stuff. Are you prepared at all for being here?! Can't you do better?! What's wrong with you today?! It also doesn't help to see these signs every 10km showing that all too slowly decreasing distance to wherever. Mind-game-time. Breaking it down to what's in front of you, next hour, next 20km. Try not to stop, even if the magic little whisperer in your ear tells you to do so. It was obvious that these conditions would put any schedule right into the trash bin. Do a few hours, get some food, do a few more hours. The further north the colder it became, easy to forget, but you are already half way the total distance. You burn a lot just to stay warm over these hours outside. Taking care, eating, grinding, shouting at the wind. So yes, I had my shitty day that day. I don't know if it was rationally the right thing to do or me just being fed up enough with my slow progress, the weather and all. I decided to get a room or cabin in Rovaniemi, just after lazy 184km that day.

Good thing, it was pretty early and I could get some decent food before falling asleep. Sometimes that's just all you can do and all you need. Sure, dried up clothes are nice, but only when you put them on. With another day in rain it was just a matter of time for how long you would stay like this. Heading into the night was probably not such a bad thing after all. I would be further north in few hours while the weather would stay shitty here. I should get a few hours of dry roads later during the day. Sounds weird but one actually can look forward to dry headwind in low temps. And just when you feel almost comfortable with the situation, your wet feet and slow progress, the snowy part you've seen on the forecast hits you. Yeah, well. Not really snow as in 2019 before Alta, but wet and sticky and cold. These were probably the most unpleasant hours on this years Ruska. But even those weren't meant to last forever. I was tempted to stop at the ravintola "Ruska" in Sondankylä but opted for some quick lunch buffet at a gas station. I was back in the mood for riding as quick as I would feel good with. And maybe trying to not finishing 2nd again. So then better do some riding, right? Given how the day started, that I had to stop for nearly 1h just to warm my fingers again after that snowy part I finally could enjoy riding my bike again. Saariselkä was not a place to stop unless you are a tourist. But sailing downhill from there was some fun. With 283km I was not overwhelmed but quite okay. Time for a few hours of sleep before another day.

From looking at the route I recalled not much profile until CP3 so there was no need to plan for stopping in Ivalo or Inari. No need to check which shop opens at which time, just keep going. You would be in Utsjoki at noon, just fine for some food then. That morning was really nice, almost calm. Mirror-like surface on some of the lakes with a bit orange from the rising sun. With daylight the headwind came back and some traffic too. The weirdest traffic was a group of trucks with Nazi war equipment on their trailers. A tank, a few small trucks, and a few motorcycles. They passed me the day before and stayed overnight at some place out there. So they passed me a second time then. I should later learn that there was a movie shoot taking place just next to CP3 and that they were heading this way. I looked it up later as being: "Immortal, the World War II action film from Rare Exports director Jalmari Helander, in which a man goes to war against the Nazi army in the Finnish wilderness.". Well, I don't know much about those involved but maybe it's worth to watch it one day. My initial plan was to be early enough in Utsjoki to book a room or cabin as I expected it too cold for a bivy and then going to CP3 and back to Utsjoki for some sleep. Plan was then to either cross the border in Utsjoki at night or in Karigasniemi when they would open there. Being here now meant getting food first, then doing CP3 and then returning to Utsjoki. I could not figure out beforehand if border crossing over the Utsjoki bridge was really shut down. After some lunch buffet with loads of lasagna I went to CP3 and saw someone driving their Volvo onto the bridge heading north. Maybe you could pass there? Meanwhile the sun came out, my shoes were nearly dried and I had use for sunglasses again! One thing I was a bit worried about was the amount of dirt in my front derailleur. It didn't shift to the inner ring without reaching down and pushing it by hand. With some WD40ish stuff from a gas station in Nuorgam it moved a bit better. Good to have this sorted before heading to Pulkmankijärvi. And there it was a gas station next to a dead end road somewhere in the middle of ... no wait, they should shoot movies here was my first thought. And this was before I was told that they actually would do. It was a very lovely welcome by Rando-Mutsi Krisse when I was arriving. There was a lady from a local newspaper with her. Having a conversation, chatting about riding a bike up here was a bit weird after a couple days silently talking with yourself. But as nice and colorful this place was I had to get back on the bike. These colors were absolutely stunning. With the afternoon glare of the low sun it was just magic. I totally get why there were so many hikers hanging out in Utsjoki. They had a good time here. I actually expected to see some Ruska-riders on my way back to Utsjoki. Since I had stopped at this fancy large K-market in Nuorgam I directly turned right onto the bridge. In case I couldn't cross the border here I would have to decide either heading to Karigasniemi and most probably waiting until next morning 8a.m. Norwegian time or taking the same road back to Inari I just came. First option would force me to stop much longer than necessary. I did not feel comfortable with that at all. Riding back to Inari would lead to a 56km unpaved road after Pokka. From what I saw generally rideable but there was a 13km stretch of road works they just started a short time ago. This would mean they most likely would be busy with rough works at the moment, lots of digging and turning everything upside down. If I got the time I would prefer to avoid that. On the other side I was really looking forward to ride the part from Karasjok to Alta again. I remembered this as quite nice back in 2008. I was more than happy to roll over to the Norwegian side and just needed to get my vaccination certificate checked. Now that was all I asked for. The remaining ~380km should be a piece of cake then. The road along the river was some up and down but good to ride. Nearly every parking spot along there was filled with a camper van or two. At one place a few people were sitting in front of their motor-homes with some drinks. I mean, yeah exactly what one could fancy - sitting there and enjoying a late summer evening at +1°C. They were cheering me on and I gave them a loud "kippis!". And just on top of what was a really nice day so far - a clear night was about to start. I was a bit unhappy with the Ruska-manual over one particular topic - northern lights. So far I didn't manage to see some over the past editions. It was about time then. And this night I shouldn't get disappointed. Although I had to turn my head to the right side I was so much in awe about this entertainment that the kilometers just went by. It almost didn't feel like 388km that day. Since I haven't seen any other riders on my way from Pulkmankijärvi to Utsjoki I felt relaxed enough to allow another night with sleep. I did not want to push through a night as I did in 2019 in the middle of Ruska if there was no urgent reason for. With the finish already in sight I wouldn't be worried to do one last overnight ride if necessary. But still, there was not really a reason for that. I would sleep and enjoy another sunrise.

The next morning was foggy and with -5°C I quickly had some icicles in my beard. But the first kilometers outside Karasjok were just amazing. The early sunlight, those colors, the sparkling water of the river... it just could not be summed up better what Ruska is all about. Just when I was excited about some part with the smoothest tarmac one could wish for, the road was about to rise from the valley to the typical less sheltered windy heights. And damn, what happened with the wind?! With a few days of constant headwind from north it now turned to some headwind from exactly the same direction were the finish would be? In the end I would have chosen the same route even if I would have checked the weather app before. Weather being weather. You can dislike it as much as you please but you won't change it much by doing so. Back to slow grinding mode then. This would mean to do this for another how many hours exactly? Ouch. There was no point in hurting myself again by looking at the number of kilometers left. It took a few pedal strokes and playing with that number before I realized that there would be a chance to finish in just under six days time. By that moment I would need an average of 21,7km/h for the remaining road. Without stopping time considered. Sounds not much, right? But when you look at your actual speed at 20,something you immediately start to wish for just not having stupid ideas again. The good thing was that I could focus again on something that kept me going. Try to bring that required average down. Start by looking at the next hour. Don't stop more than 1 minute per hour. With the wind really giving it's best I knew that I would need to constantly throw all chocolate bars and nuts in my mouth. I tried not to push more than 220W on the uphills and wherever possible not more than 185W...200W on the flat parts. But also not slower than 20km/h at any point. At least it was not boring over the time. When arriving in Kautekeino I had brought the required average down to 20,2km/h. So there was still not much to play around with that fuel stop. And this is really something strange about that place. I think I might have stopped at the supermarket in 2008. Should have done so again. In 2019 I was already disappointed with the gas stations there. They look like lost places and the stuff they offer is just crab. Their advertised small "pizza to go" were not to get quicker than in some 20mins. No thanks. With 8mins, a cup of tea and two hands full of sweet junks I was back on the road again. Kautekeino, we will likely not become friends this way. Sometimes anger isn't bad at all, especially when it comes to turning pedals. When I finally just had calmed down again and found a steady pace some roadwork was about to add some spice. Two lanes that road, one each direction, blocked by some dude explaining that I would have to wait for a guy with a car who would guide one through the road work section. Because one should not ride on the "fresh" tarmac side. Yeah, the fresh tarmac was laid the day before and my bike was obviously too heavy for that. When the car finally arrived and had turned around, the driver didn't manage to keep a steady pace so that I had to pull over a couple times and then finally he drove away with 40km/h. At least moving again. In the last kilometers before entering Finland again there was still snow on the ground left and right of the road. Not really a surprise since it was a bit over 400m height there. With the stop in Kautekeino and that road work I would still need to push on the same way as in the last few hours. I was hoping that the lower parts after the border would provide a bit more shelter for some "free speed". This time no stop in Galdotieva, actually no time for any further stop. As hoped the trees before Enontekiö were high enough to make riding fun again. There were basically just two more corners left before the finish. And it felt much better this time than back in 2019 when I started into the day on this road. With 40km remaining I already had made up enough ground for some eventual puncture to be fixed in time. Reindeer were doing reindeer business - stopping traffic both ways on the road. The simply don't care about cars. Lucky cars as I came along to free the road from this blockade. In the end I had 31mins on my side when I arrived in Yli-Muonio and put the last stamp onto my card. Last 272km done. Not as relaxed as the first 272km I must admit. Some local guy stopped but we couldn't change words, my Finnish is just not existing. With a smile I realized that sunset at this place at this day was exactly at 8p.m. - same time as when we started six days ago from Seurasaari.

I don't know exactly why but for some reason I had booked a cabin at Olos for 3 nights, starting that exact day I finally finished. Maybe it had to be like this. There was a place I knew would have a sauna and should have some decent food as well. I gave them a call and asked if they could prepare 3 times burger+fries, a salad and 3 beers. I probably would not fit well into the restaurant the way I would look or smell. Cruising these last few meters to the ski resort, trying to soak up what was left from that day. I had sent some stuff directly over there and it all was just perfect. Cold beer, warm food, hot sauna. Phew.

So far I've done quite well as in the years before. Well enough to allow for some time to rest and relax before the get together on Saturday evening. The more I respect everyone arriving there, sometimes just with hours or minutes left before midnight. They all had been out there for so many more hours.

I was totally uncertain about how I would manage this year. There was some backup idea prepared. If I would need to go easy I would really just try to save a bit here and there and just try to finish in time. And then ride back home through Sweden. Some holidays on the bike. But it all went too good from the beginning. Even with the shitty third day I could make it a better ride compared to the previous editions. Better in terms of riding efficient, focusing on progress, not wasting time. I wouldn't say that I was physically better prepared this year, maybe even a bit worse? It was more a result of having done Ruska before. I think I learned a bit in the years before. There is no guarantee that things turn out the way you want them to, you also need a bit of luck. With some sleep and time I started to feel that it had taken its toll on me. Would it be good to try and ride another 2.300+km? Maybe it would have worked out if I had continued directly next day. What for, exactly? Short - with ~40% of the starters dropping out there was enough space on the bus to Rovaniemi as well as on the train to Helsinki. To easy not to go back home this way without having to fly.

So what do I take away from that? I really don't know yet. Some kind of confidence I guess. Another round of learnings. Less pictures but memories instead. As before, most things will need some time to lead to a conclusion. I needed quite while to process the previous rides, the impressions. It is all just so compressed into such short time. Looking back I could start finding those points where I could have done better. But for now I allow just to be happy about it. It took me quite a while to learn again to actually enjoy any achievements. I'm quite thankful for that. One big difference compared to the years before was definitely my sleep. At no moment I was tired as back then. I would also say I got more sleep than I would have needed. Maybe just a result of my conservative thinking - better this than the other way round.

So, what's next?, one could ask. How about #ruska2022?

I really don't know. At one hand I would love to finally try to make use of all those years with painful Russian language courses at school, on the other it is maybe time to give it a break and just ride the trekking bike, with tent and camping stove next holidays. The pictures and videos I found online of the Russian checkpoint are a little bit frightening but same time tempting. I won't be able to make it a last minute decision again since I'd need to get a visa for entering Russia. And still - Covid won't magically disappear until then. As before, I also would need to make sure not to ride too many known roads. That would probably already be a bit of a challenge.

*if I count correctly, there are now enough words to ride two more times Ruska in case Mikko implements the one-word-per-kilometer-to-be-posted-rule