tiistai 6. tammikuuta 2015

Winter Solstice 2014

We received multiple requests for an English version of this post, so here you go!
First, it'd help a lot to understand what a Pappiska is. It's Finnish for pappapyörä, which would mean a grandpa bicycle - an old, upright, heavy steel gentlemen's bike from the war times or so. Google the Dutch word "Opafiets".
Pappiskapartio then would roughly translate into Pappiska Patrol or Squad. It's a group of friends who ride such bikes (ours are from 1920's to 1960's) and are all insane, weird, stupid, silly and/or mad. More or less.

The patrol member Pekka cycled a 400km ride with his 70-year-old Pappiska single speed bike in the snow during the (second) longest and darkest night of the year - 20th/21st Dec 2014. Alone, unsupported. The ride started in Oulu, Finland, about 170km south of the arctic circle and ended in Jyväskylä, taking about 19,5 hours including breaks. Conditions: It snowed almost all of the time, temperature was about -3°C, about 26F.

Long version
On Fillarifoorumi cycling forum, this one rider with nick mkpaa, specializing in slightly longer rides, launched the "event" called Winter Solstice ride (Talvipäivänseisausajo) in the autumn of 2013, where during the longest night of the year you would aim to ride longest possible distance.

"Starting as the sun sets and the finish has to be as the sun rises. The minimum distance is 150 kilometers. Ride alone or in a group."

In 2014 Talvipäivänseisausajo was held for the second time, and due to some constraints it was moved one night earlier, to the night between Saturday and Sunday (20th-21st of Dec). This time the starting post already included stricter rules:

"You're allowed to start when the sun goes down in Tampere (at 3:04pm) and you need to finish when the sun rises in Tampere (9:43am). The minimum distance is 150 km, ride alone or in groups. One break may be up to 2 hours and during the last 2 hours (7:43- 9:43), you need to ride at least 20 km. "

On the night before scheduled start, the Patrol's perhaps most weird and silly member Pekka was musing that maybe one should dig up the Pappiska from under layers of snow and just head off somewhere, without further goals. During previous nights, due to other tasks one barely had just the right amount of sleep and also on the very previous night this Christmas party for sure had lots to offer, so the preparation for a nice winter ride was once again fully in place. Well, Christmas pies and gingerbread also included such a wonderful amount of energy and carbohydrates, so that the Pappiska's quality Dutch seat springs bended and squaked much more than usually during the nightly homecoming trips from the parties.

Dutch springs. The duct tape is not related to the case. Photo: Pekka
So, the people in Oulu (500km north of Tampere) had decided to organize their own ride. When you compare the almost-polar winter solstice night of Oulu to the one in Tampere, the nights in Oulu are darker, colder and longer, so one definitely should experience all the joy and enjoyment out of it. Oulu ride was, therefore, set to depart at 2:04pm and the finish was going to be at 10:30 am, according to the local sunset and sunrise times.That's almost two hours more sheer enjoyment!

The evening before the ride, at 10:29pm, Pekka tried to attract other members of the Patrol for some kind of aimless ride around the country. We had roughly the following conversation in Whatsapp during one of those Christmas parties:

<px> Tomorrow at 14:04 for a ride?
<riq> Yea could, what kinda ride you thinking?
<px> Depends on the mood, perhaps to Kajaani, Kuopio, or Jyväskylä for breakfast?
<riq> Sounds kinda long :)
<riq> Gotta admit it sounds a bit too (lactic) acidic :)
<px> If you start to feel like that, no one forces you to continue :)
<px> You could at least try to ride your Pappiska's first 200 ride? If you feel like it. If not, do not.

After this, the Patrol went all quiet, so Pekka (quite correctly) concluded that there would not be any company for him from behalf of the patrol, and continued focusing on the Christmas party.

I woke up at around noon after the Christmas party and ate a plate of porridge. Then I slowly had a little glance at the road maps and sent a couple of messages to a couple of friends living in Kuopio and Jyväskylä, wondering if they would happen to be at home if it would (very unlikely) occur that I would reach either of the cities. I got no response from either destination at this point.

I threw some clothing on and put some rocks as additional weight to his backpack so the ride wouldn't be too easy. Not really. The contents of the small backpack included one Buff, a couple of tools, debit card, chocolate and muesli bar, and three half-liter bottles of water. On the rear rack, a plastic bag including another Buff was placed, with a pump and a couple of other tools wrapped in, as well as a couple of more muesli bars.

While I was starting the bike I spotted that the old one-piece Fauber cranks were a bit loose and had some play in the bottom bracket. So, let's start tapping the Fauber bottom bracket open and try tightening it. This took some time so it was all in vain trying to make it to the 2:04pm Oulu group start. Chain was also a bit too loose, but tightening it would mean the rear tire rubbing to the rear of the mudguard and shafts. Shortening the chain was not an option, because then the tire would rub to the front of the mudguard.

Yea, this one has been tapped open and close quite a few times. Photo: Pekka
Eventually, at about 2:29.27pm everything was ready. Route recording switched on from the mobile phone, shoes on and Pappiska slowly began to sail away from the home yard in the midst of white snow. The so-called unplanned plan was just to cruise towards south according to the mood.At this point, the feeling was excellent, and Pappiska was rolling well.

Distance covered: 900 meters! At 2:35pm. Photo: Pekka
Pretty Oulu winter suburban winter scenery. Photo: Pekka
Shortly before Kempele came against a really welcome guest. Photo: Pekka
Atmospheric winter scenery à la Kempele. Photo: Pekka

The Haaransilta intersection of Highways number 4 and 8 (a big roundabout) was reached in about an hour and 24 km of riding. The nose of Pappiska turned directly to the south, to follow the main road number 4 (Nelostie, Finnish National Road Four). Okay, we'll head that way. Soon it was time for a quick first water break. And I immediately realized that it makes very little sense to keep the drink in just a backpack. But there are no bottle racks in Pappiska and even if there were, the water would freeze there. A Camelbak could have been a good choice, but it was already too late. Predictable it was, already at this stage, that huge problems with dehydration would follow. Bottom bracket was already loose again and the play was in its previous quantities. So the tightening operation was all useless and more importantly half an hour of riding time was lost all in vain! But it still was beautiful, and the wind direction was also relatively good. One could go on like this for no matter how long time!

Old main road bed, which currently serves, among others as a cycling route. At 3:37pm. Photo: Pekka

Further again, it is beautiful. On the left you can see the main road number four. At 3:56pm. Photo: Pekka
Oh, well. All good things come to an end, and so does also the well-known (from its quality and especially the quality of winter maintenance) Oulu bicycle route network. This was the case when I had cycled south for about 33 kilometers, reaching the village Hauru crossroads. But, not even there one would be forced to move to the current main road - you could continue a couple more kilometers via the Hauru village road, which also happens to be an old main road. Gravel-surfaced, but you can't notice that in the winter and in the summer Pappiska would love it twice as much. Throughout the road the surface was slightly uneven, and the first indications of a reversal of the wind direction were perceived, but the feeling was great nevertheless.

Until all of a sudden it was the much dreaded and maligned main road four. Its very self. Asphalt inferno. Boring and direct highway, for almost infinitely long distance. More traffic than on the famous Magic Night Road of Urjala. Trucks. Wide shoulder, but the on shoulder the layer of snow conceals a gorgeous rumble strip, the location of which is obviously not a constant.Riding on the shoulder is therefore completely unacceptable simply due to the rumble strip trap, but also the thicker layer of snow would weaken the maneuverability of Pappiska to a quite critical level. It would be nice to suddenly stumble in front of a truck and end up to a truck bow ornament ..?

I didn't have to suffer the loveliness of the main road for more than three kilometers at this stage, until I got back to the old road bed and its extension - serving as the local Temmes village bicycle path.It had snowed a couple of centimeters after the previous plowing, but it did not matter at all.

After the arrival to the massive center of Temmes village it was time for the second decision of the day. Again friends at neither Kuopio nor Jyväskylä had answered anything. A sudden whim guided Pappiska towards Mankila, and the old road bed was again very useful. The route followed Kiljontie towards Rantsila. It was dark. Very dark. So dark that I only noticed as of writing this and checking the road names from the map that I had been riding for a long distance at the bank of the river Siikajoki, not noticing it at all.

Mørk og spennende - Dark and exciting, at 5:12pm. Photo: Pekka

Eventually this dark section of the ride finally ended and Rantsila village lights began to illuminate the skyline. Rantsila was reached after about 70 km ride and the first potential water and energy supplement place, the K-market Rantsila was there. It was open! I grabbed a banana and picked up two croissants. At the checkout I asked if I might fill the water bottles, and that ended up well. During filling of water bottles, the friendly cashier girl asked where I was coming from and going to. After recovering from the shock she offered to sponsor me three Karelian Pies. A big thank you, K-Market Rantsila, going to visit here again for sure! ;)

Friendly sponsor K-market Rantsila. Photo: Google Maps
Even after this stop I still refused to go to the main road, because there I would have faced nothing less than an infernal straight section of more than 11 kilometers (!). Instead I continued along the Siikajoki River bank to Porkanranta to Hyttikoski. I was already about to give up, move to the main road (hngh!), but just before arriving at the main road, there was a minor road with an old truss bridge on the right over the Siikajoki River. From the small road, a plowing tractor was arriving, which had, of course, plowed the small road and bridge just for me. Obviously, Pappiska changed it course to go there.

Just plowed Siikajoki River old truss bridge. At 6:03pm. Photo: Pekka
This truss bridge has, by the way, a very, very interesting history. The bridge is of English origin and once served as Temmesjoki river railway bridge. It was moved a little to the west to serve as a road bridge in 1950 because the weight of trains became too heavy for the bridge. In the early 1980s the capacity of the bridge was considered insufficient for the grown car traffic, but lo and behold, the length of the bridge was almost exactly the same as the needed new private bridge connection at Hyttikoski. Thus, the bridge, weighing a whooping 160 tons, was transferred as a whole one piece many tens of kilometers south of its location, where it now is lying almost forgotten, but still in somewhat active local use. If you look carefully, you may see the bridge from the current main road, but accidentally it is not easy to find. So if you ever happen to be around there, be sure to check it out!

After crossing the bridge I continued along Jylhänrannantie and finally soon was forced to move to the main road. Prior to that, I had a small drink break and checked messages. Kuopio had finally replied that they wouldn't be there, but will be in Helsinki instead (lots of hundreds of kilometers further). Jyväskylä, still no response. Okay, at this point I then decided that I'd just be cruising on the main road #4 to south as long as the feeling is good enough. When it wouldn't be, I'd just stop at some suitable 24-hour gas station and wait for the bus back to Oulu.

(I had done about 83km now. First 24-hour gas station was further 127km away, next one 164km and the last one 231km.)

There was quite a lot of oncoming traffic. Many people from the south were travelling to northern parts of Finland to visit their relatives during the Christmas time. It was all perfect this way, as there was much less traffic to my direction, south.

Not event at this point did I dare to think riding all the way to Jyväskylä.From the point of mental survival, it probably was a very good strategy.The shortest route to Jyväskylä would still be a whooping 263 kilometers, and it would be all road number four, the Via Dolorosa of horrors. I chose the very road anyway, because it was really the only realistic alternative because of the only open water supplement possibilities in the scarce northern countryside. Pulkkila ABC gas station would be open from 6-24, Kärsämäki Siwa small grocery store would close at 22, Pyhäjärvi ABC was open from 6-24, Pihtipudas Shell 24 hours, Viitasaari ABC 24 hours and Hirvaskangas ABC and Shell (both 24 hours) were the possible water, energy and emergency heat revival points. And though I always aim to avoid the ABC mafia until the last minute, on this kind of trips I unfortunately often have no other options.

In Pulkkila village I filled my water reserves with 98.5 km on the meter at about 7pm. The K-Market was still open so I didn't need to sell out myself and walk in the ABC mafia gas station.

Jyväskylä 238 km left, 25 km to Kärsämäki. At 7:34pm. Photo: Pekka
Maybe about 15km after Pulkkila I started hearing some slowly increasing clacking sound from behind. I slowly realized it was a highway plow truck (with extra-wide plow for the main road) that was slowly reaching me. But what the heck, it could not drive past me, because it would a) cover me in snow and ice and b) not plow that part of the road and would have to return there. I also could not step in the side of the road because a) there's too much snow there and b) the plow would make me a snowman. So I simply had to ride on the opposite side of the road so the plow could pass me. Luckily there was not that much oncoming traffic anymore.

I would rather not have had the plow truck pass me. The road surface was actually better before (see the photo above) than after, as the road surface was now evenly covered by a thin layer of very loose snow. Good for cars, sure, but not for me. Can't help, I just had to guesstimate where the best surface was. Again some car drivers were unhappy with my position on the road and honked their horn even when there was no oncoming traffic and they had more than 10 meters of driveway width to use for overtaking, sigh. Most acted nicely and passed me with adequate distance though.

Likewise, when I reached Kärsämäki the time was somewhere around half past eight and I could crab a small pack of sausages at the local small grocery store. At this point, Jyväskylä finally answered and confirmed their presence. This was a very welcome piece of information! And careful (and very dangerous) optimism began to creep into my mind - so far I had been riding with an average speed of about 20 km/h including breaks, whereas I was expecting 17-18 km/h speed instead. This would mean that with the same pace I could theoretically be in Jyväskylä about 2-3 hours before sunrise. But so cautious was my optimism that only at 2am after when I was already in Viitasaari (approx. 100 km to Jyväskylä), I went on to to inform my friends that it might be somewhat likely that I would indeed arrive at Jyväskylä in the morning or before noon.

After Kärsämäki the road was not freshly plowed anymore, which meant a much better surface for me. But again after some kilometers Kärsämäki I heard the clacking sound from behind. Gahh. A couple of minutes passed and there it was again. Luckily, before Pyhäjärvi, the truck came back on the other lane and after Pyhäjärvi the surface was unplowed and "perfect" again :)

Pappiska parked at Pihtipudas Shell gas station, at 0:27. Photo: Pekka
At Pihtipudas I had a quick break. And here I noticed that one bottle cap was broken, and it does not hold water that well. I still filled the bottle with water because I simply seem to be stupid. I didn't even understand to ask for a new intact cap from the gas station staff - I'm pretty sure such they would have found one from some other empty bottle so that I wouldn't have to foolishly risk my backpack (and back) getting wet in the freezing weather.

Soon after leaving Pihtipudas a red van slowed down and drove beside me. The co-driver opened the window. This youngish dude was first like "ya sure you got enough chain haha?" and asked where I was going in the middle of the night, but when I replied that was heading to Jyväskylä, the attitude seemed to change and after hearing my departure was from Oulu, he was already offering me a ride in the van to the next gas station to Viitasaari. They could easily take my bike in the van too. I politely declined and the guys wished me a good ride. It sure was one ;)

Gradually, from Pihtipudas and especially after Viitasaari, the terrain started to be a little more hilly, and the steeper hills resulted in much swerve due to the 46-20 gearing of Pappiska. Which, otherwise, was just the correct ratio. In the front I had a 46mm Spez Renegade tire, which just barely could accommodate between the front mudguard shafts. A bit too wide for the very reason that the tire was gathering soft snow from the road to the mudguard, the extra snow was peeled off by the mudguard/fender shafts and flew right to my ankles resulting in them and my shoes getting all snowy and wet. Some kinda gaiters would have been great, and I was already thinking that maybe I should pick up a couple of thin plastic fruit bags from the grocery store and tape them around my ankles. I didn't. Maybe I should have. Perhaps some day I'll invest in those gaiters?

Also the rear mudgoard collected snow pretty well. Here most snow has been already kicked off. At 1:08am. Photo: Pekka
Quiet Road Four  is, after all, quite comfortable to ride on. Not-quiet Road Four then again isn't. At 1:08am. Photo: Pekka
Fortunately, I was able to reach Viitasaari with my backpack dry, and there ABC's friendly cashier managed to dig me an intact bottle cap. Thank you, therefore, ABC Viitasaari for your sponsorship! The cashier also offered the opportunity to go to sleep and continue the journey in the morning, but I refused politely. I went on to fill bottles, stuff some food in my face, sent the above-mentioned message on its journey towards Jyväskylä and guided the Pappiska in the same direction. After Viitasaari I could use the old road bed (Isoahontie) for two kilometers, which was really refreshing, but then the same old grinding continued.

Viitasaari ABC at 2:10am. Photo: Pekka
Gorgeous old main road stone bridge built during the 1860s famine years in  Niinilahti. On the right illuminated current main road. At 3:17am. Photo: Pekka
So did the journey slowly progress, and the longest resting-placeless stage (from Viitasaari to Hirvaskangas) was finally behind. And it would have been behind much faster, had I not tried to ride some kilometeres on the local miserably badly plowed bicycle paths around Äänekoski and had instead just stayed on the driveway.

I reached Hirvaskangas at about 5:45am, and when the time was still brisk, I turned Pappiska handlebar towards Suolahti, road number 69 intending to ride through Laukaa via road 642 towards Jyväskylä, and finally left the main road number four behind. Hopefully I wouldn't have to return on it anymore. But yea, during the dark night and the silent hours the road can be pretty rideable, and since the snowfall continued throughout the evening, night and even the morning, it was really the only option as it's in the top priority winter maintenance class and the traffic also helps to keep the road open. I would have preferred using a lot more of the old road bed bends, but if I had, I would probably still be there. In summer, I for sure could explore those sections much more!

At Hirvaskangas, I spent probably the longest break, maybe about 10 minutes, and that was just too long. I just do not understand how some people can have 20-30 minute breaks (or longer) during their winter rides and then continue just like that. I freeze. Just beyond recognition. Even here, after this 10-minute break, hopping on the bike and starting rolling was just unbelievably terrible. I was trembling from the cold, my teeth chattering even though the temperature was only two degrees below zero, and tried to give the pedals extra boost as much as I could to get my heart rate up and to return the heat to my body. After a few minutes of this suffering and agony the heat was getting up again, and all was well. How happy can a man get just from getting to ride a couple of uphills :)

On the road 642 the first ~15km were quite slippery. And it was the only section where I could have used studded tires. The rest 385 km they would just have been extra weight and rolling resistance, so it was the right choice to leave them home.

At Laukaa I tried again to ride the local bike paths for some distance. I got lost twice due to the route zigzagging here and there, and also because there was a total absence of signs. In addition, the paths had been plowed very recently, but they were just awful to ride.Apparently, the driver had tried to spare the plow blade, and this resulted in about 2cm almost packed snow on top, which didn't carry the weight of some 1940's steel combined to some stupid idiot trying to ride the path at 6am in the winter. This made riding very difficult. Why can't they do this properly, as in Oulu, at least usually?

I arrived the urban Jyväskylä at the Seppälä industrial area a little after eight o'clock, about 368 km behind. There was still plenty of time to the local sunrise (9:43am) and even more till the sun rise in Oulu (10:30am) so Pappiska suddenly turned away from Jyväskylä, towards Palokka, facing some nice headwind. As a pleasant surprise this bike path was plowed quite well and with a good, narrow-teeth blade.

Good, freshly-plowed surface. But I can only imagine how this bike path will look like after the adjacent roadway has been plowed. It's just way too little space for the snow and in addition the bike path is way too low compared to the roadway. At 8:25am. Photo: Pekka
From Palokka I continued towards Ruoke, rode via Laajavuori and through the center of the city. I still had some time, so around Jyväsjärvi lake I went and finally arrived at the Jyväskylä Travel Centre with my phone GPS showing 393 km at the time of the local sunrise at 9:43 am.

Pappiska (and the reflection of some idiot) at Jyväskylä Travel Centre on Sunday morning at 9:43am, 393km behind. Photo: Pekka
Of course I had to reach 400 kilometers, now that I was this close. So, a new round around Jyväsjärvi lake it would be, and not even a full lap was required before the GPS finally was showing me the long-awaited numbers at about 10:08 in the morning.

  The nutcase finally there in Jyväskylä, 400 km gauge at 10:08am. Photo: Salla
Oh well. Full 400km. And probably a little more, as the GPS takes small shortcuts, especially at the uphills where Pappiska did some nice little snake-wriggle along the shoulder and as pace of cranks slowed and slowed down. Now, quickly a refreshing drink down the throat, clothes off and to dry, and into a morning sauna! That was some serious greatness! After some half an hour spent in the sauna my body finally began to once again produce a little heat on its own, and it was time to go put on some clothes and take a cautious half-hour nap after having stayed awake for some 26 hours.

My Jyväskylä depot also offered some warm food. How good all the pasta and meat sauce tasted! A liter of milk for the lactose-disabled also vanished very quickly, and soon it was time to aim for tonight's last bus towards Oulu.

  The crackpot finally leaving Jyväskylä (towards the Travel Centre and the bus Oulu) at 4:10pm. Photo: Tuomas
I called the bus company Pohjolan Matka making sure they'll have room in the bus for the bike. They asked me to arrive at the travel center (where the bus would depart from) 20 minutes prior the departure so they could load it in first. The bus certainly had room.

Pappiska in the bus. Photo: Pekka
Then some sitting in the bus. I thought that I would have fallen asleep immediately and for the whole five-hour bus ride to Oulu, but in the end I slept maybe only another half an hour and otherwise just felt generally tired. My knees began to lock up a little at this point, and I had to change my seat so that got my legs straight. On the bus got to listen to the stunning piano improvisations of Iiro Rantanen from the radio and watch the atmospheric Christmas decorations in the bus ;)

Ah so wonderfully atmospheric Christmas decorations on the bus. Photo: Pekka
At Oulu we arrived a little after ten o'clock in the evening. Some quick agile pedalling with almost completely locked up knees towards home, clothes off, and a warm shower. I tried to carefully stretch my calves, but immediately the achilles tendons started making clacking sounds, so it was probably better to understand the message and abandon the stretching. Off to sleep, and in the morning I would probably feel very refreshed at work, it being a lovely Monday mornning :)

Here's the GPS-track of the ride. The track is colored according to the speed, and the legend should be visible in the lower left corner. The average trip speed with breaks, pauses and everything was 20,2 km/h and the movement average speed was 22,0 km/h. The maximum speed was 48,3 km/h and the fastest 5 km section was done with an average speed of 25,5 km/h (190 - 195 km)

Have a look, there's a link above to the GPS track. Map: OpenCycleMap.org

Trip statistics from Locus Maps for Android. The elevation stats seem exaggerated.
The ride can also be found in Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/411217161

During the ride I had:
- Too little water
- 1x Royal small chocolate bar
- 1x cheese roll
- 1x protein bar
- 1x pack of small sausages
- 2x Twix
- 3x muesli bar
- 2x banana
- 4x Karelian pies
- 2x croissant

..not much, that is. I didn't have any real dark moments, but a couple of times I almost hit an energy low.I still should know my body a bit better, drink more frequently and eat yet a bit better, lots of small amounts all the time. And my teeth would thank me not.

The bike:
Swedish Svalan Pappiska, apparently from 1940's
Steel frame, bike total weight 17,5kg unloaded.
46-20 gearing, loose cranks with play in the bottom bracket
Some old 1/2" flat steel pedals
Specialized Renegade Control 46-622 front tire
Schwalbe Smart Sam 42-622 rear tire

China WF-501B lamp, lasted the whole ride in low mode with one single 18650 battery (spec 2 hours :D)
Spare WF-501B lamp, didn't have to use.
Two spare 18650 batteries, didn't have to use.
Two small led front lights just in case
Some tools
One small blinking red rear light
Spring reflectors in both ankles

Lidl 12€ cycling jacket, totally not breathing to either direction
Lidl undershirt
Some winter "thermo" bibs
Sievi work boots
Polar Buff
Cheap market gloves

A nice trip. What could I come up with for the next winter solstice? Maybe I could bike a similar ride off-road, as Mikko & friends did this year? Well, I'm not promising anything yet * grin *;)