BaseCamper Anneke Prins shared her experience riding the 2023 Midnight Sun Gravel bikepacking event in Finland.
Here is my report of riding the Midnight Sun Gravel - Mille route - in Finland (17-23 June). One photo per day, except 2 for the final day!
We started at 9:00 from the Olympic Stadium in Helsinki, 2 riders in a total of 43, split between two routes (650km Explorer and 1000km Mille). The first day included familiar routes through the impressively large woodlands in the capital city of Finland, unknown singletrack, long gravel roads, washboards, pristine (entirely separate) cycle paths and many, many sharp climbs. We spent the first night at a hotel (such luxury!) – the same hotel that gave us shelter last year. Except this year we pedalled 89 hot miles to get there (as opposed to a rained-off 50 miles!).
Of all the mornings I felt the worst on this one – even though I slept in a bed and not a camping mattress, my back, neck and legs felt wrecked. But the buffet breakfast went down a treat and set us up nicely for the 95 miles to come. Lots of solitary riding past farmlands and golf courses. A few road stretches, but nothing too busy. A truly impressive singletrack section over large rock slabs that I thoroughly enjoyed. We wild camped near a lake that appeared somewhat neglected by the local municipality – most of these lakes have some sort of facilities, be it changing cubicles or rooms, an outhouse and sometimes a sauna or kiosk. This one had changing rooms and a very, very, very neglected WC. We had the company of two young boys until about 10:30pm, when they eventually headed home. Washing consisted of a chilling dip in the lake’s clear water, keeping my legs submerged for whatever recovery effect I could get. Once dry you had to get dressed and covered in mosquito repellent quick sharp in order not to be bitten too much!
Probably one of my favouritest days on this trip – 97 miles of all sorts of terrain, including deep DEEP sand and large rocky gravel patches that were fine as long as you took them at speed. We visited Fiskars (scissors!) for lunch and espresso and sped down to the seaside town of Hanko where, last year, we had pastries at the local tennis club (it was the first café we encountered en route!). We decided to camp at a lake where we camped last year – it features a rug washing station which would be perfect to wash out cycling kit. Unfortunately our progress was hampered by re-surfacing of a stretch of road right outside our dinner spot. We waited it out a bit before deciding to just risk riding on the one-way stretch of road (running in the opposite direction at the time of our decision) and simply stepping off onto the verge when cars approached. I fully expected us to be told off, but the construction staff (mostly young women!) all greeted us with friendly waves. We caught up with a fellow rider at our supermarket re-stocking point and he would eventually join us at the lake (Vikstrand) for a night’s camping. Lovely cool water in the lake cleaned us up and I availed myself of the opportunity to use the rug washing sinks to wash my kit.
A day of extreme highs and lows. Lots of ridiculously bouncy washboard gravel road, riding through remote wilderness, grassy bogs and rough trails… but also a full circumnavigation (on road) of a quirky little island with a range of characters that made me laugh. We had placed our hopes on a specific wild camping spot which didn’t turn out to work for us at all (I had my one and only meltdown right here), and so we had to push on at 9pm to our stretch goal of the day – an official camping site (at which we hadn’t made a booking and just hoped that we could use and pay later). We reached the camp site at 10:10pm and spotted some fellow event riders. One luckily knew the owners and reckoned it would be OK for us to pay the next morning. A hot shower never felt so good after 3 whole days of riding in temperatures that hovered around 86F (30C for the Europeans).
105 miles with a relentlessly hot sun, large stretches of gravel road with no restocking point, and an endless headwind. We had to stop regularly to refill our water supplies and to cool down. I am amazed I didn’t burn to a fine crisp during this trip, but I was really good at re-applying sunblock. Last year there was a lake that seemed to come highly recommended for camping which we decided to try out this time around. We arrived quite late and the entire site was COVERED in mosquitoes AND midges. We struggled to put up our tent while avoiding being eaten alive, and then found out that the lake was very marshy with the water a shade of strong tea. One of the reviews on Google Maps stated that the water was fine to swim in but left an odour on one's skin. We opted to wash using the water tap next to the sauna (not nearly as effective as a full-body dip!), then covered ourselves in insect repellent and hid out in the tent for the night.
Rain started at 4:30am and we dashed to rescue our clothes (hung up to dry) from getting wet. I fell back asleep and woke up with a shock at 9:45am… well past the time we usually set off each day. My husband pointed out that it’s raining quite hard and we should wait it out. It seemed like a good idea although the lost mileage niggled at the back of my mind. We both took the morning to rest, reset and eat whatever food we had on us. In the end we only set off at around 1pm, keen to find some hot lunch. I noted a pizza place on my extensive spreadsheet of Places to Eat and Camp, and when we reached it we were both really glad for both the hot (HUGE) pizzas and the bottomless coffee. We sped on and passed through Naantali, where there is a Moominworld (!!!!!) and I was so pleased to ride through this quirky little town and really felt the holiday vibes. A quirk of ridewithGPS meant we reached our camping destination 10 miles before expected and we decide to call it good at 50 miles to take a little more rest.
114 miles to the finish! What a day – starting off at one of the nicest lakes we ever camped at, we had a pretty ambitious schedule (although we never committed to finishing the whole lot until about 8pm). This day would feature 8 ferries across the Turku Archipelago, which would mean getting ferry schedules to line up. We had 30 miles to go before reaching the first ferry and decided to start a little earlier than usual to give ourselves a good chance to make the ferry schedules work in our favour. We also realised there was a “bottleneck” ferry that only ran about 4 times a day, so we made sure to get across that one before stopping for lunch at around 2pm. Some islands were longer, others were a mere 2 mile dash across to the next ferry. We reached the town of Nagu where we had to make a call – either sleep on the beach there (noisy, Midsummer parties all around), or push on to the finish. I tentatively sent the organiser a message telling him we’ll aim to finish, but might only finish at 1am. He's a crazy, enthusiastic unstoppable Italian and cheered us on. So we had dinner at a supermarket in Nagu, then raced for our very last ferry, and eased our way back into civilization as we got closer and closer to Turku. The hustle and bustle of a big city during a major annual celebration was quite the shock after days of quiet riding. The actual finish line was about 90 minutes on the other side of Turku, but as it was midsummer we always had a bit of light in the sky. When we eventually rolled over the finish line at 12:29am, we were heartily welcomed by a small band of riders that had stayed around to camp and welcome other finishers. Davide, the organiser, made fresh pizza and I once again took a deeply satisfying shower. We pitched our tent in record time and slept like logs.
Days 8 and 9
50 miles and 70 miles respectively, back to the start in Helsinki, with a hotel stay in the middle. Some gravel. Mostly roads.
Two pairs of everything is the perfect number for a trip longer than 4 days (shirts, socks etc).
The solar panels worked like a charm again this year.
Putting my water in the frame rather than my backpack was a good move – really saved my back.
You cannot have too much insect repellent.
Schedule some hot meals – for your mood and digestion.
Make a goal of drinking – literally set a goal of draining your supplies by the next refilling point (as long as you know the refilling point is reliable!).
Stand on all the descents (and possibly some of the climbs as well) to save your arse/sensitive bits – even if the first descent is 1 mile into a 770 mile journey.
Tubeless is ace (no fatal punctures on these tyres, which I also used last year – lasted 1800km+! Schwalbe Thunder Burt, FYI).