Tuesday, June 12, 2001

Arctic Circle

Friends: The sun shines in The Arctic. For two hours this morning after crossing the Arctic Circle I got to ride with a shadow for the first time in four days, but then the clouds rolled in. At least these were high and light-colored, not the thick, billowing, ever-threatening, low-lying clusters that could turn dark and nasty. These did start spewing a mist, though not serious enough to force me to dig out my poncho. If I'd had intermittent wipers I would have set them on their least frequent use. I couldn't stop for more than fifteen or twenty minutes on my two breaks during the seventy miles I biked today, as I'd start cooling off too much. But I could demand a little extra from my legs, as they will have six days of rest. They did fine, 700 miles in eight days.

My final eighty miles were the first time I had ridden a main artery since leaving Helsinki. But this far north that didn't mean much. I still had the road pretty much to myself. I am now in an area that attracts travelers and tourists, so I can start paying attention to whether cars have an emblem other than FIN on them. So far I've also seen cars with a D, NL and DK. I had to remind myself to glance at the oncoming traffic to see if they were giving me a wave or a thumbs up or, as happened frequently in Guatemala, clapping hands. It was startling to see drivers take their hands off their steering wheel, as my girl friend Crissy and I struggled up the steep roads of Guatemala. But it was more welcome than a friendly blast of their horn.

No such reaction from these reserved Finns, however. Not a one has asked me where I'm coming from or where I'm going. Partial explanation could be that they don't know what language I speak, but it's mostly their notorious, natural reserve, as the Kaurismaki's often portray in their films. I'm 75 miles into the Arctic and the trees are as thick as ever. I had two reindeer spottings today. One a lone reindeer ambling down the bicycle path in one small town and then two groups of three in a field. Even this main highway was unmarked by kilometer posts. I welcome them at times to let me know my progress, but it is also nice not to be jarred back to the temporal world every two or three minutes with an alert of my progress while my thought is wandering. Every ten kilometers though is a sign counting down the distance to the next big town, a perfectly suitable distance.

Sodankyla has a surrounding population of about 10,000, large enough to have a couple of stop lights, the first I have encountered since leaving Helsinki. Before I saw anything else, I was most eager to check out the circus tent where some of the movies will be shown. In the middle of the dark and dank tent is a 30-foot high screen. Five rows of ten molded plastic seats are up front. Behind them are narrow wooden benches that look like they could date from medieval times, enough to seat another 450 people. They look less comfortable than the bleachers of Wrigley. The other two venues are the town's movie theater and the high school gymnasium,both seating about 250. I tried to get my credentials but was told the woman I've been in contact with won't arrive from Helsinki until tomorrow.

Later, George

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