Hiking in Finland

Climbing, bikepacking, skiing & packrafting in the north

I Travelled During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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No, this is not an April’s Fool joke. I really travelled during the COVID-19 Pandemic, and it was not fun.

On the road to Lapland with OnniBus

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Two weeks ago I wrote about Hiking and Travel during COVID-19, and now I’m back and want to share my experiences with you of how it was to travel in this time and age. In case you wonder: Yes, this was a work trip. I went on this trip because it means I can put food on the table for April and May. It is the only larger income for the foreseeable future, and yes, my family and me were discussing long and in-depth if I should go. Deep inside I probably hoped that OnniBus would just cancel the journey to Levi, then I’d be able to easily postpone the trip. But I kept on checking their website, and on the evening of the 19th of March it was clear: My Bus to Lapland rides, and my buses south too. So I put the last things into my Pulka, strapped the skis on top, filled up my Thermos with hot juice and went to the Bus Station.

COVID-19 Bus Selfie

My Bus from Vaasa left at 2:30 in the middle of the night, and with me were another five or six people on the bus - all well spaced out. I put on my noise-cancelling headphones, put the relaxing sound of a rainy night playing, and fell asleep. I awoke at 7:00 in the morning in Oulu, where I had an hour time before my Bus to Levi would leave. The sun was shining outside, it was -7°C and inside in the waiting hall of the bus station were four other people. Everyone was sitting on his or her own bench, with several meters of distance between us. As I was going to sit another 9 hours in the Bus I pulled my Pulka to the bus platform and started walking up and down in the sun.

Oulu Matkakeskus

In the Bus to Levi we were a few more people - maybe between ten and twelve. Again there were several rows distance between each passenger, and at the few longer stops everyone let the others disembark with a lot of distance. People stayed away from each other, and no one was wearing face-masks. As we reached the border with Sweden after Kemi you could see the border guards stoping cars which tried to pass between Finland and Sweden, something I have not seen ever before.

As I arrived in Levi I was surprised about the bustle in town. The lifts were operating, people were out skiing, fatbiking, and going for a stroll in the beautiful sunny weather. I waited 10 Minutes for my Bus for Hetta, and we were a total of three passengers on this Bus. Then, finally, at almost 17 o’clock I had arrived in Hetta.

Hetan Majatalo

This part of the journey worked surprisingly well. I was happy to be in sunny Lapland, with cold and sunny weather in the forecast. I was looking forward to go skiing on the Hetta - Pallas Trail, and leave this crazy situation behind me for a while at least.

The next morning I left Hetta, and loved skiing on the XC tracks. It was exhausting, but the sun was shining, there was little wind, and the views were great. My phone was in Airplane mode, both so it preserved battery and that I’m not bothered by what is going on elsewhere on this planet 🌍. For the next days I had a wonderful time (being happily ignorant of developments in Finland and elsewhere) although it also has been utterly exhausting at times.

On Tuesday I arrived at the rustic Montellin Maja hut, and thought it would be a good time to check my Emails. That’s where the stress started: I had several messages from OnniBus that they decided to cancel all Ski Busses from Levi & Ylläs to the south, BUT there was one Bus still going - you needed to be in touch if you wanted to get a seat on it. A few stressful hours ensued, while I was skiing in windy & sunny weather first to the large Nammalakuru Hut and then onwards to the Rihmakuru Kota. As I arrived at the latter I had received a reply that I was rebooked on the Bus on Saturday morning going south, and so I could enjoy this wonderful Kota with it’s amazing tiny stove.

Hannunkuru Sauna

The next few days I spent skiing and fatbiking in Ylläs while enjoying the hospitality of the 7 Fells Hostel. On Saturday morning I took a Taxi to the Bus Stop, and was happy to see that there were a few more travellers making the journey south. That meant at least the bus was not cancelled. Or that’s what we thought. It was 10:20 and there was no Bus in sight. 10:30, still no Bus. 10:40, no Bus. A Blizzard was raging at the Bus Stop, and it was cold. We were wondering with the other passengers what is going on - it’s just a short 16 km to Levi, and such a delay seemed very strange. Was the Bus coming?

Ylläs OnniBus Stop

At 11:20, an hour late, the OnniBus rolled to the Bus Stop. Everyone was reliefed and smiling - we would get home at last! We loaded all our stuff inside, and off we were. There still was lots of space - the next passengers to me sat three rows behind me - and somehow we also arrived not too late in Oulu. I saw the train going to Seinäjoki stand already at the platform, and decided to try to catch it, even if I only had a ticket for Sunday night on the same train. I got in, stored all my stuff, and sat down alone as the only passenger in the whole waggon. My ticket was accepted with a smile and several hours later I disembarked in Seinäjoki. I waited a short while alone on the platform while Dusk was painting the sky in beautiful hues of orange, red and blue, till my train to Vaasa arrived. The same thing again - I was the only passenger in the whole waggon, and had a friendly chat with the conductress. I arrived well back in Vaasa at home, kissed my kids good night after over a week, and had a relaxed evening with my wife. But I wouldn’t go on such a trip again under these circumstances.

Seinäjoki Railway Station

What would have been a fabulous trip and an amazing experience under normal circumstances warped into a stressful and uncertain trip during this COVID-19 Pandemic. Being reliant on Public Transportation in these times is highly unreliable, and adds a level of stress which I wouldn’t want to experience when I go on a trip. Being uncertain about if you get home, or when and how, just distracts from your enjoyment of the nature and landscape you went to explore & experience. As the COVID-19 Pandemic is set to limit travels (in Finland) at least till the end of May I know that I will not go anywhere where I can not get on my bike from the front of my house, or where I can hike or paddle easily.

Going outdoors is a place for me where I want to be able to recuperate, and even if I can stay offline and shut out the rest of the world, if you need to get home with the bus or train afterwards that thought will stick with you, even as your phone stays in Flight Mode. So my conclusion is simple: Travelling during the COVID-19 pandemic, even within your own country - is not worth it. Stay local, explore your own backyard forests and lakes, and use your bike, feet and packraft to get to new places. The hills will still be there when this Pandemic has passed, and you will enjoy them a lot more than now, in these uncertain times. And why not camp in the garden this Eastern instead of travelling far?

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