The weeks leading up to the paddling trip had been glorious sunshine, around 22-25 degrees everyday - it felt a bit too good to be true. We had a few days on the lake nearby the school to refresh our paddling skills. We would be taking both the kayaks and the canoes so we needed to be comfortable in both.
There were a couple of rapid sections on the route so before the trip we spent a day in some local rapids practising a few techniques and learning how to deal with them. It was good to practise reading the water, and planning your route - and learning how easily all the planning goes to shit.
It was good to practise team work in the canoes, when you need to make quick decisions you realise how important making a plan, and communicating well with your partner is in order to successfully paddle.
With only one fully functioning wrist though I struggled a bit to give much power, and when you're paddling against the current its pretty tough. But it was good fun watching everyone practice, especially when Neils and Herve had the first capsize of the group.
The route we would be doing is a popular paddling route called Wanha Witonen. The Canoeing Route begins from Petäjävesi, ending up on Lake Päijänne. The total length of the official route is 75 km. Our route was roughly following the Wanha Witonen but with some extra bits and we finish in Jämsänkoski instead.
Day one - Petäjävesi to Kuivaniemi 17.7km
After a relatively short drive (compared to previous trips) we unloaded all the gear and starting prepping the boats trying to squeeze all our gear in. I had a kayak for the week so I'd backed all my stuff into different dry bags so I could easily load/unload my stuff. After a long laid back lunch in the sunshine, we set off. We had 17.5km till we got to Kuivaniemi but with plenty of daylight we had no rush.
My partner for the day was Sirpa, she was an absolute hero. I felt slightly bad whoever was partnered with me that week because despite my best efforts my paddle stroke just wasn't very strong because of the dodgy wrist - so it took even more effort to keep the boat going straight and to keep up with the rest of the pack. But she was a complete work horse and easily made up for my limited performance.
The first rapids
Quite soon into the route we hit our first section of rapids. We all got out of the boats to check out and plan our route through. The water level was quite low because of all the good weather we'd been having so there were quite a lot of rocks to deal with. As we all stood on the bridge looking below, I could sense a few of us were feeling a tad anxious about manoeuvring our big canoes round so many obstacles. Sirpa and I went over and over our plan, even reenacting the movements onshore so that we knew exactly what the other would be doing.
As we watched the first few boats go the nerves were just building, and paddled our way to the back of the group, not wanting to go next. Eventually we were the only boat left, everyone had done a good job, some even making it look easy. We ran through the plan one more time, gave each other one last look, and went for it.
The first obstacles we had to contend with was a set of big concrete pillars, as the current started to pick up our speed we were ready to try and stick to the right. Within seconds, our canoe was turning 180 degrees and we were heading into the next section of rocks backwards. A mix of english and Finnish swear words powered our strokes into the side where the current was less strong.
We were now sat facing backwards, with 80% of the rapids left to deal with... We made a new plan and headed back towards the rapids, our plan was to use the power of the current to spin us back around. We knew this could result in the current tipping us up, but at that point it was our only option so we just went with it. I was in front so I slowly paddled the bow of the canoe into the current, it hit the boat and spun us back around. In no time we were bobbling back down the rapids - at least facing the right way.
We continued on down the rapids, working hard to avoid the rocks and trying to stick to our original route plan. After the first mishap the rest of the rapids went okay - well we never really felt fully in control but we didn't hit anything so in that sense it was a success.
Kuivaniemi - first night
We hit our camping spot at around 8pm, so we'd been on the water for quite a while. It was a beautiful spot (actually it ended up being the nicest spot all week) with the fire warning on because of how dry it had been there was a ban on fires. So we used our camping stoves for cooking all week. With only a pasta salad fuelling me since 11am I was super hungry so I had dinner before even setting up my camp. One major thing i've learnt about myself during this year is that I make a much better camp once I'm fed.
Day two - Kuivaniemi to Lylyniemi 19.5km
With a few of us resembling half baked lobsters, and another day of blazing sunshine ahead we coated ourselves in sun cream and heading back onto the water. My paddling buddy for the day would be Jere. We also made quite a good team, the canoes are nice because you've got someone to chat to all day. I enjoyed the bizarre conversations you'd end up having whilst floating along.
We stopped off at Vähä-Rautavesi, which was a place that offered outdoor services for people along the route. Boat hire, bike hire, they had some cool barrel saunas and they also ran husky safaris in the winter. The owner gave us a bit of a tour and told us about his business. It was interesting to see what different ranges of activities they did.
Niall, Mikko and I got to try out this cool space style swing thing. - It was surpassingly smooth and just made me giggle really.
We had a couple for rapid sections during our route, these ones felt a bit easier than the previous day. The water level though was really quite low so there was always plenty of rocks to avoid. Although we were by no means conquering the rapids, we defiantly felt a bit more confident after every section we did. Understanding a bit more each time about how to handle them. These are things you can only ever master by just practising lots.
Camping spot in Lylyniemi
We happened to go from our best camping spot of the week to the worst. All the places we stopped were designated camping spots, and each would have a fireplace area. This spot looked promising with a small sandy shore where we could park up. But then as you head into the forest it wasn't the nicest place to pitch the loue.
The mosquitos were a pain in the ass all week, it made having any sort of communal gathering in the evening a bit hard. The second night especially, most people ate quickly and retreated to the safety of their mosquito nets. My technique was to never stop moving, so I spent the evening walking in circles trying to think of a good name for a pig with some of the guys.
Day three Lylyniem to Iso-Hiekka 11.5km
With a bit of a shorter day ahead the sensible part of me was quite glad because the last two days had been a bit tough on my wrist. So a shorter day followed by a rest day was very welcome. But with all the mosquitos about life out on the boats was much more pleasant than on land. The whole atmosphere of the group was very chilled, possibly too chilled for what was supposed to be an educational trip but the combo of the glorious weather and the laid back nature of paddling on flat water - it did feel like a holiday.
Camping at Iso-Hiekka
We camped at Iso-Hiekka for two nights, it was a really nice spot with a small sandy beach and a little hut to sit and watch the sun setting. The wind that evening was quite strong, which gave us a welcome break from the bloody sucking mosquitos. It also allowed the group to sit around comfortably for the evening which was nice. I guess it was a combination now of experience and daylight hours that made it feel like we had much more down time on this trip compared to others. On both the Russia trip and the ski expe I barely felt like I sat down. Whereas on this trip we had lots of chances to relax (as well as you can when you're being eaten by mosquitos)
That evening a few of us were awake for a lovely sunset. The water was perfectly still and we all just watched as the sun dipped beneath the horizon.
Day four - hike round Heräjärvi
Heräjärvi is a beautiful clear lake surrounded by old growth forest, we spent the day hiking around it and having some small nature presentations from the rest of the group. After lunch a few of us went in for a dip, it was quite cold but nice and refreshing on such a warm day. The clear water so nice to swim in, you could see small perch fish that looked practically see through. Then we had a big BBQ in the evening to finish a perfect the rest day.
Day five Iso-Hiekka to Jämsänkoski 17km
I was the daily guide with Eukka, we had a nice big stretch to paddle on our final day. With one tiny section of rapids to handle it was all pretty straightforward. All week we'd seen these big triangles on the shore indicating the route - but it was fairly straightforward to follow the map. The speed we were going gives you plenty of time to assess the islands and keep on track.
On the open stretches it was quite tough to keep the groups together, despite reminding everyone. The different paces of each boat sometimes made the gap quite big. This isn't some times a problem but when we were in large open water we wanted to keep the group nice and compact - just incase. It was the first time that week i'd been in a kayak - as it was a bit easier going in the canoe on my wrist. But it felt good to be mixing it up - I did miss having my canoe buddy to chat to all day though.
We found a lovely stretch of white sandy beach for our lunch spot, it couldn't have been more perfect to have our last meal together as a group. The gas for my cooker had run out the previous evening so I was now eating the remainder of my tinned pineapple and tuna (note to self - always bring extra gas just incase)
We got to Jämsänkoski earlier than expected, and treated ourselves to a group jump in the lake to cool down. It was such a great week, perfect weather, nice relaxed atmosphere and a really nice experience for most of us who had never done a multi day paddling trip before. It's definitely worth doing in the summer months, and it was such a beautiful route. Surrounded by wilderness and the scenes of cultural heritage make is always interesting and the route is a nice mix of small lakes, rivers and rapids.