Friday, 10 August 2012

In search of Central Finland Provincial Trail: Hietama-Saarijärvi

A nice breakfast at Kartano Kievari guesthouse is a good start for today's hike. After a day in the rain it feels good to start walking in dry weather. Before really hitting the road, I check out the simple, newish Hietama church next door.
I leave the highway 13 and walk first along Hietamantie which is an ancient village road. There are loads of lovely flowers by the roadside - wish I knew them all by name. However, I recognize foxglove when I see one, but I've never seen them grow wild in Finland. Wonder if these beauties have escaped from someone's garden?
Hietama school no longer operates in the old school building (1898) but in the more modern one in the same school yard. I prefer the old school... Very soon I step off the road and turn into the forest to follow a parallel path that leads to a large gravel pit.
The gravel pit area itself is off limits as there is work going on. The machinery used makes a bit of noise so I'm happy to step back among the trees and through a small meadow.
The Central Finland Provincial Trail follows wide and narrow paths as well as small roads. I cross a railroad track, pass houses and a farm after which I reach a calm track through the woods. There are blueberries everywhere. 
I stop to admire the moss-covered rocks, especially the one that is split in half. But I don't want to disturb the tender moss by leaving my footprints on it... It feels good to walk on such a good path and over here it is no trouble to follow the trail although the blue trail marks are still a rare sight. Should I have carried a can of blue paint with me?
The path again returns to a small road at Parantala, surrounded by farms and fields. There are large letters on the roof of the old cowshed but I can't discern exactly what it says, because of the shadows of the trees. Does it say Kuoppala? After a while, I see the first cows of the day.
I pause for some wild strawberries by the side of the path, but then I see something even better: arctic brambles. It makes a difference to be walking instead of cycling or driving; moving any faster than on my two feet I probably wouldn't notice such little things as these delicious berries. The clouds are gathering above me and the first raindrops land on my face. Time for a rain coat, time to leave the road and start hunting for the next path. It was supposed to begin right here?
Never mind, I'll just turn to the right direction and am sure to find the path again soon - so true. Alas, the path is somewhat overgrown but still recognizable; there are no trees growing on the old track. Not just yet, that is.
The thistles are taller than me. Luckily, the path becomes clear after the bushes and the clouds make way for the sun. Walking on the mire I know I am definitely on the right track. A sign warns me about cars: a road is again coming up. 
The route takes me back to the highway 13 at Parantala. This is where the former Parantalankoski rapids were before the water-power station was built. Somewhere there is lake Kiimasjärvi, and behind my back is lake Pyhäjärvi.
After the Parantala bridge, there are surprises ahead. Trail signs! Not necessarily on trees or signposts, but somewhere... The broken sign gives the distances as Parantala 2, Saarijärvi 23. One look at the map tells me that I may not need to walk more than 20 kilometres; there are two alternatives for the last part of the trail and I've already decided to take the shorter route to Saarijärvi.
Parantala area gives me the best Central Finland Provincial Trail experience of the day: there are some original trail signs from the 1980's and blue paint marks along the path. There is even a welcome sign that marks the border between Äänekoski and Saarijärvi towns - right in the middle of the forest! The path is well trodden, and not just by people: someone definitely rides here regularly.
Goodbye, you wonderful path, and hello civilization. Only for a while, though. The railroad track would offer the fastest route to Saarijärvi, but I'm not in a hurry. It is time to look for the next path somewhere on my right.
I've learnt my lesson: this must (have been) a path. I jump across the brook and continue my way through the bushes...
Meadowsweets aren't prickly, they are just tall and wet. Felled forest. A splash of blue paint on a tree. Oh yes, this is the trail. I wonder, what it will be like to walk on a well marked path after this trip. Boring?
This moss-covered car must have been parked among the trees decades ago. I forget to check the front of the car and can't tell the make from the rear lights. Anyway, there must be a road and houses nearby.
Next, I spend some kilometers walking on a dirt road, passing houses and summer houses, cultivated fields, planted trees. Many of the summer houses have names - such as Riemula, Summanmutikka, Ruusuranta, Ruskoranta. At Sääksniementie road, after the market garden, a trail sign (fallen by the side of the road) again reveals the distance to my destination: Saarijärvi 15, Äänekoski 27.
Road, path, or... Yes, this is a path... At least according to my map. A group of black grouses jumps, having been standing in the middle of the path, gets up in the air and the birds take shelter on the branches of the spruces around me. Sorry!
At least this route is very varied! The dirt road is easy to walk so I have plenty of time to watch the clouds drift above me - and see the rain arrive. On the other side of the railroad track, I hear the traffic of highway 13. In a minute, I can see a truck slow down and turn. I wonder if that is a petrol station or a café?
I step off the path to Linnan Liisa café-restaurant for a cup of hot tea and a fresh bun before returning to the rain. A woman in the next table looks at me in wonder when I put my gore-tex jacket back on. Why would anyone want to go out when it is so wet? I do. I want to keep on walking, and the rain will not last forever.
Getting closer to Saarijärvi, I see some more blue trail marks. However, once I step off the road, the marks disappear and I need to rely on my maps and keep on believing that I am on the right track. Past the houses, somewhere there behind the bushes, round the field, past the tall thistles...
I am now almost at the last "oh trail, where art thou" part of the trail. That house wasn't there when the trail map was printed! However, after a bit of searching I again find the track and am rewarded also by the sun which makes the raindrops on the branches and plants sparkle so beautifully.
A dirt road leads me to Saarijärvi industrial area: first Kangastie, then the long and straight Rajalantie and the possibility to choose from two alternative routes to Saarijärvi centre. I don't turn to the left on Uuraistentie road but choose the shorter track, just as I had planned to do. The narrow stretch of forest opens to a larger one and I find myself on a very good path, going past the calm Mäkelänlampi pond.
The path rises slowly but surely and leads me to the local sports venue on Kusiaismäki; in the winter, there are lots of cross-country skiing tracks as well as a possibility for downhill skiing and for some of us, for skijumping. I am close to the finish already!
There it is: Saarijärvi (saari = island, järvi = lake). The town is named after the lake. It feels strange to be back on the fairly straight asphalt roads, the noise, people. The last two days on the Central Finland Provincial Trail have been so different! I have done my best to stay on the trail as marked on the map that was published 25-30 years ago, and have mostly made it. It would be great if this stretch between Suolahti and Saarijärvi was also revived and perhaps marked again properly, though!
The remains of the trail sticker catch my eye on a lamp post when I am walking my last kilometer of the day towards Saarijärvi center, to catch my ride home. It has been simply fun and interesting to be walking on this kind of trail, and a good experience to read maps more carefully for a change. It is worth it to leave the well-worn paths sometimes, to find something new... Being able to do this with a very light backpack was a bonus: I don't often do a 2-day hike without a sleeping bag.

The Central Finland Provincial Trail continues from Saarijärvi towards the north as a marked trail, and there is a new map available. I will need different gear for that hike... But I'll be back!

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