Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Central Finland Provincial Trail: Saarijärvi-Vuosjoki

It is Friday night at Saarijärvi, Central Finland. There is still a bit of daylight left - for an hour or two at best. I pick up my backpack and turn to the road north towards Kannonkoski to follow Central Finland Provincial Trail, once again. A faded sticker Keski-Suomen Maakuntaura on a lamp post confirms that I'm on the right track.
This time I'm using a map that's not too detailed; the scale of Pohjoisen Keski-Suomen luontoreitistöt (Central Finland nature routes) is 1:100 000 so I can't see exactly which lane to follow to the hiking trail which is somewhere on my left. There are a couple of blue trail marks painted along the footpath so I stick to it until I reach the lake Pieni-Lumperoinen. I guess I'd better take a left now and head up to Heramäki hill.
The first part of the walk takes me past a peaceful suburb close to Heramäki footpath where a blue dot reveals that the trail goes right here. However, I decide to make a private shortcut through a patch of forest to the official trail. Don't ask me why. Just to get a feel of the terrain...
Very soon I hit the marked trail which can't be missed; although the path itself is just a regular footpath, there is a wide opening between the trees. Why? In the wintertime, this becomes a cross country skiing track.
According to Luonnonvoimaa.net website, the Central Finland Provincial Trail is marked north of Saarijärvi so I hope that will help me also when the darkness falls. This is a test! The blue paint marks on the trees are a promising sign. It feels weird that summer is really turning to autumn already, with the leaves changing colour from green to yellow. Very soon I hit a proper trail sign (Saarijärvi / Tiilikka) and learn that although my real destination is not Tiilikka, that is the way to follow.
The leaves on the trees are not the only ones changing their colours. It is early stages yet but you can already spot some ruska, which is the word in Finnish that describes the wonderful world of autumn colours. Willow herbs are slowly turning flaming red. However, there's also something edible that's red right at my feet: lingonberries! They taste so good.
I keep an eye on mushrooms as well but either someone has just been here to pick all the edible ones or I'm just not lucky. Anyway, I had better walk briskly and not step off the path too much tonight.
Narrow footpaths in the forest are my absolute favourites but this time I truly appreciate the trail being used also as a skiing track. It means that it will be easier to see where the trail goes also when it gets darker, and not so easy to take a wrong turn.
Some raindrops hit my face when I enter an opening where trees have been felled some years ago.  I fold the map back into my pocket and put on the hood. It will surely be just a small shower but the more there are clouds, the sooner it will get dark...
The trail crosses a dirt road, gets back to the forest, hits another opening and leads me past the thin, tall spruces. Again, a dirt road, into the woods, and suddenly I realize that darkness begins to fall. For real.
There are more and deeper shadows around me and I tread more carefully. Hello, headlamp, you'd better come out. Can't read the map without it anymore. And where have all the trail marks gone? I don't know exactly where I am, thanks to the map's scale, but have a pretty good idea anyway. Should I take a left or a right? I'd love to catch a sight of a blue trail mark, really!

After a moment's hesitation, I make my choice. The willow herbs are making fun of me. You think this is a path? It is, actually. On my left, there are some lights from nearby houses, good, and... A spot of blue paint on a birch. Thank you. It seems that the rest of the hike tonight will be an interesting one!
The silence around me is comforting although I am surrounded by deepening darkness. For a while, I keep the headlamp switched on but sometimes I switch it off, wishing to adjust to the dark and to see how well I can manage without a light on.
There are no stars yet and unfortunately also the moon is in hiding - just when its help would be appreciated. However, for some reason it is not that difficult to be walking along the path although I can hardly see it. It is a matter of taking it easy, stepping softly. I arrive at a small wooden bridge and glance at the dark water beneath my feet. It doesn't look unfriendly. Then there's a ditch to cross before arriving at a crossroads. Right or left? Even the headlamp doesn't shed enough light to this; I can't find a trail sign.Well, well, well.
Let's take out the compass and make sure that I choose the right direction. After about half kilometre, I finally spot a routemark. Thank you! Tiilikka - see you later, perhaps.

It is both fun and exciting to be traipsing all alone in the strange woods at night. I remember certain nights from my teenage years and roaming the woods with other scouts, and always finding the way to the place where we were to camp for the night. Why shouldn't I find the way now. My eyes get more and more used to the darkness and I can discern the straight route also with the help of the gap between the treetops.

Suddenly I see a flash of light far ahead. I instinctively switch off my headlamp - what, are there other people? - and stop to listen. There is only silence. It was just a car passing by. However, for the remainder of the path I choose to walk in the darkness, preferring to arrive by the road unannounced.
The Vuosjoki shelter is only about half a kilometre away, close to the road that leads to Kannonkoski village. I continue to walk in the dark and only light my headlight when arriving at the wooden bridge over Vuosjoki brook, right by the shelter.
There is nobody else at Vuosjoki. There is plenty of firewood. There is shelter for the night. I hear a distant shot or two echo in the dark; there are also hunters about, but not in the immediate vicinity because they will be by a lake instead for the wild ducks. I make a fire and have a snack. Should I stay or should I go - back to Saarijärvi? The starry night above me gives me a clear answer: stay. After all, it will be nice to see this place in the daylight! Glad I took a sleeping bag with me, just in case...

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