Last Friday I took my car and drove to Pelkosenniemi, in Eastern Lapland, to join a bunch of paddlers and oersmen who were rowing down the stream of Kemijoki river for the Kemijoki Experience.
The Kemijoki Experience (or Yöttömän Yön Soutu in Finnish) is the largest rowing event in Finnish Lapland. This year was its 5th edition and 23 of paddlers and 113 oersmen took part in the event. This event is little by little becomeing international, and they were people from Russia, Spain, Canada, Germany, Austria and Netherlands. They started on the 19th of July and rowed all the way down Kemijoki river from Savukoski to Kemijärvi, where they arrived on Saturday afternoon after more than 110 km.
As I said, I started from Pelkosenniemi, where I met all the participants at their arrival to the dock close to the Market Square. There they rest for a little while and had lunch, and I got some instructions and my ‘kuksa’ (traditional Lappish cup) which was not only a good souvenir, but also a way to know who was part of the event. By showing the kuksa to the organization, we got our meals
At some point I jumped in the 8 seaters traditional wooden boat, called in Finnish ‘church boats’ and we started rowing towards Vuostimo, 18 km farther from the place we started.
The first 2 km were a bit… not sure how to say it, but the thing is that I have no co-ordination and I caused some little troubles to the girls rowing in front and behind me. Nothing major, anyway, and at some point and keeping the concentration (what means no video shooting, nor pictures or not even talking) I managed to row and (almost) coordinate with my team.
The landscape was gorgeus, with a super wide river that made you feel very small when rowing in the middle of it. Temperature was a bit above 20 C and it was a bit cloudy, which make a very easy going: not hot, not cold… just perfect.
After the first 8,5 km we stopped at Saukkosaari island, where we had a little break and met the paddlers who were also having a break in their kayaks. Some water and some nuts after, we continued our journey.
Rowing, rowing and rowing and we reached Vostimo, where a bus was already waiting us to take us to Pyhätunturi area, the place where we overnighted in the hotel and some others in cabins. After dinner there was a karaoke evening which I skipped.
Last leg: from Vuostimo to Kemijärvi
After having a good (massive) breakfast at the hotel, we went to our meeting point at Naava Nature and Culture Centre, where we assisted to a very nice presentation of the area before we got in the bus that took us to the starting point of the day.
Our team was moved to a bigger boat (14 rowing seats) and I started to believe that it had something to do with my rowing style or the time I spent taking pictures and videos on the previous day. From the beginning I felt the difference, and it looked as if we had flown above the water. Being 14 rowing makes me not to feel guilty when I release my paddle and stop in order to take pictures or videos (what a great excuse to have a little rest every now and then!).
The speed changes also drastically, and if the first day our speed average was 6,2 km/h, this day the average went up to 9,8 km/h. In fact, on my first day we ended up in the latest position and today we passed everybody. I have to say that the event is not a competitive one, but somehow being the first is something that I enjoyed (specially becouse I have never been the first in anything!).
After the first 10 km of the day we stopped to have lunch in an hundred years old wooden school at Oinas. There we showed our kuksa cup and got some meat soup and bread to refill our deposits.
Then back to the boats for more rowing… rowing and rowing. In front of us the sun was saying to the boat ‘Hello, my friends!’, and when we were going to answer him, a black cloud above surprised us with a fresh summer rain. The whole crew started singing a Finnish pop song from the 90’s which says ‘Aurinko paistaa ja vettä sataa / taitaa tulla kesä!‘, which means something like ‘the sun is shining and it’s raining / it must be summer!’. There couldn’t be a better song to describe that moment.
Soon the rain stopped and little by little we dried up before we arrived to Kostamo, 18km from our previous stop, where we enjoyed a coffee with some cinnamon rolls. We were in the middle of the Lappish countryside, and some young girls were having a good time taking for a walk a couple of calves while we waited to start the last part of our trip.
My two days rowing were fantastic, and I can only thank the organization and all the participants. It’s not only about rowing, but about being together with other people, sharing a very good time!