[Disclaimer: The high-quality photos you see here are by Lauri Ahtiainen, and he owns the Miata in the shots]
This past Friday was certainly one of the harder driving days I’ve done. 11 hours of near-constant twisty-road driving, preceded by a cross-country jaunt the previous night just to get to the starting point, and three vehicles from the nine partaking took such a beating they didn’t make it home in one piece, or haven’t still done so. Boiling summer sun, soaking rain, oven lamb, sauna, beer.
I could say the Finnish summer has now officially begun. Let me relate the tale.
Part of our gearhead crew started off from the IKEA Vantaa parking lot. I got there early in my white E34, and grabbed some breakfast at the cafe beforehand. Soon enough, the rest of the capital region cars arrived: an E30 touring Design Edition, followed by a Renaultsport Megane, a Lotus 7 and a Mazda RX-8. We journeyed some 100km further to reach the other cars, waiting for us at an ABC service station, and started our actual B-road driving with the convoy strengthened with a Swiss import Miata, an E90 320d, a 540i manual wagon, an Audi A4 wagon, a Primera and a six-speed Fiat Stilo. In addition, there was a Suzuki Marauder bike. Certainly a random selection, but a car crew that shows the different tastes of a camaraderie.
We drove south from Nastola, driving quite gently to begin with. It did only take barely 30 minutes for the first casualty: the rider of the Marauder had touched the asphalt on a forest road corner and couldn’t keep the bike from ending up in the sticks. We only saw the RX-8 guys running to the scene and missed the event – as only debris was there to show where he went off. Amazingly, the rider recovered with only a sore finger and damaged pride, and the bike suffered a broken brake handle that kept it from continuing reasonably unharmed. The rider took his bike home, as he was reasonably local, and rejoined us in an Audi A3 later on.
After spending some time at a channel barrier that showed the signs of forest industry being quite vibrant in the region earlier, our route zigzagged through the southeast Finnish towns from where I hail. It was funny being home after a couple years spent elsewhere, as I’ve only rarely visited my hometown since moving to the west coast. With my parents having sold the apartment a some time ago, there’s just no reason to spend time there, and 99% of my local friends have moved away. The region is slowly wilting due to the forest and paper industry winding down, and the contrast between Eastern and Western Finland is growing.
During breaks from driving, we made sure to take some Woollarding shots, which consists of posing next to the visible engine bay with one foot perched up on bumper or tire, as if you were discussing the car’s merits in the style of former Top Gear host, William Woollard. The pose craze is hilarious, and it has a Facebook page dedicated to it. By now, the 540i wagon and the Primera had departed and headed home.
After negotiating the demanding but dynamic Museotie or Kuninkaantie, the old “King’s Road” amidst the coastal scenery east from Hamina, the heavens opened. And immediately, the E30 wagon lost its will to live and died aside the road, while the thunderstorm washed over us. Around this time, the red Fiat started displaying gearbox trouble, manifesting a grouching noise that slowly amplified. The E30 was attempted to be revived, but we had a dinner appointment we couldn’t miss, and almost made it in good time for the delicious oven lamb that had been cooked overnight. It felt like a reward after a tough day driving, but we still had a journey to continue: after some more driving, we stocked up on supplies at a service station, followed a leading car that took a wrong route, and added a little more distance to our drive. It’s never a bad thing to spend time behind the wheel in the Finnish lake district, as the scenery is lovely.
Our destination was a train drivers’ cottage not too far from the Karelia Brigade of the Finnish Defence Forces, a place where a lot of young Finns have spent their time getting frustrated in a forest. But we enjoyed a proper sauna accompanied by beers and a dive in the lake for those not put off by the freezingly cold water. I jumped in and immediately regretted. But it was worth it, no question.
The next morning, we gathered our stuff and started the way home. It didn’t take long, however, for the Fiat to turn the remains of the gearbox into terrible crunching noises, and it had to be left in the nearest town to wait for the tow truck. I gave the Fiat driver a lift to the train station, so at least he could get home; drove around my old hometown in a wistful mood and rejoined the other guys for a quick kebab before they headed west to their respective homes, having tinkered with the still-lifeless E30 wagon.
I turned the BMW’s nose back north, spending a couple days at our own summer cottage and only later driving back west late Monday night. Over 2000km in one weekend – Finland in the summertime behind the wheel.