Bikepacking or Touring Karelia? Or Is It Too Late?

You can find beautiful scenery and picturesque poverty – or whatever it is you are looking for – more easily and in a more compressed format elsewhere. Still, this corner of the world should not be neglected. The old culture in Karelia will soon die, if we do nothing. And the people who were relocated in these parts during the Soviet reign also have a story to tell. About the present, not just the past that is.

Come to think of it, the distance from Saint Petersburg to the Arctic Sea isn’t actually that big. Not if you compare it with the enormous scale of the Russian federation. It’s more like… suitable for touring!

Funnily enough, Elias Lönnrot who started documenting the tradition of singing ancient stories in this somewhat unique 5/4 rythm and alliteration (using rhymes in the beginning of the words and frases) as early as 1828, also thought it would soon be too late. His work is now known as Kalevala. Same thing with Samuli Paulaharju, an ethnographer who visited Karelia in the early twentieth century. He stated that there was very little left of the old forests and that we had already lost so much of the once great culture.

Just to get this out of the way: I prefer panniers. They are so easy to use. For me, bicycle touring is about travelling, not about efficiency. And, I honestly think that if someone at Ortlieb would spend his or her coffee break scetching an alternative tie-down mechanism for the classic panniers, they wouldn’t rattle or detach when cycling on rocky roads.

Calling cycle touring bikepacking is actually quite handy. It allows the person planning new cycle routes to prefer inferior roads and doubletracks without anyone asking why. But making a route so hard to cycle that it becomes the sole purpose is highly questionable. Ok I might be wrong suggesting that bikepacking routes are made for cycling only. In fact people running sites like probably work hard to make their routes worldclass.

In my opinion, we are travelling because we want to see and experience new places. Sometimes it means putting in some serious effort. Often it doesn’t. The Republic of Karelia has some really bad roads. There should always be a good reason why to advice people to cycle them.

The long term plan is to have several well thought routes, link-ups to connect them and smaller sidesteps so you could visit an interesting place a bit furher off the road by bike or on foot. This is where I like to question the rationality of bikepacking. If a place is easily accessibe by foot but very hard by bike, why not walk? Don’t worry. There is, of course, also room for those long and demanding bikepacking routes!

Got a bit lost there. The long term plan is a network of roads that are, at least in someone’s opinion, good for cycling. To see them on a map as a network would make it a lot easier to plan your trip. I simply wanted to use both terms, bicycle touring and bikepacking, to state that our packing methods are somewhat irrelevant. And to give you a heads up on the quality of the roads.

And no, it is not too late to go cycling in Russia, more like too early. We should all hold our horses until the pandemic is under control.


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