Bikerafting the Other River
The drybag of the Flex Pack PR strapped at the rear and the bike on the front of the raft. The frame of the pack is under the spray deck.
What is bikerafting you might ask?
In my opinion bikerafting is when you combine a bike and a packraft. This opens more route possibilities and helps a lot with logistics. You first pack your raft on the bike and once you reach a pool of water, you unpack the bike, blow up the raft and take out the wheels from the bike and strap it on the front of the raft and start paddling.
There is this river that I have crossed over on a bridge maybe thousands of times, maybe even more. Every time I rode, drove or walked over the river I found myself wondering from where does it come and where does it go. In this age of information, a pretty adventurish romantic thought to ponder on, but adventure was always on my mind. A micro adventure to be more precise. A micro adventure on bikes, packrafts and the Haven Bundle shelter.
The Other River is one of the two rivers in the City of Porvoo, Finland, the second oldest town in the land of a thousand lakes and forests. The river is called Porvoonjoki (joki is finnish for river) and it flows thru the center of the town all the way to the Baltic Sea. The other river is called Mustijoki (Musti is a traditional male dog’s name, somebody must have loved their dog for naming a river after him). We had packrafted the Porvoonjoki the previous spring, so it was time for Mustijoki to taste our paddles and float us to the sea.
The bike loaded. This pack style “strap it on a rack” works for shorter distances, but for longer rides I would use bikepacking bags and carry the Flex Pack PR drybag folded empty to be used later on the raft.
The winter was long this year in the south, one could say too long. Finally, two weeks before the start of our adventure the river ran free once again, and we were good to go. After work on a sunny Friday evening, I packed my Flex Pack PR backpack, put it on the front rack and strapped the packraft on the rear rack of my bike. Jumped on my bike and rode to the central bus station of Helsinki, jumped on a bus and in 55 minutes I was stepping out in Porvoo. I rode to my friend’s house in the warmth of the evening sun, we fired up the grill and warmed up the sauna. We went thru the plan and set an early alarm clock. In the morning it begun.
To the River
As the sun rose we rode on our bikes thru the picturesque cobbled streets Old Town of Porvoo and crossed the Porvoo River. We headed North-West on smaller country roads while the wind was blowing from different directions. Wind is a main player when riding a bike or paddling, so this did worry us a bit. We stopped by a local smokery and crabbed some smoked ham sandwiches to go and continued riding. The distance was only 16 kilometers, but with our loaded bikes it did took us a bit over an hour before the big white mill building that stands tall on the banks of the Mustijoki river.
After crossing the old railway bridge. In the summertime there is a weekly museum locomotive that you can hop on.
The mill is a beautiful building and a good starting point as it’s located at the Vekkoski rapid’s, a beautiful little rapid. We could have started more upriver, but the river has 6 dams that can’t be paddled thru. We crossed an old railroad bridge to reach a good spot to take off just after the rapid. After enjoying a sandwich, we unpacked our bikes, loaded and packed our rafts. I put the frame of the Flex Pack PR, that had my snacks and water, under the spraydeck and the drybag section on the bike. All was left was to jump in and start paddling.
On the River
I first started with the Flex Pack PR drybag strapped to the front rack, but noticed quite quickly that it took a lot of wind that made the raft keep turning to the right. The beauty of trying new set ups is learning.
Most of the strongest flow after the winter ice and snow had tamed down quite a bit, but the paddling was still quite easy as the river just floated us towards the sea. The way to the first dam was the most, less say, uninspiring. The road we had rode just moments before was on our left and cars where speeding by and the scenery was fields and houses on the banks. At least it was sunny and not too windy.
Once we reached to the first dam and landed the clouds started to fill the sky. We carried our rafts over a rocky island between the dam structures and ate our last sandwiches for lunch. The clouds filled up the sky and light rain started falling. We pulled up our hoods, hopped on the rafts and floated again. This section to the second dam was a bit prettier. It had some nice foresty cliffs, less houses and the roads were further away. There was a sense of adventure. Even the slight rain didn’t bother us, but the wind was picking up and was blowing straight into our faces.
The weight in the front actually helps the raft to swim better, as the weight distribution is more balanced. Also this combo pleases my eye too. Photo: Taneli Varis
As we paddled under the bridge that I had crossed a thousand times or more, the gusts became almost overpowering. The last couple of kilometers before the dam we had constant strong headwinds and it was a struggle to move forward but, in the end, we reached the dam. The good thing was, that after the dam the river would take a turn towards the south and the sea, that should give us some cover. The last part of the river was windy, but not too tough on us. As we reached the opening to the sea we could see the big silhouette of the oil refinery ahead, that we call Mordor because of the flames coming out of the towers. In the gray rainy weather, even the towers were silently gazing us as we paddled to the sea.
First a disclaimer, packrafts aren’t the best means of transportation on open sea and you must understand the risk and respect the ocean, especially when the water is around 5° Celsius and the wind is blowing from the sea. We knew the risks and had a plan B, if the sea would seem too rough for us. There aren’t any photos from this section, as the rain became heavier, and the waves were pushing us towards the rocky beaches and for 3 hours we could not rest our arms without going a shore. We went over small sections of open waters where the cross waves would go over our rafts, taking shelter behind small islands where the sea was calm. Once we reached the Tolkkinen harbor we knew we only had 4-5 kilometers left to reach our campsite.
Even the fires of Mordor had gone out. It was only us, the rain and the wind at the enteranse to the sea.
Those last kilometers weren’t easy. Paddling next to the shoreline towards the waves wasn’t as bad as on the open sea, but it was a fight. After a couple of kilometers, we landed briefly on a small beach, only 20 meters away from the mainland and a trail. If we would just cross to the mainland, unpack our rafts and ride 6 kilometers to camp the day would be done. The beauty of bikepacking, you have options.
But we didn’t. We ate some jerky, drank some water and decided will not quit so close. We knew that after 2 km we would turn east, go under the tall Emäsalo bridge and we will have no longer the wind in front of us. 30 minutes of paddling and bumping into a stone under a wave, we went under the bridge. We both stopped paddling and let the waves carry us the last kilometer to our campsite on the northern end of Emäsalo Island.
We landed on small sandy beach that still had a layer of ice. We were wet, exhausted, cold but once we pitched up the Haven Bundle up and boiled water for our meals, we smiled. We took of our wet clothes, put on our warm and dry merino layers and eat while enjoying the warmth of our sleeping bags inside the shelter. After a couple of hours, it stopped raining and we were gifted with a hint of sunset. Sleep came to us easy and fast.
The ride back
In the morning we had a choice to make. Paddle up to Porvoonjoki and up the river to town for 15 kilometers in a strong headwind or pack our bikes and ride 9 kilometers to town. We chose the latter and packed our camp while the sun was shining and started riding. We stopped for ice cream and a coke in the first little kiosk, then for some hod dogs once in Porvoo. As it was Mother’s Day that day in Finland, I went to have lunch with my mother and sister, before hopping back on the bike to ride back home to Helsinki with another friend as company. Around 50 kilometers of headwinds later that Sunday evening I was home.
A micro adventure had been had and a river had been paddled, but my thirst for adventure had only grown, as had my smile.