Nature Day Report

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Nature Day Report

Not much to report on the Nature Day activities, it all went pretty much as expected. We made a short bike trip to a nearby laavu at Jäniskoski and good times were had for the few hours we spent there.

The weather on Saturday was a little on the gray side and only +5C (41F). But we made a fire for warmth and at least it wasn't raining or snowing. Eventually ten people made it for the "event", such as it was. Snacks included the very traditional Finnish sausages, plus sandwiches, chocolate, marshmallows, coffee, tea, and whatnot. A fun little picnic with great people and good surroundings.

Cooking sausages by the open fire

I realize I've mentioned "laavus" before, but haven't properly explained them. A laavu is a kind of lean-to shelter for hikers, fishermen, cyclists, cross-country skiers, and pretty much anyone who wants to enjoy the outdoors. They're completely free to use and in Finland we have something like 10000 of them scattered all around the country. Most often they are built next to rivers or lakes.

The majority of them are open-air (like below), while some are built into a full circle with a door you can close to ward off the elements. That one is called a "kota". Amenities usually include firewood, an axe for chopping it, and an outhouse toilet. They're maintained by the government, or in some cases a county, the boy scouts, a fishing association, or some other organization or group of volunteers.

So it's quite awesome to be able to rely on this network of lean-tos. Whenever I'm touring in Finland, I tend to use them for camping even though I have a tent with me. It's much easier and safer to make a fire in one, plus the bike and other gear stay dry even in a downpour.

Hanging out at the laavu

I suppose this concludes my very modest duties as a Finnish nature ambassador. There are two more Nature Days remaining, but the next one is on June 17th, and by then I'll be cycling somewhere in Norway. Although perhaps I should aim to be some kind of an ambassador for the entire world's nature on this trip? With the way things are going, it looks like natural resources could use all the protection and help they can get.

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The New Time-Lapse Video is Out!

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The New Time-Lapse Video is Out!

It's been eight months since my last time-lapse release, so I'm thrilled to say the new video is finally ready! This is my tribute to the nature of Inari:

I shot this video over the two years I've lived here. In that time I accumulated over 30000 frames, less than 10% of which made it to the final film. Editing and processing took about eight weeks of part-time effort. The most difficult part of creating the video is actually finding the right music. That alone can take weeks sometimes. But when I finally settle on a song, everything else just falls into place.

I have also submitted this as my final project for the Sámi Education Institute, meaning my studies are almost over! The ball is rolling now and a lot of changes are coming soon.

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One Week until Finnish Nature Day

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One Week until Finnish Nature Day

So I didn't mention this yet, but in addition to a cyclist and a photographer, I'm also an ambassador. Of sorts. Let me explain.

You see, this year Finland celebrates its 100th birthday. Among countless other events and occasions, one of the ways we celebrate our independence milestone is by having four Nature Days throughout the year. These are special days when all Finns are encouraged to go outside and enjoy our wonderful free nature, that we are fortunate to have so much of.

Quintessential Finland, from lake Saimaa (June 2014).

Somehow I was chosen as one of the ambassadors to these Nature Day events. Mostly because I had the crazy idea to cycle into all 39 Finnish National Parks a couple summers ago and blog about my adventures and mishaps. (Photo gallery)

The first Nature Day was to celebrate winter on Feb 4th. That time I organized an event with my friend Olli Järvenkylä. Who also happens to be a fellow nature ambassador, because he had the crazy idea to spend 100 days outdoors in one particular national park and blog about his adventures and mishaps. Together with some fellow students from the Sámi Education Institute, we spent the day outside building quintzees (snow shelters) big enough to sleep in. I made a quick little video of the activities that you can watch here.

The second Nature Day for spring is a week from now on Saturday May 20th. This time the plan is to gather some people for a simple bike trip to a nearby laavu (a Finnish lean-to). That date happens to coincide with the last official sunset before the midnight sun period begins, so it's quite likely we'll be sitting by the fire and frying sausages well into the nightless night.

Sausage á la Finlande. Fresh from the open fire, as it ought to be.

This was last year's version of the last sunset of spring.

So if you are in Finland - or anywhere for that matter - I warmly recommend taking your bike out for a little field trip on that day to celebrate Finnish - or anywhere's - nature with good friends and good food.

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Growing Impatience

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Growing Impatience

I may have celebrated too early in the last post. The snow just won't go away this year.

The locals tell me this is one of the longest springs they can recall. Usually by this time the snow would be completely gone, soon followed by the ice on the lakes melting away. But the weather has been unusually chilly, which means that by the official measurement there's still a ridiculous 64cm of snow left. And the forecast for the next 10 days isn't helping.

So there's still at least another 2-3 weeks until proper camping season begins. That doesn't leave much time for quick one and two-night practice tours before the big one. In fact, at this point I wouldn't be surprised if we still had snow in June when I start.

Meanwhile, this same time last year...

On the bright side, the main roads are dry and fine for cycling. So at least I can go out to test the bike and get used to the saddle. But the smaller roads that lead to trekking areas and lean-tos are still mostly unaccessible. And the very best part of pushing my bike off the side road of a side road, along a tiny forest path of pine needles, to find an exquisite camping spot by a quiet lake with water perfect for swimming.. that still feels like a pipe dream.

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Two Months Remaining

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Two Months Remaining

Spring has finally arrived!

As beautiful as the subarctic winter can be, it is not my favourite time of year. For many reasons. The bitter cold feels so hostile - as if the weather itself is actively trying to kill you. Snow covers everything that lives and is beautiful, without even a hint of green anywhere in the landscape. The constant darkness gradually wears you down and latches onto the soul. And worst of all, there's no proper bicycle touring for 7-8 months. It's been a very long wait for spring.

Okay, so it's not a huge improvement yet...

As much as I love the northern lights, I would honestly still trade them in a second for constant summer and touring. And that's more or less what I'm doing. Because soon I'll be heading so far south that chances are I won't see any auroras for a long time.

There's only two months left now, before I begin my five-year trip. A lot needs to be done in that time. Firstly, my Media studies at the Sámi Education Institute are about to end, which means I need to complete my final school project. It's going to be a time-lapse work of the nature surrounding our little village called Inari, shot during the two years I've spent here.

Estimated time of publishing: May 22nd.

The second big one on the "To Do" list is starting my own business. A transition from a student to a professional photographer requires an unsurprisingly large amount of research and paperwork, all of which I would like to finish before the beginning of my tour. Plus of course the actual preparation for the trip itself, various website-related tasks, flying back home to South Finland to spend next week with the family, and just generally getting all my affairs in order and taking care of whatever belongings I can't bring with me on the bicycle.

Not to mention it would be nice to enjoy some get-togethers and hang out with friends while there's still a chance.

The point of all of this: Don't be too surprised if the blog, Instagram and Facebook update a little sluggishly during these two months! The pace will pick up in June when everything is sorted and the tour begins.

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Cycling Under the Auroras

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Cycling Under the Auroras

I think I can call the first trip a success!

The temperature was at -10C and promising to get down to -15C during the night. I packed the bike and wore four layers of my best winter clothes, plus a beanie, scarf, and boots that can withstand -40C weather. Now, some people are probably thinking that sounds like too much while pedaling. And sure, when you overdress there is the risk of sweating, which is outright dangerous in the cold. But the solution is simply to go slowly. And this way I can take frequent breaks for resting, eating, drinking, or photography without looking like Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining.

The bike, on the other hand...

I didn't go very far, probably cycling less than 20km total. The original plan was to sleep in a "laavu" (a Finnish lean-to, free for any kind of trekking use), since they always have firewood. But the ones I visited turned out to be rather difficult to get to. They weren't far from the road, but without an easy path, even a few hundred meters takes an unreasonable amount of work in 2-3 feet of snow and a heavy bicycle. As the northern lights lit up above me, I head back to look for snowmobile tracks and a quiet place to camp off the road.

I did bring a tent with me, but wanted to try sleeping in a hammock. First of all, it's much easier to set up, plus there's the huge benefit of gazing at the stars and northern lights when falling asleep. Unfortunately I don't have an underquilt, which is pretty important in the cold. So here's what I did: I put a space blanket in the hammock, a sleeping mat on top of that, a folded up fleece blanket under the bum area (since that's usually where the cold comes through first), then a winter down sleeping bag, and the other half of the space blanket wrapped around everything.

Then I wore a second beanie, a second pair of gloves, and walked around to warm up my body before diving into the sleeping bag. Despite all of that, I won't claim it was particularly comfortable. It was fine at first, but after a while of sleeping, the chill would creep through and wake me up. So not exactly the most restful night I've ever had. The next time I'll just use the tent.

The bike itself felt good on its first journey. The aforementioned winter clothes made getting on and off a little difficult, and the tires obviously aren't made for thick snow. Still, I had no trouble staying upright. When I got onto the snowmobile tracks, I just walked the bike without even trying to ride. In any case, much more testing is required, and I certainly don't mind!

And it's not until spring and summer bring the proper touring season, that I can really start to get acquainted with my new companion.

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The Joy of a New Bike

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The Joy of a New Bike

Exciting news: My bicycle has arrived!

For so long I’ve dreamt about this journey, and now for the first time it actually feels like a real thing that is going to happen. Because it's finally here. This is the bike I’ll ride around the world on. And it’s a beauty.

It’s a Finnish brand called Chebici, made by Vesa Rauttu. He is quite a character - 69 years old and still building some of the best custom bicycles around. I met him a year and a half ago when I needed to replace a rear tire while touring and a friend recommended his shop. We got to talking and he pointed out some issues with my riding position. Quickly impressed by his knowledge and skills, I brought up this project and that I was looking for a new bicycle. Soon enough, he took my physical measurements, and after some months of discussion and planning he designed this unique frame specifically for me.

It has disc brakes, 2” tires, an 11-speed cassette and brifters - finally I don't have to take my hand off the handlebar just to shift gears. The saddle is a Selle SMP and from preliminary testing, it feels better than my old Brooks. Which would be great, since the Brooks requires a bit more maintenance and isn’t as comfortable as I would like.

All the pieces work really well together and there’s nothing so fancy that it can’t be fixed in a third-world country. And best of all, it’s great on both asphalt and gravel roads. Unlike my old bike with 32mm tires, which always caused frustration on uneven surfaces.

So now I have about three months to get accustomed to the bike, test everything, and make minor tweaks where necessary.

I can’t wait for my first tour.

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Around the World by Bicycle

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Around the World by Bicycle

So my dream is to cycle around the world.

This has been my life's biggest goal for at least a couple years now. Of course I could've packed my bags and set off almost as soon as I got the idea. But I wanted to get a couple things sorted first. Mainly, to learn photography to the point where I can somewhat confidently take high quality images along the way. Somehow I felt I wouldn't want to pedal for five years in truly amazing landscapes and end up with mediocre holiday photos. And secondly, sort my finances enough so that I wouldn't need to rely on the kindness of strangers just to get by.

The current idea for an approximate route is this: North Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, France, Italy, East Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, South America, North America. After that, I don't know. Whether the oceans will be crossed by plane or boat is also still undecided.

The world record for circumnavigating the globe is 123 days. Most people do this in a year or two or three. I have no interest in trying to set any records. Not that I could even if I wanted to - my athletic prowess is somewhere on the level of a wet baby koala. But more importantly, the point of the trip is to enjoy the adventure and take as much time as I want. Trying to go fast would miss the entire purpose of the journey. Nothing kills enjoyment as easily as hurry. So I've set aside at least five years.

But who knows, it might take longer.

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Introduction

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Introduction

My name is Tomi Rantanen. I’m a 35-year-old photographer and long distance bicycle tourer from Finland.

I’ve been cycling for four years. Every summer I pack my bike and hit the road for two or three months. I simply love everything about this hobby. The adventure, excitement, sense of pure freedom, fresh air, gorgeous views, connection to nature, self-sufficiency, all the amazing people I meet, and the countless learning experiences. Here are my previous trips:

2013: I toured in South Europe, around Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, and Hungary (3000km)
2014: Criss-crossed from South Finland to the Arctic Ocean in Norway (3000km)
2015: Cycled to all 39 national parks in Finland (5250km)
2016: Nightless night tour in North Norway above the Arctic Circle (2000km)

You can find photos from the last three tours in the Gallery section.

I’ve studied photography for three years. The motivation to learn came in Slovenia. I didn’t think I could ever adequately describe the beautiful landscapes there, and phone snapshots just weren’t enough. So I decided to study photography in order to show friends and family how amazing the places I visit are. I bought my first DSLR in early 2014 and now my goal is to become a professional eventually.

My even bigger aspiration is to cycle around the world. More on that later.

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