Winter in Belgium

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Winter in Belgium

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With the arrival of November, the weather took a significant dive. Double digit daytime temperatures were a thing of the past, and at night it dipped even below zero a couple times. It was the inevitable consequence of cycling south at this pace. With Finnish genes and warm gear the cold weather still wasn’t a disaster for me, but Isabelle couldn’t really handle camping anymore. At least until she'd get to Luxembourg where a new sleeping bag was waiting for her.

This caused some friction, because I had been looking forward to sleeping outside more again. Southeast Belgium has a lot of beautiful forest areas in the Ardennes, which sounded nice for camping. In Holland we had mostly slept indoors, which usually results in very little alone time. And there is a limit to how much peopleing I can do. After a while I get exhausted and need to recharge in a quiet place somewhere out in nature.

As a solution, in the Hoge Kempen and the Hautes Fagnes National Parks in Belgium we cycled separate routes and met up in the evening. This gave me a chance to spend extra time taking photos and enjoying some important solitude.

Our first glimpse of Belgium was still colourful and pleasant.
Hoge Kempen in the morning light.

In addition to the seasons, there were also major changes to the terrain. Since Denmark there hadn’t been any uphills whatsoever, but Hautes Fagnes included a climb up to 700m. And there were many more hills ahead. This made cycling even slower, but at least the scenery was finally improving. On the other hand, autumn colours were turning brown and the landscape was often shrouded in fog.

Through the Ardennes we could travel on an old railroad that had been turned into a bicycle path. This was perfect, because Belgians don’t always seem to be the greatest of drivers. Many drive at retarded speeds, and Isabelle had a close call with a truck driver who probably thought “patience” is some kind of Calvin Klein fragrance. So the paved railway was a real luxury. Not only were there no cars, but the slight inclines meant for locomotives were very easy to handle with heavy touring loads.

Every little village has an old church in this part of the world.

When we were in a French-speaking village called Faymonville it even snowed a few centimetres one day. It didn't really affect us however, because we spent the day resting. The previous night we were looking for a place to stay when a car stopped and a woman asked if we needed help. When we explained the situation, she told us to follow her. Within a couple minutes we were taken to her hair salon where she had a studio apartment in the back.

She introduced herself as Caroline, with a heavy accent. She was like a character from a French movie, looking very chic, smoking cigarettes inside and pouring us some red wine. She wouldn't be 'ome for two days, and of course we could stay alone in her apartment and business place for the whole weekend!

So next morning I woke up and looked out the window to see snow falling. I briefly considered getting up to take photos, but just went back to sleep instead.

Merci beaucoup!

Wake up, it's time to ride!
Some of the water drops were still frozen when it was time to be back on the road.
 

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It's a Dog's Life

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It's a Dog's Life

Hi. My name is Kira. I’m from Sweden, six years old, and also a Cocker Spaniel. And I’m a very good girl.

My all-time favourite thing to do is eating. I prefer food, but almost anything will do. I get to eat my own meals twice a day, for breakfast and dinner. Then when the humans eat, I get some of their food if I look cute. And I’m always cute. I don’t even have to try.

If I'm given non-food, it's usually a stick. I like sticks. Being outside is great because there are so many sticks. I chew them until it's time to leave.

Nothing can get between Kira and her stick. Except another stick.

One time long ago I found the big bag that all my food comes from. That was the best day ever. I ate 15 times more food than usual and I was still hungry. When mistress came back she wasn’t happy. Something about swelling in the stomach. We went to the vet, who made me barf many times. I tried to eat it again, but wasn’t allowed.

My second favourite thing is sleeping. I’m very good at it. Sometimes I can do it all day. When we are moving it can be difficult to sleep. Then I’m extra tired and don’t like waiting for the tent to be ready. But it’s warm inside and I have many blankets. When mistress goes to sleep I can go in her sleeping bag. She says I snore but I don’t believe her.

Once or twice a week we don’t cycle and it’s usually because there’s a house to sleep in. Houses are great because they are warm and have beds in them. I’m really good at using beds.

This is what she looks like two minutes after entering any house for the first time.

My third favourite hobby is smelling things. Traveling is great because I get to find so many new smells. I like to open the zipper of the trailer enough to stick my nose out when we’re cycling. There’s a lot of information in the air.

Even better is when we stop in a forest and I can walk around and smell things. If it’s not too wet I take a break from smelling things to roll around in the leaves. But not too long. I don't want to leave the trailer behind, because that's where all the food is. When other dogs get too close to it, I growl at them.

I think she likes forests.

32 breakfasts ago, we met Tomi. He’s cycling too. But I guess you already knew that. He scratches my tummy, so I know he likes me. He eats too much of his own food though. There’s usually nothing left for me.

I think he and mistress are having fun. They don’t chew sticks or smell things, but they laugh a lot. Then they say they’re not laughing at me. But I’m not sure. It’s okay though. I have a pretty good life.

She's really good at typing.

I don't know if Kira will be writing more guest blogs in the future, but apparently she has now joined Instagram as Nomad Doggy. -Tomi

 

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Dutch Hospitality

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Dutch Hospitality

My stay in the Netherlands was much less focused on nature than most other places so far. Partly because the country has a pretty high population density, and partly because traveling with a Hurricane leads to a huge increase in social situations. Isabelle has a lot of friends in the Netherlands, and also makes new ones easily. Especially with the very welcoming Dutch people. So lately I’ve been doing less stealth camping and more sleeping in rural areas.

In the Weerribben-Wieden National Park further north we couldn’t find any forests or open camping grounds, so Isabelle and Ilse (when she was still cycling with us) asked for tent space in the lawn of a big farmhouse. Within minutes we were setting up camp between the barn and the horse fence. A very social black mixed-breed dog called Lola came to demand scratches and seemed in need of attention, so I took a frisbee and played fetch with her for an hour. I got tired first even though she was doing all the running. When I woke up the next morning she came to my tent with the frisbee in her mouth and tail wagging eagerly.

Country road, take me home...

In Vught we met Yvette, who has travelled with Isabelle in South America. There were extra beds for us at her parents’ place. We came in from the rain and were immediately sat down in front of a table so full of Chinese food that it could’ve fed a dozen hungry cyclists. The next day we got a tour of the local forest and nearby city Den Bosch.

Clocks were turned back an hour on that same day, so when we returned to the road in the afternoon the sun was already setting. After riding only 7km we had to stop in a small village called Esch. Isabelle asked around for accommodation, and we were given tent space at the playground of the Enchanted Forest Pancake House. The owners were awesome and even offered us free pancakes when they heard about our travel plans.

... to the place, I belong ...

In Eindhoven we stopped by an outdoor gear store called Bever. We've gotten many warnings about bicycle thieves, so the staff let us roll our bikes inside for safety while we did our shopping. There was free hot chocolate for customers. When I asked for any suggestions on where to find a camping ground for a shower (these are harder to find in the off season), they told us we could use the shower right there in the store! Not exactly a standard shopping experience.

In Neeroeteren we got to stay inside again for two nights at a couple who were Isabelle's old colleagues. That was admittedly on the Belgian side, but the woman was from the Netherlands, so I think it counts as an example of Dutch hospitality. When we left we cycled to the Hoge Kempen National Park, and stopped at Café De Statie, an old train station turned into a pub café. The very friendly owners let us sleep out back on the storage room floor. It was a cold and rainy night and there were wild boars in the park, so we were happy to be dry and safe.

By that point I wasn’t even surprised to hear they were also Dutch.

... Western Europe, forest floor ...

Near Maastricht we crossed the border again for one last stop in the Netherlands in a little village called Eckelrade. The sun was setting so we asked for a place to stay. The local pastor kindly organised a small house for us nearby. Before we even got there, a woman stopped to ask about our trips and invited us for dinner with her family. And later when we felt tired and in need of extra rest days, the nice owner of our house came to inform us we could stay another night if we wanted, free of charge.

As much as I love to look at beautiful wide open landscapes, finding sunlight falling just right on the small details is really satisfying.

Perhaps you can tell from the way I’m writing this, that I can’t really find the words to describe how appreciative I am of all this generosity. It’s all been quite overwhelming in the Netherlands since the first day in Stellingen. Without exception the Dutch people have been incredibly warm, friendly and happy to help a pair of bicycle travellers in any way they can.

All I can say is a million thanks to everyone for their kind gestures. Everything from the passing smiles and greetings, to opening their doors and offering food or a place to sleep, warms my heart and gives me faith in the humanity of strangers.

And this is why I travel.

Wake up, it's a beautiful life.
 

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Hoornaar

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Hoornaar

Remember the couple from that camping ground in Norway during a three-day downpour? They live in Holland in a small village called Hoornaar, so we paid them a visit. A replacement for my broken SSD drive was waiting for me at their address. Originally I thought we’d stay maybe a night or two, but upon arrival it turned out that various activities had been planned for us, so there’d be no hurry to leave.

Jan is a retired headmaster of a Christian school with a calm demeanour. Corrie has the kind of helpful and caring personality that you might expect from a housewife from the sixties. She conjured up amazingly delicious dinners every night we stayed there. They have been married for over 50 years, and I can see why.

I was expecting space for our tents in their garden, but instead we were given a whole summer cabin to ourselves. Later I learnt that Corrie had never allowed overnight visitors to this cabin until our visit, so it was quite an honour to stay there. It was a quaint little place by a small river lining the beautiful countryside houses. “Romantisch”, our hosts pointed out.

Hoornaar in the morning.

They had endearingly old-fashioned views, where Isabelle was expected to take care of all the cooking and other kitchen activities. And yet this was combined with unabashed curiosity about the status of our travel partnership after having met only two weeks earlier. In fact, quite a few people seem to share this interest and are asking if we’re going to cycle around the world together as a couple now. Personally, I think it seems a touch early to be considering such a thing.

We arrived on Tuesday and already by Wednesday afternoon I was being interviewed for a local newspaper. The reporter was one of Jan’s old students. Again we took questions about whether we were a couple already, with Corrie fanning the flames mischievously. Our picture was taken by a veteran photographer who, among many other subjects, had shot the queen of the Netherlands more than a thousand times. Going from the queen to us is quite a career drop. I tried to look regal to make him feel better. Judging by the photo, I looked more like the court jester.

On Thursday Jan gave us a photo tour of the surroundings. In the morning we went to Kinderdijk, a famous UNESCO site of an area with 19 windmills east of Rotterdam. In the afternoon we saw the Biesbosch National Park, where Jan shared a lot of interesting information about the history of the area. After another great dinner, I went with him to a meeting of the local photo club.

Kinderdijk with the ND1000 filter.
Weather at Biesbosch was too grey for landscapes, so we took macros instead.

Speaking in front of an audience is a pretty scary thought to me, so I was anxious at first when Jan asked me to show some photographs and talk about my trip. On the other hand, it was also an excellent opportunity to get out of my comfort zone, so I was eager to give it a try. No reason to let such fears control your life, after all.

There were about 20-30 people at the club. When I introduced myself in front of the group, they suddenly remembered that there was a microphone around somewhere. I guess my voice doesn’t exactly fill a room. I did a slideshow of two dozen of my more or less favourite photos of the trip so far. I talked about the shooting or processing workflow of each photo, and pointed out where I’d made mistakes.

Past the initial nervousness I started to get into the whole thing and actually enjoyed it. Afterwards I spoke with several of the members and overall had a great time. I felt an excited rush long after we had left.

We were supposed to leave the next day, but it had been such an eventful and tiring day that we decided to rest and stay for one more night. We could’ve happily stayed for weeks, but winter is coming and it’s better to keep heading towards the southern climate. So on Saturday we said our goodbyes to Jan and Corrie. Their last gift was a fresh copy or the newspaper article: “Tomi Rantanen cycles around the world.”

 I’ll never forget their friendship and hospitality, and hope we’ll get to meet again some day.

Jan, Isabelle and Corrie before our departure.
Throwback to the previous spiderweb field.
 

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It's Always Sunny in the Netherlands

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It's Always Sunny in the Netherlands

I’m just gonna go ahead and be honest here: Not all places are equal. There were a lot of good things about Germany (the excellent bicycle lanes for example), but overall I just didn’t enjoy my stay there. Crossing into the Netherlands turned everything around.

Farmland seemed more idyllic, architecture more beautiful, the traffic less hectic. Even the weather improved and the sun came out. People were suddenly much more laid back and helpful, and they spoke English almost everywhere.

Despite being a very densely populated country, there were still some forests and nature to be found. In one tiny forest between two farms Isabelle woke me up because the light was great for photography. Which is one of the very few things I don’t mind waking up early for. There was a thick layer of fog and the sun was about to rise. I packed up my stuff quickly and cycled on alone taking photographs in the misty yellow light. After an hour I found an overgrown pasture with thousands of spiderwebs and I stayed there until Isabelle caught up with me for breakfast.

Cycling without a destination on a morning like this is the best thing in the world.
The entire field was full of spiderwebs everywhere you looked.

Later that day we rode through the Dwingelderveld National Park, with bicycle lanes going through an old forest painted with autumn colours. On the other side of the forest the landscape suddenly turned into something resembling the African savannah.

Here be lions.

Isabelle’s old work friend Ilse joined us in Wittelte on her bicycle. She's a funny Dutch girl who took the role of our local tour guide for four days. My experience of the Netherlands improved even more, with someone showing us around a few of the more hidden places, translating signs and explaining the local history. Mid-October brought a record heatwave and excellent camping weather.

In Giethoorn we cycled in "the Venice of Holland”, a village nestled among small canals with fairytale houses everywhere. It was so quaint and idyllic that the entire village looked like one huge museum or film set. Further evidenced by the signs in Chinese telling tourists not to walk inside the houses, because people actually live in them.

We stopped to sit at the terrace of a nice restaurant, where Ilse ordered lunch and pancakes in Dutch. I found out why she and Isabelle are friends, when my dessert was brought in by a line of smiling waitresses with sparkly fireworks wishing me another happy birthday. It looked like they were about to break into song, but probably thought better of it because I was sinking so far into my chair I almost broke the backrest.

"Act normal", I said.

"Act normal", I said.

Isabelle, Ilse and Kira, all ready to start the day.

After Ilse left us we had an evening of uncharacteristically bad weather. The headwind was awful, it rained horizontally, and we couldn’t find a place to stay. Camping was out of the question, so at sunset we started knocking on doors again. Outside a small village we tried a couple farmhouses without any luck. The neighbourhood seemed to be getting more and more expensive, and we came to one place that was really more of a mansion, probably costing millions. There was a fence around the premise, with a keypad and security camera by the gigantic black metal gate.

Clearly not the kind of place that would welcome two soggy Scandinavian bicycle bums looking for a place to sleep after dark. It would be a waste of time to even try, I thought. I looked around to share my assessment with Isabelle, but she was already ringing the doorbell, fixing her hair, and motioning me to come in front of the camera: “Try to look non-threatening!”

To my astonishment, the gate opened and a grey-haired man in his sixties came to the door. He didn’t speak English, but seemed unafraid and willing to help, and the words “tent”, “rain” and “roof” are universal hand signals. He opened the door to the barn and we were thrilled to have a nice clean dry floor to sleep on.

Then the wife walked in, introducing herself with a smile. She said this won’t do at all, and ordered us inside the house into a spare room, which she used as her painter's atelier. She didn’t speak English either, but chattered away with such bubbly friendliness that we managed to understand most of what she said regardless.

We changed into dry clothes and she returned with tea and an evening snack before we called it a night. In the morning she made us a huge breakfast better than in most of the expensive hotels I’ve been to in my life.

In the end, I still don't know much about the couple, except that they were willing to trust two complete strangers by letting them into their home. And that is a beautiful thing.

Some leaves are more quick to accept change than others.
 

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Hurricane Isabelle

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Hurricane Isabelle

After a number of bike trips almost entirely done solo, I have become accustomed to doing things my way. When traveling alone, there’s no need to wait for anyone or to make compromises. The more this has become a habit, the more hesitant I’ve been to allow others to join me. I would never commit to a long trip with someone without trying it out first. Sharing the road temporarily with a tourer I meet along the way is much easier, because we both have our own gear and can separate again at any time.

I met Isabelle towards the end of my stay in Germany. She's a freckle-faced blue-eyed adventurer who rarely stops talking. Kira is the quieter one, usually sitting behind in her trailer smelling the world go past. Although I had many doubts about whether it would work, we’re getting along quite nicely. We complement each other well. She is fearless in all the ways that I am not, asking people for help and knocking on doors when campsites are unavailable, whereas I’m more at ease with dark forests and some other aspects of touring life.

I made sure there was some forest camping too.

This became evident early on. Close to the town of Papenburg in West Germany, we were surrounded by wide open farmland with animal fences, which isn’t exactly great for camping. We were wet and cold from the rain, and the sun was setting. My strategy of dealing with the situation was to stare at my phone screen looking at Google Maps satellite images for some trees to hide our tents, while Isabelle was looking at the windows of farmhouses for any friendly people returning a smile and a wave.

I was all proud about finding a forest only two kilometres away, but she was already chatting (without a common language) to the family living in the second house we passed. They did seem suspicious at first, but eventually we were led to the empty barn, safe from the weather. We made our beds on the straw and were invited to the house for evening tea before going to sleep.

In all the years I’ve travelled, I have literally never done this kind of thing. Since starting in June I had slept in a tent for four months straight. I was quite impressed.

One squeaky mouse was running around at first, but settled down when we wanted to sleep.

And there was more. A couple days later, on October (cough)th, it happened to be my birthday. I don’t like to be the centre of attention, so rarely tell people when this occurs. But I had to explain why I was in no mood for pasta and tuna, and wanted to eat something special that day. I told my new travel companion not to make a big deal out of it. She said sure, and then proceeded to tell everyone we met.

It may look like a lot for a Cocker Spaniel to pull, but this one's pretty spicy for her size.

In the late afternoon we came to an idyllic little town called Sellingen in the Netherlands. While shopping for barbecue goodies and pancake materials, a man who looked like the owner of the store asked if we are on holiday. Paraphrasing Isabelle's usual cheerful self: “Hi! We are cyclists! We come from Scandinavia! I am so cute! I have a dog! We have no place to camp! It’s his birthday!”

The man made a couple phone calls in Dutch and explained that the camping grounds were closed, but he arranged a place for us in one of them anyway. The owners would pick us up shortly, and we could wait in their son’s bar/cafe in the meanwhile. We went there, heads spinning from the helpfulness, and the bar owner walked over to shake my hand, “First of all, happy birthday!”

Everyone continued to be super friendly and we got free drinks while we waited, and I received a heartwarming video call from my brother and niece back home. So all in all, it was an excellent day already. Then the camping ground owners showed up, a hippy-looking couple with bright eyes and that look of joyful wisdom that people have when they’ve lived right and aged well.

We were led to a quiet place in the woods, a camping ground with plenty of space. The woman explained they could fit 60 people but only took in 15 because everyone deserved their space and privacy in nature. After some of the claustrophobic caravan clusters I saw in Germany, this principle sounded just heavenly. Since we were the only ones there, they gave us the use of a cabin and showers, free of charge. It was my birthday, after all.

Kira contemplating the many duties of a dog's life.

Amazing. We spent the evening high on life, cooking pork steaks and chicken fillet with salad and cheese-stuffed grilled paprikas. We drank wine by the fireplace while sharing stories of our adventures. There were even actual beds to sleep in. Kira snuggled up next to me, then started snoring with the volume of a much larger dog.

I won’t soon forget the generosity of the people in Sellingen. And it turns out that touring with company isn’t so bad either.

Autumn leaves in the morning.
 

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The Strained One

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The Strained One

The B&W photos in this update (including the banner image that you can always see by clicking the title of the post) are some of my older work. Only the last colour photo was taken during this trip, in Denmark.


The title refers to a poem I read in the Reinheimen National Park back in Norway. It has stayed with me ever since:

He has no time to stop
And no time to look.
People he meets are none
Of his personal business.

Numerous the things to manage,
Hurry is the way of life,
Obligations around every bend.
The more he does the more there is.

The day is at an end.
Stumbling over his stick
He asks what life has given,
And what after all is left.

Thus he hurried through life
And never reached his end.
The joy that followed his track
Was a shadow lost in his wake.

— Jan-Magnus Bruheim

Taken in 2015 in Pallastunturi, Finland.

While someone who takes five years for a bike trip is surely not the 'target audience' for this poem, there is nevertheless much to learn here for me.

Sometimes I focus too much on photography, blogging, time-lapse videos and other digital activities. Although I love creating all of those and they help to finance the trip, they mustn't come at the cost of stopping to see, feel and experience. It would be a tragedy to cycle around the world with an air of self-centred hurry - never paying attention to the moments, chances, people and life fleeting past.

It’s easier - much easier - to be present for your life during a journey like this, but it still doesn’t happen automatically.

So I do need to pay attention to the balance between doing things and being here. I don’t know what the right balance looks like, it’s just something I will be figuring out along the way. Lately I’ve shot very few time-lapses, and next I may try posting blog updates less often. Don't worry, I won't stop doing either of those entirely. I just need to make sure these things don’t become more important than the actual trip itself.

Taken in 2015 in Repovesi National Park, Finland.

In somewhat related news, I have been joined by a Swedish bicycle tourer called Isabelle who is pedalling south with her Cocker Spaniel Kira. She is a super social and talkative morning person, while I... am not. So we may not endure each other for very long. But on the other hand, she also has plenty of time and travels very slow. She doesn’t care about the destination, only the journey. Which is precisely the right attitude for this kind of travel.

And it could be nice to have some company for a change.

2017 in South Denmark right before crossing the German border.
 

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Xavier

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Xavier

It’s always been a difficult thing for me to ask for help in most situations. Accepting help that gets offered has gradually gotten easier, especially thanks to bicycle touring and the countless wonderful people I’ve met during them. But asking a stranger for something that hasn’t been offered feels like a very different thing. When I hitchhiked through the tunnel in Norway, my heart was beating every time I raised my thumb. Of course I’m glad I get out of my comfort zone and do things that scare me, but they’re still scary at the time.

I was eating breakfast under a bus stop in Bremerhaven after my rude awakening in the last update. I had dried my laptop, camera and hard drives with tissues as best I could, and moved them into a dry pannier. It looked like I may have avoided permanent damage. I’d even managed to nap a couple more hours, during which the tent and sleeping bag of course had taken in even more water. When I exited out into the rain, I poured out so much water from the bottom of the tent that I could’ve filled a coffee pot with it.

So under this bus stop, for the first time so far, I checked my phone for Warmshowers hosts nearby (basically Couchsurfing for cyclists). If hitchhiking is challenging, asking someone I’ve never met online if I could come over for a night, is several zones outside of comfort. It took me 45 minutes to send a message. Of course I tried to make it cool and casual. Like 'Germany hates me and my life’s work is underwater, would be kinda nice to meet though. No biggie if it’s any inconvenience at all. I do this kind of thing all the time.'

Achtung - possible flooding.

While waiting for an answer I continued very slowly onwards. At one point I met a cycle touring couple on their way north. Which was weird, because I was going south and yet they were headed in the same direction. I pointed this out, and the man kind of frowned for a moment, but rallied and decided they were on the right path. I pointed out their location in Google Maps, which wasn’t where he expected to be, but still he insisted to keep going. I pointed out that the harbour, which was right there to the right, should really be on their left when going north. He wasn’t having any of it.

I shrugged and quietly pedalled with them for a couple blocks, until they stopped to ask a harbour custom’s officer for instructions. Looking behind me, I saw her pointing in the direction we came from. Accepting new information can be difficult too, I suppose.

My plan B, the next camping ground, was across the river in Nordenham. There were no bridges because of the boat traffic to Bremen. I went to check out the ferry stop and there were two Swiss cyclists heading to Amsterdam. They seemed more reasonable people, and I couldn’t wait for a reply from Warmshowers much longer, so I hopped on the next ferry with them for a chat. It’s getting late in the season for bicycle touring, so these meetings are getting rare compared to summer in Norway. And I could use a bit of cheering up right then.

I made it to the camping ground and it was like I’d gone through the gates of heaven. Very helpful owner who even spoke English, the sun came out, I dried my gear, found out the electronics had survived, had a shower, ate well… finally a place to take it easy. I knew I’d require at least two nights of rest. It wasn’t crowded like the previous places, there were city rabbits munching on the grass, and the first night a small hedgehog woke me up by trying to squeeze under my tent a few inches from my face. I shoo’d it off as too spiky of a companion.

There wasn't a lot to take pictures of during this time.

I felt rested after a couple days, but the weather just kept getting worse. Looking at 9m/s headwinds, I made an easy decision to stay another night. Surely the conditions would improve soon, I thought. The fourth day of my stay was when storm Xavier hit Germany… Hurricane level winds that exceeded 100km/h flooded streets and caused a lot of damage. Several people died from falling trees. It was the strongest storm I’ve ever experienced.

The owners invited me indoors for safety. There was just enough shelter for my tent that it wasn’t at too much risk of getting blown away, but a large branch flying through could’ve been a disaster. One of the caravans had its front porch tossed above its roof with the tarp and metal pipes in a tangled mess.

The aftermath made me realise that not only was the previous weather actually not that bad in comparison, but I was fortunate to have had the slight trouble with rain, because it had brought me to this place. If I had been camping on the shore by the dike, out in the open, I don’t know what would’ve happened.

Pier under water in Nordenham.
I tried my hand at macro shots at the camping ground.
 

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Germany is a Cruel Mistress

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Germany is a Cruel Mistress

After the great experience at the lighthouse, challenges started piling up again. I had a hard time coming to grips with Germany. It wasn’t anything major, just many small things adding together. The near-continuous headwind set the mood, and everything else made it worse.

I would wake up before joggers and dog walkers found my campsite, and look for a camping ground with a shower. 3G connection in rural areas was surprisingly awful for such an advanced first world country. This meant no Google Maps or info on routes or destinations, so I’d cycle the wrong way just to return empty-handed.

Yep, still going along the dike.

Asking people for directions didn't work, because in the German countryside, very few speak English. People are usually friendly - often saying hello when cycling by, or stopping to ask something about me or my bike. But when I say ‘I’m sorry, I don’t speak German?', 90% of conversations end right there.

Although not everyone is friendly. Some people respond to my ‘hello' by looking at me with such disdain that I may as well be literally poop in human form.

Which also reminds me - businesses are not so helpful to passing travellers looking for a toilet. But you can use the disgusting public bathroom without a seat three kilometres that way. Oh and no, the showers are only for overnight guests.

Although one particular morning brought nice conditions with autumn morning light.

Camping grounds can be hideous as well. After crossing the Elbe on a ferry to Cuxhaven, it was late and raining and I tried to find a place to sleep. Two other camping grounds were either full or closed, until I found one where the owner was a tough-as-nails old lady. She looked at me like some idiot. Trying to find a tent place, in late September, without a reservation? Shaking her head she looked for a free spot among a thousand white caravans parked inches from each other.

She pointed her flashlight at a bit of grass surrounded by caravans. From her gesturing I understood that it was the only available place. The grass squelched from the rainwater. And I didn’t see how my neighbours wouldn’t stumble over my tent when they’d wake up. I basically would’ve had to put some of my stakes under their cars. Why do people stay in these overcrowded trailer parks? I genuinely don’t comprehend the appeal of them. "We have a home on wheels that we can drive practically anywhere on Earth - let’s park it in a Tetris block of mobile homes until the holiday is over."

Even while tired and frustrated, I preferred to return to the rain and darkness rather than take that spot. After examining satellite images under a bus stop I rode another few kilometres to a forest behind a hospital and camped there. It was midnight, but I had to set the alarm to after six to leave early, because I wasn’t supposed to be there.

I'll take a horror movie forest over a shitty camping ground any day.

It continued like this. Too little sleep, back into the demoralising headwind, rear brakes start dragging on the disc and need adjusting, nope - you can’t use the toilets here either, now the front shifter isn’t shifting, and the chain is rusting from all the rain... nothing went my way.

Oh, you want to have a rest day? Nein, das kamping ground ist closed. No good news anywhere. Finally in Bremerhaven I camped in the only place I could find, by the shore near a massive cargo harbour. It was a windy spot, and it rained hard during the night. I slept uneasily in the storm. The wind forced the outer fly of my tent against the inner mesh, which sometimes causes a few drops of water to seep through.

At 4am I woke up to a strange sensation. My sleeping bag was wet, as well as the backpack with my electronics. There was a puddle around me. For the first time in about 400 nights of camping, my tent had failed me.

Fucking hell.

To expand my time-lapse horizons, I started a new series of cityscapes with this scene.
"The day does shine on a pile of twigs as well", as the wise old saying in Finland goes.
 

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A Night by a Lighthouse

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A Night by a Lighthouse

As soon as I crossed the border into Germany, things started going downhill.

First there was an unrelenting headwind, which has kept blowing pretty much every day since then. I wanted to stay on the coast to follow the national park, and there wasn't really anything to stop the wind in these flatlands. In many places there was a road on both sides of the dike, and I could choose between a view of the farmland to the west, or the sea to the east.

In both cases, every kilometre or less was interrupted by a sheep fence. I had to unmount, open the gate, get the bike across, and close the gate, all the while trying not to step on too much sheep shit. Sometimes there was so much of it that I could barely see the road underneath. That’s because these animals are idiots and tend to congregate by the fences, even when they have tons of land to roam freely on. After a few days I was getting pretty fed up with the sharply stinging smell of sheep crap and urine blown on my face by the strong gales.

The views weren't great on either side of the dike.

The problem with cycling inland was that I couldn’t really see anything resembling a forest or a place to camp. Everything that wasn’t someone’s home or yard had been turned into farmland. On the coast I was at least able to camp on the hidden side of the dike, sometimes even finding a place without sheep. Since this probably wasn’t allowed, I had to pitch my tent at dusk and leave at dawn, to avoid being seen. Feeling like a skulking criminal, just because I want to sleep outside without leaving any trace, made me sad. I now have all the more appreciation for the free camping rights of Scandinavia and Finland.

The air was always covered in a haze. At first I thought it was just fog, but even on a sunny day I couldn't see far into the horizon. There was a smoky smell. I wasn't sure if pollution in Germany really is so visibly bad, or whether this was a remnant of the forest fires in Spain a month or two before.

It didn't look like fog to me.
This pier stretched over 100 meters into the sea.

Through the pedals I started to feel a slight vibration that suggested something might be wrong. The next day it got bad enough to hear, as a slight clicking sound, which soon turned into a horrible metallic grinding. The ball bearings in my bottom bracket were done for. Not the kind of thing you want to happen when pushing hard into headwind. I got off to walk the bike, just in case pedalling would cause wider damage.

Near Husum I found a camping ground for the night. The next day I continued to the city to visit a bike shop. The first place I went to said I'd have to replace the entire bottom bracket, the crankset, front cogs, and probably the chain. Right. Luckily in the second shop the mechanic was happy to fix only what was actually broken, and didn't take long to swap the ball bearings.

I also took the time to thoroughly clean the entire drivetrain: cogs, chain, and cassette. I even took apart the small pulley wheels to get every bit of grime out and oiled anything that needed it. The operation made me feel better and the bike was running smoothly again.

In bad winds, every little bit helps.

At a tourist information office I was given strict orders to not miss the Westerheversand lighthouse. And who am I to disobey a direct mandate? I cycled there to find an almost alien landscape of grassy flatness, with a tall 100-year-old lighthouse sticking out in the middle. It was only a few hundred metres from the sea, but without higher ground, you couldn’t see all the way to the water.

It does look unnecessarily phallic.

While taking photographs at sunset, I met a couple local girls who turned out to be volunteer workers at the national park. They offered me some space to camp by their hut, right underneath the lighthouse! I’d never experienced a campsite like this before, so it was quite a special treat. I took whatever photos I could, before the rain and thunder chased me into my tent.

In the morning I was invited for breakfast. One of the girls, Annika, said that she had gone touring in Europe with some friends and been helped by strangers so much that now she wanted to pay some of it forward. I know that feeling well. After this trip is over, I’m going to have to work very hard to give back even a fraction of the help I’ve received.

I could never witness anything like this back home.
 

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Vadehavet National Park

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Vadehavet National Park

All of Denmark is pretty flat, but especially the west side. It was almost eerie to not see any hills or elevation. Just perfectly level farmland, far into the distance. The only things blocking the view were buildings and occasional trees. And lots of massive wind turbines, which provide almost half of Denmark’s energy.

I’d felt a slight headache all day, and when I reached the shore of the Vadehavet National Park, it got worse. Suddenly I felt completely out of it and was barely able to pitch my tent on some grass by the sea. Skipping all my usual evening routines, I went straight to bed to sleep it off. This kind of thing seems to happen to me a couple times a year. Headache accompanied by nausea, and for the rest of the day I can’t function at all. Some kind of ‘mangraine', I suppose.

I love wind power in theory, but that constant wooshing sound can get a little annoying.
Is flat.

The next day I felt fine again. I backtracked a couple kilometres to visit the nearby Nature Centre, but it would’ve cost 14€ just to get in the building. That’s an unreasonable price tag for information that ought to be free. I dried my tent and clothes in the sun outside while muttering about how Finnish national parks are better.

Vadehavet (or the Wadden Sea) is a huge national park and another UNESCO World Heritage site. It spans 10000km2 off the coasts of Denmark and Germany. I assumed (probably incorrectly) that the name means something like “The Wading Sea”, because it’s so shallow that you could walk into it for miles, especially during low tide. Even the sea was flat here.

I was about to continue towards Germany, when an older gentleman suggested I visit the island of Mandø. It was connected to the mainland by five kilometres of rocky road, which was inaccessible every 12 hours or so, because it got submerged during high tide! This sounded like a fun place to visit. At the start of the road there were warning signs saying “Tide Race” and “No crossing without knowledge of the tides”. The old man had said it was several hours until the water would rise. I googled to double check, and then crossed the sea like some bicycle touring Moses.

This road looks fine for cycling!
This sight would become all too familiar soon enough.

Mandø was surrounded by a three-meter tall dike, a sloping seawall, covered in grass. It kept the water away during storms and also provided grazing ground for a lot of sheep. The mainland had the same kind of dike. (And it continued very, very far, as I would later find out.)

The island was a few kilometres across, with some farms, houses, summer cabins, and a small village centre. There was a camping ground, a shop, a couple restaurants and a very nice-looking windmill. I figured I’d stay at least until the next low tide. I showered at the campsite, took some photos, ate dinner, and chatted with a couple bird spotters. There were many different migratory birds in the nature reserve and subsequently also many enthusiastic people with binoculars and telescopes.

There's nothing quite like a sunset by the sea.

When the stars came out I returned to the windmill. The village had quieted down. I took a few still photos and then set a time-lapse of the scene below. This gave me an hour and a half to lie down and look at the stars while waiting for the camera. I really enjoy these moments of doing nothing while the camera’s shutter clicks away, recording movement where I see stillness.

I’ve been hooked on time-lapse since the first clip I ever shot, three years ago in Finland. It was the second week of my photography studies at the Kuusamo College, and I had a new camera with a timer to play with. The northern lights were expected to appear, and I had recently moved there from South Finland so had never seen them before. I cycled out at night to a lake by a forest, and waited until there was a hint of green in the sky.

I set the tripod and shot a sequence over something like half an hour, with stars and auroras reflecting off the water. Even now I remember thinking how cool it was, and I couldn’t wait to see the video. Of course it was out of focus, and unstable because I kept touching the camera's buttons. I even composed the shot vertically, which really shows how clueless I was.

But I loved it, and kept doing it. And here I am now, traveling the world and shooting time-lapses semi-professionally.

Funny how one night can change the course of your whole life.

I got lucky and there were no cars with headlights ruining the 90-minute shot.
 

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Welcome to Bække

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Welcome to Bække

After a slow breakfast, a shower at a nearby camping ground, and one hour’s cycling, I saw a free camping sign. There was some mowed lawn, a fire pit, a small hut with firewood, a toilet, and a guestbook. The spot was somewhat sheltered by trees, with a boy scout building right next door. The larger landscape consisted of patches of farmland and fenced pastures for horses and a few cows. A village called Bække was less than two kilometres away.

I guess I picked the wrong day to quit eating grass.

It was very early for camping, but I have my rule to never pass great campsites. Perhaps even more importantly, there was a lot of rain on the way. I could already smell it in the air. Staying made much more sense than pedalling in rain and looking for a wet campsite some hours later. I pitched my tent with the tarp on top for extra protection, then cycled to the nearest shop to buy food.

It rained for most of the night. The seams on my inflatable pillow failed, after five years of use. I slept with a towel placed awkwardly under my head.

Yep. That's the moon alright.

In the morning I wiped off the slime trails left by snails on my tent, packed up, wrote my thanks in the guestbook, and rode to Bække again. This time I found an unmanned tourist office. A room with plenty of information and leaflets, a small exhibition, a place to sit at a table, a microwave - even tissues, papers and pens, and various other bits and pieces. Someone clearly had tried to think about things that visitors might need, and then provided those things. The bathroom even had a free shower.

I took the opportunity to recharge my devices, and ended up using the place as a kind of personal office. I don’t get many chances to sit in peace with the laptop plugged in for some time-lapse work and other digital nomad stuff. No one else was there for hours, until the very friendly manager came to say hello and ask me if I needed anything. He explained that during the summer season they have staff present, but at this time of the year the office is just left open for anyone to use. He went out of his way to loan me some super glue for the pillow, but unfortunately it wasn’t strong enough for the job.

Eventually I stayed so long I decided to simply use the same campsite for a second night. In the first 100 days I had only taken 16% rest days. That seemed too few, even considering my otherwise slow pace. It was time to start resting more. I picked up some sausages and veggies to fry by the fire, and had the free shower waiting for me before leaving. All in all, Bække was perhaps the most tourist-friendly place I’ve been to. Everything was provided free of charge.

Beech tree forest path.

While I often talk about how wonderful it is to receive help and kindness from meetings with strangers directly, these kinds of anonymous gifts or services have a special kind of place in the life of an adventurer. Whether it’s a picnic table, a drinking water tap, a shelter, a helpful sign, or anything, in a way it feels like a heartwarming little note saying:

“Dear traveller,

Regardless of your skin colour, sexuality, or financial status, this is for you. We respect your desire to visit new places and are glad that your journey has brought you here. We understand that being on the road isn’t always easy, so hopefully the facilities offered here are of some help.

Yours truly,
Local people”

Hopefully some day I’ll own a patch of land that I can turn into a little oasis for passing travellers.

Average Danish road.
 

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Perfect Morning at Kærskov

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Perfect Morning at Kærskov

On a quiet suburban road with houses on both sides, there was a family hanging out by the curb on one yard. They seemed to be expecting something. When I passed them they were giving me strange looks. Wondering what that was about, I looked for them in my mirror, but instead saw a car and a motorcycle with yellow lights appear behind the corner, then some cyclists.. a LOT of cyclists. It was a race!

I quickly drove into the ditch to let a hundred or two bicycles and support vehicles zoom past me.

Now I understood those weird looks. The people were out there to watch the race pass. They must’ve had a surreal moment when seeing me. “Here they come honey! And in the lead… is a… what the hell?

Later that evening I passed Århus, which looked like a gorgeous city. Lots of cafes, restaurants and bars with cool well-dressed people sitting, eating and drinking outside. A very European feel, further underlined by wine being sold in grocery stores (which is not a thing in other Nordic countries). If I wasn’t an uncool badly-dressed smelly cyclist, I may have stayed longer. But as it was, I continued onwards.

Trees silhouetted against evening clouds.

Although wild camping isn’t allowed in all of Denmark, there are government-sanctioned forests and other places where it’s okay to pitch a tent. I've been mostly following the official national bicycle routes, as well as the map of free camping places.

I thought this limitation would be uncomfortable, but actually I’ve discovered that having less choice makes touring easier. If I have an idea of where I’ll be sleeping it’s a lot easier to plan ahead and leave certain tasks until I reach the campsite. Maybe there is something to be said for a bit of planning, after all.

One of these free tent places was in Kærskov near Horsens. Another old beech forest with hike, bike and horse paths. A small pond offered an excellent campsite. I had plenty of time to examine the area, take photos and cook dinner before sunset. Everything was perfect. (Almost everything.. I opened a box of newly bought Danish cheese and nearly gagged. The smell was disgusting. I don’t understand how it’s even legal to pack such a powerful stench in a bland container without warning signs.) There was some foot traffic, but it died off at dusk and I went to sleep early.

This'll do for a campsite!

Again I was awake for the sunrise. The morning was freezing, so there was a great deal of reluctance in leaving my down feather bed. But I’m glad I did, because it was a stunning sight. Sunlight seeped through the treetops in beams that lit the misty air. Dewdrops clung to leaves and spiderwebs. The surface of the pond was a clear mirror, except where lilies broke the illusion, or birds caused ripples when diving. A squirrel rustled in the branches.

I walked around slowly, took my photos, breathed in the brisk autumn air and chatted with people on their morning walks. Beautiful hurryless days like this are what touring and traveling are all about.

Once again, I couldn't believe my luck that this is what I get to do for the next few years.

There are one million spiders in this photo.
Small island mirrored.
A couple of the trees had autumn colours to boot.
 

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First Glimpse of Denmark at Mols Bjerge

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First Glimpse of Denmark at Mols Bjerge

I’m not one to usually admit being wrong, but oh boy, was I mistaken about Denmark. I've never really known much about it, to be honest - always thinking it’s just that boring flat country between Norway and Europe. If Sweden is a step down from Norway, I figured Denmark was a step down from Sweden. This was entirely false, in the way that assumptions tend to be.

First of all, bike paths were fantastic. I almost always had my own lane, and the signs were impeccable. There was no chance of accidentally straying from the bicycle route, which happened frequently in Sweden. Even in large intersections, which are usually intimidating in new cities and foreign countries, I had my own traffic lights and knew exactly where to go thanks to the painted lane.

The second thing I noticed was drivers in the countryside smiling and waving. That hadn’t happened to the same extent in quite a while.

And then there was the nature. My first stop was the Mols Bjerge National Park. It’s a mix of different landscapes from woodlands to moors, farms and cottages. The forests range from young plantations to very old beech forests stretching at least 30, if not 40, meters up. These giants block all the sunlight from reaching the ground, which is covered in a thick muddy carpet of leaves from previous autumns.

"We shall fight on the beeches..."

I had woken up uncharacteristically early, to prepare for stealth camping. If I sleep in a place where it's best to go unnoticed, it’s better to arrive at dusk and leave at dawn. As a result of an early start, I was also looking to camp already in the late afternoon. While searching for a place inside the national park, I came across a lively birthday party campsite with two adults and about eight little girls frying food around a fire.

It was about the warmest and most adorable welcome I’ve ever had. The kids asked me a barrage of questions, some even daring to speak english - rather well, I thought, for what looked like 11-year-olds. They all seemed to want my business card and to appear in the same photo with such a mysterious traveller. I asked the grown-ups for instructions and continued to a nearby campsite, all smiles after the unabashed curiosity and excitement of the children.

Evening view from the Mols Bjerge hilltop.

I came to a 137-meter tall hill, which is possibly one of the highest points in Denmark. There was an unobstructed view in every direction. Just below the hill were rolling green pastures for sheep and horses, beyond them some farm buildings, and in most directions I saw all the way to the sea.

The sun was setting, so I quickly pitched my tent by the picnic table. After it got dark I saw some flashes in the horizon far away - lightning! I’ve never successfully photographed one, despite a couple attempts earlier on this trip. I interrupted a time-lapse that was pointing in the wrong direction and aimed a new one at the storm instead. While waiting I fell asleep in my tent.

When I woke up the camera was completely soaked from dewdrops and the battery was dead. After a careful drying process I was happy to see it still working. Quite a few flashes had registered in the camera, and it also turned out that even the northern lights were visible while I slept. One lucky frame captured both of them!

Cool nature phenomena aside, there are many mistakes in this photo.

The morning brought even more goodness. Knowing there’d be early morning fog I got up before the sunrise. I’m glad I did. From my vantage point I saw a soft grey mist flowing between the hills. Then the sun rose and painted everything in a blindingly bright gold. This only lasted for a fleeting moment, before it vanished behind clouds again.

I was so happy to be alive and experiencing this special morning right there and then.

And to think I’m normally sound asleep at this hour. I’m going to make sure there will be more sunrise photos coming from now on.

Before sunrise.
... and after.
I've never regretted waking up early for a sunrise.
 

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Around the World in 80 Days

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Around the World in 80 Days

Today’s blog post is almost ready to publish, but I want to put it aside for a moment to share some exciting news:

Mark Beaumont from Scotland has just broken the world record by cycling around the planet in less than 80 days. To put that into perspective, I started this trip three and a half weeks before his run began. In the time it took him to circumnavigate the globe, I’ve cycled from Norway to Denmark.

This feat is insane. He pedalled almost 400km every day! That's 16+ hours of cycling with 5 hours of sleep for 78 days and 14 hours. He started and finished in Paris, as a reference to the Jules Verne novel of the adventures of Phileas Fogg and Passepartout.

This is actually the second time he’s broken this record. The first time was alone and unsupported, almost 10 years ago. He cycled around the world in 194 days - while still having time to shoot a BBC documentary about his project! I remember watching that film in 2012, before I’d even done my first tour. My big dream at the time was to cycle across Canada some day, but it was Mark’s documentary that first made me consider that maybe I could accomplish the same. (Without any speed records, obviously.)

So here’s to Mark Beaumont, the hero of the day. Congratulations on an incredible achievement, and thank you for the inspiration.

Old photo from my previous Arctic Circle bicycle tour.

If you're interested, here are links to the 80-day project, and to the 4-part documentary of the 2008 trip on Youtube. And I'll return to the regularly scheduled programming tomorrow!

 

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No Man's Right

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No Man's Right

I’ve passed the 100-day mark, so it’s time to take stock. My National Park tour took 102 days, so from tomorrow onwards, this will be the longest bicycle tour I’ve ever done. Although that one required 5250 kilometres, so I’m still way behind at 3500km for this trip. But I feel like distance cycled is far less important of a number than time spent. Hence the project’s title, I suppose.

Of the first 100 so far I’ve spent every night sleeping outside. Mostly in my tent, except for a few occasions under other shelters where I felt that even a tent was unnecessary. I’ve only slept in three different camping grounds. All the rest were stealth camping in forests and other secluded places. Well.. plus a number of distinctly unstealthy spots out in the open when I was too tired to find anything better.

Throwback to a lake in Norway.

So far I’ve taken full advantage of Everyman’s Right of Finland, Sweden and Norway. It ensures that every person, no matter who they are, has the right to enjoy nature. That includes hiking, cycling, swimming, picking berries and mushrooms, among other activities. Most importantly of all, camping. The ability to camp anywhere, even privately owned forests as long as I’m a reasonable distance away from anyone’s home, is a fantastic priviledge. And in Scandinavia there are plenty of forests and other uninhabited nature available for doing so.

That’s all about to change, however. I’ve just crossed into Denmark by ferry, and unfortunately they don’t have similar outdoor camping priviledges - just a select few spots where pitching a tent is acceptable, and an additional handful of places offered privately by farmers. It could take some getting used to after all the freedom in the north.

On a beautiful morning in North Norway.

I’m not even sure whether Denmark has any actual nature, for that matter. My only previous experience of the country is driving through it in about one hour during a road trip a few years ago. Looking at the satellite images in Google Maps it looks depressingly full of farmland, towns and cities. Whatever forests I can locate seem to be tiny.

From what I understand, much of Germany, Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg (the route I’m considering at the moment) will look similar. Which means I don’t expect untouched nature and solitude for the next few weeks. Photography-wise, I'll get to practice shooting subjects and genres outside my usual landscapes. Even in South Sweden I found it very difficult to find places and photos where man-made structures weren’t visible, and that won’t get easier in much of Europe.

Sweden uses a lot of electricity.
Autumn weather isn't great but the colours can get beautiful.

Oh, and regarding Sweden: There’s not much to report of my stay there. I spent about ten days cycling through, most of which were exceptionally windy and rainy. Autumn has clearly arrived. Camping spots were often poor, especially when on two separate occasions laavus on the map turned out to not be laavus. The last place I visited was indeed a shelter, but kind of dirty and spray-painted with graffiti. Also the roof was leaking, which I found out when it began to rain again in the middle of the night and water started dripping onto my sleeping bag.

So overall, there aren’t many photos from that leg of the journey. (In fact a couple of the images in this update are actually from earlier in Norway. Namely the ones where the weather looks pleasant.) Sorry to any fans of Sweden out there.

All that aside, I feel great. There's about another 1700 days and 47000km left, and I'm looking forward to seeing what they have in store!

It was a dark and stormy night...
 

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Låvu

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Låvu

One of my favourite things about Sweden is that they have a somewhat similar “laavu culture” as we do in Finland. (A laavu is a camping shelter with firewood, free for anyone to use.) A fellow bicycle tourer had linked me to a map of such wind shelters, which I usually referred to while looking for a place to sleep.

After a few days of cycling in Sweden I was getting tired and there was heavy rainfall on the way. I picked out the promising-looking Sinäset laavu on the map for a possible rest day. Regular camping would've been fine too, but having much more dry space, some firewood, and an outhouse makes things a whole lot more comfortable when staying for two nights.

I found the place in the dark, as always. It was very rare that I camped in daylight. My tendency to sleep until noon and spend the first two to four hours doing nothing much always meant that I had never gotten a great deal of cycling done by sunset. At some point it would be nice to synchronise my sleeping pattern with the sun, but for now I’m not too bothered about it.

The lean-to was at the end of a long forking cape reaching into lake Ånimmen. A lovely place for it. There was no pier, but it was probably visited often in the summer by people with small boats out on the lake. Two firepits, a toilet, enough firewood, a shovel, a couple rusted saws, and an axe without a handle or shaft. More or less standard. Except the roof of the laavu was super low - this was strictly for sleeping, while in Finland you can usually sit inside comfortably. Being both clumsy and a slow learner, I bumped my head on the low rafters about twenty times.

How much wood can a woodless axe chop?
Location shot.

It did end up raining as predicted, so I did end up staying for two nights. There were no insects, so I didn’t need the tent for protection. Instead I just spread the sleeping bag on the wooden floor. Compared to trucks flying by inches from my face, the gentle sound of rain drops on the roof was a beautiful thing to doze through. Both nights I slept almost around the clock.

I even found use for my travel shower, for the second time this trip. Swimming was an option too, but surface waters are getting chilly again. Instead I filled the 10-litre shower bag from the lake, and boiled some of it on my stove for the added luxury of pleasantly warm water. Showering in the open forest may sound daring, but I assure you that on the Standard Scale of 'Hibitionism I am definitely more in than ex. Even though there wasn’t a soul around that I could see, I waited strictly for darkness before this venture.

The rocks by the shore were incredibly slippery.

During my stay I was reconnected with a familiar sense of peace and contentment. I reached that elusive mindset where everything just kind of stops and you end up really enjoying the here and now. I feel like I still don’t stop to smell the roses often enough - the cycling and camping and photography and blogging and all these activities tend to use up much of the day. Being constantly on the move, whether physically or mentally (or both), is taxing in the long run.

Even on a journey like this, being present rarely occurs automatically. Some particularly special surroundings do easily inspire these feelings in me - as you may have noticed from past updates. But even when I’m not on top of a stunning mountain feeling thrilled about life, I still ought to exist in the moment and remember to regularly stop doing stuff and make these moments of peace happen myself.

This should become something I do every day.

I did have one feathery visitor.
Frying sausages by the fire is a practically mandatory Finnish duty.
 

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Forest of Finns and the Swedish Border

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Forest of Finns and the Swedish Border

The last place I saw in Norway was Finnskogen, literally meaning “The Forest of Finns". 400 years ago some Finnish people escaped poor conditions and hunger back home. After traveling southwest, they eventually came upon this large forest that spanned an area within both Norway and Sweden. From what I understand they did okay at first, settling down to become farmers.

Then there was a change of power and the new guy in charge had a much stricter immigration policy than his predecessor. He ordered my ancestors to be banished. (Aren’t we just so glad about all this progress we’ve made in 400 years..?)

The bailiff refused to do it, saying they were so poor they likely would've starved to death without their land. So they stayed. While not without some difficulties of course, they eventually assimilated into the Swedish and Norwegian cultures.

Just a backlit pine cone doing its thing.

To this day, Finnskogen remains a vast forest with not much habitation. Naturally I thought it would be a nice place for exploring, photography and camping. That turned out to not be the case, however. It’s not a nature reserve, so everything looked like somewhat recently hacked down young forest. Very bushy and uneven ground - the kind where it’s difficult to find great camping spots. Most of the small side roads were private and blocked from access.

Basically, everything looked exactly like any remote country gravel road through a forest in Finland. Which, to me, is rather boring. “New” and “exotic” are words that inspire photography, while “familiar” and “just like home” do not. Mountains and the ocean are great for wide open landscape images, but forests and lakes (which I’ve seen my whole life) make me focus more in small details and macro shots. As you may see in these next few updates.

Autumn is beginning with the first yellow leaves on the ground.

On the third day through the forest, I came across a small village school. It looked empty except for a couple walking outside. I was glad to overcome my usual shyness to ask for a water refill, because they turned out to be very friendly indeed. After one mention of my habit of showering at camping grounds, I was led to the school's gym. Only minutes after arriving I had the boys’ locker room to myself for a free shower!

As I’ve said before, getting to enjoy a proper wash and a set of clean clothes after some days of touring and camping feels like an oasis in a desert for the thirsty traveller. And doubly so when it’s helpfully offered by generous strangers. I couldn’t thank them enough for this assistance.

I believe this is a berry of some kind.

After two and a half outstanding months of cycling in picturesque Norway, I finally crossed into Sweden. Rather unceremoniously, after sunset and in the rain. There were barely any signs to mark the border along this small road. Sweden looks extremely similar to Finland, so I didn’t have high expectations for my stay. (In fact the general plan was, and is, to go through relatively quickly into the more exciting mainland Europe. Sorry Sweden fans.) Plus it was raining so much that setting up camp would've been tricky.

So I cycled on. I pedalled through Lekvattned and Torsby until it was 3am and I was soaked. On the wide highway 45 I came across a truck stop. It was far from a great place to camp, but they did have a cover from the rain where I could eat and dry some of my stuff. To avoid a wet tent, I pitched it on the concrete under the shelter, and only then carried it over to a grassy spot.

This so-called campsite was hardly more than 10 meters away from the highway. My shoes were wet. My socks were wet. The rain continued on and on. It was cold. I was tired. And I knew that about three hours after falling asleep, the traffic would start with trucks passing right by my ears.

Welcome to Sweden.

How are you even reading these hidden alt texts??
Time-lapse frame of the sunset back in Biri.
 

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5-Year Horse Trip

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5-Year Horse Trip

I followed the turquoise-coloured river Otta southeast. During the day I rode on hilly small roads on the quiet side of the river, and at night I sometimes switched to pedaling on the speedier E6 when there was no traffic. There was about a week of Norway left before I'd the border into Sweden.

Most of the way was farmland and habitation, and the camera rarely came out of the bag. At least at night the world can look more interesting. I saw auroras in the horizon again. Although the light pollution ruined almost all photo attempts, it was nice to cycle under the green lights in the Norwegian farmlands. Later one of my campsites had a great view of the lights of Lillehammer:

You can see the 1994 Winter Olympics ski jump tower to the left.
Where there was no light pollution, they were blocked by trees.

Between Hamar and Elverum I was camping in a forest behind a rest stop. I had arrived very late in the cover of darkness, as was often the case. Highway 3 had been pleasant to cycle at night, but the afternoon showed a very different side to it. The traffic was absolutely crazy. I can’t remember ever cycling with so many cars. It was Friday at 3pm, so the rush was caused by everyone from Oslo and other cities heading towards the country for the weekend.

The road was narrow and both lanes were full, so there weren’t safe places to pass me. I had to cycle in short bursts. First a few hundred meters of frantic pedalling, then quickly getting off the road when my mirror showed a dangerous amount of cars behind. When I eventually made it to the beginning of a bicycle lane, it was on the other side of the road. It took me 15 minutes of waiting for enough of a gap to cross the damn road! If this is a taste of what’s to come in Germany and the rest of Europe, I really need to start planning my routes more carefully.

River Otta really was this turquoise.

One morning began with a surprise when two teenage girls on horses rode past my campsite. That doesn’t happen often. And before they’d even disappeared from view, my mind started to wander. What would it be like to do a trip on a horse, like in the old days? Maybe one day I should take a break from cycling and ride a horse around Kazakhstan. Or Mongolia.

For some reason thoughts like these always arise automatically. Even though I know nothing about Kazakhstan or Mongolia. Or horses for that matter. I wonder if there’s some gene that is responsible for this kind of adventure mentality that tries to take everything towards the extremes? I can barely heard the word 'boat' without immediately thinking about sailing around the world.

There must be some kind of source for this mindset. Whatever gene or gut bacteria causes such ideas, I have it.

I forget where this was, but it's the opening frame of a sunset time-lapse.
 

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It’s All Downhill to Sweden

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It’s All Downhill to Sweden

Examining my route map and the calendar, it was clear I needed to make some decisions. August was turning into September, with temperatures falling towards winter. There was a lot more I wanted to see in Norway - I could easily spend a year or two here. As lovely as it was however, I didn’t want to get stuck in any single place. The rest of the world was still waiting for me. Plus I had to get away from the cold.

It was time to start heading towards Sweden. Google Maps said that from the mountain at Geiranger, the road was several days of mostly gradual downhill, which sounded just lovely. Especially the first part, which was still mountainous and wide open. My eyes were lost in the vastness of the landscape. I stopped often just to look around me and breathe in the views.

Spot the yellow bus in this photo:

Cycling through this makes me feel very small.
Lunchtime rest stop.

The first evening I stopped by a resting area to shoot the sunset. A couple of German guys were cooking sausages and potatoes by a fire behind their camper van. I thought they were avoiding eye contact, which typically means they prefer to be left alone. So I did, and focused on my photos. It turned out my judgement was wrong though, because one of them broke the ice by asking if I would like a potato. Well, I’m not one to turn down food while cycling.

I sat down gladly. They were coming back from Nordkapp towards the end of a long holiday. We ended up having a very nice conversation by the fire, while they kept offering more delicious potatoes and sausages. Eventually I had to depart to look for a campsite before it got dark.

When leaving I was thoughtful. The meeting almost didn’t happen due to my assumption or misread, which makes me wonder how often I miss out on meeting people due to not being open to it or initiating the situations myself. Probably quite a lot. I am much more social while touring than otherwise, but there is still a lot to improve in that regard. It’s certainly something to be mindful of in the future.

Sun setting over the Otta river.

To find a place to sleep I crossed a concrete dam into a quiet pine forest with only one small gravel road and no buildings that I could find. After setting up the tent near the shore of the dammed Otta river I noticed a huge pile of what could only be bear poop just a few meters from my campsite. And two more nearby. I poked the freshest-looking one with a stick. It hadn’t even fully dried yet.

Oh well. They say bears are more afraid of us than we are of them. And I have spent quite a bit of time in forests without ever seeing a glimpse of one, so I didn’t feel concerned. Tiny little ticks worry me more than huge bears with sharp fangs and claws. Which sounds odd, and yet is statistically very sensible. Bears attack something like one person per year in Scandinavia, and most of them are hunters.

The night was clear and full of stars, so I set about to do some astrophotography. There wasn’t much light pollution, and I was south enough to maybe try shooting a Milky Way time-lapse. The centre of the galaxy is below the horizon in North Finland, so this was a rare treat for me. It was the coldest night since June and every breath fogged up. I tried not to breathe on the camera while setting it up, and then paced back and forth to keep warm while waiting for it to finish.

Unfortunately I (again!) stupidly didn't use a hand warmer packet, so the lens fogged up and ruined the sequence. I really ought to stop repeating the same mistakes.

Here's the first shot. You'll just have to imagine the Milky Way behind the trees gliding majestically in the night sky.

The video would've been really nice.
 

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