Sven The Biking Viking Bagpipe Player

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Sven The Biking Viking Bagpipe Player

While getting ready to eat on a rest stop south of Innhavet, a smiling young cyclist rolled in. Despite a name like Sven and the bushy red beard, he wasn’t a viking, but actually German. Usually all the fellow bicycle tourers I meet on the road are going in the opposite direction, but this was a rare exception, as we shared the same route. After a chat we agreed to pedal together for a while.

Having just finished school in Germany, Sven had three months to spend on cycling in the Nordic countries before starting new studies. He had begun his journey at about the same time as I, and had crossed into Norway only a few days earlier via Finland and Sweden. We were both glad to experience better weather finally. His attitude to life seemed happy and optimistic: “Everything is better in the end. And if it isn’t, it’s not the end."

Sven climbing up the mountain pass.

Soon after starting we hit a vertical climb of 400 meters. One of the highest of the trip thus far, since the roads in North Norway are comparatively flat. I had to make frequent stops to catch my breath. A passing caravan driver gave us a honking serenade, while the woman in the passenger seat applauded wholeheartedly. After at least an hour of climbing we finally reached the top. Silver-lined clouds twirled above the surrounding peaks, with occasional beams of light penetrating the green valley floor.

The way down only took a few minutes, but it was one of the most exciting riding experiences I can remember. Descending on a wide highway with perfect asfalt, we hardly used our brakes at all. The sheer speed on the slightly twisting mountain road was exhilarating. I was grinning like a madman the entire way down. When we reached the fjord Sven checked his odometer for the top speed - 53km/h. We stopped to bask in the adrenaline.

After Mørsvikbotn we took a detour off the busy E6 to a beautiful side road with practically no cars. I stopped to take a time-lapse, so Sven played a bagless bagpipe. Apparently in order to become a bagpipe player, you need to first practice with just the pipe, which he had brought with him. Forlorn medieval music and the Lord of the Rings soundtrack felt fitting to our surroundings.

Mountains and clouds reflecting off the fjord.

Not long after we found a great secluded communal barbeque pit shelter by a clear mountain stream. It was an easy decision to camp early.

Shelter by the mountain stream.
Checking the day's route.

Checking the day's route.

The next day we continued together, but it was becoming obvious our styles of touring weren’t very compatible. Even not taking photography into account, Sven was probably twice as fast as I was. He would wait on top of a hill, while I lagged behind, pushing my bike up the steepest parts, muttering profanities under my breath. He preferred to do most of the day’s cycling before I typically get out of bed. And he wanted to continue much further and stay at a camping ground, while I was just hoping to visit a hotel shower to wash off the sweat from all the climbing, so I could just wild camp anywhere.

So we agreed to split up. It was great to have some company for a change, but there wasn’t much choice. After exchanging contact information and well-wishes, he continued south towards Fauske unimpeded.

I proceeded to enjoy a hot shower so long it probably violated the Paris accord.

Long exposure shot of a foggy lake.

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In Need of a Reset

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In Need of a Reset

After it had rained for five or six days in a row, I finally caught a break. A morning without rain - even a glimpse of sunshine. Finally I could get back to business! The total amount cycled from Bognes in the preceding week couldn’t have been much more than 30km, with zero photos taken for four days. I packed up, hit the road, and... was immediately slapped in the face with an 8m/s headwind.

That’s it, I thought. I need a reset.

Tent spot with a view by the river.

Sometimes things are difficult on a bicycle tour. When this happens, you go into a mode where you just deal with the basics - finding food and water, getting warm and dry, camping and resting. Everything else, like laundry and bike maintenance becomes secondary.

If this mode lasts for too long, it begins to have an effect on your mood. And the secondary issues pile up and also start to cause problems. This kind of thing doesn’t happen often, but when it does, my method of dealing with it is a “reset”.

That means trying to make everything as fresh and new as possible, as if I was starting a new tour. Meaning I eat well, bathe thoroughly, dry everything, wash my clothes and whatever else is dirty, and fix any issues with the bicycle. If it’s a sunny and warm day I lay out everything in the sunshine, because UV radiation is an effective disinfectant.

It was neither sunny nor warm, so I decided to check in to a camping ground. It was the first time I’d done that on this trip, aside from my usual shower visits. Luckily there was a place called Notvann Camping only a few kilometers away, and mostly downhill. I arrived at nine in the morning, which I believe is slightly earlier than most people choose to camp, causing some amusement.

It was a friendly family run place, overlooking a beautiful quiet river that flowed into the nearby fjord, with a mountain view and a few horses doing things that horses do when they’re off-duty.

Like enjoying the view.

Like enjoying the view.

While I may boast about how rarely I need to stay in camping grounds, I really needed it this time. And after two showers, a shave, a machineful of laundry, one lubed bicycle chain, thousands of kilocalories, recharged batteries, hours of time-lapse processing, and a good night’s sleep, I felt like a new man. When I eventually got back on the road the next day, I was smiling again.

Reset successful.

Notvann river view with a mountain in the distance.

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Never Pass by a Great Campsite

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Never Pass by a Great Campsite

(I'm trying something new with the photos - the horizontal pictures should all be full browser window width, and the first vertical photo below should be narrower than the text. Hopefully this will look much better on desktop browsers than previously. Please let me know in comments if either isn't true, or something else looks weird or broken. Thank you!)

Okay, new rule: If I come across a really good campsite, I’m going to stay there. Even if I haven’t cycled much that day and am nowhere close to being tired, it’s practically always better to stay than continue.

Here’s what happens if I don’t stay: I’ll soon see another place to camp, but that one is only okay, and what’s the point of staying there if I just passed a better one a while ago? Then there’s nothing for a while, and then I’ll see a mediocre campsite, and then a bad one, and I’m starting to wish I had stayed in the first or second one.

Then suddenly nature and forest turns into farmland and I get into an inhabited area. I’m getting tired and briefly consider turning back, but the nice places are far behind me already, and nobody likes going back the same way. So I cycle through the village or town, and keep looking. But there’s nothing for miles - the ground is too bushy or swampy or uneven for a tent.

Eventually I get so tired I’ll just put my tent up in the first crappy place I see. Every time this happens I end up wishing I’d just stayed at the first place.

Here’s what happens if I stay at the great spot I saw hours earlier: I’m happier.

Even if I wasn’t tired yet, rest is always useful. I have time and energy to cook better meals and eat more. I can do maintenance and cleanup on the bicycle, my gear, or myself. I may take photographs, or just sit down and enjoy the view. I’m more relaxed and open to meeting other travellers. And if the weather turns bad, I can wait. I’m not in a hurry because I’m already comfortable right there.

A good campsite is one of those things in life that gives you warm fuzzy feelings. Like a kitten or a fluffy blanket or a nice big cup of whatever you prefer to drink in the morning.

And, as I keep reminding myself, there’s no hurry. With my almost unlimited schedule it doesn’t matter if I cycle 5 kilometers or 50 in a particular day. What matters is doing things that put me in a good mood. That’s an easy recipe for happiness.

Which is why, after cycling only 10 kilometers from Storfjord in Bognes, I saw a good campsite and decided to stay. Right by the fjord with a nice view of distant mountains. A fireplace with some wood, which isn’t very common in Norway. Some planks balanced on rocks to function as benches, a place to sit and cook. It was a little too close to the E6 and traffic sounds, but still relatively secluded thanks to the surrounding trees.

So I was content there. Then the weather turned bad and it rained for two days. And I didn’t mind, because I was already home.

PS. It would’ve been nice to end this post there, but unfortunately bicycle touring - and life - isn’t always so easy.

Two days of rain is fine. Then it rained for a third day. And that begins to seep into the “boy, I kinda wish it wasn’t raining anymore” area. I was running out of rations and podcasts. The worst part was that the weather forecast said it would rain another five days almost nonstop.

I had little choice but to break camp and head to the next village to buy food. These next few days would not be easy.

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Lofoten, Kind of

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Lofoten, Kind of

Lofoten seems to be widely considered as one of the most beautiful places in the world. Understandably so - it is indeed gorgeous. But I already ended my tour there last summer, and the year before that we drove there in a van with a bunch of other photography students from Kuusamo. So I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go this time.

I knew there would be plenty more to see and experience, but the same was true of all of Norway. Visiting completely new locations felt more appealing than repeating some of the same routes as previously. Seeing new places with fresh eyes is so satisfying, and a major part of the reason why I like to travel so much in the first place.

Apparently Norway isn't all mountains! I saw miles of flatlands like this in Andøya. This must've been the old sea floor thousands of years ago.

So this time I simply cycled from the northernmost tip in Andenes, to the southern Lødingen in a few days. The route may or may not have gone through Lofoten - I’ve never really been sure exactly which islands it officially consists of.

In addition to wanting to avoid repetition, I was becoming eager to enter the more comfortable climate in the south. North Norway had been really cold for the vast majority of my stay. Obviously, as an aurora photographer, I’m not a stranger to freezing temperatures. Chilly nights are perfectly fine on tour if they are followed by warm (at least +10C) days. It’s only when the cold continues without relief for days and weeks that it begins to wear you down.

Somewhere on the way, while having a brief moment to rest, drink, and absorb the beautiful and quiet early morning views, an otter surfaced from the fjord right below me. I froze, hoping it wouldn’t spot me. It had caught something white in its mouth, and proceeded to eat it. Otters usually eat fish, but this meal made such a loud crunching sound that it must’ve been something with a hard shell.

You might be tempted to call an otter that lives in the sea a “sea otter”, but that’s actually an entirely different species living in the Pacific Ocean. The Eurasian otters are very common in Norway and live quite happily in the salt water of the fjords, as long as they have a stream of fresh water available for washing their fur and the only reason I know any of this is because it was raining the next day so I had some time to google otters while hiding under a bus stop.

Everything is bigger in Norway.

I'm really starting to love my ND 1000 filter.

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Lightening the Load

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Lightening the Load

My method of packing for a bicycle tour has always been a kind of “bring everything and see what happens” approach. For my first ever tour in 2013 I brought too much stuff, and I’ve only added more items and pannier capacity every year henceforth. Looks like I’ve finally reached the limit of what I can carry, though. Now it’s time to get lighter.

With my backpack susceptible to water leakage, I had to stop and think of an alternative. The backpack itself is extremely useful, even necessary, when I go hiking or even just buying groceries. I can take all the important stuff with me safely and easily. Carrying everything in a pannier would be possible, but very uncomfortable, and as always, comfort is something I don’t make unnecessary compromises with on very long tours.

I don’t think a plain rain cover will ever be 100% waterproof either, so the only choice was to put the backpack in the big red Ortlieb rack pack. Which meant I had to make room in it first.

Digging through every pannier, I looked for things I didn't need. The main culprit was my hammock. I don’t sleep in a hammock. The idea with bringing it was to see how it compares to touring with a tent, but I hadn’t used it once in the first month, and probably wouldn’t be needing it in the future either. I mailed it home.

I also tossed a tarp, an old extra spare tube that had been in my repair kit for years with no punctures (I still have three more), and various other small items that I deemed unnecessary.

All of that took up to 2kg of weight off the bike, and now the backpack could fit inside the rear pannier. With the lower weight distribution the bicycle feels steadier in addition to being lighter. Needless to say, I’m very happy with these little tweaks!

This should probably be a recurring ritual. Next time at the two month mark I’ll go through all my items, consider how many times I’ve needed them, and leave out anything I can live without. Letting go of unnecessary baggage is quite liberating.

In the first month I’ve cycled 1000km, which is quite a pleasant pace. The speed may increase after Norway, when I’m stronger and the land is flatter and less photogenic. But even at a lazy 33km per day average, I’d still be well ahead of schedule for 5 years and 50000 kilometers.

Looks like I’ll be able to take plenty of detours - or rest days - in the months and years to come.

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The Truth About Midnight Sun

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The Truth About Midnight Sun

I’ve probably mentioned the midnight sun more than a few times by now. You might naturally assume it’s because I like it so much. Actually, that’s not entirely true. It has its benefits for sure, but it’s a double-edged sword.

First, the negative: For photography, the midnight sun is devastating. The best light occurs when the sun is at or below the horizon - that’s when you get the beautiful sunsets and sunrises with orange, red, and purple skies. When the sun just sits there well above the horizon, the light is decent, but certainly not ideal.

The beach in Bleik with Bleiksøy island, home to tens of thousands of puffins, in the background.

Surely it’s still an amazing phenomenon to take pictures of, you may ask? Honestly, not really. It’s a great *experience*. You’re out at night and the sun is there and it feels exciting in its strangeness. But when you show a photograph of it later, you need to explain why the photo is special. “This may look like a regular sun but it’s actually the midnight sun!” And it’s never a great photo if you need to explain what’s great about it.

Not to mention that for someone like me who enjoys night and star photography, the total lack of darkness is somewhat of a letdown.

Luckily there are still plenty of other phenomena to shoot.

On the positive side however, the ability to camp whenever I want is wonderful. There’s never a need to stop early because it’s getting dark. I can ride all night on empty roads if I like. This adds yet another level of freedom to the many others bicycle touring offers already.

Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve had quite an elastic sleeping pattern. Originally due to the white nights of Finnish summer, or my tendency to get stuck reading interesting books far into the early hours. Going to sleep early and waking up early has never really been suitable for me. Which made school a bit of a challenge, and has later made me pursue atypical career and life choices. Meaning this kind of schedule of constant daylight without any restraints suits me perfectly.

So as my path has turned south and towards autumn, the sunsets and stars will soon be visible again. I will both miss the midnight sun and be glad that it’s gone. In any case, it should result in better photos for you readers to look at.

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Never Thought I’d be Happy to See a Tunnel

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Never Thought I’d be Happy to See a Tunnel

What kind of circumstances does it require to make a 2.5 kilometer tunnel, all of it an uphill climb, look appealing to a cyclist? Cold, rain, and a laptop water damage emergency.

Let me paint a picture to those of you who have never cycled through a tunnel:

Imagine it’s summer. You’re on a bicycle tour. The sun is shining and birds are singing. You couldn’t be happier. Until you turn around a bend and your heart sinks. The road continues into blackness through a mountain.

So far I've also had to "imagine" summer.

All of a sudden, you’re banished from The Shire into the Mines of Moria. The temperature drops 20 degrees to near zero. Drops of icy water fall from the cracks in the rock onto your skin. The floor is wet and slippery. Strange echoes and creepy unidentifiable tunnel sounds, almost like whispers, slither into your ears.

You turn your head to try to light up every nook and crevice with your headlamp to look for monsters. Every two seconds your breath fogs up and hits the beam of light, essentially blinding you.

And then you hear the rumbling. They are coming.

One does not simply pedal into Mordor.

You start to cycle more frantically, trying to figure out if the sound is coming from the front or back. Then you see headlights behind you on the same lane. Shit. The rumbling builds into a deafening cascade of sound. The two bright dots in your rear view mirror fuse into one ball of pure light that burns your retinas. All the while you’re trying to cycle as straight as you can, which is not easy with a heavy bicycle in an uphill tunnel with an icy floor and severely compromised eyesight.

But there’s nowhere else to go. You can only hope the car passes safely.

And that's what tunnels are like.

This one's okay.

I try to avoid going through them whenever possible, but on Senja there usually aren’t alternative routes. So at the very least I make an effort to cycle through tunnels during very low traffic hours.

Hence, I never thought I’d be happy at the sight of the 2.5km Skaland tunnel. It had been raining for a while and I’d realized the rain cover of my backpack was leaking. That’s the one that contains the laptop and other important electronics, so water seeping into it was a huge problem. And there was no shelter anywhere. Until I spotted the tunnel. I could stay there by the side of the gate, safe from rain.

This looks like a fine place to camp!

I stayed there for a few hours until the weather cleared. There was little traffic, and it was split about evenly between drivers with a "best of luck with the weather!" kind of smile and wave, and the "what the hell is this guy doing?" stare.

Luckily no damage was done. But until I can find a more waterproof backpack, I need to figure out a whole new system of protecting my valuables.

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Rainy Day

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Rainy Day

I peeked out of my tent again, this time by a beach near Bøvær. It was my third night on Senja, even though the island is small enough to ride through in one day. What’s the point of hurrying when the scenery is so good?

Except today the views weren't as great. It had rained most of the night and according to the forecast, would keep raining until the following day. I didn’t mind. This time I’d actually get to rest on my rest day! There was plenty of food and water to wait out the weather. Plus my phone, laptop and power bank were all at full charge. I was comfortable right where I was.

Wait a second.. this isn't sand. It's billions of pieces of crushed shells!

I had found my secluded beach late in the previous night. On the way I had passed the much bigger Ersfjord beach, which several people had recommended as a great camping spot. When I was there in the evening it was absolutely full of people. I counted 24 tents, 10 caravans and several campfires, and those were just the ones I could see where I was standing. The beach itself was indeed beautiful, but that’s a little too many tourists for my liking.

You see, I don’t like crowds. I enjoy meeting people, and I’m always disappointed if someone at a rest stop avoids eye contact, or responds in a mild “not interested” kind of way to my usual hello. But I really prefer people in small doses. Honestly, large groups and crowds tend to make me slightly anxious. And for me it’s not camping if I can’t visit the bushes without being seen by half a dozen people. So I didn’t stay.

With the sound of rain on my tent fly, I spent the day quietly doing blog stuff, napping, eating, and just generally allowing my muscles to recover. It’s very important that I remember to rest even when not forced to by the weather. Although the actual cycling is very slow and relaxed and much less strenuous than you might imagine for this kind of journey, some amount of rest is still required even at my pace.

And going slowly is basically my motto. I talk about this and other topics in a well-written interview I had with Alpaca Travel: Click here to read it.

Cooking under the tent door flaps.

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Rest Day

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Rest Day

I peeked out of my tent, lower half still in my sleeping bag. I had woken up on a deserted road in Fjordgård, Senja. When the tunnel was finished, a 2km stretch of hillside road had been abandoned to cyclists and pedestrians. Decades ago, judging by the moss and grass growing on what used to be asfalt. Someone had brought a couple rest area benches in the middle of the road. As good a place to camp as any.

I yawned. My breath remained visible in the air. Too cold. The sky was a clear blue, but the tall mountains surrounding the fjord would keep my campsite in the shadow for some time. I dove back into the sleeping bag. Maybe this could be a rest day.

After two hours of snuggling, the sun and warmth finally arrived. I set my still-wet laundry to dry, and aired and UV-disinfected some gear. I settled into my familiar morning routines. Put the pannier with the perishable food in a cool place. Brush my teeth. Pack up all sleeping equipment into one bag. Take down the tent. Put everything in their designated places. I had done all of this hundreds of times. This time I added a little extra basking in the sunshine before rolling down into the nearby village.

Apparently children in Senja are taught to say hello to everyone they see, because I received a number of friendly greetings from kids cycling or walking past. Adults aren’t any more reserved either - I had never gotten this many smiles, waves and thumbs ups from local drivers. An incredibly welcoming place.

Fjordgård was slightly off my route, but I had come to photograph Segla, a famous pointy mountain towering over the town. For the best view I had to hike up several hundred meters, though. I am in pretty poor shape for a young(ish..) man who isn’t overweight, so this climb took a lot out of me.

But the view from the top was amazing. Beautiful fjords and villages far below, with vertigo-inducing walls dropping hundreds of meters straight down into the sea. Snow-capped mountains disappearing into the distance, with the vastness of the empty ocean opening up to the north. And the barren Segla looming still higher.

I had to sit down to just marvel at everything. This is my life now. To have the freedom to travel to these places is a priviledge I should always remember to be grateful for.

In the evening when I was leaving the village I passed by the local burger place. Before my brain registered anything, I was already parking my bike. It’s not common for me to splurge on restaurants, especially in Norway. After all the climbing however, 20 euros for a hamburger seemed like a fantastic idea. I inhaled it so fast I barely noticed how delicious it was.

While pitching my tent back on the abandoned road, my legs were shaking from exhaustion. Not quite the rest day I’d had in mind. I passed out within seconds of hitting the pillow.

A rare selfie. I'm not usually on that side of the lens, but I felt like this photo needed a human for scale.

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Sommarøy and Eagle-Watching

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Sommarøy and Eagle-Watching

The ferry to Senja island, where I was headed, departs from Brensholmen in Troms. Right next to it is a beautiful little island called Sommarøy, where an acquaintance I met in Lofoten during last year’s bicycle tour happens to live. So I paid her a visit.

Sommarøya to the right, connected by a bridge to the main island Kvaløya.

You might not expect views like this in North Norway, but there are actually quite a few nice beaches around.

Elaine is one of those fun people who seems to have life figured out. She knows what makes her happy and then simply goes out to do it. She’s even more of an outdoor person than me, spending a lot of time out on her kayak in the fjords, sometimes even paddling among orcas and other whales. Or she’s hiking, sailing, biking, or just generally enjoying nature however and whenever she can. Usually with her camera - she has quite a good eye for photography. She says she tries to learn a new hobby or activity every year, which sounds like an excellent idea.

It was great to see a familiar face, so we talked for hours while I recharged my various devices. I suppose few people know the area as well as Elaine, so I interrogated her for tips on where to go for the good views and photo opportunities. Often when I see a photo of a great location, I try to find out where it is and mark it with a star in Google Maps. Now that I’m on tour I do the same by asking people for suggestions on where to go.

When I left, armed with many new stars on my map, I first head to the nearby hill. She had said eagles like to play there in the winds rising up the cliff wall in the mornings. While waiting for the midnight sun to climb higher, I shot several time-lapses of the far-reaching ocean landscape.

The Håja island served as inspiration for Tromsø’s Ishavskatedralen (The Arctic Cathedral).

The view towards Senja, my next destination.

Eventually, just as promised, I saw a great brown eagle with a massive wingspan flying below me. It circled for a while and then dove out of sight. I did some quick calculation. If I ran to get the camera, the time-lapse it was taking would be ruined. But I would have many opportunities to shoot similar videos, while this could be the only chance in a long time to score an eagle in the viewfinder. Despite my 24-70mm lens being a poor choice for bird photography, I decided it was worth trying.

I scampered off to fetch the camera and tried my best to stroll back inconspicuously. But the bird was already gone. While waiting for it to return I spotted its nest in the cliff face about 50 meters away. Realizing I may an unwelcome visitor too close to the eagle’s home, I made a wise choice to remove myself from the premises.

After all, I was standing very close to the edge of a sheer drop into the ocean. An altogether precarious position. My mind conjured an image of a pissed off sea eagle with talons the size of my head raining great vengeance and furious anger from the sky. It could probably toss me off the mountain like a toddler discarding a lollipop.

It was not a comforting thought. I took my stuff and left, making a mental note to do some research on these killer eagles.

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Why I Don’t Like Cities

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Why I Don’t Like Cities

As I've already said elsewhere, this trip is mostly about nature destinations. Cities are not my thing. And I say this as someone who used to genuinely prefer large cities - the bigger the better. I've lived in several cities with populations in the multiple millions. As I got out of my 20's however, I suddenly gained a deep appreciation towards the serenity that can only be found in nature. So that’s where I try to spend most of my time now.

Cities are loud, dirty, polluted and unnatural places. There's a constant background noise of cars. The air smells like concrete and exhaust fumes. Everything is artificial; even the park is designed by an architect. There are so many people it’s hard to make contact with anyone.

And that’s under normal circumstances. When I'm on a bicycle trip it gets much worse. Now I can barely visit a toilet somewhere without worrying about where to leave my bike and bags so they won’t be stolen. I don’t even like camping grounds due to the prices (among many other reasons), how am I going to pay for a hotel room that costs my entire week’s budget?

Plus of course cities are just miles and miles of definitely-not-camping-here grounds that it’s difficult to navigate out of. 

That’s why I didn’t have the greatest time when I entered an actual city for the first time on this trip. Despite the fact that the place was Tromsø, undoubtedly one of the nicest little cities in the whole world. I was also tired from riding all night. For some reason I hadn’t found a campsite before Tromsø, so I made the very questionable decision of riding through it, instead of turning back and being less picky with my sleeping spot. Another rookie mistake.

So, with all the above in mind, exhausted after a long day, on an increasingly hot morning, surrounded by busy “oh shit I’m late for work" commuters, trying to stay out of everyone’s way and figuring out the local traffic rules, with a very heavy bicycle in a city that isn’t exactly “flat” ‘cos there’s a bloody mountain in the middle (probably higher than any in Finland), having Google Maps shout instructions into one ear with incomprehensible street names telling me to take turns that don’t exist, and after 45 minutes of trying to navigate my way out and somehow ending up almost exactly where I started from… I was, overall, not the happiest I've ever been.

A lonely tree by the fjord in Skibotn. Or not lonely, perhaps. It could have a very active social life for all I know.

Of course I am fully aware that I can only blame myself for all of this.

Nevertheless, cities are not my thing. And if you are reading this blog hoping to see photos of Paris, Rome and Barcelona, you are most likely going to be disappointed. For the most part I will be avoiding cities, preferring to stock up in small towns and villages. Hopefully I'll get to spend the vast majority of my time in the peace and quiet of nature.

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Everything is Better in Norway

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Everything is Better in Norway

As a Finn, I’m well aware of our inferiority to Norway in every way. Having such a perfect neighbour is almost unfair.

Norway has vastly better landscapes and views, everything is cleaner and better maintained, buildings look nicer, and the people are happier and healthier. The air smells cleaner and water tastes better. Even their borders extend further south, west, north AND east than ours. Norway is so rich and generous they are seriously considering donating a mountain to Finland. It would be Finland’s highest point, but doesn’t even crack Norway’s top 100. Everything is bigger and better in Norway.

Welcome to Norway - even our roads are pristine. All of them.

The headwind was still blowing when I started again, so I only cycled across the border and to the first rest stop. Obviously a very idyllic and tidy rest stop with sixteen rolls of toilet paper in a bathroom that was made of solid gold. The forecast said the wind would calm down in an hour or two, so I had a slow lunch and did some bike maintenance while I waited.

My brakes had felt pretty weak earlier, so I adjusted the pads. Then I lubed my chain, fixed the mirror position, tightened a few screws here and there, and taped up a couple points in the front of the frame that were rubbing against wire casings. Presumably there were likely to be very few bumps in the exquisite Norwegian roads ahead, so I pumped a little more air into my tires to increase speed at the cost of suspension.

The brakes in particular are very important in a place like this with many long downhills. This is something I learned last summer in Lofoten Islands when both of my break pads wore down to nothing. I had to either walk my bike downhill or brake with one foot dragging on the asfalt, which wore down the sole of my left shoe to a nearly patternless smooth surface.

Late at night I found a great place to camp called Lulledalen, next to the Lullefjellet Nature Reserve forest. I was back in a coniferous zone (as opposed to the sparse vegetation and dwarf birches of Kilpisjärvi). There was a 2.7km path around the forest with many informational plaques. Apparently among the various flora of the forest they even have the rare yellow Lady’s Slipper orchid, but I couldn’t find it. Maybe it wasn’t blooming yet due to the cold early summer.

They even have laavus in Norway.

The nearby stream was so flooded even the spruce trees were in the water. (Long exposure shot)

While doing some customary typing in my sleeping bag before bed, I suddenly heard a deep loud rumbling sound that lasted a few seconds. At first I presumed it must be thunder, but it was far too cold for a lightning storm. Then I realized the sound was actually rocks - or more likely huge boulders - falling off the mountain on the other side of the river! Ho-lee crap. I hope no-one was camping under that. And there’s a lesson for me to steer clear of rocky walls when finding a place for my tent.

The mountain still seemed to be mostly there in the morning.

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Fog, Frozen Fingers, and to Hell with Kilpisjärvi

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Fog, Frozen Fingers, and to Hell with Kilpisjärvi

While still on the aforementioned hill, I considered setting up camp. It was late and the day had been somewhat tiring.

Then fog started rising from the lakes and the river down below me. This surprised me, because this type of fog forms when the air temperature is colder than the water. The river water couldn’t have been warmer than +5C, and that was generous. So the valley must’ve cooled down considerably to near freezing point, which I didn't feel on higher ground.

I was comfortable up on my hilltop. And yet - a foggy sunrise (or in this case foggy midnight sun) is the holy grail of photography conditions. And if I want to become a professional photographer… I packed up and rolled down the hill, gripping the brakes with white knuckles on the steep descent.

Unfortunately the fog only lasted an hour, and while it was very pretty, I couldn’t really find a great location to shoot from. Eventually I pitched my tent among the downy birch trees with numb fingers. If I want to be a professional photographer, I need to buy warmer gloves.

The end of the road.

These power lines wanted to be in every photo, the way power lines often do.

When I reached Kilpisjärvi, the weather got from bad to worse. That was my last stop in Finland before the Norwegian border. As a going away present, I was awarded freezing weather, rain and sleet, and a devastating headwind. They even had ice on the lake - at midsummer! Kilpisjärvi has some of the best views in Finland and I wanted to take photos, but couldn’t feel my fingers up to the elbow and was afraid the wind would blow my tripod over anyway. This was all just unacceptable. It was the first time I wasn’t enjoying myself on this trip.

The highest point in Finland's highways is only 565m, which goes to show how flat Finland really is.

I knew Skibotn in Norway would be considerably warmer. It was only 50km north, but also 500m down to sea level, which meant a different climate. I stocked up on food and said goodbye to Finland.

Or so I thought. It took me more than an hour to cycle the first 5km from Kilpisjärvi. I simply had to give up. There was no sense trying to pedal into the strong headwind. Completely useless. In any case, one of the main reasons I have this much time for my trip is exactly so that I can wait out the bad weather, so why struggle? Norway wasn’t going anywhere.

I camped at the nearest bit of even land that wasn’t pummeled by the excruciating north wind.

There’s nothing quite like the Finnish summer.

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Taking Photography More Seriously

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Taking Photography More Seriously

“If you want to become a professional photographer, act like one.”

This was the thought going through my mind while I pushed my bike up a very steep hill, with a slippery gravel surface, sweating despite the cold, as the rain turned into hail.

You see, I’m typically pretty lazy. And that may not be the word you associate with a round-the-world cycling trip, but it’s true. Especially as a photographer. I almost never wake up for sunrises, even though that's the best possible time to be shooting. When touring the majority of my photos are taken from near the road or around my campsites. I don’t do very much exploring or climbing up hills for the great views. And if I find a good spot, I often take a photo too quickly, without waiting for better clouds or conditions, or searching for the right angle.

Photography-wise, that is lazy. That’s decidedly not how you get great photos and time-lapses. And my goal is to make a living out of this, so I need to do those things more frequently.

And it’s not even unpleasant to do. There's just that first initial discomfort of getting out of the sleeping bag when I’d prefer to keep dozing. Once I’m up I’ve literally never regretted waking up early. Climbing up hills and mountains can be tough but ends up feeling rewarding every single time. The view and the experience is well worth a little effort. So all I need to do is set a goal to have more of these experiences. That will automatically lead to better photos and videos.

That’s why, when I saw a gravel path going up a hill to a cell phone tower, I steered off the easy and comfortable asfalt and pushed and dragged my bike up the road. At the top, the pure satisfaction at the amazing views made me instantly forget any preceding hardship. The rain passed and the clouds scattered. I set my camera to shoot some time-lapse and fired up my gas stove to cook a well-earned meal in the meanwhile.

These moments, whether during a cycling trip or an aurora borealis hunt, are special. When the camera is doing its thing and there’s not much to do but wait, I sometimes feel a deep sense of peace and contentment. Like I’m exactly where I belong, doing what I should be doing. It’s not entirely clear to me why. Nevertheless I'm thrilled to have discovered something in the world that makes me feel this way.

And I can’t wait to see where it leads me.

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An Ode to Laavus

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An Ode to Laavus

When leaving Hetta I came across a lake with surprisingly warm water. Not quite warm enough for swimming, but I was able to bathe by splashing some on me. Take that, camping ground owners from the previous update! After a wash and a change of clothes I felt positively sparkling.

Then it started to rain. Not much, just a bit of a drizzle, but I alternated between taking cover under trees and cycling to keep warm. It was past midnight and I wasn’t sure whether to keep going and wait out the weather, or set up camp in the rain. And then I came across this place:

A bird tower with a beautiful spacious laavu! What a perfect sight for a wet traveller. I rolled my bike in and set up my sleeping bag in my mosquito mesh. Safe and sound.

Two days later at Karesuvanto some of my gear was wet again. It had rained for 20 hours straight, so I hadn't had much of a choice but to pack up my tent in the rain. My muscles felt like they needed a rest day, so I wanted to stay near the town. A quick online search showed another laavu next to another bird tower, just a few kilometers from the village.

So I spent the rest of the day there drying my equipment and frying sausages by a fire. This time there didn’t seem to be too many mosquitos around, so I just spread my sleeping bag there and slept around the clock without disturbances.

A more basic and traditional version of a laavu. The previous visitors left me a nice fire before departing.

Sometimes I like to pre-cook the sausages by putting them near the fire for 15 minutes. This way they'll cook more evenly from the inside rather than just burning the skin.

Finland must be one of the most trekking-friendly countries in the world. We have thousands of these kinds of shelters (usually without a bird tower attached), and everyone has the right to use them. I love that the government has the foresight to spend money on building and maintaining these kinds of services. The positive effect of trekking on physical and mental well-being surely pays back in all other areas.

There are many strange and unenviable things about Finnish culture, but this encouragement to outdoor life is one aspect I wish everyone would copy from us. Go Finland!

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Finnish Business Acuity

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Finnish Business Acuity

After Kautokeino in Norway the next stop was Hetta, so I found myself back in Finland. This is because the border zigzags a little in the north. I could've gone north to Alta, but then I would've been on the same road I cycled last year, and I prefer to avoid repetition. (Click here for a test version of my route map.)

While hungrily waiting for a hamburger in Hetta I met Benedict, a gray-bearded German cyclist on his way back from Nordkapp. He kindly loaned me some tools I needed to adjust my front panniers to a lower position to improve my bike’s balance.

I mentioned potentially sailing across oceans, so he gave me some advice against seasickness. Apparently it’s best to remain out on deck, keeping your eyes on the horizon. This may come in handy eventually on this trip. Turned out he’d done a fair bit of sailing in his time. These days he travels six months of the year and spends the other six back home with the wife.

At least I think that's what he said. There was a bit of a language barrier. Even though it was somewhat reduced by this magic app in a magic box you can speak into, that speaks back more or less the same thing in whatever language you choose. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that Google Translate can do that, but sometimes it feels like the future has arrived so early.

"Google, tell this youngster to get with the times, bitte schön."

I had a hard time deciding whether to continue in the evening or just take the whole day off, but a visit to the local camping ground settled the matter. I asked if I could purchase the use of shower facilities, and the answer was no. No service to outsiders. This wasn’t the first time I’d heard this answer, and I've yet to hear it abroad.

What is it with Finns and their lack of business sense? If someone wants to buy only a part of your service, don’t say no and send them away - set a price you’re happy selling the service with instead. That’s how an “outsider” becomes a “customer”. If you think that the usual 3€ shower is too cheap and may reduce the sales of your 17€ tent packages, just increase the price of showering to 5€, 10€ or even 15€. Let the customer decide if he or she wants to pay, instead of just declining outright and losing out on potential income.

I understand if you’re so busy that there are simply not enough showers for even your regular customers, but that was certainly not the case here.

So that's my free tip for all camping ground owners. Especially the ones along my future route. Also please register your business on Google Maps so I can actually find it. Thank you for reading and please come again.

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The Importance of Food

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The Importance of Food

While visiting Kautokeino Camping for a shower (and pleasantly surprised about their exceptionally good facilities), I met two other cyclists. Running into fellow bicycle adventurers is always a happy occasion, and they were the first I’d seen, so I was eager to strike up a conversation.

Frank and Martin from Germany were cycling north from Stockholm to Nordkapp. By afternoon they had already cycled their share for the day and were setting up camp, while I had barely eaten breakfast and rolled into town from my nearby campsite to look for food and hot water. How impossible would it be to travel with such early birds, I wondered.

Oh, is it sunrise? Time to go to bed.

One of them had baby almost due back home. Getting to spend a holiday of freedom on a bike before such a life changing event is quite a nice chance to have. And for a wife to let her husband go on a bike trip for a few weeks at the late stages of a pregnancy seems like a sign of a healthy relationship.

We chatted about touring life for an hour, maybe two. Then Martin (the designated chef) started cooking - real food with actual vegetables - and I knew I had to leave to do the same. The most preparation I’d done thus far was adding crushed tomatoes and tuna onto my spaghetti, so I was due a proper meal. I wished the guys well, went to the store, had a quick snack, and cycled onwards to find a place to cook.

This'll do. A rest stop table with a view, and a convenient trash can.

Food is important on tour. And not just because of the much-needed calories. I mean sure, it’s important under any conditions, but there’s something about the simplicity of touring life that really makes you appreciate the basics of life so much more. Just the simple act of cooking and eating something even a little special can make your whole day. Especially if it’s made of fresh real ingredients.

So I chopped up some onions, zucchini and bell peppers and fried them in olive oil on my stove. Really taking my time with everything. Then I boiled some water, used the extra to make a cup of tea while waiting, and added my spaghetti to the rest. When that was done I put in some tomato and my fried veggies to the pot, plus some pre-fried chicken and seasonings.

If only I had put any effort into the photographs.

That was the best meal I’ve had in ages. Not that the food was that special, but in that moment, it was perfect. It made me so happy my eyes watered. A few passing drivers gave me waves or thumbs up at the sight of my travel kitchen. I waved back while finishing the entire huge pot of my gourmet chicken pasta.

After cleaning up it was already late at night. It wasn’t freezing cold this time, so I continued on for a few more hours, taking photographs with the midnight sun lighting the wide open landscapes of North Norway, and smiling at the beauty of everything.

I can’t believe how lucky I am to live this kind of life.

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Cold Nights and Soggy Matches

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Cold Nights and Soggy Matches

It’s been over a week on the road now and it hasn’t rained once. I don’t even know what to say. This has never happened before.

Despite the ongoing drought I still managed, through a series of rookie mistakes, to get my matches wet.

I’ve always packed multiple boxes of matches in ziplock bags in multiple panniers. I’ve never actually ended up needing more than one box though, which is probably why this time I didn’t bother with the backups. I don’t know why I decided to forgo the waterproof ziplock as well. I also don’t know why the matches were on the bottom of the pannier, instead of the usual side pocket. Or why I put an apparently still wet pocket shower in the same pannier.

But I did all those things, and the water soaked my matches. (While somehow everything else stayed completely dry.) Fortunately there was a friendly Dutch gentleman photographing in the same resting area, so I was able to borrow a match and cook my spaghetti.

Oh, good.

Oh, good.

The weather so far has been mostly quite nice. Lack of rain is certainly a plus. The first couple days were actually really warm (+20C) and sunny, almost too hot for cycling at times. Yes, that’s correct - I haven’t even gotten south of the Arctic Circle yet and I’m already complaining about the heat. I don’t know how I’ll ever survive tropical climates, to be honest.

On the Norwegian side, nights have been fairly cold -  at or close to freezing point. My down sleeping bag is still perfectly comfortable at those temperatures, so that’s not an issue. Bathing is, however. Lakes and rivers are freezing and some still have ice on them. Just dipping my fingers in long enough to fill a water bottle is genuinely painful. So for now I’m visiting camping grounds to pay for hot showers, thank you.

Fancy a swim?

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Aches and Pains

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Aches and Pains

(Spoiler: It’s not as bad as the title sounds.)

Just as the mind needs a few days to get accustomed to bicycle touring life, so does the body.

Barring any injuries or exceptional conditions, the most uncomfortable period of a bike trip is always days 2-4. Probably largely because I don’t tend to practice or train much (or at all) before starting.

The first day is all joy and happiness, with an overoptimistic sense of “nothing can stop me now”. But even an easy start takes its toll. On the second day I always have slight discomfort and ache in the lower back, wrists and ankles. The saddle in particular is not my friend during this time. Basically all of the contact points with the bicycle complain under duress, and this lasts for about three days.

The culprit trying to look casual.

By the fifth day of cycling, all pain and discomfort is gone and stays gone. This has happened on all four of my previous major tours so far, and it happened again exactly the same way on this one. The body simply adapts to the strain.

Is it just me, or does it look like my tent has a monocle and is about to eat my bags?

In the meanwhile, I've crossed the border into Norway. Because the stores were closed on Sunday, I camped for two nights near Karasjok to refill my supplies. When I started towards Kautokeino, I was bathed, rested and well fed. And generally feeling rather good about my life choices.

World, here I come!

Summer is coming! This may seem late to some of you, but here above the Arctic Circle, the birch tree leaves are only just beginning to open.

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Baby Moose Rescue Operation

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Baby Moose Rescue Operation

Day 2 started with a surprise. (Oh and yes, it’s my fourth update from the road and I’m still on the second day. I assure you this won’t be my regular pace - there are just more topics to talk about in the beginning.)

Right. So day 2 started with a surprise:

Kinda looks like a deer from this angle, but it's a moose. Trust me.

A baby moose appeared on the road. I stopped and it didn’t seem scared, so I reached for my camera. Then I realized the inherent risk in the situation and did a panicked look around for the mother, which might trample me to death for getting too close to the calf. Eventually I spotted the mother behind it in the forest and understood what was happening.

You see, the whole road was lined by a fence. In South Finland the purpose of it would’ve been keeping moose off the road to avoid accidents. But in the north it’s almost always a reindeer fence, designed to keep reindeer on their owner’s land. Somehow the baby moose had been separated from its mother by the fence. And now here it was in front of me mewling sadly - probably trying to explain the situation. So what to do?

After I wisely gave up on the idea of simply picking it up and throwing it over the fence, I was stumped. Eventually I decided to just keep going and let nature take its course. However, less than 100 meters away I saw what looked like a very conveniently calf-sized gap in the fence. The youngling was heading in the wrong direction, with the kind of shaky walk that suggested it hadn’t yet read the user manual on hooves. The concerned parent kept an eye on both of us from a distance.

So I turned back, cycled past the calf, stopped again and shoo’d it (in what I was hoping was a gentle and reassuring way) along the fence towards the gap. The mother ran ahead to greet it. While I parked the bike to pick up my camera again, both disappeared from sight. I can only assume this meant the operation was a success.

May they both live long fulfilling lives of leaving droppings around my campsites.

These things are everywhere and I like photographing them, but could someone please tell me what they're called?

After typing all of this from my campsite (which you can see in the banner image if you click the title of the post) many hours later, I went for an evening walk with the camera. And what do I find? Another baby moose! I doubt it was the same one, on account of the distance, and the complete lack of non-stop forlorn bleating. This one also seemed to be completely unaccompanied, with no sign of responsible adults anywhere. After I wisely gave up on the idea of bringing it to my tent, I had to leave that one to fend for itself.

I had no idea moose can be such neglectful parents.

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