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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Geiranger and 1000m Above the Sea

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Geiranger and 1000m Above the Sea

There are 206 UNESCO World Heritage Nature sites around the world, and I plan to visit as many of them as I can during this trip. The first one was Geirangerfjord. It’s the famous quintessential Norwegian fjord landscape.

In order to get there from Eidsdal I had to first climb a 620m tall hill as a warmup, then descend down a fun serpentine road with views of the fjord to the village of Geiranger. It was clearly a tourist town, consisting mostly of camping grounds, hotels, restaurants, and trinket shops. And of course masses of tourists everywhere. That aspect doesn't really interest me, so I only stopped for restocking, general maintenance and photos:

Panorama of Geirangerfjord in Norway.
A fully loaded touring bicycle enjoying misty mountain views.

From Geiranger the road continued up, at or near a 10% incline all the way to 1000m above sea level. That’s where I wanted to be. Knowing I’d mostly be walking the bike, I preferred to go up during the night. There would be no traffic, and a comfortably cool temperature. I started somewhere around midnight.

At 700 meters and 4am the visibility suddenly dropped. All I could see with my headlamp were tiny droplets of water floating in the air. I wasn’t sure if this counted as a cloud or just fog. Is there even any difference between the two, when you think about it? I suppose they are basically the same thing.

In any case, I thought if I could get to 1000m and above the fog/cloud, there might be some pretty cool photos and time-lapses available. I’ve always wanted a video of a thick layer of billowing clouds seen from a higher elevation. It was a couple hours until the best light at sunrise, so I picked up the pace a little.

Chebici bike 1000m above sea level.

On the top the conditions cleared only slightly, and another layer of clouds/fog above me was blocking any sunlight. That video would have to wait. But I’d made it to 1000m! The highest point of the journey so far. The landscape had changed quickly into nothing but barren rock, partially covered by a thin carpet of green moss. The snow up on the peaks was still melting even in late August, with many resulting streams and ponds and rivers tumbling down towards the sea.

On the high plateau there was a film crew taking advantage of the first light of morning. Their project had a much higher budget than any I’ve ever taken part in. They had a truck carrying a car, with cameras, lights and actors sitting inside pretending to be driving. A couple support vehicles with walkie-talkies were behind and in front.

It was a commercial shoot, but I didn’t get a chance to ask what for. Certainly not a car commercial, judging by the age of the vehicle they were sitting in. But if anyone in Norway ever sees a TV ad where a brown [insert car knowledge here] is driving in the barren mountains of Geiranger and some dumb cyclist is wandering in the background of the shots looking for a place to camp, do let me know.

It was all rather barren.
The sun was rising, but the cloud made it impossible to see.

The entire plateau was outstanding for camping. Almost anywhere I could just walk off the road and disappear behind a rocky hill into wilderness without well-worn paths or any other signs of humans.

After examining my surroundings I settled down by a small pond that still had one persistent 10m long snow bank to the side. There was no cell phone coverage - so no distractions. Nothing to do but rest, eat, take photos and relish in the freedom I had.

I love places like this. They nourish the soul in a way that isn’t possible in civilization. The bicycle kind of ties me down to near the road, where these experiences aren't usually as easy to obtain. I think I need to figure out a way to combine bicycle touring with overnight hiking so I can enjoy mountains and other deserted places more often. Just a very light backpack in one pannier, I suppose? If any of you have done this and have suggestions, please let me know!

One of the best campsites of the trip. Simple and basic, but beautiful.
One of the many streams in the vicinity.
Stars over mountains is a sight I'll never get tired of.
 

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Trollstigen

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Trollstigen

Trollstigen might be the most famous stretch of road in Norway. Even if you don’t recognise the name, you may have seen photos at some point. It rises steeply from the Åndalsnes valley to high up in rugged mountains. It’s a gorgeous rocky landscape, split by rivers that cascade down in high waterfalls, and a serpentine road with thrilling hairpin curves. The climb from sea level is 870 meters, but the café and popular viewpoint are at 700m.

For me, that climb required some planning. My drivetrain was already well oiled after leaving the camping ground, but I had to make some very careful decisions at the grocery store. How long would I stay up the mountain? How many calories would that require? I tried to pick the most calorie dense food and chocolate bars I could find.

It still took me about five hours to climb up. That was alternating between cycling and pushing the bike, to try to use different muscles. With a lot of stops for rest and photography, of course. A number of drivers gave me thumbs ups and other gestures of encouragement, which genuinely does help to give a little extra energy every time.

I have to cycle up this road? I've made a huge mistake.
Wet and slippery hairpin curve.
The Åndalsnes valley far below.

The view from the top was well worth the effort of getting there. I was slightly late for the sunset, but what I really wanted was a night photo of car headlights painting the entire road in one long twisting streak. So I fired up a huge bowl of pasta and waited for darkness. To my surprise, no other photographers showed up, so I had the whole viewing platform to myself. Just me, the mountain, and the stars above.

Only a couple cars went up or down the road per hour during the night, so there weren’t many chances to take this photo. When I eventually figured I was finished at 3am, I found a place to camp up the road nearby.

The next day I checked the results in the café. It was disappointing. My lens at 24mm wasn’t wide enough to capture everything in one shot, so I had missed a tiny slice of the road. Also I had to split the bottom and top halves into separate photos and stitching them into one was clumsy. I scrapped the whole thing. But there would be enough time and food for another attempt the next night.

Night view of the cafe at Trollstigen.

Compared to the solitude during the night, daytime at this tourist attraction was quite a circus. Countless cars, caravans and busloads of guided tours were there at any given time. Hundreds of people were milling about the area. Twice in the men’s room I gestured to confused Chinese tourists how to operate a motion-activated water tap.

After dark I returned for the second round. This time I found a better vantage point where my lens could see everything in one shot. And instead of taking multiple 30 second exposures like the first time, I wanted to take in the whole scene with a single one hour exposure. To stop the lens from fogging up I tied a hand warmer packet underneath it.

The night was freezing and I had to dive into my sleeping bag while waiting despite several layers of warm clothing. After an hour I went to stop the exposure. The photo showed a nice view of the road, but it was dark. Not a single car had been through the whole time! There was no choice but to start over and return to the sleeping bag.

All in all, I probably went through more trouble for this photo than any I’ve taken before. While I felt a sense of achievement at the time, the more I look at it, the less I like it. The angle is wrong and causes parts of the road to not be visible. Plus even if I'll get it right, it’s just a photo that a bunch of other people have taken before me. Usually I tend to avoid “iconic” photos (ie. ones taken a million times by others already), so I’m unsure why this one felt so appealing.

Car headlights painting Trollstigen at night.

Afterwards I was looking for a time-lapse subject and saw something surprising. There was a green glow in the horizon above the lights of Åndalsnes - northern lights! I had said my goodbyes to them when leaving Inari, because I hadn’t expected to see any on this trip. After all, I had assumed I would’ve been much further south, perhaps in Denmark, by this point.

Gazing at auroras felt so good again, after several months of bright nights. And seeing them in Trollstigen, above the stupefyingly beautiful views, made it all the more special. The perfection of it made me both laugh out loud and tear up slightly.

All else aside, I'm very happy that I’ve done one at least thing right by setting off on this journey.

Northern lights over Trollstigen.
 

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Camping Ground Downtime

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Camping Ground Downtime

I woke up among the aforementioned spruces. An unpleasant smell assaulted my nostrils. In other circumstances I could’ve blamed a deceased rodent, but I hadn’t showered for three days, so it was probably just my own stench. Normally I try to shower at least every two days - or if it’s hot and sweaty, I go swimming every day. Some cyclists say they can go a week without bathing, but for me the third day is already a high level emergency. I just hate being filthy. So the first order of business was to find a hot shower.

On the road I felt tired again. My legs felt sluggish and pedalling felt like a chore. I was even slightly annoyed for no particular reason. I knew what that meant. It was a sure sign that I needed rest badly. Clearly I had been on the move too much and required downtime. Two or three days should do it.

The timing wasn’t bad for it - there was a severe rain warning for the area. According to yr.no up to 50-85mm of water would come down in the next two days, and I would definitely not want to be cycling during that. I found a camping ground in Eidsbygda and booked it for three nights.

The night I arrived I tried to take a time-lapse of the sunset turning into a starry sky over the fjord. Unfortunately I underestimated air humidity and the lens fogged up halfway through. But I did see a very bright green meteor, which made it to one of the still frames.

Meteor flash over a fjord in Norway.

It rained for most my stay. Not as crazy as 85mm in the end, but still the second biggest downpour I’ve experienced during my year of camping on bike trips (all tours combined). It wasn’t a problem, though. My tent kept my sleeping bag dry, and I spent much of the time in the warmth of the kitchen doing computer stuff.

I did lose one of my hard drives, however. The 480GB SSD stopped working suddenly. Luckily that’s just a temporary storage and working drive, so I didn’t lose any original photos, just some hours of time-lapse processing. Not a disaster. It’s also under warranty, and after some back and forth with Sandisk about not having a permanent address, I should be able to get a replacement. This does make me want to be more careful with the two remaining 3TB drives.

Besides that, I ate well, slept a lot, and of course enjoyed some extremely thorough showers. Good as new. These regular resets are crucial for physical and mental wellbeing. At two and a half months this is still an average tour length for me, so I feel like I have a fairly good idea of what to expect. But from the fourth month onwards it will be uncharted territory. Later on I may need to learn to take recovery periods of a week or two, perhaps even longer.

So this serves as a kind of reminder to myself to pay careful attention to how I feel, to avoid any minor issues growing into bigger problems.

Post-rain fog and clouds billowing down the mountain.

The camping ground was beautifully located by a quaint fjord surrounded by mountains. Presumably the waters were great for fishing, because there were quite a few boats on the pier. It seemed like most of the other occupants were carrying fishing poles and lures on their way out, and buckets of fish upon return.

One such fisherman was Jan from Holland. I was processing the soon-to-be-lost time-lapses in the kitchen and he walked right over to inspect my photo gear. He was a photographer also, and we tend to be curious about other people’s lens choices. So we started talking. He and his wife Corie (apologies for the probably incorrect spelling) were travelling by camper van and had been to that same camping ground dozens of times over the years.

They were an exceptionally nice and friendly couple, and soon invited me over as a guest. They told me about their history and I spoke about my trip. First over a cup of tea, and then progressing to a glass of wine. The vast majority of random meetings on a bike tour are, while wonderful, rather short. So I was very happy to sit down and talk beyond the usual questions. To the point where I probably missed the first few subtle hints that it was getting late and the evening was over.

Before I left, they even gave me packets of mashed potato powder and freshly caught fish fillet. And I was welcome to visit their home, should my journey pass through the Netherlands. It’s heartwarming to make friends like this while travelling.

After wiping off the rain-inflicted rust from my chain, I continued my adventure. All the joy of touring had returned and I smiled brightly at oncoming traffic for the first few kilometers.

I had the fish with mashed potatoes for lunch in Åndalsnes, and it was delicious!

Cycling into the sunset.
 

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A Day to Forget

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A Day to Forget

On the Atlantic Road I had found a place to camp on a small mound. Surrounded only by weeds and grass, there was no shelter from the sun, which woke me up at noon - earlier than I would’ve liked.

The plan was to stay in the area for two or three days, relaxing and taking pictures. After breakfast and general morning laziness, I went for a cup of tea in a nearby cafe. Or tried to. Inside two construction guys were tearing open a metal plated wall with a circular saw, with the purpose of installing a new fireplace. The noise was hellish, so I aborted the mission. Instead I found a picnic table elsewhere for lunch.

The weather forecast suspected nothing but grey clouds in my near future, so I changed my thoughts of spending another night there. Good photos would be unavailable in those conditions, so may as well keep cycling. I don’t know where all the time went, considering I hadn’t done anything all day, but it was late afternoon or early evening when I hit the road.

Bus stop somewhere west of Trondheim.

On the bike there was a nagging feeling of something being wrong. I felt low on energy. I mentally rounded up the usual suspects: too little food the previous day, not enough sleep the previous night, too much sunshine in the morning, or insufficient rest days lately? Perhaps any or all of them. I decided to go extra slowly and listen to any further messages from my body. After the first 20km it started raining, so I ducked into a store for an hour to recharge batteries and eat ice cream.

By the evening I felt better and found my stride, cycling south towards Molde. Except soon enough, when it was already dark, I somehow got sidetracked off the main road without noticing. Only after several kilometres came the realisation that I’d been headed in the wrong direction. The road I was on added another 30km compared to the direct path. But I’d already started, so I resigned to the detour. Frankly it didn’t really make sense to take a scenic route, because there were no views beyond whatever was within the radius of my headlamp. On the other hand, turning back always seems demoralising, senseless - almost inhuman.

Post-sunset sky by the ocean in Middle-Norway.

I’ve never listened to anything on headphones while cycling. It always seemed better to actually experience my surroundings. But on this particular occasion I felt that a podcast in one ear was warranted. The rest of the night was spent pedalling with the help of Revisionist History, by Malcolm Gladwell. In case you’re not familiar, he’s an excellent storyteller who always finds a fascinating angle to almost any topic. Highly recommended.

In Molde I came across another surprise. What I had assumed to be a bridge towards Røvika actually turned out to be another tunnel where cyclists weren’t welcome. Oops. Sometimes I wish I spent a little time planning my route ahead, instead of just glancing at Google Maps haphazardly. The alternative was a 45km road all around Fannefjord. Having already cycled so many extra kilometres, I wasn’t eager for a second detour on the same day.

The bus was an option again, but it was the night or early morning, so they weren’t running yet. I was tired and not in the mood for.. anything, really. Most of all I didn’t want to stay in Molde, which was a much bigger city than I had anticipated to see in this area.

Village.jpg

Camping and making decisions only after sleeping would’ve been the best choice, but finding a campsite that close to a city isn’t always easy. Especially if you’re planning on sleeping until 4pm and have to deal with daytime traffic. There was a camping ground nearby, but those typically want you out by noon. Paying for a piece of lawn is bad enough, but I draw the line at also setting my alarm to wake up early for it. That would be ridiculous.

I just wanted out of the city. So instead of waiting for the tunnel bus, I called a taxi. On the other side morning was beginning to arrive and I felt exhausted. Soon enough I found a small spruce forest to sleep in.

All in all, this was a rather forgettable day with zero photos taken - all the photos here are previously unused frames from elsewhere in the trip. Since the blog is updated every three days, I could easily just leave out the less interesting parts from these posts (ie. all of the above). But I just wanted to show that some days are not so special - even when living your dream.

4/10 stars - and even that's only thanks to ice cream and Malcolm Gladwell.

Early morning in Norway.
 

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The Atlantic Road

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The Atlantic Road

When trying to leave Kristiansund I came across a 5km tunnel that went below the Atlantic Ocean. A tunnel that long is bad enough in itself, but this one also dove 250 meters under the sea, which of course meant a 250-meter climb back up. Even if cyclists had been allowed inside - which they weren’t - there was no way I would ever go in there.

Fortunately there was a bus connection. I sat down to wait. I missed the approach of the first one, and the driver passed by just waving her hands “nope”. Either there was no room for my bicycle, or the way I was lazily eating my sandwich suggested (correctly) that I would rather wait for another bus than hurry into this one.

One hour and several sandwiches later, the next bus arrived. There was barely enough room for a fully loaded bicycle, but with the help of the driver and a random passenger, I made it to the other side of the tunnel.

Windy stretch of the Atlantic Road.

The Atlantic Road was quite unlike anything I’ve seen before. It's this 8km stretch of road over tiny rocky islands dotted in the ocean between Vevang and Kårvåg. There are eight bridges connecting the islets, and the road has been voted Norway’s "Engineering Feat of the Century”. Which is certainly no small feat in a country with so many astounding bridges and tunnels.

Although holidays are ending, and the peak season with them, there were plenty of four-wheeled tourists around. While waiting for the sunset to begin I saw an older gentleman shooting with a Hasselblad film camera, and went over to strike a conversation. He had been photographing for almost 50 years and showed me a print book of some of his work. It was impressive - he certainly had more skill than I did.

I tend to just walk or cycle around with the camera and try to make discoveries, whereas he was a proper photographer who genuinely thought about light, planned for the best times to take each photo, and came back when conditions were right. With the results to prove it.

One of the Atlantic Road bridges.

Still, he lamented about how difficult it is to gain anyone’s interest with his work. Nowadays everyone thinks they’re a photographer. Without a publisher or an art gallery in your sleeve, it’s challenging to find an audience for printed photos. At least on the internet anyone can publish anything, even if getting noticed can be rather hit or miss. But obviously the online world isn’t for everybody. Sometimes he wondered what the point of all the traveling even was.

I reminded him we shoot largely for our own sake, as the process itself is its own reward. However, I do have to wonder whether photography had originally become this important to me without the benefit of at least a small audience. I certainly think about visibility - probably more than I should. (For example, my interest in updating Instagram dropped quite a bit some months ago when they changed their algorithms in line with Facebook’s, to make it much harder for large crowds to see your posts. With the intention of selling everyone their ads, of course.)

Sunset by some rocks.

The clouds started to look nice, so I went to find a place for a time-lapse. Around the walkway on Eldhusøya there were a number of other people also witnessing the sunset. Almost all of them had cameras. Everyone was pointing some kind of device or lens at everything. One guy was flying a drone. A young couple tried to get their dog to do various poses for a photo, then used a remote to shoot themselves holding hands in front of the landscape. DSLRs, cell phones, tripods, selfie sticks and flying cameras - everyone’s a photographer.

Was anyone really enjoying the beautiful sunset? Was I? Closer to the water, a burly bald guy was sitting on a rock, smoking a cigar and looking at the ocean. He seemed to have the right idea. Except for the cigar, anyway. I followed suit and sat down.

Okay - be present. Inhale. Feel the soft evening air. Exhale. See the oranges and purples in the sky. Scratch your hand. Hear the waves crashing against the shore. Feel the hand itching quite a bit actually. What the hell? I looked down to see a dozen tiny midges on my fingers and a whole cloud of them homing in on me. Far too many for any kind of mindfulness. The burly guy seemed to agree, as he was walking briskly away from his rock while waving his hands in the air.

I guess you can't always have moments of stillness, beauty and perfection. I finished my time-lapse and left.

Sun setting below the horizon at the ocean.
Long exposure of car headlights at the Atlantic Road.
 

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Trondheim and Entering West Norway

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Trondheim and Entering West Norway

After waking up on a beach in Hommelvik, I continued west towards Trondheim. It was only 25km away, but there was a very uncomfortable headwind. After less than a third of the way I simply gave up and rolled into the nearest camping ground. Pushing through wind is a huge waste of energy when there’s time to wait for better weather.

Plus I needed to process some of the time-lapse sequences I’ve shot along the way. Which requires being plugged in to a wall socket. There are now 22000 RAW files from 90 clips in the first two months. That takes far too much computing time to make even a slight dent to that on battery power. I spent the day editing, stabilizing, exporting, deflickering, cloning, and rendering.

Ocean view on the way to Trondheim.

The next morning I was in Trondheim. First I visited a couple bicycle shops. The gears still felt kind of heavy, but less so than before. Lightening the panniers must have helped. In any case, the mechanics told me it’s not so easy to change the setup. The rear can’t fit a 40t cassette, as I found out in Mo i Rana, and there’s nothing smaller widely available for the front, at least without some digging to order online.

To make some changes the whole system might need to be swapped. Which is expensive and seems somewhat unnecessary now. I’ll be leaving Norway towards Sweden soon, and the landscape is going to be somewhat flat for months. So I’ll just wear out the gears I have, and revisit the issue before the Alps.

To my surprise, Trondheim was actually a very pleasant city! Perhaps due to the dedicated bicycle lanes, or the massive Burger King meal with a milkshake I was high on (probably both). Cycling through unfamiliar city centres is typically an ordeal, but this time I was even thinking I could easily live here for a while some day. Go figure.

Panorama of riverside buildings in Trondheim.

Through an online tip I had heard that the Atlantic Road near Kristiansund was one of the most beautiful cycling routes in Norway. I couldn’t miss that! It was a few days’ ride from Trondheim, and more or less towards Geirangerfjord, which was another major destination for me. So I head west.

After a tiring day in the city, I didn’t get very far. Somewhere before Orkanger I was ripe for some sleep, but no suitable tent places had appeared. I came across a camping ground, but it looked like the only available grass spots were in the middle of caravans. I can’t stand cramped spaces when camping - the whole point of sleeping in a tent is to be out in nature far from crowds. Hot showers and kitchens are nice, but the most important luxury of camping is space.

I was tired however, and still tempted to stay there. But the surrounding area looked promising - lots of pine trees and not too many houses, so I decided to cycle on to have a look around before paying to listen to somebody snoring in a camper van. (Or perhaps impose my own snoring on them...) Only 500 meters away there was a beach surrounded by forest. Perfect. I chose a great sheltered place to camp by the side of a cliff.

No camping ground could ever offer such a spot all to myself. It rained the next day so I stayed for two nights.

I considered camping on the beach itself until I realized the high tide submerges all the sand.

City lights reflecting in the water.
 

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Single Frames - Norway

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Single Frames - Norway

So here’s something a little different.

Usually I try to write about one topic per post. Although I end up taking detours in my text just like with my cycling, that’s the general idea. Which means that when I write down (or form in my head) snippets of text that can’t be stretched to an entire blog post, they end up unused.

Also the photos in every blog post are often of things only vaguely (or not at all) related to the topic and may or may not be from the same day or place as the events in the text. This is out of necessity. If I always put up pictures that are exactly of the things I talk about, the quality of photography would plummet, since it’s impossible to get decent photos of every sight and location.

So to mix it up, this post will only include those small snippets, with no general theme. And the photos are all on topic.

Incredibly colourful sunset in Salsnes, Norway.

Somewhere near Salsnes the evening sky suddenly turned into flames. It was incredible, just fire and brimestone all over. I can’t remember ever seeing such a red sky before in my life. If I’d only seen it in a photo I would’ve said it looks too fake.

I was by the sea, which was great, but the heavy foliage blocked my view. Normally it’s nicer to avoid sweating on the bike, but this was an exception. I started hauling ass up the mountain to get to a photogenic location. Eventually I found a spot where I could get a photo by lifting my camera high above my head.

I took a few quick and shaky handheld shots (like the above). That is the least edited image in all of my blog posts - practically nothing has been done to it, except reducing saturation slightly to make it look more realistic.

Sadly by the time I found a place suitable for a tripod and a time-lapse, the colors had already faded a little. The annoying part about photographing on a bicycle is that it takes far too long to change locations when the light is great. I’ve missed a whole lot of sunsets just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Wind turbines on a hill at sunset.

When I visited Steinkjer, I came out of the grocery store to pouring rain. While waiting for it to stop, I chatted a bit with a Syrian refugee, who offered me a place to sleep in his home. It was late evening already, but with my current sleeping pattern I had only just had breakfast and would stay awake until at least 7am, so had to decline the generosity. I don’t have any expertise on Syrian customs, but it could presumably be considered awkward to hang around at someone’s place while they sleep. Or to wake up at 5pm as a guest.

It ended up raining for six hours, which I spent at the 24-hour gas station, and then at a hotel lobby. I almost never take photos in cities, but on my way out I noticed the rain had created nice puddles, so I made an exception and stopped to shoot this one:

Touring bike reflected at night off water in Steinkjer.

“Sorry, I’m not really religious.”

“But what if Hell is real?”

“I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.”

Bridge to hell in Norway.

In Verdal I was tired and wanted to camp. The road looked to be going from town to town with nothing resembling decent camping spots. I made the rare decision to head to the nearest camping ground to sleep, for only the second time on this trip. But just a few hundred meters away from it, I discovered a beautiful forest and quickly changed my plan.

The ground was thick with luscious green moss. Thick spruce trees blocked all but a few beams of bright sunlight. Silvery drops of rain glistened in the branches. It was a gorgeous sight, but sadly marred by the sounds of the terrible industrial area I had passed on the way.

Constant clanking of machinery, whirring of turbines, and metal gnawing and grinding against rock. Whistles and honks and beeps and alarms. An avalanche of dreadful noises symbolising human consumption. The few birds remaining in the forest sounded quiet, tired, departing. There was not much left of their home.

Sometimes I worry our species will destroy everything natural and beautiful.

Camping spot in a spruce forest in Verdal.
 

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Regarding Danger

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Regarding Danger

Now that the last few updates have painted a perfect rosy picture of cycling, it’s a good time to talk about the other side of bicycle touring. You see, I’ve been thinking about the dangers and risks of adventuring lately. And for a reason.

On Leksdalsvatnet south of Steinkjer, I found a fantastic campsite. Probably the best one so far. Right by a lake beach there was a large shelter and barbeque pit, with firewood and a toilet. The water temperature was something like 20C, which felt like a heated swimming pool after the hypothermia-inducing waters of the north. The countryside gravel road that brought me to this place didn’t see too many cars.

There was no need for my rule about great campsites. It was morning and I’d been traveling all night and had already been looking for a place to crash. This was perfect. I pitched my tent on the sand and was almost ready to crawl into the sleeping bag.

And that’s when I found a tick on my leg.

Different shades of mountains disappearing into the distance.

Ticks are a rather disgusting sight. Of all the dangers of bicycle touring, none are as small and insidious as these awful creatures. After biting you, they latch on for days and can spread a variety of nasty diseases.

This one was a nymph tick, which is tiny and hence particularly difficult to spot and remove. I didn’t have a proper tool with me (which I made a note to correct as soon as possible), so I went with the “loop a string around it” method. It was so close to the skin I even had to carefully shave a few hairs around it to stop them from getting in the way of the operation. This was not one of the highlights of my trip so far.

It was finicky business, but the intruder eventually came off. I cleaned up and went to sleep.

Pine tree silhouette at dusk.

When I woke up (at the perfectly normal hour of 7pm), I felt a bit frazzled at the thought of Lyme disease and other possibilities. Not in the mood for continuing yet, I decided to do a small reset. The campsite was excellent after all, and I’d been cycling well above my daily average lately, so I needed rest anyway.

After breakfast I started with the dirty work. I lubed my chain, tightened the breaks and tidied up some mud and dust off the bike. Then I washed my clothes and went for a swim to clean myself.

In the water there was time to think. The sun was setting, bathing the clouds in a deepening orange light. I was gently floating on the surface with my hands behind my head, as I always do. On every exhalation my chest fell below the water, and rose again when I breathed in. Up and down, rise and fall. The tempo gradually slowed down. Floating like this is so relaxing I often wonder if it would be possible to fall asleep on water.

Still water reflecting a sunset.

Okay - yes, many things can happen on a tour. Dangerous animals, accidents and diseases. But a lot can happen at home too. I had to remind myself of the principle behind this trip, which I allude to in my first post from the road, a few hours into the journey:

"Whatever happens from this moment on, the most important thing is that I've chosen to live life my way, without letting fear get in the way of my goals."

A life chained by fear is a life wasted, and that’s the biggest danger of all.

Not to mention the fact that life is fragile, no matter what we do. It can already end any day, so attempting to find safety and security within it is a pointless exercise. Even dying on tour is better than never living at home. Plus the day I decide to forget my dream of a world expedition as too dangerous, can be the day I slip and fall in the shower. Or get hit by a car on my “much safer” home street.

Leksdalsvatnet at night with the moon behind clouds.

By the time I got out of the water, the clouds were dark gray. The lights of farm houses far away on the other side of the lake were reflected off the surface. I made a fire and sat down to watch it.

There is something automatically calming about a campfire. It must be coded in our DNA after aeons of using fire to protect us from the elements and animals. By the flames, our minds stop racing, voices lower, movements slow down. Silence grows.

Yeah. I’d be alright.

 

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Animal Crossings

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Animal Crossings

There appears to be a lot more four-legged travellers around now that I’ve gotten a little south of the polar circle. The night I arrived on Dønna I saw so many deer and rabbits bouncing about that I lost count of both. The beautiful graceful leaping of deer is much more pleasing to the eye in its elegance than the dumb clumsy lumbering of reindeer.

Deer sign.jpg

And they weren’t just moving at night. The next day in town a deer was casually crossing the road with humans and cars nearby. Then on a narrow ridge made of rock for the road that connected two islands, I saw a guy on a bicycle coming towards me, and a deer running away from him like it owed him money.

I stopped in a futile attempt to seem less frightening to the animal. For a while it ran straight towards me, on the rocks just outside the shoulder of the road. Then the deer spotted me, panicked some more, stumbled a little and smashed - rather ungracefully - into a boulder, but recovered with hardly any loss in speed. Less than 20 meters away it took one huge leap right into the sea to swim to safety.

Poor thing. Hopefully it wasn’t hurt too much by the collision with the rock. At least it was still running fine after reaching the other side, and quickly disappeared from view.

[I hate posting ugly photos where the only purpose is to show you what I saw in classic holiday slideshow fashion, but I'll make an exception here if you want to see a swimming deer.]

Two moose on a field in Norway.

I went to the island partly to shoot the famous Seven Sisters mountain range; a row of seven sharp mountain peaks. The weather did not co-operate, however. Due to the low clouds, none of the sisters were visible:

                           The seven sisters mountain range covered by clouds.

The following evening, while pedalling back on the Fv17 on another island connected by ferries on both ends, I saw a deer to my right. It raised its head from the grass at the sound of my freewheel whirring in the stillness of the night. I’d already seen so many of these animals in the past couple days that this wasn’t notable in itself, but as soon as I’d passed it, I turned my head to the left, and there was a moose standing in the opposite field.

That made me chuckle. When I turned my eyes back on the road, a fox was running away a little ahead of me! They were all within about fifty meters of each other, seemingly getting along just fine. I cycled another couple hundred meters, and three more deer were hopping off to one side and a second fox slipping from the road into the bushes. What kind of party was I interrupting here?

Seeing animals on the road is one thing I’ll miss about the midnight sun and white nights of the north. Within just a few days it’ll be so dark there’s not much choice but to set up camp for the night. The vast majority of animal spottings during this and other trips have been during low traffic at hours that will soon be covered in darkness. I could (and may) still ride with the headlamp, but it’ll be very unlikely to see anything like that, with the exception of an occasional pair of gleaming eyes floating in blackness.

Why did the moose cross the road?

Fast forward another couple of days. I was near Lysfjord, south of the Holm ferry stop, sitting on a rock by the sea. The sun just about to dip below the horizon. My camera was clicking every five seconds, capturing a time-lapse of the scene. The green dome of my tent among the trees behind me marked my campsite. I wasn’t usually already camped by sunset. I’d actually arrived the night before, but a lazy afternoon had just morphed into a full rest day because I hadn’t felt like continuing.

In the water below, I heard a splash and a wet snorting sound. I looked down to see two whales surfacing to breathe before diving again. Not big whales, only harbour porpoises, which are hardly more than dolphins, really. After some seconds they did it again, further away. They were swimming along the shoreline, close to the rocks I was sitting on. Perhaps going to catch some fish, which also often seemed to start moving at sunset. They were visible three times before disappearing from sight.

I didn’t touch the camera. From previous experience last summer, I knew the best I could do with my landscape lens was a dark blob in the water that would look like a rock or a little wave. Not worth interrupting the time-lapse.

Plus, you know. It was just a couple whales, swimming around at sunset, in the Norwegian Sea, on my little bike trip.

Nothing special about that at all.

Sunset at the Norwegian Sea.
Still harbour and mountains reflected off the water.

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The Greatest Feeling in the World

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The Greatest Feeling in the World

Bicycle touring isn’t always easy, but when everything falls into place, it’s pure bliss.

I had been riding completely in the zone for a while, with my mind at ease and generally feeling thrilled about life. I had the priviledge of cycling in some of the most amazing scenery in the world, taking as many photos and time-lapses as I wanted. If I was a millionaire, this is exactly what I would be doing anyway. There is no use for riches when you're already living your dream.

View of the mountains and sea in Norway.

In this mode, even small temporary obstacles don’t matter. If you can call the longest tunnel in Norway’s Nordland small. Or indeed temporary. The Toven tunnel was a 10km feat of modern engineering right through solid rock. And bicycles weren’t allowed.

I had been previously warned of this tunnel, but a quick look at the map had showed an alternative path via Holandsvika and Kviting. It was a long detour, but 40km of scenic views was still preferable to 10km of horrible darkness. But at the nearby village I learned that that road was closed due to a rock slide. Supposedly with little plans to reopen it. The alternative to that was three days of riding.

So I chose to hitchhike. I stopped at the entrance of the tunnel, and the first car I saw was a small van. I put my thumb up and it stopped! This was easier than I thought.

I was greeted by three immigrants in a cleaning service van on the way back from work. Unfortunately the rear turned out to be too full for even just the bicycle, and the front row was already crowded so there was no room for me either. I thanked them anyway, for stopping without hesitation. They drove off and I continued looking for a ride.

Black and white fjord.

The next several drivers with vans, trailers and caravans weren’t as willing to stop. Which gave me time to ponder.

I haven’t really hitchhiked before, but realized it’s a wonderful learning experience. Even besides the obvious benefit of getting to have a cheap adventure and meeting interesting people, the act itself contains valuable life lessons. Every car that passes is a type of rejection, and you need to learn to just forget about it, move on, and focus on the next car and opportunity. Dealing with a “no” becomes easier fast. There is very obvious benefit from this in many aspects of life.

And then at the end, assuming you are persistent, there is a major boost of faith (in humanity, the universe, or whatever you may have faith in) when you do get picked up by someone.

After half an hour a friendly young guy with a van and a trailer stopped. The trailer was empty so I simply rolled my bike in, hopped on board and got a ride through the tunnel. Soon I was back on two wheels again, feeling happier than ever thanks to this complete stranger’s selfless assistance.

Picking up a hitchhiking bicycle tourer.
Hazy orange sunset by the ocean.

In Sandnessjøen I got on a ferry to Dønna at sunset, and eventually found a campsite by a small quiet beach. To my delight, for the first time all summer the water felt warm enough to go swimming. Not just “splash water on myself quickly and get the hell out of there”, but actually enjoyable. I had been waiting a long time for this moment. There’s no better feeling than a cooling swim after long hot day on the saddle.

It was already past midnight, but the summer night was perfectly warm. I was in a sheltered cove with no-one around for miles. No cars were on the road. The whole island seemed to be asleep. So I went skinny dipping.

Now I don’t know if muscles can literally melt, but that’s exactly what it felt like. All the sweat, dust, and dirt washed off, replaced by total relaxation. I just floated on the surface like I was lying on a gigantic waterbed. The only sound came from a curious little [insert bird knowledge here] flapping around above me. The nights weren’t yet fully dark, but a single star shone in the sky. A taste of the millions that would soon again be visible.

It was another moment of sheer ecstasy. Oh boy. If you’ve never gone swimming naked in the middle of the night in a serene Norwegian fjord after cycling 1500 kilometers, I can’t recommend it enough.

A pier at sunset in a Norwegian fishing village.

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Uphills Are Hard

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Uphills Are Hard

After Mo i Rana in Krogen, there was a 7km tunnel unavailable to cyclists. The only alternative route was almost twice as long and went over the mountain instead. It was the toughest climb so far, though still only 580 meters from sea level. It took me three hours of mostly walking my bike up.

As I’ve already mentioned, I’ve had some trouble with uphills on this trip. This is only partly due to my laziness. Especially at the end of the day, I often prefer to walk just because it’s slower and easier. I don’t need to exert as much energy, so there’s also less sweating. But now that the mountains are getting higher, it’s not just preference. It’s genuinely too difficult to cycle uphill.

The views are eventually nice though.

I was hoping and expecting to be stronger by this point. Usually after a month of cycling my legs feel better and the daily distances begin to grow. Maybe I’m getting old at mid-thirties, but that hasn’t really happened yet on this tour. So I'll need to lighten the bike somehow.

Besides brake pads, another reason I visited the bike shop Mo i Rana was actually to lighten my gear ratios. If I could just pedal more easily in the steep parts, it should do the trick. The mechanic tried to fit a much lighter rear cassette, but it wasn’t compatible with my shifter. In the end they didn’t have a wide enough selection of parts for the job, so we switched back to my old gears. I can try again in Trondheim.

Mountain at sunset in Helgeland, Norway.

Another solution is, of course, to carry less stuff. I’m sure I can still find many items in my inventory that I could easily do without. And some that could be replaced by a lighter version.

With a small amount of planning, my food and water weight could be reduced drastically. Right now I carry up to three liters of water, but that could easily be two or one by just checking ahead for places to refill at. Or perhaps I could buy a filter system that weighs an additional couple hundred grams, but means I’d need to carry hardly any water up the mountains.

Honestly, my food system is kind of ridiculous. The principle of having extra calories so I can stay camped when I want is fine, but there’s been no consideration for weight anywhere. My go-to breakfast is müsli with a banana, an apple, raisins and a nice 3dl carton of Norwegian coffee cream (10% fat for the calories). Now that’s a tasty and good meal, but the portion itself weighs quite a bit. I’d be better off eating away the water heavy fruit right after visiting a store. And in any case I’m still left with up to 700 grams of extra raisins and müsli for future breakfasts in the bottom of the pannier.

Or if I want to eat a few sandwiches during the day, I may end up carrying a huge loaf of bread, at least 150g of cheese, a cucumber, and a 475g squeeze bottle of spread. Compared to what I’m actually eating, most of it is just dead weight.

Then there’s tea. I like tea. But I need sugar in it. And you can’t buy sugar in a small package. Usually it only comes in a one kilogram sack. I try to look for the half kilo box of sugar cubes, but even that is a lot of excess to carry just for a cup of tea.

So it looks like I need to introduce some actual sense into my packing, at least as long as I’m in a mountainous area like Norway. I’m not in a hurry as such, but if I walk up every single hill from here on, it’ll be snowing before I get to south Sweden.

Fishing boat by a pier at sunset in Norway.
Bike camping spot at beach during sunset in Helgeland, Norway.

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The Polar Circle and Mo i Rana

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The Polar Circle and Mo i Rana

The fair weather continued for days as I cycled southwards in idyllic Helgeland. Rain quickly became a distant memory. I didn’t even need to protect my gear from water whenever I camped, often leaving out the rain fly on my tent. Instead of camping ground showers, I started bathing in the ocean. The water was still too cold for actual swimming, but dipping in the Norwegian Sea to wash off the sweat after a hot day was extremely refreshing. I was always full of endorphins while drying off.

At one point I realized I had unceremoniously crossed the Arctic Circle in the ferry from Jektvik to Kilboghamn. I guess I can now say I’ve officially reached “The South”. After spending two great years in Inari far in the north, I won’t be coming back to these latitudes for a long time now. Probably for many years. Farewell, land of reindeer, long winters, magical northern lights, and vast open wilderness.

Sunset between mountains by the fjords in Norway.

I took a detour off the Fv17 to visit Mo i Rana. Mostly to find a bicycle shop for some spare parts. I had needed to tighten my brakes so many times due to wear that I figured I should buy spares soon. I wasn’t sure if the pads would last even to Trondheim - the next real city after Helgeland.

I entered the outskirts of Mo i Rana in the middle of the night after a long day of cycling. Just a few kilometers from the city centre, I was getting worried I couldn’t find a camping spot anywhere in the somewhat inhabited country suburbs.

Right then I came across a boathouse by the fjord, where someone had painted a big picture of a bicycle on the wall and some exclamation in Norwegian. I tapped the words into Google Translate and it came out to mean “Go for it!”. Presumably an encouragement for pedalling, but there was also some convenient level ground and grass nearby. I pitched my tent there despite being unusually visible from the road. At least whoever owned that particular boathouse surely wouldn’t mind a quiet and tidy world biking visitor.

Town in Norway at dusk reflected from the fjord.

The next day in Mo i Rana I got my new brake pads. You may remember how I feel about cities, so there’s not much else to report about that visit.

Except that on my way out, while waiting for the afternoon sun to dip lower so I could get on the saddle, I met a lovely old Swedish couple. They were on one of their numerous holidays of driving in Norway. These days even camper vans were no longer comfortable enough, so they traveled by regular car and slept in real hotel beds.

We shared a rest stop table and they generously gave me a huge piece of Danish to go with my cup of tea. We talked about various things, from pastries to taxes. They were both trying to make the world better in their own way through teaching and politics, and seemed to possess the wisdom to succeed.

It wasn’t a very long meeting, but random encounters like this are one of the best parts of bicycle touring. And traveling in general. You get to meet so many friendly, helpful, kind-hearted people that your faith in humanity receives a constant uplifting. While countries and cultures do have many differences, the underlying human nature is still more or less the same. If only more people took the time to see the world, we would have much fewer problems with prejudice and nationalism.

And that’s another way lovely old Swedish couples can change the world - just by being their friendly welcoming selves.

Sun setting behind a mountain on an island.

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It's a Beautiful Day

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It's a Beautiful Day

Somewhere south of Bodø in Middle-Norway, I was gradually woken from a dream because my tent was getting hot. This was an entirely new sensation on my trip so far, and I couldn’t quite figure out the cause. Perhaps I was on fire, I pondered, still half asleep. After a couple minutes an alternative theory arose. Could it be? I peeked from under my sleeping mask. Yes!

Summer had arrived!

Boats on a blue harbour on a sunny day.

The sky was blue and the sun was shining. After six weeks of cold weather, this was amazing. Instead of needing to wear a jacket and gloves immediately upon departure from my sleeping bag, I went about my morning activities comfortably shirtless. My laundry from the previous night had already dried in record time. Breakfast seemed to taste better. Birds sang more cheerful tunes.

As a principle, I believe it’s not ideal to allow external things like weather affect your mood. Finding deep contentment from within, regardless of conditions, seems greatly preferable. However, I am clearly not in such an advanced state of mind - a beautiful warm day felt fantastic. I put on some sun lotion and moved even lazier than usual, to avoid sweating.

I was heading south along the somewhat quiet coastal route between Bodø and Trondheim. The road circled long fjords with turquoise water, sometimes crossing the sea via a series of bridges and ferries. Several people had recommended this road to me, so I skipped my earlier plan of riding through the Saltfjellet National Park on the inland highway. 

Sky reflecting off water with a silhouette landscape after sunset.

By the evening the long shadows of the mountains were draped over the villages. I was calmly descending along a curving road without having to pedal for minutes. The still warm air was gently hitting my face. In a forest clearing a large moose raised his head, gauging if I would pose any danger.

In addition to finding summer, I had reached the land of sunsets. It was still bright enough to cycle throughout the night, but for a few hours the sun dipped below the horizon. What a welcome sight. The last time I’d seen a sunset was in May back in Finland. I stopped to admire the changing palette in the sky, from yellow to orange to red and purple.

I was once again struck full force by the freedom given to me. A profound sense of joy and belonging returned. After many years of simply drifting through life with no purpose, I feel fortunate to have such a clear direction. And even better, the chance to make it happen. I don't know how many people can say the same. Now it’s just up to me to make the best of this opportunity.

Misty view of distant mountain at sunset.
Bicycle tourer at sunset.

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