Felicia and the Furballs

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Felicia and the Furballs

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A year ago I helped a moose calf get reunited with its mother. Lately there has been a marked increase in animal rescue cases. I didn’t even mention this before, but in Corsica Isabelle saved two tiny stupid dogs from running on a busy road. The owners were so thankful they let us stay for several days in their guest apartment. Although the dogs escaped several more times during our stay, so I don’t have high expectations for their wellbeing.

 Civitavecchia on the first day in Italy.

In Italy the trend has continued. On our second day back on the continent, we were checking out the Caldara di Manziana nature preserve area. It’s a volcano crater northwest of Rome, with some small geysers. A strong stench of rotten eggs permeates the area, due to sulfur escaping from the ground.

I saw some movement in the high ferns. It was a shy black dog that seemed curious about us, but kept vanishing into the shadows before we got a good look at it. When no owner appeared, we became equally curious. Eventually we found it lying under a tree. She looked scared, hungry and was covered in ticks. Isabelle gave her water and some of her dog food (despite Kira’s protests). When she got up to eat, we finally saw how thin she was - basically just bones covered in fur. She must've been there for months, and was probably mere days away from dying.

 In this photo she doesn't even look that bad.

Camping was probably not allowed in the area, but we couldn’t leave the dog alone, so pitched our tents at sunset. While trying to decide what to do, there was a stroke of luck: A local man with five dogs came strolling in on his evening walk. Exactly the kind of person who would know how to deal with the situation! He took one look at Felicia (as we named her), and shook his head seriously. He would call some animal rescue people and come back in the morning.

Franco kept his word and arrived with help the next day: A man and a woman from a nearby shelter. Felicia was surprisingly calm with five people, Franco’s five dogs plus Kira milling around. She seemed to understand we were there to help. We got a closer look at her fur in the daylight. There were dozens of ticks. Maybe hundreds. The food we had given her was all around the tree, undigested. She could barely walk, and I don’t envy the guy who had to carry her to the car, parasites and all. 

 For some reason the shelter folks had uniforms that looked like they belonged to German police from the 70s.

The shelter people seemed uncertain whether she would make it, or whether she’d find a home. We got their number in case I would have to adopt a dog of my own. But I thought there was a strong change they might have to put her down.

A week or two later I got a message in Trevignano: “The dog is doing fine. She is gaining weight and having more confidence with people. There is already a family that wants to adopt her.” I cried a little.

Fast forward another couple weeks. I hitchhiked to Radicofani because I needed to visit a pharmacy for some antihistamines and it sits on top of a high hill. Radicofani is a village I would describe as “delightfully Italian”.

 A stereotypical street in an old Italian village.
 Awwwwwwwwwww.

Outside the pharmacy on the road there was a tiny black kitten. Probably slightly under a month old, the cutest thing ever. I didn’t see a mother, and no one seemed to know who he belonged to. I tried to shoo it away from the traffic to the pedestrian path. When a car left a parking spot, I heard a scream and another equally young kitten, a grey one, half ran half limped away from under the car. Apparently one of its front paws got squashed by a tire. Well, shit.

I cleared my schedule for the rest of day. I was supposed to hitchhike back down the road, but fortunately Isabelle found a helpful van and came up to the village with both bicycles. We hung around to feed the kitties. When they couldn't stop running onto the road, we put them in a cardboard box for safety. Evening came and no humans or felines had arrived to claim them, so we started to look for a surrogate in town. Plan B was to take them in our handlebar bags and find a nice farm the next day. The grey one was walking on all fours again, so the paw wasn’t too badly hurt.

 This one was particularly active and kept getting into trouble all the time.

Again it was getting dark, and again we got lucky. A woman walking past us in the park saw the cats and came over. One of the kittens had been under her car in the morning, and a day earlier a friend of hers had already adopted another little furball, probably from the same batch, a few streets away. She went to fetch the friend, and within minutes the kitties had a home! We left the village feeling pretty good about ourselves.

I like it when stories have happy endings.

 It's a flower.

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One-Year Bike Trip

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One-Year Bike Trip

Time flies. Today marks a year since I started this trip. It has been quite a ride, and I’m very happy to have made it thus far. 365 days of homelessness at 20km per day across Europe has been a wonderful and life-changing experience. But I won’t do a recap of the whole year - instead I’ll bring you somewhat up to speed on recent events.

After a brief visit to Sardinia we took the ferry to near Rome in Italy. On the very first day we met a man who had sailed around the world on his own. He and his wife hosted us in their home, where we had a dip in their scalding 45C thermal bath in the backyard. In the evening all the neighbours gathered for a lively 10-person dinner delicious food and plenty of wine. Welcome to Italy, it's just like in the movies!

 This photo is actually from Corsica. But still.

In Trevignano I stopped in an AirBnB for a couple weeks to wait for a visit from a friend. We started an outdoor website together this spring, which is admittedly part of the reason I’ve been quiet lately. It’s in Finnish, but you can take a look here if you want. During this time my photography career reached a nice milestone, when National Geographic Traveller in Italy featured me and some of my earlier photos from Norway.

 Car headlights in Trollstigen.

Italians are very warm and friendly people. Until you put them in a car. That’s when far too many of them temporarily become idiots with a speed addiction and no regard for road safety. Which is probably why many cars here seem to have enough dents on them to look like retired bumper cars from an old carnival ride. So to avoid the crazy traffic, we’ve been riding north along Via Francigena, a pilgrimage road from England to Rome. It mostly follows tiny gravel roads along picturesque farmland.

The going has been somewhat challenging lately, despite great food and an easy bike path. First I was woken up by a wild pig scavenging a meter or two away from my tent. Fortunately it had no interest in me and continued along its way into the forest. The next day I drank from a questionable water fountain and got sick. Then I thought I caught bed bugs from a hostel bed, when a bunch of red spots appeared in my arms and multiplied during the following days. After a few terror-filled days, these turned out to actually be hives, probably from a virus in the same water. I never thought I would be thrilled to find out I have hives, but there you go.

The next day we slept in a barn to escape a storm, and it turned out the place was swarming with ticks. We took out over 20 of the disgusting little creatures from each other, most of them crawling on Kira. A couple days later I met two large angry porcupines when cycling at night along the farms of Tuscany. They already had their spikes up and can be quite aggressive, but luckily chose to scamper away into the wheat fields.

 Lighthouse back in Bonifaccio.

On top of all this the weather has been hot and sunny, which is not ideal for cyclists from the far North. Our brains begin a meltdown process at 25C, so we’ve suffered some mild heatstrokes already, before the worst summer has even begun. I’ve learned the importance of having a full siesta in the shade during the hottest hours of noon. Preferably from around 10am to 6pm.

Sometimes the siesta lasts all day. Just to be safe.

 Step 1: Find tree. Step 2: Lay down under tree. Step 3: Repeat.
 The limestone cliffs of Bonifaccio at sunset.

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Wild Pigs on a Mountain Pass

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Wild Pigs on a Mountain Pass

After the month in the cabin, Isabelle and I split up to meet later in Sardinia. On my first night back on the road I couldn’t find a secluded spot so close to the capital Ajaccio. I ended up camping next to a “no camping” sign in some outdoor recreation area next to a beach. A cooling swim felt amazing after climbing uphills all day in summer weather.

 The views were nice and the water was warm.

When I was preparing to sleep, some young guys were pointing flashlights at my tent, clearly curious about something and talking among themselves. Peeking through the opening, I tried to gauge whether they were dangerous and planning to rob me. They started sneaking closer. That was scary, so I moved my passport under the mattress and tried to think of a battle plan.

Then one of them mimicked very exaggerated sex sounds and they all ran away giggling. Just some harmless kids. I was simultaneously annoyed and relieved.

 EAU NON POTABLE.

The following night I wanted more privacy, so chose to stay next to one of these chemical water tanks. Every winding small mountain road in Corsica seems to have at least one of them, always elevated a couple meters above the road. Around them can always be found even ground, and sometimes the tank provides perfect cover from passing traffic. Later I finally figured out they must exist for fighting forest fires, and it’s not the best area to hang out in case one occurs.

From Propriano I turned towards the mountains inland, to get away from heavy traffic between Ajaccio and Bonifaccio. A reliable source told me that the road over the mountains was much better for cycling and camping, despite the hills. I waited far into the afternoon to avoid climbing in the heat. At sunset a pair of beekeepers told me to turn back to the main coast road, because there were too many mountains ahead. After explaining that I’m a photographer looking for nice views, they changed their advice to go via Levie and Zonza, the toughest of my three route options. I thanked them and continued up the hill, mostly walking the bike.

 Sun going down in the mountains.

It got dark and I couldn’t find any ground suitable for camping on a road carved into the side of a hill. I found another tank, but it was protected by a gate and visible from the road. I passed a town called Sainte-Lucie-de-Tallano and kept climbing.

Saving the batteries in my headlamp, I moved by moonlight. Until I saw something moving ahead. I turned on my light to reveal that for the first time in my life, I was face to face with a wild pig. It wasn’t huge, only about the size of a labrador, and quietly standing staring back at me. I made some vague noises and got no reaction, so after some more staring I just started moving towards it. It ran away. I turned off the podcast I’d been listening to and cycled on slowly, hearing rustling and hooves in the dark forest on both sides of the road.

A few minutes later there was another water tank, and this time without a gate! But as soon as I stopped I heard another pig from somewhere very close to the place I would’ve put my tent on. This one wasn’t quiet. It was growling, and sounded monstrously large in the darkness. I got the hell out of there quickly. Fortunately I’d reached the top of the hill and the road turned downwards. Now there was more open ground, but for the next half hour every time I stopped there were pig sounds in the bushes. Great.

At 1am I came to a town called Levie and found a bar that was open. I asked for advice for my predicament, and the owner and several customers said I should go to the football stadium a couple kilometres outside of town. I’d be safe there, and no one would bother me.

So I head there. Upon arrival I see that the “stadium" is just a fenced in field with goal posts. And of course I hear several wild pigs running away. Great, thanks for the advice guys. I scanned the field with my beam and found one still inside, apparently trapped by the fence. It looked scared and I was getting sleepy and frankly tired of all these pigs, so I just entered the field while it went around me in a big circle and exited through the gate.

After some thought I figured I’d be safe enough. In the forest it would be more dangerous, because they might be protecting their own territory. Whereas even a pig would understand that a football field isn’t its home, and when a human enters, visiting hours are over. But mainly I was just too damn tired to care.

I pitched my tent in a corner of the grass and slept without interruptions.

 Turned out to be a nice campsite in the end.
 Palm trees at the beach.

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The Laziest Cyclist in the World

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The Laziest Cyclist in the World

Some of you might be wondering why there haven’t been many updates lately. I'm still alive - the silence is simply caused by nothing much happening lately. The bike trip hasn’t really been moving anywhere for some time now. First we spent February resting in a cabin, then a week or two of mostly camping, and then it really got lazy.

 Even the mountain goats agree.

Near Calcatoggio we camped with a French cycling couple on their way around the island. They packed their tents and continued early in the morning, while we looked at the forecast and decided to just stay another night to avoid climbing a long uphill in rain. On the second morning we continued and found a camping ground nearby, so we went in to ask for a shower. They were still two weeks away from opening and the shower facilities had no water, but would we like to stay in a small cabin for a very affordable price?

Within a few moments my answer changed from “it’s a little early to stop for the night when we just started the day 15 minutes ago” to “although can we see the cabin, please?” and then “you know what, let’s just stay. I really want a shower and don’t feel like cycling anyway”.

Distance pedalled that day: 280 meters.

 What I thought was a weird art installation by the beach turned out to be just a regular bridge.

The next day we decided to stay a second night, and then another two nights. And now it’s been three weeks since we arrived, still in the cabin...

So despite taking it rather easy for most of 2018, ever since arriving in Corsica, I somehow still feel a need for resting. Because there’s clearly nothing to rest from at this point, I start to feel like the laziness is more of a general lack of motivation. Which could be concerning, but then again this kind of thing happens to me almost every winter or spring. It's an extended period of "screw most of my projects, I'll just eat chocolate and play around on the laptop".

 Kira is thrilled about her new haircut.

For now I’ll assume it’s all temporary and that the desire to continue the bike adventure will come back to me soon.

Hypothetically however, if it doesn’t, I have an interesting decision to make. Because I don’t see the point in forcing anything, either. It’s not as if I’m undertaking some gruelling physical and mental challenge that I need to prove I’m capable of. Anyone could do this - it’s just a bit of easy cycling when you go slow enough. And I certainly am.

The only point of the trip is to do it because it’s fun and enjoyable. But what happens if that stops being true?

 Then again, there's nice nature and gravel roads waiting out there somewhere.
 Is the end of the trip in sight already?

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Underwater Camping

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Underwater Camping

After Isabelle rejoined me we stayed a few days at my campsite on farmland near the Cargèse beach. Neither of us felt like cycling and it was raining, so we just waited out the weather. On the first sunny morning an old man drove up to our apparently-not-hidden-enough camp. He was the owner of the land and came to politely inform us that camping wasn’t legal around these parts, even if alternative accommodation is practically unavailable during off season.

The timing was fine, since we were about to leave anyway. But to my recollection this is the first time ever I’ve been asked to leave while stealth camping, even if he was rather nice about it. Probably won’t be the last, though.

We spent the day in town charging our devices.

 The beaches look nice, but waves are often too much for swimming.

At the next beach we set up our tents between the bushes. Late in the evening it started raining again, so I got up to cover my tent with a tarp. After hundreds of uses during the last five years the outer fly is showing signs of wear and tear. It’s not too serious yet, but it can let a few drops of water seep through in heavy rain. I preferred not waking up to that, so the tarp is a decent extra insurance against the elements. I was glad to have it, because the sound of the rain grew quite heavy as I was falling asleep.

 Long exposure shot by the Mediterranean shore.

A couple hours later I woke up to a weird sensation. I was wet, inside the sleeping bag. That was very bad news. Water was still falling outside, and somehow it had gotten into the tent, soaking everything. I opened the door to investigate. The tarp above remained intact, but what used to be grass below me was now four inches of water.

When choosing the campsite I had only paid attention to how visible it was from the few houses near the shore just outside the beach. We wouldn’t want to be thrown out again, after all. I hadn’t stopped to consider that the place was also on a slight depression, and the hills around us collected all the water to run through that exact spot on its way to the sea. So my nice campsite had quickly turned into a small stream.

Oops.

I picked up my tent and carried it to a drier spot, with water sloshing around on the bottom of it. There was no choice but to abandon everything. At least my panniers kept the electronics dry.

In moments like these it's great to not be travelling alone. Isabelle was only a few metres away, but on slightly higher ground and therefore relatively safe. Sometimes I make light fun of her oversized and difficult to pitch tent, but on this occasion it saved me from a very uncomfortable night.

 It's her favourite toy - any random stick.
 Everything was dry again the next day.

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On Touring with a Dog

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On Touring with a Dog

So besides all the added weight, what’s it like to have a pet on a bike trip? In the case of Kira, quite nice. She is remarkably easy to take care of. If she’s thirsty, she’ll ask for water by pawing at the bottle. She doesn’t run away when off the leash. And if you open the tent door and tell her to go pee, she’ll dutifully do so (or fake it, if necessary) and come right back inside.

She doesn’t really seem like a dog at all. The only time I hear her bark is when she’s feeling extra playful, and then it’s 100% of the time her saying “Throw the fucking stick already!”

 Always on the lookout for any dropped food.

The vast majority of the time she’s super chilled. The only things she doesn’t like are children, other dogs near her food cart (trailer), and flying insects. If she’s in the same room with a bug she’ll pace nervously while looking at humans in a kind of “Are you going to do something about this or not?” way.

She loves food, cuddles, and the beach. My headaches and tiredness passed and I needed to bathe, so I took her to the beach. She was so excited she even chased her own tail in an unprecedentedly dogsmanship-like manner. The last time I went swimming was probably in August in Norway, so I was pretty happy too. Not enough to chase any tails, but still.

 This is one happy dog.

An off-duty surfer gave us directions to a great campsite nearby, with pine trees. It was a planted forest and doubled as a pasture for cows, but good enough. Pine forests are my favourite camping terrain, and always remind me of home.

There was two days of heavy rain coming, so I set up a tarp above the tent. It had a double purpose - to keep the tent and cooking area extra dry, and to collect the rainwater into my Ortlieb folding bowl. Kira drinks a lot, and if I also use free water for cooking, tea and brushing my teeth, I can cut down my carried water consumption to a third. So we were ready to wait out the weather.

 Sometimes it's nice to have a tarp when camping.

If it’s not too cold for her to stay outside the sleeping bag, Kira prefers to roll up by my feet. But when the rain and thunder arrived in the night, she looked scared and it didn’t take much convincing to get her to snuggle up under my arm for safety. She licked my ear gratefully a couple times, and then snored directly into it for the rest of the night, drowning out the sound of the storm. 

Still, a warm fuzzy dog in your sleeping bag is pure happiness. I can definitely see the benefits of travelling with a dog.

 A bend in the road in Piana.

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A Disappointing Return

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A Disappointing Return

Actually, no. Returning to the road did not feel "amazing" this time.

Our wonderful host Emmanuel returned to his house on the same day that Isabelle had to fly out of the country to take care of some business. So I took Kira and planned to do a loop around the mountains for a week until her return. But less than a tenth into the first uphill I just wasn’t feeling it at all.

Partly due to an extra 35kg on top of my own stuff (a 14kg Cocker Spaniel in a 14kg trailer with other assorted dog-related things like food). But on top of that, I felt exhausted in general. Far from the kind of result I was expecting from a month’s rest. Then a headache arose to make things worse. Abandoning the plan, I turned downhill towards the sea instead.

Usually a decent night’s sleep fixes these issues, but the next day I still felt sick and tired. To the point where for the first time I was actually forgetting what the point of being on a bike trip even was. We both stayed horizontal for two days at our luckily well-hidden campsite.

I’m not sure what’s going on, but will just relax and wait for it to pass. On the plus side, at least my travel partner is equally lazy:

 She is definitely not a morning person.

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The Corsican Coast Road

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The Corsican Coast Road

Before finding our cabin for the month's rest we cycled along one of the most beautiful roads I've ever seen. The D81 road from Calvi was full of twists and turns. A narrow paved road between a rising mountain and a straight drop down to the sea. Peeking over the edge you could see seagulls and kites gliding below, with waves of salt water patiently grinding away at the rocks.

During the low season of winter this road was practically unused. However, far too frequently old remains of crashed cars reminded me of the dangers of roads like these. In Corsica it seems to be common to simply leave any destroyed car on the site of an accident. I've already seen more of these tragic remains than I can remember.

 This didn't end well.

Despite these solemn reminders of the transience of life, I was having a great time. Isabelle and I had decided to split up for a couple days, to enjoy our separate adventures and get some important solitude. The first afternoon I discovered the ruins of a castle. It turned out to have been the home of Pierre Bonaparte, Napoleon's cousin. It was built only 150 years ago, despite looking like it had been abandoned for twice as long.

I happily spent the night there, in one of the most exotic camping places so far. Bright moonlight washed over the landscape. I peered through the holes that used to be windows, listening for any sounds of wild pigs in the fields below. My stay was undisturbed. The roof had collapsed long ago, so I fell asleep looking at the stars above.

 Château du Prince Pierre Bonaparte

The views got even better further south around Piana. The light wasn't so good for photography while we were there, but I plan to return soon for another try, so I'll hopefully talk about that area more in a future update.

This road and Corsica in general has been some of the best that cycle touring can offer. Quiet roads, long distances between villages, plentiful nature, and gorgeous views enjoyed with a generous amount of time and freedom. That's all I ever wanted, so there's no need to hurry eastwards from here yet.

There's only a couple more days of resting left before it's time to return to the road. It has been great to recover and take my mind off the trip for a while, but I imagine getting back on the saddle will feel amazing as well.

 A lot Corsican nature is just dry thorny bushes, but in some areas they actually have trees and forests as well.
 If you can look at this photo and not get the desire to go on a bicycle adventure, there may be something wrong with you.
 When I decide to settle down somewhere, I would like to have a view of both mountains and the sea.

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Interlude

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Interlude

After eight months on the road, I really felt the need to take some time off from everything. It would be impossible, or at least unwise, to do a trip this long without periods of rest. I think about a month of staying put is perfect, once or twice a year. Not only for the physical recovery, but to recharge the mind as well. If I'm always outside cycling and camping, it all starts to feel too 'normal' and less like an adventure.

We finally found an opportunity to take the first extended break near Cargèse in Corsica. A Warmshowers host who we stayed at for a few days left to travel in India for a month, and left his small house in the mountains for us to use. The timing is great for it, because weather has been rainy and chilly (below 10C) again. Spring is just around the corner, and we can hardly wait for some warmth.

So this is just to explain the recent downtime in the blog. I may or may not have other things to update and talk about during the stay here. But don't worry, more regular updates will resume once I am back on the road.

 The vegetation this far south is really different from what I'm used to.
 I don't know what it is about looking at rugged mountains, but the sight is really awe-inspiring.

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Beach Life

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Beach Life

I don't have much to say today, but here are some photos of our stay on the Bodri beach:

Seaside view.jpg

I really don't miss the snow, cold, and darkness of North Finland right now.

 Rest stop with a view.

I gallantly pulled the trailer for a couple weeks, but after this we switched back.

 Without anything for scale, the waves and rocks don't look very big, but they were HUGE.

We camped on the beach by a spot sheltered by cliffs. The wind was very strong and creating some of the biggest waves I've ever seen.

 I've been waiting to take Milky Way shots, but so far light pollution from towns or the moon have ruined my plans.

So close to L'Île-Rousse there was a little too much light pollution to get many stars in the photo.

 Time to sleep.

On the second morning the wind turned and brought the waves almost to our tent, so we had to leave in a hurry.

 

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Mountain Monastery

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Mountain Monastery

With the newfound freedom provided by our lighter bicycles, we explored the winding mountain roads of upper Corsica. The island is heavily dependent on summer tourism, and most people move out for the winter. This left the villages half empty and the roads with little traffic. Besides cars, we encountered some possibly stray dogs, a family of cows blocking the road in a kind of Mexican standoff, and a herd of goats running in front of us for a few hundred meters.

 Some say they are still running to this day.

We spent the first night next to a cemetery of a remote 12th century church San Raineru, perched alone on the hillside away from habitation. Wild pig screams echoed in the mountains around us as we lied in our sleeping bags, but none dared to come near. Next we climbed up to Sant’Antonino, a unique village on top of a mountain - or hill - above 500 meters. Most of the other villages had been founded in more sheltered areas to be less visible to passing pirate ships.

The town's narrow streets went up and down stairs and through corridors in a confusing maze. All the houses and streets were built from rock, with matching beige and brown colours. There were clearly efforts to avoid modern construction and maintain the original look of the village. Even the numerous cats probably looked like the strays that lived there a thousand years ago.

 This one watched me take a time-lapse of the sunset for an hour.

So few people were around it was almost like a ghost village. Until the lady who delivers the post drove up and came to say hello during her route. She was very enthusiastic and inquisitive. Combined with English language skills, it wasn’t hard to guess that she either enjoyed travelling now, or had done in her youth. Such people tend to gravitate towards us to hear our stories and pay forward some of the many kindnesses they’ve received while on their own journeys.

When she heard we had no place to stay yet, she started making some phone calls. Camping was an option of course, but the night would be windy and rainy, plus we hadn’t showered for too long. Unfortunately only answering machines picked up her calls, and we said goodbye as she had to continue with work. Anyway, Isabelle soon found a nice local man who offered his spare apartment to us free of charge. He was even apologising for how small the place was, despite the large bedroom and kitchen.

 View of the church and mountains from Sant'Antonino.

The next day we weren’t sure where we wanted to go, so we did some work on our laptops outside while waiting for the mail to be delivered. Martine the wonderful post lady might've had more tips. Around noon she returned and was happy to see us again. She’d gotten a call back from her friend Mireille who lives in a monastery and could host us. The day before she’d even taken the time to drive back up to Sant’Antonino after work to look for us, but we’d already disappeared indoors.

So did we want to stay in a 17th century monastery? Absolutely! We rode down to Cateri where a sweet little lady called Mireille was waiting for us. She was the only person living there over the winter, aside from a few guests here and there. A perfect place to relax.

 The Cateri monastery at sunrise. Population: 1, plus two visiting cyclists and a dog.

Or so it sounded. On the first day there was a big feast of 40 people who were volunteers and supporters of the monastery. We ended up being briefly interviewed for the local newspaper, as well as filmed for TV while terribly underdressed for the event. Then the priest was making a speech in French, and after a few minutes I hear some familiar words I've learned during the last two months, like "bicycle" and "around the world", followed by "Finland" and "Sweden". Heads swivelled around towards our previously safe corner in the back of the room, with the priest gesturing us to stand up to receive our applause.

Isabelle doesn't mind public appearances, but my face was about as red as a sunburnt beet after a long run on a hot day.

We stayed for a week anyway, if only to recover from the surprise attention.

 Storm clouds rolling in. 
 

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Losing Weight

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Losing Weight

Did I mention Corsica is hilly? It’s only 200-300km to the southern tip by bicycle, but our most likely route includes over 5000 meters of vertical climbing. Some small parts are rather steep at 20% or more as well. With our heavy bikes, it’s not going to be easy. But as Isabelle keeps reminding me, we’re not in a hurry, so it doesn’t matter. She's right, but I still prefer to make the task a little easier.

 A village in the mountains near Montemaggiore.

During our rest day on the beach we did another 'lightening the load' operation. We went through all our panniers to find items we could throw away or send home.

It was easy to lose a few minor things here and there. But the three main problems are:

  1. My photography gear is heavy. Including the computer everything adds up to about 7-9kg.
  2. The sheer length of the trip. I could bike a week or two without shaving, using contact lenses, cooking warm meals, using a computer, having extra clothes and warm layers, etc. But living on the road for five years kind of forces me to take everything with me.
  3. Solo detours. We don’t plan to stay together 24/7, so we still need to carry two tents, stoves, toothpastes and various other items that we could narrow down otherwise.
 "Yeah it's not bad," he said modestly.

On the very next day, we got a surprise opportunity to temporarily eliminate the last two problems. We stayed at the house of a nice old couple from Paris. They had retired from being engineers in the water and energy industries. Presumably quite successful ones, considering the size of, and amazing view from, their Corsican summer villa. We had a chance to leave most of our belongings in their garage, and take only what was necessary, for a little 50km loop inland: From Algajole to Calvi, Montemaggiore, Sant’Antonino, then via Pigna and Corbara back to Algajole for our stuff.

Most people could ride that in a day despite a few hills. We’re clearly not most people, so as we left we said we’d return to fetch our bags in about five days.

I left behind three heavy panniers and Isabelle did about the same. The trailer was nearly empty except for the dog. It seemed crazy what a massive pile of stuff we could suddenly live without. And the difference while cycling was huge. Climbs that previously would’ve required pushing the bike for an hour or two, were suddenly relatively easy to pedal up with only a few rest breaks.

 The view at breakfast.

It felt great to lose all that weight. Like we were going on a mini-adventure from our bigger journey. I'm beginning to understand people with bikepacking and lightweight setups more now. I doubt I'll ever get to that point for as long as I'm a photographer, but some changes to my setup might be in order anyway.

This detour will probably teach us a lot about about what's necessary and what isn't. Afterwards we'll be going through everything once again, with new eyes.

The less possessions you have, the more freedom you gain.

 Somewhere behind all the mountains is Sardinia.
 Corsica, high and low.
 

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First Look at Corsica

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First Look at Corsica

In our hurry at the port of Marseille, we accidentally ended up on the wrong ferry to Corsica. We'd been told the east side is much easier to cycle, so wanted to land in Bastia and follow the coast south. But our boat actually went to L’Île Rousse on the northwest side. No worries - may as well go with the flow. It felt more exciting to end up somewhere unplanned.

Twelve hours and a poorly slept night later, we came ashore at sunrise. There was a rocky hill with a lighthouse next to the harbour, so we pushed up our bikes for breakfast tea and photos. As well as just marvelling at the fact that we finally made it here. The first view was impressive. The sea, the mountains, green nature between the villages… right away I knew I'd like this island.

 To the left is the ferry we arrived on.
 It looks like there's a guy standing in the photo admiring the sunrise... but he's actually looking at his smartwatch.

We hung out in L’Île Rousse for the day and then found a campsite on a hill with a sea view. There were wild pig droppings everywhere. In many places they had dug up the ground looking for roots to eat underneath. These weren’t the first signs of boars we’d seen so far, but from what I understand they are much more common in here than in the mainland. They are dangerous enough to maim or kill a human, so we’ll have to be careful and not leave our food bags lying around.

Day two confirmed this thought. We still felt like resting, so just cycled down the hill to the beach in the morning and camped again. (Camping isn’t legal in Corsica, but no one seems to mind it. At least in the winter when there’s less risk of forest fires.) Boars move around from dusk ’til dawn, and as soon as the sun went down, we heard squealing somewhere uncomfortably close to the tent. Later in the night when I walked a few meters away to use the toilet, I heard another squeal close by. I ran back and peed next to our camp instead, narrowly missing tent poles and stakes.

Two of us slept uneasily. The wind rustling branches and leaves sounded deceptively like creatures skulking around the campsite. The third member of the party, Kira the courageous guard dog, was of no use whatsoever. She snored all night, entirely oblivious to the dangers surrounding us.

 Sunrise view of Calvi and its citadel.
 There Will Be Sheep.

The best thing about being in Corsica is that for the first time on this trip, I feel like there’s no need to be hurrying anywhere. That probably sounds weird, but ever since last June I’ve had to keep moving to get away from Scandinavia before the freezing autumn arrives. Then in mainland Europe it’s been necessary to head south to escape the winter. Only now that we’re in the Mediterranean the seasons are no longer an issue (for now).

Not that cycling twentyish kilometres per day on average is stressful as such.. but I still feel a new level of freedom, to be able to just stay still and relax as much as I want. Especially when the surroundings are beautiful for photography.

This is what the trip is all about, and why I chose to have years to do it.

 "Wake up Tomi, there's a sunrise."
 

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No Roads Lead to Marseille

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No Roads Lead to Marseille

Having reached the Mediterranean Sea, our plan was to take a ferry from Marseille to the island of Corsica. Storm Eleanor had already cancelled some ferry crossings, but weather on the mainland seemed to be fine for the next two days. After that the forecast warned about horrible headwinds and crazy amounts of rain for three days. We decided to get to Corsica to avoid getting stranded in the downpour. With two days, tail wind, and 100km to Marseille, it sounded easy enough.

We left the Camargue along a gravel road in the sea dike. The 11m/s wind pushing our backs was helpful, but also meant that there was no way to turn back if there were any problems. I called the tourism office to make sure the path was cyclable and there’d be no issues with flooding or tides. “The Mediterranean Sea doesn’t have tides, monsieur.” Even over the phone I heard eyes being rolled.

 This looks almost as fun as cycling.

We made decent headway despite the path being blocked by occasional sand dunes. Until the trouble began in the afternoon. In the first village the grocery store was closed for siesta, forcing us to wait. Then what Google Maps said was a bridge turned out to be a ferry, which slowed us down again. Then a bicycle path became another bumpy gravel road. We stopped to eat. At least the sunset was so vibrant the colours barely seemed realistic.

 Would you like a sunset with your tea and sandwiches?

Under the darkening sky, the gravel road quickly turned so bad that we had to push our bikes. I was getting a headache. The shaky road and the unnerving noise of a long row of wind turbines right next to us wasn’t making me feel any better. After an hour of struggling we were back on asphalt, only to discover that the road to Marseille was blocked due to construction. By then I felt too sick to go any further, so we camped right there behind some trees. Marseille was still 60km away.

 Wind turbines are best enjoyed from afar.

The following day was the most challenging I’ve had in a long while of touring. Surrounded by an industrial hell, it wasn’t easy to find an area we were allowed in. 2km away from the blocked road we found a detour, but it was a difficult gravel road. Only a couple hundred meters in, the road was blocked by a fence. Then a few hundred meters to another detour, another fence. We kept going on another even further detour, which suddenly went over a railway, also blocked by a fence. Giving up, we returned to square one to the original blocked road and went over and around the barricades. We didn’t see any construction, and maybe it was possible to get the bikes around.

There were no workers or machines anywhere, or in fact anything wrong with the road at all. It turned out to be by far the best 3km stretch all day. At the end of it we turned towards the coast, which Google Maps recommended as a bicycle route. We’d wasted a lot of time with the morning detours, but still had a theoretical chance to make the ferry in the evening. Until suddenly a driver was waving us to stop - the way we were heading went through a dangerous iron factory and was not accessible on a bicycle.

We turned back, ended up on a highway, exited at the first opportunity, just to find out that the exit went nowhere, got back on the road, ended up on an even bigger highway, finally found a nice quiet paved road and felt better, until that soon deteriorated into an uncyclable nothingness, where again we had to push the bikes, and did I mention it was somehow a hot day with scorching sun in goddamn January? Factories in every direction pumped out their probably toxic fumes.

 Roads? Where we're going, we need.. roads.

We had to turn back again, got instructions from a stoner on his way to work, ended up walking on another rocky footpath by the highway to avoid the dangerous traffic, to ask drivers at a truck stop for a lift to somewhere sane, walked back empty-handed on the same rocky path to get to a gas station, just to find that no, we can’t cross the highway there and should just return again to the earlier truck stop and then join the cars on The Roundabout of Complete Chaos.

By this time the sun was setting and we’d spent the entire day getting less than 5km from our campsite. In a couple hours the ferry would leave without us. What a shitty day overall. After one more brief visit to the highway, we simply gave up and started hitchhiking. There was no safe way to continue forward on the bikes.

We stood by the road with thumbs raised for only two minutes, when a truck stopped. The Tunisian driver was friendly, spoke English, and happened to have an empty trailer. Which he was taking to the Port of Marseille, right next to our ferry stop.

Unbelievable.

I’ve felt lucky many times before on this tour, but this was something on a completely different level. I’m very sceptical about concepts like fate, but it’s almost tempting to think that something wanted us to make it to Corsica after all. And now I’m curious to see why.

 Tomorrow is going to be another great day.
 

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A Fresh New Year at Camargue National Park

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A Fresh New Year at Camargue National Park

Just as Christmas, Isabelle and I celebrated New Year’s Eve quietly. We rented a room in Arles in South France for two days, to have a nice place to relax and watch fireworks in. Turns out France is not the ideal place for this plan, because fireworks were either illegal or just not cared about. So there wasn't much to see. Which was fine, because by midnight we were as sleepy as two puppies in a basket.

But we did get to relax. That’s something I’ve really felt the need for lately. Being on the road for seven months is beginning to have its effect on me. Not that our cycling distances are particularly strenuous (although now that I’m usually pulling the trailer, uphills are more of a challenge). But just the fact of packing every morning, moving even a short distance, and then finding a new place to sleep can become exhausting. With closed camping grounds, wild camping being illegal, cold weather and sleeping at strangers’ homes, there haven’t been many opportunities to enjoy lazy days of doing nothing.

It will soon be time to take the first long rest of the trip, for a couple weeks or more.

But in the meanwhile, the plan for 2018 is to have more adventures. In the last weeks we’ve spent too much time in unphotogenic towns and cities. It’s time to camp more in nature and other interesting or exotic locations. The first stop of the year: Camargue National Park.

 Are you lost, Gringo?

Camargue is a wide open area of flat farmland and wetlands in the delta of the Rhone river. It’s famous for its white horses, pink flamingos, and Camargue bulls bred for the bullfighting arenas of the region. We got to see all of them, but the last two didn’t dare come close enough for my 24-70mm lens.

On the first afternoon we spotted two people walking in what looked like grey robes from a distance. Going in for a closer look, they turned out to indeed be genuine monks out for a stroll. Sleeping in a monastery? Definitely an adventure. We asked whether it was possible, but the prices were 40€ for a room or 10€ for camping outside. Paying to sleep in a monastery? Not an adventure, we agreed, and cycled onwards.

The wind was picking up and there weren’t many options for taking shelter. Few buildings, many fences and gates, no forests - only farmland and tall grass. It was already dark by the time we found a farmhouse with nobody around. Sleeping on haystacks in a barn seemed adequately adventurous.

 The truth about being a digital nomad.
 Waves of the Mediterranean at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.

The next day we cycled to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer and reached the shore of the Mediterranean. Neither one of us had seen the sea since we’d met almost three months earlier, so it was a beautiful sight. This also means I’ve cycled across the continent from the far reaches of Northern Scandinavia all the way to South Europe. That feels like an accomplishment.

Finally we could smell the familiar salty scent of the sea, hear the crashing waves, and enjoy the beautiful sunsets. Even the red supermoon rose to greet us when we stopped for a snack by the shore. The weather was pleasantly warm for the first time in months. Due to faraway storms, the wind blew heavily, so we found a somewhat sheltered place near the beach and camped there for two nights doing nothing much.

Camping in a National Park and resting at the same time? Now this is the way to start the new year.

 I've really missed sunsets by the sea.
 A soft moonrise over the sea.
 

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A Vagrant's Christmas

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A Vagrant's Christmas

After several weeks of being uncharacteristically social, I yearned back to the life of sleeping outdoors as a vagrant with a bicycle. So before Christmas we spent a couple nights in a tent. On the second evening the wind was so strong that we had to take refuge in a half-built garage beside an empty house. Three walls and a roof protected us perfectly from the storm raging outside.

Stomachs full with a delicious sausage and pasta dinner, we settled down to watch a documentary. Halfway through the film our concrete cave was suddenly filled by car headlights. Crap. The house wasn’t so empty after all. I exited my sleeping bag nervously. My French vocabulary was wildly insufficient for explaining why there were suddenly two people, a Cocker Spaniel, and a tent with Christmas lights in whoever’s garage it was.

 Garage camping, or "glamping" as I like to call it.

Outside there was a woman who looked scared enough to call the police, but fortunately she wasn’t alone. Neither she nor the man she was with spoke English, but he just laughed it off and wished us a good night. Our luck held up once again. This scene certainly could’ve played out much worse.

The next morning was December 24th. While having breakfast, I was wondering why the dog trailer looked strangely tilted. Then I realised one of the tires was flat. Presumably due to me digging out some sharp rocks and spikes from the rubber the previous day. Merry Christmas.

 A gorgeous flat tire lit by the beautiful morning sun.

After changing the tube, we continued a couple hours to near Orange where we had rented an Airbnb cabin for the night. We spent the evening drinking champagne in a sauna and a jacuzzi. Not exactly a traditional way to celebrate Christmas, nor the type of life I’m looking for most of the time. But sometimes it’s nice to enjoy a little luxury, just for a change.

 One of France's numerous castles in one of France's numerous sunsets.
 Avignon at sunset.

A few days later we passed Avignon and its famous half bridge. I gained a sudden appreciation for old architecture, and decided to make a detour. Isabelle found a place to stay and I continued at night towards Pont du Gard, a famous Roman aqueduct. I arrived at midnight to find the gates closed and a guard’s voice in the radio phone telling me to come back at 9am. I wanted a photo of the landmark at night, so that was unacceptable.

Google Maps offered an alternative way in, via the forest nearby. I pushed my bike through footpaths, trying to be discreet and unnoticed with my headlight. When I found the aqueduct, I discovered it was lit by brightly coloured lights. The colours changed slowly, and I took a time-lapse of the show while looking around.

There was no-one else there, so I had the whole aqueduct to myself. For a 2000-year-old building, it was extremely impressive. The massive size, and the fact that it was still standing two millennia later. All that with the tools and materials that had been available so long ago. The Roman empire accomplished some magnificent things in its time. And yet it fell down, just like the aqueduct eventually will.

Everything is impermanent. This bike trip, our lives, and all the nations and empires around us. So it’s better to spend our limited time focusing on things that matter. Whatever that may be. Or at least to relax and enjoy the ride.

 The lights of Pont du Gard at night.
 

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Single Frames - France

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Single Frames - France

Sometimes the journey is so eventful that it’s impossible to recount even a fraction of it. Especially with my attempt to make each blog post about one specific subject. And due to skipping ahead in the last post, there are many untold tales from France. So to return back a little, here’s another edition of single frame stories.

On a side note, this update is probably the only one so far without any nature photos.

In the quaint little town of Cluny, we stayed several days at the home of a lovely madame called Elisabeth. She was in her sixties and enjoyed traveling, so was happy to host a couple of exotic nomads. After all, meeting people from faraway lands is the next best thing to being on the road. Her home was one of the most relaxing places I’ve ever seen, with very zen-like decor. She practiced Tai Chi and meditation with calm music in the background.

Outside was less relaxing, because we happened to be there during the Festival of Light:

 Blessings be upon thee!

On our third day in France we were desperate about finding a place to sleep. We were stranded in the city of Metz after sunset, and cycling in the dark without bicycle paths wasn't an option. We even called some hotels, without any luck. By the Metz cathedral we discovered a Christmas market with a huge Ferris wheel, and forgot about our homelessness for an hour to drink mulled wine and take some photos.

As is sometimes the case, you find what you need only when you stop searching for it. Because soon we met Nora, a Moroccan girl with a constant smile on her face. She was working as security for the market, and didn't speak English, but used Google Translate to talk to us. Explaining that she liked to help travellers, she invited us to stay in her home nearby after her shift. We ended up having long conversations with the help of the app, and it really opened up a whole new world of communication. English isn't widely spoken in France, so this tip has saved us many times since then, and will be priceless in the future.

Metz.jpg

When Swedish people travel the world, they have an advantage that the rest of us don’t. It’s called Ikea. Apparently there’s a grocery store in every Ikea store selling genuine Swedish food. Isabelle nearly fainted from sheer joy when she saw one near Metz in France. Then spent what felt like three hours shopping for delicacies from back home while I guarded the bicycles.

Later we stopped so Isabelle could cook some of her new-found treasures for lunch. It’s nice to have some special food every now and then. But I do like traveling with someone who doesn’t require things like fancy restaurants and swimming pools. With bicycle touring the surroundings can get rather unluxurious. If you can be happy cooking Swedish meatballs with frozen fingers in an abandoned warehouse, life is pretty easy.

 Kira is also happy wherever she is.

Then again, it's mostly not dirt floors and spray-painted walls when we stop. Along the Voie Verte bike path we had lunch with a nice view of the fortress of Berze. The sky was mostly overcast, but I noticed a sliver of light passing through the hill and got a picture just in time. In the second photo I took only ten seconds later the light on the castle was again flat and boring.

 In hindsight, we should've asked if we could stay there for the night.

Earlier I wrote about Dutch hospitality, but I must say the French are no less generous. We've spent almost every night in warm beds after eating three-course dinners (with cheese and wine) with the family we just met. Even when I was cycling without two cute girls for a week people still opened their doors and welcomed me inside when I asked for help. And in the mornings they offer breakfast and even pack us lunch. If there's one thing the French consider important to share, it's food. Below we're eating lunch baguettes prepared for us by a cheerful old lady who hosted us in Chainens.

One of the challenges we’ve had while traveling together is our different speeds. I’ve been much faster with my lighter bike, which sometimes results in me being bored or cold while waiting. Or Isabelle can be stressed about feeling too slow. To balance out the weight and our speeds, we finally came up with a decent solution. All it took was a little rearranging:

 The main reason I wanted the trailer is because now the colours match so much better.

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Of Things Frozen and Melted

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Of Things Frozen and Melted

In France, the snow fell. Frost covered the branches reaching above the canal. And I was cycling alone.

After meeting Isabelle two months ago, it has been an eventful and tumultuous time. So many things have happened it feels like a year has passed. Perhaps it’s clear that things between us have developed more and earlier than I’ve mentioned. At first I didn’t feel it was right to discuss it here, and recently was more interested in actually living life and seeing what happens, rather than write about it. Nor do I ever want to turn this into a relationship blog. But it’s time for a little recap.

 I hope this road will take me somewhere warm.

The first weeks were great. Too good to be true, almost. Normally I take a long time to get to know people, but we clicked right away. It was a whole new experience of openness and honesty, as opposed to the gradual undoing of reservations and distance that I’ve previously had a tendency for.

But then, when feelings get involved, things get more complicated. Especially when we both bring our own emotional baggages. We suddenly became scared that this thing could become serious. Maybe too good to be true was right. And what about our solo trips? There was no room for a relationship in our plans. Each of us took turns running or pushing the other away. Each time it didn’t work, or brought us closer.

 Nothing can survive in this barren landscape.
 When I stopped the bike for a photo, I realised the road was so slippery I could barely walk on it.

Yet there I was again, alone on an icy cycling path. Few people were interested in being outdoors on such a cold day, with the exception of some hunters yelling in the forest. White cranes glided above the water towards safety.

We had separated for several days. Both hoping to travel south faster on our own, as well as a final test to see whether we could continue together. I certainly needed time to think. My habit of pushing people away was kicking in strong, but at the same time I found myself missing Isabelle already. She hitchhiked a few hundred kilometres ahead, and some days I broke previous distance records for the trip to get to her, and at other times I felt so frustrated and drained that I could barely move forward. The fear of her not waiting was surpassed by the fear of sharing my life with someone. Back and forth.

Cycling around the world is so easy compared to the task of dealing with my own emotions. A frozen heart takes a long time to thaw.

 I left home hoping to never experience cold winters and snow again.

After a week of this I was in Chalon, right before the final stretch. Isabelle had eventually decided to wait. She was half a day’s ride away, and I stopped for a coffee with a Warmshowers host, who turned out to be quite an angel. We only spoke briefly, but her energy and presence gave me the last encouragement I needed to get past my fears. I finally knew what I wanted. It really wasn’t all that complicated.

I cycled to Isabelle and told her. Having found courage, but still lacking wisdom, it wasn’t easy nevertheless. We still had fights to go through and problems to sort. I had to open my heart and connect with her in a way I had never had the strength to even consider before.

There are many treasures I expected to find on this journy. Countless beautiful places and photographs, fascinating people, experiences both positive and bad to learn from. One thing I never expected to discover was love. Perhaps now, against all odds, it has found me.

Looks like this will be a two-person trip from now on.

 A bridge over cold water.
 

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Coincidences

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Coincidences

Last year when I was cycling in Lofoten, Norway’s mountains wore out both of my break pads near the end of the tour. With a heavy bicycle in a hilly country, this is a big problem. I looked for a solution in a bike shop in Leknes, which didn’t have the right parts, but the nice mechanic recommended the lovely nearby Uttakleiv beach while waiting. I walked the bike there and enjoyed my stay, but had to end my trip there because I ran out of time and never got my bike fixed.

Well, on this trip back in Sommarøy I met nice a couple on holiday from South Norway. They were riding borrowed bicycles, and the man mentioned the brakes weren’t so great on his. Sympathetic to brake issues after my previous experience, I offered to tighten them. This lead to more talking, and me mentioning this blog. Later on I received an email from him, because he visited my Route page and saw the request for travel tips. The one place he said I should absolutely visit - Uttakleiv beach.

So I ended up in Uttakleiv because my brakes broke, which a year later made me fix the brakes of a stranger, who then ended up recommending Uttakleiv. There’s a funny symmetry to that.

 A throwback to a morning in the Netherlands.

More recently in Luxembourg, we had trouble finding a place to stay after dark. In Bettendorf, Isabelle went to a flower shop with a café to ask for help. She came out with a big smile, which always means we’re in for a special treat. And we were - the two sisters who owned the place had told her we could sleep in their greenhouse. +12 degrees and dry was a huge improvement from the 0°C and raining that the outdoors had to offer that night.

We sat in their Flower Power café / pub while waiting for closing time, before we could take our bikes and sleeping bags in. By the owner’s recommendation, we tried a new local cider called Ramborn. Not only was it tasty, but also well timed, since we’d been looking for cider in the store earlier that day, but hadn’t found any.

 Another earlier photo. The weather hasn't been great for the camera lately, so recent photos have been few and far between.

Two days later, after the events of the previous update, we arrived in Junglinster. It was dark again with no camping options. Isabelle had a cold, so we chose to knock on doors and ask for warmer accommodation. The first person we asked only understood French, but we got lucky with the second house. A very friendly couple let us in and ordered Chinese food while we told our stories. They lived in a beautifully furnished modern house, with a line of Dior and Chanel perfumes in the bathroom, and quality whiskeys on the living room shelf. I wasn’t surprised to hear the husband was a bank manager.

I was surprised to hear about their other side project. For a few years, they’d been getting into the cider business with their own brand. They were the makers of the very same Ramborn we’d drank by the greenhouse. Completely randomly, we had decided to ring their doorbell out of the countless others around.

I don’t search for a deeper meaning or divine guidance in these little coincidences like many other people seem to, but they are pretty cool nonetheless.

 Typical view in Luxembourg: Rolling hills and forest.
 From Martin's photo tour in Goesdorf, Luxembourg.
 

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Tears in Luxembourg

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Tears in Luxembourg

Back in Senja during the first month of my trip, I met a cyclist called Martin, on his way to Nordkapp. I was on my way to Andenes on the ferry he arrived on. We had less than two minutes to talk, but it was enough for him to invite me to Luxembourg if I would visit it later. He lived in Goesdorf, which was my first stop in the country. Martin and Arlette were incredibly sweet and accommodating, treating us to showers and laundry, food and guided photo tours around the area and in Luxembourg City. 

I was a little preoccupied with thoughts about my future route, and especially whether I would be continuing alone or not. If I wanted to continue via the Black Forest in Germany, I knew Isabelle wouldn’t be able to join me. There were too many mountains and the weather was too cold. Even with her new sleeping bag, she had Kira to think of. And although there is no hurry anywhere, I felt a growing frustration about our slow pace of travel. I wanted to spend more time in special nature areas and cycle faster through the more boring parts in between.

Then again, Isabelle and I had gotten very close during the previous few weeks. We had the same sense of humour, which made every day fun. We had very similar views on almost everything, plus common interests. And when you’re camping and touring with someone like this, you get to know the real person with all their gritty imperfections. As opposed to whatever shining public image people naturally try to display.

 Isabelle practicing photography with her 50mm f/1.8 lens.
 Sometimes the bikes need alone time.

Despite all the similarities, we were also different enough to keep things interesting. I was learning a lot from her carefree way of approaching life, and my comfort zone was expanding rapidly. Touring with her was undeniably more enjoyable than being alone. And often easier, with less need to leave the bicycle unguarded, and more opportunities to sleep in houses with beds and showers.

But did I really want to share my journey and dreams with someone? In my mind I had this idea of what my trip would look like, and it felt difficult to let go of it. It was a solo tour. Just me against the world. Alone with my camera. Sharing the road only via my photos. I wasn’t built for this kind of travel, for making compromises. The Black Forest was waiting for me.

 The Ardennes on the Luxembourg side was quite beautiful.

In a small village called Dillingen, it was a particularly cold day. Only a couple degrees above zero. Our pace was so slow I wasn’t getting warm from the cycling. We needed a shower, but every place was closed for the season. My mood was grim, and it felt like I was sacrificing the very freedom that I was searching for.

We found a cafe and stopped to warm up by two mugs of hot chocolate. I told Isabelle we couldn’t continue together further than this. I had to move faster, see more places, spend more time alone, and focus on my photography. We had to separate here. She understood - she had her own doubts as well.

We hugged. We cried. We kissed.

And then we got back on the road and continued together, in the same direction.

 Schiessentümpel cascade with the ND1000 filter.
 Sometimes the weather and landscape doesn't have much to offer beyond a few drops of water.
 

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