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auroras

Update from Home

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Update from Home

All of a sudden it’s been two months since I came back to Finland, so an update is in order. It’s customary to write a thoughtful and insightful post looking back on all the events since Day 1 a year and a half ago. I’m going to stray from that tradition though. Partly because I’m neither thoughtful nor insightful… but mainly because looking ahead has always felt more interesting. The future is more important than the past.

I will say though, that even after a couple months of spending time with family and friends, plus making some new friends, I don’t miss the road much yet. Not even when faced with the dark and cold Finnish winter. So my decision to take a break was correct. (By the way, I haven’t been taking photographs either, except for the last two at the end of the post from an overnight trip on Black Friday. The others are random unpublished photos.)

First trip with the bike back in Feb 2017.

Instead I’ve continued to read up on permaculture and related topics under the umbrella of sustainable life. My interest has only increased. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Our current system of growing food is entirely unsustainable. We use 10 calories of fossil fuels to produce 1 calorie of food. The CO2 of this fuel of course ends up in the atmosphere, but it only gets worse from there. Tilling the fields for monoculture causes all kinds of problems. The nutrient-transferring fungal networks are destroyed, microbial life is killed, the soil’s capacity for holding rainwater is greatly reduced, nutrients disappear increasing the need for chemical fertilisers, crops are more susceptible to pathogens, biodiversity plummets, and the list goes on.

And for all this destructive and resource hungry tilling we pay a very significant price in climate change. When the soil’s organic material is lost, some of the carbon ends up in the ocean, and the rest in the air. Soil is supposed to be a carbon sink, and yet what we’re doing to it has caused it to release about 80 billion tons of carbon. To top it all off, this loss of organic material can eventually lead to desertification.

Not a great system overall.

The spiderweb, on the other hand, works great.

All of this really needs to change. There’s a lot more to sustainable life than food production, but since it’s such a crucial first step, that’s the one that seems best to start with. I would love to learn and practice self-sufficiency with natural sustainable methods, and that is indeed the plan. As soon as I can find some suitable land.

That last detail has been the obstacle so far, especially with severe budget constraints. So I figured I’d ask you, dear readers, for tips! Tell me where I can find a cheap old cabin, farmhouse or other piece of land with at least some forest around. For sale, rent or other(?). Probably between 1-5 hectares, off grid and remote is fine. So far I’ve been searching in Finland only, but might consider interesting enough alternatives elsewhere.

Where would your dream location be for this kind of plan?

I’m against Black Friday consumption, but a few candles are okay.
Good old Finnish kota.

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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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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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The New Time-Lapse Video is Out!

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The New Time-Lapse Video is Out!

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

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

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

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