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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 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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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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