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Vadehavet National Park


Vadehavet National Park

All of Denmark is pretty flat, but especially the west side. It was almost eerie to not see any hills or elevation. Just perfectly level farmland, far into the distance. The only things blocking the view were buildings and occasional trees. And lots of massive wind turbines, which provide almost half of Denmark’s energy.

I’d felt a slight headache all day, and when I reached the shore of the Vadehavet National Park, it got worse. Suddenly I felt completely out of it and was barely able to pitch my tent on some grass by the sea. Skipping all my usual evening routines, I went straight to bed to sleep it off. This kind of thing seems to happen to me a couple times a year. Headache accompanied by nausea, and for the rest of the day I can’t function at all. Some kind of ‘mangraine', I suppose.

I love wind power in theory, but that constant wooshing sound can get a little annoying.
Is flat.

The next day I felt fine again. I backtracked a couple kilometres to visit the nearby Nature Centre, but it would’ve cost 14€ just to get in the building. That’s an unreasonable price tag for information that ought to be free. I dried my tent and clothes in the sun outside while muttering about how Finnish national parks are better.

Vadehavet (or the Wadden Sea) is a huge national park and another UNESCO World Heritage site. It spans 10000km2 off the coasts of Denmark and Germany. I assumed (probably incorrectly) that the name means something like “The Wading Sea”, because it’s so shallow that you could walk into it for miles, especially during low tide. Even the sea was flat here.

I was about to continue towards Germany, when an older gentleman suggested I visit the island of Mandø. It was connected to the mainland by five kilometres of rocky road, which was inaccessible every 12 hours or so, because it got submerged during high tide! This sounded like a fun place to visit. At the start of the road there were warning signs saying “Tide Race” and “No crossing without knowledge of the tides”. The old man had said it was several hours until the water would rise. I googled to double check, and then crossed the sea like some bicycle touring Moses.

This road looks fine for cycling!
This sight would become all too familiar soon enough.

Mandø was surrounded by a three-meter tall dike, a sloping seawall, covered in grass. It kept the water away during storms and also provided grazing ground for a lot of sheep. The mainland had the same kind of dike. (And it continued very, very far, as I would later find out.)

The island was a few kilometres across, with some farms, houses, summer cabins, and a small village centre. There was a camping ground, a shop, a couple restaurants and a very nice-looking windmill. I figured I’d stay at least until the next low tide. I showered at the campsite, took some photos, ate dinner, and chatted with a couple bird spotters. There were many different migratory birds in the nature reserve and subsequently also many enthusiastic people with binoculars and telescopes.

There's nothing quite like a sunset by the sea.

When the stars came out I returned to the windmill. The village had quieted down. I took a few still photos and then set a time-lapse of the scene below. This gave me an hour and a half to lie down and look at the stars while waiting for the camera. I really enjoy these moments of doing nothing while the camera’s shutter clicks away, recording movement where I see stillness.

I’ve been hooked on time-lapse since the first clip I ever shot, three years ago in Finland. It was the second week of my photography studies at the Kuusamo College, and I had a new camera with a timer to play with. The northern lights were expected to appear, and I had recently moved there from South Finland so had never seen them before. I cycled out at night to a lake by a forest, and waited until there was a hint of green in the sky.

I set the tripod and shot a sequence over something like half an hour, with stars and auroras reflecting off the water. Even now I remember thinking how cool it was, and I couldn’t wait to see the video. Of course it was out of focus, and unstable because I kept touching the camera's buttons. I even composed the shot vertically, which really shows how clueless I was.

But I loved it, and kept doing it. And here I am now, traveling the world and shooting time-lapses semi-professionally.

Funny how one night can change the course of your whole life.

I got lucky and there were no cars with headlights ruining the 90-minute shot.


Welcome to Bække


Welcome to Bække

After a slow breakfast, a shower at a nearby camping ground, and one hour’s cycling, I saw a free camping sign. There was some mowed lawn, a fire pit, a small hut with firewood, a toilet, and a guestbook. The spot was somewhat sheltered by trees, with a boy scout building right next door. The larger landscape consisted of patches of farmland and fenced pastures for horses and a few cows. A village called Bække was less than two kilometres away.

I guess I picked the wrong day to quit eating grass.

It was very early for camping, but I have my rule to never pass great campsites. Perhaps even more importantly, there was a lot of rain on the way. I could already smell it in the air. Staying made much more sense than pedalling in rain and looking for a wet campsite some hours later. I pitched my tent with the tarp on top for extra protection, then cycled to the nearest shop to buy food.

It rained for most of the night. The seams on my inflatable pillow failed, after five years of use. I slept with a towel placed awkwardly under my head.

Yep. That's the moon alright.

In the morning I wiped off the slime trails left by snails on my tent, packed up, wrote my thanks in the guestbook, and rode to Bække again. This time I found an unmanned tourist office. A room with plenty of information and leaflets, a small exhibition, a place to sit at a table, a microwave - even tissues, papers and pens, and various other bits and pieces. Someone clearly had tried to think about things that visitors might need, and then provided those things. The bathroom even had a free shower.

I took the opportunity to recharge my devices, and ended up using the place as a kind of personal office. I don’t get many chances to sit in peace with the laptop plugged in for some time-lapse work and other digital nomad stuff. No one else was there for hours, until the very friendly manager came to say hello and ask me if I needed anything. He explained that during the summer season they have staff present, but at this time of the year the office is just left open for anyone to use. He went out of his way to loan me some super glue for the pillow, but unfortunately it wasn’t strong enough for the job.

Eventually I stayed so long I decided to simply use the same campsite for a second night. In the first 100 days I had only taken 16% rest days. That seemed too few, even considering my otherwise slow pace. It was time to start resting more. I picked up some sausages and veggies to fry by the fire, and had the free shower waiting for me before leaving. All in all, Bække was perhaps the most tourist-friendly place I’ve been to. Everything was provided free of charge.

Beech tree forest path.

While I often talk about how wonderful it is to receive help and kindness from meetings with strangers directly, these kinds of anonymous gifts or services have a special kind of place in the life of an adventurer. Whether it’s a picnic table, a drinking water tap, a shelter, a helpful sign, or anything, in a way it feels like a heartwarming little note saying:

“Dear traveller,

Regardless of your skin colour, sexuality, or financial status, this is for you. We respect your desire to visit new places and are glad that your journey has brought you here. We understand that being on the road isn’t always easy, so hopefully the facilities offered here are of some help.

Yours truly,
Local people”

Hopefully some day I’ll own a patch of land that I can turn into a little oasis for passing travellers.

Average Danish road.


Perfect Morning at Kærskov


Perfect Morning at Kærskov

On a quiet suburban road with houses on both sides, there was a family hanging out by the curb on one yard. They seemed to be expecting something. When I passed them they were giving me strange looks. Wondering what that was about, I looked for them in my mirror, but instead saw a car and a motorcycle with yellow lights appear behind the corner, then some cyclists.. a LOT of cyclists. It was a race!

I quickly drove into the ditch to let a hundred or two bicycles and support vehicles zoom past me.

Now I understood those weird looks. The people were out there to watch the race pass. They must’ve had a surreal moment when seeing me. “Here they come honey! And in the lead… is a… what the hell?

Later that evening I passed Århus, which looked like a gorgeous city. Lots of cafes, restaurants and bars with cool well-dressed people sitting, eating and drinking outside. A very European feel, further underlined by wine being sold in grocery stores (which is not a thing in other Nordic countries). If I wasn’t an uncool badly-dressed smelly cyclist, I may have stayed longer. But as it was, I continued onwards.

Trees silhouetted against evening clouds.

Although wild camping isn’t allowed in all of Denmark, there are government-sanctioned forests and other places where it’s okay to pitch a tent. I've been mostly following the official national bicycle routes, as well as the map of free camping places.

I thought this limitation would be uncomfortable, but actually I’ve discovered that having less choice makes touring easier. If I have an idea of where I’ll be sleeping it’s a lot easier to plan ahead and leave certain tasks until I reach the campsite. Maybe there is something to be said for a bit of planning, after all.

One of these free tent places was in Kærskov near Horsens. Another old beech forest with hike, bike and horse paths. A small pond offered an excellent campsite. I had plenty of time to examine the area, take photos and cook dinner before sunset. Everything was perfect. (Almost everything.. I opened a box of newly bought Danish cheese and nearly gagged. The smell was disgusting. I don’t understand how it’s even legal to pack such a powerful stench in a bland container without warning signs.) There was some foot traffic, but it died off at dusk and I went to sleep early.

This'll do for a campsite!

Again I was awake for the sunrise. The morning was freezing, so there was a great deal of reluctance in leaving my down feather bed. But I’m glad I did, because it was a stunning sight. Sunlight seeped through the treetops in beams that lit the misty air. Dewdrops clung to leaves and spiderwebs. The surface of the pond was a clear mirror, except where lilies broke the illusion, or birds caused ripples when diving. A squirrel rustled in the branches.

I walked around slowly, took my photos, breathed in the brisk autumn air and chatted with people on their morning walks. Beautiful hurryless days like this are what touring and traveling are all about.

Once again, I couldn't believe my luck that this is what I get to do for the next few years.

There are one million spiders in this photo.
Small island mirrored.
A couple of the trees had autumn colours to boot.


First Glimpse of Denmark at Mols Bjerge


First Glimpse of Denmark at Mols Bjerge

I’m not one to usually admit being wrong, but oh boy, was I mistaken about Denmark. I've never really known much about it, to be honest - always thinking it’s just that boring flat country between Norway and Europe. If Sweden is a step down from Norway, I figured Denmark was a step down from Sweden. This was entirely false, in the way that assumptions tend to be.

First of all, bike paths were fantastic. I almost always had my own lane, and the signs were impeccable. There was no chance of accidentally straying from the bicycle route, which happened frequently in Sweden. Even in large intersections, which are usually intimidating in new cities and foreign countries, I had my own traffic lights and knew exactly where to go thanks to the painted lane.

The second thing I noticed was drivers in the countryside smiling and waving. That hadn’t happened to the same extent in quite a while.

And then there was the nature. My first stop was the Mols Bjerge National Park. It’s a mix of different landscapes from woodlands to moors, farms and cottages. The forests range from young plantations to very old beech forests stretching at least 30, if not 40, meters up. These giants block all the sunlight from reaching the ground, which is covered in a thick muddy carpet of leaves from previous autumns.

"We shall fight on the beeches..."

I had woken up uncharacteristically early, to prepare for stealth camping. If I sleep in a place where it's best to go unnoticed, it’s better to arrive at dusk and leave at dawn. As a result of an early start, I was also looking to camp already in the late afternoon. While searching for a place inside the national park, I came across a lively birthday party campsite with two adults and about eight little girls frying food around a fire.

It was about the warmest and most adorable welcome I’ve ever had. The kids asked me a barrage of questions, some even daring to speak english - rather well, I thought, for what looked like 11-year-olds. They all seemed to want my business card and to appear in the same photo with such a mysterious traveller. I asked the grown-ups for instructions and continued to a nearby campsite, all smiles after the unabashed curiosity and excitement of the children.

Evening view from the Mols Bjerge hilltop.

I came to a 137-meter tall hill, which is possibly one of the highest points in Denmark. There was an unobstructed view in every direction. Just below the hill were rolling green pastures for sheep and horses, beyond them some farm buildings, and in most directions I saw all the way to the sea.

The sun was setting, so I quickly pitched my tent by the picnic table. After it got dark I saw some flashes in the horizon far away - lightning! I’ve never successfully photographed one, despite a couple attempts earlier on this trip. I interrupted a time-lapse that was pointing in the wrong direction and aimed a new one at the storm instead. While waiting I fell asleep in my tent.

When I woke up the camera was completely soaked from dewdrops and the battery was dead. After a careful drying process I was happy to see it still working. Quite a few flashes had registered in the camera, and it also turned out that even the northern lights were visible while I slept. One lucky frame captured both of them!

Cool nature phenomena aside, there are many mistakes in this photo.

The morning brought even more goodness. Knowing there’d be early morning fog I got up before the sunrise. I’m glad I did. From my vantage point I saw a soft grey mist flowing between the hills. Then the sun rose and painted everything in a blindingly bright gold. This only lasted for a fleeting moment, before it vanished behind clouds again.

I was so happy to be alive and experiencing this special morning right there and then.

And to think I’m normally sound asleep at this hour. I’m going to make sure there will be more sunrise photos coming from now on.

Before sunrise.
... and after.
I've never regretted waking up early for a sunrise.


No Man's Right


No Man's Right

I’ve passed the 100-day mark, so it’s time to take stock. My National Park tour took 102 days, so from tomorrow onwards, this will be the longest bicycle tour I’ve ever done. Although that one required 5250 kilometres, so I’m still way behind at 3500km for this trip. But I feel like distance cycled is far less important of a number than time spent. Hence the project’s title, I suppose.

Of the first 100 so far I’ve spent every night sleeping outside. Mostly in my tent, except for a few occasions under other shelters where I felt that even a tent was unnecessary. I’ve only slept in three different camping grounds. All the rest were stealth camping in forests and other secluded places. Well.. plus a number of distinctly unstealthy spots out in the open when I was too tired to find anything better.

Throwback to a lake in Norway.

So far I’ve taken full advantage of Everyman’s Right of Finland, Sweden and Norway. It ensures that every person, no matter who they are, has the right to enjoy nature. That includes hiking, cycling, swimming, picking berries and mushrooms, among other activities. Most importantly of all, camping. The ability to camp anywhere, even privately owned forests as long as I’m a reasonable distance away from anyone’s home, is a fantastic priviledge. And in Scandinavia there are plenty of forests and other uninhabited nature available for doing so.

That’s all about to change, however. I’ve just crossed into Denmark by ferry, and unfortunately they don’t have similar outdoor camping priviledges - just a select few spots where pitching a tent is acceptable, and an additional handful of places offered privately by farmers. It could take some getting used to after all the freedom in the north.

On a beautiful morning in North Norway.

I’m not even sure whether Denmark has any actual nature, for that matter. My only previous experience of the country is driving through it in about one hour during a road trip a few years ago. Looking at the satellite images in Google Maps it looks depressingly full of farmland, towns and cities. Whatever forests I can locate seem to be tiny.

From what I understand, much of Germany, Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg (the route I’m considering at the moment) will look similar. Which means I don’t expect untouched nature and solitude for the next few weeks. Photography-wise, I'll get to practice shooting subjects and genres outside my usual landscapes. Even in South Sweden I found it very difficult to find places and photos where man-made structures weren’t visible, and that won’t get easier in much of Europe.

Sweden uses a lot of electricity.
Autumn weather isn't great but the colours can get beautiful.

Oh, and regarding Sweden: There’s not much to report of my stay there. I spent about ten days cycling through, most of which were exceptionally windy and rainy. Autumn has clearly arrived. Camping spots were often poor, especially when on two separate occasions laavus on the map turned out to not be laavus. The last place I visited was indeed a shelter, but kind of dirty and spray-painted with graffiti. Also the roof was leaking, which I found out when it began to rain again in the middle of the night and water started dripping onto my sleeping bag.

So overall, there aren’t many photos from that leg of the journey. (In fact a couple of the images in this update are actually from earlier in Norway. Namely the ones where the weather looks pleasant.) Sorry to any fans of Sweden out there.

All that aside, I feel great. There's about another 1700 days and 47000km left, and I'm looking forward to seeing what they have in store!

It was a dark and stormy night...