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finland

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 The others are random unpublished photos.)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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Fog, Frozen Fingers, and to Hell with Kilpisjärvi

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Fog, Frozen Fingers, and to Hell with Kilpisjärvi

While still on the aforementioned hill, I considered setting up camp. It was late and the day had been somewhat tiring.

Then fog started rising from the lakes and the river down below me. This surprised me, because this type of fog forms when the air temperature is colder than the water. The river water couldn’t have been warmer than +5C, and that was generous. So the valley must’ve cooled down considerably to near freezing point, which I didn't feel on higher ground.

I was comfortable up on my hilltop. And yet - a foggy sunrise (or in this case foggy midnight sun) is the holy grail of photography conditions. And if I want to become a professional photographer… I packed up and rolled down the hill, gripping the brakes with white knuckles on the steep descent.

Unfortunately the fog only lasted an hour, and while it was very pretty, I couldn’t really find a great location to shoot from. Eventually I pitched my tent among the downy birch trees with numb fingers. If I want to be a professional photographer, I need to buy warmer gloves.

The end of the road.

These power lines wanted to be in every photo, the way power lines often do.

When I reached Kilpisjärvi, the weather got from bad to worse. That was my last stop in Finland before the Norwegian border. As a going away present, I was awarded freezing weather, rain and sleet, and a devastating headwind. They even had ice on the lake - at midsummer! Kilpisjärvi has some of the best views in Finland and I wanted to take photos, but couldn’t feel my fingers up to the elbow and was afraid the wind would blow my tripod over anyway. This was all just unacceptable. It was the first time I wasn’t enjoying myself on this trip.

The highest point in Finland's highways is only 565m, which goes to show how flat Finland really is.

I knew Skibotn in Norway would be considerably warmer. It was only 50km north, but also 500m down to sea level, which meant a different climate. I stocked up on food and said goodbye to Finland.

Or so I thought. It took me more than an hour to cycle the first 5km from Kilpisjärvi. I simply had to give up. There was no sense trying to pedal into the strong headwind. Completely useless. In any case, one of the main reasons I have this much time for my trip is exactly so that I can wait out the bad weather, so why struggle? Norway wasn’t going anywhere.

I camped at the nearest bit of even land that wasn’t pummeled by the excruciating north wind.

There’s nothing quite like the Finnish summer.

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Taking Photography More Seriously

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Taking Photography More Seriously

“If you want to become a professional photographer, act like one.”

This was the thought going through my mind while I pushed my bike up a very steep hill, with a slippery gravel surface, sweating despite the cold, as the rain turned into hail.

You see, I’m typically pretty lazy. And that may not be the word you associate with a round-the-world cycling trip, but it’s true. Especially as a photographer. I almost never wake up for sunrises, even though that's the best possible time to be shooting. When touring the majority of my photos are taken from near the road or around my campsites. I don’t do very much exploring or climbing up hills for the great views. And if I find a good spot, I often take a photo too quickly, without waiting for better clouds or conditions, or searching for the right angle.

Photography-wise, that is lazy. That’s decidedly not how you get great photos and time-lapses. And my goal is to make a living out of this, so I need to do those things more frequently.

And it’s not even unpleasant to do. There's just that first initial discomfort of getting out of the sleeping bag when I’d prefer to keep dozing. Once I’m up I’ve literally never regretted waking up early. Climbing up hills and mountains can be tough but ends up feeling rewarding every single time. The view and the experience is well worth a little effort. So all I need to do is set a goal to have more of these experiences. That will automatically lead to better photos and videos.

That’s why, when I saw a gravel path going up a hill to a cell phone tower, I steered off the easy and comfortable asfalt and pushed and dragged my bike up the road. At the top, the pure satisfaction at the amazing views made me instantly forget any preceding hardship. The rain passed and the clouds scattered. I set my camera to shoot some time-lapse and fired up my gas stove to cook a well-earned meal in the meanwhile.

These moments, whether during a cycling trip or an aurora borealis hunt, are special. When the camera is doing its thing and there’s not much to do but wait, I sometimes feel a deep sense of peace and contentment. Like I’m exactly where I belong, doing what I should be doing. It’s not entirely clear to me why. Nevertheless I'm thrilled to have discovered something in the world that makes me feel this way.

And I can’t wait to see where it leads me.

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An Ode to Laavus

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An Ode to Laavus

When leaving Hetta I came across a lake with surprisingly warm water. Not quite warm enough for swimming, but I was able to bathe by splashing some on me. Take that, camping ground owners from the previous update! After a wash and a change of clothes I felt positively sparkling.

Then it started to rain. Not much, just a bit of a drizzle, but I alternated between taking cover under trees and cycling to keep warm. It was past midnight and I wasn’t sure whether to keep going and wait out the weather, or set up camp in the rain. And then I came across this place:

A bird tower with a beautiful spacious laavu! What a perfect sight for a wet traveller. I rolled my bike in and set up my sleeping bag in my mosquito mesh. Safe and sound.

Two days later at Karesuvanto some of my gear was wet again. It had rained for 20 hours straight, so I hadn't had much of a choice but to pack up my tent in the rain. My muscles felt like they needed a rest day, so I wanted to stay near the town. A quick online search showed another laavu next to another bird tower, just a few kilometers from the village.

So I spent the rest of the day there drying my equipment and frying sausages by a fire. This time there didn’t seem to be too many mosquitos around, so I just spread my sleeping bag there and slept around the clock without disturbances.

A more basic and traditional version of a laavu. The previous visitors left me a nice fire before departing.

Sometimes I like to pre-cook the sausages by putting them near the fire for 15 minutes. This way they'll cook more evenly from the inside rather than just burning the skin.

Finland must be one of the most trekking-friendly countries in the world. We have thousands of these kinds of shelters (usually without a bird tower attached), and everyone has the right to use them. I love that the government has the foresight to spend money on building and maintaining these kinds of services. The positive effect of trekking on physical and mental well-being surely pays back in all other areas.

There are many strange and unenviable things about Finnish culture, but this encouragement to outdoor life is one aspect I wish everyone would copy from us. Go Finland!

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Finnish Business Acuity

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Finnish Business Acuity

After Kautokeino in Norway the next stop was Hetta, so I found myself back in Finland. This is because the border zigzags a little in the north. I could've gone north to Alta, but then I would've been on the same road I cycled last year, and I prefer to avoid repetition. (Click here for a test version of my route map.)

While hungrily waiting for a hamburger in Hetta I met Benedict, a gray-bearded German cyclist on his way back from Nordkapp. He kindly loaned me some tools I needed to adjust my front panniers to a lower position to improve my bike’s balance.

I mentioned potentially sailing across oceans, so he gave me some advice against seasickness. Apparently it’s best to remain out on deck, keeping your eyes on the horizon. This may come in handy eventually on this trip. Turned out he’d done a fair bit of sailing in his time. These days he travels six months of the year and spends the other six back home with the wife.

At least I think that's what he said. There was a bit of a language barrier. Even though it was somewhat reduced by this magic app in a magic box you can speak into, that speaks back more or less the same thing in whatever language you choose. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that Google Translate can do that, but sometimes it feels like the future has arrived so early.

"Google, tell this youngster to get with the times, bitte schön."

I had a hard time deciding whether to continue in the evening or just take the whole day off, but a visit to the local camping ground settled the matter. I asked if I could purchase the use of shower facilities, and the answer was no. No service to outsiders. This wasn’t the first time I’d heard this answer, and I've yet to hear it abroad.

What is it with Finns and their lack of business sense? If someone wants to buy only a part of your service, don’t say no and send them away - set a price you’re happy selling the service with instead. That’s how an “outsider” becomes a “customer”. If you think that the usual 3€ shower is too cheap and may reduce the sales of your 17€ tent packages, just increase the price of showering to 5€, 10€ or even 15€. Let the customer decide if he or she wants to pay, instead of just declining outright and losing out on potential income.

I understand if you’re so busy that there are simply not enough showers for even your regular customers, but that was certainly not the case here.

So that's my free tip for all camping ground owners. Especially the ones along my future route. Also please register your business on Google Maps so I can actually find it. Thank you for reading and please come again.

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Baby Moose Rescue Operation

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Baby Moose Rescue Operation

Day 2 started with a surprise. (Oh and yes, it’s my fourth update from the road and I’m still on the second day. I assure you this won’t be my regular pace - there are just more topics to talk about in the beginning.)

Right. So day 2 started with a surprise:

Kinda looks like a deer from this angle, but it's a moose. Trust me.

A baby moose appeared on the road. I stopped and it didn’t seem scared, so I reached for my camera. Then I realized the inherent risk in the situation and did a panicked look around for the mother, which might trample me to death for getting too close to the calf. Eventually I spotted the mother behind it in the forest and understood what was happening.

You see, the whole road was lined by a fence. In South Finland the purpose of it would’ve been keeping moose off the road to avoid accidents. But in the north it’s almost always a reindeer fence, designed to keep reindeer on their owner’s land. Somehow the baby moose had been separated from its mother by the fence. And now here it was in front of me mewling sadly - probably trying to explain the situation. So what to do?

After I wisely gave up on the idea of simply picking it up and throwing it over the fence, I was stumped. Eventually I decided to just keep going and let nature take its course. However, less than 100 meters away I saw what looked like a very conveniently calf-sized gap in the fence. The youngling was heading in the wrong direction, with the kind of shaky walk that suggested it hadn’t yet read the user manual on hooves. The concerned parent kept an eye on both of us from a distance.

So I turned back, cycled past the calf, stopped again and shoo’d it (in what I was hoping was a gentle and reassuring way) along the fence towards the gap. The mother ran ahead to greet it. While I parked the bike to pick up my camera again, both disappeared from sight. I can only assume this meant the operation was a success.

May they both live long fulfilling lives of leaving droppings around my campsites.

These things are everywhere and I like photographing them, but could someone please tell me what they're called?

After typing all of this from my campsite (which you can see in the banner image if you click the title of the post) many hours later, I went for an evening walk with the camera. And what do I find? Another baby moose! I doubt it was the same one, on account of the distance, and the complete lack of non-stop forlorn bleating. This one also seemed to be completely unaccompanied, with no sign of responsible adults anywhere. After I wisely gave up on the idea of bringing it to my tent, I had to leave that one to fend for itself.

I had no idea moose can be such neglectful parents.

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First Stop: Lemmenjoki National Park

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First Stop: Lemmenjoki National Park

Lemmenjoki is the biggest national park in Finland. Its area is 2850 square kilometers (or in the Imperial system, half a million football fields, or about 50 Manhattan Islands). Because I chose to visit here, I only cycled about 30km on my first day. But I wanted to start slowly anyway, to remind myself that there’s absolutely no need to hurry.

I spent the night by a quiet little lake in the northernmost part of the park, surrounded by old pine trees. The road was within earshot, but there was practically no traffic. There were no paths and few signs of humans except for an old ring of charred stones. The bones of two reindeer were scattered here and there. By a wolverine, perhaps.

It was actually not my first visit there. I found the campsite by chance last August on a one-nighter bike trip. My tendency to sleep in late is widely documented, but on that particular occasion I happened to wake up before sunrise at 4am. It was quite fortunate, because that morning was perhaps the most beautiful one I’ve ever witnessed. A purple sky turning into a golden yellow as the sun rose, with fog rising from the water, and perfectly constructed spiderwebs becoming visible by clinging dewdrops twinkling in the undergrowth.

However, at this point in the northern summer, the midnight sun removes the possibility of sunsets or sunrises. And the cold water doesn’t provide correct conditions for fog. I only took a few photos and spent a nice quiet evening relaxing, eating, and thinking about what lies ahead of me.

All the photos in this post are from my previous visit in August.

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Change of Plans

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Change of Plans

Right away from the start I stayed true to my principle of allowing last minute route changes, as only a few kilometers into my trip I already decided to make the first adjustment.

I had decided to cycle through Karigasniemi, but there are two ways to get there from Inari. One is an easy paved road that had been my main choice, while the other was a quieter gravel option. Just when I was about to pass the junction with the latter, I remembered that’s the one that passes through a portion of Lemmenjoki - Finland’s largest national park!

For the first few legs of my journey, these guys will be a common sight.

You see, somewhere in all the fuss and kebabble of finishing my studies, starting a business, hanging out with friends, packing and moving out, and all the other preparations, I’d forgotten what the trip was actually about: Nature - especially national parks and other nature destinations and reserves. How could I not visit the nearest one?

So I took an early exit off the main road.

From past experience I know it will take a few days to get mentally adjusted to a life outdoors. At home I honestly spend too much time online or at the computer, and it becomes a powerful habit to break. Therefore in the beginning of a tour the mind still wants to check email and Facebook messages and other such nonsense. I don’t actively miss those things, it’s just a habit.

So to steer my mind I found it helpful to focus on my surroundings instead, I tuned in to the sound of birds, tried to spot reindeer in the forests, looked for the occasional cloud on an otherwise clear sky, or the way sunlight fell between the trees.

Staying a little more present will become easier quickly, but for now it requires some work as I get fully comfortable with my new life.

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On The Road - Day 1!

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On The Road - Day 1!

THIS IS IT!

After three years of dreaming about it and almost a year of actual planning, I'm finally on the road!

The first kilometers of a bike tour really are blissful. On the cusp of new adventures, everything appears exciting and full of possibilities. I feel light and happy, but strong and determined. I want to smile at everything. The open road in front of me promises freedom.

It used to be just a dream, and now it's come true. Whatever happens from this moment on, the most important thing is that I've chosen to live life my way, without letting fear get in the way of my goals.

This is where I truly feel at home.

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One Week until Finnish Nature Day

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One Week until Finnish Nature Day

So I didn't mention this yet, but in addition to a cyclist and a photographer, I'm also an ambassador. Of sorts. Let me explain.

You see, this year Finland celebrates its 100th birthday. Among countless other events and occasions, one of the ways we celebrate our independence milestone is by having four Nature Days throughout the year. These are special days when all Finns are encouraged to go outside and enjoy our wonderful free nature, that we are fortunate to have so much of.

Quintessential Finland, from lake Saimaa (June 2014).

Somehow I was chosen as one of the ambassadors to these Nature Day events. Mostly because I had the crazy idea to cycle into all 39 Finnish National Parks a couple summers ago and blog about my adventures and mishaps. (Photo gallery)

The first Nature Day was to celebrate winter on Feb 4th. That time I organized an event with my friend Olli Järvenkylä. Who also happens to be a fellow nature ambassador, because he had the crazy idea to spend 100 days outdoors in one particular national park and blog about his adventures and mishaps. Together with some fellow students from the Sámi Education Institute, we spent the day outside building quintzees (snow shelters) big enough to sleep in. I made a quick little video of the activities that you can watch here.

The second Nature Day for spring is a week from now on Saturday May 20th. This time the plan is to gather some people for a simple bike trip to a nearby laavu (a Finnish lean-to). That date happens to coincide with the last official sunset before the midnight sun period begins, so it's quite likely we'll be sitting by the fire and frying sausages well into the nightless night.

Sausage á la Finlande. Fresh from the open fire, as it ought to be.

This was last year's version of the last sunset of spring.

So if you are in Finland - or anywhere for that matter - I warmly recommend taking your bike out for a little field trip on that day to celebrate Finnish - or anywhere's - nature with good friends and good food.

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