Viewing entries tagged

Changing Priorities


Changing Priorities

Looking for the archives? Click to see all past posts.

Change tends to occur gradually and imperceptibly. Until one day a certain comment or moment suddenly reveals its full extent. One of those moments of realisation happened to me in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

It was my first morning in the country, camping by Lake Buško. It had been a chilly night, and I came across a meadow covered in dewdrops. The rising sun lit up hundreds of spiderwebs in the vegetation. A perfect opportunity for some great macro photos. Not long ago I would’ve been thrilled to see something like that. (Like a year ago in the Netherlands, when I took the below photo in a very similar situation.) Now, however, I didn’t even take out the camera. It just didn’t matter to me anymore.

And at that moment I knew my journey would end soon.

I was once thrilled to come across this view.

Even if the final realisation was sudden, the thought itself had built up over time. Gradually over the last months, my interest in cycling, seeing new places and taking photographs had diminished. I’d seen plenty already, so what’s the point of another new quaint village, mountain vista or green valley? Does it matter whether or not I take yet another photo or find another nice campsite? It has become more difficult to be enthusiastic about these things, which is a strong sign that I’ve already travelled long enough for now.

What lies ahead?

After all this time, adventure is turning into routine and excitement into banality. When meeting people, I don’t smile as much as I used to. Even the freedom I used to write about, my most important principle, is not with me anymore. Not when faced with the thought of continuing for another four years.

Therefore it’s time to take a break from all of this. I will probably be going home for some time, within the next weeks or months. Until then, I won’t be cycling much. And after that? Will I continue the trip, and when? I don’t have answers to those questions. Whenever the strong desire to be on the road returns, that’s when I’ll push my bike towards new adventures again.

The sun sets on the Croatian coast. Also, everywhere else.

One thing that makes this decision much easier is that I already have some inkling of what I want to do instead. If I was simply returning home with no plan, letting go of this trip - and everything it has meant to me - might be a great deal more difficult.

But actually, a new dream has been developing lately. There’s something I currently want to do even more than the bike trip. I’ll talk a little bit about this in the next update. Just so you know that it’s not the end of the blog yet.

Don’t go gentle into that good night.


A Few Days at Passo Gavia


A Few Days at Passo Gavia

I knew nothing about Passo Gavia beforehands. I thought it was just another mountain pass I had to cross to get to my real destination, Stelvio Pass. That’s why I preferred to hitchhike. On the way up my driver Augustin told me it was a legendary Giro d’Italia climb. When the route goes through Gavia, it’s usually the highest point of the race.

As the van climbed the narrow road to above the treeline, I gasped at the views. Near the top the landscape was a combination of grey rock and green moss and grass. Nothing else growed there. It reminded me a lot of the mountain above Geiranger. At the top I took my bike out of the van and went to explore the foggy evening. Almost right away a mountain goat appeared, casually crossing the road.

Why did the ibex cross the road?

I didn’t know camping wasn’t allowed, so I put my tent near a mountain biking path behind the beautiful Lake Nero, 220 meters down from the top. No one else was around, I had the entire mountain to myself. For the first time in a long, long time I felt the peace and freedom that only seems available in places like these. I had almost forgotten just how important this kind of wilderness is to me. Why do I spend so little time in locations that feed my imagination? Cycling through all those densely populated areas in Europe seemed like a bad idea in retrospect.

This is the kind of place where I should've spent most of the last year.

The next morning I met an Austrian hiker called Andi. He had previously done a long bike trip in South America, and spoke highly of Patagonia. There’s another place I would love to spend a lot of time in. We shared similar views on trekking and life, and ended up talking for some time. Later after a lunch I pushed my bike back onto the road, and Andi appeared with his car. He offered to take my bags up to the bar on Gavia so I could cycle the tough last hairpins with a lighter load. I agreed gladly.

At the bar I got quite a welcome from the staff. “Finlandia! Around the world bicycle! Five years!” My new friend had told everyone I was coming. The owner took a photo of me for Facebook and even went to fetch his old mother to see me. I just laughed somewhat uncomfortably, as I tend to do when faced with too much sudden attention.

A thunderstorm engulfed the mountain as soon as I arrived, with very heavy rain that morphed into hail. Without Andi’s help I would’ve been stuck outside during the worst of it. Lucky again!

I think I'll wait a bit more.

I spent another night at Gavia, then freewheeled all the way down to restock and rest in a camping ground for a night. When I tried to come back up from Ponte di Legno, I discovered that it was the first day ever that the mountain was closed for motor traffic! So much for hitchhiking. This time I had to get up on my own. I cycled maybe 10% of the way and pushed the rest. Passing road cyclists showed a lot of respect for someone crazy enough to attempt the climb with so much luggage. Yet probably every single one of them was in better shape than me.

It took all day, but at 2620 meters there was a great sense of achievement. I learned I was capable of more than I thought. This was good to know, and useful practice for future climbs. The Pamir Highway goes up to 4500m for example, if I end up going that way.

I had time to sit and watch sunsets with the camera.

After three days on Gavia, I finally went over to the north side of the pass. I descended a few hundred meters to an Agriturismo (a kind of farmhouse B&B), where I asked for a place to camp without high hopes. But the family running the place was extremely friendly. Furthermore, they had plenty of private land that wasn’t a part of the national park, so I finally had a safe and legal place to sleep.

I stayed another two nights just enjoying the mountain views and doing a little bit of hiking.  This is another way in which I’m incredibly lucky. To have so much free time and the ability to spend it in locations like this. That is something I should never forget to be grateful for.

PS: There's a few more photos in my article about Gavia for bicycle tourers.

I wish I hadn't screwed up this photo.


First Look at Corsica


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."


Tears in Luxembourg


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.


Geiranger and 1000m Above the Sea


Geiranger and 1000m Above the Sea

There are 206 UNESCO World Heritage Nature sites around the world, and I plan to visit as many of them as I can during this trip. The first one was Geirangerfjord. It’s the famous quintessential Norwegian fjord landscape.

In order to get there from Eidsdal I had to first climb a 620m tall hill as a warmup, then descend down a fun serpentine road with views of the fjord to the village of Geiranger. It was clearly a tourist town, consisting mostly of camping grounds, hotels, restaurants, and trinket shops. And of course masses of tourists everywhere. That aspect doesn't really interest me, so I only stopped for restocking, general maintenance and photos:

Panorama of Geirangerfjord in Norway.
A fully loaded touring bicycle enjoying misty mountain views.

From Geiranger the road continued up, at or near a 10% incline all the way to 1000m above sea level. That’s where I wanted to be. Knowing I’d mostly be walking the bike, I preferred to go up during the night. There would be no traffic, and a comfortably cool temperature. I started somewhere around midnight.

At 700 meters and 4am the visibility suddenly dropped. All I could see with my headlamp were tiny droplets of water floating in the air. I wasn’t sure if this counted as a cloud or just fog. Is there even any difference between the two, when you think about it? I suppose they are basically the same thing.

In any case, I thought if I could get to 1000m and above the fog/cloud, there might be some pretty cool photos and time-lapses available. I’ve always wanted a video of a thick layer of billowing clouds seen from a higher elevation. It was a couple hours until the best light at sunrise, so I picked up the pace a little.

Chebici bike 1000m above sea level.

On the top the conditions cleared only slightly, and another layer of clouds/fog above me was blocking any sunlight. That video would have to wait. But I’d made it to 1000m! The highest point of the journey so far. The landscape had changed quickly into nothing but barren rock, partially covered by a thin carpet of green moss. The snow up on the peaks was still melting even in late August, with many resulting streams and ponds and rivers tumbling down towards the sea.

On the high plateau there was a film crew taking advantage of the first light of morning. Their project had a much higher budget than any I’ve ever taken part in. They had a truck carrying a car, with cameras, lights and actors sitting inside pretending to be driving. A couple support vehicles with walkie-talkies were behind and in front.

It was a commercial shoot, but I didn’t get a chance to ask what for. Certainly not a car commercial, judging by the age of the vehicle they were sitting in. But if anyone in Norway ever sees a TV ad where a brown [insert car knowledge here] is driving in the barren mountains of Geiranger and some dumb cyclist is wandering in the background of the shots looking for a place to camp, do let me know.

It was all rather barren.
The sun was rising, but the cloud made it impossible to see.

The entire plateau was outstanding for camping. Almost anywhere I could just walk off the road and disappear behind a rocky hill into wilderness without well-worn paths or any other signs of humans.

After examining my surroundings I settled down by a small pond that still had one persistent 10m long snow bank to the side. There was no cell phone coverage - so no distractions. Nothing to do but rest, eat, take photos and relish in the freedom I had.

I love places like this. They nourish the soul in a way that isn’t possible in civilization. The bicycle kind of ties me down to near the road, where these experiences aren't usually as easy to obtain. I think I need to figure out a way to combine bicycle touring with overnight hiking so I can enjoy mountains and other deserted places more often. Just a very light backpack in one pannier, I suppose? If any of you have done this and have suggestions, please let me know!

One of the best campsites of the trip. Simple and basic, but beautiful.
One of the many streams in the vicinity.
Stars over mountains is a sight I'll never get tired of.


It's a Beautiful Day


It's a Beautiful Day

Somewhere south of Bodø in Middle-Norway, I was gradually woken from a dream because my tent was getting hot. This was an entirely new sensation on my trip so far, and I couldn’t quite figure out the cause. Perhaps I was on fire, I pondered, still half asleep. After a couple minutes an alternative theory arose. Could it be? I peeked from under my sleeping mask. Yes!

Summer had arrived!

Boats on a blue harbour on a sunny day.

The sky was blue and the sun was shining. After six weeks of cold weather, this was amazing. Instead of needing to wear a jacket and gloves immediately upon departure from my sleeping bag, I went about my morning activities comfortably shirtless. My laundry from the previous night had already dried in record time. Breakfast seemed to taste better. Birds sang more cheerful tunes.

As a principle, I believe it’s not ideal to allow external things like weather affect your mood. Finding deep contentment from within, regardless of conditions, seems greatly preferable. However, I am clearly not in such an advanced state of mind - a beautiful warm day felt fantastic. I put on some sun lotion and moved even lazier than usual, to avoid sweating.

I was heading south along the somewhat quiet coastal route between Bodø and Trondheim. The road circled long fjords with turquoise water, sometimes crossing the sea via a series of bridges and ferries. Several people had recommended this road to me, so I skipped my earlier plan of riding through the Saltfjellet National Park on the inland highway. 

Sky reflecting off water with a silhouette landscape after sunset.

By the evening the long shadows of the mountains were draped over the villages. I was calmly descending along a curving road without having to pedal for minutes. The still warm air was gently hitting my face. In a forest clearing a large moose raised his head, gauging if I would pose any danger.

In addition to finding summer, I had reached the land of sunsets. It was still bright enough to cycle throughout the night, but for a few hours the sun dipped below the horizon. What a welcome sight. The last time I’d seen a sunset was in May back in Finland. I stopped to admire the changing palette in the sky, from yellow to orange to red and purple.

I was once again struck full force by the freedom given to me. A profound sense of joy and belonging returned. After many years of simply drifting through life with no purpose, I feel fortunate to have such a clear direction. And even better, the chance to make it happen. I don't know how many people can say the same. Now it’s just up to me to make the best of this opportunity.

Misty view of distant mountain at sunset.
Bicycle tourer at sunset.


The Truth About Midnight Sun


The Truth About Midnight Sun

I’ve probably mentioned the midnight sun more than a few times by now. You might naturally assume it’s because I like it so much. Actually, that’s not entirely true. It has its benefits for sure, but it’s a double-edged sword.

First, the negative: For photography, the midnight sun is devastating. The best light occurs when the sun is at or below the horizon - that’s when you get the beautiful sunsets and sunrises with orange, red, and purple skies. When the sun just sits there well above the horizon, the light is decent, but certainly not ideal.

The beach in Bleik with Bleiksøy island, home to tens of thousands of puffins, in the background.

Surely it’s still an amazing phenomenon to take pictures of, you may ask? Honestly, not really. It’s a great *experience*. You’re out at night and the sun is there and it feels exciting in its strangeness. But when you show a photograph of it later, you need to explain why the photo is special. “This may look like a regular sun but it’s actually the midnight sun!” And it’s never a great photo if you need to explain what’s great about it.

Not to mention that for someone like me who enjoys night and star photography, the total lack of darkness is somewhat of a letdown.

Luckily there are still plenty of other phenomena to shoot.

On the positive side however, the ability to camp whenever I want is wonderful. There’s never a need to stop early because it’s getting dark. I can ride all night on empty roads if I like. This adds yet another level of freedom to the many others bicycle touring offers already.

Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve had quite an elastic sleeping pattern. Originally due to the white nights of Finnish summer, or my tendency to get stuck reading interesting books far into the early hours. Going to sleep early and waking up early has never really been suitable for me. Which made school a bit of a challenge, and has later made me pursue atypical career and life choices. Meaning this kind of schedule of constant daylight without any restraints suits me perfectly.

So as my path has turned south and towards autumn, the sunsets and stars will soon be visible again. I will both miss the midnight sun and be glad that it’s gone. In any case, it should result in better photos for you readers to look at.


Rest Day


Rest Day

I peeked out of my tent, lower half still in my sleeping bag. I had woken up on a deserted road in Fjordgård, Senja. When the tunnel was finished, a 2km stretch of hillside road had been abandoned to cyclists and pedestrians. Decades ago, judging by the moss and grass growing on what used to be asfalt. Someone had brought a couple rest area benches in the middle of the road. As good a place to camp as any.

I yawned. My breath remained visible in the air. Too cold. The sky was a clear blue, but the tall mountains surrounding the fjord would keep my campsite in the shadow for some time. I dove back into the sleeping bag. Maybe this could be a rest day.

After two hours of snuggling, the sun and warmth finally arrived. I set my still-wet laundry to dry, and aired and UV-disinfected some gear. I settled into my familiar morning routines. Put the pannier with the perishable food in a cool place. Brush my teeth. Pack up all sleeping equipment into one bag. Take down the tent. Put everything in their designated places. I had done all of this hundreds of times. This time I added a little extra basking in the sunshine before rolling down into the nearby village.

Apparently children in Senja are taught to say hello to everyone they see, because I received a number of friendly greetings from kids cycling or walking past. Adults aren’t any more reserved either - I had never gotten this many smiles, waves and thumbs ups from local drivers. An incredibly welcoming place.

Fjordgård was slightly off my route, but I had come to photograph Segla, a famous pointy mountain towering over the town. For the best view I had to hike up several hundred meters, though. I am in pretty poor shape for a young(ish..) man who isn’t overweight, so this climb took a lot out of me.

But the view from the top was amazing. Beautiful fjords and villages far below, with vertigo-inducing walls dropping hundreds of meters straight down into the sea. Snow-capped mountains disappearing into the distance, with the vastness of the empty ocean opening up to the north. And the barren Segla looming still higher.

I had to sit down to just marvel at everything. This is my life now. To have the freedom to travel to these places is a priviledge I should always remember to be grateful for.

In the evening when I was leaving the village I passed by the local burger place. Before my brain registered anything, I was already parking my bike. It’s not common for me to splurge on restaurants, especially in Norway. After all the climbing however, 20 euros for a hamburger seemed like a fantastic idea. I inhaled it so fast I barely noticed how delicious it was.

While pitching my tent back on the abandoned road, my legs were shaking from exhaustion. Not quite the rest day I’d had in mind. I passed out within seconds of hitting the pillow.

A rare selfie. I'm not usually on that side of the lens, but I felt like this photo needed a human for scale.