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laavu

No Man's Right

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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...
 

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Låvu

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Låvu

One of my favourite things about Sweden is that they have a somewhat similar “laavu culture” as we do in Finland. (A laavu is a camping shelter with firewood, free for anyone to use.) A fellow bicycle tourer had linked me to a map of such wind shelters, which I usually referred to while looking for a place to sleep.

After a few days of cycling in Sweden I was getting tired and there was heavy rainfall on the way. I picked out the promising-looking Sinäset laavu on the map for a possible rest day. Regular camping would've been fine too, but having much more dry space, some firewood, and an outhouse makes things a whole lot more comfortable when staying for two nights.

I found the place in the dark, as always. It was very rare that I camped in daylight. My tendency to sleep until noon and spend the first two to four hours doing nothing much always meant that I had never gotten a great deal of cycling done by sunset. At some point it would be nice to synchronise my sleeping pattern with the sun, but for now I’m not too bothered about it.

The lean-to was at the end of a long forking cape reaching into lake Ånimmen. A lovely place for it. There was no pier, but it was probably visited often in the summer by people with small boats out on the lake. Two firepits, a toilet, enough firewood, a shovel, a couple rusted saws, and an axe without a handle or shaft. More or less standard. Except the roof of the laavu was super low - this was strictly for sleeping, while in Finland you can usually sit inside comfortably. Being both clumsy and a slow learner, I bumped my head on the low rafters about twenty times.

How much wood can a woodless axe chop?
Location shot.

It did end up raining as predicted, so I did end up staying for two nights. There were no insects, so I didn’t need the tent for protection. Instead I just spread the sleeping bag on the wooden floor. Compared to trucks flying by inches from my face, the gentle sound of rain drops on the roof was a beautiful thing to doze through. Both nights I slept almost around the clock.

I even found use for my travel shower, for the second time this trip. Swimming was an option too, but surface waters are getting chilly again. Instead I filled the 10-litre shower bag from the lake, and boiled some of it on my stove for the added luxury of pleasantly warm water. Showering in the open forest may sound daring, but I assure you that on the Standard Scale of 'Hibitionism I am definitely more in than ex. Even though there wasn’t a soul around that I could see, I waited strictly for darkness before this venture.

The rocks by the shore were incredibly slippery.

During my stay I was reconnected with a familiar sense of peace and contentment. I reached that elusive mindset where everything just kind of stops and you end up really enjoying the here and now. I feel like I still don’t stop to smell the roses often enough - the cycling and camping and photography and blogging and all these activities tend to use up much of the day. Being constantly on the move, whether physically or mentally (or both), is taxing in the long run.

Even on a journey like this, being present rarely occurs automatically. Some particularly special surroundings do easily inspire these feelings in me - as you may have noticed from past updates. But even when I’m not on top of a stunning mountain feeling thrilled about life, I still ought to exist in the moment and remember to regularly stop doing stuff and make these moments of peace happen myself.

This should become something I do every day.

I did have one feathery visitor.
Frying sausages by the fire is a practically mandatory Finnish duty.
 

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Regarding Danger

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Regarding Danger

Now that the last few updates have painted a perfect rosy picture of cycling, it’s a good time to talk about the other side of bicycle touring. You see, I’ve been thinking about the dangers and risks of adventuring lately. And for a reason.

On Leksdalsvatnet south of Steinkjer, I found a fantastic campsite. Probably the best one so far. Right by a lake beach there was a large shelter and barbeque pit, with firewood and a toilet. The water temperature was something like 20C, which felt like a heated swimming pool after the hypothermia-inducing waters of the north. The countryside gravel road that brought me to this place didn’t see too many cars.

There was no need for my rule about great campsites. It was morning and I’d been traveling all night and had already been looking for a place to crash. This was perfect. I pitched my tent on the sand and was almost ready to crawl into the sleeping bag.

And that’s when I found a tick on my leg.

Different shades of mountains disappearing into the distance.

Ticks are a rather disgusting sight. Of all the dangers of bicycle touring, none are as small and insidious as these awful creatures. After biting you, they latch on for days and can spread a variety of nasty diseases.

This one was a nymph tick, which is tiny and hence particularly difficult to spot and remove. I didn’t have a proper tool with me (which I made a note to correct as soon as possible), so I went with the “loop a string around it” method. It was so close to the skin I even had to carefully shave a few hairs around it to stop them from getting in the way of the operation. This was not one of the highlights of my trip so far.

It was finicky business, but the intruder eventually came off. I cleaned up and went to sleep.

Pine tree silhouette at dusk.

When I woke up (at the perfectly normal hour of 7pm), I felt a bit frazzled at the thought of Lyme disease and other possibilities. Not in the mood for continuing yet, I decided to do a small reset. The campsite was excellent after all, and I’d been cycling well above my daily average lately, so I needed rest anyway.

After breakfast I started with the dirty work. I lubed my chain, tightened the breaks and tidied up some mud and dust off the bike. Then I washed my clothes and went for a swim to clean myself.

In the water there was time to think. The sun was setting, bathing the clouds in a deepening orange light. I was gently floating on the surface with my hands behind my head, as I always do. On every exhalation my chest fell below the water, and rose again when I breathed in. Up and down, rise and fall. The tempo gradually slowed down. Floating like this is so relaxing I often wonder if it would be possible to fall asleep on water.

Still water reflecting a sunset.

Okay - yes, many things can happen on a tour. Dangerous animals, accidents and diseases. But a lot can happen at home too. I had to remind myself of the principle behind this trip, which I allude to in my first post from the road, a few hours into the journey:

"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."

A life chained by fear is a life wasted, and that’s the biggest danger of all.

Not to mention the fact that life is fragile, no matter what we do. It can already end any day, so attempting to find safety and security within it is a pointless exercise. Even dying on tour is better than never living at home. Plus the day I decide to forget my dream of a world expedition as too dangerous, can be the day I slip and fall in the shower. Or get hit by a car on my “much safer” home street.

Leksdalsvatnet at night with the moon behind clouds.

By the time I got out of the water, the clouds were dark gray. The lights of farm houses far away on the other side of the lake were reflected off the surface. I made a fire and sat down to watch it.

There is something automatically calming about a campfire. It must be coded in our DNA after aeons of using fire to protect us from the elements and animals. By the flames, our minds stop racing, voices lower, movements slow down. Silence grows.

Yeah. I’d be alright.

 

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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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Nature Day Report

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Nature Day Report

Not much to report on the Nature Day activities, it all went pretty much as expected. We made a short bike trip to a nearby laavu at Jäniskoski and good times were had for the few hours we spent there.

The weather on Saturday was a little on the gray side and only +5C (41F). But we made a fire for warmth and at least it wasn't raining or snowing. Eventually ten people made it for the "event", such as it was. Snacks included the very traditional Finnish sausages, plus sandwiches, chocolate, marshmallows, coffee, tea, and whatnot. A fun little picnic with great people and good surroundings.

Cooking sausages by the open fire

I realize I've mentioned "laavus" before, but haven't properly explained them. A laavu is a kind of lean-to shelter for hikers, fishermen, cyclists, cross-country skiers, and pretty much anyone who wants to enjoy the outdoors. They're completely free to use and in Finland we have something like 10000 of them scattered all around the country. Most often they are built next to rivers or lakes.

The majority of them are open-air (like below), while some are built into a full circle with a door you can close to ward off the elements. That one is called a "kota". Amenities usually include firewood, an axe for chopping it, and an outhouse toilet. They're maintained by the government, or in some cases a county, the boy scouts, a fishing association, or some other organization or group of volunteers.

So it's quite awesome to be able to rely on this network of lean-tos. Whenever I'm touring in Finland, I tend to use them for camping even though I have a tent with me. It's much easier and safer to make a fire in one, plus the bike and other gear stay dry even in a downpour.

Hanging out at the laavu

I suppose this concludes my very modest duties as a Finnish nature ambassador. There are two more Nature Days remaining, but the next one is on June 17th, and by then I'll be cycling somewhere in Norway. Although perhaps I should aim to be some kind of an ambassador for the entire world's nature on this trip? With the way things are going, it looks like natural resources could use all the protection and help they can get.

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