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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 The others are random unpublished photos.)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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Now what?

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Now what?

At the end of August I was in a random little village in the Lika district in Middle Croatia. I meant to just pass through, but it was raining and my sleeping bag was already wet from the previous night's massive thunderstorm, so I checked Warmshowers for help. There happened to be a host just around the corner.

That moment - checking my phone while sheltering from the rain outside a closed post office - seems to have become quite a fork in my journey.

The massive cave in the same village I later got a tour of.

Within minutes I met with a young girl called Lana and stayed at her home with her wonderfully warm and welcoming family. She had her own little hut and garden, and taught me about this concept called permaculture. Some people have summed it up by calling it Applied Ecology. The words come from “permanent agriculture”. As in agriculture that doesn’t destroy topsoil at an alarming rate, nor require constant watering, fertilising, fossil fuels and pesticides. Working with nature instead of fighting against it.

But it goes beyond growing food, encompassing rainwater collecting, renewable energy sources, natural building materials, even approaching a zero waste lifestyle and off-grid living, among other things. In essence, it’s an answer to the elephant in the room question: Yes, climate change is coming, but what to do about it?

There’s a storm in the horizon. A lot of them, in fact.

I think about that question a lot. I’ve even written (and soon deleted) long blog rants about the issue. Sometimes I’m almost depressed about the world’s obsession with consumption and destruction. In too many places I’ve witnessed the effects of mass tourism and the way it ravages the original underlying beauty it seeks. Yet no single drop of water feels responsible for the flood. Even my own rationale for what I do has been a naive and vague hope that my photos might somehow inspire people to protect the nature they portray. That’s probably not true, however. Honestly, the real consequence is likely to be merely an increase in wanderlust and yet more tourism.

So as I learned about permaculture, everything just clicked. My blurry idea of maybe some day retiring by a lake and a forest in a little hut, perhaps growing some vegetables, suddenly turned into a clear picture and a plan. Something I could start creating now instead of decades later. It all seemed to fall in place. It may not be THE answer to the world’s problems, but it feels like the answer for me. I did a lot of research on the topic while making my way south through Croatia.

The lights of Split from a campsite with a view.
Miumiu was orphaned and rescued from the road as a kitten.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina I had a chance to visit another permaculture farm, run by a guy called Bambi. He, too, was on Warmshowers, happily hosting any bicycle tourer who happened to be passing through. I stayed for a week, sometimes alone with his cute kitten, sometimes with up to ten other bike travellers camping in the yard. When I wasn’t doing research, I was sharing stories of life on the saddle. Most other visitors were in the earlier stages of their journeys, happy and excited. I was the only one who didn’t feel like continuing.

15 people from all over Europe, with a couple from South America and Asia came and went. I watched as each of them rode away after a night or two. Usually it’s me who's pedalling away and disappearing behind a corner. The briefness of these meetings is much easier to deal with when I’m the one on the bike heading towards new experiences. This time I felt a pang of sadness while watching people leave.

Ivan, Eric, Bambi and Amir sitting down for breakfast.
One day a lot of people arrived suddenly. There was a sixth tent but they left before the sun rose enough for the photo.

Still, the thought of joining them never occurred. It was at Bambi's farm where I published my last blog post. Only a couple days later coming to a realisation that there was no need to wait around a few weeks to see if my feelings would change. I booked a ticket home.

I carry a notebook where I jot down ideas and thoughts about permaculture. On its cover is conveniently printed “Stop dreaming, start doing”.

That’s the principle to follow. I need a break from the bike trip, and now I know exactly what to do during that break.

The road didn’t take me where I thought it would.

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Changing Priorities

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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.

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5-Year Bike Trip, the Book?

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5-Year Bike Trip, the Book?

I want to write a book. And I need your advice.

This has been a dream or goal of mine well before I even started the trip. Specifically, I want to create a photography book. A large (approximately 30cm x 30cm pages) coffee table book, with some text - anywhere from a short snippet to up to one full page on each spread. But the focus would be on the photos.

To give you an example, it would look a little something like below. Except preferably with better graphic design that isn't improvised on a park bench for the purposes of this post.

"Dream vs Reality", the first text I wrote for the book. It's blurred on purpose, though.

Probably about half the images would be previously unpublished. Unlike lately, I wasn’t smart enough in the beginning to set aside any good ones for later, so the best photos were already in the blog. The text would be entirely new, written specifically for the book. And it wouldn't just be the same kind of thing as I write about here. There's no point in just recreating the blog in a different format. So I would like to try something different. Something more personal.

I would focus much less on what happened, where I was, who I met, and other travel blog type things. Instead the topic would be about the bigger picture with this bike trip, the emotional journey before and during the first year, and the feelings behind the photos. On what it means to follow your dreams and search for a life of freedom. With some behind-the-scenes material thrown in. You might even see my face! Plus some bonus stories that never made it to the blog for one reason or another. Including the two times I’ve had to call the emergency number! (Yep, I just went with a shameless teaser.)

For practical reasons, I want to make one of these for every year/continent that I cycle. (Photography books can be rather expensive to print even in bulk, so it could never have 500 pages, for example. And I have a fondness for large photos, so trying to fit one year’s worth of pictures into only one book is already difficult.) Therefore it would actually become a series of books. Which means that I could already begin building the “Year 1: Europe” volume.

Some stories are about the preparation for the trip, and the ways in which the first year has changed me.

If I do create this, it would automatically become an e-book at the very least. The ultimate goal is, of course, a print version, provided there is sufficient interest. So my questions to you, dear reader:

Would you be genuinely interested in buying either a cheapish e-book or a high quality physical copy? Be honest!

Does the plan and format sound good? Would you prefer more text than I described? Perhaps closer to a regular book of stories (and only some photos, or not at all)? Or alternatively even less text and just make it about the photos? Focus on some other type of content/stories? What would you like to hear about and why?

Now is the time to make requests, if there is anything specific you’d want to see or read.

As an added incentive, everyone who comments on this with input (even if it’s just to say “wouldn’t pay money for this, but good luck” - as that's also valuable feedback) has a chance to win a free copy of the book! I’ll choose the winner randomly in, let’s say, two weeks from this post. (Update: We have a winner! Details in the comments.)

Thank you for any and all suggestions!

One of the first places I visited. In fact, this place was the very first campsite, although the photo was from another time.

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Interlude

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Interlude

After eight months on the road, I really felt the need to take some time off from everything. It would be impossible, or at least unwise, to do a trip this long without periods of rest. I think about a month of staying put is perfect, once or twice a year. Not only for the physical recovery, but to recharge the mind as well. If I'm always outside cycling and camping, it all starts to feel too 'normal' and less like an adventure.

We finally found an opportunity to take the first extended break near Cargèse in Corsica. A Warmshowers host who we stayed at for a few days left to travel in India for a month, and left his small house in the mountains for us to use. The timing is great for it, because weather has been rainy and chilly (below 10C) again. Spring is just around the corner, and we can hardly wait for some warmth.

So this is just to explain the recent downtime in the blog. I may or may not have other things to update and talk about during the stay here. But don't worry, more regular updates will resume once I am back on the road.

The vegetation this far south is really different from what I'm used to.
I don't know what it is about looking at rugged mountains, but the sight is really awe-inspiring.

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It's a Dog's Life

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It's a Dog's Life

Hi. My name is Kira. I’m from Sweden, six years old, and also a Cocker Spaniel. And I’m a very good girl.

My all-time favourite thing to do is eating. I prefer food, but almost anything will do. I get to eat my own meals twice a day, for breakfast and dinner. Then when the humans eat, I get some of their food if I look cute. And I’m always cute. I don’t even have to try.

If I'm given non-food, it's usually a stick. I like sticks. Being outside is great because there are so many sticks. I chew them until it's time to leave.

Nothing can get between Kira and her stick. Except another stick.

One time long ago I found the big bag that all my food comes from. That was the best day ever. I ate 15 times more food than usual and I was still hungry. When mistress came back she wasn’t happy. Something about swelling in the stomach. We went to the vet, who made me barf many times. I tried to eat it again, but wasn’t allowed.

My second favourite thing is sleeping. I’m very good at it. Sometimes I can do it all day. When we are moving it can be difficult to sleep. Then I’m extra tired and don’t like waiting for the tent to be ready. But it’s warm inside and I have many blankets. When mistress goes to sleep I can go in her sleeping bag. She says I snore but I don’t believe her.

Once or twice a week we don’t cycle and it’s usually because there’s a house to sleep in. Houses are great because they are warm and have beds in them. I’m really good at using beds.

This is what she looks like two minutes after entering any house for the first time.

My third favourite hobby is smelling things. Traveling is great because I get to find so many new smells. I like to open the zipper of the trailer enough to stick my nose out when we’re cycling. There’s a lot of information in the air.

Even better is when we stop in a forest and I can walk around and smell things. If it’s not too wet I take a break from smelling things to roll around in the leaves. But not too long. I don't want to leave the trailer behind, because that's where all the food is. When other dogs get too close to it, I growl at them.

I think she likes forests.

32 breakfasts ago, we met Tomi. He’s cycling too. But I guess you already knew that. He scratches my tummy, so I know he likes me. He eats too much of his own food though. There’s usually nothing left for me.

I think he and mistress are having fun. They don’t chew sticks or smell things, but they laugh a lot. Then they say they’re not laughing at me. But I’m not sure. It’s okay though. I have a pretty good life.

She's really good at typing.

I don't know if Kira will be writing more guest blogs in the future, but apparently she has now joined Instagram as Nomad Doggy. -Tomi

 

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The Strained One

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The Strained One

The B&W photos in this update (including the banner image that you can always see by clicking the title of the post) are some of my older work. Only the last colour photo was taken during this trip, in Denmark.


The title refers to a poem I read in the Reinheimen National Park back in Norway. It has stayed with me ever since:

He has no time to stop
And no time to look.
People he meets are none
Of his personal business.

Numerous the things to manage,
Hurry is the way of life,
Obligations around every bend.
The more he does the more there is.

The day is at an end.
Stumbling over his stick
He asks what life has given,
And what after all is left.

Thus he hurried through life
And never reached his end.
The joy that followed his track
Was a shadow lost in his wake.

— Jan-Magnus Bruheim

Taken in 2015 in Pallastunturi, Finland.

While someone who takes five years for a bike trip is surely not the 'target audience' for this poem, there is nevertheless much to learn here for me.

Sometimes I focus too much on photography, blogging, time-lapse videos and other digital activities. Although I love creating all of those and they help to finance the trip, they mustn't come at the cost of stopping to see, feel and experience. It would be a tragedy to cycle around the world with an air of self-centred hurry - never paying attention to the moments, chances, people and life fleeting past.

It’s easier - much easier - to be present for your life during a journey like this, but it still doesn’t happen automatically.

So I do need to pay attention to the balance between doing things and being here. I don’t know what the right balance looks like, it’s just something I will be figuring out along the way. Lately I’ve shot very few time-lapses, and next I may try posting blog updates less often. Don't worry, I won't stop doing either of those entirely. I just need to make sure these things don’t become more important than the actual trip itself.

Taken in 2015 in Repovesi National Park, Finland.

In somewhat related news, I have been joined by a Swedish bicycle tourer called Isabelle who is pedalling south with her Cocker Spaniel Kira. She is a super social and talkative morning person, while I... am not. So we may not endure each other for very long. But on the other hand, she also has plenty of time and travels very slow. She doesn’t care about the destination, only the journey. Which is precisely the right attitude for this kind of travel.

And it could be nice to have some company for a change.

2017 in South Denmark right before crossing the German border.
 

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Around the World in 80 Days

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Around the World in 80 Days

Today’s blog post is almost ready to publish, but I want to put it aside for a moment to share some exciting news:

Mark Beaumont from Scotland has just broken the world record by cycling around the planet in less than 80 days. To put that into perspective, I started this trip three and a half weeks before his run began. In the time it took him to circumnavigate the globe, I’ve cycled from Norway to Denmark.

This feat is insane. He pedalled almost 400km every day! That's 16+ hours of cycling with 5 hours of sleep for 78 days and 14 hours. He started and finished in Paris, as a reference to the Jules Verne novel of the adventures of Phileas Fogg and Passepartout.

This is actually the second time he’s broken this record. The first time was alone and unsupported, almost 10 years ago. He cycled around the world in 194 days - while still having time to shoot a BBC documentary about his project! I remember watching that film in 2012, before I’d even done my first tour. My big dream at the time was to cycle across Canada some day, but it was Mark’s documentary that first made me consider that maybe I could accomplish the same. (Without any speed records, obviously.)

So here’s to Mark Beaumont, the hero of the day. Congratulations on an incredible achievement, and thank you for the inspiration.

Old photo from my previous Arctic Circle bicycle tour.

If you're interested, here are links to the 80-day project, and to the 4-part documentary of the 2008 trip on Youtube. And I'll return to the regularly scheduled programming tomorrow!

 

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