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Changing Priorities

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Changing Priorities

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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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Switzerland and Other Detours

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Switzerland and Other Detours

After four days on the mountain, I needed some rest and time for working. I rode down Stelvio’s hairpins to the camping ground down the valley. Before I even put up my tent I met my neighbour Ruben, a Dutch road cyclist travelling by van. His plan was to drive to some famous alpine mountains and then conquer them by bicycle. He was about to switch from a student to working life, so this was the last chance for adventures in a while.

Ruben was a very polite sweet young man, and we ended up hanging out for a couple days. It was nice to have some company after many days alone in the mountains. Afterwards he was headed towards Gavia so I got a ride in the van back up to Stelvio. I also took the below photo of him climbing the road to Stelvio, which he wanted on his wall, so I added it to my print shop at Curioos.

Which reminds me: If there’s ever a specific photo in my blog that you would like to purchase as a print, let me know and I’ll make it available.

Ruben in the clear lead on Stelvio Pass.

This time I didn’t stay on Stelvio, but descended a little bit down the western side and took the Umbrailpass exit into Switzerland. It’s a very expensive country, so I took enough food from Italy to last me a few days. It’s also not a part of the EU, so I couldn’t even use cell phone data freely for the first time in the trip. I enjoyed a break from being online. Sometimes I get too distracted by checking messages or world events, so maybe putting my phone on airplane mode should be a regular thing.

I didn’t plan to spend any money during my Swiss visit, except for a postcard to my little niece, to whom I send a card from every country I stay in. But while climbing up a mountain on the second day, I found a 20 franc note by the side of the road. With no idea of the exchange rate, I hoped it would cover the postage. Turns out it was also enough for a campsite shower (in a bathroom that looked like it belonged to a fancy hotel) and some sausages, eggs and butter. Which is presumably about 50 euros total - or $170 USD, or 2 million Lao Kip. I think.

Couldn't get a better view of the rainbow.

Switzerland has the oldest national park in the Alps, founded over 100 years ago. It was short-sightedly just called the "Swiss National Park”, which may be why they haven’t been able to add any other ones. I was there during the noon sun, so didn’t really take photos, but the views were quite nice. A pine forest left in its natural state for a very long time is a beautiful thing to experience. It reminded me of the amazing forests in North Finland where the journey began, causing a pang of homesickness.

Unfortunately camping in the national park was strictly forbidden (and any fines would probably be in the billions of Lao Kip), so I couldn’t stay. Instead I cycled for three days through Alpine villages, circling mountain ranges and following pure turquoise rivers flowing in the valleys. Everything was very clean and bike path signs were impeccable. People mostly kept to themselves, though.

I passed a customs area by a tunnel to Italy, where I stopped to ask for water. After a brief chat with the officers I noticed they had an industrial sized scale, and asked if I could weigh my bags. Everybody always asks how much my gear weighs, and I’m getting tired of answering I don’t know. So here you go, 30kg with a pretty normal amount of food. The bike with its two water bottles is probably another 10kg, and I weigh 75, so that’s 115kg total.

With the helmet, it's easily another 100g. Maybe I should stop using a helmet?

After three days I arrived at the border of Austria, facing a 400m climb up to Martinsbruck. I took hours pushing the bike up the hill in the darkness. Then I set the camera to take a time-lapse of the Milky Way, and fell asleep exhausted on a picnic table. A life of true luxury.

Someone may have noticed I mentioned the Dolomites before, and might be wondering what happened to that plan. I was still heading there, it was just that people kept recommending detours. From Riva del Garda I was going to Bolzano (2-3 days at my pace). First a man in a bar said I should go to Madonna di Campiglio. Then a fellow tourer on Facebook said I should visit Stelvio Pass. And on the way there my Warmshowers hosts said I should visit Switzerland.

So almost four weeks later, I was still 2-3 days away from Bolzano. The ability and freedom to make such route changes is a beautiful part of travelling like this.

But now, I was finally ready to see the Dolomites next.

Churches in the area were particularly pointy.
Switzerland in a nutshell.

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Inspired at Stelvio Pass

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Inspired at Stelvio Pass

When I finally came down from Gavia to Bormio, there were cyclists everywhere. Over three thousand of them, in fact. I had showed up at the date of the annual ReStelvio bike race. A fully loaded touring bicycle near the start line caused some laughter and wide-eyed looks, until I reassured everyone I would not be taking part in the race. I had been planning to hitchhike again. And again the road was closed for non-cyclists.

Should I just get in the queue?

I hung around in Bormio for most of the day and loaded up on a ton of food so I would have time for photography up the mountain again. Then I started the climb, just to realise I was too tired from lack of sleep to push the heavy bike. I’d been staying up at Gavia to take photos until midnight, and when the sun rises at 5:30, it doesn’t leave a lot of room for sleeping in. Sometimes that almost makes me miss the longer nights of winter.

The race was already over and cars allowed on the road again, so I took turns hitchhiking and pushing for an hour, making very little headway, until a nice local couple stopped and took me to the famous Stelvio. The road from Bormio was not nearly as beautiful as Gavia, so I don’t feel like I missed much. The legendary Stelvio Pass view is on the east side, with its four dozen hairpins. That’s the better direction to come from, and also looked very fun to go down.

That lone cyclist is Georg from Ukraine, who I spoke to before he returned to his hidden campsite for his luggage.

The top of the pass at an altitude of 2750m was also not what I expected. Several hotels, lots of restaurants, small shops, a ski lift, and a whole lot of motorcycles and people around. This road was so famous that everyone wanted to visit. The result was a bit of a circus.

But the views were nice. I went about my business with the camera. Soon I met a very enthusiastic German couple. Upon hearing about my cycling and camping plans up on the cold mountain, the man insisted on giving me beer money. I don’t drink beer, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer, so I promised to pay for a hot chocolate with it in the morning after sleeping somewhere in the zero degree weather.

A lot of the hotels looked old and worn. In fact, the entire place had a strange 80’s patina to it, from the buildings to the post card design. But there was one nice restaurant called Tibet a little to the side from everything else. It had the best view as well, so I decided to take a long exposure of cars on the road from there.

It's not quite what I hoped for, but other attempts were even less successful.

I spoke to a Romanian waiter on his cigarette break, asking for tips on camping. The mountain was a national park, so restrictions were in place. To my surprise he hooked me up with an empty open garage to sleep in! Night temperatures at that altitude went down to freezing point, so it was cold, but safe from rain and wind. I slept in the garage for three nights. Every morning I had a nice warming hot chocolate at the restaurant, sending a quiet “danke schön” to the happy Germans.

After the initial shock of all the hotels and hubbub, Stelvio grew on me. There were many surrounding peaks to hike to, and an interesting history from various wars between the Swiss, Astro-Hungarians [1] and Italy. 100 barracks were built in the mountains, with an incredible amount of food rations, building materials, weapons, and all sorts of supplies that had to be carried up by sheer manpower. I pondered this fact, while being too lazy to even push up one bicycle with wheels on a paved road.

***

[1] No, that's not how you spell that, but I'm going to leave this typo in. Just because of the mental image of the Swiss and Italian armies with their 1800s technology fighting off Space Hungarians in an equal battle.

Sunset at the Stelvio mountains, with restaurant Tibet in the background.

I hadn’t been entirely satisfied with the amount or the quality of my photography work in a while. However, now that I was finally in some photogenic locations with plenty of time, I was shooting and writing again. Even taking time-lapses in a way I hadn’t attempted before. Rough ideas for the next video started popping up. So far, my time-lapse process has been far too much of “that looks pretty, so I’ll point my camera at it for half an hour”, and then editing random clips together in a way I consider pleasing. It can be nice to look at, but the end result is mostly meaningless. My next project some day might have a little more story to it.

So it appears that my creativity is making a comeback. That’s something I can feel pretty happy about.

Hotel something something on the west side. They had a Finnish flag outside, so this is my tribute to that.
Sun seeping through a narrow gap between the mountains and clouds.
Stelvio at night.

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One-Year Bike Trip

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One-Year Bike Trip

Time flies. Today marks a year since I started this trip. It has been quite a ride, and I’m very happy to have made it thus far. 365 days of homelessness at 20km per day across Europe has been a wonderful and life-changing experience. But I won’t do a recap of the whole year - instead I’ll bring you somewhat up to speed on recent events.

After a brief visit to Sardinia we took the ferry to near Rome in Italy. On the very first day we met a man who had sailed around the world on his own. He and his wife hosted us in their home, where we had a dip in their scalding 45C thermal bath in the backyard. In the evening all the neighbours gathered for a lively 10-person dinner delicious food and plenty of wine. Welcome to Italy, it's just like in the movies!

This photo is actually from Corsica. But still.

In Trevignano I stopped in an AirBnB for a couple weeks to wait for a visit from a friend. We started an outdoor website together this spring, which is admittedly part of the reason I’ve been quiet lately. It’s in Finnish, but you can take a look here if you want. During this time my photography career reached a nice milestone, when National Geographic Traveller in Italy featured me and some of my earlier photos from Norway.

Car headlights in Trollstigen.

Italians are very warm and friendly people. Until you put them in a car. That’s when far too many of them temporarily become idiots with a speed addiction and no regard for road safety. Which is probably why many cars here seem to have enough dents on them to look like retired bumper cars from an old carnival ride. So to avoid the crazy traffic, we’ve been riding north along Via Francigena, a pilgrimage road from England to Rome. It mostly follows tiny gravel roads along picturesque farmland.

The going has been somewhat challenging lately, despite great food and an easy bike path. First I was woken up by a wild pig scavenging a meter or two away from my tent. Fortunately it had no interest in me and continued along its way into the forest. The next day I drank from a questionable water fountain and got sick. Then I thought I caught bed bugs from a hostel bed, when a bunch of red spots appeared in my arms and multiplied during the following days. After a few terror-filled days, these turned out to actually be hives, probably from a virus in the same water. I never thought I would be thrilled to find out I have hives, but there you go.

The next day we slept in a barn to escape a storm, and it turned out the place was swarming with ticks. We took out over 20 of the disgusting little creatures from each other, most of them crawling on Kira. A couple days later I met two large angry porcupines when cycling at night along the farms of Tuscany. They already had their spikes up and can be quite aggressive, but luckily chose to scamper away into the wheat fields.

Lighthouse back in Bonifaccio.

On top of all this the weather has been hot and sunny, which is not ideal for cyclists from the far North. Our brains begin a meltdown process at 25C, so we’ve suffered some mild heatstrokes already, before the worst summer has even begun. I’ve learned the importance of having a full siesta in the shade during the hottest hours of noon. Preferably from around 10am to 6pm.

Sometimes the siesta lasts all day. Just to be safe.

Step 1: Find tree. Step 2: Lay down under tree. Step 3: Repeat.
The limestone cliffs of Bonifaccio at sunset.

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First Glimpse of Denmark at Mols Bjerge

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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.
 

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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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Trollstigen

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Trollstigen

Trollstigen might be the most famous stretch of road in Norway. Even if you don’t recognise the name, you may have seen photos at some point. It rises steeply from the Åndalsnes valley to high up in rugged mountains. It’s a gorgeous rocky landscape, split by rivers that cascade down in high waterfalls, and a serpentine road with thrilling hairpin curves. The climb from sea level is 870 meters, but the café and popular viewpoint are at 700m.

For me, that climb required some planning. My drivetrain was already well oiled after leaving the camping ground, but I had to make some very careful decisions at the grocery store. How long would I stay up the mountain? How many calories would that require? I tried to pick the most calorie dense food and chocolate bars I could find.

It still took me about five hours to climb up. That was alternating between cycling and pushing the bike, to try to use different muscles. With a lot of stops for rest and photography, of course. A number of drivers gave me thumbs ups and other gestures of encouragement, which genuinely does help to give a little extra energy every time.

I have to cycle up this road? I've made a huge mistake.
Wet and slippery hairpin curve.
The Åndalsnes valley far below.

The view from the top was well worth the effort of getting there. I was slightly late for the sunset, but what I really wanted was a night photo of car headlights painting the entire road in one long twisting streak. So I fired up a huge bowl of pasta and waited for darkness. To my surprise, no other photographers showed up, so I had the whole viewing platform to myself. Just me, the mountain, and the stars above.

Only a couple cars went up or down the road per hour during the night, so there weren’t many chances to take this photo. When I eventually figured I was finished at 3am, I found a place to camp up the road nearby.

The next day I checked the results in the café. It was disappointing. My lens at 24mm wasn’t wide enough to capture everything in one shot, so I had missed a tiny slice of the road. Also I had to split the bottom and top halves into separate photos and stitching them into one was clumsy. I scrapped the whole thing. But there would be enough time and food for another attempt the next night.

Night view of the cafe at Trollstigen.

Compared to the solitude during the night, daytime at this tourist attraction was quite a circus. Countless cars, caravans and busloads of guided tours were there at any given time. Hundreds of people were milling about the area. Twice in the men’s room I gestured to confused Chinese tourists how to operate a motion-activated water tap.

After dark I returned for the second round. This time I found a better vantage point where my lens could see everything in one shot. And instead of taking multiple 30 second exposures like the first time, I wanted to take in the whole scene with a single one hour exposure. To stop the lens from fogging up I tied a hand warmer packet underneath it.

The night was freezing and I had to dive into my sleeping bag while waiting despite several layers of warm clothing. After an hour I went to stop the exposure. The photo showed a nice view of the road, but it was dark. Not a single car had been through the whole time! There was no choice but to start over and return to the sleeping bag.

All in all, I probably went through more trouble for this photo than any I’ve taken before. While I felt a sense of achievement at the time, the more I look at it, the less I like it. The angle is wrong and causes parts of the road to not be visible. Plus even if I'll get it right, it’s just a photo that a bunch of other people have taken before me. Usually I tend to avoid “iconic” photos (ie. ones taken a million times by others already), so I’m unsure why this one felt so appealing.

Car headlights painting Trollstigen at night.

Afterwards I was looking for a time-lapse subject and saw something surprising. There was a green glow in the horizon above the lights of Åndalsnes - northern lights! I had said my goodbyes to them when leaving Inari, because I hadn’t expected to see any on this trip. After all, I had assumed I would’ve been much further south, perhaps in Denmark, by this point.

Gazing at auroras felt so good again, after several months of bright nights. And seeing them in Trollstigen, above the stupefyingly beautiful views, made it all the more special. The perfection of it made me both laugh out loud and tear up slightly.

All else aside, I'm very happy that I’ve done one at least thing right by setting off on this journey.

Northern lights over Trollstigen.
 

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The Atlantic Road

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The Atlantic Road

When trying to leave Kristiansund I came across a 5km tunnel that went below the Atlantic Ocean. A tunnel that long is bad enough in itself, but this one also dove 250 meters under the sea, which of course meant a 250-meter climb back up. Even if cyclists had been allowed inside - which they weren’t - there was no way I would ever go in there.

Fortunately there was a bus connection. I sat down to wait. I missed the approach of the first one, and the driver passed by just waving her hands “nope”. Either there was no room for my bicycle, or the way I was lazily eating my sandwich suggested (correctly) that I would rather wait for another bus than hurry into this one.

One hour and several sandwiches later, the next bus arrived. There was barely enough room for a fully loaded bicycle, but with the help of the driver and a random passenger, I made it to the other side of the tunnel.

Windy stretch of the Atlantic Road.

The Atlantic Road was quite unlike anything I’ve seen before. It's this 8km stretch of road over tiny rocky islands dotted in the ocean between Vevang and Kårvåg. There are eight bridges connecting the islets, and the road has been voted Norway’s "Engineering Feat of the Century”. Which is certainly no small feat in a country with so many astounding bridges and tunnels.

Although holidays are ending, and the peak season with them, there were plenty of four-wheeled tourists around. While waiting for the sunset to begin I saw an older gentleman shooting with a Hasselblad film camera, and went over to strike a conversation. He had been photographing for almost 50 years and showed me a print book of some of his work. It was impressive - he certainly had more skill than I did.

I tend to just walk or cycle around with the camera and try to make discoveries, whereas he was a proper photographer who genuinely thought about light, planned for the best times to take each photo, and came back when conditions were right. With the results to prove it.

One of the Atlantic Road bridges.

Still, he lamented about how difficult it is to gain anyone’s interest with his work. Nowadays everyone thinks they’re a photographer. Without a publisher or an art gallery in your sleeve, it’s challenging to find an audience for printed photos. At least on the internet anyone can publish anything, even if getting noticed can be rather hit or miss. But obviously the online world isn’t for everybody. Sometimes he wondered what the point of all the traveling even was.

I reminded him we shoot largely for our own sake, as the process itself is its own reward. However, I do have to wonder whether photography had originally become this important to me without the benefit of at least a small audience. I certainly think about visibility - probably more than I should. (For example, my interest in updating Instagram dropped quite a bit some months ago when they changed their algorithms in line with Facebook’s, to make it much harder for large crowds to see your posts. With the intention of selling everyone their ads, of course.)

Sunset by some rocks.

The clouds started to look nice, so I went to find a place for a time-lapse. Around the walkway on Eldhusøya there were a number of other people also witnessing the sunset. Almost all of them had cameras. Everyone was pointing some kind of device or lens at everything. One guy was flying a drone. A young couple tried to get their dog to do various poses for a photo, then used a remote to shoot themselves holding hands in front of the landscape. DSLRs, cell phones, tripods, selfie sticks and flying cameras - everyone’s a photographer.

Was anyone really enjoying the beautiful sunset? Was I? Closer to the water, a burly bald guy was sitting on a rock, smoking a cigar and looking at the ocean. He seemed to have the right idea. Except for the cigar, anyway. I followed suit and sat down.

Okay - be present. Inhale. Feel the soft evening air. Exhale. See the oranges and purples in the sky. Scratch your hand. Hear the waves crashing against the shore. Feel the hand itching quite a bit actually. What the hell? I looked down to see a dozen tiny midges on my fingers and a whole cloud of them homing in on me. Far too many for any kind of mindfulness. The burly guy seemed to agree, as he was walking briskly away from his rock while waving his hands in the air.

I guess you can't always have moments of stillness, beauty and perfection. I finished my time-lapse and left.

Sun setting below the horizon at the ocean.
Long exposure of car headlights at the Atlantic Road.
 

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Single Frames - Norway

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Single Frames - Norway

So here’s something a little different.

Usually I try to write about one topic per post. Although I end up taking detours in my text just like with my cycling, that’s the general idea. Which means that when I write down (or form in my head) snippets of text that can’t be stretched to an entire blog post, they end up unused.

Also the photos in every blog post are often of things only vaguely (or not at all) related to the topic and may or may not be from the same day or place as the events in the text. This is out of necessity. If I always put up pictures that are exactly of the things I talk about, the quality of photography would plummet, since it’s impossible to get decent photos of every sight and location.

So to mix it up, this post will only include those small snippets, with no general theme. And the photos are all on topic.

Incredibly colourful sunset in Salsnes, Norway.

Somewhere near Salsnes the evening sky suddenly turned into flames. It was incredible, just fire and brimestone all over. I can’t remember ever seeing such a red sky before in my life. If I’d only seen it in a photo I would’ve said it looks too fake.

I was by the sea, which was great, but the heavy foliage blocked my view. Normally it’s nicer to avoid sweating on the bike, but this was an exception. I started hauling ass up the mountain to get to a photogenic location. Eventually I found a spot where I could get a photo by lifting my camera high above my head.

I took a few quick and shaky handheld shots (like the above). That is the least edited image in all of my blog posts - practically nothing has been done to it, except reducing saturation slightly to make it look more realistic.

Sadly by the time I found a place suitable for a tripod and a time-lapse, the colors had already faded a little. The annoying part about photographing on a bicycle is that it takes far too long to change locations when the light is great. I’ve missed a whole lot of sunsets just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Wind turbines on a hill at sunset.

When I visited Steinkjer, I came out of the grocery store to pouring rain. While waiting for it to stop, I chatted a bit with a Syrian refugee, who offered me a place to sleep in his home. It was late evening already, but with my current sleeping pattern I had only just had breakfast and would stay awake until at least 7am, so had to decline the generosity. I don’t have any expertise on Syrian customs, but it could presumably be considered awkward to hang around at someone’s place while they sleep. Or to wake up at 5pm as a guest.

It ended up raining for six hours, which I spent at the 24-hour gas station, and then at a hotel lobby. I almost never take photos in cities, but on my way out I noticed the rain had created nice puddles, so I made an exception and stopped to shoot this one:

Touring bike reflected at night off water in Steinkjer.

“Sorry, I’m not really religious.”

“But what if Hell is real?”

“I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.”

Bridge to hell in Norway.

In Verdal I was tired and wanted to camp. The road looked to be going from town to town with nothing resembling decent camping spots. I made the rare decision to head to the nearest camping ground to sleep, for only the second time on this trip. But just a few hundred meters away from it, I discovered a beautiful forest and quickly changed my plan.

The ground was thick with luscious green moss. Thick spruce trees blocked all but a few beams of bright sunlight. Silvery drops of rain glistened in the branches. It was a gorgeous sight, but sadly marred by the sounds of the terrible industrial area I had passed on the way.

Constant clanking of machinery, whirring of turbines, and metal gnawing and grinding against rock. Whistles and honks and beeps and alarms. An avalanche of dreadful noises symbolising human consumption. The few birds remaining in the forest sounded quiet, tired, departing. There was not much left of their home.

Sometimes I worry our species will destroy everything natural and beautiful.

Camping spot in a spruce forest in Verdal.
 

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The Truth About Midnight Sun

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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.

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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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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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