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rest

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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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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The Laziest Cyclist in the World

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The Laziest Cyclist in the World

Some of you might be wondering why there haven’t been many updates lately. I'm still alive - the silence is simply caused by nothing much happening lately. The bike trip hasn’t really been moving anywhere for some time now. First we spent February resting in a cabin, then a week or two of mostly camping, and then it really got lazy.

Even the mountain goats agree.

Near Calcatoggio we camped with a French cycling couple on their way around the island. They packed their tents and continued early in the morning, while we looked at the forecast and decided to just stay another night to avoid climbing a long uphill in rain. On the second morning we continued and found a camping ground nearby, so we went in to ask for a shower. They were still two weeks away from opening and the shower facilities had no water, but would we like to stay in a small cabin for a very affordable price?

Within a few moments my answer changed from “it’s a little early to stop for the night when we just started the day 15 minutes ago” to “although can we see the cabin, please?” and then “you know what, let’s just stay. I really want a shower and don’t feel like cycling anyway”.

Distance pedalled that day: 280 meters.

What I thought was a weird art installation by the beach turned out to be just a regular bridge.

The next day we decided to stay a second night, and then another two nights. And now it’s been three weeks since we arrived, still in the cabin...

So despite taking it rather easy for most of 2018, ever since arriving in Corsica, I somehow still feel a need for resting. Because there’s clearly nothing to rest from at this point, I start to feel like the laziness is more of a general lack of motivation. Which could be concerning, but then again this kind of thing happens to me almost every winter or spring. It's an extended period of "screw most of my projects, I'll just eat chocolate and play around on the laptop".

Kira is thrilled about her new haircut.

For now I’ll assume it’s all temporary and that the desire to continue the bike adventure will come back to me soon.

Hypothetically however, if it doesn’t, I have an interesting decision to make. Because I don’t see the point in forcing anything, either. It’s not as if I’m undertaking some gruelling physical and mental challenge that I need to prove I’m capable of. Anyone could do this - it’s just a bit of easy cycling when you go slow enough. And I certainly am.

The only point of the trip is to do it because it’s fun and enjoyable. But what happens if that stops being true?

Then again, there's nice nature and gravel roads waiting out there somewhere.
Is the end of the trip in sight already?

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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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Beach Life

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Beach Life

I don't have much to say today, but here are some photos of our stay on the Bodri beach:

Seaside view.jpg

I really don't miss the snow, cold, and darkness of North Finland right now.

Rest stop with a view.

I gallantly pulled the trailer for a couple weeks, but after this we switched back.

Without anything for scale, the waves and rocks don't look very big, but they were HUGE.

We camped on the beach by a spot sheltered by cliffs. The wind was very strong and creating some of the biggest waves I've ever seen.

I've been waiting to take Milky Way shots, but so far light pollution from towns or the moon have ruined my plans.

So close to L'Île-Rousse there was a little too much light pollution to get many stars in the photo.

Time to sleep.

On the second morning the wind turned and brought the waves almost to our tent, so we had to leave in a hurry.

 

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Mountain Monastery

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Mountain Monastery

With the newfound freedom provided by our lighter bicycles, we explored the winding mountain roads of upper Corsica. The island is heavily dependent on summer tourism, and most people move out for the winter. This left the villages half empty and the roads with little traffic. Besides cars, we encountered some possibly stray dogs, a family of cows blocking the road in a kind of Mexican standoff, and a herd of goats running in front of us for a few hundred meters.

Some say they are still running to this day.

We spent the first night next to a cemetery of a remote 12th century church San Raineru, perched alone on the hillside away from habitation. Wild pig screams echoed in the mountains around us as we lied in our sleeping bags, but none dared to come near. Next we climbed up to Sant’Antonino, a unique village on top of a mountain - or hill - above 500 meters. Most of the other villages had been founded in more sheltered areas to be less visible to passing pirate ships.

The town's narrow streets went up and down stairs and through corridors in a confusing maze. All the houses and streets were built from rock, with matching beige and brown colours. There were clearly efforts to avoid modern construction and maintain the original look of the village. Even the numerous cats probably looked like the strays that lived there a thousand years ago.

This one watched me take a time-lapse of the sunset for an hour.

So few people were around it was almost like a ghost village. Until the lady who delivers the post drove up and came to say hello during her route. She was very enthusiastic and inquisitive. Combined with English language skills, it wasn’t hard to guess that she either enjoyed travelling now, or had done in her youth. Such people tend to gravitate towards us to hear our stories and pay forward some of the many kindnesses they’ve received while on their own journeys.

When she heard we had no place to stay yet, she started making some phone calls. Camping was an option of course, but the night would be windy and rainy, plus we hadn’t showered for too long. Unfortunately only answering machines picked up her calls, and we said goodbye as she had to continue with work. Anyway, Isabelle soon found a nice local man who offered his spare apartment to us free of charge. He was even apologising for how small the place was, despite the large bedroom and kitchen.

View of the church and mountains from Sant'Antonino.

The next day we weren’t sure where we wanted to go, so we did some work on our laptops outside while waiting for the mail to be delivered. Martine the wonderful post lady might've had more tips. Around noon she returned and was happy to see us again. She’d gotten a call back from her friend Mireille who lives in a monastery and could host us. The day before she’d even taken the time to drive back up to Sant’Antonino after work to look for us, but we’d already disappeared indoors.

So did we want to stay in a 17th century monastery? Absolutely! We rode down to Cateri where a sweet little lady called Mireille was waiting for us. She was the only person living there over the winter, aside from a few guests here and there. A perfect place to relax.

The Cateri monastery at sunrise. Population: 1, plus two visiting cyclists and a dog.

Or so it sounded. On the first day there was a big feast of 40 people who were volunteers and supporters of the monastery. We ended up being briefly interviewed for the local newspaper, as well as filmed for TV while terribly underdressed for the event. Then the priest was making a speech in French, and after a few minutes I hear some familiar words I've learned during the last two months, like "bicycle" and "around the world", followed by "Finland" and "Sweden". Heads swivelled around towards our previously safe corner in the back of the room, with the priest gesturing us to stand up to receive our applause.

Isabelle doesn't mind public appearances, but my face was about as red as a sunburnt beet after a long run on a hot day.

We stayed for a week anyway, if only to recover from the surprise attention.

Storm clouds rolling in. 
 

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A Fresh New Year at Camargue National Park

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A Fresh New Year at Camargue National Park

Just as Christmas, Isabelle and I celebrated New Year’s Eve quietly. We rented a room in Arles in South France for two days, to have a nice place to relax and watch fireworks in. Turns out France is not the ideal place for this plan, because fireworks were either illegal or just not cared about. So there wasn't much to see. Which was fine, because by midnight we were as sleepy as two puppies in a basket.

But we did get to relax. That’s something I’ve really felt the need for lately. Being on the road for seven months is beginning to have its effect on me. Not that our cycling distances are particularly strenuous (although now that I’m usually pulling the trailer, uphills are more of a challenge). But just the fact of packing every morning, moving even a short distance, and then finding a new place to sleep can become exhausting. With closed camping grounds, wild camping being illegal, cold weather and sleeping at strangers’ homes, there haven’t been many opportunities to enjoy lazy days of doing nothing.

It will soon be time to take the first long rest of the trip, for a couple weeks or more.

But in the meanwhile, the plan for 2018 is to have more adventures. In the last weeks we’ve spent too much time in unphotogenic towns and cities. It’s time to camp more in nature and other interesting or exotic locations. The first stop of the year: Camargue National Park.

Are you lost, Gringo?

Camargue is a wide open area of flat farmland and wetlands in the delta of the Rhone river. It’s famous for its white horses, pink flamingos, and Camargue bulls bred for the bullfighting arenas of the region. We got to see all of them, but the last two didn’t dare come close enough for my 24-70mm lens.

On the first afternoon we spotted two people walking in what looked like grey robes from a distance. Going in for a closer look, they turned out to indeed be genuine monks out for a stroll. Sleeping in a monastery? Definitely an adventure. We asked whether it was possible, but the prices were 40€ for a room or 10€ for camping outside. Paying to sleep in a monastery? Not an adventure, we agreed, and cycled onwards.

The wind was picking up and there weren’t many options for taking shelter. Few buildings, many fences and gates, no forests - only farmland and tall grass. It was already dark by the time we found a farmhouse with nobody around. Sleeping on haystacks in a barn seemed adequately adventurous.

The truth about being a digital nomad.
Waves of the Mediterranean at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.

The next day we cycled to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer and reached the shore of the Mediterranean. Neither one of us had seen the sea since we’d met almost three months earlier, so it was a beautiful sight. This also means I’ve cycled across the continent from the far reaches of Northern Scandinavia all the way to South Europe. That feels like an accomplishment.

Finally we could smell the familiar salty scent of the sea, hear the crashing waves, and enjoy the beautiful sunsets. Even the red supermoon rose to greet us when we stopped for a snack by the shore. The weather was pleasantly warm for the first time in months. Due to faraway storms, the wind blew heavily, so we found a somewhat sheltered place near the beach and camped there for two nights doing nothing much.

Camping in a National Park and resting at the same time? Now this is the way to start the new year.

I've really missed sunsets by the sea.
A soft moonrise over the sea.
 

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Rainy Day

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Rainy Day

I peeked out of my tent again, this time by a beach near Bøvær. It was my third night on Senja, even though the island is small enough to ride through in one day. What’s the point of hurrying when the scenery is so good?

Except today the views weren't as great. It had rained most of the night and according to the forecast, would keep raining until the following day. I didn’t mind. This time I’d actually get to rest on my rest day! There was plenty of food and water to wait out the weather. Plus my phone, laptop and power bank were all at full charge. I was comfortable right where I was.

Wait a second.. this isn't sand. It's billions of pieces of crushed shells!

I had found my secluded beach late in the previous night. On the way I had passed the much bigger Ersfjord beach, which several people had recommended as a great camping spot. When I was there in the evening it was absolutely full of people. I counted 24 tents, 10 caravans and several campfires, and those were just the ones I could see where I was standing. The beach itself was indeed beautiful, but that’s a little too many tourists for my liking.

You see, I don’t like crowds. I enjoy meeting people, and I’m always disappointed if someone at a rest stop avoids eye contact, or responds in a mild “not interested” kind of way to my usual hello. But I really prefer people in small doses. Honestly, large groups and crowds tend to make me slightly anxious. And for me it’s not camping if I can’t visit the bushes without being seen by half a dozen people. So I didn’t stay.

With the sound of rain on my tent fly, I spent the day quietly doing blog stuff, napping, eating, and just generally allowing my muscles to recover. It’s very important that I remember to rest even when not forced to by the weather. Although the actual cycling is very slow and relaxed and much less strenuous than you might imagine for this kind of journey, some amount of rest is still required even at my pace.

And going slowly is basically my motto. I talk about this and other topics in a well-written interview I had with Alpaca Travel: Click here to read it.

Cooking under the tent door flaps.

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Rest Day

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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.

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