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Winter in Belgium


Winter in Belgium

With the arrival of November, the weather took a significant dive. Double digit daytime temperatures were a thing of the past, and at night it dipped even below zero a couple times. It was the inevitable consequence of cycling south at this pace. With Finnish genes and warm gear the cold weather still wasn’t a disaster for me, but Isabelle couldn’t really handle camping anymore. At least until she'd get to Luxembourg where a new sleeping bag was waiting for her.

This caused some friction, because I had been looking forward to sleeping outside more again. Southeast Belgium has a lot of beautiful forest areas in the Ardennes, which sounded nice for camping. In Holland we had mostly slept indoors, which usually results in very little alone time. And there is a limit to how much peopleing I can do. After a while I get exhausted and need to recharge in a quiet place somewhere out in nature.

As a solution, in the Hoge Kempen and the Hautes Fagnes National Parks in Belgium we cycled separate routes and met up in the evening. This gave me a chance to spend extra time taking photos and enjoying some important solitude.

Our first glimpse of Belgium was still colourful and pleasant.
Hoge Kempen in the morning light.

In addition to the seasons, there were also major changes to the terrain. Since Denmark there hadn’t been any uphills whatsoever, but Hautes Fagnes included a climb up to 700m. And there were many more hills ahead. This made cycling even slower, but at least the scenery was finally improving. On the other hand, autumn colours were turning brown and the landscape was often shrouded in fog.

Through the Ardennes we could travel on an old railroad that had been turned into a bicycle path. This was perfect, because Belgians don’t always seem to be the greatest of drivers. Many drive at retarded speeds, and Isabelle had a close call with a truck driver who probably thought “patience” is some kind of Calvin Klein fragrance. So the paved railway was a real luxury. Not only were there no cars, but the slight inclines meant for locomotives were very easy to handle with heavy touring loads.

Every little village has an old church in this part of the world.

When we were in a French-speaking village called Faymonville it even snowed a few centimetres one day. It didn't really affect us however, because we spent the day resting. The previous night we were looking for a place to stay when a car stopped and a woman asked if we needed help. When we explained the situation, she told us to follow her. Within a couple minutes we were taken to her hair salon where she had a studio apartment in the back.

She introduced herself as Caroline, with a heavy accent. She was like a character from a French movie, looking very chic, smoking cigarettes inside and pouring us some red wine. She wouldn't be 'ome for two days, and of course we could stay alone in her apartment and business place for the whole weekend!

So next morning I woke up and looked out the window to see snow falling. I briefly considered getting up to take photos, but just went back to sleep instead.

Merci beaucoup!

Wake up, it's time to ride!
Some of the water drops were still frozen when it was time to be back on the road.


It’s All Downhill to Sweden


It’s All Downhill to Sweden

Examining my route map and the calendar, it was clear I needed to make some decisions. August was turning into September, with temperatures falling towards winter. There was a lot more I wanted to see in Norway - I could easily spend a year or two here. As lovely as it was however, I didn’t want to get stuck in any single place. The rest of the world was still waiting for me. Plus I had to get away from the cold.

It was time to start heading towards Sweden. Google Maps said that from the mountain at Geiranger, the road was several days of mostly gradual downhill, which sounded just lovely. Especially the first part, which was still mountainous and wide open. My eyes were lost in the vastness of the landscape. I stopped often just to look around me and breathe in the views.

Spot the yellow bus in this photo:

Cycling through this makes me feel very small.
Lunchtime rest stop.

The first evening I stopped by a resting area to shoot the sunset. A couple of German guys were cooking sausages and potatoes by a fire behind their camper van. I thought they were avoiding eye contact, which typically means they prefer to be left alone. So I did, and focused on my photos. It turned out my judgement was wrong though, because one of them broke the ice by asking if I would like a potato. Well, I’m not one to turn down food while cycling.

I sat down gladly. They were coming back from Nordkapp towards the end of a long holiday. We ended up having a very nice conversation by the fire, while they kept offering more delicious potatoes and sausages. Eventually I had to depart to look for a campsite before it got dark.

When leaving I was thoughtful. The meeting almost didn’t happen due to my assumption or misread, which makes me wonder how often I miss out on meeting people due to not being open to it or initiating the situations myself. Probably quite a lot. I am much more social while touring than otherwise, but there is still a lot to improve in that regard. It’s certainly something to be mindful of in the future.

Sun setting over the Otta river.

To find a place to sleep I crossed a concrete dam into a quiet pine forest with only one small gravel road and no buildings that I could find. After setting up the tent near the shore of the dammed Otta river I noticed a huge pile of what could only be bear poop just a few meters from my campsite. And two more nearby. I poked the freshest-looking one with a stick. It hadn’t even fully dried yet.

Oh well. They say bears are more afraid of us than we are of them. And I have spent quite a bit of time in forests without ever seeing a glimpse of one, so I didn’t feel concerned. Tiny little ticks worry me more than huge bears with sharp fangs and claws. Which sounds odd, and yet is statistically very sensible. Bears attack something like one person per year in Scandinavia, and most of them are hunters.

The night was clear and full of stars, so I set about to do some astrophotography. There wasn’t much light pollution, and I was south enough to maybe try shooting a Milky Way time-lapse. The centre of the galaxy is below the horizon in North Finland, so this was a rare treat for me. It was the coldest night since June and every breath fogged up. I tried not to breathe on the camera while setting it up, and then paced back and forth to keep warm while waiting for it to finish.

Unfortunately I (again!) stupidly didn't use a hand warmer packet, so the lens fogged up and ruined the sequence. I really ought to stop repeating the same mistakes.

Here's the first shot. You'll just have to imagine the Milky Way behind the trees gliding majestically in the night sky.

The video would've been really nice.


Aches and Pains


Aches and Pains

(Spoiler: It’s not as bad as the title sounds.)

Just as the mind needs a few days to get accustomed to bicycle touring life, so does the body.

Barring any injuries or exceptional conditions, the most uncomfortable period of a bike trip is always days 2-4. Probably largely because I don’t tend to practice or train much (or at all) before starting.

The first day is all joy and happiness, with an overoptimistic sense of “nothing can stop me now”. But even an easy start takes its toll. On the second day I always have slight discomfort and ache in the lower back, wrists and ankles. The saddle in particular is not my friend during this time. Basically all of the contact points with the bicycle complain under duress, and this lasts for about three days.

The culprit trying to look casual.

By the fifth day of cycling, all pain and discomfort is gone and stays gone. This has happened on all four of my previous major tours so far, and it happened again exactly the same way on this one. The body simply adapts to the strain.

Is it just me, or does it look like my tent has a monocle and is about to eat my bags?

In the meanwhile, I've crossed the border into Norway. Because the stores were closed on Sunday, I camped for two nights near Karasjok to refill my supplies. When I started towards Kautokeino, I was bathed, rested and well fed. And generally feeling rather good about my life choices.

World, here I come!

Summer is coming! This may seem late to some of you, but here above the Arctic Circle, the birch tree leaves are only just beginning to open.


Growing Impatience


Growing Impatience

I may have celebrated too early in the last post. The snow just won't go away this year.

The locals tell me this is one of the longest springs they can recall. Usually by this time the snow would be completely gone, soon followed by the ice on the lakes melting away. But the weather has been unusually chilly, which means that by the official measurement there's still a ridiculous 64cm of snow left. And the forecast for the next 10 days isn't helping.

So there's still at least another 2-3 weeks until proper camping season begins. That doesn't leave much time for quick one and two-night practice tours before the big one. In fact, at this point I wouldn't be surprised if we still had snow in June when I start.

Meanwhile, this same time last year...

On the bright side, the main roads are dry and fine for cycling. So at least I can go out to test the bike and get used to the saddle. But the smaller roads that lead to trekking areas and lean-tos are still mostly unaccessible. And the very best part of pushing my bike off the side road of a side road, along a tiny forest path of pine needles, to find an exquisite camping spot by a quiet lake with water perfect for swimming.. that still feels like a pipe dream.


Two Months Remaining


Two Months Remaining

Spring has finally arrived!

As beautiful as the subarctic winter can be, it is not my favourite time of year. For many reasons. The bitter cold feels so hostile - as if the weather itself is actively trying to kill you. Snow covers everything that lives and is beautiful, without even a hint of green anywhere in the landscape. The constant darkness gradually wears you down and latches onto the soul. And worst of all, there's no proper bicycle touring for 7-8 months. It's been a very long wait for spring.

Okay, so it's not a huge improvement yet...

As much as I love the northern lights, I would honestly still trade them in a second for constant summer and touring. And that's more or less what I'm doing. Because soon I'll be heading so far south that chances are I won't see any auroras for a long time.

There's only two months left now, before I begin my five-year trip. A lot needs to be done in that time. Firstly, my Media studies at the Sámi Education Institute are about to end, which means I need to complete my final school project. It's going to be a time-lapse work of the nature surrounding our little village called Inari, shot during the two years I've spent here.

Estimated time of publishing: May 22nd.

The second big one on the "To Do" list is starting my own business. A transition from a student to a professional photographer requires an unsurprisingly large amount of research and paperwork, all of which I would like to finish before the beginning of my tour. Plus of course the actual preparation for the trip itself, various website-related tasks, flying back home to South Finland to spend next week with the family, and just generally getting all my affairs in order and taking care of whatever belongings I can't bring with me on the bicycle.

Not to mention it would be nice to enjoy some get-togethers and hang out with friends while there's still a chance.

The point of all of this: Don't be too surprised if the blog, Instagram and Facebook update a little sluggishly during these two months! The pace will pick up in June when everything is sorted and the tour begins.