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sweden

No Man's Right

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No Man's Right

I’ve passed the 100-day mark, so it’s time to take stock. My National Park tour took 102 days, so from tomorrow onwards, this will be the longest bicycle tour I’ve ever done. Although that one required 5250 kilometres, so I’m still way behind at 3500km for this trip. But I feel like distance cycled is far less important of a number than time spent. Hence the project’s title, I suppose.

Of the first 100 so far I’ve spent every night sleeping outside. Mostly in my tent, except for a few occasions under other shelters where I felt that even a tent was unnecessary. I’ve only slept in three different camping grounds. All the rest were stealth camping in forests and other secluded places. Well.. plus a number of distinctly unstealthy spots out in the open when I was too tired to find anything better.

Throwback to a lake in Norway.

So far I’ve taken full advantage of Everyman’s Right of Finland, Sweden and Norway. It ensures that every person, no matter who they are, has the right to enjoy nature. That includes hiking, cycling, swimming, picking berries and mushrooms, among other activities. Most importantly of all, camping. The ability to camp anywhere, even privately owned forests as long as I’m a reasonable distance away from anyone’s home, is a fantastic priviledge. And in Scandinavia there are plenty of forests and other uninhabited nature available for doing so.

That’s all about to change, however. I’ve just crossed into Denmark by ferry, and unfortunately they don’t have similar outdoor camping priviledges - just a select few spots where pitching a tent is acceptable, and an additional handful of places offered privately by farmers. It could take some getting used to after all the freedom in the north.

On a beautiful morning in North Norway.

I’m not even sure whether Denmark has any actual nature, for that matter. My only previous experience of the country is driving through it in about one hour during a road trip a few years ago. Looking at the satellite images in Google Maps it looks depressingly full of farmland, towns and cities. Whatever forests I can locate seem to be tiny.

From what I understand, much of Germany, Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg (the route I’m considering at the moment) will look similar. Which means I don’t expect untouched nature and solitude for the next few weeks. Photography-wise, I'll get to practice shooting subjects and genres outside my usual landscapes. Even in South Sweden I found it very difficult to find places and photos where man-made structures weren’t visible, and that won’t get easier in much of Europe.

Sweden uses a lot of electricity.
Autumn weather isn't great but the colours can get beautiful.

Oh, and regarding Sweden: There’s not much to report of my stay there. I spent about ten days cycling through, most of which were exceptionally windy and rainy. Autumn has clearly arrived. Camping spots were often poor, especially when on two separate occasions laavus on the map turned out to not be laavus. The last place I visited was indeed a shelter, but kind of dirty and spray-painted with graffiti. Also the roof was leaking, which I found out when it began to rain again in the middle of the night and water started dripping onto my sleeping bag.

So overall, there aren’t many photos from that leg of the journey. (In fact a couple of the images in this update are actually from earlier in Norway. Namely the ones where the weather looks pleasant.) Sorry to any fans of Sweden out there.

All that aside, I feel great. There's about another 1700 days and 47000km left, and I'm looking forward to seeing what they have in store!

It was a dark and stormy night...
 

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Låvu

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Låvu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rocks by the shore were incredibly slippery.

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

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

This should become something I do every day.

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

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Forest of Finns and the Swedish Border

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Forest of Finns and the Swedish Border

The last place I saw in Norway was Finnskogen, literally meaning “The Forest of Finns". 400 years ago some Finnish people escaped poor conditions and hunger back home. After traveling southwest, they eventually came upon this large forest that spanned an area within both Norway and Sweden. From what I understand they did okay at first, settling down to become farmers.

Then there was a change of power and the new guy in charge had a much stricter immigration policy than his predecessor. He ordered my ancestors to be banished. (Aren’t we just so glad about all this progress we’ve made in 400 years..?)

The bailiff refused to do it, saying they were so poor they likely would've starved to death without their land. So they stayed. While not without some difficulties of course, they eventually assimilated into the Swedish and Norwegian cultures.

Just a backlit pine cone doing its thing.

To this day, Finnskogen remains a vast forest with not much habitation. Naturally I thought it would be a nice place for exploring, photography and camping. That turned out to not be the case, however. It’s not a nature reserve, so everything looked like somewhat recently hacked down young forest. Very bushy and uneven ground - the kind where it’s difficult to find great camping spots. Most of the small side roads were private and blocked from access.

Basically, everything looked exactly like any remote country gravel road through a forest in Finland. Which, to me, is rather boring. “New” and “exotic” are words that inspire photography, while “familiar” and “just like home” do not. Mountains and the ocean are great for wide open landscape images, but forests and lakes (which I’ve seen my whole life) make me focus more in small details and macro shots. As you may see in these next few updates.

Autumn is beginning with the first yellow leaves on the ground.

On the third day through the forest, I came across a small village school. It looked empty except for a couple walking outside. I was glad to overcome my usual shyness to ask for a water refill, because they turned out to be very friendly indeed. After one mention of my habit of showering at camping grounds, I was led to the school's gym. Only minutes after arriving I had the boys’ locker room to myself for a free shower!

As I’ve said before, getting to enjoy a proper wash and a set of clean clothes after some days of touring and camping feels like an oasis in a desert for the thirsty traveller. And doubly so when it’s helpfully offered by generous strangers. I couldn’t thank them enough for this assistance.

I believe this is a berry of some kind.

After two and a half outstanding months of cycling in picturesque Norway, I finally crossed into Sweden. Rather unceremoniously, after sunset and in the rain. There were barely any signs to mark the border along this small road. Sweden looks extremely similar to Finland, so I didn’t have high expectations for my stay. (In fact the general plan was, and is, to go through relatively quickly into the more exciting mainland Europe. Sorry Sweden fans.) Plus it was raining so much that setting up camp would've been tricky.

So I cycled on. I pedalled through Lekvattned and Torsby until it was 3am and I was soaked. On the wide highway 45 I came across a truck stop. It was far from a great place to camp, but they did have a cover from the rain where I could eat and dry some of my stuff. To avoid a wet tent, I pitched it on the concrete under the shelter, and only then carried it over to a grassy spot.

This so-called campsite was hardly more than 10 meters away from the highway. My shoes were wet. My socks were wet. The rain continued on and on. It was cold. I was tired. And I knew that about three hours after falling asleep, the traffic would start with trucks passing right by my ears.

Welcome to Sweden.

How are you even reading these hidden alt texts??
Time-lapse frame of the sunset back in Biri.
 

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It’s All Downhill to Sweden

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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.
 

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