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timelapse

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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Vadehavet National Park

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Vadehavet National Park

All of Denmark is pretty flat, but especially the west side. It was almost eerie to not see any hills or elevation. Just perfectly level farmland, far into the distance. The only things blocking the view were buildings and occasional trees. And lots of massive wind turbines, which provide almost half of Denmark’s energy.

I’d felt a slight headache all day, and when I reached the shore of the Vadehavet National Park, it got worse. Suddenly I felt completely out of it and was barely able to pitch my tent on some grass by the sea. Skipping all my usual evening routines, I went straight to bed to sleep it off. This kind of thing seems to happen to me a couple times a year. Headache accompanied by nausea, and for the rest of the day I can’t function at all. Some kind of ‘mangraine', I suppose.

I love wind power in theory, but that constant wooshing sound can get a little annoying.
Is flat.

The next day I felt fine again. I backtracked a couple kilometres to visit the nearby Nature Centre, but it would’ve cost 14€ just to get in the building. That’s an unreasonable price tag for information that ought to be free. I dried my tent and clothes in the sun outside while muttering about how Finnish national parks are better.

Vadehavet (or the Wadden Sea) is a huge national park and another UNESCO World Heritage site. It spans 10000km2 off the coasts of Denmark and Germany. I assumed (probably incorrectly) that the name means something like “The Wading Sea”, because it’s so shallow that you could walk into it for miles, especially during low tide. Even the sea was flat here.

I was about to continue towards Germany, when an older gentleman suggested I visit the island of Mandø. It was connected to the mainland by five kilometres of rocky road, which was inaccessible every 12 hours or so, because it got submerged during high tide! This sounded like a fun place to visit. At the start of the road there were warning signs saying “Tide Race” and “No crossing without knowledge of the tides”. The old man had said it was several hours until the water would rise. I googled to double check, and then crossed the sea like some bicycle touring Moses.

This road looks fine for cycling!
This sight would become all too familiar soon enough.

Mandø was surrounded by a three-meter tall dike, a sloping seawall, covered in grass. It kept the water away during storms and also provided grazing ground for a lot of sheep. The mainland had the same kind of dike. (And it continued very, very far, as I would later find out.)

The island was a few kilometres across, with some farms, houses, summer cabins, and a small village centre. There was a camping ground, a shop, a couple restaurants and a very nice-looking windmill. I figured I’d stay at least until the next low tide. I showered at the campsite, took some photos, ate dinner, and chatted with a couple bird spotters. There were many different migratory birds in the nature reserve and subsequently also many enthusiastic people with binoculars and telescopes.

There's nothing quite like a sunset by the sea.

When the stars came out I returned to the windmill. The village had quieted down. I took a few still photos and then set a time-lapse of the scene below. This gave me an hour and a half to lie down and look at the stars while waiting for the camera. I really enjoy these moments of doing nothing while the camera’s shutter clicks away, recording movement where I see stillness.

I’ve been hooked on time-lapse since the first clip I ever shot, three years ago in Finland. It was the second week of my photography studies at the Kuusamo College, and I had a new camera with a timer to play with. The northern lights were expected to appear, and I had recently moved there from South Finland so had never seen them before. I cycled out at night to a lake by a forest, and waited until there was a hint of green in the sky.

I set the tripod and shot a sequence over something like half an hour, with stars and auroras reflecting off the water. Even now I remember thinking how cool it was, and I couldn’t wait to see the video. Of course it was out of focus, and unstable because I kept touching the camera's buttons. I even composed the shot vertically, which really shows how clueless I was.

But I loved it, and kept doing it. And here I am now, traveling the world and shooting time-lapses semi-professionally.

Funny how one night can change the course of your whole life.

I got lucky and there were no cars with headlights ruining the 90-minute shot.
 

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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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Trondheim and Entering West Norway

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Trondheim and Entering West Norway

After waking up on a beach in Hommelvik, I continued west towards Trondheim. It was only 25km away, but there was a very uncomfortable headwind. After less than a third of the way I simply gave up and rolled into the nearest camping ground. Pushing through wind is a huge waste of energy when there’s time to wait for better weather.

Plus I needed to process some of the time-lapse sequences I’ve shot along the way. Which requires being plugged in to a wall socket. There are now 22000 RAW files from 90 clips in the first two months. That takes far too much computing time to make even a slight dent to that on battery power. I spent the day editing, stabilizing, exporting, deflickering, cloning, and rendering.

Ocean view on the way to Trondheim.

The next morning I was in Trondheim. First I visited a couple bicycle shops. The gears still felt kind of heavy, but less so than before. Lightening the panniers must have helped. In any case, the mechanics told me it’s not so easy to change the setup. The rear can’t fit a 40t cassette, as I found out in Mo i Rana, and there’s nothing smaller widely available for the front, at least without some digging to order online.

To make some changes the whole system might need to be swapped. Which is expensive and seems somewhat unnecessary now. I’ll be leaving Norway towards Sweden soon, and the landscape is going to be somewhat flat for months. So I’ll just wear out the gears I have, and revisit the issue before the Alps.

To my surprise, Trondheim was actually a very pleasant city! Perhaps due to the dedicated bicycle lanes, or the massive Burger King meal with a milkshake I was high on (probably both). Cycling through unfamiliar city centres is typically an ordeal, but this time I was even thinking I could easily live here for a while some day. Go figure.

Panorama of riverside buildings in Trondheim.

Through an online tip I had heard that the Atlantic Road near Kristiansund was one of the most beautiful cycling routes in Norway. I couldn’t miss that! It was a few days’ ride from Trondheim, and more or less towards Geirangerfjord, which was another major destination for me. So I head west.

After a tiring day in the city, I didn’t get very far. Somewhere before Orkanger I was ripe for some sleep, but no suitable tent places had appeared. I came across a camping ground, but it looked like the only available grass spots were in the middle of caravans. I can’t stand cramped spaces when camping - the whole point of sleeping in a tent is to be out in nature far from crowds. Hot showers and kitchens are nice, but the most important luxury of camping is space.

I was tired however, and still tempted to stay there. But the surrounding area looked promising - lots of pine trees and not too many houses, so I decided to cycle on to have a look around before paying to listen to somebody snoring in a camper van. (Or perhaps impose my own snoring on them...) Only 500 meters away there was a beach surrounded by forest. Perfect. I chose a great sheltered place to camp by the side of a cliff.

No camping ground could ever offer such a spot all to myself. It rained the next day so I stayed for two nights.

I considered camping on the beach itself until I realized the high tide submerges all the sand.

City lights reflecting in the water.
 

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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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The New Time-Lapse Video is Out!

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The New Time-Lapse Video is Out!

It's been eight months since my last time-lapse release, so I'm thrilled to say the new video is finally ready! This is my tribute to the nature of Inari:

I shot this video over the two years I've lived here. In that time I accumulated over 30000 frames, less than 10% of which made it to the final film. Editing and processing took about eight weeks of part-time effort. The most difficult part of creating the video is actually finding the right music. That alone can take weeks sometimes. But when I finally settle on a song, everything else just falls into place.

I have also submitted this as my final project for the Sámi Education Institute, meaning my studies are almost over! The ball is rolling now and a lot of changes are coming soon.

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Two Months Remaining

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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.

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