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A Few Days at Passo Gavia

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A Few Days at Passo Gavia

I knew nothing about Passo Gavia beforehands. I thought it was just another mountain pass I had to cross to get to my real destination, Stelvio Pass. That’s why I preferred to hitchhike. On the way up my driver Augustin told me it was a legendary Giro d’Italia climb. When the route goes through Gavia, it’s usually the highest point of the race.

As the van climbed the narrow road to above the treeline, I gasped at the views. Near the top the landscape was a combination of grey rock and green moss and grass. Nothing else growed there. It reminded me a lot of the mountain above Geiranger. At the top I took my bike out of the van and went to explore the foggy evening. Almost right away a mountain goat appeared, casually crossing the road.

Why did the ibex cross the road?

I didn’t know camping wasn’t allowed, so I put my tent near a mountain biking path behind the beautiful Lake Nero, 220 meters down from the top. No one else was around, I had the entire mountain to myself. For the first time in a long, long time I felt the peace and freedom that only seems available in places like these. I had almost forgotten just how important this kind of wilderness is to me. Why do I spend so little time in locations that feed my imagination? Cycling through all those densely populated areas in Europe seemed like a bad idea in retrospect.

This is the kind of place where I should've spent most of the last year.

The next morning I met an Austrian hiker called Andi. He had previously done a long bike trip in South America, and spoke highly of Patagonia. There’s another place I would love to spend a lot of time in. We shared similar views on trekking and life, and ended up talking for some time. Later after a lunch I pushed my bike back onto the road, and Andi appeared with his car. He offered to take my bags up to the bar on Gavia so I could cycle the tough last hairpins with a lighter load. I agreed gladly.

At the bar I got quite a welcome from the staff. “Finlandia! Around the world bicycle! Five years!” My new friend had told everyone I was coming. The owner took a photo of me for Facebook and even went to fetch his old mother to see me. I just laughed somewhat uncomfortably, as I tend to do when faced with too much sudden attention.

A thunderstorm engulfed the mountain as soon as I arrived, with very heavy rain that morphed into hail. Without Andi’s help I would’ve been stuck outside during the worst of it. Lucky again!

I think I'll wait a bit more.

I spent another night at Gavia, then freewheeled all the way down to restock and rest in a camping ground for a night. When I tried to come back up from Ponte di Legno, I discovered that it was the first day ever that the mountain was closed for motor traffic! So much for hitchhiking. This time I had to get up on my own. I cycled maybe 10% of the way and pushed the rest. Passing road cyclists showed a lot of respect for someone crazy enough to attempt the climb with so much luggage. Yet probably every single one of them was in better shape than me.

It took all day, but at 2620 meters there was a great sense of achievement. I learned I was capable of more than I thought. This was good to know, and useful practice for future climbs. The Pamir Highway goes up to 4500m for example, if I end up going that way.

I had time to sit and watch sunsets with the camera.

After three days on Gavia, I finally went over to the north side of the pass. I descended a few hundred meters to an Agriturismo (a kind of farmhouse B&B), where I asked for a place to camp without high hopes. But the family running the place was extremely friendly. Furthermore, they had plenty of private land that wasn’t a part of the national park, so I finally had a safe and legal place to sleep.

I stayed another two nights just enjoying the mountain views and doing a little bit of hiking.  This is another way in which I’m incredibly lucky. To have so much free time and the ability to spend it in locations like this. That is something I should never forget to be grateful for.

PS: There's a few more photos in my article about Gavia for bicycle tourers.

I wish I hadn't screwed up this photo.

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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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Underwater Camping

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Underwater Camping

After Isabelle rejoined me we stayed a few days at my campsite on farmland near the Cargèse beach. Neither of us felt like cycling and it was raining, so we just waited out the weather. On the first sunny morning an old man drove up to our apparently-not-hidden-enough camp. He was the owner of the land and came to politely inform us that camping wasn’t legal around these parts, even if alternative accommodation is practically unavailable during off season.

The timing was fine, since we were about to leave anyway. But to my recollection this is the first time ever I’ve been asked to leave while stealth camping, even if he was rather nice about it. Probably won’t be the last, though.

We spent the day in town charging our devices.

The beaches look nice, but waves are often too much for swimming.

At the next beach we set up our tents between the bushes. Late in the evening it started raining again, so I got up to cover my tent with a tarp. After hundreds of uses during the last five years the outer fly is showing signs of wear and tear. It’s not too serious yet, but it can let a few drops of water seep through in heavy rain. I preferred not waking up to that, so the tarp is a decent extra insurance against the elements. I was glad to have it, because the sound of the rain grew quite heavy as I was falling asleep.

Long exposure shot by the Mediterranean shore.

A couple hours later I woke up to a weird sensation. I was wet, inside the sleeping bag. That was very bad news. Water was still falling outside, and somehow it had gotten into the tent, soaking everything. I opened the door to investigate. The tarp above remained intact, but what used to be grass below me was now four inches of water.

When choosing the campsite I had only paid attention to how visible it was from the few houses near the shore just outside the beach. We wouldn’t want to be thrown out again, after all. I hadn’t stopped to consider that the place was also on a slight depression, and the hills around us collected all the water to run through that exact spot on its way to the sea. So my nice campsite had quickly turned into a small stream.

Oops.

I picked up my tent and carried it to a drier spot, with water sloshing around on the bottom of it. There was no choice but to abandon everything. At least my panniers kept the electronics dry.

In moments like these it's great to not be travelling alone. Isabelle was only a few metres away, but on slightly higher ground and therefore relatively safe. Sometimes I make light fun of her oversized and difficult to pitch tent, but on this occasion it saved me from a very uncomfortable night.

It's her favourite toy - any random stick.
Everything was dry again the next day.

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On Touring with a Dog

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On Touring with a Dog

So besides all the added weight, what’s it like to have a pet on a bike trip? In the case of Kira, quite nice. She is remarkably easy to take care of. If she’s thirsty, she’ll ask for water by pawing at the bottle. She doesn’t run away when off the leash. And if you open the tent door and tell her to go pee, she’ll dutifully do so (or fake it, if necessary) and come right back inside.

She doesn’t really seem like a dog at all. The only time I hear her bark is when she’s feeling extra playful, and then it’s 100% of the time her saying “Throw the fucking stick already!”

Always on the lookout for any dropped food.

The vast majority of the time she’s super chilled. The only things she doesn’t like are children, other dogs near her food cart (trailer), and flying insects. If she’s in the same room with a bug she’ll pace nervously while looking at humans in a kind of “Are you going to do something about this or not?” way.

She loves food, cuddles, and the beach. My headaches and tiredness passed and I needed to bathe, so I took her to the beach. She was so excited she even chased her own tail in an unprecedentedly dogsmanship-like manner. The last time I went swimming was probably in August in Norway, so I was pretty happy too. Not enough to chase any tails, but still.

This is one happy dog.

An off-duty surfer gave us directions to a great campsite nearby, with pine trees. It was a planted forest and doubled as a pasture for cows, but good enough. Pine forests are my favourite camping terrain, and always remind me of home.

There was two days of heavy rain coming, so I set up a tarp above the tent. It had a double purpose - to keep the tent and cooking area extra dry, and to collect the rainwater into my Ortlieb folding bowl. Kira drinks a lot, and if I also use free water for cooking, tea and brushing my teeth, I can cut down my carried water consumption to a third. So we were ready to wait out the weather.

Sometimes it's nice to have a tarp when camping.

If it’s not too cold for her to stay outside the sleeping bag, Kira prefers to roll up by my feet. But when the rain and thunder arrived in the night, she looked scared and it didn’t take much convincing to get her to snuggle up under my arm for safety. She licked my ear gratefully a couple times, and then snored directly into it for the rest of the night, drowning out the sound of the storm. 

Still, a warm fuzzy dog in your sleeping bag is pure happiness. I can definitely see the benefits of travelling with a dog.

A bend in the road in Piana.

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Of Things Frozen and Melted

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Of Things Frozen and Melted

In France, the snow fell. Frost covered the branches reaching above the canal. And I was cycling alone.

After meeting Isabelle two months ago, it has been an eventful and tumultuous time. So many things have happened it feels like a year has passed. Perhaps it’s clear that things between us have developed more and earlier than I’ve mentioned. At first I didn’t feel it was right to discuss it here, and recently was more interested in actually living life and seeing what happens, rather than write about it. Nor do I ever want to turn this into a relationship blog. But it’s time for a little recap.

I hope this road will take me somewhere warm.

The first weeks were great. Too good to be true, almost. Normally I take a long time to get to know people, but we clicked right away. It was a whole new experience of openness and honesty, as opposed to the gradual undoing of reservations and distance that I’ve previously had a tendency for.

But then, when feelings get involved, things get more complicated. Especially when we both bring our own emotional baggages. We suddenly became scared that this thing could become serious. Maybe too good to be true was right. And what about our solo trips? There was no room for a relationship in our plans. Each of us took turns running or pushing the other away. Each time it didn’t work, or brought us closer.

Nothing can survive in this barren landscape.
When I stopped the bike for a photo, I realised the road was so slippery I could barely walk on it.

Yet there I was again, alone on an icy cycling path. Few people were interested in being outdoors on such a cold day, with the exception of some hunters yelling in the forest. White cranes glided above the water towards safety.

We had separated for several days. Both hoping to travel south faster on our own, as well as a final test to see whether we could continue together. I certainly needed time to think. My habit of pushing people away was kicking in strong, but at the same time I found myself missing Isabelle already. She hitchhiked a few hundred kilometres ahead, and some days I broke previous distance records for the trip to get to her, and at other times I felt so frustrated and drained that I could barely move forward. The fear of her not waiting was surpassed by the fear of sharing my life with someone. Back and forth.

Cycling around the world is so easy compared to the task of dealing with my own emotions. A frozen heart takes a long time to thaw.

I left home hoping to never experience cold winters and snow again.

After a week of this I was in Chalon, right before the final stretch. Isabelle had eventually decided to wait. She was half a day’s ride away, and I stopped for a coffee with a Warmshowers host, who turned out to be quite an angel. We only spoke briefly, but her energy and presence gave me the last encouragement I needed to get past my fears. I finally knew what I wanted. It really wasn’t all that complicated.

I cycled to Isabelle and told her. Having found courage, but still lacking wisdom, it wasn’t easy nevertheless. We still had fights to go through and problems to sort. I had to open my heart and connect with her in a way I had never had the strength to even consider before.

There are many treasures I expected to find on this journy. Countless beautiful places and photographs, fascinating people, experiences both positive and bad to learn from. One thing I never expected to discover was love. Perhaps now, against all odds, it has found me.

Looks like this will be a two-person trip from now on.

A bridge over cold water.
 

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Winter in Belgium

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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.
 

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Xavier

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Xavier

It’s always been a difficult thing for me to ask for help in most situations. Accepting help that gets offered has gradually gotten easier, especially thanks to bicycle touring and the countless wonderful people I’ve met during them. But asking a stranger for something that hasn’t been offered feels like a very different thing. When I hitchhiked through the tunnel in Norway, my heart was beating every time I raised my thumb. Of course I’m glad I get out of my comfort zone and do things that scare me, but they’re still scary at the time.

I was eating breakfast under a bus stop in Bremerhaven after my rude awakening in the last update. I had dried my laptop, camera and hard drives with tissues as best I could, and moved them into a dry pannier. It looked like I may have avoided permanent damage. I’d even managed to nap a couple more hours, during which the tent and sleeping bag of course had taken in even more water. When I exited out into the rain, I poured out so much water from the bottom of the tent that I could’ve filled a coffee pot with it.

So under this bus stop, for the first time so far, I checked my phone for Warmshowers hosts nearby (basically Couchsurfing for cyclists). If hitchhiking is challenging, asking someone I’ve never met online if I could come over for a night, is several zones outside of comfort. It took me 45 minutes to send a message. Of course I tried to make it cool and casual. Like 'Germany hates me and my life’s work is underwater, would be kinda nice to meet though. No biggie if it’s any inconvenience at all. I do this kind of thing all the time.'

Achtung - possible flooding.

While waiting for an answer I continued very slowly onwards. At one point I met a cycle touring couple on their way north. Which was weird, because I was going south and yet they were headed in the same direction. I pointed this out, and the man kind of frowned for a moment, but rallied and decided they were on the right path. I pointed out their location in Google Maps, which wasn’t where he expected to be, but still he insisted to keep going. I pointed out that the harbour, which was right there to the right, should really be on their left when going north. He wasn’t having any of it.

I shrugged and quietly pedalled with them for a couple blocks, until they stopped to ask a harbour custom’s officer for instructions. Looking behind me, I saw her pointing in the direction we came from. Accepting new information can be difficult too, I suppose.

My plan B, the next camping ground, was across the river in Nordenham. There were no bridges because of the boat traffic to Bremen. I went to check out the ferry stop and there were two Swiss cyclists heading to Amsterdam. They seemed more reasonable people, and I couldn’t wait for a reply from Warmshowers much longer, so I hopped on the next ferry with them for a chat. It’s getting late in the season for bicycle touring, so these meetings are getting rare compared to summer in Norway. And I could use a bit of cheering up right then.

I made it to the camping ground and it was like I’d gone through the gates of heaven. Very helpful owner who even spoke English, the sun came out, I dried my gear, found out the electronics had survived, had a shower, ate well… finally a place to take it easy. I knew I’d require at least two nights of rest. It wasn’t crowded like the previous places, there were city rabbits munching on the grass, and the first night a small hedgehog woke me up by trying to squeeze under my tent a few inches from my face. I shoo’d it off as too spiky of a companion.

There wasn't a lot to take pictures of during this time.

I felt rested after a couple days, but the weather just kept getting worse. Looking at 9m/s headwinds, I made an easy decision to stay another night. Surely the conditions would improve soon, I thought. The fourth day of my stay was when storm Xavier hit Germany… Hurricane level winds that exceeded 100km/h flooded streets and caused a lot of damage. Several people died from falling trees. It was the strongest storm I’ve ever experienced.

The owners invited me indoors for safety. There was just enough shelter for my tent that it wasn’t at too much risk of getting blown away, but a large branch flying through could’ve been a disaster. One of the caravans had its front porch tossed above its roof with the tarp and metal pipes in a tangled mess.

The aftermath made me realise that not only was the previous weather actually not that bad in comparison, but I was fortunate to have had the slight trouble with rain, because it had brought me to this place. If I had been camping on the shore by the dike, out in the open, I don’t know what would’ve happened.

Pier under water in Nordenham.
I tried my hand at macro shots at the camping ground.
 

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Germany is a Cruel Mistress

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Germany is a Cruel Mistress

After the great experience at the lighthouse, challenges started piling up again. I had a hard time coming to grips with Germany. It wasn’t anything major, just many small things adding together. The near-continuous headwind set the mood, and everything else made it worse.

I would wake up before joggers and dog walkers found my campsite, and look for a camping ground with a shower. 3G connection in rural areas was surprisingly awful for such an advanced first world country. This meant no Google Maps or info on routes or destinations, so I’d cycle the wrong way just to return empty-handed.

Yep, still going along the dike.

Asking people for directions didn't work, because in the German countryside, very few speak English. People are usually friendly - often saying hello when cycling by, or stopping to ask something about me or my bike. But when I say ‘I’m sorry, I don’t speak German?', 90% of conversations end right there.

Although not everyone is friendly. Some people respond to my ‘hello' by looking at me with such disdain that I may as well be literally poop in human form.

Which also reminds me - businesses are not so helpful to passing travellers looking for a toilet. But you can use the disgusting public bathroom without a seat three kilometres that way. Oh and no, the showers are only for overnight guests.

Although one particular morning brought nice conditions with autumn morning light.

Camping grounds can be hideous as well. After crossing the Elbe on a ferry to Cuxhaven, it was late and raining and I tried to find a place to sleep. Two other camping grounds were either full or closed, until I found one where the owner was a tough-as-nails old lady. She looked at me like some idiot. Trying to find a tent place, in late September, without a reservation? Shaking her head she looked for a free spot among a thousand white caravans parked inches from each other.

She pointed her flashlight at a bit of grass surrounded by caravans. From her gesturing I understood that it was the only available place. The grass squelched from the rainwater. And I didn’t see how my neighbours wouldn’t stumble over my tent when they’d wake up. I basically would’ve had to put some of my stakes under their cars. Why do people stay in these overcrowded trailer parks? I genuinely don’t comprehend the appeal of them. "We have a home on wheels that we can drive practically anywhere on Earth - let’s park it in a Tetris block of mobile homes until the holiday is over."

Even while tired and frustrated, I preferred to return to the rain and darkness rather than take that spot. After examining satellite images under a bus stop I rode another few kilometres to a forest behind a hospital and camped there. It was midnight, but I had to set the alarm to after six to leave early, because I wasn’t supposed to be there.

I'll take a horror movie forest over a shitty camping ground any day.

It continued like this. Too little sleep, back into the demoralising headwind, rear brakes start dragging on the disc and need adjusting, nope - you can’t use the toilets here either, now the front shifter isn’t shifting, and the chain is rusting from all the rain... nothing went my way.

Oh, you want to have a rest day? Nein, das kamping ground ist closed. No good news anywhere. Finally in Bremerhaven I camped in the only place I could find, by the shore near a massive cargo harbour. It was a windy spot, and it rained hard during the night. I slept uneasily in the storm. The wind forced the outer fly of my tent against the inner mesh, which sometimes causes a few drops of water to seep through.

At 4am I woke up to a strange sensation. My sleeping bag was wet, as well as the backpack with my electronics. There was a puddle around me. For the first time in about 400 nights of camping, my tent had failed me.

Fucking hell.

To expand my time-lapse horizons, I started a new series of cityscapes with this scene.
"The day does shine on a pile of twigs as well", as the wise old saying in Finland goes.
 

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Welcome to Bække

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Welcome to Bække

After a slow breakfast, a shower at a nearby camping ground, and one hour’s cycling, I saw a free camping sign. There was some mowed lawn, a fire pit, a small hut with firewood, a toilet, and a guestbook. The spot was somewhat sheltered by trees, with a boy scout building right next door. The larger landscape consisted of patches of farmland and fenced pastures for horses and a few cows. A village called Bække was less than two kilometres away.

I guess I picked the wrong day to quit eating grass.

It was very early for camping, but I have my rule to never pass great campsites. Perhaps even more importantly, there was a lot of rain on the way. I could already smell it in the air. Staying made much more sense than pedalling in rain and looking for a wet campsite some hours later. I pitched my tent with the tarp on top for extra protection, then cycled to the nearest shop to buy food.

It rained for most of the night. The seams on my inflatable pillow failed, after five years of use. I slept with a towel placed awkwardly under my head.

Yep. That's the moon alright.

In the morning I wiped off the slime trails left by snails on my tent, packed up, wrote my thanks in the guestbook, and rode to Bække again. This time I found an unmanned tourist office. A room with plenty of information and leaflets, a small exhibition, a place to sit at a table, a microwave - even tissues, papers and pens, and various other bits and pieces. Someone clearly had tried to think about things that visitors might need, and then provided those things. The bathroom even had a free shower.

I took the opportunity to recharge my devices, and ended up using the place as a kind of personal office. I don’t get many chances to sit in peace with the laptop plugged in for some time-lapse work and other digital nomad stuff. No one else was there for hours, until the very friendly manager came to say hello and ask me if I needed anything. He explained that during the summer season they have staff present, but at this time of the year the office is just left open for anyone to use. He went out of his way to loan me some super glue for the pillow, but unfortunately it wasn’t strong enough for the job.

Eventually I stayed so long I decided to simply use the same campsite for a second night. In the first 100 days I had only taken 16% rest days. That seemed too few, even considering my otherwise slow pace. It was time to start resting more. I picked up some sausages and veggies to fry by the fire, and had the free shower waiting for me before leaving. All in all, Bække was perhaps the most tourist-friendly place I’ve been to. Everything was provided free of charge.

Beech tree forest path.

While I often talk about how wonderful it is to receive help and kindness from meetings with strangers directly, these kinds of anonymous gifts or services have a special kind of place in the life of an adventurer. Whether it’s a picnic table, a drinking water tap, a shelter, a helpful sign, or anything, in a way it feels like a heartwarming little note saying:

“Dear traveller,

Regardless of your skin colour, sexuality, or financial status, this is for you. We respect your desire to visit new places and are glad that your journey has brought you here. We understand that being on the road isn’t always easy, so hopefully the facilities offered here are of some help.

Yours truly,
Local people”

Hopefully some day I’ll own a patch of land that I can turn into a little oasis for passing travellers.

Average Danish road.
 

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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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Camping Ground Downtime

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Camping Ground Downtime

I woke up among the aforementioned spruces. An unpleasant smell assaulted my nostrils. In other circumstances I could’ve blamed a deceased rodent, but I hadn’t showered for three days, so it was probably just my own stench. Normally I try to shower at least every two days - or if it’s hot and sweaty, I go swimming every day. Some cyclists say they can go a week without bathing, but for me the third day is already a high level emergency. I just hate being filthy. So the first order of business was to find a hot shower.

On the road I felt tired again. My legs felt sluggish and pedalling felt like a chore. I was even slightly annoyed for no particular reason. I knew what that meant. It was a sure sign that I needed rest badly. Clearly I had been on the move too much and required downtime. Two or three days should do it.

The timing wasn’t bad for it - there was a severe rain warning for the area. According to yr.no up to 50-85mm of water would come down in the next two days, and I would definitely not want to be cycling during that. I found a camping ground in Eidsbygda and booked it for three nights.

The night I arrived I tried to take a time-lapse of the sunset turning into a starry sky over the fjord. Unfortunately I underestimated air humidity and the lens fogged up halfway through. But I did see a very bright green meteor, which made it to one of the still frames.

Meteor flash over a fjord in Norway.

It rained for most my stay. Not as crazy as 85mm in the end, but still the second biggest downpour I’ve experienced during my year of camping on bike trips (all tours combined). It wasn’t a problem, though. My tent kept my sleeping bag dry, and I spent much of the time in the warmth of the kitchen doing computer stuff.

I did lose one of my hard drives, however. The 480GB SSD stopped working suddenly. Luckily that’s just a temporary storage and working drive, so I didn’t lose any original photos, just some hours of time-lapse processing. Not a disaster. It’s also under warranty, and after some back and forth with Sandisk about not having a permanent address, I should be able to get a replacement. This does make me want to be more careful with the two remaining 3TB drives.

Besides that, I ate well, slept a lot, and of course enjoyed some extremely thorough showers. Good as new. These regular resets are crucial for physical and mental wellbeing. At two and a half months this is still an average tour length for me, so I feel like I have a fairly good idea of what to expect. But from the fourth month onwards it will be uncharted territory. Later on I may need to learn to take recovery periods of a week or two, perhaps even longer.

So this serves as a kind of reminder to myself to pay careful attention to how I feel, to avoid any minor issues growing into bigger problems.

Post-rain fog and clouds billowing down the mountain.

The camping ground was beautifully located by a quaint fjord surrounded by mountains. Presumably the waters were great for fishing, because there were quite a few boats on the pier. It seemed like most of the other occupants were carrying fishing poles and lures on their way out, and buckets of fish upon return.

One such fisherman was Jan from Holland. I was processing the soon-to-be-lost time-lapses in the kitchen and he walked right over to inspect my photo gear. He was a photographer also, and we tend to be curious about other people’s lens choices. So we started talking. He and his wife Corie (apologies for the probably incorrect spelling) were travelling by camper van and had been to that same camping ground dozens of times over the years.

They were an exceptionally nice and friendly couple, and soon invited me over as a guest. They told me about their history and I spoke about my trip. First over a cup of tea, and then progressing to a glass of wine. The vast majority of random meetings on a bike tour are, while wonderful, rather short. So I was very happy to sit down and talk beyond the usual questions. To the point where I probably missed the first few subtle hints that it was getting late and the evening was over.

Before I left, they even gave me packets of mashed potato powder and freshly caught fish fillet. And I was welcome to visit their home, should my journey pass through the Netherlands. It’s heartwarming to make friends like this while travelling.

After wiping off the rain-inflicted rust from my chain, I continued my adventure. All the joy of touring had returned and I smiled brightly at oncoming traffic for the first few kilometers.

I had the fish with mashed potatoes for lunch in Åndalsnes, and it was delicious!

Cycling into the sunset.
 

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A Day to Forget

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A Day to Forget

On the Atlantic Road I had found a place to camp on a small mound. Surrounded only by weeds and grass, there was no shelter from the sun, which woke me up at noon - earlier than I would’ve liked.

The plan was to stay in the area for two or three days, relaxing and taking pictures. After breakfast and general morning laziness, I went for a cup of tea in a nearby cafe. Or tried to. Inside two construction guys were tearing open a metal plated wall with a circular saw, with the purpose of installing a new fireplace. The noise was hellish, so I aborted the mission. Instead I found a picnic table elsewhere for lunch.

The weather forecast suspected nothing but grey clouds in my near future, so I changed my thoughts of spending another night there. Good photos would be unavailable in those conditions, so may as well keep cycling. I don’t know where all the time went, considering I hadn’t done anything all day, but it was late afternoon or early evening when I hit the road.

Bus stop somewhere west of Trondheim.

On the bike there was a nagging feeling of something being wrong. I felt low on energy. I mentally rounded up the usual suspects: too little food the previous day, not enough sleep the previous night, too much sunshine in the morning, or insufficient rest days lately? Perhaps any or all of them. I decided to go extra slowly and listen to any further messages from my body. After the first 20km it started raining, so I ducked into a store for an hour to recharge batteries and eat ice cream.

By the evening I felt better and found my stride, cycling south towards Molde. Except soon enough, when it was already dark, I somehow got sidetracked off the main road without noticing. Only after several kilometres came the realisation that I’d been headed in the wrong direction. The road I was on added another 30km compared to the direct path. But I’d already started, so I resigned to the detour. Frankly it didn’t really make sense to take a scenic route, because there were no views beyond whatever was within the radius of my headlamp. On the other hand, turning back always seems demoralising, senseless - almost inhuman.

Post-sunset sky by the ocean in Middle-Norway.

I’ve never listened to anything on headphones while cycling. It always seemed better to actually experience my surroundings. But on this particular occasion I felt that a podcast in one ear was warranted. The rest of the night was spent pedalling with the help of Revisionist History, by Malcolm Gladwell. In case you’re not familiar, he’s an excellent storyteller who always finds a fascinating angle to almost any topic. Highly recommended.

In Molde I came across another surprise. What I had assumed to be a bridge towards Røvika actually turned out to be another tunnel where cyclists weren’t welcome. Oops. Sometimes I wish I spent a little time planning my route ahead, instead of just glancing at Google Maps haphazardly. The alternative was a 45km road all around Fannefjord. Having already cycled so many extra kilometres, I wasn’t eager for a second detour on the same day.

The bus was an option again, but it was the night or early morning, so they weren’t running yet. I was tired and not in the mood for.. anything, really. Most of all I didn’t want to stay in Molde, which was a much bigger city than I had anticipated to see in this area.

Village.jpg

Camping and making decisions only after sleeping would’ve been the best choice, but finding a campsite that close to a city isn’t always easy. Especially if you’re planning on sleeping until 4pm and have to deal with daytime traffic. There was a camping ground nearby, but those typically want you out by noon. Paying for a piece of lawn is bad enough, but I draw the line at also setting my alarm to wake up early for it. That would be ridiculous.

I just wanted out of the city. So instead of waiting for the tunnel bus, I called a taxi. On the other side morning was beginning to arrive and I felt exhausted. Soon enough I found a small spruce forest to sleep in.

All in all, this was a rather forgettable day with zero photos taken - all the photos here are previously unused frames from elsewhere in the trip. Since the blog is updated every three days, I could easily just leave out the less interesting parts from these posts (ie. all of the above). But I just wanted to show that some days are not so special - even when living your dream.

4/10 stars - and even that's only thanks to ice cream and Malcolm Gladwell.

Early morning in Norway.
 

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It's a Beautiful Day

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It's a Beautiful Day

Somewhere south of Bodø in Middle-Norway, I was gradually woken from a dream because my tent was getting hot. This was an entirely new sensation on my trip so far, and I couldn’t quite figure out the cause. Perhaps I was on fire, I pondered, still half asleep. After a couple minutes an alternative theory arose. Could it be? I peeked from under my sleeping mask. Yes!

Summer had arrived!

Boats on a blue harbour on a sunny day.

The sky was blue and the sun was shining. After six weeks of cold weather, this was amazing. Instead of needing to wear a jacket and gloves immediately upon departure from my sleeping bag, I went about my morning activities comfortably shirtless. My laundry from the previous night had already dried in record time. Breakfast seemed to taste better. Birds sang more cheerful tunes.

As a principle, I believe it’s not ideal to allow external things like weather affect your mood. Finding deep contentment from within, regardless of conditions, seems greatly preferable. However, I am clearly not in such an advanced state of mind - a beautiful warm day felt fantastic. I put on some sun lotion and moved even lazier than usual, to avoid sweating.

I was heading south along the somewhat quiet coastal route between Bodø and Trondheim. The road circled long fjords with turquoise water, sometimes crossing the sea via a series of bridges and ferries. Several people had recommended this road to me, so I skipped my earlier plan of riding through the Saltfjellet National Park on the inland highway. 

Sky reflecting off water with a silhouette landscape after sunset.

By the evening the long shadows of the mountains were draped over the villages. I was calmly descending along a curving road without having to pedal for minutes. The still warm air was gently hitting my face. In a forest clearing a large moose raised his head, gauging if I would pose any danger.

In addition to finding summer, I had reached the land of sunsets. It was still bright enough to cycle throughout the night, but for a few hours the sun dipped below the horizon. What a welcome sight. The last time I’d seen a sunset was in May back in Finland. I stopped to admire the changing palette in the sky, from yellow to orange to red and purple.

I was once again struck full force by the freedom given to me. A profound sense of joy and belonging returned. After many years of simply drifting through life with no purpose, I feel fortunate to have such a clear direction. And even better, the chance to make it happen. I don't know how many people can say the same. Now it’s just up to me to make the best of this opportunity.

Misty view of distant mountain at sunset.
Bicycle tourer at sunset.

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Never Pass by a Great Campsite

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Never Pass by a Great Campsite

(I'm trying something new with the photos - the horizontal pictures should all be full browser window width, and the first vertical photo below should be narrower than the text. Hopefully this will look much better on desktop browsers than previously. Please let me know in comments if either isn't true, or something else looks weird or broken. Thank you!)

Okay, new rule: If I come across a really good campsite, I’m going to stay there. Even if I haven’t cycled much that day and am nowhere close to being tired, it’s practically always better to stay than continue.

Here’s what happens if I don’t stay: I’ll soon see another place to camp, but that one is only okay, and what’s the point of staying there if I just passed a better one a while ago? Then there’s nothing for a while, and then I’ll see a mediocre campsite, and then a bad one, and I’m starting to wish I had stayed in the first or second one.

Then suddenly nature and forest turns into farmland and I get into an inhabited area. I’m getting tired and briefly consider turning back, but the nice places are far behind me already, and nobody likes going back the same way. So I cycle through the village or town, and keep looking. But there’s nothing for miles - the ground is too bushy or swampy or uneven for a tent.

Eventually I get so tired I’ll just put my tent up in the first crappy place I see. Every time this happens I end up wishing I’d just stayed at the first place.

Here’s what happens if I stay at the great spot I saw hours earlier: I’m happier.

Even if I wasn’t tired yet, rest is always useful. I have time and energy to cook better meals and eat more. I can do maintenance and cleanup on the bicycle, my gear, or myself. I may take photographs, or just sit down and enjoy the view. I’m more relaxed and open to meeting other travellers. And if the weather turns bad, I can wait. I’m not in a hurry because I’m already comfortable right there.

A good campsite is one of those things in life that gives you warm fuzzy feelings. Like a kitten or a fluffy blanket or a nice big cup of whatever you prefer to drink in the morning.

And, as I keep reminding myself, there’s no hurry. With my almost unlimited schedule it doesn’t matter if I cycle 5 kilometers or 50 in a particular day. What matters is doing things that put me in a good mood. That’s an easy recipe for happiness.

Which is why, after cycling only 10 kilometers from Storfjord in Bognes, I saw a good campsite and decided to stay. Right by the fjord with a nice view of distant mountains. A fireplace with some wood, which isn’t very common in Norway. Some planks balanced on rocks to function as benches, a place to sit and cook. It was a little too close to the E6 and traffic sounds, but still relatively secluded thanks to the surrounding trees.

So I was content there. Then the weather turned bad and it rained for two days. And I didn’t mind, because I was already home.

PS. It would’ve been nice to end this post there, but unfortunately bicycle touring - and life - isn’t always so easy.

Two days of rain is fine. Then it rained for a third day. And that begins to seep into the “boy, I kinda wish it wasn’t raining anymore” area. I was running out of rations and podcasts. The worst part was that the weather forecast said it would rain another five days almost nonstop.

I had little choice but to break camp and head to the next village to buy food. These next few days would not be easy.

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Lofoten, Kind of

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Lofoten, Kind of

Lofoten seems to be widely considered as one of the most beautiful places in the world. Understandably so - it is indeed gorgeous. But I already ended my tour there last summer, and the year before that we drove there in a van with a bunch of other photography students from Kuusamo. So I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go this time.

I knew there would be plenty more to see and experience, but the same was true of all of Norway. Visiting completely new locations felt more appealing than repeating some of the same routes as previously. Seeing new places with fresh eyes is so satisfying, and a major part of the reason why I like to travel so much in the first place.

Apparently Norway isn't all mountains! I saw miles of flatlands like this in Andøya. This must've been the old sea floor thousands of years ago.

So this time I simply cycled from the northernmost tip in Andenes, to the southern Lødingen in a few days. The route may or may not have gone through Lofoten - I’ve never really been sure exactly which islands it officially consists of.

In addition to wanting to avoid repetition, I was becoming eager to enter the more comfortable climate in the south. North Norway had been really cold for the vast majority of my stay. Obviously, as an aurora photographer, I’m not a stranger to freezing temperatures. Chilly nights are perfectly fine on tour if they are followed by warm (at least +10C) days. It’s only when the cold continues without relief for days and weeks that it begins to wear you down.

Somewhere on the way, while having a brief moment to rest, drink, and absorb the beautiful and quiet early morning views, an otter surfaced from the fjord right below me. I froze, hoping it wouldn’t spot me. It had caught something white in its mouth, and proceeded to eat it. Otters usually eat fish, but this meal made such a loud crunching sound that it must’ve been something with a hard shell.

You might be tempted to call an otter that lives in the sea a “sea otter”, but that’s actually an entirely different species living in the Pacific Ocean. The Eurasian otters are very common in Norway and live quite happily in the salt water of the fjords, as long as they have a stream of fresh water available for washing their fur and the only reason I know any of this is because it was raining the next day so I had some time to google otters while hiding under a bus stop.

Everything is bigger in Norway.

I'm really starting to love my ND 1000 filter.

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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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Fog, Frozen Fingers, and to Hell with Kilpisjärvi

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Fog, Frozen Fingers, and to Hell with Kilpisjärvi

While still on the aforementioned hill, I considered setting up camp. It was late and the day had been somewhat tiring.

Then fog started rising from the lakes and the river down below me. This surprised me, because this type of fog forms when the air temperature is colder than the water. The river water couldn’t have been warmer than +5C, and that was generous. So the valley must’ve cooled down considerably to near freezing point, which I didn't feel on higher ground.

I was comfortable up on my hilltop. And yet - a foggy sunrise (or in this case foggy midnight sun) is the holy grail of photography conditions. And if I want to become a professional photographer… I packed up and rolled down the hill, gripping the brakes with white knuckles on the steep descent.

Unfortunately the fog only lasted an hour, and while it was very pretty, I couldn’t really find a great location to shoot from. Eventually I pitched my tent among the downy birch trees with numb fingers. If I want to be a professional photographer, I need to buy warmer gloves.

The end of the road.

These power lines wanted to be in every photo, the way power lines often do.

When I reached Kilpisjärvi, the weather got from bad to worse. That was my last stop in Finland before the Norwegian border. As a going away present, I was awarded freezing weather, rain and sleet, and a devastating headwind. They even had ice on the lake - at midsummer! Kilpisjärvi has some of the best views in Finland and I wanted to take photos, but couldn’t feel my fingers up to the elbow and was afraid the wind would blow my tripod over anyway. This was all just unacceptable. It was the first time I wasn’t enjoying myself on this trip.

The highest point in Finland's highways is only 565m, which goes to show how flat Finland really is.

I knew Skibotn in Norway would be considerably warmer. It was only 50km north, but also 500m down to sea level, which meant a different climate. I stocked up on food and said goodbye to Finland.

Or so I thought. It took me more than an hour to cycle the first 5km from Kilpisjärvi. I simply had to give up. There was no sense trying to pedal into the strong headwind. Completely useless. In any case, one of the main reasons I have this much time for my trip is exactly so that I can wait out the bad weather, so why struggle? Norway wasn’t going anywhere.

I camped at the nearest bit of even land that wasn’t pummeled by the excruciating north wind.

There’s nothing quite like the Finnish summer.

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An Ode to Laavus

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An Ode to Laavus

When leaving Hetta I came across a lake with surprisingly warm water. Not quite warm enough for swimming, but I was able to bathe by splashing some on me. Take that, camping ground owners from the previous update! After a wash and a change of clothes I felt positively sparkling.

Then it started to rain. Not much, just a bit of a drizzle, but I alternated between taking cover under trees and cycling to keep warm. It was past midnight and I wasn’t sure whether to keep going and wait out the weather, or set up camp in the rain. And then I came across this place:

A bird tower with a beautiful spacious laavu! What a perfect sight for a wet traveller. I rolled my bike in and set up my sleeping bag in my mosquito mesh. Safe and sound.

Two days later at Karesuvanto some of my gear was wet again. It had rained for 20 hours straight, so I hadn't had much of a choice but to pack up my tent in the rain. My muscles felt like they needed a rest day, so I wanted to stay near the town. A quick online search showed another laavu next to another bird tower, just a few kilometers from the village.

So I spent the rest of the day there drying my equipment and frying sausages by a fire. This time there didn’t seem to be too many mosquitos around, so I just spread my sleeping bag there and slept around the clock without disturbances.

A more basic and traditional version of a laavu. The previous visitors left me a nice fire before departing.

Sometimes I like to pre-cook the sausages by putting them near the fire for 15 minutes. This way they'll cook more evenly from the inside rather than just burning the skin.

Finland must be one of the most trekking-friendly countries in the world. We have thousands of these kinds of shelters (usually without a bird tower attached), and everyone has the right to use them. I love that the government has the foresight to spend money on building and maintaining these kinds of services. The positive effect of trekking on physical and mental well-being surely pays back in all other areas.

There are many strange and unenviable things about Finnish culture, but this encouragement to outdoor life is one aspect I wish everyone would copy from us. Go Finland!

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Cold Nights and Soggy Matches

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Cold Nights and Soggy Matches

It’s been over a week on the road now and it hasn’t rained once. I don’t even know what to say. This has never happened before.

Despite the ongoing drought I still managed, through a series of rookie mistakes, to get my matches wet.

I’ve always packed multiple boxes of matches in ziplock bags in multiple panniers. I’ve never actually ended up needing more than one box though, which is probably why this time I didn’t bother with the backups. I don’t know why I decided to forgo the waterproof ziplock as well. I also don’t know why the matches were on the bottom of the pannier, instead of the usual side pocket. Or why I put an apparently still wet pocket shower in the same pannier.

But I did all those things, and the water soaked my matches. (While somehow everything else stayed completely dry.) Fortunately there was a friendly Dutch gentleman photographing in the same resting area, so I was able to borrow a match and cook my spaghetti.

Oh, good.

Oh, good.

The weather so far has been mostly quite nice. Lack of rain is certainly a plus. The first couple days were actually really warm (+20C) and sunny, almost too hot for cycling at times. Yes, that’s correct - I haven’t even gotten south of the Arctic Circle yet and I’m already complaining about the heat. I don’t know how I’ll ever survive tropical climates, to be honest.

On the Norwegian side, nights have been fairly cold -  at or close to freezing point. My down sleeping bag is still perfectly comfortable at those temperatures, so that’s not an issue. Bathing is, however. Lakes and rivers are freezing and some still have ice on them. Just dipping my fingers in long enough to fill a water bottle is genuinely painful. So for now I’m visiting camping grounds to pay for hot showers, thank you.

Fancy a swim?

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