Finland and the Route of a Thousand Hills

Finland, or Suomi as the Finish call it, might be famous as the land of a thousand lakes, but I will always remember it as a land with hill after hill after hill after hill.
It never stops.
Riding north to south in an “S”-shape through the country, it seems already endless, but there was hardly a day I didn’t gain 1000 vertical meters, without ever climbing a real mountain.
35 meter up, 30 down.
You’d think as a cyclist you will have some ‘momentum’ and just roll up the next hill.
Not with a loaded touring bike on a gravel road.

DSC03644

DSC03653
In Finland as well, the reindeer are never too far away of course.

DSC03662

That said, I enjoyed many moments in Finland. The quiet gravel roads in the north leading through huge forests.
But it also had it’s annoyances.
Mosquito’s. They come in zillions.
Horseflies, biting chunks of meat out of your legs.
A horsefly can fly 38 upto 40 km/h so you need to go downhill to get rid of them. But they ain’t stupid. If you go too fast, they just hitch a ride on your panniers somewhere till you slow down.
So what you do, after you climbed up the hill, sweating, kicking the horseflies away, you go down, pedal hard because the downhill isn’t that long, in the meantime you slam your panniers in the back with one hand and kick your panniers in the front with one leg, trying not to lose control of your bike on the gravel road.
And then the next hill comes, and the horsefly is back, laughing with you.
They always come in pairs.
But you ‘ve got to respect those little bastards. Flying 40 km/h with wings of 1 cm.
If we as humans with our 1 meter legs would perform likewise, we’d run …. 4000 km/h ! From pole to pole in an afternoon. But we can’t even keep up with these little bugs.

There were other annoying animals.
For the first time this holiday I was attacked by dogs. 3 giants at the same time.
But I still seem to make enough impression to hold off even 3 off them.
Just brake VERY aggressively, and go to them. Shout or growl like a grizzly, go towards them.
They all turn back. Any dog on any continent.
I’m not sure about this Tibetan giants. Hope to figure that out one day.

DSC03665
Lucky you can buy the fabulous Sri Racha sauce anywhere now. This one was made in Bulgaria but tasted almost the same as the original.

DSC03671

DSC03685
The midnight sun above Inari Lake, north Finland.

DSC03706

DSC03723

DSC03732

DSC03739
Pokka, along the dirt road going south from Inari (Lapland)

DSC03741

DSC03745

DSC03754
Self-made red curry rice soup.
DSC03755
Local country shop in northern Finland.

By the way, Finland is my first ‘new’ country on this trip. I also realized that after I cycled on every continent (if you take the the Americas as a whole), I also cycled along every of the 5 oceans (Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, Arctic and Southern).
The Arctic Ocean was still missing, but the Barents Sea in northern Norway is part of the Arctic Ocean.

On 11th July, after 37 days in the polar region, I crossed the polar circle again. On the bike this time, not on a boat 🙂

DSC03760
Lonely sheep 🙂

DSC03762

DSC03781

DSC03790

DSC03816
Self-made green curry rice soup.

DSC03817

DSC03827

DSC03832

DSC03834
Little polar circle sign.

DSC03843

DSC03846

DSC03852

Twice I went to a campground in Finland (Inari & Kemijarvi).
The campground in Kemijarvi is ridiculously expensive. 20 € for one night with a little tent. But it had wifi, so I could see the hardest stage of the Tour de France and the final of the EC 2016.
The cycling was good, the football was not.
The Kemijarvi campground is also the place where my stove gave up completely. I started it but immediately not only the stove but also the fuel hose upto the fuel bottle were on fire. Also the grass started burning, all that 1,5 meter from my tent. I grabbed the fuel bottle, the burning stove still attached to it and submerged it in the lake next to my tent.
Of course, fuel being lighter then water, a square meter of the lake and my arm were on fire !
Both without permanent damage.

DSC03867

DSC03882

DSC03891
The elderly in Finland have thee roulators. They stand in between and use it as a step. They go FAST ! The braking system seems dangerous to mee (a left and a ride side brake). If you use only one at the speeds they make …. don’t want to know where you end up 🙂

DSC03907

It may come as a surprise, but Finland is a land where it’s very hard to find wild camping spots. A lot of land is private and with a bungalow. Or the forest is too thick. The places I found were hardly ever spectacular.

A good thing about Finland is the many libraries you find along your way. ‘Kirjasto’ they call it here and you better look out for them (wifi, water, toilet and just the possibility to sit down without being attacked by insects).
That ‘sitting down’ is another issue.
The Finnish are allergic to picnic tables and benches I think.
You simply don’t find them, which means having lunch along the road in a clumsy way with your lunch partly on the back of your bike, partly on the ground, you standing next to it kicking mosquito’s and other insects away. Never relaxing.

 

DSC03908
I stopped in a forrest in the middel of nowhere to ask for some water at a house where I could see some smoke from a bbq. I was invited in immediatly by the mother of the house and was fed a good meal.

DSC03919

One evening I found a rare opportunity to camp along a lake, just north of Jalaa (100 km north of Helsinki or so). A bit of public land along the lake, a fallen down tree that could serve as a bench a flat piece of land with I cleared of cones and old branches.
I was looking forward to an early stop, take my time to cook diner, read my book next to the lake, do some laundry,…
But before pitching the tent, I first wanted to have a little swim before it would cool down.
It was then an Andy Murray look alike arrived with his friend and seven (7 !) kids, all between nothing and 6 years old or so.
Screaming, splashing, with diapers in the lake….
You don’t want to know how quick I was on my bike again.

DSC03925
One of my best days in Finland, the evening I passed this little Thai take away restaurant. I ordered immediatly a penang kai to eat there and then and a dish of phat krapao kai to take away. The friendy lady from Lomsak in Phetchabun province, an area where I cycled before threw in a lot of spring rolls for free 🙂
DSC03933
Enjoying krapao kai in the tent.

DSC03926

My good luck with the weather continued throughout Finland.
I had maybe 2 or 3 days with rain, but the other days were warm, around 25 degrees C and the wind ….. must have blown about 60 % of the time in my back !

On 22 July I arrived in Helsinki (via a very nice route through parks, I made in Garmin) ) and took a ferry to Tallinn.

It’s bye bye Scandinavian countries and hello Baltic States.

Total kilometer Finland: 1.709 km
Average km per cycling day: follows later

Total kilometer so far: 7.037 km
Total altimeter so far: 55.350 meter
Total time on the bike: 460 hrs 40 min

Nights slept inside: 0
Nights slept outside: 17 (2 on campgrounds, 15 wild camping)
Average daily cost Finland:

Schermafbeelding 2016-07-27 om 23.47.16

Advertisements

Norway Part 3, The Far North

I am leaving Tromso on June 23rd.  The tent is soaking wet in my panniers, but I didn’t want to have another sleepless night at the campground.

Riding further north from Tromso, sometimes there will be no alternative then to ride highways E8 & E6.  Luckily you can leave the city via minor roads for the first 20 km or so, following ‘national bicycle route 1’.  Then there’s no alternative for the E8.  Keeping an eye on the gps, I find a small road between the E8 and the fjord, where the bicycle route continues over the horrible busy road.

At Fagernes I take a left onto the quieter road nbr 91 and pitch my tent a few km before the ferry landing on a high ridge overlooking a forested valley.  Typically for Norway, you see electrical power lines going everywhere.  3 lines going through this valley.

Next day I take the ferry from Breivikeidet to Svensby, crossing the Ullsfjorden.  The ride from Svensby to the next ferry at Lyngseidet is a beautiful one, but under an overcasted sky and the rain is chasing me.  I lose the fight against the rain at Olderdalen, where I  rejoin the E6.  Traffic, rain and quiet a few short climbs are not a recipe for a good cycling day.

The weather is improving the next day though.  At the top of the hill between Sandukt and Gildetun, I meet the Belgian girl again, who was also at the campground in Tromso.  We cycle the rest of the day together, entering Finnmark, Norway’s northernost province and pitch the tent at the tip of the Langfjord.  The mosquitos are horrible.  They are since Tromso.

DSC02721
The famous ‘Ice Sea Cathedral’ in Tromso

DSC02735

DSC02740

DSC02748
One of the many Norwegian ferry’s.

DSC02753

DSC02759

DSC02782

DSC02796

On June 26th, I ride my longest cycling day ever.   The ride is beautiful along the Langfjord and the Altafjord.  The traffic is bothering me.

I enter Alta, one of the bigger towns here in the north and 400 km north of the polar circle in t-shirt and shorts.  The center is just a collection of supermarkets around a square.  I have about 80 km’s behind me today.  I’m in doubt to go to the campground but decide just to push on a bit.  The weather is so great and I hope traffic will get less during the evening.

It will turn into a terrific night !

At a spot, I see 4 eagles circling around in the sky.  When I stop to make pictures, two of them keeping flying over me quiet low.  I can see them from so close by, it is unbelievable.  The shape of their wings against the blue sky.  It’s hard to make pictures, because they are quick, and the mosquito’s are eating you whenever you stop moving, but I gave it a try.

DSC02872

DSC02881
Angry mom leaving here nest.

North of Alta, the E6 is going inland over some kind of plateau which looks like what I think Mongolia must be looking like in some parts.  I cycle deep into the night and enjoy myself immensely on the now deserted E6.  At 3 am, I crawl in my tent on the hill top, 12 km before Olderfjord.  182 km after leaving last night’s camping spot.  What a day !

DSC02887

DSC02907

DSC02915

DSC02920
Cycling through the night. 1:30 am
DSC02923
2:30 am
DSC02924
And 03:00 am, time to take a rest.At 05:00 am it became too hot in the tent.

Instead of continuing on the E6 (which in fact becomes E69 here) towards the North Cape along the eastern shore of the Porsanger peninsula, I decide to take road nbr 889 along the western side of the same peninsula.  A very quiet road with a very spectacular coastline near Lilefjord, where I pitch the tent for the night.  In the evening I hike into the hills for a while.  It was 31°C today.

The weather is glorious again. I even washed myself in the river today.

My second day along Porsanger peninsula, it’s a bit cloudy, but still good fun.  I see a lot of reindeer along the way.  In Havoysund at the tip of the peninsula, I pitch the tent just beyond the village.  (You can take a shower in the little wooden house at the marina).

DSC02933
Porsangerfjord, the 4th longuest fjord in Norway.
DSC02951
The small road along the western side of Porsanger peninsula.

DSC02953

DSC02956

DSC02961

DSC02964

DSC02984

DSC03032

DSC03042

DSC03058
I arrived in Havoysund at 20:06. The supermarket closed at 20:00. Very basic meal, whch tasted wonderful after a day in the saddle.

The Hurtigruten coastal service will sail me towards the North Cape with their m/s Nordkapp (oh coincidence).  We arrive in Honningsvag, the ‘gate’ to the North Cape late morning.  Cyclists who follow the busy E69 and risked their live in the tunnels arrive here in a different shape as me.

I went into the jaccuzzi on board the ship this morning.

For a moment I think about going to the little Thai restaurant in town, but decide to do that tomorrow, ‘celebrating’ to have reached the North Cape.  This was never a goal in itself.  It is anyway just a tourist trap.  It is not the northern most point of the European mainland.  “No,”  many people say. “You have to hike a little further up”.

Wrong of course.  You’ll have to be on another peninsula, east from here, named ‘Nordkinn’.

It is also not the ‘Northern most point of Europe’.  It’s on an island (Mageroya).  If you’ll include islands in search of the northern most point, Svalbard is much, much farther to the north.

I guess the Norwegians just made it where it is, because Svalbard can’t be reached by cars or camper vans, and the real point on the Nordkinn peninsula is much easier reached through  Sweden as through  Norway.  And that means bye bye tourist money, which Norwegians won’t do.

DSC03067

DSC03075

DSC03082

DSC03101

Anyway, from Honningsvag to the so called North-Cape, it’s a 35 km ride with 2 big hills.

Near the top of the first hill, I see a big group of reindeer.  I park my bike and go very slowly closer and closer.   Not moving to fast, not directly towards them.  They keep an eye on me, but don’t run.

It seems like they get used to me after a while and just keep doing their thing, grazing a bit and they come themselves closer and closer to me.  Fantastic !

Duty calls however, so after a while I go slowly back to my bike.

A car with 3 Italians, father, mother & son stops just when I mount the bike.

The son, a 20 or so year old moron gets out of the car and runs like a madman towards the reindeer shouting “BHAAAAAAAAA”.  The parents find it funny.

I hesitate a few moments. Shall I cycle away or kill them ?

I mount the bike and ride, thinking how, once again, I deserve the nobel price for self-control.

This is not the end of the ordeal.  Only a few kilometer further a car coming from the other side slows down as I approach, a camper van sitting at my rear wheel.  As the other car slows, the camper van accelerates, knocking me into the ditch.  I shout at him and he stops.

Italians…

And a dozen of his countrymen with a campervan behind him.

The driver and his passenger get out and I tell him in very clear language what I think of him.  I make the argument long enough to stop the whole bunch for at least 15 minutes.

Today, I hate Italians.

DSC03109
Somebody lost something on the way up.  Can you imagine the communication going on inside the car seconds after this happened.

The North Cape was in mist.  You could see nothing.

That made me happy, because that would ruin the Italians pictures and it was probably the big goal of their long trip.

There is an entrance fee to the North Cape.  I heard 160 Kroners or so, but as a cyclist you are waved through for free.

In the basement of the big visitor centre, their’s a small ‘Thai Museum’ about the visit of Thailand’s greatest king, Chulalongkorn, Rama V.  He visited the North Cape on 12th July 1907.

I came 109 years after him.

No museum will be erected for me, I guess.

29th June, exactly 75 days after I left home and cycled 4843 km & 36882 altitude meters.

From this 4843 km, at least 3500 were against the wind.  Probably more.

DSC03181

DSC03201
The North-Cape at the right.

DSC03203

DSC03205

DSC03206

DSC03212
The last km’s before the North-Cape
DSC03215
The statue for the tourist at not the North-Cape.  But it is the point where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Arctic Ocean.
DSC03218
Inside the Thai Museum at the North Cape

DSC03220

DSC03221

DSC03222

DSC03226
Same sign on the way back.

I never made it to that Thai restaurant anymore in Honningsvag as I woke up too late the next morning, it was raining, so I waited even longer to break the tent down, etc..

I arrived ‘in town’ around 13:30 hrs and went  straight on board the Hurtigruten (m/s Finnmark this time).  I was almost alone on board as most of the passengers use the 3,5 hour break the vessel makes here to go quickly up and down to the North Cape by bus.

That suited me fine as this meant I had the swimming pool and jacuzzi almost to myself.  The sun had come out by then, and it was 26°C.

DSC03230

DSC03238

DSC03248

Around 17:00 hrs I got off the ship at the next port of call, Kjollefjord.  The passage going with the ship in the fjord is stunning.  And so was the head wind.

I met a Romanian cyclist along the way, going the opposite direction.  I found a nice camping spot below a remaining patch of snow.  The mosquitos are still making your life like hell as soon as you stop.  There are a lot of horseflies as well, biting whole chunks of meat out of your legs.  Try preparing your food, and eating it like that….

Preparing happens outside the tent, eating I do inside now.

My second day on the Nordkinn peninsula, I had again a terrible headwind which slowed me down enormously.  It just seems to want to blow me to the North pole.  But I also had a blue sky and 26°C.  While the northern side of this peninsula reminds me of what Mongolia must look like in my immagination, the southern side is a barren, rocky dry land.  No gras, no trees.  But very beautiful.

DSC03319

DSC03376
First campsite on the Nordkinn Peninsula, after midnight.

DSC03409

DSC03413
The barren northern part of the peninsula.

DSC03414

DSC03421

DSC03429

DSC03432
Suddenly I saw this chap on the road.
DSC03436
I waited a bit, we stared at each other until he decided to come and get a closer look. Always let them come to you. The other way around doesn’t work.
DSC03447
Isn’t he great ?

DSC03462

DSC03465

DSC03473

DSC03480

DSC03487

DSC03496

DSC03500

At Ifjord I join the bigger road 98 and turn east instead of south.  And would you believe it, so does the wind.  Or storm as I have to start calling it now.  It is so strong today that it literally blows you backwards when you stop, or it topples you over when you turn sideways.  I was blown into the ditch several times today.  People who saw the bicycle race Gent-Wevelgem of 2015 can have an idea what it’s like, but imagine having these condition on a fully loaded touring bike, for days in a row.

But the temperatures were good, 30°C today the landscape was impressive along the northern edge of our continent and the road wasn’t busy at all.

It was 1 km beyond Ifjord I completed the 5000th km of this trip.

DSC03512
Heaving breakfast at km 4.999, in the wind, but still with a lot of mosquito’s.
DSC03514
The spot where I hit my 5000th km.

DSC03523

DSC03531
Who wouldn’t like to cycle here ?

At Tanabru I had no choice but to re-join the E6 further east.  The big constant being that wind, and the high temperatures.

DSC03559
This must be a very old sign. CCCP.
DSC03565
More or less sheltered from the winds.
DSC03587
This picture could be taken in the Provence, but it is along the very northern edge of our continent.

DSC03593

DSC03595

DSC03597

On Monday the 4th of July, America’s National Holiday, I completed the last stretch in Norway, the ride to Kirkenes and further on to the Russian border.  This is Russia’s northern most border post.  There’s nothing to see in Kirkenes.  The Norwegians expect a lot of traffic to and from Russia in the future I think, because the road is upgraded (even with a bicycle lane !) and (yet another) tunnel is blown into a little hill, where the current old road goes around/over it.  Many times, I have the impression the Norwegians are blowing tunnels through mountains just for the sake of making them.  Keep the economy going I suppose.  Many of these tunnels are completely useless with perfectly good roads around the hill which can carry the same amount of traffic.  And a new tunnel going into the mountain 200 meters from where the old road goes around it, also means a new bridge over the river or fjord of course….

I was a bit disappointed arriving at the Russian border.  Not in the border itself, but I ‘d expected some sort of welcome by Vladimir P. after all my efforts.  A cup of milk and a few cookies.  It might be my own fault as I’m a day later as expected because of all this head wind, so maybe he was waiting for me here yesterday.  I guess he must be at work Monday at 8:15 am.  Especially today, I suppose he needs to send an e-mail to his colleague Barrack for the holiday.

I expressed my disappointment to the Russian border guards and asked them whether Vladimir had to go back to his office in Moscow, but this information was classified.

So instead I sang some patriotic songs with the boarder guards like ‘Babooshka, Babooshka’ and ‘Ra-ra-Rasputin, lover of the Russian queen’ while dancing the one-legged tirritomba.

In the evening I cycled back to the village Neiden in the rain and pitched my tent at the same place where I broke it down in the morning.  A nice place very well sheltered from the wind.

I feel that apart from the wind, i have been extremely lucky with the weather in Norway.  Sure, I’ve head rain, sometimes lots of it, but I ‘ve got a lot of sun as well which meant I saw most of the northern part under glorious blue skies.

It  also appears the whole bicycle thing made a huge impression on Shakira when we met in Utakleiv, as she just launched this song  a few days ago 😉

DSC03607
Bad weather coming from the east.
DSC03611
Now isn’t this a spectacular rest area ?

DSC03618

DSC03625
Just a little push further and I would be in Murmansk, but I didn’t have the Russian visa.

DSC03624

DSC03623
Love the ‘conduct at the border’ section. Not sure whether singing songs with the Russians qualifies as ‘intentially making contact with persons on the other side of the border’ or ‘act in an insulting way’.

DSC03633

DSC03636
Last breakfast in Norway, looking at Finland already.
DSC03640
Camera’s…. :-/

Total kilometer Norway: 2.418 km
Average km per cycling day: follows later

Total kilometer so far: 5.328 km
Total altimeter so far: 42.205 meter
Total time on the bike: 356 hrs 44 min

Nights slept inside: 0
Nights slept outside: 36 (5 on campgrounds, 31 wild camping)
Average daily cost Norway:

Schermafbeelding 2016-07-09 om 23.59.51
The Norwegian part of the trip.