I entered the former DDR after crossing the bridge over the Oder river. The ‘R1’ bicycle route guided me via quiet roads into the heart of Berlin, the biggest city I’m cycling through on this trip. Thanks to the help of Roxane, a Berlin resident who really went out of her way to help me find some accommodation, I ended up in the ‘Sunflower Hostal’ where I booked a double room for a night.
It must have been 22 or 23 years since I last visited Berlin.
I kept following the R1 cycle route towards Lutherstadt Wittenberg. Next year, the city will celebrate 500 years of the reformation.
After Lutherstadt, I followed the paths along the Elbe river for a while, before heading into the ‘Harz’ mountains and crossed the now invisible line between the former East- and West Germany.. I was still extremely lucky with the weather. Temperatures going as high as 36 degrees.
Since Latvia I am cycling against the wind, all the way through Lithuania Poland and now Germany. In the end you give up, hoping for a tailwind and you just say to yourself, “well, only another 800 km against the wind before I’m home”.
Münster was the last bigger town I cycled through before entering the Netherlands.
Total kilometer in Germany: 1.038 km
Average km per cycling day: 86,5 km
Total kilometer so far: 10.510 km
Total altimeter so far: 76.107 meter
Total time on the bike: 692 hrs 19 min
Nights slept inside: 1
Nights slept outside: 12 (5 on campgrounds, 7 wild camping)
Average daily cost Germany: 25 euro
The Polish part of my trip, cycling east to west through the country, could be divided into two parts.
The first part, I’ll cycle just south of the Polish / Kaliningrad (Russia) border back towards the Baltic sea, mostly following the Greenvelo Wschodni Szlak Rowerowy bicycle route. It was opened a year ago or so, and appears quiet popular among the Polish.
The second part, I’ll take up the R1 bicycle route, which is a route going from Boulogne-sur-Mer to St. Petersburg.
Poland is bordered in the north by Russia (Kaliningrad) and in the east by Belarus, both countries for which I don’t have a visa. Luckily there is a very small ‘gate’ open for overland travelers, a narrow part where Poland and Lithuania, both Schengen territory, have common borders.
Entering Poland, I have to turn the clock back again one hour and I will pay in Zloty’s for a while. It’s another country I entered via a little, sandy road. Sejny is the first bigger place I visit. Huge cathedral for such a small place. Immediately I see pictures of Pope John Paul II, Karol Wojtyla.
This shepherd of the father of creation is still very popular here.
My first night in the country, I pitch the tent in the forest in Wigierski National Park.
On the morning of my second day in Poland, I first visit Klasztor Kamedulow.
Suwalki, the first real Polish town on my way is quiet famous among Belgian people. It’s the hometown of Waldeck, one of the main characters in the country’s most famous sitcom, ‘Home’.
Waldeck is some sort of Polish Casanova. Many times you see him daydreaming at the bar, drinking his ‘Slurfke’ (= elephant trunk) while he’s having flashbacks about his youth in the forests around Suwalki, the same forest in which I’m riding my bike now.
A trunk is a beer he invented together with his buddies Frank and Eddie. Frank is a top guy. A carpenter who’s a bit conservative. He has a son, Frankie who turned out to be gay, which Frank didn’t take very well. On top of that, Frankie got married to another guy.
As if that wasn’t enough, he had a sex change as well and Frankie is now Kate.
Life is tough on Frank, but still, he isn’t drinking too many trunks.
Eddie, the master brain behind the trunk beer is an ex convict of some sort. He’s always out of money, can’t keep jobs, etc….
All three of them have many problems with their wives.
Anyway, let’s not get carried away here. The Suwalki forests are behind me, and I head back north again through Krajobrazowy National Park, towards the border tripoint of Poland, Lithuania and Kalingrad (oblast of the Russian Federation).
There’s a granite obelisk with a stone circle around it, marking the three territories. Half of it Polish, a quarter Lithuanian and a quarter Russian. There is a very clear notification you are now in the Schengen Zone and it is absolutely forbidden to put your feet on Russian soil. I happily oblige, because I don’t want to get in jail there.
Polish tourist have their pictures taken in front of the obelisk.
When two Russian soldiers approach, the Polish go away quickly. I was still lingering near the thing. The two Russian soldiers walked up to the obelisk (into their tiny quarter).
‘Hi’, I said. But they didn’t reply. One of them looked to the camera on Russian soil from the corner of his eyes. I guess they aren’t allowed to make contact.
What a shame. A friendly word can only change the perception, no ?
After the soldiers were gone, the Polish curiously asked me whether the Russian said anything.
They still seem to make a big impression on them.
I wild camped just south of the Polish-Russian border. Hope Vladimir isn’t going to grab any land overnight.
I’m really happily surprised with the Greenvelo Wschodni Szlak Rowerowy route. I’m following quiet roads and a lot of sand roads. Little washboard sometimes, but way better then what I had further north in the Baltic States. There are lot’s of stops with information signs (exclusively in Polish) and these rest areas have many times a bike pump and equipment for repairs. At the few places where you cycle along a main road, there’s a separated bike lane. Thumbs up for Poland here.
Between the small towns Goldap and Wegorzewo, the route follows an old railway track. Very pleasant cycling.
A little bit north of Frombork, I reached the Baltic Sea again.
I decided to stay at the camp site in Frombork (noisy one !), because I wanted to check out the town a bit the day after. This is the place where Copernicus spent the last 20 years of his life. You can see part of his coffin through a glass tile in the town cathedral.
Later that afternoon, after I just turned inland again, a small green car stopped next to me while I was cycling up the hill.
“Do you know the distance to Tolkmicko ?”, an obese, North African or Turkish guy asked me.
“I don’t know, I’m not from around here”, I replied.
He mumbled something more while I was stumbling up the hill, but he had to accelerate as another car almost drove into him.
Hundred meters further on, he parked on the side, waiting for me.
“Allez, now we’re gonna get it”, I thought.
“Hey my friend, come over !”
If a stranger calls me ‘friend’, all his chances of becoming one evaporated already.
“Do you know the distance to Warschaw ?”
What the fuck is wrong with this guy ? Do I look like a Garmin ?
“Here, take this from me it’s a present”, while he handed me a box with a watch.
“I don’t want a present”, I said.
“Yes, take it my friend, it’s for you” and he put it on my handle bar bag.
“I don’t want it”, I said, and put it back in his car.
Then I saw a woman lying in the back, pretending to be sick.
“Where are you from ?”, he asked.
“From Dublin”, I said.
“Hey, I know Dublin. I”m from Prague”, said the fat guy.
“Is that why you drive with Polish license plates ?” I asked him.
He didn’t go into that.
“Give me 30 euro for the watch my friend”.
That’s strange, just minutes ago I got it as a present, and now I would have to pay 30 euro for it ?
“I don’t want a watch”, I said.
Then he gave me an i-phone 6, for 40 euro.
“I don’t want a phone”, I said.
Damn, if the next thing he’s trying to sell is his car, then this guy succeeded in offering me the three things I hate the most in one minute time. Material things that is. I hate a lot of other stuff too 😉
I was getting bored with this, so moved my bike back to the road to continue cycling.
“Give me 30 euro my friend, for fuel”.
“20 euro !”, he tried once more.
I cycled on. I think this is where our friendship ends.
With all the time I ‘d spend in the morning in Frombork, and later on with my friend, I decided to call it a day before reaching the town Elblag, as I didn’t ant to get stuck in the city late afternoon and finding a camp site at the other side of town.
Elblag is where I start the second part of my route, intending to follow the R1 bicycle route
There’s not a whole lot to see in the city.
To no avail, I tried to find the tourist info, hoping they could tell me where I could buy a new gas cassette for my stove. Signs everywhere to them, and they where in my gps as well, but on the ground, nowhere to be found.
It being a Saturday, I guess they would be closed anyhow.
Tourist offices the world all over tend to close in the weekend, when people are out and about and woud like to get some info.
Another night, just before reaching the Wisla river, I had a nice camping spot in a pine forest. Very quiet and the first night since ages I didn’t hear dogs barking.
But probably my nicest camping spot in the country was the day after, when I camped on the other side of the Wisla River, near a small pond. I could watch to the town of Chelmno on the opposite river bank. It’s 3 churches nicely lit all night.
Monday 15th of August, all shops were closed, because of a Catholic holiday, or so it appeared.
This was of course the very first time since the start of my trip I had only 2 small slices of bread left and nothing for diner. Only a bit of spaghetti and rice, but no vegetables, no sardines, no Sri Ratcha sauce, no soup, nothing…
The 2 slices of bread I ate for breakfast (not realizing yet the shops were closed).
At km 10 I was starving, as always.
The only thing left was a 200 gram bag of trail mix.
“Ok, one nut or one raisin every kilometer”, I thought.
That went fine actually and the kilometers went by quickly, concentrating on my one nut, every time a km had gone. (Sometimes I cheated when I was really hungry and took an extra nut or raisin after half a kilometer).
After 29,55 km, I was saved. I saw a few drunks in front of the local ‘Klep’ (= small local shop).
I had decided this morning in the tent to reduce my milk intake, because it makes me fat, but to celebrate my good luck, I bought a liter and drank it instantly. No banana’s, no apple, no paprika in the shop.
“Beer ?”, the lady asked.
Oh God …..
I bought some mackerel in tomato sauce. I could decide later one whether to eat them with rice or spaghetti.
But also that turned out to be no point.
When I drove through the little town of Mrocza around 4 pm, I saw a small take-a-way pizzeria. There were a few tables inside, so a pizza it was today. For 20 Zlotti (5 euro), I had a pepperoni pizza and a can of Pepsi.
While eating the thing, one after the other local entered the small business, without ordering anything. They just looked at me. All of them seemed to have a skin disease, literally all of them.
I hope that’s not from the pizza’s here.
Soon after, I felt terrible. I was swaying on the road like a drunkard. Not a good idea, if many of the car drivers passing you actually are drunk.
I vowed not to eat any of that junk anymore in the year 2016.
Initially I was quiet satisfied with the R1 route, but as I cycled further west, more and more I cycled over big, busy roads. I become a grumpy, unhappy person when cycling that kind of roads, so again I sat down one night in my tent and started drawing a route in Garmin Basecamp.
You never know what you’re gonna get if you gamble on taking the little red dotted roads in that program. I had a stretch of 30 km through very loose sand but once I reached the Warta river, I could cycle along it’s bank, the river on one side, endles fields on the other side. A good sandy track, no traffic. Excellent cycling.
The people remain rather unfriendly.
Total kilometer in Poland: 1.131 km
Average km per cycling day: 87 km
Total kilometer so far: 9.387 km
Total altimeter so far: 68.208 meter
Total time on the bike: 621 hrs 45 min
Nights slept inside: 0
Nights slept outside: 14 (2 on campgrounds, 12 wild camping)
Average daily cost Poland: Exactly 40 Zloty / day (= 9,23 euro)
For easy reference, I decided to cycle the Baltic States in alphabetical order.
Arriving with the ferry right in the heart of Tallinn, it will be the first time I plant my wheels behind the former iron curtain.
It’s obvious to have a look at the town first. A nice little city, but I still think the old centres of Antwerp, Ghent & Bruges are much more impressive.
After cycling all the way to the wrong end of town to find a new gas cassette for my stove, I went to a supermarket close to Tallinn City Campground.
It doesn’t get the best reviews, but still, after cycling into Helsinki, finding the right dock from where the ferries to Estonia leave, the ferry ride itself and all the chores in Tallinn, I wasn’t ready anymore to cycle out of town for God knows how far before I would find a descent wild camping spot. Besides, I needed a shower and wanted a bit of free time in front of my tent, reading. So I stocked up in the super market. Meatballs, vegetables, bread, a bottle of milk for next morning and some yoghurt + a big bottle of beer and a bag of chips for tonight. It was a bit wobbly with all that stuff on the bike, but just a short ride.
The campground ……. from half a kilometer away I could here some concert was going on. Right next to the campground.
The campground itself is a concrete parking lot between high rise buildings.
The sanitary building smells and looks like one at the end of a rock concert. An alarm of one of the mobil homes was going of constantly.
Apparently since morning time already, I was told by a German couple.
All these other campers have a lot of patience enduring that all day. I was there 5 minutes and wanted to break it open already….
In short…. it was worse then hell.
And it costs 20 € !
Impossible for me to stay there. Accidents would happen.
I ate the yoghurt, drank the milk and tried to load all the other stuff as good as I could on the bike. Filled the water bottles and left, not before enquiring at the reception whether they had a free space, what the price was, have a good laugh and go.
Late evening, 30 km or so outside of Tallinn, I found a quiet, mosquito infested spot in a field.
Prepared the meatballs and ate them in my tent, followed by the beer and chips.
I have the intention to follow the ‘Eurovelo 11’ route a bit through the Baltic states. First along some peninsula’s along the country’s northern shore.
Beautiful riding through virgin forests. To actually see the sea, you ‘ve got to take some dirt roads going down to the coast.
My second night, I wanted to have a short day and stay in one of the RMK campgrounds (RMK = the Estonian forest department).
After a 50 km ride, I arrived at the RMK campground in Leesi.
A bumpy sand road going down from the main road. That looked good and quiet.
Until I was down that road.
Two big groups of Estonians were playing volleyball, car stereo’s at maximum volume, beer all around. Further down a group of Hells Angels was making loud noises with their Harley Davidsons, a group of girls was sitting in front of a tent smoking water pipes (idiots), a family with dogs on the beach….
I parked my bike next to a Harley Davidson, sat down in my cycling shorts at a bench nearby and had lunch.
“Aren’t these guys feeling hot, still wearing all that leather crap”, I am thinking to myself ?
“They must really envy me, in my cool shorts.”
I didn’t bother asking them, cause I constantly had to kick a little dog away.
Driving back towards the main road, I saw another cyclist coming down.
Isn’t that….. yeah, it was John, an English cyclist I met already twice on the Lofoten and again at the campground in Tromso.
What are the odds we meet again in Estonia on a little sand track ?
We had a good talk, before John went back towards Tallinn to take a ferry to Sweden.
I headed further along to coast and pitched my tent in a mosquito infested forest, 30 km further down the road.
Riding South towards Estonia’s second biggest city, the university town Tartu, the Eurovelo Route started to use bigger roads so I had to intervene a bit and made my own route, using traffic free dirt roads.
Tartu is a nice place, but I was so stupid to follow the Eurovelo route again to leave town.
Busy, busy road.
I made a much, much better route that night in my tent for the rest of the ride towards Latvia.
Total kilometer in Estonia: 519 km
Total kilometer so far: 7.556 km
Latvia: Crossing the country on dirt roads
My last kilometers in Estonia were on a provincial road skirting the border.
Right side Estonia, left side Latvia.
I was heading to the small town Valga but didn’t really want to ride into another town when I didn’t need supplies.
I saw a little road coming in from the Latvian side, but it stopped a few hundred meters from my road. Probably from older times, when border crossing weren’t that easy.
But roads don’t ever stop just like that near another one, I thought, so I kept my eyes open.
And sure, suddenly there was a cemetery on the Latvian side of the road, and a little path going there from my main road.
This is the first time I entered a country via a graveyard 🙂
Not a problem in our happy ‘Schengen world’, I guess.
After the cemetery I continued on sand roads back to the Eurovelo 11 I was following. That turns out to be another paved provincial road. Not too bad when I ride it early evening, but I can imagine it will be busy tomorrow so later that evening I create my own route further through Latvia.
The route I created between Smiltene & Jekabpils turns out to be spectaculair. From gravel roads onto smaller and narrower sand roads right through the heart of Latvia.
Just when I come from a small sand road on a bigger gravel road, a passing police car stops right in front of me.
A big fat guy whit a cigaret drags himself out of the car.
“Kezembrechal zwizwetska norovski embroich ?”
I politely explain him I don’t speak Latvian.
“Ghwhat your name ?” he asks me.
A blanc stare for a few seconds…… “Plovdo Karisteas Sir.”
“Ghwhere you from ?”
“I’m a United States citizen Sir.”
“You tourist ?”
“Sir, yes Sir !”
“This your first time in Lativa ?”
“Sir yes Sir !”
We exchange a few more plaisanteries and soon I am on my way again.
But of course the thunderstorm I was trying to outrun (outcycle ?) caught up with me by now.
It’s a short one though, so soon I can enjoy the now a bit muddier tracks I am following.
If you like your cycle trips a bit more adventurous and like to see little frogs of 2 cm jump from before your wheels, instead of you trying not to get under the wheels of speeding cars and trucks on the busy roads, this is a route for you.
Sure, you’ll have to face a few dog attacks on these little roads, but it’s definitely worth it.
I’ll put the gps tracks online when I’m back home.
Total kilometer Latvia: 274 km
Total kilometer so far: 7.830 km
Lithuania: About rain, headwinds and washboard tracks
Lithuania, the third and largest of the three Baltic States. It seems also to be the most religious of the three. Small villages with big churches and lots of crosses along the road.
As good as my sand- and gravel tracks were north of the grimly town of Jekabpils (Latvia), so bumpy they suddenly became south of that town. And they continued to be like that throughout Lithuania.
After the little border town Obeliai, I leave again the provincial roads and take a left turn towards Kriaunos. The sun is out, so I have again a swim & a wash in a lake and also find myself a beautiful camping spot next to another lake.
But from the next morning on, the weather becomes dodgy and I pack the tent away wet most mornings.
Bumping over washboard roads, 3 bumps a second, a strong head wind and a regular rain shower.
70 km north of Vilnius I take a rest day on ‘Apple Island’, a camp site on a little island in lake Grabuostas. It’s my first rest day since Tromso, exactly 3746 km back & 43 days ago.
It’s not that I didn’t want to take any rest days, but the circumstances decided otherwise.
Or there were no campgrounds around near the end of a cycling day, or I didn’t have enough food or water to take a rest day on a wild camping spot, but the main reason was the weather and the insects. The insects forcing you to keep moving, or they would attack you. And as I had such good weather further north, it gets way to warm in a tent to possibly stay inside all day.
During my stay on Apple Island, I treat myself with some good meals from the restaurant to have a change from the usual pasta or rice dishes I make myself. For the first time in my life, I start reading a book in German language, “Amerika von oben nach unten” from Tilmann Waldthaler, one of the ‘big three’ in World Cycling touring, together with Heinz Stücke and Frank Van Rijn.
The book is only available in German, so I didn’t have any choice. I understand everything surprisingly well, so I can buy his other books as well.
A bit before Vilnius, I start following the Eurovelo 11 Route again, which leads my into town through a beautiful forest and a bicycle path along the river. The ride out of town is on a bumpy foothpath along a very busy road. I suppose there was no alternative.
The 5th of August must have been the warmest day on this trip so far. The sun was burning relentlessly and made me stop at every village store for refreshments.
In this little village store, one can see that wodka is still one of the main commodities over here. With all the problems coming along with that probably.
My last day in the country, I woke up around 6 am. The sky was very grey, so I decided to break camp quickly and go. The first 15 km were slow going along more bumpy wasboard roads.
When I went to the village store in Perloja to buy my (almost) daily liter of milk, all hell broke lose. A terrible thunderstorm and an even harder headwind as before. But I was happy with my decision to rise early. The tent was packed away dry, I managed to leave the field I was camping in with dry feet, and the bumpy dirt rod was behind me as well.
The nasty weather prevented me from following the planned route along the border with Belarus through Dzukios National Park though. It would get way too hard on the sandy (muddy) roads in these conditions.
It shortened my route with 60 km, and that way I entered Poland on August 6th, a day earlier as expected.
A few thoughts after this chapter of the trip:
The mosquito’s and horseflies: The problem went on until Latvia. As south as Lithuania, they come in normal quantities.
Dogs: Not a night went by without hearing the constant barking of dogs. Huw-huw-huw…. huw-huw-huw…. huw-huw-huw. This constant, monotonous noise all night long from several directions.
The people: In Finland and the Baltic States people are generally not friendly. They don’t return your greetings and in the Baltic States they generally don’t even look at you, although you must be quite a sight in some remoter parts. Never a smile. There were exceptions of course. I remember the friendly guy in Finland who approached me near a library for a chat and gave me a tip for a national park, the friendly family who invited me in to have lunch when I asked only for water, the friendly bikers I met outside Tallinn, a mother and here daughter who gave me some blueberries they just picked in the forest in Latvia, but they were exceptions. You can’t simply blame it on ‘the system’, the communist past, or poverty, because that’s things Finland isn’t suffering from. I think the only conclusion one can make is that, in general, people are not friendly in this part of the world, western and ‘rich’ (Finland), or former communist and a bit poorer (Baltic States), the mentally is largely the same. Compared to southeast Asia. In Thailand people lived fairly untroubled in recent history and are relatively well off and in Myanmar they lived under a brutal regime and are dead poor. Same goes for the brutal recent history in Laos and Cambodia where the living standard isn’t too high either. But Thai, Myanmar, Lao or Cambodian, they all are, friendly, warm and happy people. It’s a regional thing.
Storks: Not only Estonia was a stork country. You see them everywhere through Latvia, Lithuania and here in north-eastern Poland where I’m writing this.
I’ll insert from now on some extra data about my trip after I crossed a country. I updated the previous posts as well (few things I still have to calcuate).
Total kilometer Lithuania: 426
Total kilometer in Baltic states: 1.219 km
Average km per cycling day: follows later
Total kilometer so far: 8.256 km
Total altimeter so far: 62.755 meter
Total time on the bike: 543 hrs 19 min
Nights slept inside: 0
Nights slept outside: 15 (3 on campgrounds, 12 wild camping)
Average daily cost Baltic States:
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.
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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 !
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
At Tanabru I had no choice but to re-join the E6 further east. The big constant being that wind, and the high temperatures.
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 😉
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:
This group of islands well above the Polar Circle. I wished to visit them for a long time already.
I arrived with the ferry from Bodo around 21:00 hrs and cycled with a German couple, Kessi and Matthias towards Lofoten’s southern tip, the village A. The camping didn’t welcome tents anymore, but I saw already an allright wild camping spot on the way in.
At first, there’s no alternative for the E10. It’s a small road here and they kept the old track around the tunnels open for cyclist.
A MUST do (with thanks to Kessi for the tip) is the hike up the hill just before entering Reine village. It’s a hard, steep and at times slippery way to the ridge from sea level to 487 m, but the view you get is not possible to catch in a picture (for me at last 😉 ).
It is of utmost importance to take your time when you visit these islands and not simply rush trough over the main artery, the E10. Take side trips !
Some of them are along dead end roads, but are definitely worth the effort. That way I visited Nusfjord, the beautiful beaches of Utakleiv, the Venice of the North (another one….) Henningsvaer and made round trips along the fjords south of Leknes, at Austvago, etc…
There are going to be a lot of pics in this one, I’m sorry…
Just before Fiskebol, I left the main road to have a better look at the beach.
That’s where I think I lost my Gorilla (tri) pod.
For a few days I felt miserable about that and wanted to punish myself by standing in the corner for an hour or so, but that’s when I realized that since I’m living outside 24/7, there are no corners anymore in my life.
I could do it when I take a ferry from one island to the other, but I guess the other passengers might find it odd, when I stand in the corner the whole passage.
Besides, I have too many things to do on board of the ferry. Filling up my water bottles, washing myself a bit in the rest room, maybe do some laundry there as well, taking pictures, pay for the passage, eating lunch, or second lunch, ….
The Vesteralen are a group of islands north of Lofoten.
There too, I mostly took the ‘long way’ around the islands, avoiding the bigger roads. I had bad whether with lots of rain and one night a storm which became so violent I simply had to break down the tent and sleep in the sanitary facilities. I’m used to heavy winds in the tent, even holding poles and supporting it from the inside, but this one became way to violent.
I’m not moaning about the wind too much, but still, it is mostly against. That much that frequently my speed goes into single digits on the flats.
Leaving the supermarket in Andenes, I met Dutch cyclist Jos with who I cycled for a day towards the island Senja.
Senja should be one of the most beautiful Norwegian islands, north-east of the Vesteralen.
It’s quiet a long ferry ride and it was still raining when we arrived there.
Late in the afternoon and a big part of the next day, I was very lucky and the sun came out, so I could so how beautiful the region is.
Before arriving in the biggest city of the north, Tromso, I had one more island to cross, Kvaloya Island, where it rained so much that I don’t have to bother anybody with pictures from it.
I entered Norway in the province Nord-Trøndelag.
Sweden’s road 340 becomes road nbr 765 here.
Near Ostnes, I pushed my 3000th km of this trip away.
In my quest to avoid highway 6 as much as possible, I continued north via small roads, cycling along Tunnsjoen lake which has a huge island in it, a rock 812 meter high.
I was traveling through a winter wonderland now, full of snow and ice.
Instead of taking the tunnel after Gjersvika, I took the old road over the mountains, Steinfjellvei. This old road is blocked for car traffic, so you are really mounting into heaven, car-free.
Oh, what are people taking those tunnels missing….
In Namsskogan, a little town along the E6, I joined the highway for about 40 km, before entering the Fiplingvatnet valley, following the Villmarksveien.
By this time, I had entered my second Norwegian province on this trip, ‘Nordland’ and officially entered North-Norway..
Between Trofors and Mosjoen, the E6 can be avoided by cycling dirt roads on the other side of the river. Steep climbs and descents between 10 & 12% await you.
After Mosjoen, I headed via road 78 (largely car free, as it is closed to motorized traffic, who are forced to take the new toll-tunnel) towards Norway’s most famous road, coastal road nbr 17.
Road 17 means incredible views towards the sea, cycling around fjords which makes progress slow but beautiful, it means tunnels, ferry-crossings and camper vans.
After the ferry dropped me in Nesna, I had to climb pretty high up a hill, but was rewarded with stunning views into the Sjona Fjord.
On the 5th of June, 51 days and exactly 3.368 km after I left from home, I crossed the Polar Circle.
But not on my bike. It lay there, right in front of me…… in the water. So I passed it on the ferry.
I met a nice German couple who were cycling from the North Cape to Gibraltar. They gave me the tip to visit Svartisen Glacier. I did this together with Ole, a young German cyclist who’s cycling around Scandinavia.
A tiny ferry dropped us near the glacier. We hiked up to the glaciers mouth in the evening. As with every glacier, you cannot help but notice how far and how fast they are retreating.
Late in the evening (it’s already 24/24 light up here) we reached the mouth of the glacier, which is 3 or 4 men high. The bright blue and white colors are very spectacular and must be even better when the sun is shining.
We planned to camp 2 nights below the glacier, and climb up higher the next day.
This turned out to be a day of non-stop rain, hail, ice rain and fresh snow a few hundred meters above us. It became a rest/reading day during which I re-read George Orwell’s ‘Burmese Days’.
After the rest day, I cycled again a day against hard head winds. Cycling around fjords, you cycle in every direction during the day, but still the wind manages to blow BANG in your face, whichever direction you turn your handle bars. Remarkable.
It looked like an autumn storm, how the leaves were torn from the trees and were blown around ones head.
After Ornes, the road to Bodo becomes too busy. Cars, mobil homes, trucks; the constant roar of traffic in your ears and all your attention goes to staying on ‘your’ few centimeters at the edge of the road, instead of enjoying the scenery.
The first day after Ornes, the weather was truly horrible. Cold, rain, hail. And head wind of course. There ’s one more tunnel, but the old road can still be taken by bicycle. It’s a bit steep and extra 200 meters of climbing, but the view at the other side of the top is worthwhile.
I was lucky to find a really nice wild camping spot a bit before Saltstraumen, where you’ll find the strongest tidal current in the world.
The last day into Bodo, the weather was warm and sunny. People were out in town, terraces and restaurants were packed. I headed to the harbor to catch my ferry to the Lofoten islands.