Aug 22, 2010

Where did all the heroes go?

Scorching our mighty artistic tans even more artistic, the hot weather was pretty much all that Finland had to offer us. The change from Norway was abrupt and radical, starting the moment we crossed the border and only becoming more pronounced as we moved on towards the darker nights.

Having become accustomed to the talkative, outdoorsy nation, it was hard to believe the words of a French cyclist who we met in Olderfjord. He had done our planned route in the opposite direction and had just finished pedalling his way up through Finland. Obviously, we tried to squeeze some information out of him, including the answer to the question that interested us the most: How was it?

While praising the beauty of the endless forests, he couldn't help but mention that everyone he met in this country, was drunk. And I mean drunk! Like really, really, really drunk! We'll see and judge that when we get there, we thought, knowing already that people are like bugs - whether you attract flies or butterflies depends on more factors than simply where you are.

Soon, we learned that he knew exactly what he was talking about.

Whether trying to catch the eye of passers-by in an attempt to be polite and say Hi or simply smile and nod, or trying to be chatty with waitresses and cashiers, we quickly learned to keep our eyes firmly on the road. With a few friendly exceptions, almost anyone who came to acknowledge us was dead drunk and generally more interested in our breasts than our itinerary, thus ruining our bread-and-chocolate breaks (because, unfortunately, Finnish and Estonian are sufficiently close for me to understand their drunken raving). Then again, I can't blame people for shutting themselves off or boozing themselves up if the best entertainment around is several hundreds of kilometres of forest to gaze at. You gotta find a way to open up some new dimensions in the world!

In contrast, the people we stayed with near Rovaniemi, in Oulu and Helsinki, were all exceptionally friendly and interesting personalities, shining new light onto their country. Without them, we would have been lost in dullness!

After finding our way out of Oulu we hit the straightest possible road to the South expecting it to continue as it was before. To me, almost every single hour in Finland felt like I had just sneaked out for a short afternoon ride in the outskirts of Tallinn and would be home shortly. The difference was that home never actually arrived. Do I need to stress that it became quite frustrating after a week? Even on the boat to Helsinki the realisation that it was finished didn't hit me until I finally saw the famous "sardine tin" silhouette of Tallinn glistening in the sun. It was a very special moment.

We hadn't actually used any maps since the Lofoten or maybe even Trondheim, because in the North the choice of roads is pretty slim. There's usually only one and you follow it straight or else run the risk of falling off a cliff or being swallowed up by a swamp. Then, all of a sudden we were in the middle of civilisation and needed to find our way out of or into fairly big towns like Oulu, Jyväskylä, Lahti and Helsinki. The first two had a special knack of driving us mad with their many intermingling bike lanes and motorways going off in every direction. Cycling slowly in circles for 30km to get out of Oulu while edging forward only 16km ate away many precious nerve cells and called for an early afternoon de-stress break in a motorway services cafe. The next few days followed a similar pattern.

We decided to make the last desperate dash towards the finish, push as hard as we could and do the remaining 600km after Oulu in just four days. It seemed reasonable, considering the density of awe-inspiring sites and the "gradient" of the road. But on the second day Finland surprised us with considerable hills for about 100 kilometres and cut the 200km-aim short at 165km. My stallion is a heavy horse to force uphill.

By then we had finally reached the more attractive parts of the country. Getting off the main road to see more lakes, fewer lorries and find more physical challenges was a new idea prompted by an initial glimpse of something actually worth looking at. On the spur of the moment, we added one day and some distance to our trip, rediscovered the pleasure of physical challenge over the constant need for hard-core self motivation due to a severe lack of mental stimulation, and saw some lovely landscapes. The only other biker that we met in Finland told us that we were passing through the most beautiful region of the country. But honestly - it was still average among even the most boring kind of Norwegian beauties.

That evening, seeing a wooden spire rising up above the village at the end of the road, we saw the opportunity to finally cross out "sleep in a church(yard)" on our list of slightly unusual camping places. The next night though, under the cover of darkness that hid us as well as the identity of the place we went to, we managed to pitch our tent directly under the office windows of a school in the centre of Lahti. When four men, including the heavyweights - the headmaster and his deputy in suit and tie - came to throw us out in the morning, they weren't expecting to meet two apologetically smiling girls already packing and explaining how they hadn't been able to find a safe place to sleep so late at night. The astonished bouncers were stripped of their weapons in an instant, only the manners remained. They asked if we slept well and wished us a good trip to Helsinki.

Did we ever consider quitting?

There were countless moments when the indescribable beauty of the scenery took our breath away more than the effort of climbing uphill to see it; or when the thrill of racing downhill at 73km/h only spiced it up, adding to the experience rather than being the experience itself; or when a short stretch of flat road felt like it was heaven sent. There were countless moments of pure happiness.

Most of it was in Norway, as you can guess. Finland was a whole different story - a mental challenge more than a physical one. It needed to be done and now it is.

There were many moments when climbing uphill was so hard that we had to continue motivating ourselves to pedal on instead of stopping and walking if only for few metres. There were many moments when we both felt down simultaneously and many when either one of us was more tired physically, mentally or both while the other one pedalled with ease, singing away and feeling her most energetic. There were many moments when we sat in cafes or in supermarkets, safe from torrential rain, fatigue or boredom, trying to pretend that we would magically move forward and it would all go away if we just sat there... and then, eventually, we always needed to move on. There were moments when stopping for the day was all we could think about. But quitting for real - never crossed my mind nor Alice's. We're a stubborn pair.

We did it :)

Only one thing seems very wrong: we should be feeling like heroes but we don't. Now that's disappointing!


Day 44: 143.52km on the roads 78, 924, 849 and 20; nothing to see there;

Day 45: 38.05km to Oulu; couchsurfing;

Day 46: 153.22km on the roads 847 and E75; the E75 is an unimaginably long, straight, flat main road with heavy traffic;

Day 47: 165.44km on the E75 to Äänekoski; ... including the hundred km-s of Finnish hills, spiced up with heavy lorry traffic;

Day 48: 119.76km on the roads 642 and 637 to Jyväskylä. Then on the E63, 610 and 612 to Luhanka - a smaller calmer and a bit hillier path through the lakelands;

Day 49: 121.39km on the roads 612, 314 and 24 to Lahti;

Day 50: 96.52km on the road 140 to Helsinki; couchsurfing.

Day 51: 21.34km to Helsinki port. THE END:)

Distance cycled from the last stop after Rovaniemi (in 8 days): 859.24km
Total distance cycled in 51 days: 4410.98km

Thus, our average daily distance over 51 days (composed of 7 full rest days + 44 cycling days) was 86.5km; full rest days excluded, the daily average was 100km (min. 21.34km and max. 165.44km).

Aug 12, 2010

Food, glorious food!

Six weeks have passed since we saw the orange moon rising over the seas as we advanced towards the land of the fairy tales... rising, dark blue, from the horizon. Six weeks it took us to cross the Arctic Circle twice, shake hands with Santa Claus and see our first dark night and our first star again! This, this is true magic.

... in the meantime, we continued cycling from unbelievably far North to even more unbelievably far North, passing by more and more stunning natural sights. There were low glaciers, crawling down the sharp black cliffs into the fjord, feeding our hungry eyes while the sun was warming our cheeks. The greenery softened the impression of the overall scenery down to majestic friendliness and I wrote in my notebook: I'm here and nothing else matters.

The contrasts never cease to surprise us. It is amazing how fast conditions can go from freezing cold to burning hot; from desperate to ecstatic; from soaking wet to sunny and dry; from stunning views to hours in zero visibility; from completely drained to bursting with energy; from sheep on the road to reindeer everywhere; from scooping peanut butter out of a jar with a spork to eating salmon with silver forks in a lace-clad dining room.

All of a sudden, after having climbed up the last two hills after Alta, we were on flatlands. For the first time in weeks we couldn't see any high peaks. It was Finnmark, the poorest area of Norway - where the Samis herd reindeer. We crossed the roughly 300m high barren swampy plateau and reached Olderfjord before night fell. Somehow, a lucky succession of coincidences managed to change our plans from throwing our bikes into a bush for a day to leaving them with a random farmer to being accommodated and fed for two nights and a day in between.

When planning the road in the first place, we never wanted to visit Nordkapp, having only heard about the pointlessness (other than "having been there") of the place. Once on the road, it seemed strange to go so close and leave the last bit undone. Therefore, our aim was to leave the bikes and do a quick hitchhiking day trip. As it rained heavily the day we meant to hitch, we decided to live in tempo with nature once again and warmed our tired bottoms on the couch in the nice dry indoors instead. We paid the visit to mainland Europe's most northerly point the next day in perfect sunlight.

It was very pretty.

Every day is an adventure as we can never be absolutely sure whether we are able to meet the day's goal or not. There are too many variables: the length and gradient of the climbs ahead; the strength and the direction of the wind; something going wrong with the bikes; something going wrong with ourselves; or factor x decides to intervene.

From Alice's diary: Norway blessed our last morning with glorious sunshine. Leisurely breakfast under warming rays - but something was wrong: Triini wasn't hungry!

The first day in Finland welcomed us with hot sunny weather and a bit hillier terrain than we had expected. It wouldn't have been hard if it weren't for the fact that I had a started the day feeling a tiny bit puke-ish, unable to eat any of that food, glorious food of Finland I had been dreaming about. With the hills rolling more sharply up and down than I liked, I went more and more feverish until we had to stop in the first civilization we saw - Kaamanen - where I curled up in my sleeping bag on the blueberry-laden shrubbery of the forest and slept for an hour. Good sleep works miracles and we were able to cycle another 5km on the flat until a petrol station where we camped in the neighbouring forest. This is a good example of a day cut short by unexpected circumstances. Oh, and I had a flat tyre the moment we arrived to this petrol station. And it started raining.

I was cured only two more nights of sleeping and two more days of easy pedalling later. Alice was cheering with delight when hearing the words "But I'm still hungrrrrrrrry!" coming from me after dinner. She would never have believed that she'd be so glad to hear them.

Yesterday was the day of breaking some more personal records. In addition to chatting to Santa and peeking into Lordi's restaurant we spent a mighty 8 hours in the saddle. A more usual cycling day consists of about 6 to 7 hours of pedalling and a lot of slacking off. Sometimes, we call it our training camp, especially when our days turn out to be well structured: we wake up at 8 and start cycling between 9 and 10 o'clock. We stop, eat and rest when we need to. Yesterday, for example, had three "training sessions": 80km before lunch, 35km before dinner and 46km before going to bed. The sauna and bed felt very well deserved.


Day 32: 93.53km; ferries: Breivikerdet - Svensby and Lyngen - Olderdalen; joined the E6 again;

Day 33: 105.01km on the E6;

Day 34: 102.73km to Alta;

Day 35: 112.3km to Olderfjord; couchsurfing;

Day 36: day off

Day 37: hitching to Nordkapp and back; cycling 29.78km towards the South;

Day 38: 114.27km to Karasjok;

Day 39: Finland! 90.39km to Kaamanen;

Day 40: 100.31km on the one and only road ("Santa's Rd") towards the South, through Ivalo;

Day 41: 147.78km to Sodankylä and beyond;

Day 42: 161km through Rovaniemi and then on the road 78; couchsurfing;

Day 43: day off.

Distance cycled since Tromsø (9.5 days of cycling and 1.5 days off in between): 1057.1km
Total distance cycled in 43 days: 3551.74km


Our favorite song, the one that we sing the most often:

Food, Glorious Food

Is it worth the waiting for?
If we live 'til eighty four
All we ever get is gru...el!
Ev'ry day we say our prayer --
Will they change the bill of fare?
Still we get the same old gru...el!
There's not a crust, not a crumb can we find,
Can we beg, can we borrow, or cadge,
But there's nothing to stop us from getting a thrill
When we all close our eyes and imag...ine

Food, glorious food!
Hot sausage and mustard!
While we're in the mood --
Cold jelly and custard!
Peas, pudding and saveloys!
What next is the question?
Rich gentlemen have it, boys --

Food, glorious food!
We're anxious to try it.
Three banquets a day --
Our favourite diet!

Just picture a great big steak --
Fried, roasted or stewed.
Oh, food,
Wonderful food,
Marvellous food,
Glorious food.

Food, glorious food!
What is there more handsome?
Gulped, swallowed or chewed --
Still worth a king's ransom!
What is it we dream about?
What brings on a sigh?
Piled peaches and cream, about
Six feet high!

Food, glorious food!
Eat right through the menu.
Just loosen your belt
Two inches and then you
Work up a new appetite.
In this interlude --
The food,
Once again, food
Fabulous food,
Glorious food.

Food, glorious food!
Don't care what it looks like --
Don't care what the cook's like.
Just thinking of growing fat --
Our senses go reeling
One moment of knowing that
Full-up feeling!

Food, glorious food!
What wouldn't we give for
That extra bit more --
That's all that we live for
Why should we be fated to
Do nothing but brood
On food,
Magical food,
Wonderful food,
Marvellous food,
Fabulous food,

Beautiful food,

Glorious food
Marvellous food,
Glorious food