We’re back and rolling! It seems such a long time since I posted on this blog. A year in Ho Chi Minh City certainly consumed most of our energies and attention. But, thankfully, we’re on the road again. This time our adventures will see us Bicycle Touring in Lapland then down through Europe. We’re starting 500 kms above the Arctic Circle in the remote Norwegian town of Kirkenes, and working our way south through the Baltic States, Eastern Europe and hopefully, the Balkans, finishing in Budapest.
Seven days into the adventure and we’ve already been presented with our fair share of challenges. Some are self-inflicted. Once again we’ve done absolutely no training and are subsequently ill-prepared for the pain and discomfort that will ensue for the first month at least.
Other than general lack of fitness, challenges have been presented by Mother Nature herself. There’s been some big ups and downs both physically and mentally. I’ll talk a bit more about this later as for all intents and purposes, most blogs report that Finland is FLAT. I’d like to report, that I don’t think it is. FLAT is a relative word. If you’re used to cycling around Montenegro, then Finland is indeed flat. If, on the other hand like us, you have cycled the Nullarbor, Finland, (or Lapland at least) is NOT FLAT! It is even more NOT FLAT if you are cycling into a hooting headwind and haven’t ridden a bicycle for 14 months. (Back to the self-inflicted pain I know). We have however looked at elevations and from here on in it should be flatter.
The weather in these parts is extremely changeable and not always comfortable. We’ve had rain, hail, huge winds (in all directions), cold temperatures, sunshine and everything in between. One day we had all of these in less than an hour!! It seems there is just long enough to perform a costume change before the weather changes and you are once again over or underdressed. We are much better prepared in this department than we were on our Australian trip though so, that’s definitely one thing we’ve done right in preparation. I’ll update our cycling clothes and equipment list very soon. But the following additions have already proved their worth:
- Thermolite Sleeping bag liner (Sharyn) – adds about 5 degrees to my sleeping bag which means I didn’t have to buy a new one.
- Kathmandu Pathfinder Sleeping bag (Tim) – way lighter, smaller and warmer than his old one.
- UltraCORE Thermals – Mens Long Johns, Mens – Long sleeved top, Womens Long Johns, Womens long sleeve top. They dry super fast and as far as we are concerned don’t smell too bad even after days in the saddle. (We might need a second opinion on this one 🙂
- dhb Active, long sleeved, cycling jersey – I cannot believe how nice this jersey is to cycle in considering how cheap it was.
- Sealskinz allweather cycling gloves – a bit of a technique to getting them on but worth the effort for snuggly, dry hands.
- BBB Heavy duty shoe covers – gotta keep the tootsies dry and warm!
Our first challenge was getting our bikes serviced and then packaged safely to reach Kirkenes in the very north of Norway. Due to logistical issues, we were unable to test the bikes after their service by Epic Cycles in Brisbane. We could only hope their rather high prices meant we could have faith in their abilities. We had our rear cassettes, chains and front middle ring replaced as well as a full set of new Schwarlbe Marathon plus tyres each plus a spare. We’re happy to report so far that things are running smoothly. One less thing to worry about.
We both breathed a big sigh of relief as we saw the bikes arrive in oversize baggage in Oslo. Thank you Qatar Airways. Other than one crying baby the flights were comfortable and hassle-free, especially the Dreamliner from Doha to OSLO. Very nice thank you very much! And, you seem to have treated our bikes super nicely as they arrived in perfect working order. With their service, prices and ever-increasing reach I can see us flying with them again where possible.
Thankfully we were able to store the bikes while we had a two-day stopover in Oslo enjoying the warm hospitality of long-time friend Simon, an old work buddy, a gentleman and a scholar! About $50 USD for two days for both bikes was more than worth not having the hassle of dragging them into town and back. It’s charged per piece so it didn’t matter that the bikes were oversized luggage.
Oslo was as we remembered it. A mix of old and new and seriously expensive. We’ve seen all of the major sights in days gone by so we were happy to wander around the city and try not to break the budget before we’d even started riding.
Our time in Kirkenes was one to remember. Our first experience with Warmshowers was a real eye-opener. Our young host Rakel and her mum welcomed us into their home, fed and watered us and basically gave us the run of the house. Their hospitality and generosity was humbling and has made us determined to return the favour to the community as soon as we are able. If you are into cycle touring and haven’t joined yet, then do so immediately. Even if you like your privacy and don’t intend to stay with others, the insider information into road conditions and facilities along your way will be worth it. And who doesn’t want to make new friends in far off places?
The first few days in the saddle were understandably tough. I can’t believe we did even less training than for our Trans Australia trip! And we were in far worse shape. Not to mention another year or so older. But, true to our characters we’ve toughed it out and except for a few expletives in the direction of the horrendous headwinds faced on a couple of days, not a word of complaint has been heard. Instead, both of us are revelling in the luxury of space, clean air and being out on the road again.
We expect to be tired and cold and uncomfortable at times. That’s why the little things that happen are so much more wonderful. Can you imagine our delight when we walked into the supermarket at the Norwegian-Finnish border to be faced with a giant rotisserie filled with mouth-watering pork ribs!!!! And, marinated chicken wings…and hot coffee…And then there was the little souvenir shop 15km before Inari with hot coffee and homemade pancakes all served by a merry little old lady in a red Santa cap.
The sunshine and tailwinds we’ve captured bring total joy in the experience of riding through the wilderness and the rain and headwinds let you know you’re alive and you have a depth of character that will always win through. Five days camping in the forest makes a basic wooden cabin with heating seem like a palace. Pooping in a hole in the ground in the woods makes even the most basic toilet that supports your weight seem like a throne. All part of the experience it seems.
Anyway, rather than harp on statistics I’ll summarise below.
Day 1 Kirkenes – Pretty hilly through the Fjord with a couple of 8% climbs. There is a lovely little camp spot with a loo at around the 19km mark. We camped at around the 35km mark in a clearing on the left side of the road, just past a small stream where you could get water.
Day 2 It rained hard that night so we slept late and then got up to ride. There is a parking spot on the top of the hill at 40km (from Kirkenes) We did 55km with mainly sun and a slight tailwind and camped in a clearing about 5km past Sevettijarbi.
Day 3 It started raining early the next morning so we stayed in bed til it stopped and the tent dried out a bit, then rode late into the afternoon. We made 43km before we found a nice campsite across from a house but hidden in the forest. We’d filled water not long beforehand so didn’t have to worry about that.
Day 4 It chucked down rain til 4pm. Once again we stayed dry in the tent until it let up. We didn’t start riding til 6 and only managed 33km into the headwinds at an average of 11 before we gave up and pitched camp around 10.30pm. It was a beautiful setting by a lovely lake and when we woke up the next morning we were greeted by sunshine and a tailwind.
Day 5 40km’s with a tailwind and a lovely coffee and pancake surprise at 25km. We rolled into Inari around 2 pm and headed directly to the very well presented Siida museum. Definitely up there with some of the best museums we’ve visited. I must apologise profusely to the other visitors at the museum for my rather woofy odour. 5 days on a bike without a shower will do that. I did try and maintain my distance to preserve your sensitivities.
We treated ourselves to a 40 Euro cabin at the Uruniemi Camping ground about 2 km south of Inari. Very nice people and good facilities. Gorgeous views down by the lake.
Handy Hint number 1: We were expecting to be ravaged by all sorts of blood-sucking insects, from mosquitoes to midgies to horse flies. But guess what? NOTHING. They don’t start in earnest til mid summer apparently! 🙂
Handy Hint number 2: With 24/7 daylight you don’t have to worry when you start and finish cycling. In fact, cycling in the evening and through the night has the added bonus of less traffic. (But alas, no surprise coffee stops)
I’ve had enough time in the saddle over the past week for some quiet introspection. I’ve been asking myself a few very serious questions about why I’m here doing what we’re doing and answering myself mostly with a stiff uppercut (metaphorically speaking). Despite the hurt, discomfort and times of exhaustion I can’t think of too many other things I’d rather be doing. The scenery is magnificent, the air is so pure you can feel it doing you good and I can feel I’m getting fitter every day. If nothing else, our sheer bloody-mindedness will see us to the end of the journey and we’ll be better people for it.
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