Finland; You Are So Beautiful!

Yes, all is going well for my knee, it seems to be getting stronger by the day. The kilometres are slowly ticking by, along with a heatwave!

“This is not normal” apparently, so the Finns keep reminding me!

Yet another day of 25c/26c. I can hardly believe my luck!After leaving Janne in Haikapudas I made my way south…..four consecutive nights wild camping. Mysterious forests, inland lakes, noisy swans, fat geese, numerous curlews, dirt roads, quaint wooden barns and sienna red wooden houses.

I was on my way to meet another warmshowers host, Ross from the UK and his Finnish girlfriend, who live in Himanka.

They welcomed me with open arms…..plenty of food, washing machine whirring and warm showers…. of course! Strangely, Ross has a narrow boat moored at Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire…..only a stones throw from my childhood/parents home!

Thank you Ross and Pikkola it was bliss……

Wild camping is important to me and I expect to feel safe. I’ll always maintain that it’s people…sadly…who are usually the main threat.

This came true a few nights ago. A man….. failed to pass my three second radar scrutiny. He was a ‘bad’un’ as we say in Yorkshire, possibly under the influence of a substance. After some slimy inappropriate, unwanted attention, I decided to break camp and move. It was actually more of a stealth camp at a swimming spot. Stealth camps are often a little riskier by being closer to civilisation.

I was angry but also afraid.

No, I did not want to move, but knew I would be listening out for his return and wouldn’t sleep well…if at all. Later on reflection, I recognised that my Leatherman knife, would have been used if necessary. That sounds shocking, but it’s a possible scenario that needs to be thought about, when travelling alone.

Onward the next day and it was all soon forgotten….. lots more days of pedalling and passion ahead. The challenging dirt and sand tracks, soon consumed my mind.

Surprisingly two days later, I bumped into Marcus , who was out riding his bike too.

Marcus is another warmshowers host, who resides in close by Nykarleby.

Both Ross and Janne had mentioned Marcus to me……

Together, for a couple of hours, we cycled the back roads and gravel tracks towards Vaasa. He knows a lot about wildlife and history. It was a joy to meet you, thank you Marcus.

I can honestly say I feel more joyful, contented, fully alive and completely with nature, than I have for quite sometime.

Finland is peaceful, tranquil and glowing with beauty.

Each early morning on emerging from my tent into the cool luminous light, a chorus of birdsong and golden silence greet me. The air has a special aroma, of damp mossy undergrowth, sweet woody pine, juniper spice, subtle birch and dew laden grass with a salty tinge. A true bouquet!

Finland, you truly have, captured my heart.

On a last note.

Having swallowed my disappointment about being unable to cycle the eastern section of the Iron Curtain Trail. Along came the realisation that the west coast of Finland, is much more accessible to a novice cyclist, who perhaps wants to do a first tour.

Hopefully this southbound route will perhaps appeal to more people, especially women cyclists, who fancy a solo tour!

Here is my favourite quote from Albert Einstein;

“The woman who follows the crowd is likely to go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before”

Watch out for the next instalment from;

‘Somewhere over my rainbow’

Advertisements

Back on the Road!

Last time I wrote a post, my cycling journey was in the balance. Morbid thoughts of an early return to the UK were taking over my mind. The dratted knee had become more than annoying. It was quite clear cut…..cycling was bad for it.

So with a heavy heart I stopped and had a hospital visit. A friendly young man took all the details, asked me questions and even rang a surgeon, so he could answer all of my pointed questions!

The outcome was rest, for at least a week to a month or more, depending on the individual.

In light of this I decided to abandon the Iron Curtain Trail and head south in search of a flatter route.

Though I had no proper idea or plan in mind, just disappointment. I was trying hard to muster up hope.

I hopped on a bus, with a cracked windscreen and a crazed driver…..finally and thankfully emerged still in one piece, at Haukipudas near Oulu.

There is a fantastic international website called warmshowers. It is specifically by and for cyclists. Private individuals usually cyclists who have toured, provide accommodation, help and information etc, without charge.

I’d already stayed with the invaluable Norwegian, Havar of Neiden. He was a gem.

Now I was to stay with Janne in Haukipudas.

We met up in Lidl’s supermarket!

Janne soon took me under his wing….. Providing much needed mental/physical rest and recuperation, along with lots of route and information advice. Literally rescuing me from tangled, confusing thoughts and setting me back on track, in more ways than one.

So many, many thanks to you Janne. I will always be eternally grateful for the warm hearted and generous space you provided for me.

I expect you are all wondering what the outcome was?

Well, I’m so pleased to report, the bike and I are back on the road, heading south on the west coast. The route is much flatter, beautiful back roads, golden farmlands, quaint wooden houses and at the moment lots of sun!

My knee is coping very well…… so far!

Here is the Mary Oliver poem…… one I love so much….. such a beautiful reminder of ‘Being with Mother Nature’.

“I thought the Earth remembered me she took me back so tenderly

Arranging her skirts

Her pockets full of lichens and seeds

I slept as never before

a stone on the riverbed

Nothing between me and the white fire of the stars,

but my thoughts,

and they floated light as moths”

* A Night in the Forest. Mary Oliver.

PS. I’ve just noticed this poem was on another recent blog post……oops!

Fun In Finland!

It’s a spring, like I’ve never before experienced!

Lots of snow on the ground as expected, but lots more white precipitation pouring out of the skies, than anticipated. The first two days I was lulled into a euphoria…..warm sun, moody open skies, frozen blue lakes, silent slender birch, sweeping clear roads….ahhh heaven! Overnight the weather mood changed, day three, felt like a wrathful monster had descended. Snow, sleet, rain in amazing reoccurring steadiness, over 80km!

Thankfully, I coped slightly better than my Goretex jacket!

I holed up in warm accommodation for the night, to dry myself out. It took eighteen hours for my wool socks/shoes and gloves to do the same.

What I haven’t mentioned is my niggling right knee. A slight twist, has become rapidly aggravated by the constant pedalling.

I took the day off and hunkered down in the cabin.

The next day after resting….I only managed 30km in four hours, with a knee now much more than a niggle.

I can’t begin to explain what a setback it is. Never having a proper injury before has spoilt me. The frustration and upset especially on a long journey like this, is hard to deal with.I’ve stayed two nights in Sodankyla with Hanna-Leena an AirBnB host. Very kind and helpful, taking me in at the last minute.

Tomorrow I’m taking the bus to Rovaniemi and then to the South-East to rejoin my route if possible.

Fingers crossed that I’ll be on the bike again soon .

Victory or Defeat?

Below is an excerpt from a speech by Theodore Roosevelt, which I’ve just retweeted on Twitter. For those of you who don’t follow Twitter I decided to re-publish it on my blog, as it is also relevant to my solitary ride through Finland!

 

scan092

 

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

 

img_4626

 

It was delivered in France on 23rd April 1910 and even over one hundred years later, this speech is absolutely connected to our modern obsession with adventuring!

If we add ‘man/woman’ it becomes a perfect descriptive motto for all those men and women who dare to adventure.

Adventurer Alistair Humphreys has a link to the whole speech on his website and in his email ‘Shouting from my Shed Vol. 10.

https://www.alistairhumphreys.com

 

Following a Secret Highway.

The days are passing too quickly for my liking.

The date for my departure to Kirkenes in the Arctic circle is looming fast, and I am only half ready to leave.

My eldest son often makes jokes, about the length of time it takes his Mum to pack for her journeys. He travels all over the world on rock climbing forays, literally gathering up documents and filling his rucksack, the night before flight departure.

How on earth does he manage it?

I think this is where the advantages of youthful speed in body and mind, become very useful. Along with focus and a low-level of menial distraction……such as a demanding parrot, washing dishes, cooking food, tidying rooms…….and so that particular list goes on!

Making lists of lists seems to be a talent of mine. Each time the contents of one list are ticked off, a new list is quickly manufactured by an overflowing mind. Procrastination and distraction, do likely contribute to my snail-like packing pace too. Of course I get there in the end, as I will this time. It’s just I sometimes wish, I had reached the ready point, yesterday!

coll-and-mull-sept-2016-083

Most of my organisation so far, has been preparing the bike, gathering equipment from around the house and fine tuning the route from Kirkenes to Helsinki.

The Stanford paper maps have been cross-referenced with the Crazy Guy on a Bike website. Luckily last year, a couple cycled a similar route to my intended journey. Which has been an absolute blessing, giving me some extra information about facilities and gravel road conditions. Being a low technology type, a GPS is not included in my panniers. Finnish maps aim at travellers, cyclists, kayakers, they are excellent, with a comprehensive map legend including  all road types, rest stops, museums, tourist information and campgrounds etc, in English and  large-scale.

To avoid getting into a packing frenzy, organisation is the keyword for myself. It dispels worry and gives a feeling of pleasure, each time another small task is crossed off the lists! Preparing for a solitary journey is a complex undertaking, though perhaps easier than having to justify my choices to another person!

Gratitude and one step at a time seems to help. In tremulous moments, letting my mind wander back to previous adventurous times, is a good reminder of the will power and drive I can call upon, to tackle these mountainous lists.

DSCN9291

As I travel en route to Helsinki, the plan is to post on Twitter and put some short pieces on this blog.

Though being off the beaten track and close to the Russian border for many miles, might affect the mobile phone signal coverage……..which if I’m perfectly honest…….will be quite refreshing and a release!

I hope that some of you may be interested in photos/snippets and will check in to this blog, now and again!

DSCN8088

Here is a beautiful reminder from poet Mary Oliver, a few lines to help inspire you, to occasionally venture out into an unknown wild world.

……..I thought the earth remembered me. She took me back so tenderly arranging her dark skirts, her pockets full of lichen and seeds.

I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed, nothing between me and the white fire of the stars……

From, Sleeping in The Forest, Mary Oliver

Every Morning.

 Every morning
the world
is created.
Under the orange
 
sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again
 
and fasten themselves to the high branches —
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands 
DSCF7372
of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails
 
for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit
carries within it
 
the thorn
that is heavier than lead —
if it’s all you can do
to keep on trudging — 
under-loughrigg-014
there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted —
each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
lavishly,
every morning,
 
whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.
img_4655
(Photo R. Brackenbury)
from Dream Work (1986) by Mary Oliver 
© Mary Oliver

A Rallying Cry!

The Intrepid Magazine Issue number two, has just been published. It’s an adventure based magazine written by women for women. There are lots of contributors including myself.

It is a magazine to be reckoned with. To read about the details of how other women of all ages, face their fears, manage their own adventurous mishaps, danger, fun and challenges is totally humbling.

IMG_4182

As I read Intrepid, my own mind began to wander into the past, far back into my childhood, which is where my love of fresh air, sun, wind, rain and wildlife began to develop.

After long days imprisoned at school, I would race home, tear off the straitjacket of school uniform, put on jeans, t-shirt and trainers ever ready to join the local boys for a game of soccer! Or go horse riding, play hockey, swim in the local pool and run, run, run, for the sheer pleasure of it.

In fact, I tried to persuade our Primary School headmaster to have a girls football team…all to no avail. In those days girls weren’t meant to play football. Not to be deterred, I encouraged, cajoled and bribed ten other girls to make up a full team. We held our football practice every break time, right outside the staff room window!

Sadly, the education system at that time, was not ready for an all girls football team!

forest-of-dean-memory-stick-056

On awakening each and every morning of a school holiday, I would leap out of bed, rush to the window and peer around curtains to assess the weather! No rain, meant a coming day of excitement and an indescribable sense of freedom. Hours of exploration in nearby woods climbing trees. Crawling through caves or tunnels or wandering vast fields. Quiet, hilly roads and deserted moors to cycle, on a bike with one gear, secret camp fires to build and cook upon. Birds and animals to spot… and most importantly, definitely avoiding letting parents know about my risk taking, including purloined, forbidden boxes of matches!

Back in the 70’s being a ‘tomboy’  was somewhat odd. Such a label, appeared to be the best way I could be understood, by family, teachers and friends. Quite simply, I was just an adventurous girl/teenager, who luckily was not actively discouraged enough, to extinguish my outdoor fervour.

DSCN8971

Fairly recently, my Mother reminded me of a long forgotten swimming achievement. It evolved from a family discussion around the Sunday dinner table. I’d spent most of the year practicing to pass the A.S.A. Personal Survival Awards of Bronze, Silver and Gold. Feeling very pleased after my Gold Award pinnacle…..I proudly announced to my family, that I could easily swim a mile in the local pool!

My ever encouraging Father, apparently said something along the lines of, ‘You’ll never do it, you’ll never swim a mile, if you do I will give you £5.00 extra pocket-money.

Determined not to be discouraged or deflated, my twelve-year-old self replied, ‘I will do it Dad, you just need to keep going, I’ll just keep going.’

Rydal Water

A kind swimming attendant counted my lengths, all seventy-two of them. It was a mammoth effort. I encouraged myself to keep going by singing songs. I remember well how tired and hot I felt, as I scrambled out of the pool, to lie full length on the cool pale blue tiles. It was though, a special tiredness, born of effort, triumph and achievement. A fantastic feeling.

So that’s it!  Throughout all of my travel escapades, camping, cycling, climbing, hiking, running, swimming trials and tribulations. I am quite simply mentally and physically….encouraged, supported and urged on, by the motto of my internalised childhood self. Something I hadn’t understood until recently.

‘Just keep going!’

A rallying cry for life itself.

DSCN8050 (2)