Life after Finland

It was very tempting to begin this post with a small moan, in a vain attempt to sum up my feelings, six weeks after completing one of the most surprising and memorable cycle journeys, I’ve had for a long time.

The usual experience of most adventurers on their return from a long journey, is a low mood. Often triggered by the return to the routine and even drudgery of everyday life.

Having a long adventure is undoubtedly a positive addiction!

Yes, I too did not want to return ‘home’ Continuing on the boat from Helsinki to Tallin and cycling south along the coast for evermore, was a huge temptation. Though an impossible dream at that point in time.

Who would want to swap strong feelings of peace, well-being, joy and a spiritual connection with nature, for an immersion back into the polluted ‘rat race?’

I for one definitely did not.

DSCN0808

However as all adults know, sometimes in life we have to temporarily follow a less attractive road for a while. Compromising, but always holding the sparkling jewel within, that contains the spark and glow of awe and wonder, no matter how life is lived out.

Luckily on arriving home I was to start a new job. One that absolutely suits me so well. It’s rewarding, creative and meets with my personal values. My small contribution to the good of humanity which I hold so dear has once again become a worthwhile one. Feeling happy and content to wake up to thoughts of work each morning and being able to cycle commute through open, quiet countryside, is a blessing! Surely helping to avoid, a deep plunge into post Finland despair.

IMG_E5943

The ‘highs of Finland’ are embedded somewhere deep within myself. Beautiful, bewitching memories, often revived by, the simple smell of wood moss, the turn of a pedal, a flitting dragonfly, a blue mirror lake, pearl-white graceful swans and of course the eternal ‘Annie’s Song.’

One of the main aims of solo cycling a route from Lapland through Finland was to hopefully inspire other women especially more mature ones, to explore the possibility of a cycle journey of their own. Travelling, spending time in solitude, enjoying ones own company, for a few hours, a single day or even weeks, can have huge positive benefits that spread outward into ones relationships and outlook on life.

Fortunately, as most of you know, the Alpkit Foundation kindly paid for my flights and I now have the opportunity to hold some talks (free) for the Ambleside community, and further afield. Hopefully contributing to at least one or two women, summoning up and enjoying their own solo adventures. More details will be posted on here, once the dates have been firmed up.

As life moves forwards, my time in Finland will inevitably become more dreamlike and intangible. Gratefully the invaluable experiences and wonderful people, have added to that inner shining beacon we can reach for, particularly in times of struggle and difficulty.

DSCN0453

As any person with ‘restless feet’ knows….another plan for the next journey is usually brewing away at the back of ones mind!

Working out a plan within the constraints of modern living is usually a challenge and sometimes seems insurmountable. Since Finland though, I have started to believe in the clichéd expression…’you never know what’s around the corner’… in a more positive way.

In my case a seed becomes planted, often without conscious knowing. It starts to send out tiny shoots into my mind, to be met by a plethora of thoughts…’that will be scary but exciting…or…strange country/language will I find my way….or…wow it will be stunning…or…will I manage the mileage…or…or…or!

The battle begins!

The way I offset internal mind doubts, is by thinking/dreaming on an intuitive basis, until the need for very concrete plans arises. In case you are all wondering? Yes, the seed is sending out shoots and the journey is emerging. It’s a long while yet, so I am hugging it close with huge smiles of suppressed excitement!

At some point, all will be revealed on here…but don’t hold your breath!

DSCN1547 (2)AKF Logo Black-Simple

Advertisements

A Boat From Coniston.

Here is a wonderful poem, I recently discovered in an old poetry book dated 1966. The poet Norman Nicholson, is a local man from Millom in Cumbria. He wrote several poetry books and at least one play during his lifetime. Most of his work is directly related to his life in the Lake District.

Autumn 2015 515 (2)

This particular poem is about Nicholson’s thoughts as a passenger, on the Coniston Lake steamer. It caught my imagination. In many ways his language has a strong empathy with wild swimming…..as place, space and landscape become intertwined and embedded within.

“The water empty, the water full of itself,

Free of the sky and the cloud and free of me”

e094870d-7b5a-46a4-927b-0e967bfc7395

FROM A BOAT AT CONISTON.

“I look into the lake ( the lacquered water

Black with the sunset), watching my own face.

Tiny red-ribbed fishes swim

In and out of the nostrils, long-tongued weeds

Lick at the light that oozes down from the surface,

And bubbles rise from the eyes like aerated

Tears shed there in the element of mirrors.

My sight lengthens its focus: sees the sky

Laid level upon the glass, the loud

World of the wind and the map-making clouds and history

Squinting over the rim of the fell. The wind

Lets on the water, paddling like a duck,

And face and cloud are grimaced out

In inch-deep wrinkles of the moving waves,

A blackbird clatters; alder leaves

Make mooring buoys for the water beetles.

I wait for the wind to drop, against hope

Hoping, and against the weather, yet to see

The water empty, the water full of itself,

Free of the sky and the cloud and free of me.

Thanks to Rachael Morgan for B & W photos, two and three.

Midsummer Thoughts.

A bright sun is high in the sky, the balmy evenings seem to go on forever. Here in the Lakes, long warm sunny days, appear to bring out the best in the visitors and residents alike. More carefree, lighthearted, sanguine and joyful moods abound. The trees are dressed in vibrant splendour, bees-a-buzzing, butterflies flit by, lavender and lemon balm scent, floats high. Summer is the season to look outwards, enjoying the warmth, light and freedom.

IMG_E5846

IMG_5627 (2)

Today the 24th June, is the Christian festival of St Johns Day.

The Celtic pagan festival, the Summer Solstice or the longest day, has just passed by on the 21st of June. Marking these past few days, as a mixture of two of the oldest human celebrations in our calendar.

Ancient Stonehenge, hosts one of the biggest Summer Solstice celebrations in Britain. With live music, yoga, food and a walk amongst the sacred stones. In both the Summer Solstice and St Johns festivals, fire was seen as sacred, cleansing, renewing, driving away evil spirits helping to protect the crops and the home. Herbs, fertility, magic and romance also have strong part in the spiritual rites.

IMG_5513

june flowers 2015 008

Mid-summer is one of the most important yearly dates on the calendar, in Finland and Sweden. A public holiday is taken, hordes of people exit the towns. Heading to summer cottages to engage in gentle barbecues and sweltering saunas. Plus a few drinks. Or the total opposite….lakeside music festivals, with bonfires fueled by alcohol and partying, right through the ‘white night’….! There is an ancient Swedish proverb: ‘Midsummer night is not long, but it sets many cradles rocking!’

Sadly, we have mostly lost these traditional ways of celebrating here in the UK. Which is a shame in my opinion, as cyclical festivities are another way of bringing neighbours, friends, family and communities together. So very important in our modern times. Loneliness and isolation is on the increase in our country particularly amongst young people in their twenties and the elderly.

IMG_5378

DSCN0549

On a brighter note. Yesterday evening, I attended a wedding party deliberately planned for the Midsummer dates. It was a beautiful coming together of family, friends and community. The overall mood, was one of unity and bonding, created through the atmosphere of music, dance, food and place. Celebrated, enjoyed and linked to the sacred.

DSCN1451 (3)

DSCN1482

Finally, here are a three quotes to ponder on from, Shakespeare’s Midsummer Nights Eve;

“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,

Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,

Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,

With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.”

― William ShakespeareA Midsummer Night’s Dream

“Are you sure/That we are awake? It seems to me/That yet we sleep, we dream”

― William ShakespeareA Midsummer Night’s Dream

“Be as thou wast wont to be.

See as thou wast wont to see.”

― William ShakespeareA Midsummer Night’s Dream

coll-and-mull-sept-2016-328

Finland’s Song!

During my recent, lengthy cycling tour through Finland, there were many, many miles of solo pedalling.

When the terrain is challenging such as gravel and sand tracks, or where the scenery is constantly changing, ones mind is concentrated and focused, a little like a meditation. It’s simply not possible or beneficial to think about other topics, while one is struggling to avoid stony ruts, banked up sand or admiring the bewitching beauty of Finland.

IMG_5097

The most mentally challenging times for myself, generally came about when I had to cycle on a traffic filled, long straight road in the blazing heat. These times were thankfully very rare and happened partly due to time constraints.

Whilst cycling in Norway last year, I discovered that singing out loud at full volume whilst cycling…. is a perfect antidote to tedium, worries, fears or loneliness! Absolutely the best and most joyful way to distract the mind, from moaning and self-pity.

While in Finland, this habit took on a whole new dimension!

Firstly, I had some of the most moving and surreal encounters of my life, with the abundant wildlife.

Secondly, I rewrote some of the lyrics to John Denvers, Annie’s song. Renaming it Finland’s Song.

DSCN1162DSCN0788

You may well laugh, about the rewriting of song lyrics, while cycling!

However, it is surprising how many kilometres passed by on that never-ending E8 fast road, while my mind was kept busy. Transforming lyrics, empowered my mind to ignore the angst that one is tempted to create as logging trucks thunder past, creating towering dust clouds. Or helping to disregard those Finnish drivers, who don’t seem to appreciate the vulnerability of a cyclist, almost nudging the bike panniers as they squeeze past!

I’d decided there was no point in shouting abuse, it seemed like a waste of energy and only created bad feelings for myself, which were unsettling and actually, I did not want to feel bad. Spending many days and weeks, cycling and wild camping had created such marvellous joys in my heart and mind, it would have been foolish to destroy such a positive state of inner wellbeing.

DSCN0507 (2)

DSCN0807

In fact singing during cycling became second nature. Cruising down rural back roads, I became bolder, more confident, and less self conscious. Belting out, Beatles hits, David Gray, Fleetwood Mac, Jon and Vangelis, even long lost tunes from my days of Girl Guiding!!

The local human residents may have been a little surprised, but the busy blackbirds, swifts, dippers, larks, waxwings, curlews and swans, seemed to enjoy the extra chorus in their day! Calling out loudly in unison. Though I’ve a feeling it was probably an alarm call! Letting each other know that a singing being on two wheels, was hurtling towards their nesting patch!

The best most beautiful and surreal encounter came, as I was going through the verses of ‘Annie’s Song’…..

It was a very quiet rural back road, no houses just a narrow tarmac road, lined with forest and mixed woodland, dappled light streaming down and a strong musky scent of lush undergrowth, filling the warm fresh air.

DSCN0566

Sensing a movement, I glanced over to my left, and there flying alongside was a tremendous iridescent green, large eyed dragonfly. Wow! It was quite close, just on my side of the white lines. As I held my breath, slowed down and gazed in wonder, the realization came, that this exquisite creature was keeping pace with the bike.

Dipping, floating, gliding in flashes of green…. enormous eyes watching.

Resuming my singing, quietly this time, the dragonfly and I travelled along in unison. I was mesmerized and could hardly believe it. In fact it’s a small miracle, that I didn’t over balance in suppressed excitement. Trying to make sense of it all.

Suddenly, I noticed a car coming towards us on the opposite side of the road. The dragonfly was going to be in peril, as he/she was flying rather too close to the middle of the road.

“Fly high dragonfly, fly high” were the only words I could muster up, in those moments.

The car came closer and closer and closer. I kept pedalling and would have closed my eyes if it were possible…not wanting to witness an impending disaster.

DSCN0699.JPG

The car raced past loudly, I stopped to look back, the dragonfly spun and spiralled, shooting safely upwards on the created updraft. Breathing a huge sigh of thankful relief along with a silent prayer of gratitude, I pedalled onward.

Then to my absolute astonishment this incredible winged being, caught up with the bike, resuming its flight, coming even closer.

We carried on together, silently this time, in a small bubble of companionship or so I felt….the dragonfly was likely in another realm.

After a total journey of around a 150 metres, the enchanting dragonfly suddenly moved in closer and closer, huge glorious eyes enveloping and captivating. Swiftly and suddenly, it darted in front of my handlebars, landing gently on the green undergrowth.

I was so overcome by the whole experience that I had to stop the bike further down the road. Where I recorded my thoughts and feelings, onto the Go Pro video camera.

Some may say coincidence. However I have a knowing, deep within that the dragonfly was somehow attracted to either the bike, myself or both.

img_5137

Finally, the next few lines are dedicated to all my calming, blissful, joyful and otherworldly experiences of Finland!

FINLAND’S SONG.

“You fill up my senses,

Like a dance in the woodland,

Like the flowers in a meadow,

Like a swim in the rain,

Like a turquoise, blue sea ice,

Like the blackbirds dawn calling,

You fill up my senses, come fill me again”

DSCN0454 (2)

Finnish Hospitality

My original plan to cycle south along the eastern side of Finland, was deliberately decided upon for the remoteness and low population. I was jaded and ‘peopled out’…. working and living in the tourist world, had taken its toll. To put it bluntly, I felt I needed a deep immersion into nature, well away from people!

However, fate has a strange way of deciding, what one really needs. My unfortunate knee injury brought a change of route, transforming my cycle journey into a spiritual gift.

DSCN0402DSCN0349DSCN0390 (2)

It instigated a chain of amazing events, including using the Warmshowers and Air BnB accommodation websites, a TV news interview and importantly, a gentle rekindling of the ‘people person’ element within myself.

From Hanna-Leena and Mikko the AirBnB hosts….to Warmshowers hosts….Havar of Neiden, Janne of Haukapudas and Ross of Himanka….each and every one of them, warmed my heart, making me feel so very welcome at a time of need and melancholy. Not forgetting Marcus of Nykarleby …… a meeting of synchronicity!

Help came generously….including a hospital visit, bus timetables, cooking fuel, route information and guidance. Calm wise advice, multiple saunas, a sea-ice barbecue, a bike cleaning session, a warm bed, hot showers, numerous cups of tea, a Moomin introduction, shopping, enjoying chocolate and ice cream, laughter, meal sharing, storytelling of past cycling adventures, connecting and so so much more.

I’m truly grateful to you all for sharing your time and homes so generously, with a rather eccentric English cycling stranger!

My hope is that one day, you will all visit Ambleside, so I can return your hospitality!

DSCN0441 (3)DSCN0437 (2)

Progressing further south, more Finns popped up to give a helping hand, when needed!

Swedish speaking Hakin and his wife Rose in Korsnas, spontaneously pulled me in off the road. Producing a tray piled with tea, sandwich and cake, plus lots of map advice. We communicated in charade like sign language and did very well too! I was bowled over…

Their local shop in Korsnas had particularly friendly, smiley assistants. I heard later, that Korsnas is the third happiest town in Finland!

DSCN0568

Small kind gestures of aid came from numerous supermarket staff . Plus navigation advice from passersby in every town, it was always generously given.

One rural shop which had only small bottles of water for sale, filled all my water containers from their tap. Telling me proudly, they had the best naturally filtered tap water in Finland!

The ladies in the Kustavi School Library, where I recharged my ailing iPhone, excelled themselves.

On asking where to buy bubble wrap for bicycle flight protection, they ferreted out lots of plastic packaging from their cellars! Handing it over with enormous smiles of pleasure!

DSCN1281

Travelling on the Archipelago Trail ferry from Kustavi over to Inio Island. I chatted with a friendly couple who own a lovely restaurant in Hinnskar, named ‘Leonella’ ( or Sea Goddess). They offered me their cut lawn to camp on, therefore helping to avoid contracting deer ticks. This surprisingly, enlarged into a free cabin for the night, and even better, lots of tea with English conversation…..particularly with Iona who runs the village shop!

What a treat that was, after almost three weeks of wild/stealth camping, a soft bed and the chance to converse in English was….well, just amazing!

Thank you to you both, good luck with your new ownership and the addition to the family!

On the west coast close to Vaasa, I searched out the only ‘proper campsite’ since Oulu! It was enormous and full of timber cabins, camper van sites, shop, bar and cafe….. all closed and rather oddly deserted. Somewhat like a Hollywood film set from La La Land!

So I took the liberty of erecting the tent and making myself at home! Later that evening a maintenance man appeared….. looking rather surprised, to find a tent, plus cyclist, had appeared out of the blue.

Apparently in two weeks time the site was to be occupied, by over five hundred happy camper tourists!

He kindly telephoned the boss, who immediately said I could stay overnight for free! Bingo!

DSCN0624 (2)DSCN0636

Then, there was the lady journeying on the ferry from Kittius to Korpo.

She was travelling home from an overnight birthday party at a posh venue, on the island of Houtskar. We had a lovely conversation, sharing mutual stories about our grown up children, their exploits, the outdoors, lifestyle, job stress…..phew! As we said goodbye, she delved into her handbag and produced a packet of Pargais Parainen spearmint gum! Pargas Parainen is her hometown, an Archipelago island that is famous for lime production and ginger biscuits. I was touched by her gesture.

Last, but not least, the public bus driver who transported me for thirty miles, along the motorway from Lohja Loha into Helsinki centre.

Then I needed to locate the Airport Express Bus. It leaves from the Central Railway Station in Helsinki. Which would be a navigational exercise of some proportion, for a non-Finnish speaking foreigner, on a bicycle!!

The Lohja Loha driver saw my nervousness. His working shift over…. he practically escorted me to the Railway Station, spending quite some time finding the correct bus and helping to load bicycle, panniers and all!

I shook his hand in gratitude, his handshake was warm, firm and comforting. The hand of a dependable person, who could be relied upon. He was a native of Estonia.

The Finnish people have strengthened my innate trust in a safe world. Travelling by bicycle can bring vulnerability and exposure. Which is potentially risky. However my opinion is, that the vast majority of people recognise, respect and understand that openness. We are all humans capable of compassion, empathy and kindness. All of which I received from so many, making my journey through Finland uniquely special and absolutely wonderful. Never ever to be forgotten.

DSCN0922

Homeward Bound!

Here is a last post to bring my journey up to date, before leaving Finland for home, in the Lakes.

It will likely come as no surprise to anyone that knows me, that I’d much rather carry on with this cycling adventure!

One day there will be the freedom and time in my life to do just that.

The west coast route, from Haukapudas towards Helsinki, has been dream like, joyful and sometimes challenging.

So much beauty.

Sparkling seas, cool green lakes, strong old woodland, tall spindly forests with crackling undergrowth. Spirit filled Archipelagos.

Historic wooden villages, quaint deserted harbours, and ancient creaking windmills.

Bountiful wildlife too. Giant hares, dawn foxes, solitary moose, moody geese and sky sirens…the white swans!

Humming dragonflies, chattering birds, coupled with the heavy scent of warm pine, tinged with honey.

All absolutely and rightly blessed by the midnight sun.

There have of course been some difficult times and obstacles to be overcome.

Like the overwhelmingly hot, long tedious day when the gravel bike path running alongside a dual carriageway way, suddenly without warning ended on the edge of a deep forest. Making the day an extra 14km, along with an exhaustion that completely took me over.

Or the day I woke up feeling ‘not right’ and came across a horrific road kill, with trails of blood spread across the road. This brought on a bout of non-stop heaving, crying. I eventually coped, by whining into the Go Pro video camera! Along with the realisation of being in good company. Cyclist and adventurer Alistair Humphrey’s, virtually cried himself halfway round the world!

Being solitary and travelling solo also has huge benefits, which I’ve written about before.

This Finland journey has transformed into a deeper experience. Perhaps mostly due to being in a foreign country, where English speakers are lower in numbers, and I know no Finnish.

Except; Hello, Goodbye and WC!

This has meant that I’ve mostly been inhabiting another realm. Coupled with wild and stealth camping, many days often passed by, without an opportunity to have an english speaking conversation.

Time evolved into many hours of pedalling as my relationship to other living presences, flora and fauna changed profoundly. Even going so far, as having a sing song with a toad. Seriously I did. Though I was rather hoping he might suddenly turn into my prince!

Each tree began to radiate presence showing individual characteristics. Appearing friendly, protective or inquisitive.

The jubilant spring flowers, bold green leaves and fragile grasses whispered to me, dancing endlessly and enticingly, full of colour and light.

The cuckoo called constantly through midnight, fish leapt high under silver light….. in harmony.

There is an ancient recognition within, that being and belonging with nature, can never be taken away. It’s gifted, forever to be embraced, cherished and connected with…..an eternal companion.

Finland has absolutely surprised me, each and every day I’ve spent here. The hospitality from complete strangers has at times been overwhelming. There will be more about the people I’ve met in a follow up post.

There is an old Finnish saying and it goes like this; “If tar, booze or sauna don’t help, the disease is fatal!”

Having experienced all three I’m pleased to say there is a lot of truth in the above!

I’m now hooked on saunas. A strong feeling of wellbeing is induced, absolutely perfect after a long day on the bike!

As for the moonshine…..less best said.

Tar shampoo, tar alcohol, tar soap tar ice cream and tar sweets. Yes, can you imagine tar sweets?! They actually have a tarry smokey flavour that is sweet and edible. The tar is called ‘terva’ in Finnish and is made from tree sap extracted from burning wood.

It’s good to try new things in a foreign country…..and live to tell the tale!

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’