14 November 2007

Arrival in Tromso

After 2607km and 30 days I arrive in Tromso on a mild and sunny winter day! Tromso connects to the mainland with a very long and high bridge. It feels unreal to let the cycle roll down the bridge into the center of Tromso...
Does the first part of the ride around the world really end here and now?

On the market square of Tromso my brother welcomes me with his two husky dogs Ronja and Naita. Ole, a journalist from the local newspaper "Nordlys - Northern Light" is there too...

My bicycle has once again done a wonderful job! One single flat tyre between Berlin and Tromso was all that needed fixing.
The new set of clothes that I am using since my meeting with Lundhags and all other equipment worked really well.
Happy and relaxed I am looking forward to spend the polar winter with my brother and his family - hiking, skiing, dogsledding.

In the early spring of 2008 I plan to hit the road again. Then it will be down the coast of Norway, England, Scotland, Ireland, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal and Marocco. The idea is to take a sailboat from the Canary Islands (off the Maroccan coast) across the Atlantic Ocean... to South America?

But now first - a big cup of hot tea.


Norway. What a fascinating country!!! Coming from Finland, the landscape changes drastically. I am now able to see much further in the distance and see massive mountains rising more than 1000 meters straight out of the fjords or the ocean.

In Nordkjosbotn I am very excited to take a last turn on the road - Tromso is now 75km straight ahead.
At 11am the sun rises just above the horizon. In two weeks from now there will be no more direct sunlight up here. A long night starts that lasts until the new year...

Finland blues

There isn't much to say about Finland here. The road from Karesuando to Kilpisjärvi is straight - very straight.
It is weekend so there are only a few cars and even less trucks...

North of the polar circle the sun only rises a few degrees over the horizon. It is basically always "blue hour" - all colors fade to blue. This strange light plus the emptiness and the monotony of the landscape create a very melancholy environment.

After the town of Kilpisjärvi I cross the border to Norway! After a snowy pass I now have to ride down a long descent into the Skibotn-Valley. Riding downhill proves very dangerous here. The road is in poor condition and extremely icy. There is plenty of ice everywhere in this valley! On the roadside where water runs down the rock it turns into beautiful shapes...

After 38km downhill I am exhausted and at the same time relieved to arrive in one piece at the bottom of the valley. Now I am just a dayride away from Tromso!

13 November 2007

Riding until hill freezes over...

North of Gälivare Sweden is so scarcely populated that it becomes difficult to find a shop to buy food or take a rest to warm up. Mostly it is small gas stations that combine shop, post office, pharmacy, bank and liquor store in one location. There are some restaurants but they are only open during the tourist season – and now it is minus 12 celsius. It is NOT tourist season.
After 54km, that is 4 hours of riding on the icy road with wind from the front and heavy snowfall, I am very happy to arrive in the small town of Ovre Soppero in northern Lappland. I am looking forward to a hot coffee and some sweets. But bad luck - the gas station is closed over lunch and only re-opens at 1pm. Now it is only a quarter past twelve!!! Do I manage to wait 45 minutes in the cold?!
I decide to continue cycling – the next possibility for a shop will be in Karesuando. Another 56km!

The wind sometimes becomes quite strong. Then my beard freezes to the woolen face protection. Unfortunately I didn’t bring along any goggles so now a lot of snow gets into my eyes.

The fresh snow makes the road less slippery which is good. But once the snow gets too much, I loose a lot of power pedaling against it. This part of the E45 between Svappavaara and Karesuando is so small and unimportant (I think all in all less than 100 vehicles use this road during the whole day) that the snow cleaner only comes once or twice a day... hard work.

After a while I name this stretch of road „the hill of hell“. I am already riding uphill for more than 6 hours!!! The ascent is slow but steady – for more than 80km (!) – with the wind against me and the heavy snowfall this is an absolute killer for my motivation.
When it gets dark my motivation to keep going is at zero. I am cold and sweaty and it is still 30km until Karesuando at the border to Finland. Suddenly I find this cute little hut at the roadside. I don’t expect it to be open but try it nevertheless out of shear despair. And – it is open!!! Inside I find a little stove and some firewood. What a nice surprise just at the right time. I stay for the night, cook some pasta and tea and manage to get warm and dry again.

I take a break to drink some tea and eat a couple of bisquits. The wind is very cold so I take shelter near a house.
If you would like to know how I feel, this is how you do it: Put a pack of bread, a pack of cheese and a pack of salami into the freezer compartment of your fridge. After 3 hours open the freezer and put your hands inside for 5 minutes. Now you are ready to start making a sandwich out of the frozen ingredients. Bon appetit! Hey – no cheating... keep your fingers inside the freezer while you are chewing.

Would you like to know how it feels to fix your bicycle at minus 15? Put a metal spanner in the freezer with your food and grab it with your left hand while you eat with your right... (careful, don’t panic if it sticks to your skin. Rinse with cold water to get it off...)

My map quickly fills with snow too. But no worries... fort he next 100km there is only ONE road here.

By the way... who said that all roads lead to Rome?

7 November 2007

Impressions from Sweden

Cycling in Sweden is just fantastic!
I have been up here in Scandinavia many times, in 1994 even on a 2 month bicycle trip through Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway...

It is hard to describe the feeling to cycle through this landscape, this emptiness, all this forest and incredibly beautiful lakes...

You have to come here and see and listen and feel for yourself. Until then enjoy a couple of pictures:

6 November 2007

Gälivare, Lappland (now with photos)

Holy cow... finding internet in northern Sweden is more difficult that a needle in a haystack! Well, especially now that the hay is covered with snow.

Lots of things happened between Ostersund and Gälivare, where I am now (2097km).

Ostersund Posten:
By coincidence, I meet a journalist from the local newspaper. They accompany me while I buy new spike tyres. I am expecting to hit snow soon. The tyres I have been using until now are excellent, but without metal spikes (studs?) the roads up here are simply impossible to ride. The next day there is an article about me in the newspaper and lots of people say "hi" or wave as they drive by... nice.

I visit the Hilleberg company in Frösön, close to Ostersund. Hilleberg produces extremely lightweight and durable tents. I am using a Hilleberg tent myself for quite some time now (see my equipment overview) so I thought visiting their company would be nice.
Hilleberg will help me with spare parts and repairs during my trip around the world.

Close to Ostersund in a town called Järpen is the production of a company called Lundhags. Lundhags is very well known for their high quality boots - all shoes are produced in Sweden by highly skilled labour.
Apart from footwear, Lundhags produces very high quality outdoor garments. A focus is on eco-friendliness of the used materials. Lundhags uses for example bamboo fiber in their shirts. Bamboo needs almost no pesticides to grow.
For water resistant garments, Lundhags uses materials that are easier bio-degradable than other synthetic membranes like GoreTex or Sympatex.
After a visit of the production hall, we agree that I will be testing Lundhags materials during my trip around the world.
With a complete new set of clothes I leave Järpen.

As I thought, the first snow hits me right after Ostersund. The road becomes icy and I am relieved to have put on new tyres. The metal spikes allow riding on very slippery roads - sometimes when I stop to drink tea, I almost slip on the road with my feet. But my bicycle stands as if it was a horse with four hoves and catches the fall.

The snow makes the landscape change drastically - how beautiful! The moose must hear my little screams of excitement :)
With the snow the temperature drops as well. Now it is almost always minus 5. But my new clothes are fantastic! I now have jacket and pants made of some down-imitation (primaloft) that keep me so warm in the evenings that it already happened that I fell asleep without my sleepingbag.
(You will soon be able to see all Lundhags garment that I am using in my equipment overview.)

Monkey business:
One evening I am so tired that I decide to sleep in a small bus stop on the roadside. During the night a lot of snow falls and as the bus stop doesn't have a door, in the morning my sleepingbag (and everything else too) is covered with 5cm of snow.
What a cold morning. My fingers freeze because everything is wet and damp.
Just 3km down the road from where i slept, I find traces in the snow that follow the road... hmmm, it's not a moose, it isn't a rabbit either... well, it is actually as big as my own palm and it looks like a human hand too. Just with very sharp claws. I get the shivers... because I know one thing for sure: it wasn't a human and there are no monkeys in Sweden!!!
Later a hunter on the roadside confirms what I already suspect: "It's a bear."

Riding in the dark:
Whooooo!!!! Riding on ice, at minus 5 and in the dark - that is three wishes at once... believe you me: I don't need "The Shining", "Pet cemetery" or "Scary Movie 15" to get my full load of adrenaline!
Sometimes I race with more than 30km/h over the hard icy surface (no worries - no cars for kilometers). How much fun is this?!

Riding on ice and snow is very special though. One false move and you fall. You have to go straight - with a fully loaded bicycle that is EXTREMELY straight. No sudden turns or tricks.
And if you see a steep hill and you think: "How the hell am I going to get up there?" then you see the whole problem from the completely wrong angle! The question has to be: "How the f..(beep).. am I ever going to get down again on the other side?"

Polar circle:
After 1985km I cross the Polar Circle just before the town of Jokkmokk. On the roadside I find a "Lavu", a typical tent-like-structure that the local nomadic population is using - great. But the aeriation isn't great at all. after making a fire in the evening, I now don't smell like a pig anymore after 7 days without a shower... no, now I smell like a smoked ham.

I am now in Gälivare where I will take a day of rest to wash my clothes (and myself). From here to Tromso it is only 5 or 6 days!!!