/dev/nikc/blog

Kuolleiden purjehduskenkien seura

Aug 20th 2022

Overland from Finland to London: Epilogue

12:38

Another early morning, a final mediocre breakfast. The UK welcomed me back with a misty morning. With the end in sight, travel fatigue had by now started to set in and I was looking forward to falling asleep in my own bed.

Despite having moored much earlier, disembarking the ship wasn't allowed until after 6.30. Not quite sure why, possibly to avoid having a train of lorries rumbling past peoples' houses in the early hours of the day. In any case, it meant I wouldn't be allowed on a train for some time, as you can't arrive into London with a full-size bike during peak hours. Not that it mattered, the trains from Harwich port weren't running this morning anyway, due to (yet again!) an electrical fault. This time to the overhead wires.

So I took it easy and slowly made my way towards Manningtree, where I would eventually catch the train to London. Exactly at 8.53, it turned out.

Then a final hour on the train, followed by the last push home before it would all be over. Exactly a month after my departure, I would arrive back at whence I started. All in one piece, save for one spoke, which decided Sweden was where it wanted to stay.

---

Having now completed this my longest and most elaborate overland trip, some final thoughts.

In general, I found travelling overland an enjoyable experience. Despite the occasional mishap, everything fell into place without much trouble. Naturally, it's a much more time consuming way to go somewhere, but to me that was part of the allure.

To me cycling is the most enjoyable way to travel. It's fast enough to move vast distances in a relatively short time, yet slow enough to take it all in. However, from a more practical perspective a distance such as this trip is impossible to cycle in its entirety. But by combining cycling and train travel you get the best of both worlds. You can quickly cover vast distances efficiently and sustainably, while also including stretches of slower travel.

Unfortunately, because trains in Europe are currently mostly optimised at moving people with little or no luggage, taking your bike along can be a bit of a chore. Some train operators will be almost hostile towards the idea, not accepting bikes at all, unless they're disassembled and bagged. Unless your bike of choice is a folder, you need to be patient and flexible, or carry a bike bag. Possibly all of the above.

Without a bike along with me, the experience would've been wholly different. I could've covered the entirety of the trip in a mere two days (apart from the Sweden-Finland ferry). To me that is (time-wise) a realistic alternative to flying, when going for an extended time, like I was. Once the Hamburg-Stockholm sleeper gets going this September, that's going to cut the required time even more, making it a viable alternative even for shorter trips. (Again, time-wise only.)

That still leaves two aspects which I feel will probably dissuade a great deal of people from ditching flying: overland travel is costly (costlier than air travel) and it takes much more effort.

Flying somewhere can be cheap as chips and (practically) no matter where your heart desires, you can buy your ticket for the entire trip from a single vendor. Once those two things are solved for cross-border and cross-operator train travel, I'm certain it will enter its second golden age.

---

Specifically for this trip, I wish I'd had a day or two more on the way out for the cycling. Because of scheduling issues, I had less opportunity to enjoy my passage through Sweden than I'd envisioned. Along my route were an endless number of side-quests that beckoned: beaches, islands, museums, restaurants... you name it, it was there just waiting to be explored.

Having had an extra day or two on my Interrail pass probably would've saved me some money. Now my ex-tempore mode switch to Interrail accepting railway operators was completely out of my own pocket. My original trip between Stockholm and Gothenburg was always going to be on myself, because FlixTrain does not accept the Interrail pass, but the replacement I got probably would've. (I never bothered checking, because my pass didn't have the allowance for it anyway.)

All in all, the Interrail pass was brilliant. Because of it, I didn't really worry about missed connections, beyond those which required pre-booking the bike. I can definitely understand how it's survived all these years; without a bike in tow it provides endless possibilities for spontaneous travel within Europe.

Finally, I absolutely loved the camping. Hotels can be nice, as they bring you right into the hustle and bustle, but falling asleep and waking up amongst all the wonderful things nature provides simply can't be beat. Then strapping it all back on your bike and heading for your next sleep is just amazing.

The world really is best by bike.

Aug 14th 2022

Overland from Finland to London: Days 3 and 4

17:27

I awoke with a nagging feeling of having been dismissive about drinking water the day before. Not quite hung over, but not quite not hung over either. Thankfully I wasn't in a hurry and could afford myself a lie-in.

The morning was overcast, which made it feel chilly, as Scandinavian August mornings can be, but whenever the sun peeked through the cloud cover it made the tent warm and comfy.

Trying to convince myself leaving my sleeping bag wasn't a terrible idea, taking a quick glance at the weather forecast motivated me to begin packing up. Some rain was due and I was keen on reaching Copenhagen central station before it.

While I was slowly putting away my lodgings, my beach companions from the night before appeared from their abode and began to prepare their breakfast. Reminded of having none of my own, suddenly made me very aware of my growing hunger.

Everything packed up, I thanked the rather tired looking couple for the amicable previous evening, which had probably carried on a bit too long for all of us, and waved goodbye.

The great thing was still being completely without any hurry. I was pedalling along at a pace your granny would call boring taking it all in. My only target for the ride was to find breakfast.

I had in mind a place which I'd spotted the day before, which advertised breakfast sandwiches, but it's doors were firmly shut and it would only open after 11. But, as luck would have it, there was a bakery next door.

I did end up getting breakfast, but the way there was certainly one of the strangest experiences of not being understood I've had in a while. To elaborate a bit, my mother tongue is Swedish, and I speak Finnish as a native. On top of those two I speak fluent English, conversational German and this and that in several other European languages. As Scandinavian languages go, Danish is certainly in a league of its own, but ordering a coffee shouldn't be impossible across neighbouring languages. But the clerk at this bakery simply would not understand me. I started out in English, followed by Swedish, and then "nordic", or my best imitation of Danish, to get through. All I was trying to order was an oat milk latte. The rest I could simply point at.

Their colleague eventually butted in to translate, but I wasn't sure whether I'd got rid of more than just bodily liquids the previous night, when the same thing was repeated later when I tried to get my water bottle topped up. I can say water in 8 or 9 languages just off the top of my head, but nothing seemed to click. Brandishing my water bottle and miming drinking got through, but again it was strangely difficult. (The whole situation reminded me of the Kamelåså sketch from the Norwegian show Uti vår hage. Worth a watch, if you've not yet seen it. Perhaps it's not as outlandish as it once seemed.)

Still, I got myself coffee and a pastry for breakfast and the coffee was the best I'd had for days. As I was sat outside the café, several groups of runners passed. I merrily waved and continued to stuff my face with croissant.

Immediate needs fulfilled I continued to make my way to Copenhagen. The rain arrived slightly before me, so I didn't quite avoid getting wet, but it was merely a light sprinkling of summer rain.

At the station, I prepared for a day of train travel by stocking up at the 7-Eleven with all kinds of rubbish. Nothing like eating your way across a country, especially on junk food.

The first train of the day was from Copenhagen to Fredericia, where I would change to a train to Flensburg. From there I would catch a regional train to Hamburg. The journey was quite unremarkable, except for the interchange at Fredericia. It was the first time anyone actually wanted to see my place bookings, as a very stern-looking train manager blocked the carriage doorway and not letting anyone without a reservation to board.

In Flensburg I managed to catch a train an hour earlier than the one I'd scheduled, which meant an extra hour looking around Altona. This was very welcome, as some aimless walking was nice after a day of train travel. I also treated myself to a tasty vegan burger and cheesecake at Froindlichst, a place I can wholeheartedly recommend.

---

The next morning I had an early first connection from Hamburg to Osnabrück at 6.46. Despite an early start, I felt I arrived too late, when I saw the long queues to the few open shops at the station. Still, I managed to get myself a sandwich and a treat, before I rushed to my platform.

Bike and myself aboard the train, an announcement informed us the train would depart late, as there was yet another electrical problem causing irregularities in train traffic. The early start had annoyed me earlier, but now it felt justified, as it would allow me to reschedule the rest of the day's connections.

The final destination of the day was The Hague, from where I'd cycle to Hook of Holland for the final ferry of the journey. Originally, I would have ample time in The Hague for some shopping and final hours of holidaying. Now, I wasn't so sure.

But, my worries turned out to be unfounded. Whatever the original issues were, its ripple-effect had also delayed my onwards connections, so I made all my original connections. I arrived in The Hague only an hour or so later than I'd planned, which wasn't bad at all.

A quick pitstop at De Pindakaaswinkel, to get myself the one indulgence I'd bring home, followed by food and several beers in a sunny canal-side bar.

The final cycle to Hook of Holland came with mixed feelings again. On the one hand it would be nice to be back home. On the other hand I would be sad to no longer have days of cycling and camping ahead of me. Happiness was still definitely the overall emotion.

Checked in and showered, I had dinner, and waved my holiday goodbye with a final drink on deck.

Aug 14th 2022

Overland from Finland to London: Day 2

16:42

I slept well but didn't enjoy how the morning sounded. There was no rain, but, if anything, the wind was worse than the day before.

In store for the day was a cycle to Helsingborg, some 100 km away. I would then ferry to Helsingør and get the train to Copenhagen. This was my plan to still get some cycling in, but lessening the strain on the damaged rear wheel.

Listening to the wind made me change my plans to instead get the train to Helsingborg and do the cycling on the Danish side. With the wind blowing from the west, it should be slightly less exposed.

This also meant I would be reaching Copenhagen a day early, giving me half a day to look around, instead of the one or two hours I'd expected.

Inspecting the train schedules, I found I was able to squeeze in a quick breakfast stop. Abandoning the comfort of my sleeping bag I once again packed up and headed for the nearest coffee shop. There I got myself a tasty sandwich and a cinnamon bun, to go with the terrible coffee. But to make up for the bad coffee, they did have a clean and spacious toilet.

Toilets are very important when cycle touring, especially when not staying on camp sites. A dip in the sea is nice and certainly refreshing, but it's so much nicer to have a mini wash-up with clean fresh water. My last night's camp spot was next to a river, but it didn't look very inviting, so I'd not had the chance to get rid of the previous day's stickiness, which made washing up all the more appealing. Applying deodorant and brushing your teeth can only do so much.

Once on the train, I enjoyed watching the winds tearing up the seas into a white foam maelstrom. Particularly because I was being whisked along at nearly 200 km/h, instead of 20 km/h with a pained grimace on my face. An hour later I, amongst a motley crew of cyclists, was stood in the harbour waiting to board the ferry to Helsingør.

In a stroke of good fortune, the ferry was free. The online store wouldn't let me buy a bike ticket and when I rolled up to the service booth, I was simply waved along.

The boat ride was a short affair. Just long enough for another terrible cup of coffee. The sound is merely 4 km wide between Helsingborg and Helsingør.

Helsingør looked very pretty and some of the buildings in the centre looked down right ancient. I spotted some dating from the 1600s. I could definitely see myself returning there later to have a better look around.

Cycling towards Copenhagen, my route followed the coast fairly closely. I was later informed that this part of Denmark is some of the richest in the country and the houses along the seafront certainly supported that claim. Quite a few that were more castle than house.

Unlike most Nordic countries, Denmark doesn't allow wild camping, but they do instead provide a vast selection of free camping spots with varying facilities; shelters, fire pits and sometimes even water taps. (See udinaturen.dk for details, some Danish or machine translation required.)

On the way, I stopped at two camping spots I'd picked out that were near to my route, to check whether they were as interesting as they'd sounded like in their online description. The first one was absolutely stunning: it had a sea view over Kattegat, and a small adjacent sandy beach, and a fire pit. The thought of an evening spent by a crackling fire was undeniably appealing, but sadly, I did not carry the tools to make a fire, so it seemed irrelevant to me at the time. The second spot felt less remote, as it was just next to a restaurant, and the area seemed generally busier. It definitely wasn't as appealing as the first one. The difference in distance from Copenhagen was negligible, so quite obviously I settled on staying at the nicer spot.

I carried on to spend my day as a tourist in Copenhagen. First stop, the little mermaid.

The route into town as a whole almost entirely on segregated cycle paths or shared paths. Some of it snaking through the forest beside a train track, other times it was a wide boulevard next to the sea. Danish cycle infrastructure was in general quite good and rarely required stopping. Arriving into Copenhagen there were a few traffic lights, but once you got into their rhythm, they were generally always green.

Closing in on my first tourist attraction, I spotted some remnants of the Tour de France's visit, in the form of names painted in the road. Even though the event was long gone, I still felt like I caught some of the atmosphere, cycling up the small hill on the (I think) first stage time trial course.

The little mermaid proved to be rather popular, as bus loads of tourists hoarded around the sculpture perched on a small rock in the harbour. As the swarms of tourists did their best to frame themselves together with the statue without bystanders, I couldn't be bothered to wait for a gap and instead snapped a crowded photo. I had more important things on my mind, namely finding some food and beer.

My head on a swivel, like any good tourist, I pedalled on, gawping at the beautiful city.

I had heard about the Reffen food market on Twitter, and decided to go check it out. Copenhagen being a compact place, it required only a quick push on the pedals, before found myself surrounded by a wide array of different food stalls. Spoilt for choice I picked the shortest queue and then headed for Mikkeller's tap room for a refreshing drink to accompany my lunch.

Sat in the sun, whilst a DJ played some music in the background, I enjoyed a pleasant afternoon of drinking beer and snacking. Eventually it was time to head back to my camp site, as I wanted to pitch while it was still daylight. A first for this trip.

On the way I stopped at a Coop to stock up on something to eat and crucially to drink. I couldn't be expected to bid Scandinavia farewell with a parched throat, now, could I?

Arriving back at the camp site, I found I was not alone. A young couple had come on a mini-break from their small city apartment. They'd even set a fire, which was a lovely surprise.

I pitched my tent and went for a swim in the sea. I expected the water to be chilly, but it turned out to be really pleasant. I paddled around for quite a while before getting out. It was just too nice bobbing along the waves in the fading sunlight.

Dried up and dressed in my comfies, I joined the others around the fire, beer in hand.

After chatting for a while, I was left on my lonesome tending to the dying fire, while I finished my beer.

As I retired to my tent, I gave a final glance towards Sweden, where you could still see the lights of (presumably) Malmö twinkling in the dark.

Following a pretty terrible series of constant adversity, today had been a raging success and just a wonderful day.

I fell asleep listening to the quiet lapping of waves, with a big smile on my face.

Aug 14th 2022

Overland from Finland to London: Day 1

15:48

With the expiry date on my Interrail pass fast approaching, it was time to embark on the return trip.

Beginning with a ferry ride to Stockholm, then a train ride to Gothenburg, followed by a cycle to Copenhagen, with a ferry from Helsingborg to Helsingør to cross the Kattegat strait. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, if you've read the previous post, I think I probably jinxed it with my final remark.

I made it to Stockholm without issue and was standing on the platform when my phone buzzed to indicate a text received. The message told me that my train was cancelled. It wasn't the only train to Gothenburg that had been cancelled that morning, due to an electrical fault, so it wasn't a complete surprise. It still gave me a bit of a shock, because later FlixTrain services had no more bike spaces available.

Trains in Sweden are a bit tricky, when you're travelling with a bike. SJ, the state owned railway operator, won't take bikes other than in bags. Other operators do, but their networks aren't as encompassing and there isn't a single place to find the connections and to buy tickets across operators.

Looking at the departure board to work out which operators' trains were available to me, I looked up the respective route networks and managed to find a connection that would get me part of the way. I decided to change my original plan to instead reach Gothenburg by bike and get the direct train to Copenhagen instead. It wasn't the bike ride I wanted, but it would at least allow me to make my onwards connection.

However, during the train trip, looking up other operators' networks, I found a way to get to Halmstad by train. Halmstad was my original planned destination to reach on the bike, so getting there would salvage half of my original plan. It involved cycling from Linköping to Jönköping, a distance of 125 km, but the schedule was easy enough that it shouldn't be a problem.

During the train ride to Linköping, a fellow cyclist had told me rain was forecast. It was the understatement of the day, as a massive heavy rain front was rolling in just as I was setting off. To add insult to injury, the wind was also once more in my face. But, to find the bright side, that meant the weather was moving in my opposite direction.

After less than two rainy hours the precipitation subsided and I could see the sky clearing up ahead. The wind was still against me, but things were looking up, I thought, just as a spoke went bang in the rear wheel.

I still had more than 70 km to go and with all the luggage, the bike was quite heavy, most of it on the rear wheel. It wasn't the first time I've ridden with a missing spoke, but that time with only the weight of myself to carry. I felt seriously concerned. But I had no choice but to carry on, there was no other way to reach Jönköping, or anywhere else really.

When I reached lake Vättern the wind really picked up, but on the upside I didn't have to use the brakes on the downhills. The scenery was quite pretty, though, and I saw plenty of other cycle tourers coming the other way. They were all smiling and with the tailwind they had, I would've been all smiles, too.

Eventually I reached Jönköping just in time for the train. As I strapped in my bike in the carriage, I could finally let out a sigh of relief. Equally for the bike holding up, not having to battle the headwind anymore, as well as ensuring my connections for the rest of the trip.

In Halmstad I treated myself to a sit-down pizza and a beer, before heading off in search of a camping spot.

I had again looked ahead on Google Maps for a potential site. It wasn't quite what I'd hoped for, but I didn't have to venture far to find a better location nearby, next to a small river.

For the first time I was in my sleeping bag before midnight, lulled to sleep by the wind buffeting my tent.

Aug 4th 2022

Overland from London to Finland: Day 5

16:19

Clunk, went the door to the ferryman's cottage, rousing me from my nearly 4,5 hours of sleep. I spent a few minutes blinking myself awake, until my alarm going off meant it was time to start packing up. Some 24 minutes later I was ready to go, just in time for the first ferry of the day, as planned, just as the sun was making its way up in the sky. Promising start for the day.

Across the water, I promptly removed the base layer I'd donned. It was looking like another hot day.

My first stop was in Nyköping, about 2 hours away. Possibly my longest ride for breakfast, but I didn't feel like yesterday's pizza when I woke up.

The route was gorgeous, but kept up the rolling profile I'd grown used to (read: weary of) the day before. I was pretty happy about only having 160 km for the last day; my late night effort hadn't been in vain.

Nyköping looked pretty in the morning light, but I especially liked the look of a large coffee paired with a massive bagel. I had time for a relaxed sit-down breakfast and was able to treasure it.

Most of the day was uneventful riding in beautiful weather through spectacular scenery. My only mistake was having a chat with another cyclist at the day's only other ferry crossing, instead of stocking up at the adjacent café. The café on the other side of the crossing turned out to be closed and I was left empty-handed. Not an immediate problem, but as I'd learned [ed. observed, clearly not learned] yesterday, shops can be far between.

When I then later started to get hungry and yet another name on the map turned out to be barely more than a farm house at a junction, I decided it was time for a diversion.

Having made my way to a shop and fed myself, I treated myself to an additional 15 minute power nap in the shade. The adjacent train station with a connection to Stockholm was definitely tempting me to hop on board. But my destination was only about 40 km away, so I kicked myself on the proverbial behind and got back on the bike.

Carrying on, I soon arrived at an impasse. There had been plenty of gravel roads along the route but this one was in a league of its own, on top of which it was blocked by a barrier with a no cycling sign attached.

A quick study of the map, a short spin on the bike, and I soon found myself at the next barrier with the same sign. That train was looking more tempting by the second, but still I persisted.

One more rerouting, a missed junction, and a u-turn later I found myself on a fire road. By now I'd already decided that any further barriers and I'd be on that train, toute suite. But there weren't any, thankfully, and the fire road soon ended and I was once again rolling along on smooth tarmac.

I (or Komoot) had routed myself along one more path which required pushing the bike. It would probably have been rideable, but only by someone who's vocabulary includes words like "gnarly" and "rad". Definitely not on a touring setup. But it was to be my final obstruction.

In the end, I arrived at the terminal at around 18.45, just about half an hour before check-in was due to open. My goal had been to be there before 19.00, so achievement unlocked, I suppose. Without my unfortunate poor routing choices, I'd probably have arrived some 45 minutes earlier.

I plonked myself down on the terrace of the restaurant at Fotografiska and quaffed a well-earned beer.

The total distance was just under 505 km over 43 hours, of which 23,5 hours were spent on the move. Only some 7-ish hours were spent sleeping, so lots of time was spent just sitting still – of which a fair bit worrying about loose spokes. Much room for improvement in efficiency, one could say.

Next up is the return, which should be less stressful, but I'm sure I'll be able to create some drama...

Jul 15th 2022

Overland from London to Finland: Day 4

00:25

Kalmar's old city looked quite romantic in the twilight, but I didn't have time for sightseeing. I found an open hotel, where I was able to fill my bidons and then headed off into the night.

The route started out as a ride through suburbia, which made me feel better about not doing it in daylight, as I felt like I wasn't missing out on much.

But eventually things became more rural and started to look like something out of a postcard. If postcards depicted nocturnal scenes, that is.

I've previously stated (helpfully, in posts not yet published on this blog) how much I enjoy cycling at night. It's a whole different world, with its own set of smells, sights and other sensory experiences. The fauna you meet can be especially inspiring, because it can spur a dialogue in your head about what animal it actually was that lasts for several kilometres.

Riding at night during the Scandinavian summer provided another unique attribute: the seemingly never-ending dusk. It makes the sky into a canvas of wonder, limited only by your own imagination. On this ride I was accompanied by several magical beings in the sky, particularly impressive was a huge dragon (which I highly regret not even attempting to photograph), who kept me company for more than half an hour before being broken apart by the winds. The solitude also removes the barrier of shame to have these conversations out loud, I've sometimes discovered.

Dragons aside, once I'd reached my goal of 60 kms, I set out to find a camping spot. I'd done a bit of research ahead of time to find candidate locations, but eventually went off piste and picked the first waterside location I found that wasn't in someone's backyard. It was just off a well-trodden footpath, so I figured likely popular with dog walkers. Potentially risky, but no matter really, as I intended to be on my way very early.

After clearing up pinecones and other pointy things best I could, I pitched my tent. This was only the third time doing it and the first time it was neither in a park nor in my own backyard. That considered, and that I was doing it by torch light, the end result was acceptable. Not perfect, but I was too tired to care by the time I noticed I'd not pegged out the inner tent properly. It matched my gold standard of "good enough", so I changed into my comfies, set the alarm for 6 a.m. (I had no provisions and the nearby Coop would only open at 7) and hit the hay at around 3 a.m.

---

The best part about sleeping in a tent is the waking up. Especially when it's to a glorious sunny day. (Providing you wake up early enough that it's not the choking heat requiring your attention, of course.) I don't mind the rain pattering against the tent either, but I was quite happy that it wasn't the morning's soundscape.

After those measly 3-ish hours of sleep, which were preceded by a long day of travel, I definitely felt a bit sluggish, but, after spending some moments listening to the morning concert from the adjacent inlet, I forced myself out of the quite cozy sleeping bag and began packing up the camp.

As I was loading my kit on the bike, the first dogwalker of the day wandered past with a befuddled look on their face. Foiled! I cursed my tardiness in my head, but greeted them with a smile and we both went on with our chosen toil. Not two minutes later I was already gone.

The breakfast at the Coop was not exactly glamorous but it filled its purpose. Belly full and stocked up for lunch I headed off in search of second breakfast down the road, in beautiful sunny weather.

A usual pastime on the bike during long-distance cycles is to play with the numbers, when you're not paying attention to the immediate surroundings. Working out the average speed required to make the deadline (I ride audaxes, which have a time limit), while still allowing for breaks etc. It occupies the mind and keeps the headspace away from getting bogged down with mundane matters, which easily fill your head otherwise. When struggling, breaking up bigger numbers into smaller ones is mine and many others' goto coping trick. My chosen strategy is breaking up the remaining distance into 20 km chunks, which makes the number a lot smaller and easier to deal with, even though you're well aware of the self-deception. Strange how the mind works.

In that spirit, I was looking at a long day in the saddle. I'd projected that reaching 250 km or more would give me a leasurely next day. It sounds like a lot, and it is, but it's not an unusually long distance for me. But I'm also not normally carrying quite so much luggage, which did give me concern.

But as I already said, the weather gods were favourable and spirits were high. I passed some incredible views that brought me extreme happiness, nigh on tears of joy. I spent my childhood in the Finnish archipelago, and the sea still has a special place in my heart.

Just over an hour later I reached Oskarshamn, where I got myself a coffee and a bagel to fill the void left by the meagre first breakfast. Little did I know, that a mere 25 km later I'd be a bag of anxiety and desperate wishes.

My rear wheel had recently had the rim and spokes replaced, and on a 600 km Audax UK ride following that, some spokes loosened up mid-ride. I'd since then had it reserviced and thought such woes were behind me. Also, when I had the spoke troubles I decided to add a spoke tool to my on-bike toolkit, but my good intentions had failed to conquer my disorganised head and my spoke tool was safely at home.

With all the cargo on the bike, the handling was in general wobblier than I'd prefer, but something alerted me to an unusual movement at the rear. I stopped and again found several loose spokes, with nothing at hand to address the problem. So, there I was, in the middle of nowhere, between zero-to-one-horse villages with not even the faint dream of so much as a grocery store, let alone a bike shop, with a malfunctioning, heavily laden rear wheel. My choices were to carry on riding or to get off and walk. I decided to ride on, very slowly, avoiding every pot hole like someone elses life depended on it.

The next settlement was some 7 km away and I doubt I've ever stopped quite so often on such a short distance. It felt like I found another loosened spoke every time I stopped. I was definitely close to crying, or maybe just screaming. Some powerful emotional outlet anyway. I was certain this would mean the end of my journey and summer adventure. I'd half-jokingly commented on my wheels' insuitability for touring before I left, so, in some sense, this was almost some kind of perverse poetic justice, I thought.

But never discount the dogged determination and stubbornness of a cyclist. I gingerly cycled kilometre after kilometre, until I arrived in Mederhult. A small settlement of about 15 houses and a church. Thankfully, one of the houses had someone going about their business in the yard, and I threw aside my usual timidness and approached a stranger! Simon listened to my story and abligingly borrowed me a pair of pliers to tighten the spokes. Thanks Simon!

We chatted while I was working on the wheel and I got a lot of useful information, particularly where I could buy myself the tools I'd stupidly left at home.

Västervik was the nearest bigger town anywhere near my route, but diverting there would mean an extra hour just for the cycling, and every minute was getting more precious. The combined effect of stopping for pictures, plus the at least 45 minutes I'd lost to my wheel issue, meant my progress had been glacial. But OTOH, would my problem have gone unnoticed, I would've lost it all.

I had a decent chunk of road between me and decision time and when I finally reached it, I checked the state of the field-repaired rear wheel one final time, found it still holding up and headed off on my original route. For about 10 seconds.

Sweden has (along its east coast at least) several signed bike touring routes. The route I'd been (more accidentally than on purpose) following so far was at this junction heading in the opposite direction than what I was intending to take. When I spotted a group of three other cyclists head in the other direction, I made a split second turncoat maneuver. I'd debated long and hard for literally tens of kilometres which direction to take, in the end what settled the choice was the likelihood of coming across other cyclists. That and the thought of being stranded somewhere in the middle of the night with no applicable tools.

I gave chase and soon passed the group of three cyclists, who I, during a brief exchange of words, found out to be Germans. My pace was slightly faster than theirs, but our destination the same. As long as they were behind me, I felt safer that in case of emergency I would eventually come across another human being.

But nothing bad happened. The fix held up fine until Västervik. There Clas Ohlson provided me with a suitable tool and a café in town with some sustenance.

While eating, I got back to the numbers. I didn't want my next day to be a heart-in-mouth race against the clock to make the ferry to Finland, so I needed to cut some corners. The problem was my route wasn't very indirect in the first place. There was really no way around it, I realised, I'd simply have to ride into the night once more. The challenge now became the first ferry on the route. But it seemed easily reachable. The last crossing of the day was at 11 p.m. and at 4 p.m. it was just over 100 km away.

The trouble was that distance is not only two-dimensional. While Sweden is certainly not mountainous, it's absolutely not flat, ever. At least not where they've built the roads. From Västervik to literally the (spoiler alert!) very end in Stockholm it was non-stop up and down all the time. And not the nice kind where you can build up the momentum on the way down and let it carry you back up, but the back-stabbing speed-killing mild inclines that end in a steep kicker. I wasn't planning on mentioning the headwind, as it would seem like too much moaning, so let's just leave it at saying there definitely was one.

Something Sweden also taught me, was how spoilt I am in the UK. There (almost) every village has at least one of: a shop, an off license, a pub. Even if you come across a rare village without any commercial outlet, the next village is at most 30 minutes away. So, while I've believed myself to be a decently self-reliant long-distance cyclist, I'm really just a credit card tourer with some extra stickers on my bike.

In Sweden, cars have ruined the village shop culture. [Ed. conjecture, citation needed.] Only large supermarkets survive in the rural landscape. I counted 3 grocery stores on the first 250 km of my trip. I'm sure there were many that were just off the route, but still, the smallest settlements are simply entirely devoid of any such services.

This meant I had to ditch my aversion to approaching strangers several times over the course of the day, to keep myself stocked up with water. Thankfully Swedes are a friendly bunch, who will gladly fill up your water bottle and some will even give you some cookies to boot. Smaskens!

After Västervik, the next town with any kind of services (barring diversions) was Valdemarsvik, some 70 kms away. I didn't know this at the time, I only discovered it when my hunger made me angry enough to stop at the side of the road, after an ad for a pizza van down the road later turned out to involve a 4 km one-way detour off my route.

Thankfully, I managed to power through with the power of winegums. Some 10 km before Valdemarsvik I hatched a plan of buying two pizzas: one for immediate consumption and one for the night and possibly breakfast. And I did. While eating, I looked up the remaining distance to the next ferry and realised I had just over two hours two cover the remaining 40 odd km until it would call it a day.

My planned route was the scenic kind, but I had no qualms straightening out some wrinkles on this stretch. It was already quite late and I wouldn't get the enjoyment I had planned it to be with the ferry-timetable-whip tickling at my neck.

After I'd composed my new route, I rushed to strap the 2nd pizza to my bike and carry on, and completely forgot about filling up on water. Not a good idea after eating a whole cheese-covered pizza. I'd somehow told myself that I still had nearly two full bottles. When I took my first drink after leaving, I had a bit of a rude awakening, as one was nearly empty.

Still, I didn't want to turn around. I'd bought some mineral water to have with the take away pizza, and figured it could slightly bridge the dehydration gap if push came to shove and I wouldn't find a water source before morning. It was now more important to reach the ferry on time, as otherwise I'd face another day of clock-chasing.

Imagine my joy when I after about 10 km spotted a farmer just stepping out from his barn next to the road. My by now well-learned pull up and ask for water was completed in record time. Water bottles full, I was all smiles again chasing the clock with gusto.

A sweaty mess, I made the penultimate ferry of the day, half an hour earlier than expected, which gave me a morsel of hope of getting to sleep before midnight. The next ferry, which was about an hour away, had already stopped for the day. I'd looked at the ferry port on Google Maps earlier during the day and it looked like I'd be able to camp there, giving me maximum sleep time and best chance of catching the first ferry the next day.

My pizza-induced thirst caused me to quickly go through a whole bottle of water and I once again became worried about not having enough for the morning. The time was so late, coming across someone in their garden was unlikely, so I instead opted for suspiciously snooping around several municipal buildings in a small town I passed through. I was particularly disappointed by the lack of a water tap at the fire department. Eventually I came across a tap in a church yard. Perhaps not something I'd rely on just anywhere, but in Scandinavia I'd purport it's difficult to come across a non-potable water source. (Or maybe the worm growing inside my intestines told me to say this.)

My water quest foiled my hopes of a pre-midnight sleep, but it did instead provide me with another spectacular moon. Rising just above the trees on the horizon as a giant orange ball, it was a sight to behold.

Just after midnight, I reached the next ferry port and found it to have the most perfect tent pitching spot I could hope for.

At 240 km I came short of my minimum distance goal for the day, but only just. With some further adjustments I'd made to the route, I had about 160 km remaining for the next day, for which there should be ample time.

After setting up camp, I had a quick paddle in the sea to freshen up, set my alarm for 5 a.m. and promptly fell asleep with a pizza slice hanging out of the corner of my mouth.

Jul 11th 2022

Overland from London to Finland: Day 3

18:33

Thanks to my new and improved itinerary, I unexpectedly got the chance to spend a few hours looking around in Münster. I used my time to have lunch and generally bimble around the old town, in search of a place to have a beer. (Worry not, I found one.)

It was certainly pretty enough for a quick visit, but I didn't spot anything that would have me return. The coolest feature was a cycle path, that I only discovered on my way back to the train station, which I assume followed the route of the old city wall. Had I spotted it sooner, I would've certainly cycled round.

The travelling day ended with mixed feelings. On the one hand the train was late, on the other it was the last leg of the day, so it didn't matter. On the one hand the bike carriage had wheel-destroying bike racks, on the other it was the most spacious bike carriage I've ever seen. All in all still a net positive, I'd say.

I didn't see very much of Hamburg, but I did have a walk around Altona and ate a massive falafel platter, which had maybe the best falafels I've ever tasted. Definitely top 2 at the very least.

My hotel was a very spartan affair, but I chose it based on price and proximity to Hamburg-Altona station, which was supposed to be where my trip continued, but due to an error in the planning department, it didn't.

I woke up at 6 to find a sunny morning hiding behind the curtains. I packed, lugged my luggage down, strapped it onto the bike and set off towards the train station. I went on a short detour via the Elbe's waterfront, maybe because I felt it could make up for not making time for anything touristy. It was mostly just cycling next to 4 or more lanes of traffic, so despite the water, it was an underwhelming experience.

Another train station breakfast in my musette, I found myself standing next to – what I strongly suspected was – my train with a dumbfounded look on my face. My source of confusion came from the discrepancy between the sign on the train and the one on the platform; one said Flensburg (platform), while the other said Kiel (train). I suspect this might be a common issue, as the train guard who spotted me immediately knew what was wrong and directed me towards the far end of the train, where the half of the train that was heading for my destination was hiding.

After an uneventful train journey I found myself in Flensburg, where I had two things to do: firstly, collect my DSB reservation tickets, and, secondly, drink a Flensburger pils.

I had had a suspicion that I might not be able to collect my tickets at a German station, but considering there was a DB ticket vending machine in Enschede, I thought there could be a small chance it was possible. But it wasn't. Which meant I needed to cycle to the nearest Danish train station and back, which seemed a bit ludicrous and also slightly annoying that it wasn't mentioned when I made the booking.

But it was a non-issue, really. I had hours to kill, the weather was glorious and the distance was under 10 km one way. It allowed me to experience an on-bike border crossing and amuse myself with Danes booze-shopping just beyond the border.

(As an aside, even though the quality of cycle infra varied wildly over the short trip, especially on the German side, drivers were invariably extremely polite and not a single close pass was experienced on the stretches where the cycle lane was part of the carriageway or there was no cycle lane.)

Tickets acquired, I rolled to a halt in front of a pizzeria in the Flensburg harbour. I ordered a margerita and my coveted pilsner and plonked myself in a beach chair overlooking the basin.

Body and soul fed and watered it was time to yet again get moving. The final three trains of my outbound trip would take me to Fredericia, Copenhagen and finally Kalmar.

As I write this, I'm on leg two bound for Copenhagen and I'm crossing all my crossable extremities that there's space for my bike on the train to Kalmar. Unless there is, I'm just a little bit fucked and really have no contingency plan.

I need to reach Stockholm by Wednesday evening and not being able to start cycling already tonight will make that nigh impossible. Not to mention I would run out of days on my Interrail pass on my return trip.

My plan for the evening after I reach Kalmar (crossy-crossy!) is still a bit unsettled, but I hope to get in a few hours of cycling before I set up camp. Yes, camp!

Then an early start tomorrow and ride as far as I possibly can, in order to make Wednesday less stressful.

I'm sure it'll all be all right.

(More sounds of crossing fingers.)

Jul 10th 2022

Overland from London to Finland: Day 2

14:46

Unfriendly wake up calls on ferries seem to be a universal trait, although I have to admit my experience of overnight ferry connections is limited to, I think, two (lines, not journeys). At 5:30 this morning my sleep was abruptly interrupted by a loud announcement, but it announced breakfast, so I forgave them immediately.

I got up and consumed a stale croissant, followed by a spongy pain au chocolat, paired with an unremarkable latte, but the sea view contributed what the rest couldn't.

The morning was grey and dull, but it wasn't raining. It felt good to hop on the bike and make my way towards The Hague.

I was about half an hour ahead of my generous schedule and on the way a new plan for the day emerged. (Absolute proof that cycling stimulates the mind!) Because Dutch trains don't require place bookings, I could try and find an earlier service to Enschede and save me the headache of trying to make all the really tight connections.

It turned out that there was a direct train to Enschede from The Hague. I had time for a second, slightly more inspiring, breakfast at the station, before I hurriedly boarded the first train of the day. Travelling on an Interrail pass does have its advantages.

I felt relieved by the time savings afforded to me by my revised plan, but also slightly angry at myself from having remained so fixated by my original route, that finding a more convenient option after the near direct service from Amsterdam fell through had escaped me completely.

Currently I am onboard a regional train to Münster, where I'm due to arrive some 3 hours before my original plan. I'll still need to wait for the service to Hamburg (my goal for today) for which I have a place-booking, but that just means I'll have plenty of time to find lunch.

Tomorrow again brings its own headaches with my late arrival at my final destination - which also relies on there being space on the train, as I don't have a booking.

Here's to hoping it proves as painless as today has thus far been.

Jul 9th 2022

Overland from London to Finland: The Beginning

21:39

Finally on the way! This mini-adventure has been a long time coming, in more ways than one. I've been wanting to travel to Finland overland, and also suffered from a burning desire to travel by bike for some time.

The hankering was already there pre-pandemic, but it properly bloomed during that time. I would fill my evenings enjoying other peoples' adventures vicariously, by watching YouTube videos and reading both blogs and books.

I also created, as a hobby, a pile of epic cycle routes, and fantasised about riding them. Some of them were pure folly, but others I've kept and still hope to actually cycle some day.

So, when it came to going to Finland for a short working break this July, I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone. It turned out to be a bit more of a kerfuffle than I'd hoped, but here I am.

Getting to this point has involved a lot of planning and preparation and not all of it has been done to an excellent standard.

Part of the problem is that only the travel time is my holiday, and available time isn't exactly abundant, which means I'll be mostly riding trains. But then I'm cycling across Sweden, partly because their main train operator SJ only accepts bikes in bags onto their trains, partly because I really want to – I haven't seen much of Sweden outside Stockholm and I get the chance to do some camping!

To set the ball rolling, I opened up a new spreadsheet and started to investigate the route. Initially I wanted to cross at Dover, because the ferry ride is quick and dirt cheap. France, however, also has bike-hostile train operators and getting going was looking difficult. But then I discovered that a short cycle from Dunkirk would find me at a Belgian train station with a connection to Antwerp, which connects with Amsterdam, which was essentially my gateway to the entire route.

But, because I had tickets to see Pearl Jam at Hyde Park (since 2019) on the Friday, starting on a Saturday was off (this route would require an early morning start), and because the ferry had a reduced schedule on Sunday, I couldn't make the timetables fit. Which would've meant an extra night on the road.

So, in the end, it made the most sense to use the overnight ferry from Harwich on Saturday evening and get an early start directly in the Netherlands, bypassing the Franco-Belgian problem altogether.

Once this part of the plan was settled, finding the remaining connections was easy. Getting from The Hague to Hamburg via Amsterdam was a three change affair. Or might've been, if I'd not procrastinated with making bookings for my bike, which is mandatory on German Intercity trains. Suddenly I was faced with a 4 change connection just from Amsterdam onwards, some of them with a ridiculously short margin of error.

Then I had the same problem getting to Copenhagen. When I was told the bike places on the direct train are sold out for the entire month of July, I nearly had a cry, as everything else was already booked. Thankfully the helpful customer support at DSB found me an alternate route via Flensburg. The only issue was that it was some 6 hours later than my original schedule, which meant I would lose a lot of effective cycling time, meaning I'm going to have to speed-run through Sweden on the way out. If I want to make my booked ferry, and I absolutely do.

My main take-away so far has been that international train travel takes a lot of effort and involves a degree of risk, which you carry entirely on your own shoulders. In air travel, if one part of your trip falls through and causes you to miss the next, it's usually protected and you'll be given an alternative, allowing you to complete your full journey at no extra cost. Because a trip on multiple trains is just a pile of individual tickets, if you miss a train, that's it. Nobody cares about your salty tears. There's also very little in way of tools for finding all the connections for an entire trip. A lot of research is required to find out how you need to travel. Much credit to seat61.com for filling in that gap very well.

Mind you, making the trip without a bike would've been a lot simpler and quicker, but I absolutely wanted my bike with me, as I hope to have several more mini-adventures while in Finland; I am to blame for my own woes, but it still annoys me that it has to be so difficult.

Anyway, the following two days will reveal how well I've managed to prepare. I'm really hoping no big disasters or disappointments await me.

Sep 19th 2017

The day the .dev gTLD died

13:26

Few things are as "fun" as an untouched development environment rendered non-working after coming back from a week-long holiday. A brief but intense session of searching for the broken cog in the machine ensued, finally unveiling the issue; we use a .dev TLD in our local environments.

It turned out that on Sep 16th @lgarron added .dev to the static HSTS list1 in the Chromium project, forcibly telling the Chrome Canary2 browser to only request anything on a .dev website using https and only https.

While I'm a big fan of HSTS, the usefulness of the exercise eludes me, seeing how .dev isn't available for public consumption, but wholly reserved by Google for private use. (It could of course also be a sign that it's on its way into public use. Also, it really shouldn't have ever been assigned, but whatever.)

It could of course be just me (or us, really) who's clueless, as its use was "considered harmful" already in 2015.

1 chromium/src/net/http/transport_security_state_static.json

2 AFAIK the list is used by many browser vendors and thus other browsers are bound to follow suit at some point

Jun 4th 2017

London Calling

20:54

Siinä minä olin, bussipysäkillä. Minä, matkalaukku ja baareista kotiutuva Kallio. Kotiin olin minäkin matkalla, se vain sattui olemaan vajaan parintuhannen kilometrin matkan päässä, Pohjois-Lontoossa.

Kaikki alkoi noin puoli vuotta aiemmin. Tarkkaa päivää on hankala määritellä, mutta jossain välissä aloin hyväksyä rekrykonsulttien kontaktipyynnöt LinkedInissä. Taustalla oli vuosia takaraivossa kytenyt ajatus ulkomaille lähtemisestä. Asetin itselleni tavoitteen vuodelle 2016: työhaastattelu Suomen rajojen ulkopuolella.

Loppuosa tarinasta kiteytyy englanninkielissä sanonnassa: Be careful what you wish for, lest it come true. Alkuvuodesta sain yhteydenoton joka normista poiketen ei vaikuttanut silkalta automaatiolta. Vastasin siihen ja noin kuukautta myöhemmin, usean sähköpostin ja yhden Skype-haastattelun jälkeen, matkustan vaimoni kanssa ensimmäistä kertaa Englantiin. Matkan tarkoituksena on paitsi viettää päivä mahdollisten tulevien työkavereitteni seurassa, myös tutustua Lontooseen, kenties tulevaan kotikaupunkiimme.

Viikkoa myöhemmin hyväksyn työtarjouksen.

Tänään on kulunut päivälleen vuosi siitä kun matkalaukkuineni nousin Helsingin Sörnäisissä bussin kyytiin. Vaikka elämä on sen jälkeen raiteilleen asettumisen myötä arkistunut, matka tuntuu edelleen yhtä jännittävältä ja kiinnostavalta kuin siinä bussipysäkillä.

Dec 8th 2015

Native CSS Variables Are Golden

12:38

If you read Philip Walton's blogpost Why I'm Excited About Native CSS Variables, you, just like me, would also be, or at least you should be, excited about native CSS Variables.

Until now I have been using postcss-custom-properties, but never before realised how much gold we're still missing out on when we can't utilise media queries, inheritance and the cascade in combination with CSS variables.

Native CSS variables today are available only in Firefox. They are under development for Chrome and Chrome Canary has them as an experimental feature1. IE Edge is considering them2. Safari seems to have some interest and is showing recent related work but the feature is absent from the WebKit Feature Status page. Opera is keeping quiet.

The specification is currently at the Candidate Recommendation stage. Make your voice heard and wake up all the browser vendors.

1 Enable Experimental Web Platform features in Chrome by going to chrome://flags/#enable-experimental-web-platform-features and clicking the Enable link

2 Vote for CSS Variables at UserVoice

3 Cleanroom implement Custom Properties

Shorts

  • A consequence of easily installable modules is that they inadvertently eat up quite a bit of disk space. Using find and du it's easy to find the biggest culprits:

    find $PROJECTS_HOME -name "node_modules" -prune -exec du -sh {} \;

    (0) #

Sep 3rd 2015

Complement Git Stash With Commit And Soft Reset

11:01

One of my favourite Git tools is the stash. However, it doesn't always quite fit the bill. E.g. you notice you need to amend a commit in your history, but stashing everything would lead to solving umpteen unrelated conflicts during a rebase update. Instead I like to store everything irrelevant for the amend as a stash-commit, then stash what I need to bring along.

The Three Step Workflow

  1. git commit -am "stash", i.e. commit everything (you want to stash) into a stash-commit
  2. do your work, usually involves rebasing and/or working in other branches
  3. git reset HEAD^, i.e. reverse the stash-commit from stage 1

Stash Can Do That

The same effect (or very similar) can be achieved with stash save --patch, but I find a stash-commit is often quicker and simpler. Personally, I also like that my stash-commit remains in the branch, whereas stashes are global.

Stashes are also much too easy to forget, and even if you have the option to name them when using stash save, I rarely do, which leads to not remembering what's been stashed if it's more than minutes ago.

Shorts

Meta

Pages

Search blog

Latest comments