There’s a travel cliche that goes ‘expect nothing, accept everything’. It usually refers to hospitality or general kindness from strangers. It is an attitude that has served me rather well in the past, and again on this trip the kindness is flowing in our direction.
There is also a broader way to understand that cliche, in the way that it applies to life in general. It is better to have no expectations and go with the flow. Both versions of the cliche have been very applicable to the last two weeks of our trip.
When we finished hiking Karunkheirros we weren’t sure what we were going to do. The original plan had been to go further north, but that was long out the window due to the cold and slow first month. The next idea was to head west, ride through Northern Sweden and get to the Lofoten Islands in Norway. The problem was that Tanya’s knees still didn’t feel good, and so we had some decisions to make.
Our Airbnb host Matti was cool with us staying around at his place while we worked things out. Pretty quickly we decided that I would continue cycling alone. It took a little longer to work out how long of a break we felt Tanya needed, and where we should meet. In the end we settled on two weeks, and decided to meet in Narvik, Norway on the 13th. That was settled on the 1st, and Lofoten was 700km away, so I had a cruisey 60km a day to ride.
Seeing as Tanya already had somewhere to stay in Kuusamo, she decided to stay there and catch a series of buses on the 11th and 12th to catch up with me. Matti happened to be away for most of that period, and they were going to be short handed at the vegetarian restaurant where he worked, so it was agreed that Tanya would work there in exchange for rent and as much food as she could eat from the restaurant.
Now I just had to hit the road. Problem was, my neck was killing me, and it was still freezing. Every day that week it was 4 degrees and sleeting. For four straight days I put it off and hung around watching movies, surfing the net, and eating all the food Tanya was bringing back from the restaurant. When I finally got going on the 5th I think she was glad to be rid of me.
I now had 8 days to cycle 720km. 90km a day. The first day I covered 100km and then did a 5km hike at Korouoma Canyon. The next day I got a bad case of saddle fever (when I just couldn’t stop cycling) and cycled 137km. 138 the next day. On those two days I saw my first fellow cycle tourist (an elderly French man), my first moose, and crossed the border into Sweden (or Sverige). After 375km in 3 days, I was feeling pretty sore, but for some reason the fever continued the next day, I started cycling at 4am (it’s currently light 24 hours a day, makes sleeping tricky) and had done 100km by midday. The final ten of those kilometres was with a German fellow called Bodo who appeared out of nowhere behind me. We went our seperate ways at Vittangi, and it was then that my saddle fever caught up with me.
Suddenly my knees were creaky, my shoulders were aching, and my mind was sluggish. I completely forgot to get water before leaving town, and then slept for an hour straight after eating my lunch. That lifted me a little, and soon after I got some water at one of those modern sensor operated rest stops, but I was in a bad state. I limped another 25km that afternoon, making it 500km in 4 days, and found another pretty cool camping spot.
After 12 hours sleep I managed to ride 45km into Kiruna, where I hoped to have 48 hours off the bike. In the meantime, Tanya was having quite the week back in Kuusamo. First she attended a church service run by the restaurant owner, where her knee and our journey were the subject of a few prayers. Then Anna-Liisa, one of the regular customers at the restaurant, offered free acupuncture treatment. They became good friends and Tanya received a lot of help from her over the course of the week. On Sunday Tan caught the first of 4 buses which brought her across to Narvik, and spent a night with a couch surfing host in Tornio in between.
I only ended up spending 24 hours in Kiruna. I told myself that it was because I wanted to spread the remaining 180km over 3 days, but really I was just bored at the campground and suffering from saddle fever. I was also suffering from saddle sores, a much more real phenomenon, as I discovered while cycling 50km that afternoon. The next morning I rode 40km to Abisko, enjoying the first mountains of the trip and a pretty stunning lake. I hung out at the tourist centre for a few hours, and then rode another 40km to the border. It was now 6pm, I was in quite a lot of pain and generally exhausted, so I told myself I’d ride over the border and camp in the first semi decent spot.
Well, saddle fever is a funny thing, because even though I couldn’t ride uphill anymore, having to get off and push, I cycled past plenty of admittedly fairly rubbish spots. Luckily 90% of the 35km from the border to the coast were downhill because that’s how far I ended up riding, the adrenaline of the 60km/hr descents making up for the aching in my knees, shoulders, and most of the rest of my body. I stopped lots to enjoy the views, so by the time I pitched the tent it was 10pm. I’d cycled 715km in 7 days and was just 10 easy kilometres from Narvik.
Tanya arrived in Narvik the next afternoon. I met her at the train station and we found another nice campsite in a local park. The tent was a little more crowded, but I’m glad she’s back.
Currently we’re staying with a couch surfing host in Narvik. The plan was to go hiking on the Kungsleden (royal trail) for a week, leaving our bikes here and hitching or catching the train back to Abisko where the trail starts. There is still a lot of snow up there, and now we both have bad knees, so we’ve got some more decisions to make.
Much like the enormous volumes of snow melt that are gushing down the rivers right now, we’re just going to have to go with the flow, even if it’s a little more turbulent than we’d like. I know that I don’t want to cycle alone again, so I promise to be much more patient with Tanya’s frequent stopping and steady pace. It beats my saddle fever any day.