Rishikesh Raut went on a journey to the essence of Finnish state of mind: Riding his bike towards the Northern Finland, exposing himself to the elements of the nature as well as its tough love. This is Rishikesh’s journal of his six days on the road.
Where do birds go to die? In most silent forests and in most secret soils, they bury themselves – far from all sight. Last autumn, I imagined – Starting from Oulu, can I ride my bike as north as possible, and touch the North Cape, Europe’s northernmost piece of land? I tried and was asked to turn back after half the distance.
In my ride through the lap of land and water, I discovered that global warming is hoax. I slept in rooms with no roof, and where trees were kings. Nature showed me views of my outdoors and indoors, views that my four-walled home in Oulu kept hidden. The following account of those six days on the road is an attempt to share what I saw and how I felt, in my journey to the North.
// Picture 1. 10 kms from the Arctic circle (Aug 24, 2021) .
Days 1 & 2: Gray Life
The weather was ominous. By the time I rode 80 kilometers to arrive to Simo, it had started to drizzle. The town shares its name with a sniper nicknamed White Death. In the whiteness of sub-zero winter, the man earned the title by erasing 505 sorry souls who had the misfortune of being born on the other side of the border in Russia. The war lasted for about hundred days.
After dinner, I washed my biking clothes in the humid reaches of Simojoki’s bank. And as I slept, Nature thought my sleeping bag, mattress and everything else needed washing too. So, she made sure it rained all night.
I woke up to see tears of rainwater trickling down into my tent, to noiselessly feed a puddle. After adding some of my own,I decided to take the day off to warm up, dry down, and start fresh. That cold, wet day was the last one when I had wet clothes, because I never washed them again. I fell asleep to chocolate and hazelnuts in my teeth and Walter White from Breaking Bad on my phone.
Day 3, Part 1: Conspiring Givers
Moving from Simo, the weather outside and inside me had transformed for the warmer, for a change. The heater in the cottage I had rented dried my gear and clothes – wet by forces of earth and stupidity. The temperature showed single digits, but the sun was hinting arrival for the first time in two days. As the big star carved its way in through reluctant clouds, parts of me too were on their way out.
When I get out, I try to leave my ‘self’ inside. Everything that I’ve allowed to merge with my identity – I try to leave it at home; for only an empty cup can drink anew.
For the first two days, the landscape coloured by the unwanted baggage I was carrying, mirrored my dullness. But now, like the sky, the grayness within was making way for something new – like a snake shedding old skin. The sun’s warm fingers caressed my back, with the tenderness of a mother waking her favourite child. As the distant star oranged the asphalt ahead, I could feel it. The immersion – I could taste it.
Today I’d resolved, was going to be a hundred-kilometre day. At fifty, I would reach Tornio, which shared its border with Sweden. There I would see Suvi, who’s been my pen friend for a year now. We would have lunch, and she’d surprise me with a diary and a peacock box-full of stuff, decorated by her.
If you ask me, it was a conspiracy to paste a smile on my face every time I look at these things… but I could be wrong. My suspicion arises on account of her being a giver. It’s an art alien to many, because the lot of us – we never really give.
We calculate returns and invest.
After taking from Suvi, I moved further north.
// Picture 2. Gift from Suvi.
Day 3, part 2: My Game, My Rules
I got back to pedalling. The day’s designated sleeping-spot was 50 kilometers further down the Tornejoki (Torne River). I thought, “50 is too much. 5 kilometers, ten times – doable. The last 20 kilometers, I would allow Eminem and other rappers to scream energy; so actually, only 30 kilometers to go. It’ll take me about 2 hours to make 30. 2 hours is nothing.”
After five gruelling hours of uphill-downhill riding, I set up camp by the river. On the other side, a stone’s throw away was what they call Sweden. Many years ago, one group of people stopped identifying with another group, and began strongly identifying with their own. An imaginary line was drawn, and a real river was dissected.
The dying sun watched my naked body shiver, as I neared the river it had so miserably failed to warm up. The sun might as well have been a spectacular photograph hung over the canopy of distant trees. And the waters might as well have been that way because a truck carrying golden paint crashed up-river. I dipped into the river, staying on the Finnish side – not out of reverence for borders, but only because it was too damn cold. “This is actually not that cold,” I said to myself before my feet grazed the surface. The showpiece sun watched my lying mind settle.
ggs alone were enough to earn a feature on Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, but the noodles were the stuff of his wet dreams.
// Picture 3. The showpiece sun along Tornejoki
After feeding the noodles to the fungi, bacteria, worms, squirrels, and all those who sleep in soil, I slept.
Day 3, part 3: Sleeping wild
I did not sleep before scribbling into the diary my friend gave me. It reads, “First night in wild. Chaos inside… The silence of being alone, utterly alone, is terrifying…There is also an unmistakably immense sense of calm…” I have been alone in a forest before, but never for the night. The mind, when faced with the idea of the unknown, goes berserk. Like an untied horse surrounded by ghosts, the mind gallops without direction, wanting to clutch to the safety of familiarity.
“What if something goes wrong? – Calm down, what will go wrong, there are no snakes here like in India, no leopards too. Calm down.
What about bears? – There are no bears here, and we have the phone and knife, just in case.
What if everything that can, goes wrong?”
I nearly dialed a friend back home, so she’d tell me that it’s okay. But like the hero who silently transforms as he persists through perceived impossibilities, and in that persistence becomes the movie’s hero, I did not pick up my phone. Through all that drama stirred up by the frightened mind, I decided to stay with myself a little longer… and suddenly, I was at home. I slept like a baby, who’s just thrown the biggest tantrum it could manage.
Every day out, I woke up to pee, because it was always cold. Our body has evolved since millennia; when cold, it does everything to preserve its own warmth & energy. Then why did I have to wake up, wear socks & shoes, get out, and part with my warm fluids… Without investigating further, I unzipped the tent door.
As if the sky had dropped to taste the grass, clouds of mist swallowed the forest whole. Eerie, moist, haunting. The river still raged – indifferent and intrusive.
A deaf man would have assumed that he was on a mountain, and that the thick fog above the river, stomached a valley. A blind man would have tasted the air’s water and by water’s music, he’d deduce that he stood by a waterfall. A poetic man would have begun stringing words that would poorly describe what he saw. A tired man would have returned to his sleeping bag.