Sunday, November 17, 2013


A Lapland completely covered in a lovely, thick, white blanket of snow bringing with it an erie and desolate, but to me, comforting and calm stillness and silence. Which I just love. I think it's the best time to be here in Lapland. But then I think winter's the best time to be anywhere. 
I'm already missing Lapland and I haven't even left Rovaniemi

Where is Lapland?.

Lapland, Finland.

Lapland also stretches across Norway, Sweden and Russia as well as Finland in a region called Fennoscandia, which is situated mostly within the Arctic Circle.

Saying a temporary goodbye to my outfit, since it's not back together yet and is now parked for the winter, nestled between Pepe and Matti's Ford Transit vans, all nice and cosy. Sort of. It is a bike after all, not a dog.
By the time I get back to it in a few months it'll be 2014 and probably be buried under a few meters of snow.

And saying goodbye to Karu MC. Until next year. Behave yourself Matti. 

I've been in Finland and Karu MC for quite a while now, since early 2013. 
A completely unplanned stay it was too. Unplanned, but if this part of my journey never happened, I know I would have missed out on a huge slice of life. 

If I had of stuck to my original route and travel plan and only stayed a week or two in Rovaniemi and Karu MC like I had intended to, and then headed down to Imatra Finland and over into St. Petersburg Russia, obviously a decidedly different journey would have ensued, and a completely different set of photographs and experiences would have been offered up here for you to read.
But even though you never know just what's around the corner, what feelings and friendships that are in store for you in your future until you actually get to that point in time and go through them, I know that my time here in Finland will not be replicated in any other part of the world. There's just something about Lapland.
And if you want to find out what I'm talking about, what that "something" is, well, you're just going to have to come here to Lapland and find out for yourself.

It's a little difficult to explain my feelings about just what it is that has kept me here in Lapand and Rovaniemi for so long, and even if I could easily explain it away with a few choice words or sentences, the more I think about the reason/s why, the more personal feelings that are attached to them and I kind of get a little protective or possessive about it. There's a part of me doesn't want to try to explain it away. I guess I feel that there are some things in ones life that are for sharing and there are some things that are not. And this is one of those things that's not for me, one of those things that I'd rather keep a little more private and my own. And besides, it's something that happened to me. To another traveler who visits Finland and Karu MC, their whole experience would be totally different and therefore produce a completely different set of feelings.

Obviously some of the repairs that had to be done to the bike slowed me down considerably, but still, I could have got the problems sorted out and moved on I suppose. But I didn't. I chose to stay in Rovaniemi a bit longer. 
And Heikki, the Karu MC club president, and also the Karu MC members, have chosen to let me stay in their club and be their guest for as long as I need to be. For that I am extremely grateful, and very thankful to be in such a wonderful position. 

Sometimes you find yourself in a place and/or a situation that just seems to fit. Lapland and Karu are like that for me. It's not just one or two things. It's a little piece of everything and everybody. Of events, places, people, happenings. The right time in my life and the right place on my journey I guess.

Saying my goodbyes to Finnish Arctic Circle snow. Yes, there's a difference. 
There's a special snow just above the Arctic Circle. Lappish snow.

Lots of lovely, white, fluffy soft Lappish snow. 

The reason that I'm bidding Finland a temporary adieu, which I wrote about in my last post, is that a plan of sorts was made.
I never make plans anymore. Or do my best to try not to. But this is one of those times I had to. I had to make some sort of a plan in order to get a series of flights back to the US to spend the Christmas season with my Mum.
And since my bike has taken so long to get sorted out and repaired, mainly due to a delay in getting parts and then the winter setting in, I figured I'd fly back to the US and spend this winter with my Mum instead of rushing to try to put it back together. There are still some modifications and upgrades that I want to do to it, so rushing to put it back together just to park it for the winter would have meant it would have to come apart again next year to finish the repairs, so it just didn't make any sense to rush. I don't like rushing. That's when mistakes happen. The Finns don't like rushing either. Oh, wait. Sorry. It's Russia they don't like. My bad.

So I head back to the USA Nov 9th, only another few days. Well, depending on when this article gets published that is. By the time you read this post I may very well be back in the US.
So then I got to thinking, well, rather than sitting around with Mum in her apartment in Boulder, chewing the fat and talking about all the old complainers in the building she lives in, I thought well, why don't we go on another Road Trip, a Mums Road Trip Pt 2 together. So of course she was all game for that since she had such a great time on Mums Road Trip #1.
To read about Mums Road Trip Pt 1, click here, and here too

That's two plans in less than a month. I think I need to see a doctor. I don't feel good.

In the time that I unofficially officially started my trip, early in 2010, I've traveled so far about 70,000 miles (112,000+ km) in my nearly 4 years on the road. I haven't racked up a big checklist of countries. I really don't travel just to knock off countries on a "Countries Visited" list (a list I do not have and will not have to begin with). And in all honesty my feeling about checklist traveling is that there is absolutely no way you can get an idea of what a country is like or what its people are about by just breezing through and only spending a few days or a week there. But then again not everyone has much more time than that these days. And not everyone wants to travel like that either. Sometimes a postcard is all they want. I came, I saw, bought a postcard, I left.

Travel is so much more than most people have time to realize in their lifetime. Including me.
The world changes every five feet. Noticebly every half mile. Drastically every five miles. In the US one of the things I noticed when traveling was just how markedly different the vista was from state to state. Sometimes appearing like another country at times. And sometimes right on the border line of each state. Not 10 feet across the border it seems like even the trees or road surface changes a little. Or maybe it's just the psychological and visual effect at play and not too much of a landscape change at all. 
The visual mind, a very powerful tool indeed.

Everyone has their own reasons to travel, but for most it's an escape. 
For some, it's the best damn reason to escape from the mundane daily rituals, making you feel, for a time anyway, free from the somewhat oppressive burdens in your life.
I know there's a big element of that in my travels. Having been on the road now going on 4 years, my biggest fear is now having to settle down and stay in one spot permanently. 
A past friend once remarked to me that the difference between us was the fact that she had roots and I have wings. I would agree. I guess, looking back, I always did have wings and not roots.  

In my travels thus far I have met a lot of wonderful people. 
Helpful, generous, friendly, talented, genuinely interesting and warm.
Two of those talented people I have met are Arja and Irene Kangasniemi whom I wrote about here on the blog last April. They own and operate their Lappish jewelry, arts and crafts business Hornworkjust a few kilometers outside of Rovaniemi up here in Lapand. They are two of the very few people still carrying on the old traditional Lappish ways of handicraft making, their main material being PORO, Finnish for Reindeer. Reindeer meat to eat, reindeer antlers and bones for light fixtures, knife handles, decorative jewelry. Reindeer skins get made into leather and used for a variety of things, bags, coats, drum skins, all sorts of products. 

I have two Reindeer skins that I use on my travels, one was a gift from Elenor and Robert at  Stromsonds MC, the other reindeer skin I traded for my photography services for Jukka at Snowbrick in Sinettä here in Finland. I use them under my sleeping bag as ground insulators. So much better than a Thermarest air mattress by far, just not as convenient. Reindeer skins are much warmer, much nicer and about the same price. I also use one in the sidecar as the seat cover and as a second skin for inside the tent when it's really cold, like -25° and below. I don't go out of my way to camp in -25º, but it happens sometimes. But in 2014 I will be. Going out of my way to camp in -25º and below that is. Some new sub-zero gear is on it's way to me and I look forward to putting it, and myself, through it's paces and see if we're both up to the challenge and are everything that is as advertised.

A Reindeer suit would be good to have, nice and warm. I'm not sure they make Reindeer suits, maybe they do. But I do know the Inuits make Sealskin jackets.

Like this Inuit Sealskin jacket from Greenland that I saw when I was at the Reindeer races earlier in April this year in Rovaniemi. Good lord man, I fell in love with this jacket. I mean head over heels.
I think I'll have to try to make one. With Irene Kangasniemi's help.
The boots are called Skaller, made from the fur from the Reindeers head or skull. 

The Skaller or skull fur is short and thick, and because it grows in different directions it helps prevent slippery boot soles. Brilliant. I wonder when and how long it took the Sámi Reindeer herders to figure that out?. Ingenious really when you think about it.

The curl at the end of the boot in the toe box was made so you could keep your skis from slipping off. Really.

These are my own pair of Skaller that I bought in Alta in Norway last January. They are amazingly warm in the snow.

There are two reasons that Reindeer skins are the best insulators against the cold. The first reason is how the hair follicle of the reindeer is constructed. Reindeer hair follicles are hollow, so they trap the air between the hairs and prevent all that body heat loss through the skin. The other reason is just the sheer number of hairs a reindeer has. The long, course guard hairs with hollow cores number about 5,000 hairs per square inch and the fine wool hairs are as dense as 13,000 hairs per square inch!!. That's a whole lot of insulation there Rudolph. That's the reason that reindeer can survive the Arctic winters comfortably and rest for so long on snow and never get cold.

And here's some more interesting facts about reindeers. If you ever see a reindeer bed in the snow after the reindeer gets up, you'll notice that none of the snow that the reindeer was lying on has melted or iced over, and that's because of the incredible heat insulating qualities of the hollow hairs in the Reindeers coat. Reindeers are just built for the extreme cold. The insulating qualities of the reindeers coat are so great that heat cannot be eliminated by sweating, because reindeers don't have sweat glands (aside from a few around the nose). Only panting can eliminate significant amounts of heat. And heat stress for reindeers can be deadly. Come to think of it, maybe I have some reindeer spirit in me. Maybe that's why I don't like the heat and love the long, dark, cold and snowy winters. Writing this article I look outside the Karu MC clubhouse and it's snowing. A light gentle snowfall. It's a dull grey morning, and the sky has a steel blue and grey tint to it, but for whatever reason, I love it.

If it weren't for Reindeers, Arja and Irene wouldn't have a business at all. Reindeers play a big part of life for some people up here in Lapland. A huge part actually. I never knew just how important the Reindeer was in Lapland until I spent time up here and learned a little about the Finnish Reindeer husbandry industry and lifestyle. It's a way of life that goes back to the Middle Ages when Reindeer herding for meat producing purposes started here in Finland, and by the end of the 17th century it had spread to the whole of Lapland. It's a way of life up here in the harsh north and provides a living for many people. In many villages, there would be no life without Reindeer husbandry.

 In Hornwork, Arja and Irene utilize every single part of the reindeer for use in their craft and jewelry work. Nothing gets thrown away or goes to waste. Even the tendons and sinuous fibers get dried and made into thread and string that can be used in the making of ceremonial shaman drums for example.

Nothing goes to waste.

Legs are boiled, hoofs and nails removed to be used decoratively in jewelry, just like the Sámi reindeer herders did hundreds of years ago.

Arja and Jukka.

Arja and Jukka at Hornwork in Finland.

Reindeer bone jewelry.

Irene also is a teacher, giving lessons and courses on how to make handicrafts in her workshop. And after your lesson you get to go across into their Traditional Lappish home for coffee, tea or homemade blueberry juice and num nums.

I bought some gifts for myself and some friends from my visit with the Kangasniemi's last April, Irene also gave me a few gifts from her and Ari. I've been keeping in touch with them all along and was invited this year to the Reindeer calf earmarking where they mark the new Reindeer babies ears, but then I got caught up with working on the bike and it didn't materialize. Anyway, I had wanted to pay her a visit, she's just full of good energy, a fun and talented person to be around. 

Irene's Shaman costume made from reindeer leather and decorated with reindeer bone.

I had a leather repair I wanted to do myself to my passport pouch, and Irene said she'd help me with it.
I wanted to make the neck string a little thicker so it wouldn't be easy to rip off by someone with thievery on their mind. In hindsight I was thinking I should have woven a fine 25 or 30 gauge wire through the braid, but then if someone tried to rip it off my neck and it didn't come off because of the wire, they may end up garroting me instead. 
So I scratched that idea. 

Well, what started out as a simple project, making a new leather string for my brown passport pouch that Irene had given me as a gift, turned into a whole weeks worth of handicraft help, instruction, food and good times at Hornwork, and we started on another project as well. Two new projects actually.

I had seen, hanging on the wall in Irene's workspace and shop, a really nice lime green colored pouch that she had made and thought to myself "hmmm, that would make a nice handmade gift from Lapland for Mum". So I talked about it with Irene and asked her to help me make another thicker string for it. No problem she said.
Since I had already made a thicker string for my brown pouch this one was going to be easy. And it was. It was a simple two string twist braid. So now Mum has a new Handmade in Lapland money pouch for Christmas. And which now won't be a surprise since she now has an iPad and is able to read this blog.

So I liked the green pouch so much I asked Irene does she have another one in the same colors that I could buy for myself. There was something really nice and soothing about the way the colors worked together, the lime green with the light blue and the birch trees. Calming and a little zen I thought. So she said no, she didn't have another one in those colors "but I'll help you to make your own" she said. Project #2.
So I finished the braided neck string for my brown pouch and set about on cutting a pattern up for making the second green one.

So, coming from a family with a father for an artist who was also an arts and crafts teacher too, I got into a creative groove and wanted to make this pouch similar to Irene's design, but add my own personal touches.
Since there was a little red in the sun I thought about a two-tone braided neck string, so I asked Irene and she set about showing me how to braid it.

I cut the red and white leather into 2' long strips and knotted them at the end.
Two over, one under....repeat. 
Seems simple enough but it took me a little time before I got the hang of it. 

When you're over at the Kangasniemi's you can't help but notice that there's a creative flavor to the air. Irene helps bring out your artistic side, if you have one to begin with. If you don't, she'll bring it out in you anyway.
I like spending time there with them. They are both two people that live very close to the earth in todays disposable and ecologically fragile world. From where I sit though, their lifestyle seems very normal. It's how I grew up as a kid and young man in Ireland before I left and headed west to the US and the land of plenty. And a lifestyle where if it's worn out or broken you just throw it away and get a new one rather than trying to repair it and make it last another year.

On my first visit to Ari and Irene last April, Irene was a bit like a mother to me, and as I was leaving she gave me gifts of food to take home with me. Some Reindeer meat, some frozen fish that Arja had caught and some frozen blueberry juice from blueberries that Irene had picked the previous Autumn. People of the earth.
So whenever I visit Ari and Irene, I always bring some home cooked food for them. I usually prepare my favorite dish for us to eat at lunch, a whole side of garlic stuffed salmon seasoned with Celtic Sea Salt, some pepper mix and a little butter and olive oil brushed over the top to give it a nice flavorful top crust as it cooks under the broiler. It always goes down well at lunchtime there.

For some finishing touches, a little blue lacing around the edge.

The finished product.
Irene, kiitos paljon kaikesta avusta.

Hornwork, Finland. Nov 7th, 2013.

On my last visit with Irene and Ari at Hornwork before I left Finland for the US, it was as if Lapland didn't want me to leave. Nature conspired and began to throw some of the good stuff at me. Some visually enchanting reasons not to leave Lapland just yet, a few little teaser morsels to tickle my senses, and camera lenses, before I departed. Dammitt!!.

"Are you sure you want to leave now?" I could of sworn I heard, rustling somewhere in the forest, carried on the wind. Maybe it was the squirrels.

"Hay, how's it goin"?. 
"Oh, the usual. We have another show to put on for one of Irene's visitors today.
Some photographer guy. From America".
"Oh yea?. What are we supposed to do then"?.
"Ohh, the usual. Look cute. Dig in the snow, nibble on seeds, a few chuck chucks".

"That him looking out the window"?.

"Guy with the big camera pointed at me?".

"Yep, that's him".

"Oh, Hai".

All the wildlife came out to see me before I left Lapland for the US. 
A final colorful display to counter the dull grey that's normal for this time of year up here.

Nov 9th, 2013. Early morning, Rovaniemi Airport.
A happy dull grey as Heikki put it to me.

Runway 21R. Visibility: So-so.

Rovaniemi is a small airport. A nice little airport away from the hustle and bustle of cities.

I had started to get used to the dull grey that was normal winter in Rovaniemi. 
I never gave it much thought that above that cloud layer there was the sun. Until I got on the plane to Helsinki. And then I was reminded.

Within a minute after taking off from Rovaniemi Airport, the plane broke through the cloud layer and Boom !!. Colors. Look at all the pretty colors man.

Beautiful up here. I wanted to stay up there all day. But it was short lived. 
I had a quick flight to Helsinki and 2 hrs until my SAS flight to Frankfurt via Copenhagen.

SAS Flight 0679. Helsinki to Copenhagen. 33,000 ft. 
This would be High Tea then, right?.

The plane landed at Frankfurt International Airport right at the most opportune moment, in time and position. 
Being a photographer I only have one free hand. The other is always gripped around a camera. Wherever I go. 
So I, and my camera were at the ready and as my flight taxied in, the tail of a plane to my left was starting to line up perfectly and silhouette itself right in front of the sun. I had time to run off quite a few shots and even a 3 shot bracket set, the one above before went to the gate.

The plane landed at Frankfurt at 5pm and I had about a 17 hour layover until my American Airlines flight the next morning at 10am. I had intended to visit friends in Monheim but time just did not allow that. So I opted to spend the night at the airport, save a little money and sleep in the arrivals hall on one of the lounge chairs they have there for travelers.

A while back I came across a site called Sleeping in Airports, a guide to sleeping in airports that rates them on how good, or bad they are if you have a cancellation, long layover, can't afford to spend the money on a hotel room, whatever. Once the domain of the teenage backpacker, airports, and the teenage backpacker have grown up since then. Now you have nice restaurants, shops, Starbucks, a virtual plethora of amenities these days in most good airports. So I took a look at overnighting in Frankfurt and well, it didn't seem too bad. Didn't seem to good either. There are much nicer and better airports to overnight in, but being the adventurous type of traveler and not a five star hotel type of guy, I figured what's the worst that could happen. There were plenty of German Polotzi walking around and not too many shady characters. A few, but not too many. Nothing I couldn't handle if it came to that. And of course wouldn't you know it nearly did. About 3am I felt a tug on my arm. Some homeless guy thought he could relieve me of my camera. But fortunately I had the strap wrapped around my arm, and I'm not a heavy sleeper. Once I stood up and my 6'2" frame glared down at my would be assailant it went no further. He slinked off into the airport somewhere, I went back to sleep and got up at 5am. And there, across to my left, head down on his chest and sleeping on a chair, was my homeless would be camera thief. And as chance would have it, coming down the stairs about to start their morning shift, were two German Politzi. What a coinky dinky, eh?. 
So my rusty, nonexistent German came out. "Guten Morgen, wie geht es dir?. Hören Sie, diesel Kerl, versuchte die Obdachlosen bum drüben, meine Kamera for ein paar Stunden zu stehlen. Well, that was all I needed to say. They were over by him like a light, german Shepard sniffer dog as well. ID came out, a few questions and then my would be camera thief was handcuffed and led away. Where, I'll never know.
He went up there, up the stairs with all those nice men with guns and dogs 
and stern chiseled faces that never, ever smile.

And then it was time for me to go to the American Airlines desk and check in.
And a huge thank you to Carrie from American Airlines for arranging my flight back to the US for me. Many many thanks CA.

Boulder Creek.

To be continued......


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