The Small Things

By Jane Mountain | August 8, 2013

4965 km so far.

When people ask us about our bicycle tour, they often want to to know what crazy or amazing things have happened along the way. We don’t really have any wild stories though, so we have to tell them that it’s all about the small things. On this kind of trip, even the little stuff that you might not notice in everyday life takes on huge proportions and can make or break your day.

Law v Morality

When we woke up this morning in the yard of a lovely cottage on the lake, I felt weird. It didn’t feel right being here, even though it was obvious that the people who owned the place probably wouldn’t come back this morning. I put myself in their shoes, and I knew I wouldn’t really like it if I showed up at my cabin and there were a couple of strangers camped on my lawn. I impatiently waited for the alarm to go off, and as soon as it did, I rushed Stephen to pack up and go.

As soon as we rode down their driveway and onto the main road, I felt better.

It’s been surprising to see how comfortable Stephen has been with free camping in the yard of people’s cabins. Especially since he felt pretty anxious when we camped in a corner of a sheep field and in a meadow in Slovakia. I think the freedom to roam laws have really changed his perspective. I tend to worry more about what feels right, and don’t care so much about what the rules say.

Sunshine And A Dock

This morning we easily found the beach we were meaning to camp at last night, before we got sidetracked. It was absolutely lovely with the morning sun rising over the water, but would probably just have been wet and dirty in last night’s rain. We had some time to kill before catching the ferry to the Åland Islands, so we set out our wet tent to dry, brewed some coffee, and had breakfast. We also managed to find time for a little wash, though the water was too cold to go all the way in. Then we sat on the dock, soaking up the sun and watching the fish jump. They were the only thing disturbing the glassy surface of the lake and the complete silence around us.

Sunshine and a dock, Finland.

Sunshine and a dock, Finland.

Sunshine and a dock; small things that make a huge difference.

Peace And Picnic Tables

We got on the ferry that would take us to Kokar. It left just after lunch and took 2.5 hours. Here’s the thing. It’s free for walk-on passengers. Bikes have to pay a €5 surcharge from July 1 to August 4. Since we’re just past that, it was totally free for us. Again, a small thing, but it made us feel great.

Our plan was to spend a few hours on Kokar and then get onto another ferry headed for Åland.

Kokar is a tiny group of islands that, together with a bunch of other tiny groups of islands, makes up Åland. It’s kind of like Hawaii, but has way more islands and way more cold. Åland is technically part of Finland, but is an autonomous region, and the official language is Swedish. It’s one little confused cluster of rocks out in the sea.

Kokar has three main sights: rocks, trees, and sea. We saw more bikes than cars on our 22 km, 4-island circuit. If you’re looking for a very peaceful place to holiday or while away your retirement years, and you like a lot of winter, Kokar is your place. Just don’t expect to go out nightclubbing.

boat house in kokar finland

Kokar boat house.

It amazes me when we come to places like this, and the one constant is people. Why did people come here, and why did they choose to settle? Why do they stay? Depending on how you look at it, we are an awe-inspiring species, or a plague on the earth. Maybe both.

After appreciating the moss, the heather, and the silence for a while, we headed back towards the ferry. We stopped at these cool granite picnic tables to cook some dinner and take a little break. A picnic table is a small thing, but it makes such a difference when you’re camp cooking.

We felt almost civilised as we ate our quinoa burritos – I even got out the cloth napkins we’ve been carrying but rarely use.

Easy Free Camp

The next ferry was another 2.5 hour ride, and yep, it was also free. We got great seats and read and looked out the window. I even had a nap while Stephen stole outside to enjoy the spectacular view. As we neared the port, around 9:30pm, the spectacular weather we’d had all day turned, and it started to rain.

Stephen’s note: While Jane napped we sailed through the multitude of islands that make up Åland. It was so incredibly peaceful and beautiful. The beauty of nature undisturbed by humanity is really spectacular. If you have ever taken the ferry from Vancouver to Vancouver Island, imagine that trip but with several hundred more islands of every size.

bicycles ferry aland islands

Waiting for the free ferry to Aland.

Luckily, Stephen had figured out beforehand where there might be a likely beach for camping, and with only a little effort we found it. Another public beach area, this one complete with WCs and a beach volleyball court.

With dark stealing in and the rain getting worse, we quickly set up the tent and crawled inside. Åland doesn’t recognise the right to roam laws, so our campsite is probably not strictly legal, but it’s probably not going to see much action in the dark and the rain and I can’t imagine anyone caring that we’re here.

After such a great day, filled with small things to be thankful for, I think I’ll sleep well tonight.  

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