I’m preparing my dinner wearing a thermoshirt and and my thick down jacket. I have little choice for ingredients in this cold weather. Everything freezes immediately. I make my meals out of cans for a large part. With a little pump I pump pressure in a bottle of benzine. The burner converts the benzine into gas and voilà there is fire. I have to warm up my lighter before it starts to work. Once the fire is on, I quickly hold my cold hands above it. Advice that someone has given me, when camping in cold conditions you firstly create a source of heat. With my big mittens I can’t make food and the double thin gloves are not warm enough. I pitch my tent and from time to time I walk back to warm my hands. It is becoming colder and my body starts to shiver. It must be around -22 degrees celcius be now. What else can I do to stay warm? Run, yes run! I run back and forth in front of my tent to keep sinking in the snow. It helps. I stop shivering but not for long. My thick down jacket is not warm enough. For a moment panic strikes. What now?
I decide to quickly crawl into my sleeping bag.
Kandalaksha has a beautiful natural environment. That made me forget a little that the big road where I have to cycle on is very unsafe. Vast forests with white tree tops made me feel like I was cycling through one of the most beautiful areas I had ever cycled.
It was cold but this was worth it.
Kandalaksha is 250 kilometers down south from Murmansk. Normally I could do this in two days. But this weather makes it impossible. The road demands my complete focus. Cars and trucks run by fast, sometimes not even caring about me. If I push my pedals a bit harder I start to sweat. Sweat means death, I have read once. Everything is taking a lot more effort. It ensures that I have to accept that I can’t go fast. That is difficult for me. I’m a rushed person and am always aiming to go somewhere quickly.
I have to learn to slow down, literally and figuratively.
Camping. I find my spot by nightfall. The snow is one meter high. The only way out is using the snowmobile tracks that occasionally go from the road to the electricity pylons. Here I can walk on and pitch my tent on. Tonight I found such a track and I manage to set up my tent and make a nice meal.
On the menu, chicken pieces with corn and spaghetti with soup herbs from where I have no clou which herbs are in. After a day like this I don’t have high demands on food. I just need calories. I enjoy the meal from my sleeping bag to later fall into a deep sleep.
When I open my tent that morning I don’t believe my eyes.
I decide to enjoy this morning. This is exactly why I came here. To the Arctic Circle. To the cold. So white. So clear. Everything covered with a soft layer of snow and a sun that keeps shining just above the surface.
I take about three hours to start this day.
In Kandalaksha I accidentally came across a fisherman’s shop where a very sweet woman advised me a thermos. Since then, my life has become a lot more easier here. Now I cook snow to put it later on in the thermos which will give me hot water all day long.
There are two challenges that keep me continuously busy. Condensation of breath and bodysweat. When I am lying in my sleeping bag I exhale a lot of moisture. After a few nights my sleeping bag gets wet. My tent gets also frozen inside.
I follow my way to Monchegorsk. In Monchegorsk I decide to sleep inside for a night to dry my stuff. When I leave the next morning it is -25 degrees celcius. I’m just five minutes on my bike and my attention goes to a strange feeling in my ear. When I feel my ear I’m a bit frightened. My earlobe feels hard. It’s frozen! I quickly pull my hat over my head and I also tighten my jacket hoodie. Hopefully it will stay with an earlobe, my mind goes.
That evening the weather is very cold. Even so cold that I put my down jacket in my sleeping bag so that my feet stay warm.
I’m on my way for about an hour the next morning when I’m pleasantly surprised by a friendly man. He specially turned for me. And we are having a conversation in Russian. “Atkoeda!?” he says and I answer proudly, “ya ghulandski!”. After this weeks I start to understand a few of the basic Russian phrases. We are in conversation with pointing and trying but it works a bit.
He can’t believe I slept outside. We drink tea together and he wishes me all happiness and health, at least, that’s what I think.
Not much later a van stops in front of me. A muscled guy in his t-shirt gets out and enthusiastically throws open the back doors while he shouts “Murmansk!?”. I nod but beat with hands on my chest and point to my bicycle. He looks at me with disbelief and without saying something he throws the doors closed and leaves again. I smile in myself, he probably doesn’t understand why I like to do this. At least I appreciate his cool gesture and shouts a “spahsiebah” after him. It’s the Russian thanks.
The temperature rises this day from -22 to -12 degrees celcius and I decide not to pitch my tent in the evening but to sleep in a bivvy bag.
And I really don’t regret that.
The last day the weather is changeable and the last 50 kilometers to Murmansk prove to be a challenge. I finally arrive at the end of the afternoon in a heavy snow shower.
I am relieved but tired. I wanted to cycle the part from Kandalaksha to Murmansk for various of reasons. With danger for my life and not for the cold weather but for the dangerous traffic.
When I enter the harbor of the city I arrive at a cheap hotel where a surly lady looks at me unfriendly. She points to a video screen to my bicycle and lets me know that my bicycle is not welcome. In my head, I call out all kinds of things to make it clear that no one ever can deny my little friend from getting in. But instead I can’t get a word out and walk out silently and disappointed. I cycle to the central square and enter out of frustration a good looking hotel where my bike is welcome.
Fortunately, the price is not too bad.
When I have dragged all my belongings inside, I fall down on a warm, soft bed. This is a dream which has come true, I think to myself, I managed to cycle in winter from Kandalaksha to Murmansk.
A thank you to all people who have made a donation. It’s a great appreciation for the time and effort I put in writing stories and editing photographs. Thank you!