Time flies, huh? It's been fifteen months since my last backpacking trip, or, indeed, a single night spent outdoors. Plenty of time has been spent outdoors, though most if it was in the saddle or tethered to an ageing and increasingly blind dog. And certainly, it has been an incredibly active year – I can't think of a moment when it would have been possible to sneak off for a night, and on the few occasions where I had hatched a plan, a cold or other illness would magically appear to put an end to it.
So, what has happened?
The year began in Rovaniemi, as usual. Lots of snow, lots of cold, erratic work, and a nagging sense of isolation.
The winter was a good one. After buying a pair of nanogrip skis that fit into the tracks, I enjoyed plenty of cross-country skiing along the river, and a few rides on Fat Betty.
Most of the winter riding was done from the comfort of my workroom, squeezed in-between Skype sessions with the Space Nation office in Helsinki, mainly because of the lack of time, but also because sometimes I just didn't want to go out and freeze my arse off in -20˚C.
I know, I know... There are people reading this in places where snow and cold is rare, but after fifteen frigid winters, another six months of snow can start to lose its novelty value. It's different if you have to deal with it everyday. The snow is always whiter on the other side.
In spring (which in Lapland means winter part 2), we made a decision that we'd been moving towards for several years: to sell the apartment and move south.
It wasn't an easy decision. We've grown to love Lapland. It's the place I've lived longest since the town I grew up in in the UK. It became so familiar I could tell you the location of every crack in the pavement. The proximity of nature is fantastic, and if you are really into snow sports it's nicely located.
But there are other aspects. It's far away from pretty much everything – a fact which we've profoundly felt as artists. Geographic and cultural distances can be problematic in certain lines of work, and though I took several of my best shots at making a living from outdoor activities, it never generated enough income to survive (or, indeed, pay the bills). I was a bit ahead of my time with fatbike rentals, and the bottom dropped out the packraft rental business as the prices came down. My photography tours were the most profitable and enjoyable thing, but the most popular trips – Northern Lights photo tours – came with a few problems attached; I found it ethically problematic to exploit people and offer tours on nights when I know it would not be possible to see the aurora, and the tiredness of parenting a 5 year old made the idea of sitting around in the cold at 2am particularly unpleasant.
So, a process of downscaling and downshifting. Focusing on the important things. Getting priorities straight. Thinking of the future, or at least increasing the chances of having more options.
Once the house was on the market, things moved pretty fast, and by July we were relocated in Helsinki.
...and I have to say I'm pretty happy. We live about 2 minutes from the sea, and about 9km from the center. Perfect bike-commuting distance.
Naturally, being outdoorsy, there is some adjustment. But rather than pining for the fjords of the North, I see relocation simple as a matter of changing your attitude and approach to getting your regular outdoors fix. And Helsinki is surprisingly well appointed with outdoor opportunities.
Obviously, there is the sea...
This is probably the biggest change for me. I grew up by the sea in Dover, but never really appreciated it (partially because I couldn't swim). But it's different here – there are hundreds of small islands to explore, and kayaking is something I've wanted to get into for a long time. So this is something I'm looking forward to doing more in 2018, once I complete the initial traininc course.
But there are also lots of trails and parks in and near the city that give a taste of the wild (albeit with a few more people enjoying the taste than in the remote wilderness of Lapland).
Winter temperatures (so far) in have been bouncing around 0-4˚C most of the time, with the odd cold snap, which is roughly equivalent to September/October in Lapland. So the "season" for what I would call non-winter activities is quite long. Who knows what February will bring? I'd be happy for a bit of snow, but I've had my fair share. In some ways it's nice to have it for a few days, let it go, and look forward to its return.
And while Lapland has a beautiful light all of its own, the sea brings with is constantly changing light and weather conditions. The golden sunrises have been particularly spectacular.
I've also enjoyed seeking out pockets of urban wilderness; little areas of land that have been left to their own devices for one reason or another, that when photographed could easily be mistaken for more remote parts.
So what next? Well, I've acquired a bunch of bikepacking gear that really needs to be broken in, so that's on the cards for as soon as time allows. A proper trip is under planning for Bob's 50th, but to where, who knows? The advantage of living in Helsinki is that the rest of Europe is as easy to reach as Lapland.
There are so many places to explore...