Chapter one. “Take me as your courage”. Helsinki.

June 18, 2013

The night before leaving was restless. I was plagued by all the possible fears that should have appeared much earlier, back at the preparation stage. Oddly, they came at the very moment I was all packed up and ready to go. To be exact, I’d piled up everything on the table to squeeze it later into a 40-liter backpack. I had an entire night to get fully ready. Since I was worried I’d oversleep and would not make it on time I decided to stay awake till I was in the train to Helsinki.


The city was battered by a severe storm that night. It almost pulled out the flimsy doors of my balcony. The trees outside were bent to the ground. I was imagining getting lost in Norwegian wilderness in the rain getting all wet and frightened rolling myself up in a tent… Not the happiest fantasies, but the weather inclined. By the way, later I did got lost in the Norwegian “wilderness”, but it turned out to be not so scary at all.

The rain and the wind stopped by sunrise, the sun appeared through the clouds. It was breezy, smelled like wet asphalt and soil, the sunny weather made improved mood. With trembling hands I tied the ground pad to the backpack on the rack, rolled up my sleeves, put on the helmet, hugged my neighbors goodbye, gave away my key and dragged the saddled bike down from the third floor. It was hard to move, literally painful after two sleepless nights.

The Finland Station was at a hand distance from my apartment. Not willing to disassemble the bike entirely I pretended to be nice at the station, had a little chat with the grabber and he let me take the caseless bike in the Allegro train. Effusive in gratitude, I removed the front wheel and pushed one vehicle into another.

Bye-bye, Saint Petersburg.

The sun was shining on the windows washed by rain, the customs officers and border guards were kind, I smiled at them and went on looking out of the window. Yay, sockets! I listened to music from my laptop, dozed from time to time, but I wouldn’t fall asleep. Now and then I’d check if my passport with brand new stamps was in place and write texts to mom and friends.
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I got off in Helsinki in the morning of June 20th and froze for a minute. I was standing in the center of the station with my bike that was so loaded that it was difficult to hold it with one arm, staring around purposelessly. Next minute some smiling guys shoved map in my hands, but I kept standing there trying to pull myself together. This was the very beginning. Since that very moment I had to be focused all the time, I had to finally wake up and go discover the new world.

“Pull it together, you puss” – I said to myself. – “What is wrong with you? Just get on the bike and move”. So I got on the bike and moved.
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Needless to say that since this was my first time abroad everything agitated me. I had never seen so many bikes in my life. Excited, I was staring around, without any thought in my head. I rode along the streets for about an hour feeling somewhere in between panic and astonishment. Once I heard someone speak Russian, but I just rode by. I had decided to communicate with locals first. But it turned out another way.
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I needed to find the Viking Line port, so I headed to the sea. Passing by “money exchange” plate I decided to stop by to ask for Norwegian krones. I don’t really remember why it seemed reasonable to buy Norwegian krones in Finland.. I asked in English. A cute guy in the window noticed my frustration and started explaining, slowly and thoroughly.. until suddenly turned out he was Russian. His name was Kolya. My first human gift in the trip.

Kolya was slightly hung over, cheerful and smiley. He told me where I could buy a prepaid SIM card, how to get to the port and where to eat delicious sandwiches. We agreed that I’d go for a ferry ticket and return by his break. It smelled like sea everywhere. I kept gawping around, smiling at everyone, deeply touched by cycle lanes and absolutely nonearthly bicycle traffic lights that I couldn’t even imagine to exist.

I found the port, bought a ticket to Stockholm (63 Euro = 50 for me, 13 for the bike), rode around the downtown and went back to Kolya. Born in Moscow, he had moved to Helsinki when he was four. He gave me an incredibly delicious sandwich and rushed back to work. I got on the bike and rode somewhere up, and then somewhere down, trying to keep close to the sea and not to get lost. The weather was great – after three days of storm in Saint Petersburg I wore shorts and a vest thinking that the beginning of the trip was just wonderful.
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People around were smiling and laughing, music was clattering in the park, the cool breeze was blowing over my legs, Scandinavian blunt seagulls were scrounging around for some bread. Everything seemed magical. Before I left I met with Kolya for a smoke, we hugged and agreed to hook up in Petersburg or Moscow before the end of the summer. I didn’t want to leave. I had not expected anything from Helsinki, but suddenly I felt at home there.

Surely, I saw everything through the lens of first-time-being-abroad admiration and the awareness of complete freedom, but I wanted this magical feeling to last as long as possible. It’s no secret that perception determines reality. I decided that my dream could not come true as an ordinary tourist trip. It had to be my own fairy-tale. That’s my idea of homebred feng-shui, my own way to spin the reality at my own discretion.
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Anyway, the ferry was waiting. I was the only passenger with a bike. I parked it in the basement among vans and excursion buses and went up to other people. Daffy Spanish kids were running about, everybody was talking at the same time, so I spent most of the time with my headphones on. Looking for sockets I met a black Italian named Robin, but the conversation wouldn’t jell, and eventually, to my great joy, he went to sleep. Since I didn’t have a room, I spent almost all the time over a socket on the 8th floor watching sunset through the window, sometimes running out to enjoy the view and have a smoke.
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Strong sleep deprivation and drastic changes caused the respective thoughts. A sweet, lingering and frightening feeling of nonconformity. Without roots, but with two wings. When all the roads lie before you and you have to do the scariest thing – start making decisions. The old has passed, there’s no way back, there’s nothing there but pleasant memories. And the new did not begin and will not begin until you learn how “to trust the space”. It was a feeling of something huge and magic, supported by a video of sea sunsets and sunrises and a sound from my iPod.

So scary it was then, so much I would give just to feel it again.
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Only at sunrise, a couple of hours before Stockholm, I discovered a public room covered with carpet, where other roomless passengers were lying asleep in their sleeping bags on the floor. By then I had already taken a nap under a ficus, met a few boozers survived till the morning (alco-ferries are not for everyone), sat over every convenient socket by a window and got tremendously tired of being awake. I left my sleeping bag in the basement with the bike, so I just put my head on the backpack, set the alarm and tried to fall asleep. I was cold wearing jeans, a jumper and a wind jacket. The wind was blowing through the huge windows. Nonetheless, I passed out right away.

The alarm rang half an hour before the ship made port. Waking up was a real torture, I was freezing, every move resulted in pain all over the body. I washed my face in the toilet, brushed my teeth and went down 8 floors dozing in the elevator.

My bike was waiting for me at the approach ramp where I had thoughtfully parked it in front of all the vans and buses, so that I could leave first. The backpack straps tightened, the sunglasses put on, the iPod charged, the sleeves rolled up. The ramp is getting down, and I see Stockholm and feel the Sweden sun. And my heart begins to beat faster.
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