February 24, 2023
SINGAPORE – It was an epic 15,400km journey that took two Finnish cyclists 245 days, crossing 21 countries and overcoming obstacles that included mountain ranges, multiple tyre punctures and dengue fever.
Romanced by the notion of clearing their minds through a mental and physical challenge, Mr Alvari Poikola, 25, and Mr Valtteri Heinila, 26, left their jobs in Finland in 2022 to embark on their adventure, which took them through countries such as Poland, Turkey, Tajikistan, Nepal, Vietnam and Malaysia.
They reached their finishing line – the residence of Finnish Ambassador to Singapore Antti Vanska in the central part of Singapore – last Friday.
“We wanted to break daily routines, to do some house cleaning of our minds, to slow time down, to rid ourselves of living for the future, to challenge ourselves both physically and mentally,” Mr Heinila told The Straits Times.
He added that the idea of the adventure came to them some time in the summer of 2021, when he and Mr Poikola looked at a map and decided to ride to Singapore because it was at the end of continental Asia. They then decided that they would make this trip a year later. In the meantime, they made preparations for the trip, which included buying their bicycles.
While Mr Poikola, who worked as an operations manager at micromobility company Tier, had previously cycled from Finland to France, Mr Heinila – formerly the head of partnerships at an events start-up – said that he himself had not done anything of the sort.
Planning for the trip, which included deciding on their route and how to sort out the visas for countries along the way, took just a few days. Mr Heinila said that Mr Poikola sorted out his equipment only days before they left Helsinki on June 17, 2022.
“The pannier bags (which attach to a rack at the rear of the bicycle) were bought just the day before, and the rack a few days before that. Both of them were second-hand,” he said.
Unsurprisingly, he added, Mr Poikola’s rack broke while they were pedalling through Tajikistan, a country which offered the pair some of their most harrowing ordeals but left the biggest impression.
Mr Heinila said: “I think I must have had at least 30 punctures in Tajikistan. The country is truly exotic and we were left to our own devices to survive, with no phone connection at times, no places (to stop) for food, some really bad roads.
Fortunately for Mr Poikola, Mr Heinila said “he was able to find a welder who basically copied the design of the rack and made him a new one in a few hours and cost less than €8 (S$11)”.
It was in Nepal that Mr Poikola fell ill with dengue fever, but Mr Heinila said that even at this point, they did not think of giving up and flying home.
One of his biggest lessons from the trip, Mr Heinila said, was learning to persevere through whatever challenges they faced.
But along with the pain and challenges, the duo saw some wonderful sights, like when they passed through small villages, the desert or were pedalling down roads that seemingly never ended.
They also learnt to not to pre-judge places based on what they hear or read.
Mr Heinila said: “For some countries, there is some prejudice based on what the media portrays. But we quickly learnt that this is not the reality when you go there yourself. The countries we initially felt would be the most dangerous actually ended up being the places where we never locked our bikes.”
During their time in Singapore, Mr Heinila and Mr Poikola, who has since returned to Finland, have kicked back with a few Singapore Slings, visited various tourist spots and tried local hawker fare.
Reflecting on the trip, Mr Heinila said: “Embracing suffering, discomfort and dealing with things when they don’t go to plan… These are the opportunities to truly learn and grow.
“If everything matches your expectations, life is pretty boring… The days begin to meld into one another.”