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Bamboo canes under the Northern Lights - by Sergi Unanue

Bamboo canes under the Northern Lights - by Sergi Unanue 

When I first heard of a bamboo bicycle, I was shocked. I had no idea you could make a vehicle out of a plant, but that revelation planted a seed in my brain and a few months later I would be riding one for over 4000 miles: from the southernmost point of Europe, to the northernmost one. That experience changed my perception of cycling and the world.

It has only been a few weeks since I came back from this latest expedition. I'm still amazed by how my body has changed and how my legs feel when I touch them. It was much tougher than I had first imagined but it was also very rewarding. When you reach a goal, there's no better way to increase your satisfaction than by adding some pain and hustle into the mix.

I started pedalling from Punta de Tarifa in sizzling Andalucía, Spain, the last piece of land before Africa. In between there's only eight miles of ocean, an invisible fence that many try to cross in the worst possible conditions. That was my first experience travelling on a bicycle, and on a bamboo one as well. Those were slow and tedious days. I had not prepared myself physically because I wanted the expedition itself to be my training, which it certainly was. It took me a month to cross the country and to step onto French soil. From there I only needed two weeks to reach Belgium and then in less than 48 hours I was in the Netherlands. I went from cycling around 30 miles per day at the beginning, to cycling from Brussels to Amsterdam in just one day, which is 138 miles.

I had left the 40 degrees of Spain behind to enter an eternal rainy bubble. I was only in the first third of the expedition but I had already witnessed what I was trying to show with this project: that climate change is a reality and that we need to do something about it. While southern Europe was recording the highest temperatures since records began, the central and western parts of the continent were experiencing the worst floods in modern history, taking the lives of 242 people, mostly in Germany and Belgium.

From there, my journey to Scandinavia was uncomplicated and very wet. The Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Sweden were all crossed in a few days each. As I got closer to the Polar Arctic Circle, the laws for travellers like myself were relaxing at the same time. I could finally wild camp without having to worry about a possible encounter with the police. That was a big improvement for someone who always tries to sleep in a tent in the middle of nowhere. It was when I was already in Norway that I experienced one of my best nights of wild camping.

As the night was getting darker and the stones beneath my tent were becoming freezing ice cubes, I heard a noise outside. It did not seem like it was a big mammal but it was worth checking out. Maybe some animal was around and I wanted to at least have a look. I kept my body in my shelter and the warmth of my sleeping bag, only poking my head outside the tent door. Despite my initial excitement, there was nothing outside. I tried to at least get a good view of the starry sky before going back inside, but something caught my eye. There were some clouds that were weirdly white considering how late it was. They were similar to a thin line of bright smoke floating in the air, hundreds of metres away. But something wasn't right: they were moving from one place to another almost instantly. That was not normal. Suddenly, the clouds started glowing, and the white changed to a pale beautiful green. These were not clouds. Whatever that was, it was dancing in the sky. I abruptly realised that I was seeing my first Northern Lights. I was not expecting them to be so far south or so early. It was only September and for some reason I thought they only appeared during the winter. As quickly as I could, I got myself out of the sleeping bag, gathered my Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III and my other gear and stepped outside to capture that moment.

I used the M. Zuiko Digital ED 12mm F2 lens. I needed a wide angle to try and frame as much of the sky as possible. I was amazed by how easy it was to take night pictures with this gear. I learned how to capture photos of the Northern Lights on the spot. It really depended on how they were: they could be fast, slow, bright or dark. They could have green colours, but also red and purple tones. Sometimes they glowed so brightly that I only needed one second of exposure to get a good picture. But overall, it was a fascinating experience.

I believe this is the lens I used most on this expedition. Most of the time, I was photographing landscapes, so I needed a wide angle. However, the camera was always carrying another lens: the M. Zuiko Digital ED 12-200mm F3.5-6.3. This is a very versatile one that made me feel like I was ready for any kind of situation, especially if I had to take a picture of some wild animal, like a reindeer or a seal. To have a quick response time, I had my OM-D E-M5 Mark III on my handlebar bag. That allowed me to keep it handy.

However, one of the things that I have enjoyed the most is getting amazing time-lapse videos, being able to capture clouds movements, rainbow formations and the Northern Lights. This, alongside the famous Olympus stabilisation, has been very important for me. I am a content creator and I document my adventures on my YouTube channel Los Viajes de Walliver so videos were very important.

I reached Nordkapp (Norway), the northernmost corner of the continent, surrounded by snow and ice. There is where I concluded my 142-day expedition. I had linked the two extremes of Europe on a bamboo bicycle in what it has become one of my toughest adventures so far. But I am happy that I got to experience the old continent in a different way, discovering landscapes that were new to me and being able to share them with my community. There is a Japanese proverb that says, “the bamboo that bends is stronger that the oak that resists”. I believe we all have to be a little bit like bamboo to be versatile and adapt to every obstacle we face.


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