I continue my life as usual here in Kyrgyzstan, travelling at a slower phase on my ski pulling my belongings, descending from the mountains towards the eastern shore of Issykkul Lake. Travelling on a short and broad forest ski that I got from the Finns is much slower and more tedious compared to riding a bicycle. The energy I used to pull my sledge on a ski for a kilometer is probably the same energy I cycled pulling 50kg of luggage for 10 kilometers. I’m happy to cover at least 15km a day here in the Tien Shan mountains. I’m travelling probably a little faster than the speed walking, sliding through the thick snow, embracing the cold thin air in the mountains that goes right to my lungs.
At one point of my journey, I have to descend the mountain, easy sliding down towards the shore Issykkul Lake, which still stands high over 1600m altitude. But being long in the mountains, descending to this high altitude lake feels like descending to the sea level, I breath easily again and it is not as cold. Funny that at some point I have to take off my skis and carry the heavy sledge to cross the road, since there is no snow on the road. And sometimes I just pulled my sledge through mud. Winter is really dry this year in Kyrgyzstan. Not much snow compared to the previous years except in high mountains, probably effect of the global warming. I don’t really feel so cold this time, only sometimes I feel pain on my feet during the night since Im wearing cheap socks.
Once I reached the shore of Issykkul, I continue my ride through huge snow fields, which feels like forever since the landscape is the same, riding on flat ground, seeing the distant mountains beyond the huge lake. It reminds me of my ride in Iceland almost 3 years ago. I remember the landscape is so vast that I could see where I will be camping next 80 kilometers ahead. No matter how fast I pushed the pedal of my bicycle I still feel like I’m not moving. It feels like the earth doesn’t allow me to move forward. Yet I heard so many sayings that the world is getting smaller, but when I travel the world on a bicycle, or ski or even on foot, I get a pretty good idea how big this planet is.
Its easier to move along the shore of Issykkul because its flat but harder to slide the skis here on the lower ground since the snow has turned into hard packed ice. The ski Im using seems doesn’t slide too well on hard ice and I hate the sound of it when it slides through black ice. And I see more people here compared to the mountains. They will usually come to greet me and see for themselves the way I travel… probably impressed but pity at the same time. And they get more impressed when they saw me taking my big camera out to film myself, skiing away and back to take back the camera. They asked me where Im going, I just told them I heading west towards the sunset and will go as far as the snow takes me… when the snow melts, I will think of something else.
Whenever the sun is almost reach the horizon, I will start skiing away from humans, trying to get to a really quiet place where I don’t see any footprints of humans, so that nobody knows where I sleep and disturb me at night. Its an advantage during the winter season because I just need to find places where the snow is thick and away from villages, so its hard to access on foot except by skis. There are possibilities to get disturbed here at night camping at the shore of the lake compared to the mountain areas since there are villages nearby and local people can be very curious to see a stranger skiing and camping alone in the cold winter. So I will usually spend my energy struggling through tough terrain at the end of the day to find a place to pitch my hotel, so that I can have a good time alone in the wild watching sun at the horizon and sleep well under the stars.
A few days on early February was a very special time for me. I stopped my journey temporarily since my family from Malaysia came to visit me here in Kyrgyzstan. When I heard the news I quickly descended the mountains, rushing back to Bishkek with a marshrutka and waited for them right at the airport. It feels so good to see the smiling familiar faces again appeared from the front door on the arrival hall after a year being on the road living the nomadic life. The smiles of the faces of my family melted my heart like a chocolate. The smile that is carved on the face of the person we love is something powerful, very warm and able to melt the cold heart. It is something some of us take for granted and sometimes we forget how powerful it is when we get it everyday, but if we get it only once in a while, we start to realize how powerful it is and unable to ignore the power of it.
It feels special to hold the familiar faces again and speak the same language I always speak since my childhood… the same language that I always use in my heart. Whenever Im alone in the wild making any decision, I will automatically create two person inside me and start discussing whether I should pitch my tent at the higher ground to get a better view of the mountainscape or at the lower ground to protect myself from the strong wind. It is like these two persons that I created inside me are discussing and debating on where to pitch my tent. I myself will speak on behalf on person one suggesting that I should pitch the tent at the higher ground and at the same time will also speak on behalf of person two to pitch my tent at the lower ground… and the language that these two persons inside me use to communicate is the language that I speak since my chilhood which is Malay. Whenever I learn something from the exterior world, I will talk to myself explaining the thing that learned inside my interior world using this same language too. This same language that was taught but my mother when I was very young is the best language to express my emotion and my thoughts. It is known as the mother tongue… the most natural. And able to finally speak this language after a long time being on the road, I feel like Im back to my nature, just like a tiger is back to his jungle after spending a long time in a strange desert.
I also felt so good that I was able to eat my kind of food cooked by my mom. It is also like a tiger that is a carnivor… finally able to eat some raw meat after a year eating only vegetables and fruits. All these while, the spiciest food I’ve tasted is only Korean food which is just a little more like a tickle to my Malay tongue. And once I took the food cooked by my mom into my mouth, once again the million of sensors of my tongue sent the signal straight to my brain, telling myself that the food is really spicy and finally sending another signal to the rest of my body and as a result, my face turned red, my eyes produced tears and my skin produced sweat. It feels so good that made me to do nothing but concentrate only on the food rather than to think or worry about something else in my life. I also enjoyed getting lectured by my dad, giving me some good advice for me to keep pursuing my life, which he has been repeated hundreds of times since I was a child but for old time sake, I enjoyed and listened carefully every words that came out from the mouth of the man that I always respect in my entire life. Looking at him, time has make his physical body aged, not as strong as he used to be but not his soul, the soul doesnt get affected by aging process. Only things in this world that can be perceived with our five senses grow old, but not in the world where our soul dwell… the real world…
I felt happy to see my two younger brothers and my young sister enjoying the landscape of eastern Kyrgyzstan where I live. Me and a few of my friends here in Karakol decided to make a day trip skiing and snowshoeing in the nearby mountains so I took my two brothers with me. Glad that they like it and would love to do it again some other time. At one time during the night my youngest brother told me that he wants to be a nomad too. A young energetic man who just turned 18 this year and just finished his high school in Kuala Lumpur. I kept silent for a while thinking on the best advice to give him. I told him to take it slow and easy and don’t plan too much. As for me, planning my time, my schedule and my life can be fun but to stick to the plan is no fun. I don’t want to live my life following a script that I write years ago but instead I live my life according to the surroundings, trying to be like water, so I will fit in any surroundings and situations and try my best to solve a problem when it is right in front of me. I didn’t plan this life… I didn’t choose to live my life as a nomad. This nomadic life chose me. Some people believe that they choose their destiny. I think otherwise. I think my destiny chose me. I think everything has been written since the beginning of time.. since the very beginning…
But by studying from his face, maybe he is too eager to listen to the word of wisdom that I tried to share. But it’s a normal thing, he’s too young and couldn’t wait to open the next page of his book of life, to see and experience the next chapter of his life. Sooner or later he will understand and everything will be in placed, just like everything else in this world in the past and present… and the incoming future. He basically has almost the same set of thinking with me. Surprising at someone at his age, we were actually discussing about sedentary life vs the nomadic life, about existence, the physic of the quantum world and mathematical representation about the universe just over a cup of coffee during the night when everyone else were in deep sleep. We just couldn’t go so deep about each subject since its impossible to discuss all of it over a cup of coffee.
Time passes really fast while they’re here with me… as in being and spending time with familiar faces can really affect and influence the speed of time… as in spending quality time really put more weight in the sand of time. Without me realizing it, it was finally the time for them to go back home to Malaysia, leaving me here back alone dwelling in the mountains. Seeing them leaving at the immigration checkpoint in the airport making my nerves reacted differently, my body was about to produce tears through my eyes but my brain stopped the process from happening. I should accept everything that happened and will happen… that’s what I have learned on the road all these while and I should keep learning it. They are going to the exact place that they should be and I should go back to the exact place where I should be… doing the exact things that I should do… it was all written… we are all just living it. Destiny… the word destiny is really something to me, that one word can make me sit hours and hours in the dark inside my tent in the high mountains alone… thinking about it deeper and deeper… If one day I would write a book… I will definitely write about it…
Its been a while since I haven’t write anything on my blog. When I looked again, the last entry was when I was still in Finland, learning cross-country skiing from the Finns. Time moves fast without me realizing the speed of it. Sometimes I felt like time is moving faster exponentially as I grow older. Without realizing much, Im now no more with the Finns skiing together with them, guided by them and hoping that they can point any of my mistakes while the skis are attached to my boots. Im no more skiing in the flatland of the Arctic region in Finnish Lapland but now Im here, back in the wild mountains of Kyrgyzstan, all by my own. The challenge is big here for me in the mountains. Skiing while pulling a sledge through mountains is certainly not an easy task. Here in the wild mountains of the Tienshan in the middle of deep winter, Im not only battling the super cold weather, but also the rough mountainous terrain and the thin air of the Tienshan.
Plus this is the season where wolves become aggressive. When its cold in the mountains and the land is covered with thick snow, its hard for them to hunt for food, thus they become hungry and often come to the world of men to challenge the local people by attacking their herds. I on the other hand, trying to get into their world, into higher altitude… into the thin air… into the wild mountains… Two days before I decided to pull my sledge with my skis and snowshoes, the news reached my ears by the locals that a man was attacked by a pack of wolves in the mountains Im going. He was fighting for his life with the wolves before the locals came to his aid. He then ended up in a hospital in Bishkek for a few days. That terrible news put some weight into the fear inside my heart but my courage fought back. All these years I have trained myself not to fear any creations… but to fear only the creator of the realm of space and time… the source of the universe. I keep reminding myself, if I fear the creations, I fear at the wrong thing. The news slowed me down but didn’t stop me… I went to the mountain anyway.
Travelling on ski carrying a heavy sledge for the first time alone in the mountains was really difficult. I remember exactly what happened 4 years ago when I had no idea how to travel on a bicycle but I did it anyway from Chengdu towards Tibet. I still remember how shameful it was when I didn’t even know how to pack my bags properly on my bicycle, where all my luggage kept on falling down every 5-10 minutes on the busy street of Chengdu. Back then, I didn’t know how to attach the bags to the bicycle properly, I didn’t know how to setup my tent, I didn’t know what to do if I get lost in the mountains, I didn’t know how to use a rope and I didn’t know how to even repair a puncture! Its like a déjà vu, the same feeling happened again when the sledge was attached to my body and I couldn’t ski uphill because the gravity kept on pulling me down. I then managed to move slowly when I switched to the snowshoes. I could only move smoothly when the surface is flat. When its uphill, I had to switch to my snowshoes, when its really steep uphill, I switched to my crampon, ice axe and rope. When its downhill, I fall down. I fell so many times, in any possible ways until I become so used of falling down. Sometimes I took my time getting up since it was really difficult with the skis attached to my boots on thick snow. “The first day is always the hardest. After some 2000 falls, I will become a badass skier” I told myself, trying to keep myself calm.
And I kept going no matter how hard it is, this time I don’t move as fast as I usually do on my bicycle. On average I could only move about 15km a day pulling a sledge. My best was 34km on an easy day downhill. Since I’ve been traveling the world on my bicycle for the past 4 years, not any single day of it could match the hardship exploring the Tien Shan mountain on a ski pulling a sledge. Skiing and pulling a sledge in the mountains for 15km a day is a lot harder than cycling on a fully loaded bike for 100km a day. And I dont have years of skiing experience. I only ski for a few days in flatland in Finland. I think I made a bad decision pulling a sledge in the big mountains but its nothing new. I made bad decisions all the time… and Im used to it. I woke up in the morning, had my breakfast while watching the sun rises, pack my stuffs, move slowly on my skis and snowshoes, pitch my tent again before the sun touches the horizon, eat dinner and sleep under the stars and repeat the cycle the next day. It was a routine life, doing the same thing except 2 things where… I get to see new beautiful view everyday and I become a better adventure skier day by day.
No matter what I use to travel the world, let it be on a bicycle or on a ski, the feeling is the same. Those are just tools to travel… nothing more. Im not a cyclist or a skier, but a student of this temporary life, to keep learning by life experience and to keep learning by facing problems everyday and try to solve them. Living the nomadic life, homeless, the goal is to gain experience on the road. The road provides me different lessons each day. Lessons that I hope can change myself into a better man everyday… so that Im a better man today compared to yesterday and hoping that tomorrow I will become even a better person… hoping that today I will feel ashamed of what I said or done yesterday, so that I can be more careful and improve on things that I say or my actions each day… hoping that I can learn to be patience and calm while keep switching between my skis and my snowshoes in harsh condition… hoping that I can learn not to be selfish by realizing that all the things that I possess is not really owned by me, but rather are being borrowed to me temporarily in this world… the world of space and time…
Im happy to release the trailer of my upcoming short film, “Finnish Lapland: Bumi Misteri” (The Land of Mystery). Its a short film reflecting my thoughts and my experiences while I was on my short journey in Finnish Lapland. I was travelling through the woods in northern Finland on a forest ski with 2 other Finnish adventurers for a few weeks admiring the beauty of the landscape on winter time. Finnish Lapland is truly beautiful and with no sun at all far above the Arctic Circle in the winter time, it was lit by the full moon and the dancing northern lights which make the landscape so special and mysterious…
After a few days experiencing so many activities in Rovaniemi area, we finally drove up north near the Russian and Norwegian border. Cant remember whats the place called since the town (in Sami language) is hard to pronounce with my Malay tongue. But Finland map looks like a woman raising her hand, we actually went to almost the top of the woman’s head. We visited a Sami school, looks like an ordinary school but when we came inside, its very quiet, probably only around 20 students or less in the whole school combined. The facilities are awesome… it really looks like a university! Each students were holding iPad and the teachers are using computers to teach these kids. Besides, they have other complete facilities with musical instruments, climbing gym, a hall with indoor basketball court and all. I felt lucky to be able to witness it firsthand and able to film it. The students also performed some modern and traditional Sami song and dance for my camera lenses and we had fun playing football on iceskate. After some 2 hours of the visit, I gave each of the students and teachers some small souvenirs from Kyrgyzstan, just some small keychains with the shape of a bozui, the Kyrgyz yurta. Here in Finland, I wasnt only representing the Malaysians, but also the Kyrgyz people. So I shared both the Malaysian and the Kyrgyz cultures to them.
After the visit we then drove back down towards the south, passing by Ivalo and Inari, looking for a nice place in the forest for us to practice skiing. This is the main reason why Im here in Finland, to learn forest skiing. The Finns are great skiers, well, perhaps every Finnish people can ski well. To them, skiing is just like walking. Skiing in the forest is probably just a little harder than walking in a shopping mall for the Finns. And here Im travelling with Heidi and Petri, they have years of experience skiing in the Finnish forest and Im gonna learn from the best people.
So after a few hours of drive, we finally found a nice cabin in the middle of the forest to leave the car and as our base. Its a bit tricky to travel at this time of the year… we reached the place in the morning when the sun rose but once we were ready and just started skiing, it was already sunset. We were far above the Arctic Circle and at this time of the year, the daytime is only about 30 minutes. So we just moved through the forest with our skis in the dark. It doesnt really make much difference between the day and night anyway, since the sunlight is so pale due to the sun is just below the horizon. We even joked that we are not so sure whether its actually sunrise or sunset. Night time can even be brighter than the daytime, especially when the sky is clear… when the clouds were giving ways to both the fullmoon and the northern lights to shine in the nightsky. And with the thick white snow all over covering the ground, it really looks bright at night, like in a fantasy world.
After years of travelling the world on a bicycle alone, this is actually the first time Im traveling in a group. It feels much easier and instead of cooking and eating dinner alone outside my tent normally, this time I found myself talking and laughing with Heidi and Petri while waiting for our food and having our dinner. It feels great. We have been travelling only for a few days but since we always travel and camp together, I feel so closed with them. And maybe too because I always spend my time alone in the wild and so used to not seeing humans for days… so I really appreciate having a companion. I sometimes joked with Heidi when she shouted “Harizzz… come here! Your food is readyyy!!” and I simply answered back “Yes mom Im cominggg!!”… and we burst into a laugh. Heidi has a characteristic of a good mother. She cares for everything and very detail. Shes a good planner. Petri on the other hand is a bit like me… we dont care much about anything. I guess if theres a blizzard going on we might just sit comfortably on our sledges in the middle of the blizzard discussing about cameras and quadcopters. And to change my travel mode from cycling to skiing is something very challenging. Skiing is something totally different and it uses totally different muscle system and my body wasnt used to it.
I was so happy that I picked up the skill of skiing quite easily. A big thanks to OAC company in Finland that provided me with the forest ski. Its a really good ski and float well in the soft snow powder in the forest. At first it was quite tough and I got tired faster because I was struggling. But after a few days of training and practicing with them, I found that its really fun to slide on the snow and pulling a heavy load on a sledge doesnt seem to bother me much. At some point, I was thinking that skiing maybe even easier than cycling. The memory 2 winters ago while I was struggling on my bicycle in this same terrain on the Swedish side is still fresh on my mind. I still remember it was very tough to move with my bicycle and my 60kg load through the thick snow in the forest of Sweden and the mountains of Norway where the snow sometimes can reach my hip. But it is still very difficult especially when I have to go through thick forest between trees where my sledge or my skis sometimes get stucked on a tree roots or branches. And this is just a training, the real challenge will come soon when Im back in Kyrgyzstan, where I plan to travel on this same ski in the big and wild mountains of the Kyrgyz, from where the Khan Tengri dwell in the east near the Chinese border all the way south, as far as I can get… towards the border of Tajikistan. I hope that I can do at least 20km a day in Kyrgyzstan, since the day is much longer there compared to here in Lapland.
We had to come back to our base, back to the car once in a while since I have problems with my camera batteries. I dont usually have problems with electricity since I have a solar panel and charger given to me by Goal Zero Malaysia all these while but this time, the solar charger is totally useless, since there is no sun at all here in the Arctic on dark winter. I carried 4 batteries for my camera and it would be sufficient if I only take photos. But shooting videos in subzero condition without any solar charger, I think I need at least 12 batteries to last for 3-4 days. A battery can last me only a few minutes shooting videos in subzero condition. And since Im filming on raw mode, I have to keep transferring the file from my CF card to my laptop and the laptop battery is also another issue. Good thing I faced the problem here so that I know what to do once Im back filming my journey in the Kyrgyz mountains. We also had the chance to visit a group of Sami reindeer herders in the nearby forest, not so far from Ivalo. There we had the chance to experience reindeer sledding, which is totally a different experience compared to dog sledding. We were lucky too when one of the Sami reindeer herder offered to sing a traditional folk Sami song in front of my camera lenses.
After a few days of training and practicing skiing in the forest with them, we finally split temporarily as Petri need to get back to Tampere, Heidi to Rovaniemi and I wanna stay in the forest in Lapland region to keep practicing skiing and hunting more northern lights with my camera. I then spent rest of the days in a nice, quiet and peaceful hostel in a small town of Akaslompolo called 7Fell Hostel… located in a nice location. Its actually in the middle of the forest! It was there where I met a Malaysian girl who are studying in Moscow and now in Finland for a short break. It was great to see someone from the same country after for so long and she cooked me nasi lemak… my favourite Malay dish! I ate everything and almost ate the plate as well since it has the sambal smell on it. I spent a few hours a day skiing and snowshoeing in the forest near the hostel on the “Finnish winter daytime” and hunting the Aurora Borealis for the rest of the days when the sky is dark. I spent the last few days traveling back to Rovaniemi to catch up with Heidi again and had the chance to give a short one hour talk sharing my experience living my nomadic life to the students in SantaSport in Rovaniemi. I also had enough time to show some of the short trailers of my film to them. I hope to keep in touch with these people since theyre great people and I learned an important Finnish word from them, SISU which means stamina+endurance+bravery combined. This was the thing that has been taught to the Finnish army and I need it to cross the big mountains of Asia. After the short talk, both Heidi and me drove back to Tampere, leaving the Lapland, crossing back the Arctic circle to the normal world…