The hidden side of politics

To escape the rat race, this pair cycled 15,000 km along the route from Finland to Singapore

Reported by CNBC: 

Valtteri Heinila was working in a startup when he realized he needed a break.

“I started noticing time really accelerating,” said Valtteri, 26. The days started to blur, and then so did the months, he said.

He didn’t settle for a regular holiday. Instead, he traveled 15,400 kilometers (9,600 miles) along a route from Finland to Singapore — on a bicycle.

With his friend Alvari Poikola, Heinila cycled through 21 countries in eight months, he told CNBC. The men chose Singapore as their goal because it was the farthest point they could cycle to, Heinila said.

The pair biked most of the way but took several flights “when we were unable to cross by bike,” he said. For example, land borders at Azerbaijan and Myanmar were closed, he said.

“Russia … is a warzone,” he added. “Afghanistan is under Taliban rule, China [was] not issuing tourist visas.”

Valtteri Heinila (left) and Alvari Poikola at the Imperial City of Hue in Vietnam.

Valtteri Heinila

Cycling long distances helped Heinila escape from “society’s noise,” he said. “It helps you get into your own head [and] learn about yourself ten hours a day on the saddle,” he added.

Heinila said he had no experience with long distance cycling before the trip, but he was adventurous and enjoyed the outdoors, he said. “I liked doing things that caused me discomfort because I noticed those made me feel alive.”

No training, no meal plan

Operating without a training or meal plan, Heinila said he gained physical strength in the first leg of his journey. “We realized that Eastern Europe is pretty flat. That [was] our training … before we reached the mountains of Georgia and Tajikistan,” he added.

Heinila in Kyrgyzstan, along the border with Tajikistan.

Valtteri Heinila

Heinila cycled through central Asian countries like Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan before he reached Southeast Asia, where his route wound through countries such as Vietnam and Thailand, he said. It was a chance to see how “most of the world” lives, he added.

“We’re extremely privileged in Finland. We wanted to get a peek into reality,” Heinila said.

The pair typically cooked porridge for breakfast, making banana pancakes on rare occasions, said Heinila. After pedaling for a few hours, the two would stop to cook lunch in the shade, he added.

“Our budget was $20 per day. We just went with the bare minimum,” said Heinila. On one occasion, when the two ran out of gas to cook, they snacked on raw eggs from a store, he added.

Heinila and Poikola on the Mardi Himal peak in Nepal.

Valtteri Heinila

Heinila said he kept his focus on securing basic needs like food, water, toilet paper and a place to pitch his tent for the night.

“You don’t have time to think about nonsense like the past or the future. You’re focused on survival, and I think that’s the best feeling ever,” he said.

Challenges on the road

By the time Heinila had traveled 10,000 kilometers, he had punctured his bicycle tire 37 times, according to a post on his Instagram account. Aside from tires, he said he also learned to fix and rebuild other bicycle parts like racks and panniers.

Heinila holding tools in Romania.

“When you have a need, you just figure it out,” he said.

Living on the road could be “dangerous,” such as when the two men ran out of water while traveling through Tajikistan, said Heinila.

Heinila trekked more than 20 kilometers to a road to buy water from a passing truck, all while fighting a days-long bout of diarrhea and dizziness, he said. “Your body goes into survival mode, and you just cope with the challenges,” he said.

Despite the challenges, Heinila said he didn’t feel like giving up “for one moment.” When his grandfather died during his trip, Heinila considered returning to Finland to attend the funeral, but decided to hold his own ceremony, he said.

Heinila’s tent in Turkey.

Valtteri Heinila

“I climbed on this little hill and right under the starry sky, lit a candle for him. And it was equally beautiful as I imagined the funeral service to be,” he said.

The difficulties were worth it for the “ten years’ worth” of memories that Heinila made in a few months, he said. Cycling through the mountain valleys of Tajikistan and viewing its “remarkable” cultural heritage was the most memorable for him, he added.

Heinila said he was also struck by the hospitality of the Tajikistan people. “They were feeding us, taking care of us like their own children,” he said. “Everybody felt almost like family because the communities were so small.”

Arriving in Singapore

The first thing that Heinila and Poikola did upon reaching Singapore was visit the Finnish ambassador’s residence, where they had a small celebration with other Finnish people, he said. Later that night, the men reminisced about their journey while enjoying the view from The Fullerton Hotel Singapore, where they downed Singapore Slings, he added.

Heinila and Poikola in front of Marina Bay in Singapore.

Valtteri Heinila

When Heinila first set out on his journey, he was afraid of the consequences it would have on his career path, he said.

“Now it feels like I can get whatever job I want. I have this incredible confidence,” he said.

But going back to a desk job after “tasting freedom for so long” will be an adjustment, Heinila added. “It’s a struggle to keep this sense of freedom, while contributing to society in the most meaningful way I can,” he said.

Heinila has ideas for more adventures in the future, such as crossing the Baltic Sea on a paddleboard, he said. It is important for people to embrace discomfort instead of being “locked into planning for the future,” he added.

“There’s this whole world out there.”