Alvari Poikola, 25, and Valtteri Heinila, 26, are two Finnish friends, who have been bicycling from Helsinki to Singapore over the past 8 months. They first took off June 18, 2022 and landed in Singapore Friday, February 17, 2023. Roughly 15.400 kilometers later.
The two friends arrived in Southeast Asia December 15, cycling through Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia, before arriving in Singapore.
In Bangkok they were joined by Greg, a Frenchman, who had been following the two on Instagram, through their account “Curious Pedals.”
The duo is clearly an inspiration to others, so when I was offered to join them on their last biking-trip through Singapore, I could hardly say no.
Just like riding a bike
Alvis and Vallu (as they are called by friends), along with their new companion Greg, was set to arrive at the residence of the Finnish Ambassador of Singapore, Antti Vänskä, at 2pm. local time.
I therefore went to rent a bike, around 10am. knowing, that I hadn’t been on a bike for approximately 8 years, so I might be facing some challenges.
When I first came to the bike-rent store, I was offered to rent some sort of sports bike. The kind that will make you all hunchbacked trying to reach the steer.
“I was hoping for something more like that one, without the kids’ seat,” I said, pointing towards a turquoise-colored lady-bike, with a straw basket in front. The guy went out in the back, and quickly returned with a bike just like the one I eyed in the store. But this one was without the kid’s seat.
“That will be 20 dollars for one hour or 30 dollars for two hours,” the guy said, like those were the only options. Knowing that there was more than two hours before I was even set to meet the guys, I got a little nervous.
“How much for the day?” I asked.
A few minutes later, I tried to get up on the bike, wearing a long skirt, which made the quest more difficult, than it had to have been.
“Just like riding a bike,” I kept telling myself, trying to get the thing to move.
Besides the fact, that the bike was kind of old, a little rusty and it felt pretty unstable, one of the first challenges was, how to navigate through an unfamiliar city, where I didn’t really know the rules. This made me think of all the unknown places Vallu and Alvis had been cycling through. 21 countries have they passed on their journey towards Singapore, as well of countless cities.
Reaching the Finnish Ambassador’s residence
After almost crashing into a pole, passing by a guy who looked at me and said “that’s interesting” and suddenly finding myself in the middle of a trafficked road, cause the sidewalk had just abruptly stopped, just so Google maps could lead me into a blind alley, due to construction work, I finally made it to the Ambassador’s residence. 10 minutes before the guys were set to arrive.
A trip that according to the map should have taken me 38 minutes ended up taking me 2 hours.
Drenched in sweat, burned by the sun and short of breath, I introduced myself to the Finns who had come to greet the guys as they arrived by the “Finnish-line.”
Finally, they came. Biking up the hill to the recidence. Three guys wearing big smiles, despite the heat. Their eyes beaming with a mixture of joy, pride and relief. They stopped just before the banner, placed in their honour, and they hugged.
“It is with some mixed feelings,” Vallu said.
“You’ve grown accustomed to getting up every day, having to plan every step of the day to get to Singapore, and suddenly you don’t have to do that anymore.”
At the same time, he tells about, how they at the border between Malaysia and Singapore were asked, how they’ve managed to achieve this. How a person is supposed to plan for a trip like this.
“You don’t really plan,” his answer was. You just do it, and then you take things as they come.”
Making a documentary
The next step will be to create a documentary from all the videoclips they have collected through the last months.
“It will be more of an artistic piece, than a guide on how to do it,” they both state, at the table in the ambassador’s residence.
“We hope to have it published on Netflix,” Alvis adds, when Vallu interrupts him “we are reaching for the stars,” he says and they both laugh.
“At first we will try to submit it to some film festivals,” Alvis continues, downplaying the ambition.
They both agree, that one of the main things they take with them from the journey is, that they can accomplish whatever they set their minds to. But it does take a lot of work, Greg, their French companion tells.
“They work really hard. Most nights, they write in their journals or record themself. It is really very impressing,” he tells me.
Newfound trust in humanity
As we join the rest around the table, Alvis shares another thing he will take with him from the experience, and that is the kindness they have received from many strangers on their journey. Many of whom, are less fortunate than themself, but still they have offered the boys shelter and dinner and refused to take any payment in return.
“I trust people a lot more,” Alvis says and explains how at the beginning of the trip, they thought they should make their gear look less valuable, to prevent being robbed.
“That was never a question,” he then adds.
“Another thing we have learned is, how lucky and privileged we are in Finland,” Vallu adds.
Many people have asked the boys, how Finnish people manages to be the world’s happiest, as they have been named by the latest polls, but the guys agree, that it depends on how you define happiness.
“We may be called the worlds happiest nation, but we also have the highest suicide rate,” Vallu says.
“Honestly, I feel like we have met many people who has seemed happier than we do back in Finland,” he continues.
“Many less fortunate people,” he adds, and they both nod.
Curious Pedals now consist of four people
After a short talk, we hit the road.
“Curious pedals are now four people,” Vallu says as we leave the residence and sends me a sweet smile, making me feel included and not just like a clumsy sidekick.
Even though, the boys are just strolling through the city, enjoying the sights, it is still hard for me follow their pace.
Greg joined them in Thailand around the beginning of January. But eventhough he is new to the team, it is clear, that the two friends, who used to be college roommates, has taken him in as an integrated part of the team.
Vallu is the human compass. Always in front, leading the way. Even though he is once again in a new city, he manages to guide the troops effortlessly and confident through the city traffic.
The symbiosis between them is undeniable. As they ride side by side, in and out of traffic, changing positions so one is always in the back making sure, that I can keep up. Looking at them is like observing a well-orchestrated symphony.
“Are you going to miss it?” I ask Alvis, as I notice him lighting up by the sight of the city. All consumed by what is in front of him, but without losing any speed.
“There are definitely things I will miss,” he replies, while adding, that they always get like this when they reach one of the bigger cities.
“How many cities have you passed?” I ask.
“Vallu, how many cities have we passed through,” Alvis shouts.
Stopping by a red light, in the middle of a highly trafficked road in the midst of Singapore, Vally turns around and replies “21.”
21 big cities, but still they manage to be as exited by the sight, as was it the first.
An excitement that likewise shows as we pass through a tunnel, that makes the boys howl, as though it is an internal joke.
Recording as they go
All three guys are equipped with some sort of recording device, and are often shooting pictures or videos as they go.
“Go ahead,” Alvis suddenly says. “I’m just going to take some pictures here. I’ll catch up,” he adds. Vallu nods from his spot in the front, and continues in the same pace as before. Soon Alvis is out of sight, but before I get to think much about it, he reappears next to me.
“Let’s stop here for a sec.” Vallu stops by the river side. He sets up his camera at the right position.
“Now we just have to drive in a row along the riverside,” he says.
“That includes you,” he then adds and looks at me.
Soon after, the rain starts and we take shelter. Vallu reaches down one of his many bags, and pulls out a t-shirt.
“Here. You can borrow this, so your bag won’t get wet,” he adds and reaches me the black t-shirt for me to cover my Louboutin handbag, placed in the front basket of my bike.
“Are you okay with a little drizzle?” He then asks, before we set off towards Marina Bay Sand.
Only a few minutes later we reach the Marina, and the boys starts to glow, like this was it. This was the goal. They finally reached their destination.
8 months later. 15.400 kilometers, and they were finally here.