We had a chance to sit down with our longtime friends and riders, Kaisa and Christoffer Leka, before they take off on another journey. Read here about their life on the road, the current exhibition and what is their dream cycling destination.
Could you introduce yourselves briefly?
We are Kaisa and Christoffer Leka (known as Leka). We are cartoonists, graphic designers and adventurers. Oh, and Leka is a first degree scout. Kaisa is not a scout, but a cyclist of the year and a Puupäähattu prize winner.
And we also teach graphic design in the LAB University of applied sciences.
And now also Graphic Designer’s of the year. Congratulations! You have currently “A Path of One’s Own” Exhibition in the Design museum in Helsinki, which is still open for a week.
Thank you! In the exhibition we are showing a glimpse of our world and our journeys, how we experience it. We wanted to take the visitor inside the cartoon instead of them just viewing small prints on the wall. The exhibition is for hanging out and spending time.
Last week it was described to be “great for kids, but not suitable for humorless persons”. That description was pretty much on point.
It really felt like it! So, tell us a bit more about your travels. What’s your normal day on the road like?
It’s pretty disciplined. We try to wake up pretty early to get the full day. We have a clear division of labor: Kaisa is in charge of navigating and sketching, Leka takes all the photos and does the cooking.
On a campsite we set the tent first (as scouts do!). Then Leka cooks a meal while Kaisa is planning the next day or maybe sketching. As we are always working on some art project, Kaisa draws about the previous day’s events either in the morning or on a break.
Ideally we’d have a warm lunch and siesta during the day. That’s great when cycling in Alaska or Lapland, you don’t need to ride against the clock as it doesn’t get dark. Warm food for lunch is also a good tip, especially if you need to be aware of bears like in Alaska. The scent of food doesn’t attract bears to the campsite.
Do you have a fixed route plan or do you go with a flow?
We know from where we are leaving, where we are heading. There are some preliminary plans, but they are open to change. We used to be more strict and always tried to ride around 100 kilometers daily, but now we are more relaxed. We have learned to respect the weather and other conditions, they have such a great impact.
When the plan is not too fixed, it also gives room for encounters and surprises. When we were riding through the States, we met this super experienced older cyclist. He advised us not to go through Nevada where we were heading, but to take another road. It was great advice and changed the rest of our trip, and we couldn’t have followed it if we had planned everything beforehand.
It’s also a good exercise, to let go. Especially if you are a control freak in normal life.
You combine your artwork with your travels. How do you find time to do it during your travels?
Documenting has become a natural or necessary part of our travels — it would be actually difficult to be without it. It gives a day a natural point. We write the stories and script together. While we ride during the day, we think and discuss about it. During the night the brain processes all the things that happened and in the morning it’s then easy to draw and text it ready.
From the previous trip in Alaska we sent about 119 postcards. It was actually deliberating to process the day into a postcard, send it and not to think about it anymore. These postcards we have used in our next book “Before the Sun Sets”, which will be published next week.
You have already published more than ten books. The new book is self-published like the rest of your work.
Yes, we have self-published all our books. Here we want to have full control of our work, and with the publisher it wouldn’t be possible. We have a clear vision of how each book should be. They all have their own character and personality. One thing that we don’t know is what sells. We have no clue about it or it is not why we do books. We rather ask ourselves if I’d like to have this kind of book on my bookshelf. If yes, then let’s do it. Luckily people have liked to have the books as well!
But we still publish books to the masses, they are not like unique pieces of art. A bit like Pelago. You don’t build custom bikes, but produce them in large amounts. But still design is important for you, there’s a huge difference between Pelago and big sports equipment stores.
Alaska, Iceland, France, Odessa, Japan, North America, Morocco, Russia, Lake Saimaa… How do you come up with your travel destinations?
Spontaneously! We just find something and pretty quickly the idea turns into an obsession, we just need to get there. Like our next destination, the Trans Labrador Highway in Canada, which is definitely not a popular cycling destination. Most likely it will be horrible in many ways: rainy and there will be tons of mosquitoes. And only one road to follow.
Hah, that sounds… tempting!
It is! The best part is to be free of all the small and big choices you need to constantly make in your everyday life. We have been missing this simple life, where you just focus on the primary needs: food, shelter, water.
We are pretty maximalists in our everyday life, so it’s good training to live a minimalist life. It’s a good reminder, what are the really essential things in life.
What are the most important learnings from your trips?
The most important thing has been to believe in the goodness of the people. Especially now, when the media is full of news about the war and other horrors. It’s good to have personal experiences that are totally different, remember how kind and helpful people have always been, wherever we have been or how different they might be.
It feels we have this massive debt we are paying back by helping others here. Kind of a cosmic balance.
Cycling also strengthens your empathy skills. You can forget the sense of being in control. When you feel vulnerable, you realize you can’t actually control anything — a single small stone can pretty much ruin your trip. That’s why it feels sometimes strange when people call us “adventurous”. We are not.
It reminds you also about your mortality.
Don’t you sometimes just feel like giving up? How do you keep going?
Well, it’s kind of easy when it’s your only option to get out of there. This is what a fellow-cyclist taught us. Again, it’s sometimes good when there’s no other options. Then your mind is not searching for alternatives.
Also, the best things on the road are the spontaneous small stuff: an animal you see, a great advice, a friendly stranger. These give you more certainty to keep going.
Before we reach our destination, describe to us your ultimate bike journey.
In our dream bike trip there’s only one paved road, so no need to navigate a lot. It’s calm and quiet, but cars are passing by once in a while, so you know that if something goes wrong, you can get help.
The landscape is rugged and open, so that you can see far away. Like Lapland or Iceland. And of course there’s always the tailwind, even though there are no trees to cover you. With the help of the tailwind, you arrive early to the campsite and have time to relax and read.
Close to the quiet campsite is a supermarket, where you can get some nice protein-rich vegan ingredients for cooking. And some dessert. Next to the campsite there’s also a warm pond or lake, where you can swim before going to the tent and sleep well in the fresh air and not sweaty. It never rains during the day, only in the night time, so you can listen to these calming rain drops. The rain ends early in the morning, so the tent is dry for packing.
As you can imagine, most often none of these are present. But that’s ok! It’s this contradiction between dreams and reality!
A Path of One’s Own. Graphic Designer of the Year 2022: Kaisa & Christoffer Leka
Design Museum Gallery
8 April – 29 May 2022
“Before the Sun Sets”
Book launch party on Tuesday 24.5. at 5 pm-8 pm
Design Museum Gallery