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It was late July last year in Fort St John, British Columbia when a quiet Finnish gentleman with a lively smile introduced himself to me: I am Ilkka Nykanen from Finland.
I came to see that smile often, just about every time I and Ilkka crossed paths for the next six weeks, while I was with our cycling tour that started in Alaska and finished in Mexico City. I say – we crossed paths – because Ilkka was a very strong rider and on the days I cycled, I would only see him at breakfast and then at dinner time. He rode hard and strong, mostly by himself, ahead of the pack, fighting the elements when they were there to be fought and enjoying every bit of it. Riding long distances on a bike, in strange lands and different conditions, was his passion. Tragically, it was on one such day, in the middle of the Taklimakan desert in western China, where there was hardly a car on the road, that a lone family sedan would come by, blow a tire, lose control, … and take Ilkka’s smile away forever.
Silk Route riding buddies Ilkka & Kevin
I am sure that this is not the way Ilkka imagined his life would end. In a recent email his sister related that his elderly father would worry about Ilkka flying off to distant continents so he could cycle them and Ilkka would say: “… do not worry, even a terrorist needs a good dentist.”
Yet while most families and friends, when we depart for our cycling expeditions, worry about terrorists, wild animals or food poisoning, each and every cyclist, deep in their heart, knows that it is the powerful machines that pass us on the way to work or on the short ride to the local supermarket that are the culprits most likely to devastate our lives and the lives of our families and friends.
An accident it may be but it is accidents such as these that happen way too often on roads all over the world. No cyclist or pedestrian is immune. And afterwards, all the rest of us can do, is to deal with it the best way we can.
Here is one such approach, a note from the Tour Leader Shanny Hill who was on the trip when Ilkka was killed:
“Ilkka was soft spoken, but the void he has left at the centre of our group is real, and I know I will be thinking often of him and his family. I am not sure humans are well equipped to deal with death. Especially in an incident like this that’s so sudden and unexpected. In some ways, everything remains normal, and the tour carries on, yet there is this void. This piece of us that was removed without our permission and with no warning. Thank you for sharing this time with us Ilkka.”
On behalf all of us at Tour d’Afrique and on behalf of all of those who had the opportunity to share in Ilkka’s life, I can only echo Shanny’s comments: thank you Ilkka, thank you for sharing your time with us.
12 Comments for "Ilkka Nykanen"
Very sad to read this news
As a cyclist we know this can happen at any time be it riding to the shop, or away having an adventure!
This is terrible terrible news. I was on the 2013 NAE with Ilkka and shared a motel room with him in Fort. St. John. Never saw him on the road because he was so fast; only in camp. Condolences to his family.
very sad news. Last year two of my cycling companions were hit and killed by a car on a lonely stretch of highway. The group was devastated. My condolences to Ilkka Nykanen family and to his cycling mates on the tour. Let’s be thankful that he died doing something that he loved.
Please say it’s not true. We rode together on the NAE, teamwork over the gravel in Mexico. Ilkka was such a special and likeable fellow rider. We were thinking of meeting up to do a winter fatbike ride in Scandinavia. I learned from Ilkka, grew so fond of him.
Thank you, Ilkka.
I rode the AndesTrail and Illka as well. He was a man of not so many words, he had a good sense of humour. He liked to be on his own, but if the organisation needed a hand he was the first one to assist. In Ushuaia I asked him: And Illka, back to Finland, to pickup your job as a dentist ? No he said, I already booked my next trip.
Wow, so many trips after each other.
He said: it’s a way of life.
Illke if there is life after death; I’m for sure you’re on a bike now. Have a good journey.
Odotimme sinua Suomeen kertomaan jännittävästä matkastasi, ei näin pitänyt käydä. Mitä syvin osanottomme Satu ja Markku
I met Ilkka on a trip in west africa and enjoyed his company a lot. Silently but with much strenght and often alone but ahead of the group he completed every ride. But at the dinner or breakfasttable he was always interested in everyone…with his not perfect english we had great conversations though..and a great time..miss you Ilkka although we just met for a short time
Uskomatonta! Huonon tuurin kohdatessa kaikki on mahdollista. Liikenne on aina suurin riski ulkomailla. Ikuisesti kaivaten paras kaverini sitten keskikoulun Seppo ja kummipoikasi Lasse.
Ilkka oli ystävällinen, kiltti, vaatimaton ja työssään tehokas ja erittäin ammattitaitoinen. Kenelläkään ei ole pahaa sanottavaa Ilkasta. Menetimme hyvän hammaslääkärin ja ennen kaikkea mahtavan persoonan. Suru on suuri Ilkan ystävien ja tuttavien joukossa!
I first met Ilkka on a trip across West Africa and then again on the North American Epic last year. On both occasions my wife Avril was with me too.
He was a strong rider who was usually off the front ahead of the group, riding in his own world. Even in camp he enjoyed his own company and would pitch his tent way off in the distance which always made us laugh.
Although his English was not great it was fun talking with him and he had a great sense of humour.
We will miss you Ilkka, it would have been so good to have met you again on another trip. Rest in Peace, but keep on pedalling!!
Kuopioaikojen opiskelukaveria lämmöllä muistaen.