I am now home! We cycled for four months, over 5000 miles, and through 13 countries.
Lithuania was my least favourite of the Baltic States, that isn’t to say that we had plenty of fun though. We lost equipment and found it again, got waylaid by a super-social German and interrogated by the border guard.
Our second day in Lithuania was an unusually long one. Leaving the campsite at 9am and cycling until 7pm in the evening. We decided not to go along the Curonian spit as we needed to cut around the Russian province of Kaliningrad and the spit didn’t go in the right direction. I did see the sailing boat moored in Klaipėda though, where the spit begins.
We couldn’t find a campsite at 5pm so I went into a supermarket and filled up all our water carrying equipment (bottles and platypus) whilst Thomas chatted to some Lithuanian children who were delighted to test their English on him. As we cycled off we heard them yelling behind us: “Tom! Tom!” He turned around and found that he had left his hat on the ground and they were running after us to give it back.
We were cycling in the twilight when a minibus driver stopped in the middle of the road and started jabbering to us. The gist of the conversation seemed to be that we should put our lights on, though neither of us understood a word he was saying. We looked at him blankly and after a few more communications attempts he shrugged, muttered something and drove off. We likewise shrugged, thought he was crazy and cycled on. Then further down the road, we noticed a police car, then another, then another, all parked on a forest track. They were standing in a circle talking so we cycled faster and fortunately they didn’t stop us. I think there are certain laws in the Baltic about lights and wearing visible clothing, which we were probably breaking.
The Cateye Saga
Firstly, cateye is the manufacturer of the speedometer I use. It clips on to the handlebars and measures distance by how fast the wheel turns. The cateye debacle started when Thomas broke a spoke. We had been going over horrendous roads all day, the Lithuanians’ repair roads by ripping them up in long stretches and then letting people drive over them. It’s not comfortable, and certainly not good for the bikes.
I bet you’re thinking ‘huh, that doesn’t look too bad?’ It’s not if the roads are empty. But as soon as a car comes along we either go into the gravel on the left or the dust on the right. We get coated in fine grit either way, and it doesn’t taste nice.
Fortunately, we only ended up with that one broken spoke and so made it to the nearest town which had a bicycle shop. Only it was closed due to Assumption of Mary – a national holiday in many Catholic Countries. We decided to carefully cycle on. Then it struck us, the primary way of travel are buses – so why not catch one! We successfully caught a bus for only €4 each but in the process my cateye was knocked off.
In the campsite that evening we met an overly social German who invited us to have beer beside his caravan. We ended up there all evening, slapping mosquitoes and standing in the dark. There was a good sunset over the lake though.
The following morning we fixed the bike ourselves at a bike shop as the mechanic was out. As we were puzzling out how to true the wheel when the mechanic returned and wordlessly took over for us. We decided to go back 20 miles for the cateye, it should have been easy peasy, but of course we somehow missed the bus stop and cycled an extra 9 miles further (and then back again!) than we needed to. The fact that we didn’t notice familiar surroundings is testament to how exhausted we get towards the end of the day, and how different things look from the opposite direction.
To make us feel a bit better we bought one of those super fancy looking cakes you always see but never buy. We found it in the discounted section of course.
interrogation by the border guard
In the evening we camped above a lake on the Lithuanian/Kaliningrad border. On our side the lakeside was scattered with lights, on the Russian side it was pitch black. But bizarrely, around 8pm we heard very loud thumping music from across the lake. We had seen frequent ‘NO CAMPING’ signs and uniformed guards in jeeps so decided to avoid any trouble and camp in a field above the lake.
We got going early in the morning and so everything was slightly damp from the dew and condensation in the tent. Further on we found a dry bus stop and so stopped to set everything out, sleeping bags draped over the bench, towels on the curb, washing on nearby trees, and so on. Then up comes a jeep, out hop two soldiers with guns and I worriedly look around at our drying gear.
“Lithuanian border control. Can we see your papers?”
We immediately jumped to it whilst they looked at our washing, at us, then back at the washing. I pretended not to notice.
“Thank you. Where are you going?” One asked, as the other agonisingly slowly flicked through each page of the passports.
“Where are you from?”
“What are you doing here?”
“Cycling around the Baltic Sea for four months.”
They ignore the obvious conversation hook, snap the passports shut and have a final look at our washing.
“Ok, carry on.”
With that final sentence, they marched back to the jeep, climbed in and slowly drove off leaving us feeling embarassed about our drying gear and feeling glad we hadn’t been interrogated whilst wild camping within a mile of Russia.