Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Last days in Lithuania

Kaunas bridge over the Nemunas...
The last cycling days of this trip were along the river Nemunas (Memel), a route that looked really good on the map. On the ground it was a mixed experience. First I had to get out of Kaunas again which was luckily less painful than getting into town. There were several quite good bike paths but suddenly I stood in front of yet another dirt road. It is one of the mysteries of Lithuanian road planning that after half a km the perfect bike path started. For 5 km I cycled on a brand new picture perfect bike path along the river with a horrible dirt road next to me. And then - as suddenly as it had begun - the bike path just disappeared in the middle of nowhere and I was back in dirt road hell. Unfortunately, this has happened quite often to me in the Baltic States: one moment you are on a brand new bike path - and suddenly, without any apparent reason it just stops and you stand in front of a barrier, a high curb or just plan dirt...

.... and no more bridge until Jubarkas
This Southern side of the river Nemunas was quite nice to cycle but I had to cross the river in order to stay on pavement. My map showed a ferry across the river and I was wondering how often it would run. When I arrived the ferry was already waiting and I rushed to get on.Unfortunately, then nothing happened for half an hour. The ferry man was polishing his car and ignored me. There was a schedule pinned on the ferry but the departure time it stated passed without anything happening. The whole situation had a bizarre touch. Eventually a car appeared and rolled onto the ferry which brought some action. The ferry man ditched his polishing cloth and collected money. And finally he started the engine of his age old boat and brought us to the other side.

Last view over Nemunas river
That evening I faced an interesting problem while wild camping. Although it was already half an hour before sunset the forest was still full of mushroom hunters. I was just about to disappear into the forest when an old grandmotherly woman appeared out of  nowhere and talked nonstop to me in Lithuanian.... I just hoped that she didn't say anything about dangerous wild pigs or night hunts and just camped there anyways - and spent a quiet night. Next day I continued following the river but in order to avoid dirt roads I had to stay on a bigger road, the only paved alternative. Although the traffic was not too bad, there were too many trucks for my taste. After a full day with constant exposure to traffic I was just happy to get off the road at night for camping. 

View over the Curonian lagoon
Next day was my last day of cycling on this trip. I planned to take a little ferry from Nemunas river delta over to the Curonian spit. In order to reach the morning ferry at 9 am I had to get up as early as never before: 6.30 am! To my great horror it started to pour down when I awoke. Now I was facing a dilemna: I had to be cycling by 7.30 am or I wouldn't reach the ferry. Should I risk getting wet in the rain or forget about the ferry idea and continue on the main busy road to Klaipeda. I was still pondering my options when the rain all of a sudden stopped at exactly 7.25 am - perfect timing! I packed my wet tent and headed towards the ferry - but couldn't find anything remotely resembling a harbour in the village of Uostadvaris where the ferry was supposed to leave. And that early on a Saturday morning there was no one around to ask. Luckily I had my GPS that showed a lighthouse 2 km away and there a small harbour materialised. When several Lithuanian cars with bikes on racks showed up I knew I was at the right place. And shortly thereafter a small ferry materialized.

Bike path on the Curonian spit
Because I was the only one with a fully loaded bike, it was placed right in the bow of the little boat - a crucial decision as I had to learn later. And unfortunately it wasn't really secured either.... Soon the boat turned out of the river delta into the Curonian lagoon - right into some fierce swells. Waves splashed across the deck, passengers screamed and I checked on my bike. I checked once again, and then the swells became so strong that I couldn't walk across the boat any more. Everybody sat in their seats like fixed with nails and didn't dare to venture out. I just hoped that my bike wouldn't be tossed overboard. After two hours in these ups and downs I realised that I did get seasick in the end and concentrated hard on not puking. My bike was now left to its own devices. Finally we arrived in Nida on the Curonian spit and I hardly dared to look what had happened to it: It was in a different position than before but it seemed that everything was still intact. Only my bike computer had fallen off but I could repair it. I was endlessly glad to leave that bumpy ferry.

Village along the bike path
My last 50 km of cycling led me along the bike path on the Curonian Spit. This path is deservedly popular, but nevertheless almost too popular. Again I was fighting against hordes of families with kids on tricycles, bikes with bulky trailers and tons of cyclists who had no idea what they were doing. Still, this bike path is great: First you follow the shoreline of the Curonian spit, then along the Baltic Sea coast. You are among fantastic forest and impressive dunes and if you like you can bask on the golden beach. That is if the weather permits it, but in my case of course it had to rain during the last hours of cycling. And of course there was no scenic village in sight when it started to pour down....

Dunes on the Curonian spit
When I finally reached Klaipeda I was so unnerved that I didn't feel like sightseeing any more. My ferry left at 1 am, but luckily boarding started three hours earlier. The ferry port is 15 km from the centre and for the very last time I fought with bumby bike path, high curbs and reckless drivers on busy suburban highways. I reached the port when it got dark and to my great surprise there were even three other cyclists waiting for the ferry. Still, they didn't provide much entertainment because they had booked an expensive cabin whereas I spent the 23 hour passage in a reclining seat trying to update my blog, repairing my tent and reading. Most passengers in "reclining seat class" are Eastern European truck drivers....What annoyed me most was the fact that there was no wifi on board. Almost every single little ferry in Finland and the Baltic States has had wifi but this huge German overnight passenger ferry didn't have any! So much for German efficiency!

Anyway, on Sunday, 26th of August I arrived in Kiel after cycling 7,900 km in almost four months - and it has been a great trip!

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