You are now at post Nr. 04 out of 06 of this trip.
If you want to read the posts in order, voilà:
01 Berlin – Piła (284k) “Muddy Waters”
02 Piła – Zelenogradsk (428k) “Nightrider”
03 Kaliningrad – Riga (402k) “Paved New World”
04 Riga – Valga (EST) (190k) – Narva (275k) “Winds of Change”
05 Narva (EST) – St. Petersburg (RUS)(165k) “Russian Roulette”
06 Vaalimaa (FIN) – Helsinki (200k) “Finnished”
This post will cover 2 days at once, namely my ride from Riga up to Narva in Estonia at the Russian border. Here I will mostly describe the trip chronological. Especially the second and longer of these two days had some serious motivational challanges.
The last day to St. Petersburg will be addressed later in a separate blog post since that day and ride had a couple of noteworthy features that owe in part to the Russian “cycling culture and environment” and to the meaning of St.Pete for my tour.
- Riga (LTV) -> Valga (EST), 190km
- Valga -> Narva (EST), 275km
FYI: Valga is just across the Estonian border. Narva is still in Estonia at the Russian border.
Stage 4: Riga – Valga, 190km
I had previously decided to skip Tallinn. A) because that would save me some miles and give me more time in St. Petersburg while also lowering the daily distances, and B) because the tales from multiple independent sources suggested that Tallinn might not be my kind of place; touristy, a bit artificial and theme-park-like. Not my thing. It might be a too early judgment and I might be wrong, but it was nice to skip it without any fear of missing out. The plan was now to get to Narva at the Russian border within two days. These kinds of plans spanning multiple days mean: the more km I make today, the less I need to run down tmrw.
The previous day I had a very good free day in Riga. But remember: I had two rides before that where I skipped one night each. If you want to know how that happened, you find it in my previous posts. Consequently I was tremendously tired and the two nights and free day in Riga didn’t fully suffice for me to feel really fresh again. The exhaustion had accumulated.
Consequently I got going quite late on that Friday 8th of July. It was probably already after noon when I was really on the road, which meant that I already pushed some of the km burden onto the next day.
What postponed my departure a little, too, was that I still wanted to pass by at a bike store to buy a certain cablelock to complement the lock that I had with me anyway. If I would go camping I’d feel better to have the bike as safe as possible. I checked the day before the availability of what I needed. Fantastic: this shop turned out to be the only bicycle manufactury in the entire balticum! Check them out: Erenpreiss. They make beautifully classical looking city bikes. On top of that, the mechanic in the workshop spoke perfect German, with an Austrian accent and explained to me the history of the enterprise.
Luckily I found one route leading me straight east out of Riga without wasting any time on searching my way through the maze of an industrial belt that is the common shell of so many large cities. The day before I picked up a cycling tourist map in the Tourist information and loosely followed the “bicycle routes” which were not any different from regular country roads. First towards the beautifully sounding “Sigulda“. The landscape for the first time turned into something new; wilder, more softwood, swamps next to forests. That fun was quickly over: From Sigulda I took a long and tedious Highway stretch towards Smiltenes, that contained many (literal) ups and downs and poor pavement at times. Shortly before I decided to divert onto a side route through the country; this time it went well… The pavement was medium/ok but I saved some kilometers and had a very scenic ride; in fact the most scenic science shortly after Piła. Through green and yellow fields, cute, sometimes Scandinavian looking farm houses, and all that with a warm, slowly setting sun.
All in all I had a very smooth ride. I spent almost all of the day in lower grip (so: the lower “racing” position on the handlebar) and finished the ride in Valga because it was getting dark and I promised myself not to do another nightshift again. Strange… By now 190km/day feels like a “shorter ride” or definitely like something that will not take my last breath. That’s how the perspective changed over the years and I certainly didn’t become fitter physically. Cycling long distances is 75% mental work. I know it sounds super worn out, but it’s true and I could go on for long about te “how”
I didn’t take pictures of any of that day, but one video that might confer some of the feel (sry for the noise)
Stage 5: Valga – Narva, 275km
So, I knew already that I had left 275km to get to Narva. Sure, very long, but the night before I thought it is just another challenge and I’ll handle it, like I did others in the past.
That morning it looked differently: I got up at about 6.30am put myself into my gear and hit the road. I ate one banana and wanted to do some km before breakfast. I can tell you I was not into cycling whatsoever and every km felt like a huge effort of willpower. I checked the route: A3 (highway) all day. At least the first km I wanted to do on a side road; baaad choice: one road that looked like a solid country road turned out to be just sand and gravel. So bad that I didn’t even notice it to be the right way and took a wrong road for that reason. So I lost time. After a lot of effort and 50km of riding I reached the town of Otepää, went to a supermarket and bought feast of a breakfast! Have you ever had 4 Kinder Maxiking, 2 Bananas, two big pizza-bread rolls, a chocolate croissant an energy gel for breakfast? It was a big party. And I had plenty in stock for the rest of the day.
After this long break the next intermediate goal was Tartu, a bigger city which the guy from the bike shop recommended me to visit (student city). Now with some food intus, it went smoother, but still: I didn’t feel like cycling. To be honest, I imagined how great this whole tour would be with a convertible..; open roof, effortless transport, stepping out of the car into the scenery once in a while to stop at a farmer at the side of the road to buy some berries, watch a church or swim in a lake. Instead I had to get those km done. In fact at that point I very specifically considered taking one more day until St.Pete and stopping somewhere before Narva; maybe wild camping in the woods. I even already thought about how I would phrase that decision in this blog.
So, now that I “decided” to make a shorter one today, the pressure and fear of the distance was gone. I would cycle as far as I get.
I arrived in Tartu at some point. What a city!! I will return some day with more time. When I arrived the city was packed: there was a triathlon going on that Saturday and a big street market/festival, too!
From Tartu I had the choice to either take the highway or take a detour along the Lake Peipus. I checked before on Streetview: that pavement of the alternative route seemed fine. But given my (lack of) cycling motivation I took the highway towards Mustvee. There I met Karl-Heinz. A pensioned museum architect who was on a ride from Riga to Murmansk for an indefinite amount of time. These are the moments where I wish I had less ambitious goals in terms of where to be in the eve. It would have been great to go camping with Karl-Heinz; he certainly would have had stories to tell, what a character.
Btw: we decided to keep in contact, but I think he underestimated the difficulty of finding him on facebook. So, if you know a cycling museum architect named Karl-Heinz Koch from Thüringen, let me know!!
Karl-Heinz did cycle the alternative route along the Lake, btw. His judgment: horrible roads. For once my pavement decision was a success.
I continued, swinging from one village to the next (they mostly have only names, but sometimes not a single house!). I decided: Jõhvi will be the goal of the day, saving me 45km from Narva and making this a 230km day. So, I checked booking.com, checked for campsites and sent a couple of last minute messages to couchsurfers. And while waiting for responses, I used all my motivational repertoire to get me there; a standard situation. But I arrived in Jõhvi. No couchsurfers had replied, hotels and campsites scarce. Time for the evening boost. It’s a phenomenon that I experienced many times: that as soon as the hard work is done, suddenly there’s energy and motivation coming from within your body and gets higher targets back in the game. At first I thought: let’s do some more km towards Narva and find a campsite or a spot for wild camping on the way. But then: the more of the 45 km to Narva I did, the more I thought I can then just as well do the rest; that’s when the motivation and power increase(!) with distance. I ran down those last 45km with ease. On the way I arranged a cheap and comfortable stay (20€ Couchsurfing, very lovely landlady) that would give me the rest I need for the last bit the. Next day to St. Petersburg.
I even had time to do an elaborate selfie for my colleagues (pants and shirt bear our company logo):
So, against all odds and my lack of motivation, I managed to nail these 275km. And with much more confidence (don’t want to say “ease”) than I did before, e.g. when compared to my first touring day to Piła (PL) (285km). I was in Narva and there was NO way I wouldn’t manage the last day to St. Petersburg (planned: 204km) the next day.
How the St. Petersburg ride went? A couple of serious and noteworthy obstacles! I will tell you in a separate post