03 Kaliningrad – Riga (402k) “Paved New World”

You are now at post Nr. 03 out of 06 of this trip.
If you want to read my posts in order, voilà:
00 BERLIN-HELSINKI
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”

I did a second day/night/day shift that allowed me to be in Riga on schedule. But required me to ask myself some questions about this whole tour as well as the route to St. Pete (see RECAP at the end). I’ll address my perception of entering 3 to me previously unknown countries in 2 days as well as my cockpit.

This post will be in chronological order, but interspersed with some associated thoughts and topics here and there; maybe even one or the other pathetic pun or awesome alliteration.

Die Startsaffäre (<- pathetic pun.)

So, as you know, I stopped my previous “day” ride not in Klaipeda as intended, but instead decided to stay in a hotel in Zelenogradsk (Kaliningrad), 110km before Klaipeda. The next morning (when I posted the previous update) it rained heavily, the forecast was horrible and I assumed I’d have two monster days ahead. However, 30min later it cleared up and the world looked and stayed like this:

I had a clear goal when I departed Zelenogradsk: Being in Riga the next evening ( = 36h later). How Exactly I’d devide the distance I didn’t know yet and just got going. Pretty late, around noon. Very motivated: slept enough, ate enough and indulged in using my clean second set of cycling clothes; heavenly!

Between Zelenogradsk (RUS) and Klaipeda (LIT) there is a land connection on a thin stretch of land that spans the entire distance  (100km) and is only max 2km wide. So it is one pretty long, quite straight road with hardly and villages on the side. It made me think of a ‘laboratory environment’ for cyclists, because here I could really cycle through without interruptions for navigation or traffic lights.

It basically all looked like this:

The whole thing is a nature reserve and you have to pay a few rubles to be allowed in.

I underwent a couple of passport checks again and an alibi-look into my backpack and then I was allowed to pass the 3rd country border on my trip and meet the second country I have never visited before. Hello Lithuania!


Behind the border in Lithuania, but still on that stretch of land there’s Nida, a holiday town with excellent icecream! After that there’s a perfect bike path!

[photo] the last few meters of the bike bath were less well paved but the more beautiful. Later I also passed a fascinating birdwatching area and might post a video some time.


In fact, while in Kaliningrad (RUS) the roads were all cracked and bumpy, as soon as I crossed the boarder the pavement made it feel like being carried on a conveyor belt. Hence the title “paved new world”. Most importantly I wanted to get this ingenious pun out there. I mean, I had 402km time to make it up! But then there’s also truth to it. I’d like to quote two Lithuanians I spoke to: as soon as the Baltic states were liberated from the Soviet Union, the infrastructure started to redevelop. At the latest with the advent of Lithuania’s EU-membership, a lot of subsidies went into building roads. I could go on now dreaming about the advantages and beauty of a united Europe; could even declare my entire tour as a symbolic act for the European unity and solidarity; but that would make this post even longer.

In Klaipeda I had an early dinner together with Andrius. Andrius would have been my Couchsurfing host for the previous night; since I didn’t arrive we decided to at least share my dinner break.


It was time to move on. I was just at about 100km. The perfect road conditions inspired me to go on until I’m too exhausted. Then, so I thought, I’d put up my tent and get some sleep. I didn’t. The further I got, the more tired I was, the more I was craving to be in bed and in Riga, the less I wanted to postpone my arrival by camping. So: because I was tired I didn’t want to sleep. Yes, that makes sense.

I went through the night, at some point still looking for a place to camp, but a dog that chased me off some open terrain was my message to go on.

My light: the beam is just amazing. You still see the 100m away post lighting up.


At some point in the morning I crossed the second boarder on that ride. Good morning Latvia!


Already shortly before this modest border the roads started to get bumpier and so did my mood. The hours shortly before the common waking time are the worst. Additionally I ran out of food making me feel incredibly weak. I clearly overestimated the population- and thus gas-station-density in the border region. So all I could do was to go on another 40km to the town Saldur on an empty stomach and dead tired.

Once in Saldur, I fueled up again, bought breakfast, had a short nap in a hidden park until I got woken up by a wet kiss from the clouds, found a bathroom… All that takes quite a while. At some point, maybe 10 or 11 am, I was good to go and hit the last… 120km on a highway. I new what to expect. The navigation was simple (“stay on the A9 for 120km”) so it was time for the

Soundtrack of the day:

Weather Report:

  • Black Market
  • Domino Theory
  • Mysterious Traveler. 

3 full albums. Perfect battle music for that fight against poor pavement, trucks next to me, an endless road, hills. And also I always felt I never listened enough to Weather Report.
[photo] This is how it roughly looked for many hours (only more traffic usually). I always rode on that little strip between the marking and gravel. Only when the pavement was bad, I tried to cycle where the truck tires massaged the concrete to that smooth skatepark-feel.


On these roads I’d be completely lost without my rear mirror. It gives me so much peace of mind.

And while we’re at it, why not introduce my entire

Cockpit: roughly from left to right:

  1. Rear mirror. It is small but works perfectly! I wouldn’t want to de without anymore.
  2. Garmin Edge Explore 1000. GPS. Since I didn’t follow my digitally planned routes anymore I now use it mostly as a compass and tracking device. It completely failed navigating me into Riga. Disappointing.
  3. Sigma cycle computer. Gives the most accurate and instant information about current speed which is handy for May purposes. Also, it’s battery lasts a year. Use it also as a clock and hardly ever check the distance
  4. Cycle2Charge USB outlet that I connected to the dynamo. I use it only when I really run out of battery to charge my power bank or phone directly.
  5. BELL. This is absolutely crucial.
  6. Remote control for the Garmin. Sounds rediculous but makes lots of sense since it has tactile buttons and I don’t want to swipe on that Garmin touchscreen. Very handy in the rain.
  7. Paper map. An absolute must! Never without!
  8. On the top tune you see a little square. This can hold my waterproof smartphone case. It’s handy when I use google maps in a city

If you have questions, let me know!


That moment when… You can change to the page of the map that contains your destination:


And a bridge:

Slowly traffic (trucks and cars) got denser as I got closer to Riga. This is globally not what I like, but one great effect is that the vehicles passing so closely next to me created an air draft strong enough to carry me at roughly 40km/h for a while.

It was a real pain in the A to get from outside Riga into the center region. I couldn’t believe it at first but then followed the advice of 3 different people who I asked: I had to cycle on a Highway. A PROPER one, namely this one:


Around that time a thunderstorm started and I got completely soaked. But I didn’t care, just wanted to arrive. And I did:


From there it still took a while to reach the real center, there to find electricity charge my phone to find a hotel and then get there. But around 19h on Wednesday the 6th of July I was there.

402 km in those past 32 hours.

Again, my Garmin didn’t record it all because I didn’t notice the battery died in between.




RECAP
There were some things for me to consider: It took me 5 days from Berlin to Riga. I have to say I am happy about this result. But at the same time: what did I gain from it? I mean: I don’t to this merely for the cycling – I do it for the feeling of arrival. When cycling through the nights, doing 400+km in a row without a serious break (like a nights rest) the ratio of cycling to arrival is out of balance. I have to change my approach for the rest of the tour and take it easier and maintain the rhythm of cycling during the day and enjoying the rest and the location where I am in the evening. As a result I decided to skip Tallinn. I will instead do two moderate 200km-rides from Riga to the Russian boarder at the Baltic Sea and the one more day to st. Petersburg. I will camp, and hopefully find time to read the book I brought:

Brave New World

 

I might make a separate post for some Riga photos.

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02 Piła – Zelenogradsk (428k) “Nightrider”

You are now at post Nr. 02 out of 06 of this trip.
If you want to read the posts in order, voilà:
00 BERLIN-HELSINKI
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”

Piła is in the middle of Poland. Zelenogradsk is in Kaliningrad, Russia (its little exclave at the Baltic Sea). That’s where I am now, on Tuesday, 5th of July. It is 8.30am and I just had a good nights rest. “But… Zelenoxhskavhj was not on your list in blog post 00!” – yes, my dear reader; plans changed (see below) and will change (as you will read later).

Why not start with a summarizing, informative list again:

  • Unexpectedly I ended up doing one continuous trip spanning 2 days; because I was too tired. I’ll explain.
  • I also cycled through the night without really sleeping. That’s a first for me.
  • Mostly these 2 days were not fun. But a valuable lesson none the less.
  • Before, I was hosted by an amazing(!!!) Polish couple in Piła.
  • And now back to some sad fact: it’s raining right now here in Zelenogradsk – heavily.

Let’s better go in chronological order; that also allows us to start on a very positive note:

Agnieszka and Piotr


They hosted me via couch surfing. Coincidentally it was their first hosting and my first guest experience. They have this rare and valuable mix of being very caring in a very relaxed way – such modern and thorough hospitality. As the loyal blog reader will know (well, up until now you only must have read 2 posts to deserve the predicate “loyal”!) my first touring day was very wet, muddy, tiring, long. What do you wish for when you’re back? Shower, bread and cheese, a good polish beer (Piotr, what’s the brand again?), a safe place for your machine, tea, a bed and good company. Well, that worked out! Thanks, you two!

Very interesting personalities, too! Agnieszka seems to have an even stronger aversion against church and religion than me (apparently possible) and expressed that in the shades of the darkest humor possible; which I will only quote upon request. Piotr is really(!) crazy: he does ultra marathons. 100km in 17 hours – running; can you believe that!?!

He gave me some tips about nutrition – a domain I have a lot to learn about – and generously supplied me with gels and Iso-drinks which you will find on a picture below.

The cycling

The good company of Agnieszka and Piotr didn’t exactly push me to leave until 10 am. And then I really felt the previous day in my skin and bones. Not so much specific pain – except for the “abdominal domain”; where I can say: that pain was very specific – but rather a general tiredness that led me to do many breaks and eating a lot.

One good thing: on on of those breaks I also met my new best friend Hotdog man (see picture below). He actually had 5 hotdogs, but was willing to share these 2 with me. Thank you.


I went on. Stop and go. The conditions were excellent, sunny and a light breeze from north east ( = hitting me from the left). The goal of the day was Elblag at the Baltic Sea, shortly before Kaliningrad, where I planned to find a campsite somewhere. The day distance would have been ca. 240km.

At the river Vistula:


But I quickly realized that – if at all – I would arrive very late in the evening which later became ‘night’ (and would finally become morning. see below). The hours of cycling and a couple of breaks went by. At some point I arrived in a city called Grudziadz; ca.21h and up till then I only made 160km. Completely exhausted. I spent a while at a bus stop contemplating the options:

  • Putting an end to that day immediately and finding a ho(s)tel here in Grudziadz. Thereby ruining the schedule. Also on a global scale: I have 2 (max 3) weeks time and prefer having my stopovers in Riga, Tallin, St.Pete instead of Grudziadz (no offense, people of Grudziadz)
  • Going on until Elblag and having a day of rest. This would have a similar outcome as Option one.
  • Seriously going on as far as I can – now; having my first night riding experience and probably doing more km in a row than I had ever before. Here the fact that I’d use the night would make it more relaxed: the additional time would allow me for a lower pace and more breaks.

So, option 3 it was. I went on to the next gas station – gas stations are always my lifeline on tours – and bought:

  • 1 coffee for immediate consumption
  • 2×0,5l of isotonic drinks
  • 4 big chocolate bars
  • One energy drink for immediate consumption (not that I believe in the miracles of red bull and the like. But maybe I was desperately seeking the placebo)

And then I went off, heading northwards. Originally, in google maps, I had planned a beautiful route along the river. No time for such sentimentality now (here belongs a twinkle smiley): I hit route 55 – proper pavement guaranteed, easy to navigate, no km wasted on detours.

Gear

It was already dark. Time to tryout my new lighting gear again (see gear). Since it was dry now, the headlight worked perfectly. So strong I could almost imagine it to be enough even on a car. I wanted to keep my Garmin GPS running and my power bank was running low. So, time to test the next gadget: before the tour I also connected a USB socket to the dynamo and to my stearing tube. It worked: light and USB charging at the same time. I found the additional drag negligible in the face of its advantage.

My bike worked very well, too. Even though it went through very bad conditions on the ride before, I just had to apply some chain lube and the bike felt great again.

Only gear issue I had: I should have bought those long leggings in M instead of L.

And on it goes…

Here’s another photo from a gas station. That was at 00:48am


I noticed I was getting really tired. Falling asleep while cycling doesn’t usually turn out well (never tried). So I went to a bus stop to have a nap; that was the idea. The bench: two wooden planks, each ca 15cm wide and a big gap in between. Sounds comfy! Additionally: wet cold air, the yellow light from a street light, trucks passing by a few meters next to me, each saperated from each other by the number of minutes it would take me to actually fall asleep. I don’t think I could imagine any situation less suited for sleeping (maybe “impaled in Disneyland” is worse. That’s the kind of metaphors that pop up in a numb cyclists mind at 1:30am on the road).

45 minutes later: MIRACLE!! I woke up from the sleep I didn’t have. Feeling kind of ok. Good to go on. So I did. These 45min of semi-napping actually helped!

The sky was already lighting up a little from the yet to come sunrise. Soon the landscape became more interesting, too: the road curvier, the forest opening up, and I could earn the downhill rides I was working for all night (by going uphill).

[photo] Somewhere. Downhill (towards the Baltic Sea)


And slowly approach Elblag (yes, even though I cycled through the night I was still not there in the morning)


And then at some point I arrived at Elblag. I have to say: it didn’t seem like an interesting or beautiful place. But the phantasy of it being a nice little town that would invite me to have an extensive breakfast and coffee served as a good motivational tool.

Instead I lay down on a bench in a park. The sun already high up and warm. I lay there for about an hour and might have slept some part of that. Coordinates: ca. 7.30am, 235km behind me. That I made much more than that 1 1/2 days earlier in the rain, shows how tired I was on this second track, and is the reason for that tiredness at the same time.

But the idea was to go on.

So I went to the next…? Gas station; correct. To again fuel up my bike with water, chocolate bars and iso drinks and get some fresh water in my face.

[photo] Somehow I liked this view. I wonder: what does it mean that the colour style of my bottles matches the colour of the car wind screen cleaner in the background so perfectly?


So, ready to go; kind of. My ass hurt, and by now there’s no way any metaphor or all audiences-term would serve it any better.

Let’s have a list again. The ranking of the day:

Body parts that hurt most:

2. arms (yes, unexpected)

3. legs/knees

Alright. So now some up and downhill riding, seeing the Baltic Sea for the first time this trip, somewhere in the distance. Then..

The Russian border

My passport got checked at 3 stops, the last check took over 5 minutes. Very thorough, apparently. No idea. And here is the third of three border controls as seen from the Kaliningrad side; I didn’t shoot it from a nicer angle, because I remember authorities don’t like their official buildings photographed so much:


And I went on and on, grabbing some food in a supermarket. Of course the language and letters are completely alien to me, so I judged by the pictures what I bought…

I slowly approached Kaliningrad city. What a mess, I have to say: pretty run down, dusty, chaotic.  But then, I only took the most pragmatic route through it and probably (hopefully) missed some nicer parts. After fighting myself through that jungle, or beehive of cars, the last battle of the day began: cycling up North on open roads against strong wind. Tired. Exhausted. The idea was to get to Klaipeda. Another 150 from here.

At some point I arrived in Zelenogradsk which is at the beginning of some 120km-long, thin stretch of land that leads to Klaipeda. Usually it works like this: I am tired and exhausted and feel I couldn’t do any additional mile. Then I eat a hamburger and fries and drink a coke and subsequently feel like I was new-born: yay yay hooray, let’s do the next 150k!

So, I ate hamburger, fries and drank a coke; in line with the above mentioned revival-recepy. And then: Nothing. Still as exhausted, aching legs, butt, arms, body. 30 min later still the same. I got the message. Time to find wifi to find a cheap hotel and call my couch surfing host in Klaipeda that I will not be able to arrive anymore that day.

It was then 18.30h I was on the road for 35 hours and my cycling computer counted 428 km, 1.600m accumulated altitude.

Number of the day: 3 (times I lubed my bike chain).


Epilogue:

I went to the hotel, managed to convince the lady at the desk to allow me to take my bike up into the room. A shower, putting out my things to dry that were still wet from the first touring day (1,5 days ago). Then went for a walk, ordered food and wine which were both so bad that I had to return them immediately, back to the hotel, typing some of this post and while doing that falling asleep. Heaven.


Now it is the day after. My legs hurt in a normal way. And the next challenge: it is raining heavily and will stay like this until tomorrow eve. So, here (photo below) I’m planning deviations from the planned route. In any case I want to be in Riga by tomorrow (Wednesday) evening. So I should make about 200k today. Maybe camp somewhere. Tomorrow the rain will be even heavier. Anyway there will be a new blog post to cover this.

Time to hit the road.

Unfortunately I forgot to press ‘record’ for the last kilometers. That’s why te Garmin shows less than the Sigma:

01 Berlin – Piła (284k) “Muddy Waters”

You are now at post Nr. 01 out of 06 of this trip.
If you want to read the posts in order, voilà:
00 BERLIN-HELSINKI
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”

So, the tour started! After having my proper “last meal” together with my dear cousin Constanze, who hosted me in Berlin, I left the house at 5.45 am. Straight to the Brandenburger Tor to meet my good friend Katharina who decided to join me for the first stretch of the day. Great to start the adventure in company! As you can see above we celebrated our anticipated victory already!
After 70km Katharina headed back home and I continued. Not much later, at the polish border, it started raining… For the the rest of the day… Heavily.


The above picture was taken ca. 10km into Poland while I was in the process of learning the following lessons:

A) IF [(a road is not covered by street view) AND (under no circumstances Google will suggest it as a route) AND (even the official R1 bypasses it on a main road) = TRUE, THEN (it is probably a sandy mud and gravel road). Avoid! If it’s also raining: AVOID!!!11!!!

B) If your body is mainly made up of water and/or your bike is mainly made from metal, better do not cycle in a thunderstorm on an elevated dyke: it doesn’t make for a comfy ride. Especially when you’re in a remote location where no one except the crows would find your lightening-struck body.

Btw: instance A and B had the same time-space coordinates and vector.

C) bring enough tissues to clean your glasses in the rain.

D) be careful with who you share the shelter in case of rain. This might end up as trading the exposition to rain for the exposition to a xenophobic rant by some stump-toothed Brandenburger grandma.

List of the day: The layers on my head:

  1. Bandana
  2. Glasses
  3. Rain cap
  4. Helmet

Soundtrack of the day: (links will follow)

  • Joshua Redman Elastic Band – Yaya cubed
  • Mezzoforte – Anniversary Edition (yes! There are good reasons for this choice!)
  • Nate Wood – Another Time

Sometimes I like music on my ears on long stretches and when I need a distraction from exhaustion. Of course always: safety first.

Gear issues: Apparently the B&M IQ-X lamp was not designed to stand a day of rain. It failed often and quickly and only sometimes came back to life. Very disappointing. Also: the mount doesn’t keep the lamps position when riding on more bumpy roads. Had to use my emergency light. Luckily the backlight still worked like a charm. Also: when it’s working the IQ-X gives unimaginably strong lightning (<- that was freudian)

Here are some more visual impressions of the day – in chronological order:


00 BERLIN-HELSINKI

You are now at post Nr. 00 of 06.
If you want to read my posts of this trip in order, voilà:
00 BERLIN-HELSINKI
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”

Hell yeah, I can’t wait starting my tour!!

Apparently you somehow found your way to this blog; and I’m glad to have you as a follower. When traveling alone it’s nice to know that this way I can at least share some elements of the hopefully unforgettable experiences I’ll make. If you have any questions, just drop me a line. And if you’re interested, follow this blog by mail (see right column) or on my facebook page.

Setup Berlin Helsinki bike tour July 2016. cyclingtourist
Setup Berlin Helsinki bike tour July 2016. Enough for a 3-week autarky regarding my whereabouts.

Today is June 30th in 2016. In 2 days I’ll start my highlight of this year: A bicycle tour from Berlin to Helsinki via Poland, the 3 Baltic states and Russia. So, I’ll pass through 7 countries all in all. The distance until Helsinki will be roughly 2.300 km. We’ll see if I’ll manage to stick with the following itenary. Some of these day-distances are longer than anything I’ve done before.

1 Berlin (GER) -> Pila (POL) (266km)
2 Pila -> Elblag (POL) (204km)
3 Elblag -> Klaipeda (LIT) (242km)
4 Klaipeda -> Riga (LAT) (337km) (maybe 2 days)
5 Riga -> Tallinn (EST) (319km)
6 Tallinn -> Nerva (241km)
7 Nerva -> St. Petersburg (RUS) (214)
8 St. Petersburg -> Torfyonovka (198km)
9 Torfyonovka -> Helsinki (FIN) (196km)
[10 Helsinki -> Pori (maybe) (240km)]

Bildschirmfoto 2016-06-30 um 03.19.00

I intend to update this blog on a daily basis with a new post that will cover the trip of that day and the things that I came across. Next to the “soft” aspects of a cycling day, I also want to deliver some slightly more technical information from time to time for those who are interested in the more formal execution of my touring.

Preparation

This is an introductory post that should also contain some information about the preparation of my tour. And as you can imagine such a trip requires a lot of preparation and antecedents. They can be mainly categorized into:

  1. why?
  2. geography
  3. gear
  4. visa

Since it is late in the evening now and I still have plenty of things to sort out the coming two days I will not be able to write about it in too much detail now. I might add a post some time (e.g. beginning of August). But here are brief answers for the meantime:

1. The idea. why?

I don’t know enough about our Eastern European neighbours and countries. And what I do know stems either from the media or from many non-representative individuals who I got to know over the years (“non-representative” = mostly Jazz-musicians… hardly allows me to draw broader conclusions I guess, hah). This holds in particular for Russia. So, I thought the best way to overcome preconceptions (positive or negative) and knowledge-/experience-gaps is to just go. Doing it by bike is a given; there’s no better way to closely approach unfamiliar terrain.

2. Planning the geography

I recently accquired a GPS device (see gear). So my workflow was to
a) plan the route on google maps and making extensive use of street view to figure out if the pavement is good enough (btw: Germany lags so far behind on streetview! Russia and the Balticum know how to do it). The goal was to avoid highways.
b) after knowing the route I created it again in mymaps.google (apparently there’s no interface between maps and mymaps)
c) From there I exported each day trip as a .kmz file.
d) On gpsies.com I converted the kmz into a .gpx-track
e) then imported the .gpx in Garmin BaseCamp.
f) from there I loaded it onto my Garmin device.

z)
additionally I bought paper maps (1:300.000) until/incuding Estonia and will restock for Russia and Finland when I’m there. (why paper maps? see here)

Sounds like a straight-forward process. It wasn’t. I switched forth and back between all those platforms. For example: Originally I had planned to skip Russia alltogether, simply because I wanted to avoid all the visa hassle (glad I changed my mind). So I intended to go via Vilnius and catch a ferry from Tallinn to Helsinki. As soon as I was convinced to go through Russia and managed to organize a visa, I changed my route to go through Kaliningrad and St. Petersburg. That also extended the whole endeavor by 30%.

Of course figuring out how to use the Garmin, the BaseCamp Software, the file formats for tracks, where to get digital maps and how to install them and all those technical things also cost a LOT of time and help from various forums with very helpful fellow cyclists.

3. Sorting out the gear

This is the first trip on my new Cyclocross Bike. Last year when I ordered it at Rose, I chose all the components to exactly fit a tour like this one (see gear). I had one year to get to know my new bike. So no open issues there. But there were some items still to sort out:

a) GPS-device. As described in the gear-section, my desire to have an electronic compass quickly escalated to the “need” for a high-end GPS device. Lots of research and a visit at a bikestore let me to the purchase of a Garmin Edge Explore 1000.

b) On this tour there are some day distances that will require me to cycle in the dark or at night. I had no desire to rely on battery lamps but wanted to be sure I have good lights available whenever needed. However, installing a dynamo hub was no option. There seems to be only one alternative on the market, namely rim dynamos by Velogical Engineering who are by coincidence located in Cologne (my place of residence). They were extremely helpful in finding the perfect solution for my purposes and were willing to answer all my questions about the infinite technical options around energy generation and lights. Also choosing the right light required lots of research. In the end I even installed a USB-charger that is powered by the Velogical dynamo; I will find out during the tour how it will perform. The light is incredible though and works very well! (did a test ride). In any case I do not have to rely on electricity sockets anymore which is in line with one of the things that fascinate me most about cycling tours: independence.

4. Getting a Russian visa

Russian visa
Russian visa (sensitive data erased). Yesssss, quite some effort, but I guess it’ll pay off

While especially St. Petersburg has been on my bucket list for a while, I originally didn’t want to be bothered with all the visa bureaucracy. Especially since obviously I cannot plan my dates of arrival for sure and also not book hotels in advance. However, my desire to see Russia and thus add an additional adventure-component to my trip grew during the past months. In the end I did it. In summary: getting a visa is a lot of work when you’re not travelling the standard way. It cost me a lot of time to figure out what visum I need, what documents are required, where to get an invitation, requesting all the documents, where to apply for it, applying, picking it up, etc… So: If you somehow ended up on this blog because you plan a bike trip yourself and wonder how to get a visa: contact me! It might save you a lot of time!

Let’s go!

Let’s now focus on the tour itself. I hope you’ll have as much fun as I expect from this tour. (yes, very diplomatic phrasing here… no warranties. oh and: no twinkle smileys on this entire blog, btw. Hope this is not too confusing nowadays. I might indulge in a “haha” once in a while though 😉 (oh, a twinkle-smiley)).